Leaving the Madhouse: An Interview with Masao Maruyama

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

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Masao Maruyama | Terror in Resonance

At Anime Boston 2016, Operation Rainfall had the opportunity to participate in a press panel with one of the legends of the anime industry, Masao Maruyama. Masao Maruyama is a producer and was one of the co-founders of animation studio Madhouse.  After leaving Madhouse, Maruyama founded animation studio MAPPA, where he is currently a producer.

As a producer, Maruyama is responsible for green-lighting new projects for the company.

With Madhouse Maruyama has produced series such as Death Note, Trigun, Nana, and Monster. When Maruyama left Madhouse and founded animation studio MAPPA, he produced shows such as Kids on the Slope and Terror in Resonance.

The press panel was conducted round-robin style, with each organization able to ask one question of the legend.


Q: You started your career working at Mushi Productions, founded by Osamu Tezuka, who is like the god of manga and the man who helped start this anime craze. What were some things you learned from Tezuka while working for him?

Maruyama: My whole existence is entirely because I had the coincidence to work with Tezuka-san. My whole DNA is all because of Tezuka-san. At first Tezuka-san was working for Toei Production and he worked on titles such as Hakujaden. Toei at the time was trying to make movies more Disney style. They worked on things such as Saiyuki (Alakazam the Great). Tezuka-san decided that was not what he wanted to do so he started his own production.

Around that time the Japanese animation industry could release something once every three years. That’s all the people we had and all the resources we had. That was the best we could do. When releasing movies there were a lot of issues that had to be cleared. Tezuka-san did not have the freedom to do what he wanted to do. He created Tezuka Productions with his own money and his first title was Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) and I was involved in that.

Astro Boy was not like anything that was released in Japan before then. It is actually the base of all anime in Japan since then. The format that was a TV format to be released once per week for 30 minutes. That’s not like anything that had been done in Japan before then.

Movies before then were full animation like Disney style, with lots of movement everywhere and time consuming to do. In order to release once per week, a lot of movements had to be cut down and simplified. That was new to the industry and it was a really crazy idea that wasn’t around before.

The idea was seemingly crazy but he created this technique where he would move some parts of the animation and not move some others and trick the eyes into thinking the whole thing was moving. He taught us such techniques that we could base future works on.

I was in my early 20’s around that time and honestly I wasn’t that interested in anime. I didn’t know much about anime but Tezuka-san needed people and he took in all sorts of people, including those of us who weren’t experienced at all. I had the coincidence of joining his work force and it’s been 50 years.

So it probably wasn’t the best working conditions in the world. There were a lot of us that didn’t know what exactly was going on. People like me, Rintaro, Yoshiyuki Tomino of Gundam, we were all there and we were working on this new thing. We knew that it was an interesting thing we were working on.

It was really lucky that we had him. He really spawned off a lot of people. There were just as many good people as there were not so great people in the industry. He influenced a lot of people and the variety of the people that were spawned off of him for so long is what makes the industry a lively industry.

Q: Since starting Madhouse, your work has shown such a different philosophy of productions as opposed to the old Tezuka Production formats. What led to such a tonal shift and how has this really shaped your work going through your career?

Maruyama: Some of us were working on Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe) at Mushi Productions. Dezaki, Osamu and some others worked on titles such as Kunimatsu-sama no Otoridai (Make Way for Mr. Kunimatsu).  Around that time Mushi Production went under and we all needed a place to work. That’s when some of us got together and created Madhouse. Our philosophy was that we were going to do what we wanted to work on. Later Dezaki created a separate company called Anapol and what triggered that was that they wanted to create a part two of Ashita no Joe (Tomorrow’s Joe) and I didn’t want to do that. We went our separate ways and created our separate companies so they could work on that.

Masao Maruyama | Kids on the Slope

Q: What inspired you to leave Madhouse and create MAPPA?

Maruyama: I was with Madhouse for 30 years. In 30 years it had become a very large organization. There was little freedom left in things that I worked on. Because I wanted to do things that I wanted to do, I decided to create a separate company MAPPA and leave Madhouse so that I could work on things that I wanted to work on. Personally, large organizations with little freedom is not my taste. I want to be working on things that I want to work on with people that I get along with.

Of course now MAPPA has gotten big so I’m not sure what to do now (laughter).

Q: You worked on Trigun with Madhouse and also the movie Badlands Rumble. Trigun achieved a higher level of success here in North America then reportedly it did in Japan. Was that surprising to the staff at Madhouse?

Maruyama: It obviously isn’t everything that I worked on. But a number of the titles that I have worked on, Trigun being one of them, they seemed to be getting more popularity outside of Japan. Some of the things that Satoshi Kon has worked on, they seemed to be very popular in France. My theory is that maybe people overseas were better at identifying things that were really good, that’s just a theory (laughter).

Astro Boy is obviously very popular in Japan but it has won popularity in the US as well. Another title I can think of is Ninja Scroll that Kawajiri’s worked on. That one is very popular in the US and France. The titles that I personally like seem to be popular in other countries too.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time | Visual

Q: You’ve always produced a lot of shows about youth such as Kids on the Slope or The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Are you appealing to the anime industry’s tendency to portray youth or are you just remembering your own youth? Do you feel like you’ve accurately portrayed how it feels?

Maruyama: Well, I’m young! (laughter) In order to keep producing anime I think curiosity is really a key and you have to be emotionally young. My physical age is 75 but I try to become younger every year (laughter).

About Patrick Aguda

Patrick is a Mechanical Engineering student and an avid fan of both video games and anime. He has been a fan of anime since his older sister introduced him to the genre when he was in Pre-K. He grew up watching shows like Cardcaptor Sakura, Digimon Adventure, Gundam Wing, Dragon Ball Z, Tenchi Muyo and Rurouni Kenshin. His favorite anime of all time is Code Geass. His favorite games include Persona 3 Portable, Steambot Chronicles and the .hack//G.U. trilogy. He is very fond of Sinon (Asada Shino).




  • DizzyGear

    Ninja Scroll. Man, that takes me back…
    It was pretty popular among my friends as well even though we were not even into anime.

  • Mr0303

    I wonder how a creator reacts when his work is more popular in other countries. It must be an interesting feeling that foreigners are more into your creation than your countrymen.

    • Panpopo

      I think a good example is Kotaro Uchikoshi. His Zero Escape series did not do well at all in Japan, but had a pretty passionate fanbase in the West. Without Aksys and the West, his trilogy would never have been completed – he showed his appreciation for the West fans via twitter and other sources, that was very genuine and heartfelt. I would assume from this example, that if your creations are appreciated anywhere, you probably don’t care where.

  • Truck

    “There was little freedom left in things that I worked on. Because I wanted to do things that I wanted to do, I decided to create a separate company MAPPA and leave Madhouse so that I could work on things that I wanted to work on.” That would be explain Takeshi Koike’s absence then.