Perennial Otakon guest Masao Maruyama returned to the convention once again in 2013 to do several Q&A sessions. This panel in particular centered on his work with his new production studio, MAPPA. The panel opened with a total of three videos, two of which I can talk about: a tribute to the late Satoshi Kon that had only been previously shown at Mr. Kon’s funeral and a video made as a tribute to survivors of the 2011 earthquake. The video tribute to Mr. Kon was very moving and the tribute to the earthquake survivors just as much so, in part due to a story that Mr. Maruyama related to the audience afterward. His family is from one of the areas greatly affected by the earthquake. His hometown was heavily damaged and his family home was actually washed away in the tsunami that came after the earthquake, so being part of this production was very important to him. The second video also included music composed by Ms. Yoko Kano that was as beautiful as the video itself.
Mr. Maruyama was very gracious in answering a wide range of question about himself and his studio. When asked about his time at Mushi Pro studios, Mr. Maruyama said that he started there right after Astro Boy (aka Tetsuwan Atom) first started airing and the anime industry was very much in its infancy. The studio did not have very many resources to use, so taking a chance on a weekly animated television show was a very big gamble at a time when the only anime that existed was a couple of theatrical films. When Mr. Maruyama started he did not know much about the animation industry, but working with such exemplary talents as Rintaro, Isaburo, Tomino and Dezaki it turned out to be a very adventurous time and an adventurous 50 years. With the passing of several of the giants on anime is recent years Mr. Maruyama said that directors like Senichi Sato, Shinichiro Wantanabe and several others would be worth keeping an eye on in the future.
One of the audience members had an interesting question on the possibility of crowd-funding with a tool like Kickstarter in light of Studio Trigger’s recent success with this. Mr. Maruyama was happy to hear that studios are able to raise funding that way. When a follow-up question was asked on the subject, he said that MAPAA would possibly consider a project funded by crowd-funding if it was the right kind of project. MAPAA does have some projects that they would like to produce but don’t have funding for right now, as well as several that are going to be debuting on Japanese television in the next year.
Mr. Maruyama was previously part of Studio Madhouse. When asked why he left Madhouse, Maruyama said that the studio had gotten too big for some of the projects that he wanted to do and that it had gotten very difficult to get anyone to work on certain projects, so he decided it was better for him to start up a new studio that would work on the kinds of things he wants to work on now. MAPPA has been expanding recently with some new staffers, and Mr. Maruyama is very happy to have had the chance to renew himself this far into his career. He hopes that in 10 years he’d be able to shut down MAPPA and start all over again if he wanted to, but given that he is 72 now that may not be in the cards.
MAPPA has done a variety of different projects so far including the very richly animated Kids On The Slope and the much more basic TQ, which in and of itself is Japanese slang for low-quality as well as Tennis (or Courtyard Ball). For TQ, They specifically wanted to make a low-quality animation show rather than doing something very high quality like Kids on the Slope. Several of MAPPA’s projects have been simulcast in both Japan and the USA simultaneously and while MAPAA itself doesn’t control distribution (the project’s sponsors do), Mr. Maruyama is happy to see more people enjoying what he works on. He also hopes that the anime industry will continue to grow and have room for both up-and-coming creators and the old guard. Finishing with another question about crowd-funding, Maruyama said that a lot of the younger creators have trouble finding ways to fund their projects. He also quipped that if anyone wants to start up a Maruyama fund on Kickstarter he will do whatever you want him to do, possibly including coming to your house and cleaning the bathroom.