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Otakon 2012: Masao Maruyama on Founding MAPPA

Honorary Otakon staffer Masao Maruyama came back to Otakon once again to share his stories about the founding of his new production company MAPPA, and their new production Kids on the Slope. Mr. Maruyama open the panel by showing the opening and closing animation for Kids on the Slope along with a commercial the company did for Meiji Gummies. Mr. Maruyama recently left his original company, Studio Madhouse, after 35-40 years and decided to challenge himself with the new company, MAPPA. Kids on the Slope is their first production. Mr. Maruyama specifically wanted Shinichiro Wantanabe to direct Kids on the Slope as he thinks of Mr. Wantanabe as one of the best working directors in Japan and someone who has a very innate understanding of music, a major component of the show. It took quite a bit of convincing as Kids on the Slope is an adaptation rather than an original work like all of Mr. Wantanabe’s previous works, but Mr. Maruyama was able to get him on board. Yoko Kanno followed Mr. Wantanabe onto the project.

Capturing the performances for was the hardest part of animating Kids on the Slope. Roughly half of the time spent working on the show was spent on the performances, and the drumming in particular. They brought in a young drumming phenomenon to study his movements along with a noted jazz pianist. When they first started laying out the show they were planning on having performances in every episodes. While they did hit that goal, Mr. Maruyama said that he and the rest of the art crew really wanted to stop doing that by episode 3. Episode 7, featuring a full band performance, was the most difficult by far. The production ran almost 24 hours a day, running the three art directors very ragged. The production utilized quite a bit of CGI in addition to the regular animation, and Mr. Maruyama is very happy that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two styles.

Mr. Maruyama also opened up with some of the funnier explanations behind the MAPPA name. Officially it stands for “Maruyama Animation Produce Production Association”. Unofficially it started as a pun based on the Japanese words for “penniless” and “bare naked”. Apparently the official name change was because the receptionist got very tired of saying “Hello, bare naked”. Mr. Maruyama is also hoping to be able to complete work on Satoshi Kon’s final project within the next several years, but there is currently not enough funding for it. He had the same answer for the recent Tezuka release Pluto, saying it would take about 8 hours of animation to complete that work and there is no budget for it right now. “Where would the money come from? Give me money,” he joked in response to the question.

One of the most interesting parts of the panel was in response to a question about Tibetan Dog, a recent production for Studio Madhouse from just before Mr. Maruyama left the company. He spent a lot of time researching the background for the show, traveling to Tibet four times despite the oxygen deprivation he endured on each trip. Mr. Maruyama also spoke glowingly of working with the character designer for the production, manga-ka Naoki Uwasara. It was one of the only times Mr. Uwasara has worked outside of one of his own projects and Mr. Maruyama was very happy to work with him. Given that he is, in his own words, subtracting a year from his age for every birthday now that he has reached 70, hopefully Mr. Maruyama will be able to make many more projects and make many more trips to Otakon..

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