By Deanna Nguyen
From a bald superhero who wears a quirky expression to a heartwarming story that explores the relationships between humans and cute androids, Madhouse’s animated works go beyond the realm of typical. Founded in 1972, Madhouse has produced many all-time favorite anime series, OVAs and films including Hunter x Hunter, One Punch Man, Death Note, Chobits and Paprika.
The studio became a household name in the industry through a staff roster featuring anime icons like Satoshi Kon (Millennium Actress, Paranoia Agent), Morio Asaka (Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, No Game No Life), Masayuki Kojima (Made in Abyss, Monster) and Mamoru Hosoda (Wolf Children, Mirai). Mangaka and video game directors have sung praise for Madhouse’s projects, adding onto the studio’s ever-growing list of accolades.
The Fall 2019 anime season adds another atmospheric series to Madhouse’s portfolio: No Guns Life. The series follows Juzo Inui, a “Resolver” with cybernetic implants called “extensions.” Tasked with bringing in rogue Extended, Juzo is set on a quest to discover friendship, corruption and his own humanity.
Whether you’re currently watching No Guns Life or go way back with the classic works of Madhouse, let’s take a look back at some of the studio’s incredible legacy in anime — ones you can watch right now on Funimation!
Hailed as an anime classic among Western audiences, Trigun introduces us to Vash the Stampede with an iconic red coat and ridiculously spiky hair. Created by mangaka Yasuhiro Nightow, the series was developed into a 26-episode anime in 1998. A little over a decade later, Trigun: Badlands Rumble premiered in theaters, bringing back to life one of anime fans’ favorite and iconic characters.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world filled with deserts, bars and showdowns reminiscent of Western films, Trigun is as serious as it is light-hearted, with Vash constantly joking around and smiling even though the rest of the world perceives him as a dangerous and wanted threat. There’s a huge bounty on his head for causing immense damage that he has no recollection of due to retrograde amnesia, and as the story progresses, Vash’s past begins to surface.
What makes Vash such a memorable character is his dedication to saving people without harming or killing anyone. Though he carries around a gun, he never fires it with the intent to kill. Vash might seem like a hero with his ideals, but he soon spirals into an internal struggle with how he wants to save those he cares about—even if it means killing others in the process.
Trigun is the type of show with a lengthy buildup but a rewarding payoff, especially when you take the time to get to know its characters. And who could possibly ignore a show with a badass opening filled with guitar riffs?
Mongolian Chop Squad (aka Beck) (2004)
At one end, Madhouse champions the sci-fi and fantasy genres. On the other end is Mongolian Chop Squad (aka Beck). The series is a coming-of-age story that follows the trials and tribulations of a young rock band making a name for themselves overseas. Yukio Tanaka, known as Koyuki, befriends Ryusuke Minami after rescuing his dog. From there, Koyuki learns how to play the guitar and later joins Ryusuke’s band called Beck.
Aside from an amazing soundtrack, Mongolian Chop Squad expertly portrays the flawed relationships among its cast of well-written characters. The series has since sold millions of copies, an anime adaption, a video game and a live action film.
Summer Wars (2010)
Mamoru Hosoda is a name recognized by many; as the director of countless animated films, Summer Wars is an original story that stemmed from his desire to create a film for people with and without families. The story is a wild and confusing ride, but nevertheless enjoyable, with incredible thanks to its visuals and characters.
Kenji Koiso is a high school student who is also a part-time moderator for the massive computer-generated virtual reality called OZ. A fellow classmate named Natsuki Shinohara invites him over to her great-grandmother’s estate to celebrate her 90th birthday. An artificial intelligence called Love Machine, created by Natsuki’s half-great-uncle Wabisuke Jinnouchi, hacks into Kenji’s account and uses his avatar to wreak havoc on OZ’s infrastructure.
While there are two settings in the film—the real world and OZ—there’s a lot of overlap with the chaotic events that unfold. The internal conflicts of the Jinnouchis become the catalyst for Love Machine’s attack on OZ. Despite the juxtaposition of traditional and progressive support systems, both in terms of family generations and society’s dependence on advanced technology, what unites everyone together is essentially what tore them apart: Love Machine.
Summer Wars utilizes vibrant colors in OZ with wholly unique designs for the characters’ avatars in contrast to the real world in which the characters live in. Putting differences aside and coming together as a family is essentially at the heart of the film—a union formed by the simple notion of love.
Death Parade (2015)
First came Death Billiards, an OVA that then prompted a full-length series called Death Parade. If you’re looking for a psychological thriller chock-full of emotions, then you’ll want to step into Quindecim Bar to play some games while sipping a cocktail. The twist? Quindecim Bar is a crossroads of sorts in the afterlife, with the games as a means for which Decim, the bartender and arbiter, determines whether you are reborn or get sent to oblivion.
Madhouse is no stranger to psychological thrillers, with major film titles like Perfect Blue and Paprika (both helmed by director Satoshi Kon). Death Parade begs the question of, who is considered more humane or righteous than the other? As the show progresses, the question remains rhetorical, as the line between good and evil is blurred. With the assistance of the Black-Haired Woman, who questions Decim’s decisions and acts as a foil, Decim’s placid demeanor slowly unhinges as every “Death Game” teaches him a valuable lesson.
The show places emphasis on facial expressions, especially when the humans respond or react to the judgment. Once they reach a breaking point during the game, their true selves appear and the desperation reflected in their expressions offsets the casual, but cozy, bar setting.
One does not simply get into anime without stumbling upon an isekai, and Overlord is absolutely worth your time with its three seasons and two film recaps. Originally written as a light novel series by Kugane Maruyama, Overlord jumps into the year 2126 with the release of a Dive Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (DMMORPG) called Yggdrasil. Ainz Ooal Gown is a guild that boasted 41 members until the news of the servers shutting down shaved that number down to four. The guild leader, Momonga, prepares for a farewell, only to realize that the game still hasn’t shut down.
In a turn of events, Momonga is unable to log off and Yggdrasil becomes his reality. He takes on the name of his guild and begins his quest to search for others like him who’ve been trapped inside their avatars with no means of leaving the game. Imbued with power from modifications, Ainz Ooal Gown begins to kill with little regard for ethical concerns.
Overlord questions characters’ morals even in virtual realities. It’s a power fantasy that gives the main character near-limitless power and thrusts him into situations to study human behaviors—if they’ve changed at all or have been stripped entirely because of their avatars.
No Guns Life (2019)
Airing this season on Funimation, No Guns Life follows Juzo Inui who, to everyone’s surprise, has a gun for a head. In this world, humans can become cyborgs called Extended, but a great war has left many former Extended soldiers turning to crime as a means of survival.
Enter Juzo, a “Resolver” who solves crimes caused by rogue Extended. Juzo quickly encounters Tetsuro Arahabaki, the son of Berühren Corp’s CEO, a company that illegally experiments on orphaned children to turn them into Extended, and helps the young boy escape from their greasy clutches. They’re also the company behind all Extended.
The original manga was created by Tasuku Karasuma, and although Juzo’s character concept might seem blasphemous to some upon first impression, the series has quickly garnered the attention of other famous creatives.
Hideo Kojima (Metal Gear Solid, Death Stranding), confessed that he’s a fan of No Guns Life and has hopes for the anime to revive or at least keep the last remnants of the sci-fi, hard-boiled detective genre alive.
While watching No Guns Life, it’s easy to pick up the genre’s characteristics, such as Juzo introducing himself almost every episode (“My name is Juzo Inui…”) and smoking cigarettes. What tugs on the genre is Juzo’s occasional cartoon-ish facial expressions that are a light-hearted contrast to the tone and the setting’s darker color palette.
The story doesn’t shy away from hinting at the idea of found families or how Juzo’s tendency to isolate himself in fear of hurting those close to him will become more of a crutch than he believes. These relationships are integral to Juzo’s character; without human expressions due to his gun-shaped head, Juzo’s reactions (body language, tone, etc.) to those closest to him are how viewers perceive his personality.
Madhouse does a wonderful job with this by playing with light and shadows whenever Juzo converses with Tetsuro or another character, which further humanizes him. This reflects the morality of being a “tool” used in war, as someone who wishes to become the very opposite and shows this through his compassion and sense of justice.
So, are you mad for Madhouse? The vast array of anime that the studio has produced gave us characters to love and appreciate but also question, worlds that seem far beyond our own and situations that hit close to home whether we expect them to or not.
It’s a studio that has gone from animating a character who hardly uses his gun to kill, to a character whose head is a gun. The possibilities are limitless when it comes to the work of Madhouse.
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