UFOTable is, at least in the West, one of the lesser known production companies that has developed a hardcore cult following in the last few years. The company formed in 2000 and there is little information in English about the staff. From what information ANN has, I can gather that the team is a core staff who works on all of the shows and has been with UFOTable from the beginning. The same names are present on all shows, usually in the same positions.
UFOTable’s early works, too, are a bit confusing to figure out. According to Wikipedia, UFOTable started in 2002 with Weiss Kreuz Gluhen, a sequel to the mildly popular bishonen action series. ANN, however, has no information of this. Luckily my limited knowledge of Japanese helped me discover that they did, in fact, produce this show, but their site also lists many other things they produced around this time. It is possible that these are all shows they helped on and weren’t the main studio for, as ANN lists them for In-between animation and Digital Paint on a handful of series from this time. That said, it adds to the mystery that none of the staff who would be the regular production team on future shows were around for Weizz Kreuz, and the show had nothing in common with later productions.
The first series to be produced by UFOTable featuring their signature style in 2003 was Dokkoida?! (or Sumeba Miyako no Cosmos-sou Suttoko Taisen Dokkoider for you anal retentive out there.) Dokkoida, like many proceeding shows by this studio, was a bit of a cult classic, and was even licenced by Geneon despite the fact that you’d have a fat chance walking into your average forum and finding more than 1 person who’s seen it. Dokkoida?! is a parody of sentai-style anime (transforming super heroes for those of you a few pages behind) that has the sort of situational, character based, and slapstick comedy combinations you could only find elsewhere in a SHAFT show. It’s hilarious, high degrees of self-referencing, and yet it contains memorable characters with backstories that can really draw you in. The show is comparable to Martian Successor Nadesico in it’s mix of hilarity, parody, and underlying (though not as extreme) serious business. And it’s also on Omo‘s favorite list.
UFOTable’s next work is probably their most well-known in the west thanks to heavy marketing by Nozomi Entertainment over the last year, 2004’s hilarious slipstick ninja comedy 2 x 2 = Shinobuden (or Ninja Nonsense in English). This show is more reminiscent of Hare and Guu with it’s childish and obscure yet often inappropriate humor. A plot summary on any anime database would be more than enough to understand the show’s concept, as most of the show is completely random situational comedy involving lesbianity, ninjas, and the preverted yellow Geodude named Onsokamaru (voiced by Norio Motherfucking Wakamoto). Like Dokkoida?! It is very self-referential (even more-so even.) This show doesn’t have the devoted fanbase of other UFOTable productions most likely due to it’s lack of real plot. 2004 also saw release of a 2-episode OVA game adaption called Aoi Umi no Tristia. I haven’t seen it, but it receives unilaterally mediocre reviews from anime sites.
The next UFOTable show is likely the most definitive of their style to come forth in future productions and the one that started to get them noted for said style. 2005’s Futakoi Alternative also has the most devisive following as well as the most cultish and rabid. Among fans, it is almost always mentioned in lists of shows that ought to be liscenced. Futakoi Alternative is amusingly a sequel to heavily bashed and hated 2004 harem comedy Futakoi, a show about a town in which girls are always born as twins. The location and the twins aspect is about all that made the jump to Alternative, though, and instead of a harem comedy what we got is one of the most insane, spastic, and most confusing genre combinations of all time. Futakoi Alternative jumps, sometimes from episode to episode, between being a high-octane action series, a hilarious rom-com, a grindingly slow slice-of-life, an epic fantasy, a depressing drama, and a philosophical journey. And these changes come without. Fucking. Warning. This has simultaneously earned the show it’s devoted fanbase and the legions who avoid it. Futakoi Alternative is perhaps most well known for one of the most explosive first episodes of all time in which cute little girls are seen wielding machine guns, taking down helicopters with rocket launchers, and blowing up airplanes. The show features powerful themes of man’s need to be happy above all else and the real meanings of love, friendship, and responsibility in a light a bit more serious than most shows. It’s also got the epic phrase ‘HAPPY DESU KA?!’
2006 saw the release of UFOTable’s first completely original work Coyote Ragtime Show, which features all of the high-octane action of Futakoi Alternative but present throughout. The best way I can think to describe it is a lower budget shounen version of Cowboy Bebop. Coyote Ragtime show is nonstop excitement following a band of space pirates who break their boss out of prison to go look for a treasure on a planet that only has 7 days before it is destroyed. The crew has to fend against a team of 12 insane gothic lolita assassins along the way as well. Shit gets blown up and blood flies while cocky friends spit one-liners alongside speeches of friendship. I’ve only managed to see 4 of the 12 episodes, but they are a shitload of fun and I look forward to eventually finishing the series.
In 2007 UFOTable produced what most fans consider their Magnum Opus to date and what I consider one of the most important anime ever created: Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight. This show features the same mic of high energy and extremely serious undertones seen in Futakoi Alternative, only with the pacing issues fixed and this time an even more engrossing and meaningful story as well as some of the most memorable characters to spring out of 2007. It could be considered the ultimate culmination of everything UFOTable had been trying to do finally perfected. Much like Gurren Lagann in my GAINAX post, there is nothing ‘objective’ I can say about Manabi Straight – it is unquestionably one of the greatest anime ever created. It was even the first anime to make Omo‘s main favorites list since 2004. Later that year UFOTable also produced a 4 episode OVA of the popular RPG game Tales of Symphonia, which while facing obvious problems for trying to cram an entire game into 4 episodes, is said to be one of the better video game adaptions out there.
From 2007 into 2008 UFOTable began work on their most ambitious and spectacular continuing project to date: Kara no Kyoukai. Originally, Kara no Kyoukai was a novel written and illustrated by Type-Moon founders Kinoku Nasu and Takashi Takeuchi (respectively) which began as a cult hit and swept the otaku nation quickly becoming one of the best selling books in Japan and is now considered amongst Japanese otaku to be a classic and a must-own for every collection. Instead of making the novel into an OVA or a series, UFOTable took on the incredible and groundbreaking task of making 7 50-minute films to play in theaters based on each chapter of the original novel. In an interview in Faust (in which the original novel is now being published) Nasu and Takeuchi went into detail about how the UFOTable staff is incredibly hardworking, open-minded, and creative, allowing their opinions on how to make the movies completely perfect, and even going so far to extend running time just to fit in exactly what needs to be seen, which is near unheard of in the anime industry. Nasu is quated as saying, “I’m just happy that the UFO staff never tell us something can’t be done.”
UFOTable works are all well known for their simplistic character designs and characters who move around a lot (though Kara no Kyoukai features it’s original character designs.) The are also known for having ending theme videos made using clay and stop-motion animation, also used in commercials for the Kara no Kyoukai movies. UFOTable is definitely one of the most ambitious and exciting studios out there and one to watch out for with wide open eyes. They are, above ANY other studio, one I will rush to see a new show from.