“The objective behind the studio is to achieve greater creative freedom to pursue projects that may be less obviously commercial”.
Although MAPPA is a relatively new studio, it has a strong reputation. It was established in 2011 by no other than Maruyama Masao, one of the definitive veterans of the anime industry, and the studio bears his name - MAPPA is short for Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association.
Maruyama was the co-founder of one of anime’s most influential studios, Madhouse, and has been involved in pretty much every major production since the birth of the anime industry (Death Note, Trigun, Monster, Ninja Scroll, Paprika, The Girl Who Leaped Through Time, etc, etc, etc). After Madhouse became a subsidiary of the Japanese broadcasting company NTV, he quit and formed what, even though new in theory, in reality is the brainchild of one of the leading anime producers.
At the time he was already 70 years old, but that didn’t mean he lacked ambition (as is obvious from the introductory quote), Maruyama stated that one of the goals of MAPPA is to collaborate with the younger generations of directors, in addition to working with well-known figures such as Sato Keiichi (Big-O) and Watanabe Shinichiro (Cowboy Bebop).
MAPPA’s current portfolio includes a relatively varied array of genres, from mystery, action and fantasy to ecchi, and the studio is currently working on a number of much-anticipated projects.
With great power comes great responsibility – let’s check out whether MAPPA’s catalogue lives up to its founder’s reputation, let’s take a look at the top ten anime by MAPPA!
10. Hana wa Saku
- Episodes: 1
- Aired: March 2013
This short anime was made for the Tohoku region in the wake of the 2011 Tsunami, to commemorate the 2 years anniversary of the disaster. An example of the studio’s early animation, it depicts a Ghibli-esque idyllic town where the residents go about living their daily lives, perhaps in an attempt to make everything return to the way they were before the disaster struck.
It is actually a music video for the song “Flowers will bloom” written by Iwai Shunji and Kanno Yoko, the latter known as the definitive composer of anime and game music, being involved in almost any given major anime production. The result is a cute, touching high-quality flash of what the studio has to offer in terms of animation quality.
9. Hakuōki Dai-isshō Kyoto Ranbu
- Episodes: 1 (Movie)
- Aired: August 2013
MAPPA did the key animation as well as cooperated on animation production in this reverse harem slash samurai epic, the first in a series of movies based on visual novels made specifically for the ‘otome’ market, hence the reverse harem elements.
The plot centers around main protagonist Yukimura Chizuru who, when searching for her missing father, crosses paths with a group called Shinsengumi, who captures her upon learning that her father is the inventor of a powerful elixir that makes people go berserk by turning them into so-called Rasetsu, or “Furies”.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint MAPPA’s influence on the production, the movie was praised for its animation, which as mentioned above involved this relatively young studio.
Hakuōki Movie - Trailer
8. Ushio to Tora
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: July 2015 - ongoing
Originally a manga and subsequent OVA from the heydays of anime (the early nineties, that is), Ushio and Tora is a supernatural action series about the adventures of Aotsuki Ushio, a vagabond-ish samurai character and his relationship with with “Tora”, or tiger in Japanese, an ancient monster Ushio’s ancestors defeated many hundred years ago, but who was released from a spell by Ushio.
Combining old-school art style with current animation, MAPPA and its collaborator Studio Vlon creates a unique experience that was well-received by both, new viewers and fans of the original manga alike. An overall assessment is not possible at the moment, however, as the series just started and is currently being aired as we speak.
Ushio to Tora - Trailer
7. Punch Line
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2015 to June 2015
I’m not sure whether it is due to some ancient anime convention or due to financials concerns, but it seems that every studio needs at least one ecchi sci-fi comedy on their list, regardless of how highly they hold their respective integrity.
MAPPA is no exception in this case, and this soft porn-bordering ecchi comedy is the proof of exactly that. Iridatsu Yuuta is – no surprises here – a high schooler with a panty fetish and superpowers he uses to try to save the world. Couple that with non-linear, often confusing story-lines, and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a wacky comedy hated by some, considered a cult classic by others.
Punch Line - Trailer
6. Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2014 - December 2014
Based on a cell phone game, Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis has bigshot Sato Keiichi as director, who some of you might know as a mecha designer that rose to fame with the giant robot classic The Big O, perhaps explaining the breathtaking visuals in one of the studio’s strongest releases so far.
A mythical beast named Bahamut once caused havoc on Mistarcia, a world of humans, gods and demons. The different races united and managed to defeat Bahamut, and seals it with a key, broken into two pieces given to the gods and demons. Two thousand years later the gods’ piece is stolen by a mysterious thief, threatening to destroy the long-lasting piece and possibly bring on the end of the world.
Shingen no Bahamut Genesis - Trailer
5. Garo: Honoo no Kokuin
- Episodes: 24
- Aired: October 2014 - March 2015
Garo: Honoo no Kokuin lives up to Maruyama’s promise with regard to delivering something new: the dark fantasy series visual style was made combining live-action and anime, with some parts first being filmed and then animated with CG. It has also features one of the aforementioned members of the younger generation, Yuichiro Hayashi at the helm.
The story takes place in a world inspired by the Spanish Inquisition era, where alchemists are hunted viscously by the king and his advisor Mendoza. León Luis is the child of an alchemist killed by the king, and later inherits the title Golden Knight Garo. After initially traveling back to Valiante Kingdom to avenge his mother, he decides to help the prince, Alfonso, reclaim the throne.
GARO Honoo no Kokuin - Trailer
4. Zankyou no Terror
- Episodes: 11
- Aired: July 2014 - September 2014
Tokyo is struck by a large-scale terrorist attack, but the highly secretive suspect manages to stay at large, leaving only a video online. Zankyou no Terror tells the story of how a young girl meets two teenage boys, Nine and Twelve, who in some way or another are linked to the incident.
This mystery thriller might draw comparisons to the likes of Death Note or Steins;Gate, but is also entirely original and different. Why? Probably because is directed by Watanabe Shinichiro, the guy that gave us Space Dandy, Kids on the Slope (check further down) and last but not least Cowboy bebop. A score by Kanno Yoko isn’t a bad thing either. Zankyou no Terror is, though somewhat divisive, one of the fan-favorites of the MAPPA catalogue.
Zankyou no Terror - Official Trailer
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2012 - December 2012
This sports comedy tells the story of four high school girls in the school’s tennis club, with the majority not knowing the slightest thing about the sport. Wacky comedy with ecchi elements, nice animation and as much plot as it is possible to fit into a 2 minutes episode (almost none, that is) is what you get with Teekyuu.
MAPPA made the first three seasons, then passing the baton to lesser-known studio Millepensee – perhaps after experiencing a severe sugar shock from this overly cute comedy?
Teekyuu - Trailer
2. Hajime no Ippo: Rising
- Episodes: 25
- Aired: October 2013 - March 2014
Makunouchi Ippo was a shy guy who discovered boxing after being rescued from bullies by a professional boxer that happens to pass by. We follow him through his losses and victories in his Rocky-esque journey to the top. The classic ‘learn to know yourself by facing your opponents’-anime troupe is extensively in this sports anime.
Originally published as a manga back in 1989 (ongoing, surprisingly enough), it is not the first time Maruyama has been involved in the project, as Madhouse previously produced two anime series, a television movie and an OVA of the popular franchise, before collaborating with MAPPA for this 2013 anime adaption.
Hajime No Ippo: Rising - Trailer
1.Kids on the Slope / Sakamichi no Apollon
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2012 - June 2012
Together with Tezuka Productions (can you guess who that studio was founded by), MAPPA once again joined forces with cult director Shinichiro Watanabe and anime’s beloved composer, Yoko Kanno to make this stylish period piece. Both the director and the composer are well-versed in the world of jazz – one of Cowboy Bebop’s most notable features is its jazz score and general ‘jazz-cool’ feeling, making the pair an obvious choice for Sakamichi no Apollon (Kids on the Slope).
Back in the days when jazz was still the hippest hobby you could possibly have, a former shy top student, Nishimi Kaoru, meets bad boy Kawabuchi Sentaro who proceeds to introduce him to the wonders of bebop and cool jazz. Being high school students is never easy though, so they soon get caught up in more than a few romance related struggles.
Classy and touching, Sakamichi no Apollon took viewers back to an era they most likely didn’t know much about, an original take on the music anime genre. Though there are many contenders on the list, Kids on the Slope is held in high regard among most anime fans, and tops many “top anime of all time” lists, undoubtedly not without reason.
Kids On The Slope - Trailer
While MAPPA has, as this list hopefully has managed to prove, produced a fair share of top notch anime, we’re still waiting for its definitive ‘classic’ – like WHITEFOX’s Katanagatari or Shaft’s Madoka. Many are excited for the TBA title In This Corner of the World, based on manga artist Fumiyo Kono’s popular war time story.
Perhaps the most anticipated project, however, is Dream Machine, the late anime master Kon Satoshi’s unfinished project, but it remains to see how long it will spend in development limbo. Anyhow, not lacking in either the manpower or the creativity department, we surely haven’t seen the best of MAPPA yet.