Studios You Assholes Should Be Aware Of PART ONE – GAINAX

Since everyone seems to be saying how they don’t pay much attention to studios and stuff, or that studios don’t matter, I thought I’d go through a few of them with you. You’ve prolly heard of some of them, but we’ll just stress their importance anyway.

GAINAX – Yes, we’re starting with the obvious. GAINAX was formed by 6 university students: Hideaki Anno (who directed all the early work) Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (character designer for most of the shows, yes, that means he is why Rei is so hot) Tamaki Akai (the one who called 2channel an anus and then left GAINAX) Toshio Okada (the original president of GAINAX and original OtaKing. He recently renounced this title because, like every other 80s obsessed douchebag, he got fed up with moe) Shinji Higuchi (did storyboards, a ton of shit on Eva like writing, storyboarding, and assistant directing, and Shinji Ikari was named after him) and Yasuhiro Takeda (on whom I can find little information other than that he’s a producer.)

GAINAX may not be the biggest or most wealthy studio around, but they are easily the most famous – and infamous. GAINAX has faced no shortage of controversy over the years, which is kind of a given because they made Neon Genesis Evangelion which might as well have been called ‘insert controversy here.’ Many of my blog’s readers may remember last year’s controversy involving Japan’s mega-forum, 2 channel. After Gurren Lagann episode 4 (which I think was a great stylistic decision) people on 2 channel bitched about the animation, and Tamaki Akai bitched back, which pretty much cost him his job because 2 channel has some kind of hold on the anime industry in Japan apparently.

GAINAX started as Daicon Productions and their first 2 animated shorts were Daicon III (1981) and Daicon IV (1983). Daicon III is a short (like 2 minutes), kind of cute, kind of fun video about a loli with superpowers fighting so she can water a radish. It’s not something that’s very memorable, which is where Daicon IV comes in. This 4 minute video has the little girl transforming into a magical girl in a bunny costume who fights her way through every pop culture reference imaginable and then, literally, the direct precursor to End of Evangelion happens. you know that scene with all the crosses an  the blood covering the earth? It’s almost the same fucking shot. Daicon Productions became GAINAX in 1985.

The first full-length production by GAINAX was The Wings of Honneamise (1987), a movie commonly considered a classic that I haven’t yet seen. Their next work was Hideaki Anno’s first ever directing job, the seminal classic Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster (1988) which solidified them as a production force to be reckoned with. The Gunbuster OVAs feature incredible artwork, memorable scenes and characters, and brilliant fusions of both the real robot and super robot genres as well as shounen and shoujo styles. The OVA features over-the-top imagery and a ‘GANBARE!’ attitude that would be seen in GAINAX works to come. Anno’s directing style is also made evident with things like an entire episode in black and white and his frequent use of text and nameplates for emphasis, especially with dates (an important concept in Gunbuster.)

In 1990 GAINAX began their first series with Anno directing again. Nadia: Secret of Blue Water is not quite an adaption of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, but is heavily inspired by it and other Jules Verne works. The show is very childish and adventurous with a very family-friendly vibe. Most notably the show features some fun and cool characters, namely Nadia, a headstrong young female in the vein of Nausicaa or other Ghibli girls. Despite beng favored by those who’ve seen it and having the GAINAX/Anno factor, the show is rather little known to western audiences (most likely because of it’s age and length, being 39 episodes.) I personally haven’t finished it either.

Between 1989 and 1991 GAINAX produced 4 OVAs that are not only near unheard of but all seem to be very odd. Beat Shot and Circuit Wolf are apparently about baseball and racing respectively, but that’s all I could find out. The most well known of these four, Blazing Transfer Student, is a 2-ep OVA parodying 70s anime like Ashita no Joe, and is apparently hilarious. I have fucking searched for subs of this, but no luck. There was also Money Wars which apparently had to do withthe stock market and shitty character designs.

1991 then saw the birth of GAINAX’s next big OVA and probably the greatest, and while perhaps not most well known, most likely the closest to the heart of it’s fans (mine at least.) Otaku no Video is the name, and it is a movie that simultaniously heralds and parodies otaku culture of the time, leading to not only hilarity, but an uplifting and exhilerating story that would inspire any otaku to rise up as otaking. There are 2 sort of plots going on in Otaku no Video – an animated story about a man’s change from a normal person into an otaku and eventually into Otaking over the course of his life, and a live-action mocumentary in which various otaku are interviewed with their faces blocked by mosaics and their voices morphed. The OVA is chock full of references both to popular 80s anime like Cobra and Macross to GAINAX’s own shows, especially Daicon IV.  Honestly, there isn’t much I can say besides ‘go watch it’ because you really do need to. OnV is a masterpiece in it’s own right and as a big anime fan or otaku you owe it to yourself to see this.

1995. For most of you, I could just say that and you know exactly where I’m going: Neon Genesis Evangelion. To some, it’s Hideaki Anno and GAINAX’s masterpiece. To others, it’s the most overrated anime of all time. To some, the ending is a mess of fuckshit and assdick. To others, it is the only thing in the universe that makes sense. Everyone has an opinion on Eva – do you hate Shinji or relate to him? Asuka or Rei? Or both? Or neither? What does all the religious symbolism mean? Why is there all this text? Why is it so depressing? WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW?! Indeed, Evangelion is the single most talked about anime ever. While you couldn’t call it the most famous anime ever because of mainstream stuff, NGE is certainly the most well-known and highly regarded show in anime fandom. It has spawned hundreds of figures, millions of fan works, and an infinity of text. Evangelion will be in encyclopedias and textbooks about anime in the future, and will likely not stop getting talked about  fucking ever – especially if GAINAX keeps rereleasing it every now and again.

Evangelion was always controversial, but the first big controversy surrounded the ending – people were so pissed off at the ending that hideaki Anno literally received death threats if he did not make a new ending (at leas tthey liked the show a lot!) So he did. And he made End of Evangelion (1998) (and, I guess, Death and Rebirth (1997), though I really don’t care.). And it was glorious. However, it certainly couldn’t have been what those people were looking for since while the end of the series at least had the decency to make sense, the movie didn’t. That said, it is the single greatest animated feature ever to be created, so if you haven’t seen it go watch it before I kill you.

Also in 1998 came the adaption of popular shoujo manga Kare Kano (or His and Her Circumstances) which faced, you guessed it, more damn controversy! Kare Kano featured some extremely awesome directing by Anno who incorporated all of his visual tricks to the fullest extent on every episode which put an interesting twist on the shoujo style. The first major trouble with this show, though, is that the budget was pretty low and there was a ton of space filled in with frequent recaps and reused frames. Even so, things still went along pretty well until Anno got into a dispute with the manga-ka who wanted the series to be more traditional romance and less comedy. This dispute caused Hideaki Anno to leave the production after episode 16, and the director seat was filled by his protegee Kazuya Tsurumaki. Tsuumaki was very not ready for this job, though, as made evident by the fact that the rest of the series completely fucking sucks. Kare Kano is commonly considered a would-be classic offset by production dispute.

In 1999, GAINAX made 24 5-minute episodes of Orochiban Ebichu, an extremely fucking disturbing but quite hilarious story about a hamster who’s trying to help her female single owner trough life. There’s lots of outlandish sex and violence that never stops being shocking.

While GAINAX made a definitive US breakthrough with Evangelion in the 90s, their first show to become especially popular in the US was FLCL, released in 2000 in Japan and I believe 2003 in America. FLCL, like Eva, is something I’m sure you’ve all seen and if you haven’t, you need to, because it’s fucking incredible. Unlike Evangelion, which is mindnumbingly popular across the sea and inspired every mech show since in some way, FLCL wasn’t so popular in Japan and got a better reception in the US. Like Evangelion, it is a show that can be seen both in every ‘favorite’ and every ‘least favorite’ anime thread in any forums.

2001 saw the beginning of a much darker time for GAINAX. Starting with Mahoromatic, GAINAX began to produce more average shows with more subdued styles, less original plots, and more adaptions. On the upside, this was also around when SHAFT came into being and started collaborating with GAINAX, but that’s for another post. Petite Princess Yucie continued this dark trend in 2002.

A light of hope ought to have come from 2002’s other anime Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, a slapstick and extremely strange comedy with style very reminiscent of FLCL. This show couldn’t live up to it’s predecessor though and while it’s not completely unpopular, it is widely considered decent and not much more. GAINAX was very busy during 2004, starting with their collaboration with JCStaff on Melody of Oblivion. Melody doesn’t get talked about much and I’ve only seen 2 episodes but I can safely say it’s one of the most strange and offputting anime I’ve ever seen. It’s basically like if Shinbo decided to direct a porn but then changed his mind midway and made it an action series with the same plot. Or something. GAINAX then collaborated with SHAFT again on This Ugly Yet Beautiful World – an anime that tried, though not very much, to be a new take on harem shows, but the amount of separation was very small and it pretty much came out as your slightly above-average but forgettable harem.

As if to counterbalance this spew of mediocrity, GAINAX also produced one good and one great OVA in 2004. The first was Re: Cutie Honey – a new take on the classic Go Nagai manga that pretty much ignited the magical girl genre as well as Hideaki Anno’s return to directing. It’s 3 episodes of which I’ve seen one, but it’s a hilarious, action and nudity packed fun ride through total 70s styles and throwbacks that will make any well-learned anime fan grin and anyone who want some good violent softcore porn grin harder. 2004 also began the 2 year production of Top wo Nerae 2! Diebuster, Kazuya Tsurumaki’s sequel to the old Gunbuster OVA that elped put GAINAX on the map. It’s a lot of fun, and contains most of what made Gunbuster great with a new paint hob and a lot more of the style seen in FLCL. While Tsurumaki pays respectable homage to Anno’s maseriece, Diebuster falls a tad short with some notably awkward pacing and less directional plot. Many fans still consider it to be just as good if not better than the original, though. In the meantime, He Is My Master continued GAINAX’s trend of lame shows in 2005.

The trend ended in 2007 with the next masterpiece of GAINAX, Tengen Toppa Guren Lagann. While not quite on the scale of Evangelion, it has been talked about ad nauseum and is as widely regarded and highly respected as it is seen as over-valued, though generally the reception has been more commonly positive. I can’t say anything ‘objective’ about Gurren Lagann – it’s pretty much the only thing keeping End of Evangelion out of my top spot, after all. This is an anime that not only should no fan go without, but no person could to wrong to give a try.

Currently, GAINAX is in the process of releasing Rebuild of Evangelion – a 4-film retelling of the Evangelion story with some new changes as well as a Gurren Lagann movie slated for release this year. They are also currently releasing the shounen action series Shikabane Hime Aka about an undead princess you must collect 1000 corpses to come back to life. The sequel, Shikabane Hime Kuro, is slated for release next year.

GAINAX is truly the ultimate by-otaku for-otaku animation studio and above any other, one to be watched out for. Even if you don’t find yourself enjoing the GAINAX sows (in which case get the hell out of life) it’s important to see their place in anime history as shows like Evangelion are some of the most influential to other anime to ever be released.

5 thoughts on “Studios You Assholes Should Be Aware Of PART ONE – GAINAX

  1. Nice recap of one of anime’s more interesting histories. I’ve never seen Kare Kano, but I would hesitate to put the blame on Tsurumaki (the caged beast behind Diebuster and Fooly Cooly); more than likely it’s that without a personality as volatile as Anno’s, pressure from the mangaka finally got to them and they caved.

    The “too bad” anecdote here should prove just what a firecracker he was/is and will probably entertain the shit out of you. Also some interesting stuff there that I used when making my statement that NGE was the “truest” of the stories, for better or worse. Obviously he had very strong feelings about all of his work, and would defend it to the end, but for Eva, “I wrote about myself.”

    Also, as far as Shikabane Hime goes, Gainax are only doing Aka; Kuro is being produced by Feel.

  2. Awesome history lesson! I haven’t watched a lot of their minor works, though these to be the lesser of the body, a fascination for completing them somehow compels me… nah, too much of an investment.

  3. Pingback: Kurozuka, Dystopia, and Madhouse Gothic « Claiming Ground

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