How Studio 4c Impacts the Style of Berserk

[EDIT: This post was done under the false presumption that the original Berserk anime was made by Madhouse, when it was actually made by Oriental Light and Magic. Please ignore all the stuff about Madhouse.]

I wish I knew more about the changing states of anime studios. In the past few years, many studios have undergone many changes, and it’s gotten hard to keep track of who’s where and what impact any of it has. This post concerns itself with two studios that have been particularly confusing as of late: Studio 4c and Madhouse.

Madhouse has been around forever, and for the longest time, their touch on a show was unmistakable. They worked in many different genres, but always had a certain way with character design that I can best describe as “solid” or “grounded.” They’ve always been the only studio that can do right by CLAMP designs, and even though those designs are wholly different from the styles of shows like Hajime no Ippo or Rainbow, all of them share that solid, grounded feeling.

Madhouse shows are usually high-quality, and if the animation doesn’t exactly shine, it doesn’t mean that the show isn’t a big undertaking. I once asked the studio head, Masao Maruyama, at a Q&A, about how the studio’s budget is divided among the many shows that they create at once, pointing out that one of the shows they were doing, Souten Kouro, seemed to get the shaft in the animation department compared to their other shows. Maruyama simply corrected me by pointing out that Souten Kouro requires drawing large numbers of men in very detailed armor, and horses and shit, which makes it still a lot of work to draw, even if the movement isn’t as smooth.

This is how I would describe the original Berserk anime produced by Madhouse. There are a lot of shoddy animation and off-model moments, but the show was cel animated with shitloads of large battle pieces full of armor-wearing dudes, and the character designs were incredibly complex. A lesser studio couldn’t have made Berserk even as good as it was, which was about as good as it feasibly could’ve been at the time.

After fifteen years of only getting more popular, Berserk is now seeing a new set of movie adaptations. I’ve heard that apparently they’re supposed to adapt the entire manga eventually, but my sources are iffy at best. I have no idea why Madhouse can’t or won’t do these movies, nor indeed what the hell is going on with the studio. I’ve been told that a lot of their staff has left, which would explain why the’ve been doing little other than shitty comic book adaptations for the past year and a half. I’ve also heard that some of the staff went to TMS Entertainment, which would explain why that studio is doing The Woman Called Fujiko and Zetman, which look like Madhouse shows.

But again, my sources are secondary. I just don’t know what’s going on.

Then we have Studio 4c, which is even more of a conundrum. 4c used to do almost nothing but ultra-artsy shorts. They did a lot of music videos, short films, and joint projects with Madhouse and Production I.G. Years ago, I read an interview with the head of the studio, wherein they stated that 4c only took on projects that it was interested in, that the core of the studio was very small, and that they did a lot of small projects at once, usually working with different directors who came up with the ideas. I have no idea how much of this remains true.

Even though Studio 4c and Madhouse used to collaborate frequently, and both enjoy artsy projects, the studios are almost opposites in terms of style. 4c usually has more fluid designs, in contrast to Madhouse’s solid. Even when Madhouse would go more fluid with a show, like Kemonozume, it still feels more grounded than something like Mind Game or Tweeny Witches from Studio 4c.

However, in the past few years, there’s been a surge of 4c doing stuff that seems more up Madhouse’s alley—and totally failing at it. They did an anime accompaniment to Street Fighter IV (2009) which was absolute shit, precisely because big muscly dudes aren’t something 4c are good at. Read this Ogiue Maniax post for more on how the studio was switched to Gonzo for the anime accompaniment to Super Street Fighter IV, what with Gonzo being second only to Madhouse at animating solid, muscle-heavy characters.

This hasn’t stopped 4c from continuing down this path. Last year, they worked on Asura’s Wrath, which was a game wherein every character looks like Akuma from Street Fighter. Asura’s Wrath mostly consists of interactive cutscenes, which are about giant dudes beating the piss out of one-another in incredibly over-the-top fashion. Lots of people enjoy it for this—meanwhile I found the cinematics to be poorly directed, uninspired shitpiles from the ones that I saw. 4c is also doing the new Thundercats cartoon for US TV, which is again a show primarily concerned with masculine characters, and which also looks pretty damn awkward because man IT’S STUDIO 4C.

Once more, I don’t know if Studio 4c has majorly changed and become a studio that’s all about muscly dude animation now. What I do know is that they are the ones making the new Berserk movies, and while they haven’t fucked the first one up anywhere near the kind of way they fucked up Street Fighter IV, it still feels a bit strange.

Berserk is a fantasy manga, and it really comes through in Kentaro Miura’s art. He draws whispy, fantastical lines, sometimes hard-edged for gritty pulp fantasy, and other times light and feathery like a fairy tale. In the early part of the manga, though, which was adapted in the anime, it was mostly the former.

Madhouse captured this brilliantly. Their character art was rough and gorgeous just like Miura’s, and the hand-drawn aspect served to fuel it as well. More importantly than anything, Kobayashi Shichiro’s superb background art brought the fantasy world to life in its rustic, old-school way that he still brings to everything he works on to this day.

The new movie does not have this. Everything is very clean and polished. Everything is in CG and modern, the opposite of the anime’s rustic feel. The characters are still gorgeous, but they are not harsh or edgy. The world looks more expansive and more real than ever, but it does not look like fantasy.

And this aspect, more than anything, is what bothers me about the Berserk movie. As a Berserk fan, I already know the story and characters, so missing things here and there is no problem. The movie is amazingly faithful to the original anime, so aside from missing some pieces that I really would’ve liked to see (what happened to the first major battle Guts fights with the Band of the Hawk?), the portrayal of the story is solid. I love that the movie brings new realism and better fights to the franchise—but I hate that it isn’t merged with the visual fantasy that gives the series its tone.

[NOTE: For what it’s worth, it’s not as though the Studio 4c manly show trend is out of nowhere. Studio 4c did Spriggan in 2002, which is probably the best thing of the sort that they’ve done, though it still isn’t as good as Madhouse could’ve done the same movie. I think it should be more indicative of their style that when they and Madhouse both did shorts for Batman: Gotham Knight, Madhouse did it in ultra-masculine comic book style, while 4c did it in the whispy style that they’re best known for.]

What Do We Stand To Gain From The Berserk Movie?

I’m drunker than glothelegend so bear with me here.

I’m extremely familiar with Berserk, having watched the (first half of) the anime and read the manga, then watched the anime again, so I know this story (one of my all-time favorites) like the back of my hand. Going into this movie, my expectations weren’t high. I’d seen previews and found the style of character designs awkward, and I didn’t understand why we were revisiting the Golden Age arc again. It’s already been done by the original anime, and people have wanted a continuation of the story forever.

But I’m not one to snub my nose at HD remakes. There’s nothing that a fan stands to lose from the existence of such things. Don’t like the remake? Well, the original is still there. Maybe just be glad that the new one has something you might like in it. I went into the first Berserk movie asking myself, what does this add to the franchise as a whole?

Because indeed, I don’t think this is a “replacement” for the anime or the manga. I would not recommend watching just the movies on their own. As a Berserk fan, there’s nothing to lose, but just as any fan of the anime should definitely read the manga because it has more of the plot, and any fan of the manga can do no wrong to watch the anime, if you watch this movie, you owe it to yourself to partake in the original anime and the manga, because the movie cuts too much out.

In just over an hour, this movie covers about ten fucking episodes of the anime (not including the first episode, which isn’t covered). I’m not sure how much of the manga this is, but it’s probably something like six volumes (we must skip the first three and a half because, again, those aren’t covered here). There’s certainly a lot of useless shit in the show, where episodes feel a little longer than they may have needed to be (usually while enemies talk about how awesome they are for minutes on end), yet this movie happens so fast that it doesn’t give time to endear one to the characters or get sucked into what’s happening, or get wrapped up in Griffith’s enigma.

But maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve seen Berserk too many times, and am interpreting it as a fan would, not knowing how it would appeal to new hopefuls. Also, I was slamming shots the whole time, so I could barely even see by the end of it.

Anyway, there’s something to gain here. It’s in the massively enhanced realism. One of the biggest drawbacks of the original show is that the battles suck a fat cock. We just see a bunch of shots of dudes killing dudes, with spacial relationships constantly changing while people stand around talking about what’s happening. The new movies bring the world and the scenes to life better than the show or manga could. It has the sense of “if this had really happened, this is what it really would have looked like.”

I enjoyed this aspect a lot, because it seemed to fill in the gaps in my imagination about what had happened in the story. For instance, in both the show and manga, all we ever see of the first battle where Guts kills whats-his-fuck is the fight itself, whereas in the movie, we get a better idea of the fact that a whole battle happens, and there’s shit like siege weaponry employed.

That said, it’s not like the new battles are necessarily interesting. The movie has realism, but it isn’t well-directed or particularly interesting to look at outside of being a re-imagination of Berserk. Moreover, the entire movie is in CG. At first, I found this incredibly awkward, and I’m still not sure if I just got used to it, or got so drunk that it stopped being as apparent to me. The CG is what allows for these big-scale fights and for the realistic movements, but it is smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley; weird as fuck.

Fans of the series probably won’t be impressed by this movie because all it adds is a small bit of visual enhancement while cutting even more from the story that had already been problematically cut from the anime. When I’d heard there would be three movies, I thought it would mean that they were going to cover everything, not that they were going to make the movies ultra-short, which makes no sense.

But again, I’ve lost nothing. At worst, I’ve gained. Just not a whole lot.

Awesome EDs, ~2011 Edition

A couple of years ago I posted my “top 10 unskippable EDs”—titled that way because I used to skip EDs a lot of the time. Now I don’t do that unless it’s really bad. Anyway, all the embedded videos are broken in the old post and I watched a *lot* of anime in the past two years, so here’s a new list of memorable EDs.

TO BE ON THIS LIST I had to like the ED as a whole, meaning song and video both. There are some ED songs that I liked where the video is unmemorable (think Mawaru Penguindrum’s “Dear Future”—amazing song, boring vid). Some also might be awesomely bad.

These videos are alphabetized by the shows they came from. And no, I have absolutely nothing better to do, and yes, I’m very tired right now.

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GUNDAM RX-78 CAKE (and More Anime Cakes)

My younger brother just had his 17th birthday, so more anime cake! He immediately went for the classic RX-78 Gundam, seeing as he’s always been a fan of Gundams but only recently finally saw the original movies. He’s now working his way through Zeta, and for his birthday he got Master Grade Zeta Gundam and the new Char-like from Gundam Unicorn. After this and the Reinhard cookie, you are probably wondering why the rest of my family has better taste in anime than I do, and why you got stuck with me blogging about it :p More pics below!

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10 Badass Anime Swords

Back in 2003 when I was fairly new to anime, I was all about swords. The shows that introduced me to the medium usually involved samurai and lots of fighting, so I considered the blade to be the ultimate weapon. I had always wanted to own a samurai sword back then, but my two younger brothers were cause for my mother to disallow it. I own a (rusty-ass) samurai sword now, and while I’m a bigger fan of guns these days, I still have a great love for the good-ol’ badass blades. I also just figured out how to break my posts into multiple pages and wanted to do a cracked.com-style post with it, so here goes my top 10 Badass Anime Swords!

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Influentially Long-Ass Manga

There are some seriously, seriously long-ass manga out there, and a lot of them are really great. There are some like Golgo 13 and Detective Conan that have been doing the same thing for decades and are still going strong, which is cool. There are also those with a continuing story that keep on truckin’, and some serious long-runners that ended somewhere along the line like the Dragonball saga. I want to talk about three long-running manga series that are very influential to me and what makes them so.

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100 Characters For 100 Otaku (Part Seventeen: 20-16)

The seventeenth post in “100 characters For 100 Otaku.”

I feel like we’ve reached the final stretch of “100 Characters For 100 Otaku” as we enter the top 20! From this point on, the characters gain a very real importance to me. We’ve been on a steady incline of character importance, but now there’s a very steep jump into characters that I truly love. So let’s see what they have to offer! We’re rolling 20 down through 16!

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