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Otakon 2014: Interview - Masao Maruyama on Studio MAPPA and its Works

Masao MaruyamaMasao Maruyama’s storied career spans the lifetime of the modern anime industry itself. He started out with Mushi Productions before going on to found the animation studio Madhouse in 1972, where he spent over four decades producing scores of noteworthy anime titles and working with some of the finest talent in the business. Such series as Cardcaptor Sakura, Claymore, Death Note, Kaiji, Trigun, Record of Lodoss War and Naoki Urasawa’s Monster are just a sample of the works he’s been involved in, while his film credits include the two Barefoot Gen films, Rintaro’s Metropolis, Ninja Scroll, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Millennium Actress, Paprika, and Redline. In 2011, the same year Madhouse became a subsidiary of the Japanese broadcasting company NTV, Mr. Maruyama moved on to found a new animation studio called MAPPA at the age of 70. In 2012 it produced its first TV anime Kids on the Slope, which reunited director Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo) with composer Yoko Kanno to tell a story of two teenage boys that build a lasting friendship as they struggle with love and share a passion for jazz music. That same year, the studio greenlighted Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World as its first feature film project. 

Today MAPPA has its hands full with work, by Maruyama’s account. Aside from In This Corner of the World, the studio is producing the ongoing summer 2014 anime Terror in Resonance, an original and unorthodox series from Shinichiro Watanabe about two teenage boys conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks in Japan. The studio is working on a mysterious untitled show due in spring 2015 that is based on an old property. In the meantime, two other TV anime are in the works for the fall 2014 season. Rage of Bahamut: Genesis (Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis), inspired by Cygames’ social card battle game, is a fantasy action series from director Keiichi Sato (Tiger & Bunny, Karas). Also coming in the fall is Garo: The Carved Seal of Flames (Garo: Honō no Kokuin), is an original animated installment in Japan’s “tokusatsu drama” franchise featuring both a brand new story and new characters. 

At Otakon 2014, Toonzone News was able to sit down one-on-one talk with Mr. Maruyama. Read on for his comments about MAPPA’s purpose and its upcoming work.  

Terror in ResonanceTOONZONE NEWS: You said before that MAPPA was founded to make animation that others wouldn’t necessarily venture to make. Given that that’s the case, how does MAPPA win support for works that aren’t necessarily so-called “safe” projects?

MASAO MARUYAMA: You might get the impression that MAPPA is the kind of company that makes stuff that’s “out there”, but it’s actually not – we want to make fun stuff. In that respect, we’re not that different from all the other places making relatively reserved stuff. But having finished with Madhouse, I wanted to make a company that had the feel of Madhouse when it was still young. Forty years ago, I wanted to make stuff with [Osamu] Dezaki, Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Since those years I have met many interesting people, like Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Hosoda. Three years ago, I met some new people – it’s not like I didn’t know them before, but I realized I wanted to make things with these people. People like Mr. Katabuchi, Mr. Watanabe, and Mr. [Keiichi] Sato.

It’s not like I think of anything too complicated or difficult, I just want to do fun stuff that is realistic [to create]. Like say commercials, or cheap experimental films that are really short. People like Mr. Katabuchi and Mr. Watanabe, they are young and have lots of power, so I wish they could make proper films too. I generally really want to be working with the younger generation now, because I believe they have the power. This is my point of view, but I don’t think there are enough with power in Japanese animation. I would tell my friends we would go on a competition with commercials, saying we’d make commercials or posters and we’d say “who can make something where the other would say ‘wow, what is this?!’” either for good or bad. We’d want to make something MAPPA Garoshocking. We don’t want to do average stuff, because that never settles in. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s important to have that kind of shock in you.

TZN: I’d like to follow up on that. Yesterday you were highlighting two upcoming anime for MAPPA, Garo and Shingeki Bahumut Genesis. What do
you think makes these series distinct and interesting?

MASAO MARUYAMA: I wonder what it is? But in the case of Shingeki, what’s important is the director’s power. As MAPPA, we don’t want to lose their power, we want to do something just as powerful. The director Keiichi Sato, his power to push this toward the audience is very, very strong. I feel that power is one of the aspects that’s making it such a successful thing. Take for example Terror In Resonance, which is by Watanabe and designed by Nakazaki Ito. With the visuals for this and everything, I believe it is their power that is also pushing this work forward.

MAPPA Rage of BahumutThe other one that you mentioned, Garo: in Japan, it’s being planned as live-action using anime techniques. This is something that I’m actually very interested in. This is integration of live action with animation techniques of, say, when the character transformers. He would have a mask with mechanical moving parts and whatnot. It’s a kind of integration with CG and how much it’s possible to make it a part of this entire thing. This one is by Yuichiro Hayashi, a relatively young director. And it is a kind of challenge that we are willing to take to push this young man forward and see what he can do with the integration of CG techniques, live action and animation.

TZN: A big focus here at Otakon has been Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World. What do you think makes this an excellent subject for the studio to take on?

MASAO MARUYAMA: It’s a different form of entertainment compared to some other things. There’s a difference between entertainment that fans would jump over and entertainment where you feel something after a good, soft kind of piece. In terms of animation, both Katabuchi and I want to make something where you can feel the kindness and pains at the same time. It might not be the fun kind of thing most people are used to, but I want people to feel that after watching this that they have seen something good. For money reasons there haven’t been places that have gone about this before, and that’s very understandable. But for MAPPA and Katabuchi, this is the kind of challenge we’re willing to take.

Toonzone News thanks Mr. Maruyama for taking the time to do this interview. Look below for the official trailers for Garo: Honō no Kokuin and Shingeki no Bahamut Genesis. 

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