2018 is already loaded with huge developments when it comes to anime studios: new companies founded by unique creators, studios popping up to cover forgotten niches, and even major rebrandings involving some of the biggest players in this industry. We’ve compiled all these big news to detail who is involved and what these new studios are already producing. Exciting times ahead!
The Japanese fiscal year starts in April, and that has its effects on the anime industry as well. You may have noticed how distributors tend to churn out quick re-releases as the period’s about to wrap up to inflate their financials as much as possible, but the most interesting changes are those affecting the creators themselves. April 2nd was the first official work day for many anime trainees, a subject matter we’ve been focusing on as of late – both the appalling struggles of newcomers in this industry and the fascinating work some of those young artists manage to put out in spite of everything. The attrition rates when it comes to animators in particular are so ridiculous that many of the youngsters nervously talking about their debut today won’t be around to welcome the next batch of trainees on the 1st of April 2019, but let’s leave that somber truth aside for once and talk about something more exciting: big news for anime studios.
The beginning of a new period is of course the perfect chance for production companies to launch new initiatives, mergers, rebrandings, and even to start anew. This is shaping up to be quite the heavy year in this regard, so we put together a list of the most interesting developments for anime studios in 2018 so far.
Arguably the most exciting news so far comes from director Kiyotaka Oshiyama and producer Yuki Nagano, who have partnered up to create Studio DURIAN with the explicit intent of bringing high quality creations of their own to fans all over the world; he first revealed his intentions last month, and although it was meant to be kept under wraps until April, the staff lists for the new FLCL sequels accidentally revealed the name of their company ahead of time. Oshiyama’s ascension within the industry hasn’t been as explosive as some other creators we’ve covered, but he’s been one of their biggest sources of hope ever since his debut as a regular animation director on Dennou Coil left a living legend like Mitsuo Iso speechless. As Durian’s site is glad to remind us, he proceeded to gain experience in many prestigious projects, not just polishing up his technical skills in various theatrical productions but also absorbing precepts from creative crews as influential as Ghibli. In 2014 he was finally given the chance to direct an episode of his own: Space Dandy #18 became the outlet in which to unleash that distinct voice he gradually developed, from his fondness of round forms to fairytale-esque storytelling. In a move almost unheard of, Oshiyama went from that debut to directing a whole show – the uniquely charming Flip Flappers, which further convinced even the people who weren’t enthused with the series that Oshiyama really is a distinct artist to look out for. If you value sheer inventiveness, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more promising rising figure in this industry.
But let’s rewind to his first directorial gig, since it’s quite relevant to this development. Space Dandy’s production desk, the person essentially managing the whole series from a scheduling perspective, was none other than Yuki Nagano, who already encountered Oshiyama at studio BONES on Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos. Nagano’s resume at the studio isn’t all that extensive but still includes works filled to the brim with charismatic creators even by the studio’s flashy standards, her crowning achievement being the unparalleled team she put together as animation producer for Mob Psycho 100. Her ability to gather all sorts of interesting artists, combined with Oshiyama’s own ability to attract other talented folks – just look at how many anime stars are congratulating him over this – mean that DURIAN will become a playground for many talented folks. Something to be excited over!
Exactly what can we expect from the studio, though? The very background of the website is a condensation of Oshiyama’s inventive quirks, and they’ve wasted no time in noting that DURIAN is currently planning a short-form original anime, most likely directed by Oshiyama himself. Whether they’ll stick to original works or be open to adaptations as well is something that they might not be entirely sure as of now, but considering their claims that they wanted to make something of their own and the kind of creators they are, it’s obvious they’d love to create unique original pieces. But since everyone has to start small, expect them to perhaps produce an episode for another studio before any grand debut – perhaps on Mob Psycho’s sequel, using their fantastic connections? We’ll have to wait and see.
It’s also worth noting that, much like Oshiyama himself had been doing on his personal twitter account, studio DURIAN is currently accepting pieces of art to offer free corrections; this service, recommended to both newbie artists and people who simply seek another point of view on their work, isn’t meant to impose Oshiyama’s vision but rather to share his advice and insight as someone who now has plenty of experience as an animator. If you’re curious about what these entail, there are plenty of examples in his twitter account and on the official site, showing Oshiyama’s suggested changes to other people’s Layouts (レイアウト): The drawings where animation is actually born; they expand the usually simple visual ideas from the storyboard into the actual skeleton of animation, detailing both the work of the key animator and the background artists. and his very precise notes. Don’t hesitate to send over your own work, though keep in mind the current free campaign is only accepting entries until April 5, as they plan to charge people for corrections on-demand and even a small fee for those who want to join an exclusive community with in-depth access to Oshiyama’s work and the studio’s inner workings. Balancing out his genuine educational intentions with the need to find new sources of revenue for a new small studio is a tricky business, but I’ve got to say, even in this regard they’ve taken a unique route!
One of the most surprising reveals at AnimeJapan 2018 was that Ogeretsu Tanaka’s Yarichin Bitch-bu would be getting an anime adaptation – not just because someone was daring enough to greenlight that, but also due to the new studio that will be handling its production. GRIZZLY boldly emerged into the anime world by proclaiming that they will be the first studio to specialize solely on boys love titles. Thematic companies are an interesting subject matter since, despite what fans and critics believed for ages, anime studios struggle to establish an identity of their own, which is an invaluable asset to make sure producers think about your company when they’ve got an idea in mind. Some studios have achieved that goal very deliberately – the most obvious example being SHAFT’s still ongoing crusade – while others have more or less stumbled into that via successful works, which led to Dogakobo becoming the studio of choice for cute 4koma adaptations a while back, and White Fox currently being offered all gritty fantasy titles. Having a specific genre space in mind from the get-go, especially a criminally underrepresented one like BL, makes GRIZZLY an intriguing new force in this industry that we’ll make sure to follow.
A studio is meaningless with no people in it however, so it’s worth looking into who is involved in this venture. And unfortunately, there isn’t much information available in this case; their website is unusually barren, noting the studio was founded last Christmas but not even listing the name of the representative as all anime production companies do. While their tagline “「愛」をアニメーションするクリエイティブカンパニー” could be both a reference to their focus on BL and a pun on director Ai Yoshimura’s name, as she will be handling their first series, it’s a bit too early to determine whether she’ll be a central figure in their output or not. What’s for sure however, is that GRIZZLY is linked to studio MAPPA. The latter’s account has accidentally posted production materials that were meant to be shared on GRIZZLY’s account, and although they’ve hidden it now, the studio’s domain was registered by Makoto Moriwaki using her own MAPPA email. She first joined Madhouse in 2006 and transitioned into MAPPA during one of the studio’s massive talent leaks, progressing from Production Assistant (制作進行, Seisaku Shinkou): Effectively the lowest ranking 'producer' role, and yet an essential cog in the system. They check and carry around the materials, and contact the dozens upon dozens of artists required to get an episode finished. Usually handling multiple episodes of the shows they're involved with. More to animation producer, and even acting as an assistant series producer for Yuri!!! on ICE. Whether she keeps working with MAPPA too or focuses on GRIZZLY’s efforts, the idea that Sayo Yamamoto could end up directing a new BL series at a studio built exclusively for that doesn’t seem far-fetched at all now.
Last, but definitely not least when it comes to sheer weight in this industry, comes studio CloverWorks – or as they were known until last week, A-1 Pictures Koenji Studio. Ever since 2012, the Aniplex production behemoth had two main locations: their headquarters in Asagaya, and the Koenji studio. Unlike other anime production companies with multiple locations, those didn’t really act like sub-studios with an identity of their own, instead being just a space in which to produce something. And likely because of that, they rarely got specifically credited for their work, since both were A-1 Pictures all the same. But with enough time, even a freelance-based entity like them can develop a sense of individuality: producers stationed at a certain place will tend to gather the same set of acquaintances, which eventually gives the work that gets produced there a distinct taste. The official statement cites this desire to diversify their output with two separate brands, which means that they’re going to diverge even further starting now. While on paper it could only be a name change, the consequences might end up being quite the big deal.
Although we’re only one day into CloverWorks’ life, there’s some points of interest worth noting already. For example, how A-1’s currently lineup will be split between both studios. Grancrest and Nanatsu no Taizai will maintain the old brand as they’ve been getting produced at Asagaya, much like Wotakoi in the upcoming season and Sword Art Online Alicization in the future. On the other hand, DARLING in the FRANXX will begin getting credited to CloverWorks on this same week as it was set in Koenji, much like Persona 5 and the new season of Ace Attorney. Though it might not be immediately obvious just going through series name, it’s no exaggeration to say that most extraordinary A-1 affiliated creators have been working with Koenji lately, and will move onto CloverWorks now; star animation producer Yuichi Fukushima, who gathered Darlifra’s exceptional crew while at the same time providing many skillful animators to Slow Start, has already confirmed he’s officially tied to CloverWorks, so expect this to be the start of a trend. It’s also known that the Koenji crew won’t be alone, since A-1’s smaller studio in Ogikubo will now be under their umbrella to act as CloverWorks third production post – meaning that their main studio will house two independent lines.
Aniplex’s actions have been plenty questionable in the past, and that’s most likely not going to change. That said, we’re talking about one of the biggest players in the industry, and the #1 entity behind big original anime over the last few years, with a capacity to attract top freelance talent second to none in this space. Seeing them bet on such a major rebranding, especially as it involves the studio that congregates the most high-profile creatives, is a thrilling piece of news. We’ll start seeing CloverWorks’ output as soon as this week, but the true extent of the repercussions this will have are still unclear. Could be absolutely huge, could peter out into little more than a name change.
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