Gainax: Recycling Evangelion and overdoing the fanservice

They may not be the most prolific of studios, but Gainax has been the subject of much debate and discussion over the years, surrounding both their seeming inability to end a series properly, but over the various elements of their apparent masterwork Evangelion. In all this time, perhaps everything that can be said has already been beaten to death many times over, but even so, my desire to write studio reviews means that I have to cover that old ground once again.

HITS

Kare Kano (His and Her Circumstances)
I absolutely love Kare Kano, and whilst the manga is far better than the anime, that doesn’t mean that the animated version isn’t worth a look. Sadly, Kare Kano is dogged by an animation budget so low that much of the series is stills (or even cardboard cut-outs at one point), to the point that whenever you begin watching, you cannot help feeling frustratingly divorced from the action. Nonetheless, the base brilliance of this tale of high school life, keeping up appearances and the effect of first love cannot help but shine through, and with an amazingly cheap series boxset now available, there is no excuse not to check it out.

Memorable moments: Too many to pick just one or two.

NEUTRAL

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Ah, and this is where the you-know-what hits the you-know-where. Yes, in the early days of anime fanhood, I loved Eva- I obsessed over the characters, rewatched it several times in both English and Japanese, made it my desktop and drew endless reams of fanart. Ultimately, though, whilst I still believe it has worth in getting across Anno’s message about depression and in delivering some powerful moments, as an anime series, it doesn’t work. The story meanders between giant robots, light harem and ponderous religious themes, leaving huge parts undeveloped due to its raw and unpolished state (both a strength and weakness for the series). And when we look at the main characters, what do we see- a whingy, angsty boy getting into his mother to impress his daddy; an emotionless doll and an overbearing young woman who turns out to also have a traumatic back story. Worse yet, Gainax just can’t leave it alone- instead we have to have movie remakes and increasingly ridiculous amounts of merchandise shoved down our throats. Thought those Eva soap dishes were bad enough? How about specially themed Eva juices, or figures based on what the Angels might have looked like if they were humanoid women?

I know a lot of you will want to flame me for this, but please save it for the day when I write a full “Evangelion Deconstructed” post.

Memorable moments: Shinji watching in horror as the Unit 1 autopilot goes berserk on Unit 3, Rei telling Ritsuko’s mother that Gendou calls her an old hag.

FLCL

FLCL is hard to class; after all, it is so insane that no one can truly understand what is going on, and so most end up either loving it or hating it. I think I need to watch it at least once more before coming to a final decision; there are times when the over-the-top ridiculousness of it gets annoying, but also times when it’s actually quite fun to just sit back and get taken on a crazy ride.

Memorable moments: Not a moment, but the soundtrack is rather memorable.

Gunbuster 2

Gunbuster 2 is an odd OVA; it starts out setting up one story, only to diverge off into another less satisfying one halfway through. Had it properly finished what it started instead of veering off into this new direction I would have enjoyed it a lot more, but as it stands the feeling of petering out towards the end is a little disappointing. Nonetheless, the character designs are at least bright, colourful and worthy of note.

Memorable moments: Nono demonstrating her splitting capabilities.

MISSES

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
I’ve already written about this for another article, but Abenobashi and I simply didn’t get on. Instead of being the clever parody of anime, game and film stereotypes that I had hoped for, Abenobashi descended into tiresome attempts at plot and unfunny jokes that just made me want them the whole experience to be over with quickly. The ending was also a perfect example of why Gainax are so bad at conclusions, fizzling out like a damp squib rather than bringing anything to a proper conclusion.

Mahoromatic – Automatic Maiden
Ah, Mahoro, why did I subject myself to you? Yes, it did improve slightly towards the end, but the feather-light storyline and masses of fanservice surely put it in squarely in the “why am I watching this crap?” category. Worst of all was the well-endowed teacher who seemed desperate to get it on with the main character- was I the only one who found this creepy? Surely one to miss- the trauma of episode four’s beach visit still haunts me to this day.

This Ugly Yet Beautiful World (Kono Mini)

For some reason, I had led myself to believe that this would be a serious and thought-provoking series, and so when I came to realise that it was going to be nothing more than a mediocre fanservice fest, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. Admittedly, most series have a light throwaway episode or two, but Kono Mini is effectively entirely composed of such episodes, with even the main plot proving to be an ultimately disappointing excuse to slip in the Angels that failed the auditions for Eva. In the end, the only things I really liked were the OP animation and Hikari and Akari’s character designs.

Final Thoughts
With its predilection for maid- and fanservice and its over-reliance on the legacy of Eva, Gainax is sadly not all that impressive on the content front. Nonetheless, it has managed to carve out a high profile in the minds of many anime fans, and if nothing else, it can be said to be responsible for the Unit 1 look-alikes that infest the lands of anime in the modern age.

10 thoughts on “Gainax: Recycling Evangelion and overdoing the fanservice

  1. No Gurren Lagann? I confess I’ve not been watching it (too much other anime crammed into my busy schedule combined with a Gainax distrust from watching previous series), but from what I’ve read on other blogs, it seems to have seriously picked up in quality from Gainax’s previous offerings. Could this be the other ‘hit’ to put next to Kare Kano?

    In general I agree with your placings though, at least of the ones I’ve watched. Very much looking forward to your “Eva Deconstructed”. ^_^

  2. Haruchin: I too was wary of Guren Lagann after previous Gainax experiences, but I’ll no doubt get around to it sometime.

    Karry: Luckily I never touched He is my Master, although the synopsis sounds bad enough. Probably some maid wish fulfilment going on with the writers.

  3. Puchi Puri Yuushi (Petit Princess Yucie) is the bomb. It’s cute, light, but also has heart. The other Gainax stuff I’ve seen that I’d class as hits are Kare Kano, NGE, and FLCL. Abenobashi I though was hilarious for four episodes and then became numbingly dull for the remainder.

  4. Here’s a couple good ones you missed

    Honey and Clover (FANTASTIC)
    Nadia

    I’m not a big fan of gainax, though I am a fan of those two, and especially his and her circumstances. Eva in my opinion is a collection of crap that somehow through dumb luck synergizes itself into something vaguely interesting.

  5. Alex, Gainax was not the main studio behind “Honey and Clover.” JC Staff was. Gainax, however, did do some in-between work for that show, as did virtually every major anime studio: H&C’s production strategy was to farm out in-between work to multiple places rather than relying on just one, to keep the animation quality consistent for the whole show.

    H&C and Kare Kano go very well together IMO, though. They’re the best-of-class in the slice of life romance genre.

  6. Gainax made their reputation almost entirely on their earlier work, most of which you don’t mention here. Everything they produced up until FLCL was pretty amazing, particularly when you compared it to the other shows being produced at the same time. Just go back and watch their first work, Wings of Honneamise. It’s an utterly amazing movie – the animation is beyond stunning, the music unique and the writing intelligent enough that you’ll be in disbelief that the same guy was responsible for Abenobashi and Mahoromatic. Similarly, the original Gunbuster is just fantastic – it’s just so clever in it’s construction and writing. Nadia is brilliant during the episodes actually produced by Gainax.

    Gunbuster and Nadia both have terrific endings as well, by the way.

    Also, I agree with Super Rats – Yucie is great.

    That said, I kind of liked the misses as well. HiMM isn’t so much maid wish-fulfilment as it is poking fun at it, admittedly in such a fashion that’s so blatantly OTT that I couldn’t help but laugh at it. The teacher DID ruin Mahoromatic, though.

  7. I was looking forward to reading this article actually!

    I haven’t seen *everything* Gainax have done (I’m not far off, though, perhaps worryingly) but my overall impressions are that 1. their first decade is where you’ll find the classics and 2. they’ve been surfing the Eva merchandise wave for too damned long. I’m still waiting to see Wings of Honneamise but it has something of a legendary status; the original Gunbuster is pure brilliance from start to finish, although the sequel is good rather than great. Eva is impressive but flawed, Kare Kano was awesome apart from the truncated ending and as for FLCL…it’s understandable that most viewers don’t ‘get’ it but you can’t help admire it all the same. Mahoromatic (my experience is limited to the first season) is average, nothing more but I’ve avoided He is my Master like the plague! I’ll be covering Kono Mini in more detail myself but suffice to say I thought it had a great overall concept but the way it was handled was amateurish and sloppy, which is a shame when the character designs and production values are so high.

    I’ll be checking out Nadia soon to see if my theory is correct!

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