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Japanese manga artist Ashihara Hinako found dead days after protesting TV version of her work

Ashihara Hinako, a 50-year-old Japanese manga artist, has been found dead near Tokyo. Japanese media report that the police are treating the matter as a possible suicide after finding a note at her home on Monday.

Ashihara was the author of the “Sexy Tanaka-san” manga, which was initially published by Shogakukan. Nippon Television began airing a 10-part live-action adaptation in October of last year, starring Kinami Haruka in the lead role.

The story depicts a 40-year-old woman accountant who has a secret life as a belly dancer. When her secret is discovered by a co-worker, the two polar opposites manage to bring the best out in each other.

“Don’t miss this rom-com that is guaranteed to leave you in stitches constantly, with an occasion[al] dash of tears,” says the blurb for the show on NTV’s content catalog.

Ashihara, however, was not amused and earlier in January used X (formerly Twitter) and her own blog to criticize the NTV adaptation. She said that the live-action show had not stuck faithfully to her manga, which had been a condition of its production.

Ashihara, who has other credits including “Forbidden Dance” (available in English), “Bitter — Nakechau Koi Monogatari,” “Yubikiri” and “Girls Lesson,” subsequently deleted the postings.

Cover from the Sexy Tanaka-san manga series.
Cover from the Sexy Tanaka-san manga series.Shogakukan Comic

She posted an apology– “I didn’t mean to attack. I’m sorry” — in the early afternoon on Sunday but was reported missing the same day. She was found dead at home on Monday.

As foreign media and without membership of a Japanese press club, Variety does not have access to Tokyo police reports. However, details of the case have been reported by mainstream Japanese media including the Japan Times and Nippon Television’s own NTV News service.

The Japan Times has likened the social media outcry to the furore that followed the death in May 2020 of “Terrace House” participant Kimura Hana.

The publication explained that Ashihara had complained that the Aizawa Tomoko-drafted screenplay of the adaptation had deviated too far from her original work. Ashihara stepped in to take over the scripts for the last two episodes. All 10 parts received strong ratings, with over 5% audience share.

After the full show had finished airing in December, Aizawa used Instagram to explain the strange plot deviations of the final two, albeit without directly naming Ashihara.

Social media apparently erupted. Some fans sided with the screenwriter and called Ashihara too precious. Others labeled Aizawa a “crusher of original works.”

Since the announcement of Ashihara’s death, one X post calling Aizawa a murderer has over 8,000 likes. Another with over 13,000 likes blames Nippon Television for not supporting Ashihara and says that the company’s statement on her death is inadequate.

Nippon Television, which is the owner of Hulu Japan and is also in the process of buying a controlling stake in Studio Ghibli, has not replied to Variety’s enquiries.

On Wednesday, Ashihara’s family issued a brief statement through Shogakukan. “We have lost our beloved family member and are in a state of bewilderments,” it said before explaining that they would not be accepting media requests for comment.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline or chat live at 988lifeline.org. You can also visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional support.

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