By David Cabrera
Masao Maruyama (former Madhouse producer, now with Mappa) is actually called honorary staff at Otakon, because he makes the trip out nearly every year. He's built up a reputation. His panels don't draw the big fan crowds (at a generous estimate, maybe 50 of us came to his panel this year) but if you're the kind of fan who's curious about the business side of things, you'll learn a lot from him. He's very candid, very friendly, and a funny guy to boot.
The big news of the panel was, of course, that Maruyama, a veteran at Madhouse, has left the studio to start his own studio called Mappa. One of the most amusing parts of the Q&A was Maruyama's explanation of the name: he said that in the spirit of starting over from zero, the studio was named for a phrase for “bare naked”. His embarrassed staffers forced him to give them a different name to answer the phone with, and he came up with Maruyama Animation Production Project Association But, he joked, we all knew the true meaning.
So that's the kind of guy we're talking about. He's made a major career move late in his life, something that I imagine would be incredibly serious and stressful, and he smiles and jokes about it. He says that from age 70 on, he's going to start aging backwards.
Being Cowboy Bebop-loving American anime fans, one of our first questions for Maruyama was how he got director Shinichiro Watanabe to helm the new project Kids on the Slope. The response surprised and saddened us a little bit: for the past few years Maruyama and Watanabe had been trying to get projects green-lighted at Madhouse, and none of them ever came to fruition. (This is the part where American otaku all grab their heads in their hands and ask “How? How? WHY?!”)
Once Maruyama was at his own company, he passed Watanabe the manga and said “You have to do this.” And that was that.
Kids on the Slope comes off as an incredibly ambitious first-time project for a studio like Mappa, especially when Maruyama went into the exacting detail that he and Watanabe demanded for the musical performances. When asked whether these scenes were hand-animated or computer graphics, Maruyama only said that the goal was to make those scenes look so good that you'd have to ask him that question. Indeed, going back to the show I just can't tell.
One of the last, sobering questions regarded the completion of Satoshi Kon's last film. Even here, Maruyama kept his sense of humor: referring back to his new outlook on aging, he said that he hopes to have it done by the time he's 65.