In just eight years, MAPPA has emerged as one of the most recognizable studios in the anime world, and for good reason. From its early collaborations with Shinichiro Watanabe to the global phenomenon of Yuri on Ice to well-received classic manga adaptations such as Dororo and Banana Fish, MAPPA has established itself as the studio that can competently handle any genre.
2020 has been MAPPA’s most prolific year yet. The studio has produced eight series in total this year, three of which are part of the current Fall season, including the upcoming Attack on Titan: The Final Season. Its journey through this difficult year has not been smooth all the way, but ultimately studio's highs exceed its lows in 2020.
MAPPA Is The Champion of Manga Adaptations
Many of the best MAPPA productions have been manga adaptations, and this year is no exception. MAPPA adapted the cult classic Dorohedoro this past Winter. The anime perfectly captures the quirky yet gory tone of the original manga, impressively recreating mangaka Q Hayashida’s chaotic yet meticulous art style. It has some of the highest-quality CG animation in all of anime aside from Orange's productions (Beastars, Land of the Lustrous). Even its incredibly trippy OP and EDs served as delightful blasts of silly fun at a time when people desperately needed such entertainment.
MAPPA's big show of the summer was the popular Webtoon adaptation The God of High School. This series ultimately received mixed reviews. Critics had issues with the show's rushed pacing and incomplete worldbuilding, especially in its second half. Despite these narrative issues, however, the action animation was outstanding, a clear display of the studio's talent.
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Luckily, MAPPA’s latest manga adaptation, Jujutsu Kaisen, has all the elements that make a great anime; it perfectly combines an intense story, likable characters, and spectacular visuals. It is already considered one of the top contenders for anime of the year. Episode 7 of Jujutsu Kaisen trended globally as its most powerful character Gojo Satoru flexed his sorcery skills, while MAPPA showed off its animation skills in ways surpassing many fans’ expectations.
MAPPA’s success with Jujutsu Kaisen may have just put some anxious Attack on Titan fans’ hearts at ease. As they eagerly wait for the final season, the visuals and trailers put out by MAPPA already look as good as those from the anime’s previous animation studio Wit.
MAPPA Has Stumbled With Original Anime
2020 has not been MAPPA's year when it comes to original animation. While the studio had past successes with original stories, especially with Yuri on Ice, Zombie Land Saga and last year’s Sarazanmai, this year's two big MAPPA originals, Listeners and The Gymnastics Samurai, were both underwhelming in their own ways.
Spring 2020’s Listeners has the ambitious goal of combining mecha with rock music. The story takes place in a world where music does not exist, and the protagonists have to drive giant mechas to fight monsters called Earless. However, this intriguing premise and the well-done animation are ultimately ruined by a clichéd story and boring characters. Though rock fans may appreciate the references hidden throughout the anime, references alone do not make a good anime -- in such excess, they make the story feel too self-indulgent.
The Gymnastics Samurai, produced simultaneously with Jujutsu Kaisen, has the opposite problem as Listeners. The series has a solid (if offbeat) story and fun characters, but the animation generally doesn't execute the story as well as it could. Conceptually, the anime seems to want to replicate the success of Yuri on Ice, but with MAPPA having so many shows in production, it feels like this series has gotten the short end of the stick visually. Fortunately, the animation quality has improved in recent episodes, so here's hoping for a continued positive trend.
MAPPA Has Had More Wins than Losses
The rest of MAPPA’s 2020 line-up can only be described as forgettable. Winter's Uchi Tama!? is an adorable anime series MAPPA co-produced with Lapin Track. It is based on the character franchise by Sony Creative Products designed to sell merchandise. This series could have been made by any other studio and be just as successful at selling products... though it's wild to think that this and Dorohedoro were produced at the same time by the same studio.
Mr. Love: Queen's Choice from Summer represents a slight departure from MAPPA’s usual fare. It's an adaptation of a popular otome game from China and is MAPPA’s first otome series. The series features a very complex world with superpowers and an evil cult. Arguably, it's too complex for its own good. Having to constantly juggle between four male leads presents a challenge for coherent storytelling, especially given the overly-complicated backstories.
Overall, MAPPA has produced more high-quality anime in a troublesome year than many studios have in a normal year. Even its least successful Listeners still has above average animation and very good music. Its domination over the Fall season with the outstanding Jujutsu Kaisen is also undeniable. MAPPA has become a powerhouse in the anime industry, achieving a balance between quality and quantity few other studios have achieved.