Studio Gainax

Studio Gainax

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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.

Trivia:

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.

December 27, 2012 0 comments Read More
Best Christmas-Related Scenes in Anime:

Best Christmas-Related Scenes in Anime:

Christmas is a familiar, but decidedly different holiday for the Japanese, at least when compared to Western values.  As any anime/manga will be willing to tell you, the Japanese love festivals.  They have them at schools, at holidays, and just about for any reason they can think of.  For that reason, working Christmas into their schedule was hardly a problem, even if the holiday carries a more religious connotation here than there.  So here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of the more memorable Christmas-related scenes from Japan.

1.  Hayate the Combat Butler – Santa’s Kind of a Jerk

I’ve only seen a few episodes of this anime, but this scene very early in the first episode stuck with me.  Hayate, a young man who has to work to pay off his good-for-nothing parent’s constant debts, is recalling a conversation he once had with Santa Claus.  (I am not sure if this actually happened, or was part of some adolescent fantasy, but anyway…)  During this short exchange, Santa gives him some advice to work hard to find his own dreams, which sounds like rather sagely advice from old Saint Nick.  However, one part of this conversation makes him seem a bit… well… different.  When Hayate asks why it is that he never seems to receive presents for Christmas, Santa explains in a very calm manner…

2. CLANNAD: After Story – Christmas at the Furukawa Bakery

One of my favorites, CLANNAD is a drama-comedy that deals with the aspect of family.  To explain everything that leads up to this would be a bit hectic, as it’s very late into the second season.  Simply put, the main character, Tomoya, due to his own family problems, has found a new family in the Furukawa’s, made of Sanae (mother), Akio (father), and Nagisa (daugher and Tomoya’s love interest).  It is also Nagisa’s twentieth birthday, which means she can drink according to Japanese law, a fact that her father is very proud of.  When Nagisa goes a little overboard (not that it takes much…), things become a little hectic.  A funny, and a bit heartwarming take on the traditional “family during the Holidays” scene.

3. Toradora – Teddy Santa

Toradora is a high-school romantic comedy that I found overall pretty enjoyable, though incredibly slow at points.  One of the best scenes is also one of the biggest turning point in the love-triangle (er, I guess square… it’s complicated) involving most of the main cast.  It also happens right around Christmas, which is a time for lovers more in the East than it is in America.  When female-lead Taiga Aisaka is feeling particularly down after a Christmas party at the school, it is up to Teddy Santa (male-lead Ryuuji) to bring up her spirits.  In the end, this may cause more problems than it actually fixed, though…

4. The Dissappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya – A Very SOS-Brigade Christmas

While very little of this movie actually has to do with Christmas (it’s just around the corner virtually the entire movie), the cold, wintery vibe makes it feel very much like a Holiday movie.  Haruhi gets it in her head to have an SOS-Brigade Christmas party, and of course this means a new – *ahem* – outfit for Mikuru.  Will Kyon finally get a normal Christmas this year?  Watch and see, if you’re interested,

If you have any other good Christmas-themed anime scenes, feel free to post about them in the comments!

December 13, 2012 0 comments Read More
My Vita and I

My Vita and I

Though many would consider it a mistake, I bought the PS Vita when it released; partly in support of the console and partly because I was highly interested in it.  The one thing that PlayStation really has going for it are the first party titles and the fact that they are really the only company releasing game from Nippon Ichi Software and Atlus, both of which are great companies in my opinion and have released games for the Vita. Though PlayStation’s first party titles on the Vita have gotten mixed reviews, I’ve found them enjoyable.  Sure Golden Abyss was more like Uncharted 1 with a few Uncharted 2-esque cinematic moments, but it is still a solid game and retained the charm that really makes the series special.

As an early adopter, do I regret getting the Vita? Yes and no.  Yes, because I felt like I could have used that money in some other capacity, especially considering Uncharted and Gravity Rush are both free now as part of the instant game collection (for PS+ subscribers). No, because I really like the system and what I have gotten out of it. I missed out on the PSP; mainly because I wanted to (Read: didn’t want to pay money for it), but there were a lot of games I wanted to play. The PS Vita allows me to do that and that’s one of the reasons I really enjoy it.  The PSP games play solidly and are pretty cheap (with most games being at or under $14.99). Now that the system has been updated to play PS1 games it’s even better for those of you who want to take Xenogears on the go.

You could say that the Vita was produced with the aging gamer in mind; however, developments in mobile gaming have moved toward bite sized games with our phones as primary mobile gaming devices.  This means that the Vita not only has to contend for pocket space, but also market share.  What does this mean for the Vita’s full length and full priced games? Well it means that less people are going to be interested in finding time to sit down and playing these longer games, never mind the notion of buying and carrying around another device.  Why carry two devices, when you can carry one and still get your fix? Luckily, I haven’t grown up and I still wear baggy pants with deep pockets.  If nothing else you can use it as an excuse to try and bring back the wicked awesome creature known as the fanny pack.

It’s not like mobile games are horrible.  In fact many of them look great and play really well. You can’t argue with the general sub $5 price tags either.  However, for me those games are generally fairly limited and don’t have much on the 3DS or Vita.  I have several of the Vita games including: Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Gravity Rush, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, and Persona 4: Golden. I’ve played many more of them via Gamefly.  The ‘problem’ with the Vita games is that they are somewhat demanding in terms of time, especially compared to bite-sized mobile games like Angry Birds and Jetpack Joyride.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily.  For me, I play my Vita when I go on long trips and when I’m at a place where I know I’ll have extended periods of downtime.  Sometimes I feel like there is too much content to finish in a reasonable time, especially since they have trophy support.  I’ve heard people say that they don’t mind when a game on their phone sucks, but if they paid $40 for a game and it sucks they’d lose their shit.  That’s fair, but just like consoles I still look for information on my games before I buy them.  The last time I didn’t I ended up with Mugen Souls 2 and an upset wallet.  It sits on my shelf as a constant reminder of my failure. For all of the games I’ve picked up for the Vita, there has been at least 10 or more hours of content for solidly built games.  That’s normal for consoles and awesome for a handheld console.  With that much gameplay, I personally don’t feel ripped off at the price of full releases.

If you’re looking to buy games whether shorter indie games or full releases from the digital store, you can utilize the rating system built into the PSN as well as the demos and game trailers.  If in doubt, do more research.  I haven’t played many of the digital releases, but I found Escape Plan to be worth my $15. It’s a great puzzle game that really shows off the gimmicky aspects of the Vita.

Many people complain about the comfort of the system and the battery life.  I haven’t had a problem with the battery life.  I generally only play in hour increments depending on the game, but the battery did last for a series of flights from Memphis, Tennessee to Delhi, India without charging.  Again, I played in hour increments between passing out, movies, and whining about being bored.  The way I deal with the shape of the device is by having bought a dual-shock-controller-shaped protector for it for $15.  It makes the system much more holdable and pulls those pesky triggers back into firing position.  It won’t protect the already solidly built system from a fall (watch the drop videos for it), but it does make it very comfortable to hold for extended gaming sessions.

Is the Vita worth the ~$250 entry point? That’s up to you.  It works well for me and I can understand reasons for concern given the expensive entry point and general lack of third party support.  If you are on the fence about it I recommend you do some research on it.  If you don’t have one yet and want to get one I recommend the Assassin’s Creed: Liberation bundle (which comes with a 4 GB memory card, the game, and a special white Vita) and paying $17.99 for three months of PlayStation Plus (if you don’t already subscribe on the PS3).  With PS+ you can get the instant game collection don’t have to worry about buying more than one game right away.

December 10, 2012 0 comments Read More