By Brittany Vincent
The past decade of anime has been absolutely fantastic, rife with some of the most intriguing shows to grace the medium. Of course, when you have so many incredible animation studios, it’s hard not to knock it out of the park.
And one of those studios is the Maruyama Animation Produce Project Association. But you probably know them as MAPPA, founded by Masao Maruyama, co-founder of Madhouse and legendary anime producer, in 2011.
MAPPA is a celebrated studio, founded in 2011, that’s hosted some of the biggest names in anime, like the legendary Shinichiro Watanabe and Keiichi Sato, all while producing absolutely beautiful series packed with stunning landscapes, inventive character designs and sakuga.
MAPPA’s work ranges from the delicate and gorgeous to the gritty and surreal, with a rawness that permeates just about every single inch of its filmography.
From its breakout debut with the effervescent Kids on the Slope to the weird and wonderful Sarazanmai, MAPPA serves up wit, heart, drama and magic with each and every new project.
Speaking of new, the future is bright! With recent releases like Listeners, Dorohedoro, Banana Fish and The God of High School, and upcoming series like Attack on Titan Final Season and Jujutsu Kaisen, it’s never been a better time to make yourself a MAPPA fan. Let’s take a look at some of the studio’s incredible work.
Kids on the Slope (2012)
MAPPA’s debut production came in the form of Kids on the Slope, a critically acclaimed adventure that follows an introverted high school student whose love of jazz music blossoms as a result of his friendship with delinquent classmate Sentaro Kawabuchi.
The anime adaptation featured the Cowboy Bebop dream team of Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno in direction and music, which earned it plenty of notoriety upon its debut.
This slice of life series proved MAPPA could hold its own with more delicate characterization and subtext. The series explored a close relationship between two male students and their classmates as they developed friendships that centered around performing and enjoying jazz music. It’s a must-watch for anyone with a love of music looking to rekindle the carefree days of high school!
Terror in Resonance (2014)
MAPPA solidified its presence in 2014 when it joined once again with Shinichiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno for Terror in Resonance, an all-new direction for the team. This psychological thriller follows two teenagers, Nine and Twelve, who take it upon themselves to steal the prototype of an atomic bomb as they attempt to pull off a terrorist attack.
The boys call themselves Sphinx and carry out plans to destroy Tokyo—unless someone can solve the bizarre riddles they share with the city. This, of course, sends Tokyo into a panic, though they do end up befriending a young girl named Lisa Mishima who helps get to the heart of their dalliances with terrorism: an investigation into the Rising Peace Academy, where both Nine and Twelve hail from.
The series is rife with best-in-class drama that has you on the edge of your seat, and the same dreamy, inventive character designs we saw in Kids on the Slope.
Terror in Resonance is a chilling adventure to say the least, but every bit worth watching to see how two high school students bring a city to its knees in the name of the justice they feel they were denied.
Yuri!!! on ICE (2016)
Yuri!!! on ICE may arguably be one of MAPPA’s best-known works, as it resonated with viewers around the world thanks to the relationships that blossom as a result of a passion for figure skating.
The series follows Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki as he develops his career while watching his idol, Russian skater Victor Nikiforov, face off against a talented Russian skater named Yuri Plisetsky.
Yuri is in a bit of a depression after he’s defeated in a series of skating competitions and decides to put his career on hold. However, when he mimics an advanced routine performed by Victor, the latter takes note and helps Yuri breathe new life into his skating. With Victor as his coach, Yuri is able to jump back into the skating circuit—and the pair become closer and closer with each passing day.
Yuri!!! on ICE is another beautiful showcase of MAPPA design, from everyday characters and situations to the environments and skating choreography seen throughout. It’s also a phenomenon that’ll have you in tears by the final scene.
ZOMBIE LAND SAGA (2018)
The colorful and hilarious ZOMBIE LAND SAGA resulted from a collaboration between MAPPA, Avex Pictures (Noragami, Assassination Classroom) and Cygames (Granblue Fantasy: The Animation, Princess Connect! Re:Dive), and there’s been nothing like it since.
Like the talented idols it follows, ZOMBIE LAND SAGA is buoyant and bubbly, yet manages to bring the horror-centric laughs. If you’ve seen one idol anime, you might assume you know what you’re in for, but you couldn’t be more wrong when it comes to this series.
After high school student Sakura Minamoto dies (thanks a lot, Truck-kun) on her way to submit an idol application, she finds herself brought “back to life” as part of a new idol group comprised of legendary girls from throughout Japanese history. The brainchild of manager Kotaro Tatsumi, the idol group Franchouchou must learn to live as zombies, all the while bringing the area of Saga Prefecture back to its hustling, bustling previous life.
ZOMBIE LAND SAGA has everything: comedy, music, gore and idols—and MAPPA’s excellent choreography, character designs and touching moments are a can’t-miss for anyone who’s ever egged on a fledgling group or wished they could root for another up-and-coming troupe…from beyond the grave.
MAPPA worked alongside Lapin Track (Endride, Uchitama?! Have you seen my Tama?) and director Kunihiko Ikuhara (Yurikuma Arashi, Penguindrum) to bring this surreal fantasy adventure to life, which follows a group of middle schoolers who find themselves transformed into mythical creatures called kappa.
Their goal? Collecting the shirikodama, or a ball located, well, in a very naughty area that contains the culmination of one’s greatest desires. Of course, this is all to help them collect items called the Dishes of Hope!
The middle schoolers must connect with each other to create the sound “Sarazanmai,” which is where the title of the series comes from, and this causes, as you may imagine, some hilarious predicaments.
It isn’t always simple to follow, but it’s quite unlike anything else in MAPPA’s catalogue. Whether you’re interested in seeing kappa interact with each other or looking for some admittedly bizarre humor, Sarazanmai should be right up your alley.
MAPPA produced the post apocalyptic adventure series Listeners this year, and it recently finished its simulcast on Funimation. This original series is a clever examination of music through the lens of a catastrophic event that sends humanity reeling, and it’s well worth giving a shot if you haven’t already caught it.
In Listeners, humanity must defend itself against a group of mysterious life-forms known as the Earless. Their only hope for redemption are the Players, unique humans with auxiliary ports in their bodies, who use special mecha known as Equipment to eliminate the Earless.
Oh, did we mention this is a co-created joint from the legendary Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Eureka Seven, Samurai Champloo) and JIN (MEKAKUCITY ACTORS, Kagerou Daze)? It only makes sense that a number of the Players you’ll meet in Listeners are inspired by on real musicians.
The story follows Echo, a young man stuck living a mundane life. But when he encounters a young girl named µ (pronounced “Mu”), Echo’s world is turned upside down, and he is challenged to dream (and become great, like his Player idol, Jimi Stonefree). And µ might just be the key to saving humanity from the Earless for good.
Listeners is one of MAPPA’s most original works, and if you’re into music at all, you’ll find plenty to love about it (did we mention Dai Sato?). It’s a great example of how the studio has come full circle since introducing some teenagers and their love of jazz with Kids on the Slope. And we CAN’T WAIT to see what’s next for MAPPA.
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