[Editorial Tuesday] The History of Gonzo

At the beginning of every anime, fans will recognize certain production companies associated with the making. One of the most recognizable ones is Gonzo, always accompanied with the deep and welcoming voice associated with the company. As an anime fan, Gonzo has most likely become a staple anime company that you see on a regular basis. As with all anime production companies, it has its share of flops and successes. Gonzo has had too many flops to maintain the initial success of the company and this will ultimately lead to an uncertain future. The history of Gonzo is relatively short in the history of anime; however, it also allows for a timeline that is packed with drama and intrigue.

Gonzo is not a studio that has remained unchanged but has a history that branches out and weaves its way into many other studios. The amount of change that has come out of Gonzo has impacted the history of anime forever. Talent in this studio comes and goes, making Gonzo difficult to maintain. Most anime fans will recognize Gonzo for its popular anime such as Witchblade, Welcome to the NHK, Hellsing and Rosario to Vampire. Titles such as these arguably define Gonzo as a production company rather than its many less popular anime that have been coming out since as early as 1992. While Gonzo’s track record for their production has been less than stellar, it is possible to expect great things from them in the future as the company continues to evolve.

Baby Gonzo

Gonzo could be compared to a tree. Since its founding in 1992, the company has been merging and splitting its branches throughout its first 8 years. Gainax split from the company in hopes of forming their own animation studio, however, this didn’t go quite according to plan as they went 4 years without producing a single anime. Gainax chose to focus on video games during this time rather than anime. However, it would eventually shift its focus back to anime later in its life cycle. Early Gonzo was shaped primarily by two individuals, Mahiro Maeda and Shouji Murahama. Murahama and Maeda weren’t afraid to go against the norm of the anime community and push boundaries which led to the initial success of the studio. Murahama quickly became the studio’s first president and laid the groundwork for Gonzo’s future success. Their innovation allowed for the values and ideals of Gonzo to come into creation and keep these through its difficult history. One could argue that the core of Gonzo was only able to stay afloat through its history because of the innovation of both Mahiro Maeda and Shouji Murahama.

With the creation of Digimation, Gonzo started to make their own 2D animations. Ahead of their time, they aimed to be at the cutting edge of technology even imagining modern streaming in a time of dial up internet. In 2001, they put out the first digitally streamed anime, Zaion. They later joined on early with Crunchyroll, cementing their place in anime streaming. Gonzo was adamant about having a say in their distribution and this became another one of the core values of the company. At this point, the company was facing major financial problems and it seemed as though they were on the downturn. While their experimentation was ahead of their time, it did not seem to mesh well with their audience and ultimately led to the close demise of the studio.

Adolescent Gonzo

The company’s financial situation was not the only disappointment that Gonzo was facing. The creators and innovators of the company had decided that their fates remain elsewhere as they departed the studio. The digital department was forced to sell and was ultimately bought out by Q-Tec. Many employees left Gonzo and went on to form other studios, as sort of babies that resulted from the mother studio. Gonzo was left in shambles after the departing of its employees and could ultimately not rebuild to its childhood glory. This was a major disappointment to fans who grew very fond of its early content that would change into dismay after its key figures left the studio. However, this period did have its perks. Titles such as Hellsing and Full Metal Panic! came out during this time and became very popular with its fans. These fans insisted that Gonzo’s productions were simply misunderstood rather than being poor quality content. However, the studio at this time was also remaking a lot of anime that was not consistent with the original content. This led to more disdain for the company in the anime community. Anime fans were and still are about keeping true to the original and the direction that Gonzo was going did not fit in with its fan’s ideals. Gonzo did achieve its success it other aspects though. Keeping with their values, Gonzo wanted to still allow their productions to be streamed rather than purchased in a hard copy. In 2006, Gonzo made a deal with Animax that allowed them to stream and bring their shows to a larger audience around the world. Gonzo insisted that with a larger audience to the west, their shows would succeed and become wildly popular, unfortunately this was not the case.

Adult Gonzo

Towards the end of the 2000s, Gonzo continued to invest in an immense amount of content that was debatably bad. Money did not seem to be a concern at this point and they invested in shows that were not jiving with their audience. While this is solely a matter of opinion, it did not make the studio the money necessary to stay afloat. In 2008, Gonzo partnered with BOST, a Japanese entertainment company, in hopes of gaining a foothold to pull itself out of debt. After being threatened to be taken of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2009 due to an approximate 30 million dollars in debt, Gonzo had to make major changes. However, after a year of pushing, Gonzo was not able to change its fate and the last of its key figures left. The last series that was premiering, Saki, had to be switched to being broadcast from Picture Magic. This seemed like the end of Gonzo to all involved.

Gonzo barely scraped by with an incredibly small team. They produced two unpopular titles in 2010 then reemerged in 2012. Gonzo seemed to continue of this cycle of slight popularity followed by disappointment. The company continues to put out very few shows a year, generally settling on 1-2. New talent is starting to come to the studio as well such as Hiroshi Ikehata who brings with him a crew of new and brilliant creators. Gonzo was acquired in July 2016 by Asatsu DK, a Japanese marketing and advertising company. This merger helped save Gonzo and ultimately has been helping them succeed since.

Future Gonzo

While there are many who object to Gonzo’s success, the production company does seem to be on the upturn. Hopefully its most recent merger will allow them to create the content they need with the help of Hiroshi Ikehata and his team of new creators. Gonzo needs a fresh outlook with quality content. While they need to keep with their core values, it is also important that they maintain the push towards the future that the company initially started with. Innovation is key with Gonzo’s success. Their future as a company is still uncertain but we believe with the right people that Gonzo will succeed. Gonzo’s up and downturns seem to be attributed to a loss and gain of new talent. By having the right people pushing the studio forward, Gonzo will be able to succeed and have their name up next to Funimation and Studio Ghibli. However, their track record for maintaining the talent is uncertain to say the least. Gonzo’s future is largely unknown but with the proper steps we can expect great new anime to come out of this studio.

Final Thoughts

Gonzo is a difficult studio to predict the future of because it has had so many ups and downs throughout its life cycle. However, there are many upturns with the shows that it has produced in recent years and we can only hope that it will continue to rise in success. A company is comprised of individuals; these aren’t just people that don’t matter in a studio but are necessary for its survival. New creators and fresh content is what the studio needs right now. Gonzo is not a studio to be taken lightly. Although they have had their pitfalls, Gonzo still maintains their core values throughout the years making this studio highly likely to succeed with the right staff.

We appreciate you reading this article and being interested in the studio behind the anime. As always, if you have any thoughts, comments or inklings we encourage you to leave them in the comments below. We hope that this has broadened your knowledge, even a little bit and you leave with a sense of fulfillment on the long and knowledgeable journey that is anime history.

by Lauren