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.