From the latter seasons of Attack on Titan to originals like Chainsaw Man, MAPPA has surely established itself among the most influential anime studios in recent times. Its reign on streaming platforms is evident from trending titles like the sophomore season of shounen anime Jujutsu Kaisen (or JJK as fans call it) which occupied a spot on Netflix India’s Top 10 lists for more than ten weeks.
Jujutsu Kaisen season 2 goes on to prove how far MAPPA has come with regard to the quality of animation and subversive narratives. But the Japanese studio had already established its supremacy before Jujutsu Kaisen. Here are some of MAPPA’s finest works that put it on the map.
The lore of Vikings has been done to death in Hollywood with the notorious Norse viewers even getting revisionist treatments like the History Channel original Vikings and Robert Eggers' barbaric take on Hamlet, The Northman. It's only ironic that an anime still subverts this action subgenre like never before. Balancing blood-soaked action pieces with surprisingly profound moments of introspection, Vinland Saga's second season was produced and animated by MAPPA.
While its debut season stands out on its own, Vinland Saga season 2 spectacularly transformed its protagonist Thorfinn from a reckless vengeance-seeking teen to a meditative adult who tries his best to step away from bloodshed. With enough moments of inspirational pacifism and peace-evoking visuals of natural landscapes, Vinland Saga's second season offers some of MAPPA's most beautiful anime frames. But the dark overtones are still more than evident in goosebump-raising moments of violence, proving how the anime studio is not afraid to adapt some truly disturbing manga.
Just as the case was with Vinland Saga, Attack on Titan was initially produced by Wit Studio. It's only after season 3 that the baton was passed to MAPPA. The decision was clearly monumental in elevating Hajime Isayama's iconic manga to new visual heights. From animating the anime's watershed moment Rumbling to adding more details to the fast-paced group fight sequences in the final season, MAPPA's involvement did help in drastically improving the quality of Attack on Titan. As a dark fantasy anime, AoT lives up to its cult status with a socio-political arc that goes beyond just a mere battle between humans and Titans. Instead, Isayama's commentary on the futility of conflict ends up as an anime story for the ages.
With formulaic elements seen in previous light-hearted shounen anime like Naruto, Jujustu Kaisen could have been just another entry in its genre’s pantheon. Rather, the kinetic energy with which the show’s first two seasons transpired, Jujutsu Kaisen has turned into one of MAPPA’s most profitable properties. High-schooler Yuji Itadori’s adventures with the supernatural secret organisation Jujutsu Sorcerers make for a delightful coming-of-age arc. The anime benefits greatly from well-rounded characters like fan-favourite Satoru Gojo and equally impressive byproducts like the blockbuster theatrical release Jujutsu Kaisen 0.
Walking in the footsteps of self-aware anime satires like One Punch Man, Chainsaw Man stands out with its excessive gore and hilariously absurd characters. The titular protagonist Denji is an amusing character study on his own. Unlike other MAPPA anime heroes, Denji isn’t driven by any lofty ambitions to become the greatest. Rather, his life goals are pretty simple, mostly being reduced to getting enough food for the day. As he gets involved with a group hellbent on eradicating monsters, Denji must rely on his blood-stained avatar to save the people of his city. Despite Denji’s naive humour being the talking point of the series, Chainsaw Man proves MAPPA animators’ expertise in framing grandiose fighting sequences (with extra showers of blood in this case).
Redefining sports anime tropes and shattering gender stereotypes, Yuri!!! On Ice delves into the intricacies of the figure skating world. Drawing critical acclaim for addressing anxiety and homosexuality in Japan, the MAPPA original was ahead of its time when it premiered in 2016. Matters get more interesting in this binge-worthy anime with the cutthroat competitions among the skaters, the glittery costumes and just the magical charm of walking on ice. Particular attention has been given to the skating sequences with Japanese figure skating legend Kenji Miyamoto choreographing and performing the routines himself. Yuri!!! On Ice’s impact can be seen with ice skaters performing to the show’s music during the 2018 Winter Olympics.
A band of prisoners and the ninjas supervising them must survive on an island that isn’t what it looks like. Hell’s Paradise is quite a contrast within itself as it pairs a psychedelic colour palette with some truly grim character arcs. The island on which the story unfolds is adorned with multi-coloured flora and fauna while scenes in the Japanese mainland also highlight the architectural brilliance of Edo-period Japan. The ninja Gabimaru and his executioner Yamada Asaemon Sagiri also make for an incredible pair, each of the two warriors dealing with loneliness and loss as they head out to find the elixir of immortality.
Kakegurui is bound to make viewers curious from merely its outlandish premise. Set in a private school that is run by gambling games, the titular heroine makes her presence felt with her gambling addiction. Decoding the cheating tactics of her fellow students, Kakegurui ends up disrupting the social order of her elite academy. But don’t let the card games fool you as this Netflix-distributed MAPPA anime has some moments of relentless action once the cards have been folded. With scenes involving stabbed eyeballs and ripped fingernails, Kakegurui can be too bizarre for some but the ones who can stomach their fair share of the quintessential MAPPA gore and absurdity will be rewarded.
With a single season of 24 episodes, Banana Fish makes for a perfect binge. Despite a 2010s setting, the stylish action thriller has a retro 80s-inspired visual feel to it. At the same time, the premise is layered with the haunting realities of the early 2000s such as a mind-control conspiracy relating to the US-Iraq War. The central storyline involves a New York gang leader and a photojournalist’s attempts to decipher the mystery of a substance codenamed “Banana Fish”. As the unlikely duo gets closer to the truth, a brilliant political conspiracy unfurls that clearly makes this one of MAPPA’s most realistic animes.
Every once in a while, MAPPA produces an anime that is not about any high-stakes challenges or hyperviolent action. Re-Main is one such example, playing out as a feel-good story about regaining one’s identity. The hero in this case is the water polo champion Minato Kiyomizu who loses his memory after a coma that lasts for three years. Seeking to make up for the years that passed him by, Re-Main offers a feel-good viewing experience that can provide a relaxing break away from the usual hullabaloo of MAPPA originals.
Dorohedoro might be overshadowed by other MAPPA anime but this underrated gem on Netflix set the stage for comedic anime in the studio’s roster like the far more popular Chainsaw Man. Still, Dorohedoro holds its own ground while exploring a post-apocalyptic world dominated by sorcerers and mutant creatures. The titular hero is an amnesiac reptilian humanoid who seeks answers to undo a curse that turned him into a beast. Equipped with enough slapstick gags, deadpan humour, and genre parodies, Dorohedoro is worth checking out for its easygoing tonality. It just goes on to prove how willing MAPPA is to experiment with all sorts of manga, even the strange ones like Dorohedoro.