Madhouse Animation Report

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Despite the popularity of anime in the West, this genre is a relatively new feature in this society. With a strongly Japanese background, anime film portrays themes that challenge the conventional perceptions of heroism, horror, mystery, and even the depictions of sexuality. Analyzing the work of studios specializing in this genre requires not only objectively reviewing their list of films, but also noting either their consistency or lack thereof in a particular approach. The focus of this analysis is the studio Madhouse Animation. The analysis applies both a historical perspective of the creator and a detailed inception into their film-making practices. The focus of the analysis is on developing a clear view of the features of its productions that have influenced its survival and the current position it holds on the global anime scene.

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Madhouse Animation

The history of Madhouse Animation begins in 1972, when a group of pro-animators set it up in Tokyo. Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Osamu Dezaki, Rintaro, and Masao Maruyama were ex-Mushi Pro animators, which provided adequate background into their development of anime film (Madhouse). The former studio, Mushi Productions, had long been headed by Osamu Tezuka. However, due to extravagant budgets that often resulted in being unrealistic within the competitive scene, the company declared bankruptcy in 1973 (Vespon). It was this decision that resulted in the scattering of its main creators, four of whom were the first creators for Madhouse. With the style of Mushi Pro involving mostly adaptations of Manga film, the same approach dominated the original works of Madhouse in the 1970s and 1980s (Madhouse).

Its first creation was Ace O Nerae, a manga comic originally created by Sumika Yamamoto (Vespon). The anime set the stage for the development of productions of the same nature from this studio, with its focus on the struggles of individuals in their quest for goals being the premise for majority of Madhouse’s themes. The expansion of the studio staff in the 1990s introduced a range of creators and directors beyond the original four. The studio recruited the likes of Satoshi Kon, an anime producer and director prominent for his preference for female characters (Madhouse). Later expansion in the early 2000s would ensure the accommodation of additional directors like Mitsuo Iso (Vespon). These later members were younger than the original group, facilitating the introduction of fresh perspectives to the production and marketing of Japanese anime.

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The new range of staff members enabled an expansion of the common themes depicted in the productions of Madhouse Animation. The capacity to explore the human psyche from the multiple viewpoints of these individual staff members has been instrumental to the survival of Madhouse. The studio, since its set-up, has been famous for its production of TV shows. This characteristic differed from other anime companies established during this period, including AIC, which only began producing TV shows and theatrical features in the 1990s (Vespon). Like most studios in this area, however, Madhouse Animation also makes constant collaborations with manga artists to adapt films from their creations (Vespon). The effect is that anime productions from Madhouse will often be accompanied by Manga creations of similar themes and character, appealing to an even wider audience.

The corporate history of Madhouse Animation became significant in 2004, when it became a subsidiary of Index Corporation. However, the stake of Index Corporation in Madhouse declined in 2011, allowing Nippon Television (NTV) to claim majority stake. The ownership shifted from 60.91% majority held by Index Corporation against 10.4% by NTV to 84.5% NTV against Index Corporation’s 10.5% (Madhouse). As of 2014, the ownership structure shifted again when NTV acquired all the shares held by the Index Corporation in Madhouse. Currently, NTV still holds 95% stake in the company (Madhouse). Madhouse Animation also holds the ownership rights to the comic strip Peanuts beginning 2012. Its current capital is about 100 million Yen, with its staff numbers ranging about 70 and most of them inclusive of contract workers (Madhouse).

Like its approach to the production affairs, the corporate history is an essential determinant of the direction of the fate of this company. The company has emphasized the use of contract workers, meaning the number of employees varies depending on the productions that are in progress. The approach to production implies both a diversity of ideas, production approaches and quality, as well as differences in the expression of overarching themes that characterize the company’s films. However, this element also implies that critics view some of the films as unoriginal due to the constancy in contracting for production (Cirugeda). While it would be possible that this would impact the market, the films from Madhouse Animation continue receiving positive reception in audiences both in Japan and the West.

Film Production and New Innovations for Madhouse

Madhouse Animation, despite its focus on the exploration of the philosophical and the psychological, is often characterized for the diversity in the nature of its productions. Unlike other anime studios, Madhouse lacks any particular style with which it approaches production. The range of directors is primarily the determinant of these features, whereby the preferences for the surreal held by Satoshi Kon often resulted in complex and difficult to understand productions (Anime Movie Guide). Alternatively, the works of Mamoru Hosuda usually have an emphasis on the depth of the story line in a manner the other directors will usually fail to accomplish (Anime Movie Guide).

However, the studio has remained consistent in at ability to apply anime in challenging typical conventions regarding the modern day hero and the interaction with the surreal. Majority of the films from Madhouse hold the appeal of being based in modern day settings, except for the few that are Manga adaptations of traditional Japanese experiences (Anime Movie Guide). The hero’s arch is maintained in nearly every film by Madhouse, whereby a particular event triggers their quest into the hero’s path, but these events are atypical of the hero story or even other anime features. With the diversity of backgrounds, the capacity to sustain these perceptions across a range of films remains commendable.

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However, One Punch Man, an anime series by Madhouse Animation in 2015 marked the release of yet another production by this studio and an opportunity for the application of innovative capacities previously unexplored by the genre within Madhouse. A look at One Punch Man reveals the feature as unique in comparison to what is typical of the genre, and even of the studio. The film has been accredited as one of the finest original films that the studio has released successfully in the recent past (Cirugeda). Some of the features in One Punch Man are typical of the productions from Madhouse. For instance, the film series is an adaptation of the Manga comic written and published by One (Speelman). This feature has enabled consistent reference to the comic as audiences access the film version. The result, however, is usually negative as the film depicts fewer episodes that the actual number of comic strips. With the limited episodes, character development in the film has remained rather shallow and probably influenced the popularity of the film relative to that of the comic (Cirugeda).

One Punch Man Innovative Approach to Content

The particularly interesting element of the film is the ability to display the hero and enemy archetype, while also successfully incorporating the skepticism with which the audience views these individuals into the production. Unlike the attempt in other films, both from this company and others, to make both the actions of the heroes and villains authentic, the depiction of these roles comes forth as more of comic relief than actual threats. The traditional superhero anime from this company usually incorporates the use of the Tokusatsu enemy, where the antagonists will always possess special features generated by effects during production (Lammare 171). True to this form, the antagonists that the hero encounters in the course of One Punch Man are often ridiculous in a manner that conforms to this stereotype. This aspect results in the villains not being particularly memorable, but also has the benefit of ensuring that the focus of both the film and the audience remain on the hero and his progress. Storylines, therefore, barely appear to have any relation except in the fact that the hero remains at the center of every encounter.

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The hero, Saitama, presents an atypical hero. Away from the usual attempt to display the hero as having deep inspirations that result in their pursuit of the path of heroism, Saitama simply takes up the role due to his being bored. The show manages to maintain the personality of Saitama as laid-back and carefree regardless of the situations that he encounters. It would probably be uncharacteristic for heroes to vanquish their enemies with the ease and efficiency that Saitama accomplishes, but it is his casual nature that inspires the interest of the audience (Cirugeda). His strength manifests in his tendency to defeat foes with single punches. However, it is the ease and even clumsiness of his exploits and their contrast to the theatrics of the villains that manages to induce the comedy into this film and set it apart from other features of the same nature.

While objectively reviewing One Punch Man provides an understanding of the basis of this Madhouse production, it is impossible to overlook the unique manner that the film approaches the typical themes in anime. Traditionally, anime will often gravitate towards matters of culture, moral values, sexuality, and social relationships (Lammare 226). Previous films from Madhouse have developed these themes rather typically, such as in Hajime no Ippo, where Ippo learns the values of courage deliberately from Takamura (Madhouse). The same concept of deliberate acquisition and imposition of values is emphasized in other films like Devil May Cry and Nejimaki Seirei Senki (Madhouse). However, One Punch Man gives the Saitama the opportunity to teach the next lead characters, Genos, the morality of being a hero without deliberately trying. Saitama’s relaxed demeanor contrasts strongly with Genos’ hot-headedness, creating for a specifically interesting combination involved in heroic deeds.

The film also accords the opportunity for the audience to interact with the characters in exploring the societal meanings of particular moral values. The primary question that the film leaves pending by the end of the first season is whether a person of normal might should be counted as a hero if they fail to save people even when they gave their most efforts (Cirugeda). This is a strong question, considering the basis of the Manga comic development was who remains to fight is the heroes run to hide. These are only some of the directly posed questions that characterize the unique approach that the film approaches to address morality. Indirect conceptualizations of morals and heroism include the fact that the strong Saitama never once kills humans, and only punches them to either counter attacks or interrupt excessive speak.

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The final moral perspective provided by the film is the chance to challenge the conventional approaches to human understanding. Despite Saitama qualifying in all the physical challenge and his feats being unparalleled, Saitama is still ranked well below Genos due to his failing the written texts (Speelman). Genos is enchanted by the power of Saitama, but even as the Heroes’ Association recognizes the same power, they are unwilling to further qualify Saitama. The conceptions of the people surrounding Saitama keenly demonstrate the shortcomings associated with the contemporary understanding of greatness. The failure of Saitama to conform to the typical qualification of the hero in their society limits his recognition. In this way, One Punch Man subtly defies these practices and propagates for the recognition of the unsung hero.

Innovative Production and Animation

The production of One Punch Man is the work of Shingo Natsume, Chikashi Kubota, and Tomohiro Suzuki (Cirugeda). It is especially notable that these are not among the main names in Madhouse, implying the capacity for the company to diversify its typical range through relying on contractors. The focus on the quality of the film has also been lauded amid critics and casual audiences alike. The display of the anime elements on both Blu Ray and DVD is exemplary, implying a lot of work into making a quality production to reach multiple audiences (Cirugeda).

The quality of film production for this anime is primarily attributed to the inclination towards traditional animation techniques in majority of the scenes. Yoshimichi Kameda’s work is recognizable in many films before this one, including the third episode of Needless and the sixth episode of the Tatami Galaxy, for his display of authentic traditional anime (Madhouse). Within this film, evidence of his presence is clear in the closing cut of the opening and even the cover art for the single that acts as the opening. His art is characterized by the tendency towards achieving angular effects and the consistency in transition from one embellished scene to the next (Cirugeda). Yoshimichi’s work is artful and deep, often layering his art with thick line-work and the capacity to have animations with both pencil-like and ink painting characteristics (Cirugeda). His talent is impossible to overlook within the One Punch Man, with the voice of his art being so prominent it becomes the center of the film’s expression.

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However, particular attention in this film is the lack of subtlety that characterizes some elements of the production. There is consistent evidence of digital animation especially in the fighting scenes, which tends to stand out in strong contrast with the traditional animation in most of the film. The encounters between Saitama and the enemies are depicted as full action scenes, with the film making no efforts to tone down the exaggerated imagery such as in the final fight for Kugai in the final scene of the first episode. These approaches to the film are the result of Natsume’s interaction with the web-gen youngsters whose focus is usually on digital animation (Speelman). In producing One Man Punch, the director allows the co-directorship of these youngsters and ensures the elements of this anime clearly demonstrate the contemporary approach in the midst of the more typical practices (Cirugeda).

The near-perfection of this film, however, is marked by some specific flaws. Other than those that this report already explores-like the uncharacteristically few episodes that interfere with character development- the film also suffers slightly from the subpar background development and poor palettes. It would seem that the directing efforts applied to the production of the first season of this film were only adequate, which matches the stipulation by the producers of applying largely average budgets (Cirugeda). The focus of this film on the animation may come at the cost of overlooking proper development of background and palette integration, which would substantially improve the rating of the anime relative to perfection (Lammare 191). However, the success of One Punch Man despite its directorship shortcomings and overall production flaws only serves to demonstrate the quality of the animation work. The film makes a case for integrating talent and skill within anime, and venturing beyond the norm in this genre, as a strategy to overcoming the barriers to succeeding in the area.

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Conclusion

Japanese anime has gained recognition globally among both children and adult audiences. Madhouse Animation has, for the past four decades, successfully made productions in this genre and executed a transition into its contemporary context. The practices of this studio are partly responsible for its success, with its insistence on the use of contract employees being integral to its production of a variety of themes and styles. Consequently, Madhouse tends to lack a definite style with which its films are associated. On the other hand, its employment of a range of notable talents in the market has always ensured its remarkable quality both in story and display. In the recent production of One Punch Man, Madhouse Animation has managed to capture both differences in thematic contribution as well as approaches to animation and directing. While the film seems to have only applied minimal efforts to directing and background developments, the quality of its animation is remarkable. The seamless integration of traditional and digital animation for the production of the first season of this anime has ensured the success of the film regardless of its flaws. Its choice story is also equally intriguing, offering a refreshing deviation from the typical anime hero story and introducing an atypical hero. Madhouse Animations, through this film, lives up to the archetypal story line of anime; but successfully introduces new approaches to presenting animated film that accord the show its elevated status.

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  1. Anime Movie Guide. Madhouse Studio. 2017.
  2. Cirugeda, Kevin. The secret of One-Punch Man’s success. 11 November 2015.
  3. Lammare, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. London: Regents of the University of Minnesota, 2009.
  4. Madhouse. Home. 2017. 19 September 2017.
  5. Speelman, Tom. One-Punch Man Anime is knockout adaptation. August 2016.
  6. Vespon. Madhouse- History. 2013.
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