The Right Stuff

Some organizations just seem to have a magic in what they do. In the anime industry there are some anime studios that immediately tell you what you’re about to watch is going to be special. Out of the 75-odd anime studios in Japan there are a few names every anime fan should know about. These aren’t just studios that have made one or two good shows, but companies that have consistently hit it out of the park year after year.

J.C. Staff

jcstaff

J.C. Staff was founded in 1986, and as a fan of 90s anime I quickly learned to look out for their signature when choosing what to watch next. If a show had “J.C. Staff” in the credits I knew I was in for a good time. The founder of the studio is actually a former employee of Tatsunoko productions, one of the oldest extant anime studios in Japan.

J.C Staff is responsible for the classic Slayers anime, Excel Saga, Azumanga Daioh, Toradora!, Orguss 02, New Dominion Tank Police, and so much more. Their animation has always been some of the best on screen, and their 90s work holds up just as well today. They aren’t always at the technical edge, but their animation has heart and character.

Production I.G.

production Ig

Production I.G. was founded the year after J.C. Staff and has developed a reputation for making some of the most visually stunning animation either on TV or in OVA form.

One of their best outputs has to be Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. This was one of the earliest shows to blend CG and 2D animation. I still think GITS:SAC looks better than some CG-blended anime that came out this year. Of course, this is also the studio that made the classic 1995 Ghost in the Shell theatrical release, but personally I think Stand Alone Complex outdid the original film.

They also did work on the visually stunning End of Evangelion film and other premium mecha shows such as Guilty Crown. It was the GITS visual style and flair that greatly influenced the Wachowskis when they made the first Matrix film.

While Production I.G. might not have pumped out quite as many titles as some studios of a similar vintage, they’ve always made up in terms of quality.

Madhouse INC

Madhouse studio

Madhouse is one one of the older studios on this list, founded in 1972. As such they are responsible for some of the most revered classic of the medium. Wicked City, Ninja Scroll, and Perfect Blue are just three names in a long, long list. They also made two of my top five titles, Chobits and Lodoss War, which automatically gets them a spot in my book!

Madhouse doesn’t really do the OVA thing, preferring TV and movies, but as a result they’ve pumped out some of the best examples of either format. Most recently three of my latest anime loves all come from Madhouse: Overlord, One Punch Man, and Alderamin in the Sky. There’s a pretty good chance that among their filmography is at least one of the titles that you absolutely adore.

Sunrise

Sunrise company

Sunrise is another name that indicate quality shows. The company was founded in 1972 and boasts numerous classic anime under its belt. I personally associate these guys with really solid and fun action and adventure anime from the 90s. They did Gundam, for one thing. Cyborg 009 is also from this studio. Their mecha pedigree also includes Patlabor, and lets not forget these guys are responsible for Cowboy Bebop!

Sunrise is still going strong to this day and it’s insane how many titles this mega-studio pushes out. If it says “Sunrise”, you’re probably in for a good time.

Bones

Bones

Bones is one of the younger studios on this list, being founded in 1998. Yet in that time they’ve made a formidable name for themselves. This studio was actually founded by former Sunrise staff, so there’s quite a pedigree at work here.

This studio is responsible for the original Full Metal Alchemist series, RahXephon, Soul Eater, FMA: Brotherhood, Noragami, and much, much more. So it seems the insane Sunrise work ethic also made it over. I expect big things from Bones in the coming years.

GAINAX

Gainax

GAINAX will forever hold a special place in my heart as the creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, frankly one of the best shows ever made in any medium Period. Excuse my fanboy squealing.

While Evangelion was their second TV series, this studio has made some of the most iconic anime of the last three decades. Appleseed, Gunbuster and FLCL are all fantastic OVAs. Their first film, the 1987 The Wings of Honneamise, is still regarded as something special. Their most recent hit is probably Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. They haven’t pumped out a mass of titles and often co-produce with other studios, but GAINAX has left an indelible mark on the history of anime.

GONZO

Gonzo company

Speaking of the mark that GAINAX left, GONZO was founded by a group of former GAINAX members in 1992. While the studio went through a rough patch financially in the late oughts, their filmography has some real corkers in it.

Blue Submarine No 6 is probably their most famous OVA. On TV they’ve distinguished themselves with titles like Vandread, Hellsing, Full Metal Panic!, Saikano, Kiddy Grade, NHK Youkoso and Afro Samurai. Arguably, they’re an even bigger name in video games, as they’ve done the FMV sequences for some of the most beloved titles ever. Lunar, Lunar 2, and Suikoden can be counted among them. The studio has waned a bit and only releases a series or two per year, but it’s still great stuff.

Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli

Oh boy, and now we finally get to Studio Ghibli. It feels like a bit of a slight, but the easiest way to explain the status of Studio Ghibli is to call it the Disney of Japan. The studio was founded in 1985 by four who would become utter giants of the industry; the best-known among them has to be Hayao Miyazaki.

Ghibli has created some of the top-grossing anime in Japan and have received global recognition. It’s one of the only studios on this list with international theatrical releases. Their films invariably either become mainstream hits or cult classics. Their characters are loved by people all over the world. This is the studio that gave us Totoro, Nausicaa, and Princess Mononoke. It’s the company behind the mega-hit Spirited Away. There’s no greater pedigree.

A lot of their international success comes from licensing by Disney, but make no mistake – Studio Ghibli stands on its own titanic feet with a library of releases equal to the best of several other studios.

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