Welcome to (the) Madhouse

Sad girls… in boxes?

When I was wrapping up Himitsu – Top Secret recently, I was surprised to realize that Madhouse had been the producer of the show. And it then occurred to me that several of the anime I’ve been working on as of late (Himitsu, Kobato., Kurozuka, to name a few) have all been Madhouse works. And it then occurred to me that perhaps I actually have a favorite studio.

I’m not exactly shocked by this revelation; after all, I’ve been routinely impressed over the past couple of years with the shows that Madhouse has been putting out. What I have liked so much about many of these shows is that they feature adult characters and are more mature in tone and nature than most of the shows that air each season. This isn’t to allege, though, that Madhouse somehow never possesses a stinker or something which is quite juvenile – NEEDLESS and Strawberry Panic come to mind (by the way – was anyone else as blown away as I was upon the realization that Strawberry Panic was a Madhouse property? no?). However, it nevertheless consistently turns out high-quality shows which dispense entirely with the kind of mindlessness I normally associate with the medium.

I just started watching Rainbow, yet another Madhouse show. I’d read a comment by someone somewhere remarking upon the lack of censorship employed by Madhouse, and I think that Rainbow is an apt example. The show is… brutal. But it never comes off as fanservice – and, yes, brutality for the titillation of the audience does count as fanservice.  The level of harshness present in the visuals and narration reflects the reality of the juvenile detention environment of post-war Japan; to have shown it any way otherwise would’ve cheapened it. It sucked to get incarcerated as a ‘problematic’ youth in 1950’s Japan, and that’s honestly putting it lightly.

Its this kind of show I’ve come to expect from Madhouse, as the previous offerings of Shigurui, Mouryou no Hako, Aoi Bungaku, Boogiepop Phantom, and Monster have all made me expect the best from them – I’ve developed a pretty high set of standards as far as regards Madhouse shows. However, I couldn’t’ve developed such a high set of standards if the studio hadn’t consistently offered shows which were great – notice that I don’t have a similarly stringent set of demands for, say, J.C. Staff or even KyoAni; I do like both of those studios decently, but I don’t love them nor do I really expect them to give me something like a Paranoia Agent every season (I will note that, once upon a time, J.C. Staff brought us the excellent Revolutionary Girl Utena… no threat of second lightning strikes here, though, as its attempt to replicate that brilliance with Melody of Oblivion failed massively) (hint: a good part of why RGU was as good as it was had to do with its challenges to gender conventions, not its embracing of such). Sad girls in the snow don’t quite trump mutilated girls in boxes.

I was a bit hesitant to actually come out and decide/say that I think Madhouse is one of the better studios out there, because I generally believe that anime studios, like everything else in this world, tend more toward holding a mediocre mean, which is to say that if they appear to be having a very good stretch, chances are they’re going to have a terrible one very soon. More often, though, it means that if they put out four shows a season, two are ok and two are bad – or all four are kind of “meh”. This is also why I was pretty floored when Gonzo entered its all-out death spiral (although apparently they’re aiming to release a new show in Spring 2011). Yet the ratio of hits to misses for Madhouse is very high; in fact, I can only think of two recent total crapfests from the studio, in the forms of Ultraviolent: Code 044 and Chaos;Head (I really disliked Death Note, but I can sort of see where objectively it could be considered ‘good’). Prior to that, Ichigo 100% was shitty, but that aired in 2005; MapleStory was a snorefest in 2007, although I suspect that had more to do with source material than anything.

I think it also helps that when Madhouse hits the mark, they basically hit it so hard it lights on fire.

Ok, that was probably one of the most retarded sentences on this blog.

Anyway, the point remains – Madhouse is excellent when it gets it right, and still pretty good when it doesn’t quite get a bull’s eye (Himitsu, I’m looking at you) (and Kobato. if only because it has some draggy middle episodes). With so many great shows, it makes it much easier to overlook the lesser efforts, like the ones mentioned previously.

In closing, I just realized that The Tatami Galaxy also, is apparently, a Madhouse production. Well, chalk up one more point for Madhouse.

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12 Responses to Welcome to (the) Madhouse

  1. Scamp says:

    One thing that always impressed me about Madhous was they always get the best out of any manga adaptation their given. Give them Monster and they give you creepy music and shading whenever Johan shows his face. Give them Kobato and they nail the cuteness of her character. Give them Death Note and they perfectly re-create the tense atmosphere.

    In short, they’re capable of doing anything and doing it well. Except mecha. Seriously, they don’t make any mecha anime

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, I really can’t think of any mecha anime they’ve done off the top of my head. But, hey, maybe they just figure its not up their alley, so that’s fine too.

      • Kah says:

        Madhouse and mecha?
        I think of Rideback which they did recently and it is one of my favourites.

  2. I thought you were going to miss Tatami Galaxy, and while you avoided the strike, it’s still foul ball. Tatami Galaxi is not only good-looking but in a very different way and is something you can talk about at some length (because I feel less than confident in doing so).

    • adaywithoutme says:

      I will probably watch Tatami Galaxy once it has wrapped up; I’m in the process of watching all of Honey and Clover at the moment. I also, for whatever reason, prefer to wait for the entire series to air before watching it is I haven’t followed it right from the start.

  3. Baka-Raptor says:

    Studios don’t matter to me. Never did. Never will. I have a half-written draft about this that needs to be summoned from hell.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Well, other than Madhouse, I don’t care. I certainly don’t have any studios I avoid, although Gonzo did come perilously close to that with junk like Dragonaut and Blassreiter all so close together. But, hey, guess that problem solved itself.

  4. kluxorious says:

    and they are going to produce HighSchool of the Dead this summer. I’m excited because like Scamp said, they are very good with adaptation.

    Personally I think I’m a fan of A1-Pictures

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, I saw that – its their only show for the season, if I am remembering that accurately. I’m sort of surprised since that’s a pretty low total, although I think they may be one of the studios that has a low summer output usually.

  5. steelbound says:

    You forgot to mention Madhouse did Unico. 🙂

    And they have been behind all of Satashi Kon’s work, not just Paranoia Agent. And they animated both of Mamoru Hosoda’s movies – Summer Wars and The Girl who Leapt Through Time. And don’t forget Masaaki Yuasa’s previous masterpiece – Kaiba and there’s also Dennou Coil.

    • adaywithoutme says:

      Yeah, I know; just figured I didn’t need to list every single piece of animation Madhouse was ever involved with. I still really need to check out Summer Wars and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.

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