Studio Manglobe: What Can We Learn from Them?

Bankruptcy’s annoying, isn’t it?

Recently, Studio Manglobe, one of the major, modern production houses in anime, closed its doors after 13 long years. For those who know of Studio Manglobe’s work, this is incredibly depressing. For those who don’t…you do, you know their work even if you think you don’t. For those who still don’t know Studio Manglobe, they’re responsible for some highly ambitious, unique and varied shows, including Samurai Champloo, Michiko & Hatchin and Gangsta. They’ve always prided themselves on not selling out, even when their shows weren’t great, which is exactly why they’ve taken a huge tumble.

Perhaps context is needed to better understand why this is a big deal. Studio Manglobe was founded by Shinichirō Kobayashi and Takashi Kochiyama in 2002. Originally producers for Sunrise Entertainment, it was a way for daring and ambitious anime to be made under the studio system. In the 13 years since, they’ve gone on to do Samurai Champloo, Ergo Proxy, Michiko & Hatchin, The World God Only Knows, Deadman Wonderland, Karneval and Gangsta, to name a few. They also had a film, Genocidal Organ, in the works, although whether or not it’ll ever be finished is up for debate.

What set Studio Manglobe apart was their constant desire to take risks. Perhaps not always smart ones, but risks nonetheless. They weren’t afraid to explore different genres, methods of storytelling, even unique directors like Sayo Yamamoto. Essentially, they were the anime equivalent of what Lucasfilms was supposed to be before George Lucas became Star Wars-crazy. So it’s easy to see how they’d gain the respect of serious anime fans.

Taking risks, however, is often a two-headed snake. On one hand, trying new ideas, while admirable, means that not everything will work out. Yes, that’s a sign of artistic growth, there’s no denying that. But ambition alone is troublesome when it’s misguided, as evidenced by history. Ambition needs to be rooted in reality, and while I can’t say how many of the aforementioned titles were good, since I haven’t seen most of them, from what I’ve gathered there were many blunders under Studio Manglobe’s belt. Take that as you will.

The other head is more serious, which is where Studio Manglobe got into trouble: finance. Like it or not, the world is built on capitalism. Any and all art must have monetary value if it’s to succeed, and ambitious art is no exception. For every talented artist out there, there needs to be many business-minded individuals to level everything out. It’s sad and unfair, but considering that people often have mouths to feed, let-alone families to raise (on-top of supporting themselves,) unless you know money matters, you’re not gonna make it anywhere.

This is why Studio Manglobe declared bankruptcy. For all their talk about ambitious art, they weren’t money-savvy. This not to say that none of their works were hits, but a good amount were commercial failures. The studio had been bleeding money for years, and when you’re in the red for too long it can come back to bite you. If you want proof on a smaller-scale, Studio Ghibli, claimers or original films, recently downsized after four consecutive box-office bombs. Like I said, money speaks.

Of course, Studio Manglobe’s bankruptcy is a microcosm of a larger problem. If you’ll recall, a while back I mentioned a remark made by Hideaki Anno about the anime industry. It was a misquote in the end, but the claim was that anime was on the verge of death. The reasoning behind it, which isn’t new, is that animators are paid dirt cheap for high-quality material on a time-crunch. There’s an expectation that a new episode of any series must be released every week, on the day, without fail. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been excellent output these past several decades, there has, but when you’re in that kind of pressure it can only get so far before it collapses.

Sadly, it’s always the over-achievers, like Studio Manglobe, that fold first. Because in a world where money speaks volumes, those that don’t have any suffer the fastest. However, at the rate the anime industry is going, they won’t be the last. The realistically-ambitious will collapse shortly afterward, and the chain will continue to break until even the safe, pandering garbage will stop being marketable. If you don’t believe me, listen to interviews of former workers in the anime industry.

Additionally, the balance of daring-to-marketable is tricky. Studio BONES, in its heyday, was the crown ruler of quality, but if you look at their résumé you’ll find a lot of their shows were either highly-marketable, or based on popular Manga that’d attract fans anyway. Studio Madhouse also puts out high-quality shows and movies, but even they have plenty of fan-service shows and marketable garbage to keep the cash flow steady. Even Kyoto Animation and Studio Shaft, both of whom have made one or two great works, have a glut of safe, dumb nonsense to keep them afloat. And while it’s hard to imagine now, there was time pre-Kiki’s Delivery Service that Studio Ghibli was on the verge of closing because they weren’t generating significant returns.

Again, money speaks volumes.

The question from here is, “What now?” I don’t know a lot about finance, but I know there are different levels of bankruptcy. Studio Manglobe is bankrupt, yes, but what level is undisclosed (and for good reason, as it’d lead to stuff that they probably don’t want.) Depending on the level, they have options: if it’s not serious, they can sell assets akin to what Marvel did in the 80’s, assuming they have any. If it’s more serious, perhaps restructuring or merging with another studio is in order. I’m spitballing, but, assuming I’m not being unrealistic, these are suggestions they might want to consider.

I also think other anime production houses should take note. This’ll sound hypocritical considering my stance not too long ago, but anime’s in trouble and needs to look inward. Because there are lots of real problems, and the sooner they’re acknowledged and rectified, the better. Perhaps a change in guard? A reevaluation of animators and their working conditions/salaries? Again, I’m spitballing, but these are definitely gonna have to be considered if the anime industry is to survive.

Ultimately, though, people need to realize that: 1. Blind ambition isn’t enough. 2. Bankruptcy is a serious matter. 3. This sort of stuff happens all the time. 4. There aren’t easy answers. Regardless of what I, you, or anyone else says, the onus is on Studio Manglobe to figure this out, not some 25 year-old schmuck with a big-mouth. If the studio’s even remotely business-savvy, and I’m sure they are, they’ll find an answer. I only hope it’s soon…


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