THANXFDR: Studio Gainax
In THANXFDR, a heartwarming seasonal series, the Crossfader staff will be running you through some of the media-related things that they’re most thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
Of the hundreds of Japanese animation studios to churn out millions of hours of content, one stands above all in creating quality work and embracing new and interesting artistic endeavors in a, frankly, overflooded area of entertainment. Starting out in the early 80s as a small group creating promotional shorts for animation conventions, the outfit known as Gainax has definitely been one of the few studios to produce consistently worthwhile material throughout its lengthy career. Putting aside the heaps of fan service brought about by the infamous “Gainax Bounce” or “Gainaxing”, nearly every single series produced by the company was held to an amazing standard, while also glimmering with some uniqueness of its own. Mecha fans could enjoy a spunky, stylistically gorgeous riot with TENGEN TOPPA GURREN LAGANN, as well as the existential phenomenon that was NEON GENESIS EVANGELION. They have been offering up a smorgasbord of life-changing cartoons since before Disney Renaissance was in full swing. As hard as it is to make a worthwhile brand name in the world of anime and in the eyes of both otakus and fellow production companies, Gainax succeeded and then some.
“Cartoons are for kids!” they said
Even with their business strategy, the studio has always been super clever about what they do with their directors and IPs. Joint ventures with other respected animation groups in the medium and intense focus on productive relationships among directors, most notably that of Kazuya Tsurumaki and Hideaki Anno, have always been the norm. A million Pixar universe connection theories could not encapsulate the charm and wonder of Gainax’s various running themes, in-jokes, and nods to its fans. Gainax has made such an impact that several fairly successful studios have spawned from ex-staff members who started out there. Studios such as Gonzo, who spearheaded projects like HELLSING as well as the SEVEN SAMURAI anime remake, and Trigger, the extremely talented folks who brought us KILL LA KILL, all owe a ton to Gainax in this way. And with an expanding list of associates including Production IG, Adult Swim, and even Subaru Automobiles, Gainax’s legacy continues to grow and fascinate to this day. If there is any animation studio to really pay attention to, it’s probably Gainax.
My first exposure to Gainax was through TechTV’s (aforementioned in Friday’s THANXFDR) late night anime block which screened reruns of Anno’s EVANGELION. Most everything the show had to offer went over my preteen head and I naively gave up early on. It wasn’t until recently that I have known how big of a mistake that was. No, what really drew me in was the short but insanely entertaining series FLCL. Functioning as a light-hearted tribute to EVANGELION with direction by Tsurumaki, who already had established himself as Anno’s star pupil, and written by Gainax veteran Yoji Enokido, FLCL (also known by its English pronunciation as FOOLY COOLY, referring to the saucy Japanese phrase “furi kuri” which you can Google on your own) follows one Naota Nandaba, a young middle schooler who suddenly has giant robots sprout out of his head. That premise really only scratches the surface of the beautiful craziness that this series offered in only six episodes. Even without understanding all of the EVANGELION references, the stylized action and cheeky humor that covered everything from puberty troubles to self-referential commentary on anime itself had me in love.
Naturally, I wanted to consume all I could from this studio following my viewing of FLCL. MAGICAL SHOPPING ARCADE ABENOBASHI was my next foray and it downright astounded me with its goofy take on tropes in Japanese media along with its embrace of the culture of those from the Kansai region, otherwise known as “the Americans of Japan.” Ever thought you’d see a show that covers Onmyodo mysticism and rituals of the Heian Period as well as strategies to get all the girls in a cutesy dating sim? ABENOBASHI has got it plus one of the funniest magical items in all of anime. Continuing with raucously weird comedies, PANTY & STOCKING WITH GARTERBELT hit it out of the park by also being drenched in its own style as well as poking fun at various things anime fans gravitated towards. Gainax has definitely made sure to specialize in wacky comedy as well as gritty action having strong footing in both anime spheres.
>Listens to DEMON DAYS once
It’s still hard to believe that one studio has done so much and taken on so many diverse projects that have pleased newcomers and hardcore audiences for years. The series that have been mentioned here are barely a sample of what talents lie within Gainax. If you’re going to watch any anime at all, a Gainax production is sure to be a good choice.