What exactly does an anime director do? Manabu Ono, the director for all of Sword Art Online: Alicization’s seasons, provided the answer recently during the “Sword Art Online Alicization War of Underworld THE LAST SEASON Online Panel” at Aniplex Online Fest.
Speaking to MC Tenshin Mukai, Ono said, “Based on the script, we create storyboard[s]. Those become the blueprints for the animation itself. Sometimes, the director draws the storyboards himself, other times, he delegates to other crew members. Either way, the director has the final say. He checks the storyboards and makes any necessary fixes.
“Then, we move on to the actual animation itself. This step is handled by a big team of animators. They are overseen by the anime supervisor or the animation director. In the end, the director makes overall evaluations of the work.”
Ono later added, “Basically, directors pop into different departments to judge things. That’s the basic nature of the job. But there’s also an underlying vision for what they want to say or how they want to make a particular show. We try to reflect that personal vision in the work.”
Before delving into the storyboarding and animation process, Ono spoke about adapting the light novel series. “For me, we have something called a script meeting for SAO,” he said. “We have to figure out how to adapt the original book. So, we break the story down by the number of episodes. To make the story fit better within episodes, we rearrange the order of events or explore some scenes deeper.”
The director added that he had to take into account the gap between the release of the books and the release of the anime. “There may be a generational shift or a shift in the social climate. Therefore, we consider certain aspects to reflect those changes,” he explained.
In the middle portion of the panel, Ono revealed that he had some say in the music as well. For the scene where Lisbeth gives an impassioned speech in Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld’s 11th episode, Ono said that the decision to insert the ending theme there rather than the credits was made by him in editing.
“You choose when you want a special ending sequence?” Ai Kayano, the seiyuu for Alice Zuberg, asked.
“Yes. I tell our editors more or less where I want the song to come in,” replied Ono. “But then I make the final adjustments during dubbing.”
Ono also spoke about how he came to be the director for the Alicization seasons. Prior to Alicization, the Sword Art Online series and movies were directed by Tomohiko Ito. Ono wasn’t involved with the series during Ito’s tenure, and he was initially unsure when he was offered the role.
“It’s a highly popular anime, and Mr. Ito had his own vision when making it. So, I was concerned whether it’s right for me to take over. But one thing I found out was the tone will be very different from the first two seasons. The characters would change too. The main cast will, of course, remain the same, but most of the season revolves around new characters. So, even if I took over the series to direct this new season, I could work with cast members who were new as well.
“In that sense, while I do have to consider the past seasons, there seemed to be room to explore my own vision. Once that became clear, I accepted the job.”