Madhouse: God’s own studio or merely human?

Wherever anime studios are spoken of, fans can be found singing the praises of Madhouse, claiming how this one studio can turn everything they touch into gold. Naturally, when I hear such things, I have to question them, and so it was that they had to be the subject of one of my pointless studio reviews. The mission- to test the hypothesis that Madhouse are skilled enough to make anything worthy.

HITS

Akagi
I always seem to be singing Akagi’s praises, but this underrated series truly deserves it. It may be MANLY and not particularly aesthetically pleasing (although the animation is at least technically clean, and mah-jongg tiles are the best use of CG I’ve seen so far), but Akagi is oddly addictive, drawing you into its world and making you hold your breath as you wait for the flip of a tile.

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad
From the inconsistency of Nodame Cantabile to the disappointing dullness of Corda d’Oro, no music-based series has yet to match Beck for its sheer quality of entertainment. Gone is the instant and magical (sometimes literally) success of other series- in Beck, the protagonists face a much more realistic struggle as they try to make their mark on the music world. And yet, for all the difficulties they go through, they remain a likeable group that you cannot help but support every step of the way.

Boogiepop Phantom
Picking up after the events of the first Boogiepop novel, Boogiepop Phantom is one of the best supernatural series out there, expertly weaving different timelines as it tells the tale of people with emerging special abilities. Not every episode is on the mark (the one about Panuru seems particularly poor), but nonetheless overall the series is unique, memorable and packed with enough content to ensure that you have to watch it several times to get the most out of it.

Dennou Coil

Make no mistake about it, I love Dennou Coil; in fact, if it were a religion, I would convert immediately. This is the series .hack could have been if it had pulled its finger out, the series I always wanted but never knew where to find. Set in a world where special glasses let you interact with a virtual overlay of the real world, Dennou Coil not only features likeable characters and imaginative adventures, but it also raises deeper questions, as to just how real ‘reality’ even is.

Gungrave
Although it loses something towards the end when it becomes a zombie bash-fest based on the first game, the first four volumes or so of Gungrave are very good, detailing as they do the early days of Brandon ‘Beyond the Grave’ Heat and Harry McDowell. Knowing as we do from the first episode that these close friends will one day end up on opposite sides lends a sense of foreboding to events, but where Gungrave really shines is in how well it conveys the emotions of its characters, investing even the simplest of lines with multiple layers of meaning.

Gunslinger Girl

A series that I usually name whenever top tens are required, Gunslinger Girl is lamentably short, but over the course of its thirteen episodes it does an excellent job of adapting the first two manga volumes. The crisp, clean animation and piano-driven soundtrack only serve to enhance a story that was already highly worthy in the first place, making for a girls with guns series that should be a must-see for anyone.

Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers
I’ve decided to include these three Satoshi Kon movies together because not only are they all very good, but to write about them separately would result in my repeating myself. Although the three movies are rather different in tone and content, they are all highly enjoyable and memorable- even if you don’t usually care for anime movies, make time for these three.

Monster
Revered by all who have seen it, Monster may not be one of my absolute favourites, but I do concur that it is a very good series, and one of only two where 74 episodes didn’t feel like enough (the other being Hikaru no Go). A suspenseful tale of one man’s efforts to track down an unusual but nonetheless deadly killer, Monster weaves together the various threads of its main characters, never once dropping the ball.

Paranoia Agent
Satoshi Kon’s first (and thus far only) attempt at a TV series, Paranoia Agent offers a unique method of storytelling in which the ‘baton’ of main character passes from one person to another through the course of the series. Not only does this let the series explore a range of unique and quirky characters, but it also allows the mystery of “Shounen Bat” to slowly unfold, until everything comes full circle and the answers are revealed.

Saiunkoku Monogatari

Another entry on the hallowed top ten list, Saiunkoku Monogatari may owe its basic content to the original novels, but the animated version helped bring the story to a wider audience (myself included). Although the quality of the animation is not always up to scratch here, the series is nonetheless a strong one, bringing to life the complex and many-layered world of Saiunkoku, as well as the characters that inhabit it.

Texhnolyze
With its unique ambience and art style, Texhnolyze makes its mark right from the start, and whilst it isn’t the easiest or most coherent series to get into, give it some time and effort, and an absorbing series is revealed. Whether you want to bask in the atmosphere or delve deeper into the content, Texhnolyze’s futuristic world is one truly worth exploring.

X
Okay, so the movie wasn’t so great (and I make no effort to defend it), but even if it did have to work with an unfinished story and a limited episode count, X TV did a pretty decent job of bringing CLAMP’s end of the world epic to life. Although the beautiful animation and memorable soundtrack are truly worthy of note, X TV’s true success is in using a mere twenty-four episodes to introduce and develop both a coherent plot and over seventeen named characters.

NEUTRAL

Aquarian Age: Sign for Evolution
Although it’s hard for those of us in the West to comment on the bits and pieces of the franchise that have bled through from Japan, if we just consider this series as a self-contained unit, it comes up as somewhat lacking. The potential for both story arcs about the lead’s band and about the magical battles that take place behind the scenes simply cannot be developed properly in a mere thirteen episodes, and so the whole thing ends up merely showing flashes of interesting material in a sea of mediocrity. The movie is even worse; it may have some nice character designs, but its fifty-five minute length ensures it is nothing more than a hurried introduction of some new characters before they go into battle against a final boss.

Chobits
CLAMP’s ecchi semi-harem series was never the strongest of material to work from, but the anime somehow made it worse, compressing the good parts of the original so that it could fit in pointless diversions like an entire episode devoted to buying panties. Once again, the character designs are very good, but this is more for CLAMP completists than the casual viewer.

Cyber City Oedo 808
Ultimately, Cyber City is like any other sci-fi OVA from the early 90s- it features MANLY men beating up evil robots whilst the women in their lives either betray them or scream for help. If you feel an odd craving for cyberpunk, then this isn’t a bad way to assuage the need, but it isn’t something I can recommend to everyone- I’m not even sure I can explain why I still have it on DVD.

Paradise Kiss
It’s stylish and fashionable, but ultimately Paradise Kiss is simply too shallow to make it into the hits, especially as the anime cuts out much of the fifth volume, shortening the conclusion and thus failing to properly show where all the characters ended up. Like the other neutrals, it isn’t particularly bad, but nor is there much reason to call it good.

MISSES

Beyblade
Well, to be fair, Beyblade is just a kids’ show designed to sell toys, so it was never meant to be good, but 153 episodes was just a tiny bit too much- it was mindless fun at first, but when the finale saw Beyblades opening the way to a parallel dimension that could engulf the world, I had to question just what I had spent my time watching.

Claymore
I know this will provoke a lot of flames, but Claymore and I never did get on in either anime or manga form- the anime especially just left me with a grey, brown and washed out feeling, with its repetitive and simplistic action scenes and uninspiring characters. Although I may be the only person in the universe to think so, I just cannot see the brilliance that others says it has.

Death Note

In manga form, Death Note is very good, but for me, the anime just didn’t work. Perhaps it was just because the anime followed the manga so closely; as far as content went, I’d experienced it all before, and at my own pace instead of the one that the director chose. Worse yet, Light seemed to become much more theatrical in the anime, often going into red tinted mode as he laughed evilly and went off on another internal monologue of gloating.

Kemonozume
Maybe this series improved later on, but I found myself simply unable to watch past about five minutes into the second episode- seeing the lead character soil himself on screen just wasn’t my idea of entertainment. The only memorably worthy aspect was the detail in the animation, such as the monkey removing screws from a katana (or did I imagine that?).

Kiba
Another series that could have improved in later episodes, Kiba got off to a poor start that ensured I never really wanted to continue with it. Between emo Noa and his post-industrial grime and Zed’s generic shounen “rip off sixteen other series” adventures, Kiba just didn’t seem to have much in the way of originality to offer, and so it soon dropped off the watch list.

Lament of the Lamb
I love the original manga, but this OVA just didn’t do it justice- it was short, washed out in colouration, and generally didn’t offer anything to the franchise that couldn’t be gained from just ignoring it and reading the original.

Nana
Another series that many loved but I didn’t get on with, Nana simply proved to be rather dull in nature, with too time spent on Hachi to the detriment of the more interesting Nana. When thirteen episodes proved to be a struggle, I knew fifty would just be too much.

Otogi-jushi Akazukin
In the old days, Akazukin seemed like a fun children’s series, but as the episode count increased, the repetitiveness of it all began to become grating. With each episode featuring yet another monster of the week to be defeated by our heroines’ signature attacks, it became clear that the patience that saw me all the way through Tokyo Mew Mew was simply not ready for yet another brightly coloured but ultimately childish magical girl series.

Trigun
Trigun may be considered a classic in some circles, but I’m not sure why. Although there were moments when Vash approached my ideal of a character who hides their skill behind a laid back exterior, ultimately he was just too annoying to really get on with, whilst the over the top craziness that permeated the series just wasn’t to my tastes. I watched it once, but I don’t anticipate ever wanting to sit through it again.

Tenjho Tenge
There was a time when I liked Tenjho Tenge, but now I’m not entirely sure why- the girls may be nice to look at, but other than that, it doesn’t have a great deal to offer. Based around a rather bizarre high school where fighting is a part of the curriculum, Tenjho Tenge features a cast that encompasses everything from the downright dislikeable to the completely ugly and psychotic. Recommended for “blood and breasts” fans only.

Yume Tsukai
I went into this series thinking it would be something along the lines of Kokoro Library or Shrine of the Morning Mist, but sadly, it was just a boring knock-off that Madhouse cared so little about that they let the janitors handle the animation. With the original manga apparently focusing more on the lolicon aspects than the actual story, perhaps there just wasn’t much to work with.

Final Thoughts
It cannot be denied that Madhouse have certainly proven themselves capable of producing excellent series in a variety of different styles and genres, but ultimately, even they are only human, and so it is that not all their output can reach the same standard. With such a prolific output, it is no wonder they are good at what they do, but even so, no one can hit the jackpot all of the time.

16 thoughts on “Madhouse: God’s own studio or merely human?

  1. >>> Lament of the Lamb
    I love the original manga, but this OVA just didn’t do it justice- it was short, washed out in colouration, and generally didn’t offer anything to the franchise that couldn’t be gained from just ignoring it and reading the original.

    It did have one good point: The ED song. I do hope they remake this series, and really pray that they will keep the song and the voice actors, but change pretty much everything else, including using the correct ending as in the final manga chapter.

  2. Great post!
    I agree with most of your hits and your neutrals.
    I gotta save a few from your misses though. Claymore, Death Note and NANA for me are one of the best productions Madhouse has offered us. Calymore is one of those shows that just gets better as it goes on and before you know it you’re in the bandwagon absorbed by the sheer volume of the evnts that take place..so much so that some people would go after the manga to see what happens next. Thankfully I’m not one of those people so I await each episode patiently. I haven’t read the Death Note manga so we aren’t really on the same boat. I watched DN as a fresh new show so I was obviously very entertained by the show and thought it was well done. Plus it has to me one of the best endings in anime..watching light reach new lows like that was a great watch really the guy got what he deserved, Oh and Mamoru Miyano’s voice acting was stellar a job well done. As for NANA I was emotionally invested in the characters so I watched all 47 episodes and believe its terrific. The ending was so bittersweet and lovely really. Oh and if Hachi’s whining got to you then you’re not alone. But you’ll be greatly rewarded as the episodes go on as the show starts to really flesh out all characters putting them through real life situations that arguably change them for the better.
    Great Stuff! I look forward to more projects from Madhouse.

  3. wow… ur misses are so… umm… off. to each his own tho. i truly believe that kemonozume was better that 90% of ur hits. u should have given it a shot. it was so original, and the art was amazing. but i guess i just aassumed all animebloggers looked for originality or something. and then u didnt like trigun, nana, death note and claymore… ok nvm i just read ur about me section and what kind of posts u make… makes sense now. plus ur banner indicates what kind of anime u like? ight it seems ur own tastes are geared in a different direction. to each his own… its all good.

  4. wow… ur misses are so… umm… off. to each his own tho. i truly believe that kemonozume was better that 90% of ur hits. u should have given it a shot. it was so original, and the art was amazing. but i guess i just aassumed all animebloggers looked for originality or something. and then u didnt like trigun, nana, death note and claymore… ok nvm i just read ur about me section and what kind of posts u make… makes sense now. plus ur banner indicates what kind of anime u like? ight it seems ur own tastes are geared in a different direction. to each his own… its all good. u probably didnt like cowboy bebop, planet es, black lagoon or gankutsuo.

  5. Nice review on Madhouse. I would love to read a review on “Kyoto Animation” since it seems the popular studio now because of Haruhi and Lucky Star among the anime community.

  6. maglor: I think I need to listen to the ED theme again, I really can’t remember it. A remake would certainly be interesting at the least, and I think it might actually turn out quite well.

    Ivy: Thanks for your thoughts, I was actually interested in hearing from someone who’d seen the Death Note anime without reading the manga since it’s been my theory for a while that it would make a huge difference in enjoyment.

    kauldron26: We can’t all like the same things I’m afraid, and even though “everyone” thinks that the likes of Trigun, Haruhi, Akira and Evangelion are “classics”, I’m not too gone on any of those series- my favourites run towards Aria, Honey and Clover, SaiMono, Gunslinger Girl, Haibane, Kurau, Wolf’s Rain and now Dennou Coil.

    Toonleap: I’m going to get around to KyoAni in due course, never fear.

  7. An excellent summary. This seems a bit weird, but I can’t help but completely agree on the above titles that I’ve seen for myself! There are of course also Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust and Ninja Scroll to consider (not to mention some very innovative parts to the Animatrix), which are cracking examples of mindless action done right. Highlander: Search for vengeance would go on my ‘miss’ list, although it is unintentionally very funny.
    Tenjho Tenge and Aquarian Age were my main candidates for the ‘miss’ list too, although the mediocrity/unsuitability of the source material undoubtedly didn’t help matters. Lament of the Lamb and Death Note are prime examples of how a great manga can spawn a ‘meh’ animated adaptation.

    All things considered, I’d probably cite them as my favourite studio overall.

  8. I really like MADHOUSE but up to now, I have never really tried to make a list in my mind to see how many of my favourites are created by this studio. Now that I saw this list, it really struck me how many MADHOUSE series I have liked.
    I can’t say I agree about Death Note, I never liekd the aniem that much but it was because of the (in my opinion) shallow unlikeable characters and quite a few plotholes wehich can be more or less attributed to the manga, while the art, the music, the atmosphere and the direction were top notch.
    Claymore is quite overrated indeed, though enjoyable if you don’t take it too seriously, I actually watch it mostly for the voiceacting. 🙂
    Trigun is not good because of Vash but because of Wolfwood and Legato, at least that’s how I see it.
    Anyway, the existence of Monster alone proves that MADHOUSE os God’s own studio, let alone the creation of Gunslinger Girl, Paranoia Agent or NANA, 😉

  9. Since NANA is one of my top five all-time favorites, clearly our tastes differ radically. And Claymore is outstanding, as well as popular, despite the fact that it’s not a personal favorite of mine (monsters turn me off). Saiunkoku and Beck are good, but I find Dennou Coil slow and flat, despite its good points. For me, if Madhouse has any excellences, they are shown in NANA, Claymore, Beck and Saiunkoku, as well as in Dennou Coil’s animation.

  10. This is a really good overview of Madhouse. I can’t say how happy I am to see Saiunkoku Monogatari on the “hit” and Death Note on the “miss”. I agree with all your placements except Claymore. But I don’t have the right to complain since I hated AIR *is shot*. Okay getting back on topic, I noticed Madhouse likes to do budget cuts in their series. The animation in Saiunkoku and Claymore could have been much better. Overall, I’d trust Madhouse if they announced they were making an adaption of a manga series I really liked but I don’t trust them 100%.

  11. Oh and sorry for double posting but I just remembered that the Devil May Cry adaptation sucked. Granted, its based off a bloody video game where all they do is shoot monsters with guns…but if Madhouse was a great as the hype said they should have made it more interesting, right?

  12. *waves the Akagi fan flag*

    I agree that DMC has been very poorly done, I’m a huge DMC fan and was expecting it to be more like Madhouse’s other action masterpiece Black Lagoon.

    Dennou Coil’s by Madhouse? I seem to miss their name in some of their shows (like Black Lagoon & SaiMono, I never knew they were by Madhouse till a few months after I started watching them).

    You need to get round to seeing/buying/acquiring Card Captor Sakura, probably the best mahou shoujo anime ever and 1 of the best adaptions of a CLAMP manga (though I’ve not read the original manga yet).

  13. I wouldn’t exactly count Death Note, Claymore, NANA and Kemonozume among its misses, considering how many satisfied fans they left in their respective wakes. I’m in two minds about Trigun, since I personally disliked just about every aspect of it.
    On the other hand, I wouldn’t count Gungrave, Gunslinger Girl, Boogiepop and Paranoia among its hits either – neutral at best.

    I AM glad you placed X, Dennou, Monster and KokuMono where you did because those are some of the best anime series I’ve seen since I joined the fandom a long time ago.

    I doubt anyone could make an accurate assesment of how good a Studio is based on a handfull of titles and how you personally enjoyed them… especially of a Studio the size of Madhouse. It would be almost as accurate as predicting good or fail a Gonzo series will turn out to be :3

  14. I’m relieved someone else isn’t completely enamored with Claymore. It bored me to tears after six episodes and was promptly dropped (even in the face of “No don’t it gets better!!11”).

    Agree similarly on Death Note – it’s a serviceable adaptation, but it couldn’t shake the stilted feeling of the manga and it’s harder to ignore something like that when you’re watching rather than reading.

    Totally disagree on Kemonozume, though. It was a bit too shallow and self-aware but I grew to really appreciate it. Plus I’m a complete sucker for style. But still, along with FLCL I’d probably show Kemonozume to those unfamiliar with anime to prove it’s more than just cartoons.

  15. I think it’s unfair to lump Claymore in the miss group, since it hasn’t even finished yet. (I also think it more interesting than say, Death Note or Paradise Kiss.) Although I do have to admit, I am a Claymore fangirl ^_^; And the only thing that I don’t like about it is the animation and the boring background music.

    But still, great list. =)

  16. Thanks for your thoughts and feedback, everyone.
    Necromancer: I will get around to CCS one of these days, honest! I think I’ll start off with the manga, though, since as you know that’s already in my possession.

    Anca: Of course one person can’t make an utterly definitive assessment of a studio, but I’m not inclined to carry out an extensive survey and collate the results- instead, I just put my opinion out there and others can, as they have done, add their perspective. It may seem pointless, but then what’s the greater point of blogging at all?

    Hige: yay, I don’t feel so alone anymore- I was beginning to think I was the only anime fan on the planet who didn’t ‘get’ the appeal of Claymore.

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