Having discussed my favorites, I’d now like to go over the studio I have the most respect for, Studio 4c. It was founded by genius director Koji Morimoto and company president Eiko Tanaka, with whom you can read a great interview from Asian Cinema site Midnight Eye, in 1986. As mentioned in the article, 4c began as just Tanaka and grew bit by bit over time. The group has a core 45 or so members and works on whatever the fuck they feel like. They have made assloads of animated shorts, music videos, and other obscure shit. Because 4c has a decently sized catalogue and so many different kinds of works, I won’t be doing this post totally chronologically as I have before, and will only cover the works I’ve actually seen (3/4 or so). I will, however, mention that their first animated feature was a 3-part movie called Memories that is commonly considered a classic, released in 1995 with collaboration from Madhouse studio. For a full list of their works, see the Wikipedia link above or head over to ANN. In addition, I will try to provide Veoh or Youtube links for most of these since a good amount are under 20 minutes long. I would like to stress my advice that you watch them since words don’t do any of them justice.
4c’s first animated short, produced in 1995, was Tobira o Akete (not to be confused with a 1986 OVA of the same title.) This whimsical and cute ten-minute short is by no means one of the studio’s best works, but serves as a good show of what’s to come and not a bad start. 1997 saw the release of probably the most highly regarded Studio 4c short, Noiseman Sound Insect. This 15-minute film features music by Yoko Kanno and an incredible sound and video production in general. I like to think of it as a Disney film condensed into 15 minutes with 10 times the creativity. Eternal Family, also from 1997, is one of my personal favorites though the repeated toilet flushing animation gets annoying before it ceases. The 20-minute movie is quite hilarious and by the end, endearing. 2003 saw one of the studio’s frequent collaborations with Madhouse and Production I.G. with the production of The Animatrix, for which they animated the parts Beyond, A Detective’s Story, and Kid’s Story (the latter 2 of which were directed by Shinichiro Watanabe of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo fame.) Another of these collaborations formed in 2008 on Batman: Gotham Knight, for which 4c animated Have I Got A Story For You and Working Through Pain, the former of which is the most fun Batman will ever be while still being Batman.
In 2004 Studio 4c produced cult hit Mahou Shoujo Tai Arusu (now licenced as Tweeny Witches and currently being released), a show with 40 episodes at 15 minutes an episode. This show is a family-friendly fantasy with an imagination the size of a fucking country. It gives the word ‘whimsical’ an entirely new meaning and never stops being incredible. The DVDs are only about 10 dollars a pop at Best Buy and carry considerable content – I suggest you go buy them now. 2008 saw the birth of another great Studio 4c show, the wildly popular Detroit Metal City. GO TO DMC! GO TO DMC! GO TO DMC!!!! Disappointingly, Studio 4c is apparently somehow involved in the currently airing new Transformers series on Cartoon Network. I don’t know if it’s because they are only involved and not totally in control of it, but this show sucks so fucking hard it’s difficult to conceive. It has some of the shoddiest fucking animation in a cartoon I’ve dared to witness. It’s outright embarrassing that something like that airs on television.
Probably the most interesting works of the studio are their collections of smaller film series. Usually these will be a few short animations with extremely different styles and plots and directors connected for some incomprehensible purpose. One of these, Digital Juice, is a 6-part 20-minute video that, like everything Studio 4c, is 40% unique, 40% awesome and 20% random. It’s been a while, but I distinctly remember totally loving certain parts and totally hating others – a curse that plagues several of these compilations. The second of them, 2002’s Sweat Punch series, is less a compilation as each of the 10-minute films is definitely separate. Oddly I haven’t managed to see the first part, and the fourth part, Higan, I did not find enjoyable. However, parts 2 and 3, End of the World and Comedy (or Kigeki) respectively, are by far my two favorite Studio 4c productions. Though they are complete opposites in style, both feature highly memorable and exciting plots that could match most feature-length films. Comedy pretty much single-handedly introduced me to a love of animated shorts. The 4-part 2006 compilation Amazing Nuts! is another in which I found 2 parts to be great and 2 to be totally worthless. The first part, Global Astroliner, vibrates with cool and looks a lot like a Gorillaz music video. My favorite of the four is the gloriously stylized Kung Fu Love featuring the most memorable character to be seen in a film so short – I’d love her to have her own series. Also the cover of Faust volume one looks identical to this film.
2007′ Ani*Kuri 15 is another collaboration done with a myriad of studios – a collection of 15 1-minute animations each by a famous director or person otherwise involved in animation that was created because NHK needed money. Some of the directors include Satoshi Kon (Paranoia Agent, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress), Makoto Shinkai (Voices of a Distant Star, 5cm Per Second), and Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Arjuna). The latest Studio 4c collection also features the use of many famous directors (including Shinichiro Watanabe once again) doing pieces between 3-20 minutes collected into a feature length film called Genius Party (also released in 2007), with the sequel Genius Party Beyond planned for the future.
Studio 4c has also produced 3 full-length movies that it is probably most well-known for. The first is Spriggan (1998), a turbo-violent action-packed romp through funland. I haven’t seen this movie in years so I have little memory of it but it used to be one of my favorites. 2004 gave birth to the most experimental project 4c has done (and probably one of the most experimental animated productions ever), Mind Game. I’m not going to say much about Mind Game – it’s a movie with a split audience. A lot of people (caughpretentiouscaugh) think it’s one of the greatest anime ever. I fucking hated it. The director went on to do Tekkonkinkreet in 2006 and later Kaiba in 2008 with Madhouse.
Perhaps one of the most interesting categories of 4c’s productions is their music videos. You’ve probably seen the video for Linkin Park’s Breaking the Habit – that was all them. While some of the songs they’ve done were for Japanese artists, they are also open to doing bands from all around the world. I’ve seen all the music videos but to stick with the ones I like: Extra, Survival, Connected, and First Squad. It has since been announced that First Squad will be turned into an animated series, which if you see the video, you will know is a badass prospect.
That about covers it – Studio 4c is the paradigm of uniqueness. They aren’t even comparable to any other studio out there because they abide by none of the normal standards. It’s almost apples and oranges to even compare them to other studios at all, but they are yet worth of note and praise.