While Studio Deen is perhaps best known for its more lighthearted fare, the company has produced a wider variety of anime than some might assume.
As a long-running animation studio, Studio Deen has produced a solid list of shows over the years, from the extremely well-known martial arts adventure Rurouni Kenshin in the ’90s to the incredibly popular isekai comedy KonoSuba in 2016. This is not to mention many of the major series that were released sometime between these years, including the original Fruits Basket adaptation and boys’ love/yaoi heavy hitters like Gravitation and Junjo Romantica.
One might assume from a glance over Deen’s impressive anime resume that the studio, initially established in 1975 by Hasegawa Hiroshi and other former members of Sunrise (itself now known as Bandai Namco Filmworks), creates mostly lighthearted fare. However, as some of the following titles prove, this is far from always the case, and the studio frequently also dips into the genres of horror, mystery and even historical drama.
Teenager Saotome Ranma is an elite fighter at the “Anything-Goes” school of martial arts. However, when he and his father travel to China to further their training, they accidentally tumble into a cursed spring. Now, whenever they come into contact with cold water, Ranma’s father transforms into a panda, while Ranma turns into a girl. Only contact with hot water reverts them to their former selves. Complicating matters even more, Ranma discovers that his father has agreed to an engagement between Ranma and one of the three daughters of Tendo Soun in order to save the Tendo dojo.
Now an absolute classic of the rom-com anime genre, the whopping 161-episode Ranma ½ has aged surprisingly gracefully in many respects. Given that Ranma attracts numerous suitors of both genders, the series can also be considered one of the very earliest examples of both the harem and reverse-harem subgenre. Veering between absurd comedy and sometimes unexpectedly serious fight scenes, Ranma ½ has a bit of something for everyone, but it should also be a go-to staple for anyone interested in anime with genuine historical importance.
When famous Japanese novelist Sumiregawa Nenene travels to Hong Kong for a book signing, the hotel at which she is staying is bombed by a jealous wannabe writer. The three sisters tasked to care for Nenene during her visit — Michelle, Maggie and Anita — become her official bodyguards thanks to their unique abilities to manipulate paper. Joining her back in Tokyo, the four women then begin to uncover certain mysteries about Nenene’s missing friend Yomiko Readman and the role of the British Library in its attempts to control the world via literary terrorism.
Also known as Read or Dream, this 26-episode series combines a lot of genres into one engaging whole, from action/adventure and comedy to science-fantasy, mystery and drama. It’s a must-watch for bibliophiles of all stripes, as books form such an integral part of all the main characters’ day-to-day lives, not to mention being a fundamental aspect of the plot itself and its various story arcs. While the narrative may initially sound potentially disjointed, the solid pacing ensures that this is handled with aplomb, and the characters, with all their charming quirks and flaws, end up being one of the main draws of a show that’s truly like no other.
Every night at midnight exactly, it becomes possible to access the Hell Correspondence website — a web page where victims can seek revenge against any person they desire, simply by inputting that person’s name to be dealt with by the Hell Girl herself. This task is performed by Enma Ai and her cohorts, who psychologically torment the antagonist before ferrying them to Hell. However, the cost for this revenge is steep: when the person who made the original request eventually dies, their soul is likewise destined for eternal damnation.
Hell Girl (Jigoku Shojo) is not an anime for the faint of heart. While not necessarily horrific in what it physically presents onscreen, the show deals with a lot of heavy themes, including bullying, depression, abuse, murder and suicide, to name only a few. As much a supernatural thriller as it is a dark fantasy, many of Hell Girl’s individual stories are the kind of thing that’s difficult to look away from, even when it’s evident that there’s not going to be a happy ending. With a total of four seasons thus far and even a live-action TV series and film, Hell Girl provides plenty of material for horror aficionados, and its popularity in that regard speaks for itself.
When an ex-yakuza member named Yotaro is released from prison, his one goal is not to return to a life of crime but rather to become a rakugo performer. When he begs the famous but seemingly coldhearted Yuurakutei Yakumo to take him on as an apprentice, Yakumo eventually relents, grudgingly taking Yotaro under his wing. However, as Yotaro begins his training, he gradually finds out more about Yakumo’s past, including his deep yet ultimately tragic friendship with a fellow rakugo practitioner named Sukeroku.
Historical drama is one of the most under-served genres in anime. However, even among anime in general, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is one of a kind; the type of series that rises above genre, character stereotypes or any other convenient ‘box’ with which it can be easily discussed. Above anything else, the show is one that speaks to the heart of performing arts, particularly those that are fading slowly but irrevocably from popular culture. Both a tragedy and an inspiration, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju weaves together a complexly captivating cast with purposefully theatrical yet sophisticated storytelling, in the process creating something starkly beautiful and completely unforgettable.
Christy is a CBR Features editor/trainer and anime aficionado with a penchant for slice-of-life stories and josei manga-based titles. Something of a nomad, she spent 6 years living and working in Japan, among other countries.