In the current Japanese animation industry, there are several vivacious studios established around 2010 that are leading the industry with many popular titles; studios such as TRIGGER, WIT STUDIO, KINEMA CITRUS, WHITE FOX and MAPPA.
MAPPA is regarded as a leading studio among them and anime fans around the world are always looking forward to their new titles. They have been depicting a variety of stories with high-quality animation, satisfying the young-adult-to-adult audience. The multi-award-winning feature film In This Corner of the World has caught the heart of not only anime fans but also much of the worldwide lovers of animation. Found in their repertoire are adult-themed drama TV series such as Terror in Resonance and BANANA FISH, fantasy TV series with in-depth stories like Rage of Bahamut, Dororo and Dorohedoro, and coming-of-age stories involving becoming strong in one specific skill, such as Kids on the Slope, a story of high school students who play jazz music, and Yuri!!! on ICE, a story of a figure skater who performs at many competitions around the world.
This year, MAPPA is ramping up on their production more than ever. After the release of Dorohedoro in January, LISTENERS in April and both THE GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL and Mr Love: Queen’s Choice in July, two of their new series JUJUTSU KAISEN and The Gymnastics Samurai will start from October. Furthermore, they are developing the final season of Attack on Titan, which will be broadcasted this year.
Animationweek has been curious about the story behind the continuous success of the studio since the beginning of its history. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to hear on that from Manabu Otsuka, the president of the studio. We are happy to share his words with you.
Interview with Manabu Otsuka
Hideki Nagaishi (HN): Please let us know the background and the reason behind the inception of the studio.
Manabu Otsuka: Mr. Masao Maruyama, the former president and current chairman, has resigned from Madhouse and founded MAPPA in order to realize In This Corner of the World, a film directed by Sunao Katabuchi, at any cost.
At the time, the TV series project Kids on the Slope also started with Director Shinichiro Watanabe*1, who is close to Mr. Maruyama. For the project, various members were gathered together to join, and I was one of them. That’s how the studio started.
*1: He is famous among the global anime community as the director of Cowboy Bebop.
HN: Please let us know about the features and strengths of the studio.
Manabu Otsuka: I believe a characteristic of MAPPA is that we can create various kinds of works with varied staff. It is our advantage as an animation studio that we have the flexibility on animation creativity with consideration of the best staffing for each title without being tied to a particular director or direction of the story.
In order to create a variety of works with our very flexible production team structure, we keep many of our staff as employees*2. We intend to make more use of this characteristic of the studio in the future by arranging our internal creative teams more, such as 2D animators, 3D teams, digital effect teams, and background artist teams.
*2: The majority of animators in Japan are freelance, not being employed in a studio.
HN: Please let us know about the criteria in selecting works and projects. What do you focus on?
Manabu Otsuka: As a production studio, we are aware that it is still under development, so we choose projects with the outlook on whether we can grow as a studio that has stronger production teams and can produce higher-quality works.
In terms of the types of growth for us, we specifically give importance to the growth of three things: business, talent development, and creativity, as our criteria for selecting projects.
For example, we try to choose projects that the company can make good profit with and enables talent development for animators, production assistants, and so on. We are also choosing works that can leave good results in the world, that would allow people to think that MAPPA is doing good work as an animation studio.
HN: MAPPA has an established reputation of having a high-quality visual style. Could you please let us know what the studio pays attention to and what the studio is focusing on in creating visual designs and styles?
Manabu Otsuka: We think it is still not enough as a self-assessment, but through our creation of animation, mainly TV series, we are constantly pursuing creative ways to improve the quality of each cut without it becoming mindless work, like an assembly-line at a factory.
We try to face animation production with the mindset of putting under scrutiny how we should bring the quality of our creation to a higher level with a good understanding of the story, just so it doesn’t become mindless work. There are still challenges to be solved however.
HN: Could you please let us know what your studio takes special care in through the production process of each animation project to accomplish and maintain high-quality visuals? How do you secure enough good creators and bring up young creators?
Manabu Otsuka: We believe that the quality of animation is tied to its people, so we think that connecting with people who can guarantee great quality works and giving them opportunities for work that can be used to demonstrate their ability and talent can lead to high-quality animation visuals.
Hence, we believe that it’s very important to make excellent creators interested in working with MAPPA. When we commission each creator, we thoroughly make sure to do a tight presentation of the financial aspects, the quality, and the contents of the work.
Regarding talent development, by hiring people as full-time employees of MAPPA and assuring a fixed salary from the beginning, we are arranging to create a good environment in which they can concentrate on animation production without worrying about their future.
In addition, since the most important thing for us is to provide high-quality products to our audiences, we educate all our employees involved in the animation production, including new graduates, to be highly professional so as not to compromise on the audience’s perspective and evaluation.
HN: How do you select the main creators of each title such as director, scriptwriter, animation director, art director and character designer? What aspects do you take care in or particularly focus on?
Manabu Otsuka: When we staff each project, we pursue thoroughly the question: “what kind of visuals from what kind of teams can make audiences happy with this work?” So, we throw away the idea of “if it’s our work, we’ll make it as usual with this director and this character designer”, and we look for the best vision of the completed work of each project for our clients and audiences, and try to have the best team for each of them that can achieve that.
HN: Are you interested in collaborating with overseas creators and studios?
Manabu Otsuka: Actually, we are doing a variety of challenges right now. This year, we developed Mr Love: Queen’s Choice, an animation series based on a Chinese game and a Crunchyroll original animation THE GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL. We are also now working for a Netflix original animation project YASUKE, which has already been officially announced.
We are actively working on animation works that we are thinking of reaching out to overseas audiences or have been started in collaboration with foreign companies, and we are already transmitting them to the world.
I believe that it is an important mission for this company to learn what kind of activities and expansion MAPPA can do in the global market, based on the results of these challenges.