I recently wrote a post about Japan’s top anime studios, which explored the background of each company and how they came to exist. But in researching that post, I came across a high number of great anime studios which had sadly ceased operations. So today let’s look at 12 of the most famous tragically bankrupt anime studios that are no longer with us!
Why Do Animation Studios Fail?
I’ve been lucky enough to keep J-List going for 26+ years, thanks to the warm support of our many customers worldwide. Keeping any business going year to year is a challenge, and there are many things owners have to constantly think about daily.
Some reasons anime studios fall on hard times and are unable to continue operating include:
- The normal economics of making animation, which is very labor and capital-intensive. Obviously, anime studios don’t pay their staff meager wages because they’re assholes but because the overall economics of making animation is challenging.
- Sometimes studios are part of the “anime production committees,” which are holding companies created to manage risk for a new IP across several participating members, and receive a portion of proceeds from a hit show. But all too often they’re hired for a flat fee, usually around $1 million for a 12-episode series.
- Unfair royalty agreements. I found that genius anime director Makoto Shinkai was only paid a flat fee of $200,000 for his smash hit Your Name, with no portion of the $380 million box office gains going to him or his animators. (The studio presumably got a slice of Blu-ray sales, however.)
- Anime studios don’t own the rights to the works they create. One reason the staff of Gainax was keen to develop Evangelion was their frustration at getting no income from the hit Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, which they made via contract from NHK. They got in rather a lot of trouble for tax evasion, which you can read about in this interview with Michael House, the resident gaijin working at Gainax at the time.
- Streaming dollars talk, ecchi shows walk. One theme of this post is that nearly every studio that made your favorite ecchi anime shows is out of business today. Some of this must come from streaming money flowing to mainstream shows rather than the next pantyshot anime.
- Piracy is another part of the problem, as fans respond to streaming services’ censoring of shows for international markets by “sailing the high seas.”
Let’s Look at 12 Bankrupt Anime Studios Which Are No Longer Operating
Tear Studio. Although they were only around from 2013-2019, they made quite a splash with the sexy anime Why The Hell Are You Here, Teacher!?, a borderline hentai anime about unlikely accidental couplings between male students and their sexy teachers. Sadly they folded in 2019, still owing $80,000 in wages to their animators.
Arms. Speaking of sexy anime, Arms was a studio that made some of the best, from Ikki Tousen to Hyakka Ryoran Samurai Bride to Mezzo Forte. They ceased operations in 2020, due to a combination of their too-sexy-for-streaming back catalog and the challenges brought on by COVID.
Studio Fantasia. Another studio responsible for some of our favorite past anime, Studio Fantasia brought us such works as Project A-Ko, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien and All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. They also made Agent Aika, one of the best ecchi series ever. The company went bankrupt in 2016.
What are the best anime studios operating in Japan today? Read this blog post here!
Xebec. A fixture in the anime industry since its founding in 1995, they made beloved ecchi shows like To Love-Ru, Keijo!!!!!!!! and Ladies versus Butlers, as well as more mainstream hits like Love Hina and my beloved Space Battleship 2199. Several years of operating in the red caused them to sell their assets to Sunrise and fold in 2019.
Production IMS. Another bankrupt anime studio, Production IMS created such works as Shinmai Maoh no Testament, Hundred, and High School Fleet before experiencing financial difficulties in 2017. It filed for bankruptcy later that year.
Hal Film Maker. Founded in 1993 when studio Topcraft went belly up, they made some great works such as Aria the Animation, Saber Marionette J and one of my all-time favorites, Yamada’s First Time. Sadly they ceased operations in 2017.
Studio Nue. Some animation studios did legendary work in the past, but since we haven’t heard from them in years, we assume they’ve stopped operating. Studio Nue helped give birth to the anime world we know today with their work on the original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross as well as Dirty Pair and even Samurai Pizza Cats. The last thing they contributed to was 2008’s Macross Frontier, but they’re not an officially bankrupt anime studio yet. Notice how Hikaru’s Valkyrie crashes through the Studio Nue headquarters in this great easter egg.
Macross recently turned 40. Read my blog post about how it changed anime forever!
AIC. Once a legend in the industry, Anime International Company sadly joins the list of bankrupt anime studios. They brought us such great series as Ah! My Goddess, Tenchi Muyou, Amagami SS and the original Cream Lemon, the first hentai anime (wow). They joined the ranks of bankrupt anime studios in 2021, transferring their copyrights to a new holding company.
Hoods Entertainment. While not yet bankrupt, Hoods hasn’t headed up an anime project since 2020. They’re responsible for such iconic works as Mysterious Girlfriend X, Drifters and Seikon no Qwaser.
Mushi Production. Is it always bad for a major studio to go bankrupt? Founded by God-of-Manga Tezuka Osamu in 1961 as a rival to his former employer Toei Animation, Mushi Production was responsible for classic works like Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion and Ashita no Joe. The studio declared bankruptcy in 1973, but this led to a flood of creative destruction, as former employees went on to found Kyoto Animation, Sunrise and Shaft. So…yay bankruptcy?
Gainax. Wait, Gainax isn’t a bankrupt anime studio, is it? The company is still operating out of a tiny building in Tokyo, but after Hideaki Anno left to form Studio Khara (to create the Evangelion films) and Hiroyuki Imaishi left to create Trigger, the soul of the once-great Gainax was gone for good. (Their president getting arrested on obscenity charges didn’t help.) The top Gainax works included the original Evangelion, Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Top wo Nerae! Gunbuster, and Wings of Honneamise.
Thanks for reading this (sad) post about the 12 bankrupt anime studios. Did we miss any other great anime companies that are no longer with us? Post them in the comments below!
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