Studio Mappa’s meteoric rise to the heights of Japanese animation

Less than ten years ago, one of the most talented producers in Japanese animation decided to leave his successful studio, Madhouse, to start from scratch. In an industry under pressure and increasingly competitive, the Japanese producer of 79 years, Masao Murayama, wanted to find a place of freedom to continue to create, free from commercial calculations. On June 14, 2011, he founded the Mappa studio, for Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association.

From their first creation, in 2012, the little musical gem Kids on the Slope, adapted from popular manga of the moment such as Jujutsu kaisen, Mappa quickly established itself as one of the most important studios in Japanese animation. A success crowned by the resumption at the end of 2020 of one of the most anticipated projects of the year: the fourth and final season of the phenomenally successful series The attack of the Titans.

“Trying to do what others don’t”

Back in 2011. After fifty years of career and collaborations with the directors of the most beautiful works of Japanese animation (Paprika, Perfect Blue, etc.), Masao Maruyama doesn’t have much to prove. What he wants now is “Just try to do what others don’t”, as he explains in an interview with Otaku Magazine.

This desire is reflected in the first production of studio Mappa, in 2012, with the luminous Kids on the Slope. The series adapted from the manga by Yuki Kodama is directed by the legendary Watanabe Shinichiro, already well known for Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo. When it comes out, the work with a summer fragrance does not fail to captivate its audience with its freshness and its music. And still makes you want to listen again today One day my prince will come, by Bill Evans.

Even if the producer knows how to surround himself with his old acquaintances and renowned directors, he intends with Mappa to put forward a new generation. This is how he entrusted the young animator Yuichiro Hayashi (future director of The attack of the Titans) the ambitious project of the series Garo: Honoo no Kokui in 2014.

At the same time, Cygames, the developer of the video game Rage of Bahamut, seeks to invest heavily in animation: Mappa responds, and entrusts Keiichi Sato with the production of the series Rage of Bahamut: Genesis. The company’s success convinced Cygames to invest heavily in the Mappa studio – a partnership that would prove essential to its development.

The departure of Masao Murayama

In April 2016, history repeats itself: Masao Maruyama leaves Mappa. To rediscover (once again) his total creative freedom. He founded a new studio (M2), and left Mappa in the hands of a new generation of directors and producers, under the direction of Manabu Otsuka.

The departure of its founder in no way hinders the success of the company. The same year, the studio made a splash with two new original productions: the animated film In This Corner of the World, directed by critically acclaimed Sunao Katabuchi, as well as the series Yuri on Ice, directed by director Sayo Yamamoto, defector of Madhouse, notably known for having directed certain episodes of Samurai Champloo. The virtuoso animation of Yuri on Ice, a heartwarming romance between two male figure skaters, is a huge success.

Read also “Yuri on Ice”, the unexpectedly successful queer figure skating anime

If in the Japanese animation industry success rarely has direct financial repercussions on the studios (considered to be mere performers), the enormous publicity brought by these two series will give a boost to the already very strong growth. fast start-up. But if the legacy of Masao Maruyama continues to rock some original Mappa creations with less success, such as Sarazanmai (2019) or Listeners (2020), his departure causes a change of strategy. Now, Mappa wants to play in the big leagues.

“Little by little, the studio will prefer to rely on existing works, analysis Steve Naumann, editor-in-chief of French magazines Japan Live and Animascope. In other words, to adapt rather than to bet everything on the realization of original works. “

A much less risky strategy, especially when it comes to adapting great classics from Japanese manga. The successes of Banana Fish (2018), Dororo (2019), Dorohedoro (2020) prove it.

Read also “Jujutsu Kaisen” and “Chainsaw Man”, two new “shonen” manga to watch closely

An exceptional year 2020

In a few years, this new era propelled the studio among the largest, with more than two hundred internal employees – to which must be added the independent animators. Since Masao Maruyama left, Mappa’s production has more than doubled.

“The studio had managed to win with a few series but they weren’t producing as much as the big houses like Madhouse or Toei, Steve Naumann notes. In 2019, they did six sets at the same time, which was already exceptional. But in 2020, the studio worked on eight series: it’s absolutely huge! “

Ever more numerous adaptations, which tackle ever more popular original materials. For the first time since its creation, the studio is adapting two titles this year (Jujutsu kaisen and Chainsaw Man) from the magazine Shonen jump from publisher Shueisha, who since 1968 has reigned supreme over Japanese manga. “For a studio, the fact of adapting a manga published in Shonen Jump, it is inevitably arriving on the front of the scene”adds Steve Naumann.

Read also From “Dragon Ball” to “One Piece”: “Weekly Shonen Jump” has become the manga’s hit machine

The studio’s production even managed to find a place in the catalog of video-on-demand giant Netflix. In 2017, the platform ordered the sulphurous series from the studio Gambling School, the story of a student addicted to gambling. A partnership renewed in October 2020 for projects not yet disclosed.

The will to tackle everything

Ten years after its creation, what remains at Mappa of the legacy of Masao Maruyama? Certainly, the quality of its animation. “There are few studios as important today which have such a high quality requirement, supports Steve Naumann. Particularly with regard to animation in 3D and synthetic images. It became the hallmark of Mappa, with the contribution of big names like Yuichiro Hayashi (Gambling School, Dorohedoro). “

There will also remain the will to tackle projects that nobody wants. Or as Masao Maruyama said, “Try to do what others don’t”. Among these crazy projects, we can think of Dorohedoro, a 1999 manga deemed unsuitable, or more recently to the fourth and final season of The attack of the Titans.

This grandiose and bloody series is the animated version of the first multi-award winning manga by Hajime Isayama, one of the most popular of the 2010 decade. It follows the fate of Eren Jäger, a young man who lives entrenched behind walls with what he remains of a humanity decimated by immense cannibalistic titans.

Since 2013, this masterful work has been adapted for the screen by the studio Wit, whose quality of animation had captivated the public. After three successful seasons, Wit announced on May 29, 2020 that he was abandoning the project.

“Wit has done an exceptional job since 2013,” explains Steve Naumann. But they didn’t have the shoulders to continue. Each season, they came out more exhausted, with many delays, not to mention the financial problems. The only ones who have agreed to take over the project while keeping the quality of animation without increasing the budget too much is Mappa. “

In an interview with the magazine Newtype, one of the producers of the series assured that the series was “In good hands”. A serenity not shared by all fans of the franchise, who are worried about this sudden change. Studio Mappa is making a risky bet: in the spotlight, the probability of shining is at least as high as that of disappointing.

Read also “Attack on Titan”: a fourth season that breaks broadcast records

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