Chances are, if you care anything at all about the anime “business,” the first name you’ll hear when it comes to animation studios is Studio Ghibli (or more than likely, studio head Hayao Miyazaki). Probably just a step below that Japanimation juggernaut lies Gainax, my favorite animation studio, and creators of hits such as Fooly Cooly, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Panty and Stocking With Garterbelt, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Gainax started in the early 80′s under the title “Daicon Film,” and was started by a small group of otaku enthusiasts. Daicon Film’s first ventures into animation included a set of amateur fan-films entitled Daicon III and IV, in which a young girl battles Godzilla, a Gundam, and a Darth Vader, the Starship Enterprise, an Alien, among others. These were shown at various conventions and fan gatherings to help promote the new studio’s later official ventures.
Gainax proper began working on anime films and shows in the late 1980′s, starting with the little-known Wings of the Honnêamise. Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water aired in 1990, based on a concept handed down to Hideaki Anno by Hayao Miyazaki. It is partially inspired by the novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Due to its initial popularity, more episodes were ordered by NHK (the Japanese equivalent of PBS), causing problems with Gainax’s schedules and putting them under heavy work loads.
Working mostly on OVAs and smaller works such as Otaku no Video, Gainax would not return to television until 1995′s Neon Genesis Evangelion. Hoping to make a much bigger impact than Nadia, which was successful, but a mess from a production standpoint, and a show that the team had limited creative control over, Gainax aimed to take the typical giant robot show and turn it on its head. Unfortunately, more of the same problems rose with the production of the show, being both its greatest flaw and saving grace. Essentially bankrupt, Gainax was at first unable to meet its initial goals of completing Evangelion, reducing the final two episodes of the series to essentially nothing more than storyboards. However, a rousing commercial success from sales of merchandising and extreme critical acclaim allowed them to finish the show with 1997′s End of Evangelion movie. Lesser known shoujo love story His and Her Circumstances came next for the studio. Often touted as a “vacation” for the team after Evangelion’s horrid production period and overall dreary tone, the studio went on to work on the decidedly goofy Fooly Cooly, an OVA series composed of six episodes that was made in 2000.
After helping with the Cowboy Bebop movie, and teaming up with Shaft for both This Ugly Yet Beautiful World and He Is My Master, 2007 introduced the world to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Known for its energetic, manly appeal and bigger-than-life characters, Gurren Lagann was an instant hit. Breathing new life into the super robot genre, it went on to spawn two new movies and a myriad of merchandise. Much of the same team went on to work on 2011′s Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, Gainax’s song to American animation and raunchy humor.
Some of Gainax’s most notable members include:
1. Hideaki Anno is Gainax’s most known member, and directed Gunbuster, Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. First major accomplishments include working as an animator for Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicca and the Valley of the Wind, being tasked to animate the difficult God Warriors from the movie, as well as animating for Macross, Urusei Yatsura, and Grave of the Fireflies. A “(self-proclaimed) prodigal son” of Hayao Miyazaki, his original attempts at directing a series ended up largely failures, brought on by executive meddling and strict time and resource constraints from the struggling new studio.
2. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Mostly known as a character designer and animation supervisor/director for a myriad of Gainax’s most notable entries, Evangelion, Fooly Cooly, and Nadia, as well as anime such as .hack//Sign, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, and the video game Chrono Cross.
3. Hiroyuki Yamaga. Director of Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, a critically-acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful anime film, as well as Gainax’s first official work. He also directed Mahoromatic in a joint venture with Shaft, and Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi.
4. Hiroyuki Imaishi. Mostly known for his efforts in later Gainax works, he began his career working on Evangelion, and has since become one of the biggest key animators in the business, helping to animate and storyboard Gainax works Fooly Cooly, His and Her Circumstances, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, among others. He was also the head Director for Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking before his departure in 2011. Non-Gainax works include storyboarding and key animation for Fullmetal Alchemist, Hellsing, Shaman King, and dozens of others.
1. Gainax has won the Animage Grand Prix four times, for Nadia and the Secret of Blue Water (1990), Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 and 1996), and End of Evangelion (1997).
2. Gainax comes from an old Japanese word meaning “giant.”
3. Many members of Gainax are fans of famous Western media, and especially cartoons, as shown in the various cameos of Daicon III-IV, as well as Fooly Cooly and Panty and Stocking’s “South Park” moments. Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants can be seen in Viral’s cockpit in an episode of Gurren Lagann.
4. Following the extreme financial success of Evangelion, Gainax president Takeshi Sawamura was jailed for tax evasion, failing to pay 560 Million Yen in taxes from Evangelion properties.
5. Gainax has inspired two well-known tropes, the Gainax Bounce for being the studio known for animating moving breasts, and the Gainax Ending for a sudden, sometimes unexpected change in pace, mood, or overall feel near the end of their shows.