When the Coronavirus (COVID-19) hit Japan properly towards the beginning of April 2020, many anime studios went into complete lockdown. Several high-profile projects were delayed, currently airing series were postponed, and the whole industry seemed to skid to a halt; but not Studio MAPPA.
Throughout the whole of 2020, MAPPA has stood alone as one of the most prolific and resilient anime studios, delivering unto us several long-awaited adaptations and original projects alike. In fact, their output has increased in comparison to previous years: in 2019, they produced five TV series, one movie, and a music video; but in 2020, they managed to put out eight TV series, one OVA, and two sets of specials.
Considering the circumstances, that’s pretty impressive. Undoubtedly, the studio benefited from many animators and industry professionals being out of work because of the virus, but this resilience wasn’t just a matter of circumstance: it was a testament to how hard the team has been working, putting in the maximum amount of effort to make sure that everything went smoothly.
My infatuation with Studio MAPPA started back when I watched the behind-the-scenes documentary for The God of High School, seeing first-hand how far director Sung-Hoo Park was willing to go to get the perfect shot. While the series ultimately suffered as a result of its rushed adaptation, the entire team did the best they could in the limited timeframe. Technically speaking, you couldn’t ask for much more.
That assumption was proven entirely correct when Jujutsu Kaisen began airing the following season and was afforded 24 episodes to properly adapt the source material. In some cases, it even went even beyond it: my dissatisfaction with many elements of the original Weekly Shonen Jump manga has never been a secret, but MAPPA’s adaptation was polished enough to make me forget about those tiny annoyances, if only for a second. As we head into the series’ second cour, I continue to expect great things.
And how about Attack on Titan: The Final Season? Any studio that had the gonads to take the reins from WIT Studio and adapt the conclusion to one of the most successful manga series of all time is worthy of respect in my book, but it must be said that MAPPA’s adaptational approach has once again divided fans. Sticking faithfully to the declaration that this is the final season, it has cut down a lot of the slow burn of the Marley arc in an attempt to get to the final battle as fast as possible. Whether this will work out in the long term remains to be seen.
Alongside these three highly anticipated adaptations, MAPPA also managed to squeeze out The Gymnastics Samurai, which I have yet to see. This is because I haven’t really seen anyone talking about it, but that might just be because of how many more popular shows are airing around it (also produced by MAPPA, ironically). But pulling together an anime original project on top of all of these adaptations? That’s seriously impressive.
There were some other MAPPA shows from 2020 that I haven’t talked about here, such as Dorohedoro and LISTENERS, but that’s because these came before the pandemic. It’s not as if MAPPA is a new studio either. Since forming in 2012, it has pumped out several solid series: Kids on the Slope, Yuri!!! on ICE, Banana Fish, Dororo, Zombie Land Saga… to name but a few.
Nevertheless, 2020 will undoubtedly go down as the year that MAPPA became true legends. Through hard work, sheer determination, and some favorable circumstances, the team was able to produce several compelling projects that made this terrible, terrible year just a little bit brighter, if only for half an hour each week.
In doing so, they picked up the pieces of 2020 and the entire anime industry on the way.