Gainax: One For The Fans
While many people will know of anime studios such as Studio Ghibli, others might not be so familiar with those that have been producing many of the anime series’ that are popular around the world. This article will take a closer look at the popular anime studio Gainax, a fan-founded studio famous for many of its works, including Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann…
Gainax was formed in the early 1980s under the name Daicon Film by Hideaki Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Hiroyuki Yamaga, Takami Akai, Toshio Okada, Yasuhiro Takeda and Shinji Higuchi. Their first work was an animated short for the 20th Annual Japan National SF Convention, which included references to science fiction film/shows such as Godzilla, Star Trek and Ultraman.
After gaining popularity at following conventions with more short films, Daicon Films changed its name to Gainax in 1995. Its first commercial project was the movie Royal Space Force: The Wings Of Honneamise, which, at the time, was the most expensive animated film ever made in Japan. Set in a parallel version of Earth, where an industrial civilization is flourishing amidst the backdrop of an impending war between two nations, The Wings Of Honneamise had a poor commercial response, despite its critical acclaim and status now as a classic anime film. A sequel was attempted in 1992, but eventually abandoned due to lack of funds.
Following Honneamise, Gainax’s next project was the OVA Aim For The Top!, which proved a huge commercial success. The success Of Aim For The Top! meant that Gainax were able to provide a stable footing for their next high budget works – 1990’s Nadia: The Secret Of Blue Water and 1991’s two-episode OVA Otaku No Video. Nadia is particularly notable for the impressive creative team behind it – a joint venture between Gainax and Toho studios (famous outside of Japan for its monster movies, such as Godzilla), the story was originally a concept by Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki and was directed by Hideaki Anno. Inspired by the works of Jules Verne (particularly Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea), the series ran for 39 episodes and followed the adventures of a young inventor (named Jean) and a circus performer, Nadia, as they become tangled in a battle against the Neo-Atlantean forces who plan to conquer the world.
In the wake of Evangelion’s success, Gainax was accused of tax evasion and its president, Takeshi Sawamura, was sentenced to jail for accounting fraud.
In 1995, Gainax produced what is arguably their most well-known and commercially successful series – Neon Genesis Evangelion. This 26-episode series breathed new life into the mecha genre, despite its final episodes suffering from an exhausted budget and its ending meeting a hostile response, to the point where Hideaki Anno even received death threats. A movie was produced to further explain to events that concluded the series, but some see that as even more incomprehensible than the series itself. In the wake of Evangelion’s success, Gainax was accused of tax evasion and its president, Takeshi Sawamura, was sentenced to jail for accounting fraud.
While prior to Evangelion, Gainax had worked primarily on original properties, since then it has increasingly began to produce anime adaptations of existing manga, such as His And Her Circumstances (1998), Mahoromatic (2001), He Is My Master (2005) and, more recently, Corpse Princess (2008).
Gainax’s next huge success came in 2007 with Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (shortened to just Gurren Lagann in the West), which in some ways refreshed the mecha/super robot genre of anime just as Evangelion had done before it. Gurren Lagann took the long history of the super robot genre in Japan and condensed all the best parts into one series, homaging older shows, such as Getter Robo, while, at the same time, creating a fresh and original take on things. The series’ influence has been seen in all manner of things all over the world, from the Gurren mecha appearing in an American Green Lantern comic to the series’ logo being included in a winning entry for a Daily Telegraph competition to update the British flag. Gurren Lagann also had two cinematic movie releases, which condensed the 27-episode show with alternate footage and a brand new ending sequences.
In 2010, Gainax produced the absurd Panty And Stocking With Garterbelt, which has enjoyed huge success in Japan and has been hinted at receiving a second season very soon. Their current 2011 releases are The Mystic Archives Of Dantalian, an adaptation of a light novel series, and a web animation series titled Wish Upon The Pleiades. As a company that originated as a group of anime fans, Gainax have kept close ties with the anime community, allowing fan-made manga (dōjinshi) and action figures of its works, as well as promoting its shows at private festivals.
With several highly successful under their belt, and a reputation for putting out beautifully drawn works that cover a wide variety of genres, it is clear Gainax take pride in their work and have earned their place among the most prestigious anime studios in Japan.
Also known as ‘Gunbuster’, Aim For The Top! is a 6-episode OVA series directed by Hideki Anno (who would later go on to make Neon Genesis Evangelion). In the near future, a race of huge insectoid aliens have appeared, seemingly devoted to destroying the human race. The story begins in 2013, where Noriko, daughter of a famous space admiral who died in battle, is training to enter the space fleet herself. With the help of talented classmate Kazumi Amano and strict coach Koichiro Ohta, Noriko must learn to overcome her clumsiness to earn the second slot on the Gunbuster team.
As well as including many visually impressive robot fights, Aim For The Top! is a completely character-driven series, with the titular robot not appearing until the fourth episode. What also sets Aim For The Top! apart from other similar shows is its use of complex science, and being one of the only shows to deal with the concept of time dilation in a realistic way.
To celebrate Gainax’s 20th anniversary, a sequel OVA was made in 2004 (entitled Aim For The Top! 2 or Diebuster), which featured new characters and mecha, but retained the themes and setting of the original.
Gainax’s most well-known and influential series, Neon Genesis Evangelion is set in a world after the ‘Second Impact’, a global catastrophe which almost completely destroyed Antarctica and led to the deaths of half the human population on Earth. In the city of Tokyo-3, military organisation NERV has enlisted three young teenagers to battle with monstrous beings known as Angels, piloting giant mecha known as Evangelions (or EVAs).
While the series is currently being remade and retold into four feature films (the first two of which have already been released), the original 26 episode series remains the most complex and influential version of the story, with significant amounts of Biblical symbolism and deep psychoanalysis of the main characters’ emotional and mental problems. Following on from the series came a feature length film, The End Of Evangelion, which can be considered either an alternate or ‘real world’ ending to the series.
Pronounced ‘Fooly Cooly’, this 6-episode OVA series is possibly one of Gainax’s most bizarre works. Young boy Naota lives in the seemingly dull city of Mabase, but his life is about to get a whole lot more interesting. From being run over by alien woman Haruko Haruhara’s vespa, and subsequently being hit over the head with her bass guitar, to having giant robots coming out of his head, Naota’s boring life has been turned completely on its head. Turns out Naota is vital key in Haruko’s search for the Pirate King Atomsk, but at the same time he has to deal with her battles against the massive industrial corporation Medical Mechanica, who in turn are responsible for the robots coming out of Naota’s head. So much for a boring life!
Gurren Lagann takes place in a world where humanity has been forced underground by the Spiral King Lordgenome and his army of beastmen. These villages are under constant threat of earthquakes, so diggers are required to help dig tunnels to expand their homes deeper underground. The story follows Simon, a young digger, and his best friend and older brother figure, an eccentric delinquent named Kamina, who dreams of visiting the surface world.
One day, Simon, a young digger comes across a mysterious drill shaped key known as a core drill and a small mecha with a large face known as a gunman. When a giant gunman crashes into the village, along with a plucky young girl named Yoko, it is up to Simon to learn to pilot his newfound gunman (christened Lagann) to battle the enemy mecha and achieve Kamina’s dream of breaking through to the surface.
With endearing characters and a plot full of unexpected twists, this 27-episode tribute to all things super-robot in to be missed!
Anarchy sisters Panty and Stocking are angels who were kicked out of heaven due to their bad behaviour. They are banished to Daten City, a place located on the edge of heaven and hell. Under the watchful eye of Reverend Garterbelt, and with their pet Chuck, Panty and Stocking are assigned with the task of defending the city from strange monsters called Ghosts that besiege the city. Using their ability to transform their underwear and stockings into weapons, Panty and Stocking defeat the Ghosts in order to collect enough Heaven Coins to return to heaven.
From the creators of Gurren Lagann, Panty And Stocking With Garterbelt is a very different show to Gainax’s previous works, with the art style visually resembling and homaging Western cartoons, such as the Powerpuff Girls and Drawn Together. Lewd, crude and completely in your face, American distributor Funimation Entertainment has recently licensed the show, so look forward to a release in 2012!
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