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.]

A Perfect Showcase of Why I Care So Much About Creators

As those who follow my tumblr know, I’ve embarked on a quest to watch every noteworthy mahou shoujo anime. (Shoot me some recs in the comments if you know any. Here’s MAL.) The natural starting point is Cardcaptor Sakura, which I’ve seen 5 eps of several times in the past three years, always loving it but never progressing (just because I’m me). I’ve been meaning to make a post about the directing in the first episode, but today I’ll be taking a more general approach and looking at how this series is the perfect showcase of why I care so much about creators.

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Aoi Bungaku ep. 1 – Another Spectacular Madhouse Show

There always seems to be at least one spectacular Madhouse show on the air that goes totally under-the-radar. It will get subbed late every episode if it gets subbed at all, and only a handful of people will remember it. The last one that just ended was the epic and amazing Souten Kouro, which has about 12 of 26 episodes subbed currently. Before that was Casshern Sins, which actually managed to get subbed (probably because the dialog was incredibly simple) and more miraculously got licensed for release next February. Before that, we had the show that most resembles Aoi Bungaku, which was the totally amazing Mouryou no Hako (sporting what I consider the greatest first episode ever made) that was apparently subbed through 12 of it’s 13 episodes (anyone know why that is?) It took over a week for Aoi Bungaku 1 to get subbed, which is not that bad, but we’ll have to pray the trend keeps up.

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Otakon 2009 – Convention of the VOCAL Generation

I’m gunna try to go through my time at Otakon as fast as possible. There are a number of things that deserve their own posts, some of which I’m sure someone else will do better (such as someone who’s camera didn’t run out of memory during Yamakan’s QnA.) This was an extremely fun and extremely fast otakon that, while not legendary like last year’s, was still a much-needed thing in my life and unforgettable. Pics will come in a second post, later.

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Casshern Sins – A Surefire Favorite to the Right Audience

Like my Simoun post, I am going to do this post in the form of a spoiler-free review followed by a spoilerific summation of how I felt on the series. Expect to see a lot of posts in this formula, since I like it.

Casshern Sins is not for everyone. The show pretty much moves at one pace, and that pace is ‘slow’. There is a lot of silence, introspection, and philosophical dialog. Ordinarily, this would make one assume the show is pretentious (especially since it has a lot of similarities to Texhnolyze), but it really isn’t. Casshern has a very simple plot, very simple dialog, and is easy to understand, so people looking for a mind-blower won’t find it here. The plot and messages of Casshern Sins are much more along the lines of Kino’s Journey or Mushi-shi. However, just like action fans will be turned off by the slow pace, fans of more quiet, contemplative anime might be turned off by the fact that there is at least one fight scene per episode and they can at times be lengthy. So the niche here is kind of small, requiring that you like a good variety of styles. I happen to fall into that niche.

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Episodic Blogging Experiment: Paranoia Agent – Episode One

I watched Paranoia Agent years back on Adult Swim and liked it a lot. It wasn’t a favorite or anything, as I was more of an action guy back then, but certain episodes were made of extreme win, and it was a show that was a little strange and a little slow, but just exciting and easy to understand for me to be entertained. I’d always had it as an honorable mention on my favorites list, and actually I’m rather surprise that I remember it so well when it was years ago (though I did probably see most of it like 4 times.)

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Incredibly Awkward Production – Uninhabited Planet Survive

The last shot of the op

The last shot of the op

I just watched the first episode of Uninhabited Planet Survive and I’ve got to say, it was incredibly awkward. Various elements just felt off. In spite of the story and episode both being totally generic, this has it’s own reasons for being unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

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Unrepresentative Studio Screw-ups

I am of the mindset that an opinion should be made based on research in any situation. I hate to hear people bitch that ‘all mecha sucks’ when they’ve seen exactly two shows from the genre (this seems to be the case for many.) I am sick of people calling a show ‘cliche’ when the show is intended to be homage or parody. These are all things that a little research would show to anyone. Whether or not you like the show is based all on you, but before you open your mouth to the world, you’d best know what you’re talking about. That’s why I’ve gotten rather tired of people making uneducated remarks about studios, especially those that supposedly ‘suck.’

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