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.
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.
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?