It’s your first week in your anime forum. You’re happy. You’re excited. You recently started watching anime, and you’re proud to say you just finished Cowboy Bebop and Madoka Magica, the two “most important-est smart perfect anime ever,” according to your friend. And there you are, looking for some new recommendations, some friends (maybe, but are those even real?), and of course, the discussions. But browsing through discussion threads and comment sections, you start having some questions. Lots of questions, actually.
What’s a KyoAni? Why the love for this “UFO” guy? Isn’t Shaft head tilt a rabbit disability?
Well, those are all Studio references, and today, I’ll write about a few of these animation studios with the knowledge I have. I’ll talk about their specialties, what traits they’re popular for, what masterpieces they’ve made, and a bit more. And while I won’t be able to go through all the studios, I hope you learn something from this today.
But before I begin, it should be known that for most studios, the staff is always changing. As many know already, animators get terrible pay for the most part in Japan, and most are freelancers floating through different studios and projects, trying their best to make a living. So for almost all animation studios, it’s simply impossible to say: studio x is ALWAYS great at this, and studio y is ALWAYS terrible at this (though there are exceptions, as you’ll see). Animators, producers, and all other staff members are changing constantly, bringing their talents to different projects in various styles. That’s why it’s probably more important to eventually learn about the staff members, since animators, not the studio, make the anime.
Therefore, I’ll largely be talking about studios’ reputations, interesting facts, and inner workings, though I will also mention a few of the studios’ production patterns and observable traits, if applicable. With that said, let’s begin.
Kyoto Animation – Good Look, Good Pay
To start off, let’s look at the golden standard of anime studios, Kyoto Animation. Why it it golden? For one, Kyoto Animation consistently produces fantastically animated shows, to a point where even their relative failures are praised for the visuals (Musaigen no Phantom World, mainly). Their incredible linework, backgrounds, character animation, and CG incorporation in recent years have lead to some of the most beautiful anime in the industry, with their newest production – Violet Evergarden – serving as a perfect example of their skills.
However, what makes Kyoto Animation truly golden as a studio is their treatment of animators. KyoAni is one of the few anime studios largely composed of in-house staff, meaning that the workers are hired full-time, not as freelancers. Because of this among other reasons, KyoAni also pays their animators relatively well, as unlike most studios that pay animators per drawing (which doesn’t add up to much), KyoAni pays based on a constant salary, preventing overwork and underpayment. To top off their admirable business practices, KyoAni also directly trains animators, allowing rookies to rise safely in the chaotic industry.
Kyoto Animation is a studio favorite among many fans, and despite KyoAni producing only a handful of shows per year, I’m sure everyone can find a show for their tastes among KyoAni’s catalogue of brilliant, gorgeous anime.
Prominent Works Include: Clannad, Hyouka, Koe no Katachi
Upcoming Works: Violet Evergarden film
Ufotable – CG Masterworks
Next up is my personal favorite studio, ufotable (pronounced you-fuh-table, I think). Ufotable, similar to Kyoto Animations, produces only few works yearly, but they are universally famous for one talent: damn good CG.
In the anime industry, outsourcing among studios has become a popular practice, with CG scenes often being created by smaller studios instead of the main studio in charge. Ufotable, however, has a unique, dedicated CG branch within their own studio, which allows efficient synergy between the CG animators and the already sizable in-house 2D-animation staff. This direct communication between 2D and 3D animators allows ufotable to incorporate CG into their animation with amazing fluidity, leading to their famous action sequences and backgrounds.
Rising to popularity through Type-Moon adaptations, ufotable is quite the formidable studio today, and one that continues to branch out, working on several game cinematics currently (example: Code Vein). As an avid fan, I wish them luck as they move on to more non-Type Moon properties, with their first Shounen JUMP project in the making.
Extra Fact: Ufotable has several cafes and diners across Japan with food based on their current projects.
Prominent Works Include: Fate/Zero, Kara no Kyoukai, Fate/Stay Night: UBW
Upcoming Works: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel Part 2, Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan
A-1 Pictures – Industry Powerhouse
A-1 is a well known name across the industry as one of the leading animation studios. Consistently producing anime every season, sometimes three or more at once, A-1 is an incredibly large studio, but one that’s also largely composed of freelance animators and producers. As a result of this, it’s more important to know individual staff members and producers than just the studio’s record in this case if you want to set expectations for their upcoming works.
It’s hard to pinpoint any patterns on A-1’s overall production history, so just know that A-1 works with a large variety of sources, animation styles, and staff members, and that their work can range from horrible (OreImo) to amazing (Eromanga)
*Just kidding about those shows.
Extra Fact: A-1 is entirely owned by Aniplex. In addition, Cloverworks is a sub-studio of A-1. Hence Persona 5: The Animation is technically an A-1 project.
Prominent Works Include: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, Shinsekai Yori, AnoHana
Upcoming Works: Sword Art Online: Alicization, Nanatsu no Taizai Movie, Ace Attorney S2
Bones – More than just Action
If you’ve ever watched one of those “Top 10 Anime Fights” videos, chances are, you’ve seen Bones’s works plenty of times already. In present day, Bones has accumulated many die-hard fans, especially in recent years due to their acclaimed work on Mob Psycho 100 and seemingly unstoppable success with My Hero Academia.
Based on their most famous works, it’s fairly clear that Bones has a trend of making great action shows. Kekkai Sensen and Noragami offer plenty of brilliant fight sequences filled with thrilling impact frames and fast-paced 2D and 3D effects. However, Bones aren’t limited only to action shows, clear from their work on the classic reverse-harem anime Ouran Koukou Host Club and the mystery anime Gosick.
Consistently producing exciting, entertaining shows, it’s no wonder Bones has such a solid following. And with their excellent work on My Hero Academia currently, Bones seems to have a bright future ahead of it.
Prominent Works Include: Fullmetal Alchemist (& Brotherhood), Noragami, Soul Eater
Upcoming Works: Boku no Hero Academia Movie, Carol & Tuesday
Sources & Additional Info: 1
Madhouse – Directorial Monument
Madhouse, similar to A-1, is a fairly large studio, producing several shows every season without a dedicated core style or pattern. In fact, what makes Madhouse’s lineup so impressive is the variety of genres present in their history. But unlike A-1, Madhouse has a sizable group of fans (unless there’s some huge A-1 fan group I don’t know about), and that’s not only due to the studio’s recent successes, but also because of their past classics.
Today, Madhouse isn’t too different from most studios, composed largely of freelance staff and directors. However, this wasn’t always the case, as the studio used to have an impressive in-house catalogue of directors and animators. Just to name some of the directors, Tetsurou Araki (Death Note), Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars), Masaaki Yuasa (Tatami Galaxy), and many other talented, famous names were associated directly with Madhouse. This resulted in a rich, varying collection of brilliant anime under Madhouse’s belt, but around 2010, much of the staff left due to complicated issues (more in the source video).
Despite the shift from moderately in-house to mostly freelance, Madhouse still creates many great shows, with recent successes including Overlord and Sora Yori mo Tooi Basho. Overall, even though Madhouse still produces fantastic anime, when conversing with hardcore Madhouse fans, be prepared to take a dive into shows from over a decade ago.
Prominent Works Include: Death Note, Summer Wars, One Punch Man
Upcoming Works: Wakaokami wa Shougakusei! Movie
Shaft – Head Tilts, presented by Akiyuki Shibou
Most famous for their work on the Monogatari series, the acclaimed Madoka Magica series, and the recent masterpiece 3-Gatsu no Lion, Shaft is a fantastic studio with some interesting traits.
The name to know here is “Akiyuki Shinbou” for sure, who is listed as the head director for virtually all of the studio’s recent productions. Shinbou himself used to an artist and animator, and his aggressive color palette and distinct background styles have clearly carried over to many of Shaft’s projects. In fact, Shinbou’s artistic direction is arguably the heart of the Shaft animation style (and head-tilts, of course).
While Shinbou is credited so highly, he is certainly not in full control of every production. Talented directors such as Tatsuya Oishi and brilliant staff members like Shinichi Omata are all part of the studio, and have more control over shows’ finer details. So while the studio may have a distinct style based on their head director’s preferences, there’s much more to appreciate beneath the surface, just like all other studios.
Prominent Works Include: Monogatari Series, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, 3-Gatsu no Lion
Upcoming Works: Possible Madoka movie (few details, uncertain)
And that’s it! There’s a lot more great studios for sure, but these are some of the most prominent ones in present day. Thank you for reading, and please correct me if I made any mistakes. I might make this Anime Basics thing a series, but I probably won’t write another one about studios. Perhaps directors or composers? Either way, I learned quite a bit about some studios while writing this, and I’m excited to learn more about the industry in the future. Hopefully you are too!
With that said, see you next time, and have a nice day.
In the meantime, I’ll go prepare my tear ducts for Maquia (watching it next week). . .