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The 5 Definitive Madhouse Anime of the 90s

Why is Madhouse one of the best anime studios?

First off, it is important to note that Madhouse was one of the first Japanese animation studios to elevate the quality of animation and storytelling in the late 80s and early 90s.

But how did they come into creation?

The Early Days of Madhouse

Madhouse was formed 50 years ago in 1972 by several legendary animators, including Osamu Dezaki, Masao MaruyamaRintaro, and Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

Happy 50th anniversary, all!

The late Osamu Dezaki started as a manga artist and co-founded Madhouse.

Masao Maruyama has been involved in animation for over 50 years and is another co-founder of Madhouse.

Rintaro (a cool pen name for Shigeyuki Hayashi) is an award-winning director who began working at the age of 17 way back in 1958.

Lastly, Yoshiaki Kawajiri is the legendary writer and director of Wicked City and another anime on our list below. 😊

If you watch 90s Japanese animation, you probably know of this studio, or at least recognize the name as it has been attached to some really amazing work.

In this post, we will mention just a few of the studio’s famous titles…and trust me, there are many to pick from!

Perfect Blue

Mima battling her psychosis

Perfect Blue is simply outstanding. This dark and sophisticated psychological thriller anime won’t tug at your emotions, it will poke them till they bleed.

Released in 1997 and directed by Satoshi Kon, Perfect Blue is based on the novel Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis by Yoshikazu Takeuchi.

It is the story of Mima Kirigoe, the former member of a J-pop band. She’s now an actress, and the change in her career has spurned an obsessed fan who begins stalking her.

A creepy website called Mima’s Room appears, and when Mima learns about it, she can stop thinking about it. A mix of paranoia and obsession creates a psychosis, and suddenly, Mima cannot distinguish fantasy from reality.

People end up murdered, and Mima is the prime suspect.

Saying any more would spoil this amazing film!

Perfect Blue has had a far reach. Madonna has used clips in one of her songs, and Darron Aronofksy (director of The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan) has maybe or maybe not been deeply inspired by the film. He denies it, but it’s hard not to see the comparisons between Perfect Blue and his hit Black Swan. (Side note: Black Swan is a great flick!)

Perfect Blue has good reviews and an 83% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s a certified hit for Madhouse Studios.

Ninja Scroll

Jubei and Kagero

Ninja Scroll was released in theaters by Madhouse in Japan in 1993 and later distributed to America in English-dubbed VHS format in 1995 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Manga Entertainment. This 94-minute samurai anime film was written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and is a pure action-adventure blitzkrieg.

Just writing this makes me want to watch it again for probably the sixtieth time!

The story follows Jubei Kibagami, a wandering swordsman/ninja/ronin. He gets caught up in some serious madness when he rescues Kagero, a female ninja, from a supernatural demon attempting to sexually assault her. (Please note that this film comes with a nudity and graphic violence warning.)

After defeating the devil/demon, a spy from the kingdom comes to Jubei and convinces him to help locate and defeat the remaining devils.

If you have not seen this best-selling film, which is often listed with Akira and Ghost in the Shell as one of the most popular releases in the 90s, you should check it out. The animation is fantastic, and the story will keep you glued to your seat.

Just remember, Ninja Scroll is visceral and graphic. Clearly meant for 18+.

Trigun

Vash is looking angry

What can you say about something so popular that your dad or grandfather could probably identify it? I mean, go to the mall on a Saturday, and you will see a Trigun shirt either being worn by someone or sold in a pop culture store (like Hot Topic 😊).

Which makes me think, maybe I should buy one for my dad for Christmas.

Trigun was originally a popular manga series from 1995-1997. It then transitioned into an anime show for one year and 26 episodes. Everyone wanted a piece of this property from Dark Horse comics, Adult Swim, G4 TV, and Todd McFarlane (McFarlane Toys).

And why not? It is not every day that a stylistic and cool character like Vash the Stampede comes around. And the 90s was the perfect time for Space Westerns and Post-apocalyptic stories. 

Wait…I can see the meeting at MacFarlane Toys. Big T is sitting in a room with his marketing team. They are trying to decide which anime characters to release in the next wave of toys.

One of the interns clears his throat and then speaks softly from the corner of the room. “Sir, Vash has a flowy red jacket that kinda—”

Todd interrupts him. “Kinda looks like Spawn’s cape! Yes, we should do Vash next.”

“Great idea, sir…”

Vash is a well-designed character. He looks cool. Acts cool. The ladies love him, and the guys want to be him…I mean…I guess they do. Lol.

I really haven’t decided what anime character I want to be yet.

Regardless, Vash is a smooth criminal, and he has a massive bounty on his head. 60 billion $$!!! That’s like 120 billion $$ if you count inflation from 1995 to today! No wonder the bounty hunters are after him. Geeze, can we just leave this guy alone?! All he wants is love and peace!

The original Trigun series would be best labeled as a cult classic. It had success in Japan, but that has come and gone. It had plenty of airtime in America, but there are new shows that are filling the timeslots.

That being said, Trigun is easily found on streaming platforms and is considered a landmark Madhouse cyberpunk anime that is still very popular.

Cardcaptor Sakura

Sakura gearing up to fight

Illustrated by the all-girl art team, CLAMP, Cardcaptor Sakura was a serialized manga for a couple of years before transitioning into anime. The anime series began in 1998 and had a 70-episode run and two movies produced by Madhouse.

You might have missed the VHS or DVD releases in the 90s. However, many American 90s anime fans recall this show as one featured on Kids’ WB or Toonami.

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl themed anime series. Therefore it focused on a young female main character called, Sakura Kinomoto. You may have guessed, from the title of the show, that magical cards are also involved. The plot revolves around Sakura’s search and capture of the mysterious Clow Cards that escaped her.

The 90’s were filled with cards and card games, and wow they were popular. Cardcaptor Sakura was a popular and award-winning show in Japan, but when edited for USA markets, it lost some components that people felt diminished the show’s quality.

There is a lot to like about this charming Madhouse series, especially if you’re a fan of the genre.

Record of Lodoss War

The band of warriors rides their horses

Madhouse helped bring Dungeons and Dragons to life in the form of Record of Lodoss War.

In fact, there are many levels of truth to that.

Record of the Lodoss War began as a series of fantasy novels by Ryo Mizuno that were created as the setting for RPGs. Wild huh? But the novels were not really novels…they were “replays” or transcriptions of role-playing game sessions.

Mind blown yet?

Sounds like it would be marketed to specific fans, but the books were hugely popular and started spawning manga, anime, soundtracks and video games. This is where Madhouse joined in back in 1990-1991.

The Record of the Lodoss War OAV anime is one of the most quintessential fantasy-themed anime series out there. You can think of it as the Lord of the Rings of 90’s Japanese Anime if you’d like.

Thirteen episodes contained a near-perfect balance of all the essential aspects of anime. It has beautiful, crisp, and clean animation. It has an engaging story filled with action, adventure, and even romance.

Its characters are well-developed and designed straight from a D&D Basic Rule set.

Lastly, the background music, sound effects, and songs are all amazingly blended into the show. In fact, the opening theme is so catchy you may find yourself singing it for while after viewing.

If Madhouse was Michelangelo, this would arguably be a Sistine Chapel moment.

By the way, have you tried Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth yet?

Closing Thoughts on Madhouse

Thanks to Madhouse, we have a wealth of thoughtful anime with good stories and amazing animation. Their works of the 90s built and helped grow the fanbase of Japanese Animation in the United States of America.

Madhouse brought together and often collaborated with the best of the best creative minds of manga and anime. Important figures like Naoki Urasawa, Clamp,  Morio Asaka, Masayuki Kojima, and Satoshi Kon all worked with Madhouse.

It’s like the 1992 Olympics “Dream Team” of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing. Madhouse stacked the deck in the 90s and came to win.

What have they done since? Ever heard of Beyblade? Chobits? Claymore? Even the Marvel Anime series? Yep, they did those and much…much more!

Thank you, Madhouse, for doing a great job.

Kevin Breaux

Kevin James Breaux is an award-winning author who has written nine books and devoted over fifteen years of his life to crafting short stories and novels. See his work at: www.kevinbreaux.com.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Billy Dale Green

    Great read!! Always loved anime, and am a huge fan Kevin Breaux’s books.

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