I Like GONZO (Just A Bit Less Than Old American Anime Magazines and ADV)

I love talking about studios, whether I’m giving some less-respected ones the credit they deserve or driving the ones I hate as far into the ground as possible. It’s hard to call Gonzo a less-respected studio because in reality they’ve been one of the best-loved studios in anime for over a decade, but I’ll be giving them some love anyway.

art by ryuuzaki ran

We of the anime blogosphere remember more harsh words about the studio than kind ones thanks to the major hit that their reputation took throughout 2007, 2008, and 2009. The studio’s downfall began with the production of Dragonaut ~The Resonance~, widely panned as the worst TV anime of 2007/2008—and for many who watched it, the worst anime they’d ever seen. From then on, every time Gonzo produced a less-than-good anime, like Kurogane no Linebarrels, Rosario + Vampire, or Shangri-La, it was completely thrown in their face.

Ironically, though, the biggest Gonzo-bashing happened over the mere ideas or early episodes of their shows, which sometimes turned out to be great. The creation of Strike Witches was the pinnacle of “LOLGONZO” as a popular phrase, even though few of the people bashing on the show actually watched it, and never got to realize that it’s pretty great. The same thing happened with Saki, which started off feeling generic, but turned out to be an excellent series all-around. The level on which Gonzo got attacked was never warranted and to this day has left them with a worse reputation than they deserve—in the blogosphere, anyway.

Even though Gonzo has a bad reputation in our eyes, they’ve never had one in the Western anime scene. It used to be that in anime magazines, when a show was made by Gonzo, that was its biggest selling point and considered a “reason for watching.” ADV and Funimation were guaranteed to license anything Gonzo put out unless someone else licensed it first. Gonzo even made Afro Samurai specifically for the West to cash in on this fact. The sheer strength of Gonzo in general is probably why Funimation’s stupid crazy asses went and licensed Dragonaut.

Between having seen the studio as reviled in one circle of fandom and loved in another, I can’t put my finger on their real reputation, and the fact that the studio basically went kaput at the height of its being made fun of doesn’t help me. Instead of continuing speculations, I’ll just jump to my top Gonzo shows.

Note that I will not be listing ten shows as I did with J.C. Staff and Studio DEEN, because I haven’t finished enough Gonzo shows.

1. Gankutsuou ~The Count of Monte Cristo~

A supremely well made edge-of-your-seat thriller/drama with one hell of a gripping visual style that makes it unforgettable. It’s not just about the uniqueness of the technique, but about things like the Count’s house, which is among the most memorable visual spectacles in anime.

 

2. Welcome to the NHK

Forgiving one famously ugly episode that wasn’t fixed on the DVDs, NHK owes its batshit fun visuals to Gonzo, who could’ve pulled off going cheap on the show, but that just wouldn’t be any damn fun. The experience is much better for it.

3. Saki

I think it speaks for how great the characters in Saki are that there’s such an infuriating amount of non-pornographic doujins for the series. This show did fanservice in what I consider the best way (everywhere but the foreground) and is a blast to watch for the cute-girls-shounen-sports aspect. Still kills me that we’ll never see a second season.

4. Red Garden

Good with a capital G for the same reasons as its brother show, Kure-nai, to which it is in no way inferior (just less in my favor). There’s only one Red Garden in this world—there only needs to be, and it’s fine as it is. Watch it!

5. Last Exile

This is one of those shows that makes you say, “this was made in 2003?! How the fuck?!” The story and characters may be sadly forgettable, but never the visuals.

6. Gatekeepers 21

Spilled some ink about this one pretty recently. Gatekeepers 21 is dark and pessimistic in the vein of Boogiepop Phantom or Serial Experiments Lain and, while not as good as those shows, is at least worthy of mention in their breath. It’s not for everyone, but I really like it.

7. Strike Witches

If it seems low, that’s because Gonzo didn’t do the second season of Strike Witches, which would’ve topped this list, although from what I understand, most of the team from the first show worked on the second one. I still love the first show, but the second one deservedly steals the spotlight.

8. Kaleido Star

(Speaking of spotlight stealing)—I haven’t finished Kaleido Star (not even close) but it’s an excellent show. Satou Junichi does a not-really-”mahou” shoujo show, though he can’t help but bring the mahou shoujo tendencies to the table in great ways. Gonzo legendarily brought their intense fight animation to work on circus stunts that stun and amaze.

9. Full Metal Panic!

Some fans hate Gonzo’s treatment of the series, and after seeing KyoAni’s handling of the show, it’s indeed hard to go back and watch the original—but Full Metal Panic is still a great and deservedly popular show. I never got very into it, but didn’t dislike it at all.

Great Stuff I Haven’t Seen Much Of: Bokurano, Blue Submarine No. 6, Afro Samurai

Stuff I Think Is Pretty Okay: Kiddy Grade, Samurai 7, Pumpkin Scissors

Shows I Haven’t Seen But Heard Are Great: Basilisk, Blassreiter, Druaga no Tou, Saikano, Seto no Hanayome

What are your favorite Gonzo shows?

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24 thoughts on “I Like GONZO (Just A Bit Less Than Old American Anime Magazines and ADV)

  1. Wasn’t it episode 4 of NHK that was famously ugly?

    Thought Strike Witches was all AIC. Learn something new every day… Anyway, NHK would be my favorite. Liked the ending song by Kenji Ohtsuki.

  2. I’ve completed 13 Gonzo shows and watched a good bit of a 14th.
    I’ma try to rank 10 of them.

    1. Welcome to the NHK
    2. Saikano
    3. Full Metal Panic
    4. Seto no Hanayome
    5. Saki
    6. Vandread
    7. Strike Witches
    8. Gantz
    9. The Druaga Trilogy
    10. Trinity Blood

    I’m most of the way through Bokurano and it would probably fit in between Saki and Seto no Hanayome. Saikano is just the saddest thing evar. I consider it almost as sad as Grave of the Fireflies. Don’t watch it unless you want to be sad.

    Vandread is probably a nostalgia vote. It’s one of the first shows I straight up marathoned. Though I’m still a pretty big Meia fan. I don’t remember enough about Blue Submarine No. 6 to rank it anywhere. Lastly, I haven’t seen Gankutsou, Red Garden, Last Exile, Gatekeepers 21, or Kaleido Star. Gankutsou is just one of the many many good anime I have DL’d that I’ve just never gotten around to watching.

      • This is gonna blow your mind then because having not ever read the manga I thought it was pretty cool. If you didn’t know the concept or execution beforehand it gets by pretty well on that. The pretty crummy art or terrible acting get tossed out in favor of a ball that sings radio exercises and tries to kill everyone. The aliens are so wtf inducing making you believe they are harmless or stupid and then having them kill so many people in so many horrific ways. The gore is pretty funny in that respect, all the exploding heads, dead grannies with her naked child, and burst eyeballs you could want.

        Barring the terrible anime original arc and ending I thought the show was good, not great but okay enough to say I liked it. Though all that could just be because I would watch the OP over and over and over…

    • I find that a lot of people really dislike Saikano, which is a shame. Seto was funny when I was younger and less acquainted with anime, but now it just doesn’t do anything for me anymore.

  3. Hm, I’d probably go …

    1. Gankutsuou (I have Kaleido Star higher on my favorites, but Gankutsuou is a better show)
    2. Kaleido Star
    3. Saikano (though I’ve seen plenty of strong reactions the opposite way)
    4. Welcome to the NHK
    5. Red Garden
    6. Full Metal Panic (though I’m honestly not a huge fan, at least of the serious parts)
    7. Afro Samurai

    Still need to see Last Exile and Vandread. You think I’d like Saki? I’m kind of wary, because it doesn’t look like my thing, but the promise of crazy, over-the-top Legend of Koizumi style mahjong action has me kind of interested.

    • I’m really not sure. I don’t know your reactions to shows like that well enough. Maybe this is a good opportunity to find out, though!

      I think Saki appeals to me mostly for being one of the best all-female-moe-cast shows around, and that’s probably my favorite “genre” of anime.

  4. Long(er) reply!

    Series I’ve actually finished: FMP(both), Saikano, Gad Guard, Last Exile, Desert Punk, Burst Angel, N.H.K, Black Cat, Kaze no Stigma, R+V (both), Hellsing. Yeah, maybe some of these suck, but I believed they’d do well.

    To be brutally honest, I had to look through GONZO’s Wiki. I’ve at least begun a crap-ton of their shows- yes, including the ones mentioned here. At the most, I got through a half of some of these. Wow…GONZO has done a LOT of shows (for some reason that never dawned on me).

    What does me in is the WTF endings. While GAINAX goes weird in its own “trademark,” existential-collapse way, GONZO endings so often made me go “GON…ZOOO…” that I started to…I don’t know…not give the better works a chance. I can’t quite put my finger on it, exactly. What makes them so weird. Last Exile? Whoa…pretty weird. Gad Guard? Yeah. Desert Punk? What was THAT ending? Black Cat…wasn’t even the “manga to anime adaptation” gap, but that ending was kinda wacky.

    Why am I so uncharitable? Does it have anything to do with the deficit thing? I feel like such a vulture, preying on the failures. GONZO, the poor sobs.

    In any case, L.E. Silver Wing is probably the last shot I’ll give the studio…going forward, I mean.

  5. Speaking of endings, have you watched the Dead Girls OVA that revisits the Red Garden girls 500 years in the future? I loved Red Garden, was frustrated with its ending, and totally forgave them when I saw Dead Girls -

  6. I can’t remember for the life of me how Gatekeepers 21 ended, though I remember watching it on TV and liking it.

    Vandread (both seasons) is <3

    I didn't care for Last Exile (I tried watching it twice, couldn't get past 6 or 7 eps).

    I've put Saikano on indefinite hold… that show is… I don't know mang.

    Basilisk is good. I like the anime better than the manga. Watch it mang.

  7. Kaleido Star really is a wonder. I’m surprised to hear that Blassreiter was well-received, though, because all I remember was the really awful CG bike.

    That’s one thing GONZO should be remembered for especially: Their attempts to blend traditional animation and CG. It worked in Last Exile, but Blue Sub 6 and others… not so much.

    • I don’t dislike CG as much as most people seem to, but yeah, Blassreiter got thrashed when it started for the CG and only a few people finished it (a few more later when it got licensed). almost everyone whose watched the whole thing liked it (see: otou-san).

  8. I didn’t read all comments here but what you think about Blassreiter ? I thought it was pretty good, although it was not perfect in many ways. Plus it was written by Gen Urobuchi !

  9. I’d also throw on Vandread, Blue Submarine No. 6, and Speed Grapher into the mix.

    Seeing Gonzo go under was an incredibly sort of mixed feeling. Yea, they were a studio full of herky-jerky CGI, plenty of off-model segments, and gratuitous amounts of boob-jiggle, but the concepts behind their shows, and the concepts they chose to adapt were always ambitious and full of energy – it’s just an energy that often didn’t really sustain itself over the course of the show. They get a much-maligned rep, but I agree with you that it’s not entirely deserved.

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