Has Madhouse Lost Its Edge?

WHY SO SERIOUS?

2010 has been a disappointing year for a handful of people. I can’t necessarily disagree either, after witnessing Anime no Chikara’s lukewarm reception, which led to its awfully premature demise (yeah, kinda pathetic to be put on indefinite hiatus after measly three seasons), and the absence of that single out-and-out masterpiece of an anime that would define the year. Sorrow-kun’s “A Year to Forget For…” article around a month ago, also highlighted that the year has also seen a fair share of fiascos around the anime sphere. But while reading his article back then, something struck me: 2010 has been a sucky year for Madhouse Studios too. The Tatami Galaxy may be one of their boldest and most creative title ever, but the rest of their productions have been, well, just terrible. This led me to ask and come up with the title above: Has Madhouse lost its edge?

I’ve been a big supporter of Madhouse Studios for a long time because it has been the go-to production studio for anyone who wants decent entertainment. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the studio is given weak or even piss-poor material; Madhouse has always been able to deliver and execute the materials decently. Putting aside its list of amazing shows and simply think of something like Rideback and Kurozuka, two shows from two years ago with crappy storylines but awesome production values and visual effects. As an ardent Madhouse fan, it didn’t really bother me that their storylines were poor; I watched the shows knowing that I spent my time well, and I got something out of them. Then, I look back at four shows by Madhouse in 2010: Black Lagoon – Roberta’s Blood Trail, Highschool of the Dead, Iron Man and Rainbow. They all have something in common: they’ve come off short of expectations (and that’s putting it mildly). I had high hopes for them, particularly because they all had the potential to be classics. But they blew it, not towards their end, but as early as the halfway mark. I’ll go into detail for the four titles and pinpoint how and where things go wrong for each of them.

DISCLAIMER: Spoiler-rific content below. I tried to minimize them, but there’s only so much that I can do if I want to highlight aspects/scenes that sucked.

Highschool of the Dead

Female breasts make terrible sandbag support. 'Nuff said.

Having a George Romero-esque American-style zombiefest, along with social commentary on the side, made into an anime sounded like a bold plan. It was quite an unprecedented concept, and I’ve actually been quite supportive of the show from episode 1. I didn’t mind that the show’s more of an action series with copious gore rather than a horror series with unsettling tension. I didn’t care much that the show never explained where the hell the zombies came from (it’s the same for Romero’s zombie flicks, right?). I tried to close an eye over the inconsistency of the zombies’ hearing sensitivity. I didn’t even mind the copious amounts of exposed female undergarments and jiggling melon boobs. It’s lulzy corny popcorn entertainment show with some clever scenes, but more importantly, I was having fun watching a tolerable show.

But things become way too retarded in episode 8. While navigating through the suburbs on their Humvee, the gang ran into a horde of zombies and made a quick detour. Shit happens when their detour was blocked by (check this out) wires. Yeah that’s right, wires that withstood an oncoming 2-tonne armored military vehicle. Amazing shit, eh. Then, the gang began blowing some zombie brains out in vain, when the most logical thing to do is simply get on the other side of the wires. My faith in the show was flushed down the toilet in that single episode, simply because of unbelievable circumstances, ludicrous WTF scenes and retarded actions by a group of people who I thought had some common sense in them. Things didn’t improve for the next episodes: political cop-outs, deus ex machina, and a wide-open ending. By the end of the show, I reflected and wondered if I was way too kind in giving HOTD some slack. Unfortunately, it turned out that I was.

Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail

Roberta doesn't make me shit in my pants anymore.

I’ve only watched two OVAs so I’ll only judge this show momentarily based on them. Sure, there is still 3 OVAs left, leaving some room for this show to save itself. But I don’t like how things are developing already in the first two, so I’m not having high hopes that this show can turn itself around drastically. It’s sad to see Blood Trail, which I had expectations for when it was first announced on ANN that it would be produced in OVA (i.e. censorship won’t badger the deliciously gruesome content) format, turned out to be so tame.

The titular character Roberta has been a shadow for her former self from Black Lagoon, where viewers got to see a gun-toting, badass Victorian maid that gave Arnie’s T-800 a run for his money. She made me shit in my pants, and her “Bloodhound of Florencia” moniker fits her like a glove. But so far, I haven’t seen that same mean streak from her in her own OVA spin-off. What gives? Here’s a show that’s supposed to see this rabid dog unleashed and raising hell on earth, yet I don’t really see her in action. It’s ironic when the title connotes her trail of destruction, but what I’ve been watching is just a cat-and-mouse game. Maybe that’s the problem: Roberta is portrayed more like a shadowy figure rather than an explicit force of nature, rendering her presence underwhelming.

The show’s unengaging plot development doesn’t help in making the show better, either. There aren’t enough action sequences, something I would appreciate since that’s one of the main reasons I thoroughly enjoyed its prequels, and they also lack freshness and originality (could’ve sworn that Fabiola’s first appearance in that bar feels like a recap of Roberta’s in the first season). Right now, it’s hinted that Roberta’s literally fighting against an army but even so, I feel neither the tension nor the sheer scale of the impending bloodbath. Roberta’s Blood Trail’s production values are still up to standard, but I’m not feeling the show. It should turn things around while it still can, because I don’t like what I’m seeing so far.

Iron Man

No Marvel superhero should be bishie-licious. It's sacrilegious.

A Marvel superhero adapted into an anime? How exciting. Seriously, it’s exciting to hear something different happening once in a while, especially if Madhouse is at the helm. I thought that Madhouse would pull off a great adaptation of the all-American superhero. And did you check how cool the trailer was? I don’t give a shit what the haters say about it, because it rocked. If the show could replicate the same impression I got from the trailer into a half-length series, I’d be like a geek watching pr0n.

The show began. It was goddamn terrible, in the sense that it’s nothing like the trailer. Not only did the show suck when compared to the trailer, but it even sucks when judged on its own merit. I felt cheated. Seeing a bishie-licious Tony Stark already pissed me off. There’s nothing remotely interested about him: no charisma, no cocky attitude, no recklessness, nothing. What I see is a vain and shallow Barack Obama-wannabe who preaches anti-war messages, which I don’t buy even one of them.

So, if the hero already sucks, what more can I expect from the show? As for the show, the animation is decent but it’s not up to standard when it’s produced by Madhouse. It’s jarring to see that whenever the Iron Man suit is onscreen, the animation when it’s in motion is sluggish and awkward, looking like some poorly animated GONZO production. The story is a complete failure: there’s so much room for a good story but the show took the wimpy route and went with the “Villain of the Week” trope and a predictable plot. In short, the first episode kinda blew it for me already.

Iron Man is just the first step by the Madhouse-Marvel collaboration, and there are still Wolverine, X-Men and Blade coming up. Unlike Iron Man’s trailer, Wolverine’s trailer both sucks and blows. Since it’s already off on a bad start, I don’t even want to think how the show will turn out, let alone the remaining two shows later in the year 2011.

RAINBOW: Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin

Hardcore, bro-mantic sausage fest. It sounds wrong but that's what the show is.

I watched the first episode, and the first thing that struck me was Shawshank Redemption. Six societal rejects get dumped into a hellhole prison in a post-WWII setting, with two despicable inmates. Their miserable world gets a beacon of light when they meet an incumbent inmate whom they’ve come to respect, and they’ll do whatever it takes to break out of prison. It’s bleak, it’s gritty, it’s unsettling and it’s unsightly. Yes, Madhouse seemed to have scored a touchdown with this one. Plus, when you get a disclaimer like this, you can tell that this show’s content isn’t gonna be pretty, and for a right cause.

The good thing is, the show had a good run for like more than 10 episodes. One of the seiyuus commented in an extra snippet that the show’s bromance may rub some people the wrong way, but I’m cool with it. It had been riveting for most parts of the first half of the series, so I was thankful that nothing went wrong… until something fecal happens in episode 12. Sadly, our manly hero Sakuragi kicked the bucket but if it’s for the sake of plot development, I’m fine with it. What drove me up the wall was Sakuragi’s questionable actions leading to his death. Why didn’t he just hand the evidence to the police and get Ishikawa off his back for good? Why didn’t he stop when the police told him to? Most importantly, why must he die for the sake of his “brothers”? From this point on, I began to feel that the show is more about childish bravado than testicular fortitude.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the show is that the proper ending happened way too early. I thought that the seven good guys getting out of the prison for good would be somewhere near the end of the series, but it happened even before the halfway mark. Maybe this is why Sakuragi’s death seemed premature too. Plus, I didn’t even know the purpose for the disclaimer in the subsequent episodes anymore, when there’s nothing particularly violent, gratuitous or shocking to see. The show had become pedestrian when the series delved in exploring all the former inmates’ re-adaptation to society. I looked back at the first episode and wondered what went wrong. Would things be better if it was a half-length series? Perhaps, but that would be too short. Did the show go off the track and lose its way for good? More likely. Either way, Rainbow fizzled and it never recovered.

So there you have it. Madhouse has a total of six productions in the year 2010, with Kobato left undiscussed because I’ve yet to watch it (shall make time to do so). No doubt that the studio gave us one brilliant show, but in terms of sheer number, Madhouse didn’t perform up to the desired level. I haven’t completely lost my faith in the studio, though; I’ll have you know that the bulk of my favorite shows are produced by them. My point is, the studio must get its act together now that the new year’s here. I’ve heard news about some corporate reshuffling but even so, I want to see some good shows from them at least more consistently.

22 Responses to “Has Madhouse Lost Its Edge?”

  1. Your thoughts were interesting, though every studio has there good and bad titles. I believe rightly or wrongly that MadHouse spent most of their time on quality on the movie RedLine, thus the explanation of why they have produced sub par anime this year. You right though Madhouse need to back on the quality track ASAP.

  2. While there are things about Roberta’s Blood Trail that I disliked, you do know that Black Lagoon is based on a manga right? Madhouse didn’t think up the storyboards by themselves.

  3. There are times when I really feel like I should pay attention to the specific people from Madhouse Studios a bit more, because many of their shows are so solid that I feel like I should be checking if the same people work on the good shows all the time. The best talent at Madhouse is phenomenal, but as one of the larger (I think?) studios in the anime industry it churns out many shows that seem to go through less experienced hands alongside their good ones. I’m generally happy with the fact that they churn out at least one insanely good production every year, but yeah, I’d love to see Madhouse’s average quality go back up.

  4. Madhouse actually came up during today’s SCCSAV session in passing when talking about their upcoming movie, Toaru Hikuushi e no Tsuioku, which coincidentally has a similar name to Raildex. Someone (I can’t remember who) was pessimistic about it despite Madhouse’s excellent record in previous years, basically saying that they have no money left. I’m not sure if that’s just a rumour (and it’s not one I would particularly want to believe without seeing proper sources first) but it would explain a few things. Whatever the case, here’s hoping they get back to some form.

  5. The Trigun film was also made this year they’ve been pouring their budget into some heavy hitting movies lately.

    If you look at Madhouse’s record over the past few years it’s not exactly spotless:

    -2009: Blue Literature, Needless, Kobato, Souten Kouro, Rideback, Hajime no Ippo.
    Like you said Rideback turned out mediocre. I dropped Kobato around episode 13 but I hear some people enjoyed it. Blue Literature was also supposed to be good but the subs came out for it at snails pace. The subs didn’t even come out for Souten Kouro past episode 1. Hajime no Ippo was a continuation of a show I hadn’t seen but I had at least 1 friend who swore by it. So that’s maybe 1-2 amazing show, several mediocre, and one that’s probably bad.
    -However Madhouse also made: Mai Mai Miracle, Summer Wars, and Redline Movies. I’ve only seen one of them but it was phenomenal. I hear Redline is phenomenal and I think only 4 people watched the Ghibliesque Mai Mai Miracle.

    -2008: Some big hitters – Mouryo no Hako, Casshern Sins, One Outs, and Kaiba. Some mediocres: Kurozuka, Allison and Lilia, Kamen no Maid Guy. Some crap: Chaos;Head, Ultraviolet Code 044, Himitsu the Revelation. Some did anyone even watch this show: Ultraviolet Code 044

    For every Denno Coil there is a Maple Story. For every Black Lagoon there is a yume Tsukai or…Tokyo Tribe 2?

    I will point out the statistics here: http://aquabluesweater.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/anime-studio-proficiency-series/

    As he says Madhouse gets it right 1/4 of the time. Which he also says with the output Madhouse has just under 2 amazing series per year. Tatami Galaxy was their amazing.

  6. On the television front, a little, who didn’t enjoy High school of the Dead? It was full of fan-service, but that was the source material, not Madhouse. On the film front, they are leading the way with Redline, that blew me away, both in storytelling and art direction.

  7. First off, REDLINE!!!! I’m waiting for the blogosphere to explode when that finally gets released.

    Secondly, Rainbow was only poor because it continued beyond it’s ideal end, which is just sticking to the manga so I can’t blame them for it. It was otherwise a pretty decent, if really corny, show.

    For HOTD, I honestly thought that bullet time tits was the best scene in the entire series for sheer stupid entertainment. It was one of the only times Madhouse fully embraced the ridiculousness of the scene they’d set.

    Roberta’s Trail, I loved the first episode while the second was a massive pile of crap. But the original Black Lagoon had those stupid episodes on the Nazi boat. I’m waiting for more eps for that to prove itself.

    If Ironman didn’t exist, then I bet nobody would be saying Madhouse is misfiring anymore than they previously have. It’s just they put no effort into that production whatsoever and it makes me wonder why they even bothered making it in the first place. Ironman has put the stain on their efforts and puts some of their other relative mishaps in less of a forgiving light.

    Also, REDLINE!!!

  8. I knew Madhouse was responsible for Kon’s movies; hope they’ll get it right with Yume Miru Kikai…

  9. @anon

    So what? Does this mean that the show sucks only because the original material sucks? For the record, I don’t read manga at all due to personal reasons (maybe I ought to write an article about this too), but I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Roberta’s arc in the manga. For those who think so, I take their word. Same goes for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood’s source material: great manga but questionable anime adaptation. My philosophy is, no anime should be criticized simply because of its adaptation to the manga. If an anime sucks, it’s because it just sucks.

    Monster is a prime Madhouse example of how close derivation of the manga may prove to be the best decision ever, but people must still give credit to director Kojima Masayuki for making the show work (maybe he often gets overshadowed by Naoki Urasawa because the former doesn’t have an impressive directing record). Honestly, that’s what the director is there for: direct the show and make it his/her own. If a manga is made into an anime, there’s always room for the anime to be somewhat original on its own and not be a verbatim rehash of the manga. It’s just unfair that an anime suck only because the manga does too.

    @Elineas

    Perhaps I should start doing that, instead of just slamming a production studio. After all, it’s more accurate to pinpoint the people behind an anime and not just which company produces it.

    @Taka

    Blue Literature is a fabulous and visually gorgeous show. Some people may criticize the show for unoriginal writing (since it’s based on other actual literary works) but the show’s direction style is still something people should pay attention to in order to judge it. Rideback has a mediocre storyline, but the visuals are fantastic; an eye-candy that I enjoyed nevertheless. I didn’t watch Needless (perhaps a good decision on my part) but at least it has a cool soundtrack.

    The studio reached its peak somewhere in the middle of the decade. I look back at this period and wondered if Madhouse can replicate its glorious days again in the future. I surely hope so.

    @DoctorDazza

    See my response to anon above. It’s an identical case for HOTD, but truthfully, I heard that because the manga was great, which explains why people raeg at the anime’s deviating storyline. Still, the show sucks because it’s way over-the-top.

    @Scamp

    I’d like to think that there’s such a thing called “too stupid for its own good”. That mach III boob effect was ultimate facepalm moment. The following episode’s infamous boob-grab was another.

    It’s strange that I’ve never heard of Redline before. I wonder why. Can anyone further enlighten me what’s good about it (without spoilers, of course)? Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Gimme moar and I’ll be more driven to write more in the future.

  10. Sorry for the double-post, but this.

    My nose bled. Am I seeing an epic movie in the making here? Curse myself for not knowing this earlier.

  11. Madhouse has left me disappointed for 2010. I have high hope for Supernatural. If they do that series right, I will accept the fact that they are back on track and has redeemed themselves otherwise… false hope.

  12. @anon

    Like I said, BL is a manga and RBT is an adaptation. There are limits to the deviations the anime studio can do, especially since OVAs are not geared for the casual BL fan. The faults of the OVA have to be divorced from the faults of the source material, and you seem to be criticizing the latter in your posts. For example, I was disappointed with Fabiola’s presentation in the first ep, and that still happened exactly in plot direction as in the manga. Those are technical issues with the anime, lighting, coloring, frame rate, dialogue timing etc, always problems to be solved when you to interpolate in between what is essentially static frame presentations in a deadtree format.

  13. I don’t necessarily think so, but they certainly had two problems:
    – a lack of focus; too many niche shows instead of a blockbuster, and too much effort spend on a film no one’s seen yet.
    – releasing Iron Man (especially under their name).. it was too shitty a product for such a prime brand name.

    I mean, Bones didn’t do very well this year either, did they? But they had a blockbuster with Fullmetal Alchemist, so it didn’t matter if Heroman was crap and Star Driver wasn’t a surefire win.

  14. I find it hard to criticize Madhouse the studio for anything because they let so many different people take the director’s seat for their works, so their results vary accordingly. Madhouse is kind of like this huge breeding ground for great talent in the anime industry, and I can’t really fault them on that. Of course they also have their regular standbys for great movies/shows as well.

    Also you have to remember that directors usually end up taking at least a one year hiatus between shows, although usually they take more time for their next show to be released, so even if they have one off year, they rebound the following year.

  15. I don’t like this notion that the source material is solely responsible for an anime’s good-crap factor. It is up to the director and his creative team to adapt the material to the anime format. We’ve seen what happens when a good director takes someone else’s project and makes it their own. Most of the time, it turns out really good.

    Generally, the source material is popular enough on it’s own to be considered “good”, at least amongst it’s fans. So if the anime fails or sucks, why is it the manga’s fault? In High School of the Dead’s case, sure the source material contains loads of fanservice and some lulzy zombie bullshit, but it wasn’t the manga that placed episodes out of order and had ridiculous action sequences paying homage to Hollywood films. HSoTD did quite a few things I liked, and Madhouse handled some of the scenes really well, but overall they could not make the product work.

  16. I honestly think that this year was just an aberration. I’m more worried about the studio going bankrupt that I am about them not making good anime.

    The thing that really concerns me is that Madhouse has had an incredible IP known as Iron Man and it did absolutely nothing with it. They should have poured every ounce of energy into that project since this is what could have brought home the millions. Honestly, no one cares about Redline, Tatami Galaxy or any of the other stuff Madhouse puts out, but Iron Man… The entire world cares about this product, and Madhouse could have put itself on the map with this.

    Such a shame Madhouse, such a shame.

  17. I didn’t even think the Trigun movie was that good. In the end, it was really just a long filler episode with updated graphics. So if that’s where all their money went, well… also a bit of a disappointment.

    I’m with TIF — I don’t give a rat’s ass about the source material. Whether it deviates, whether it follows it closely — I don’t care. If the source material sucks, then the director can exercise his creative liberties, or maybe it shouldn’t have been made in the first place. I think a good example of this is FMA. I enjoyed the original FMA (i.e. the one that deviated from the manga) a lot more than the remake (“all I ever wanted was to have friends” — really?).

  18. Lol after all those gar Madhouse series, you left Kobato. If you don’t have patience for it you might not like it but like most CLAMP series it gets better by the second half.

  19. Y’know, I actually had been thinking on this quite a bit recently, as I normally adore Madhouse. But their output lately has been seriously, seriously disappointing. I loved The Tatami Galaxy, but they haven’t done anything good since. The crappy Marvel adaptations in particular have been rather disheartening, as not only did I think the original material for Iron Man was hardly thrilling, the adaptation was just outright horrific.

    Someone up-thread mentioned studios going through good and bad spells. While I do generally agree with this, I also do think that, overall, some studios are consistently better, some consistently worse. Madhouse is one I think of as being consistently better, especially over the past couple of years prior to last spring. So it is especially disappointing to see such recent poor performance.

    I really hope its just a matter of Redline sopping up all their money and talent.

  20. @A Day Without Me

    You know what, as resource-intensive as the movie appears, I really hope Redline pays off too. I’ve seen all the trailers and goddamn, I’m addicted to them. I have no idea why the movie isn’t really mentioned on the blogosphere, but I can imagine that it’s a powder keg waiting to explode the movie’s out.

    If you think Iron Man’s a dud, check out Wolverine. It spits on the faces of all Wolverine fans out there.

  21. oi, this might be ur opinion but stop talking trash about HOTD.. If you dont like it then dont watch it.It’s simple rather than putting it on internet and catch attention to HOTD lovers.. And im on of them so i dont care how long this anime will continue but I WILL wait. This is like the best anime i;ve ever watched in my whole life

  22. Madhouse is back

Leave a Reply

Gravatar enabled.