MAPPA controversies explained: Jujutsu Kaisen & more
MAPPA Studio is currently embroiled in controversy. But this isn’t the first time – and most likely won’t be the last – that the studio has come under fire.
It seems that almost every time MAPPA releases a hit new series, fans raise concerns over production schedules, alleged “sweatshop-style” working conditions and episode quality emerge.
However, the recent Jujutsu Kaisen controversy has taken these allegations to another level – mainly because now fans believe they have evidence to back up their worries that have arisen over the years.
With animators speaking out, fans responding with fury on X/Twitter, and the future of beloved series like One Punch Man and Jujutsu Kaisen being called into question, let’s take a look at MAPPA Studio’s biggest controversies.
- A brief history of MAPPA
- 2016-2020: MAPPA’s first cracks show
- 2020-2021: Attack On Titan’s “factory-like” working conditions
- 2022: Attack On Titan director worked for 72 hours straight
- 2023: Jujutsu Kaisen continues MAPPA’s struggles
A brief history of MAPPA
To first understand the issues surrounding MAPPA, we first have to understand the history of the studio.
Founded in 2011 by legendary Madhouse producer Masao Maruyama, the Tokyo-based animation studio has established itself as an anime powerhouse over the past decade.
Producing some of the biggest anime series and movies in recent years, including Vinland Saga season two, Jujutsu Kaisen and Attack On Titan’s final season, MAPPA has even earned its spot on the international stage.
However, its path to success has been anything but easy. So, let’s now take a look into the past, present, and future of MAPPA.
2016-2020: MAPPA’s first cracks show
The first cracks in MAPPA showed as early as the 2016.
Founded by the legendary Masao Maruyama, MAPPA initially emerged as a way to escape the corporate pressures and restrictions he’d experienced at anime studio titan, Madhouse.
During these early years, MAPPA’s potential started to show, with pioneering LGBTQ series Yuri!!! On Ice and heartbreaking World War II film In This Corner of the World both earning numerous awards in Japan and overseas. However, the fledgling studio’s breakthrough success also led to a surge in workload, leading fans to question how its animators were able to keep up.
In 2016, founder Maruyama decided to step away from MAPPA and establish a new company, Studio M. He entrusted MAPPA to CEO Manabu Otsuka (remember the name), which marked a transformative period for the studio and began the controversy that we see today.
In 2017, following the release of several new series including Kakegurui, Zombie Land Saga, and Dororo, fringe fan blogs started to crop up, asking what the secret was to MAPPA’s workload. And by 2010, the first official news about the anime studio’s working conditions broke in a now deleted news article:
In 2023, Maruyama expressed concerns about the state of the anime industry, cautioning that it prioritized producing repetitive, crowd-pleasing genres over nurturing the next generation of animation talent. With MAPPA facing accusations of excessive anime production, could Maruyama’s words as a subtle commentary on his former studio?
2020-2021: Attack On Titan’s “factory-like” conditions
Now we’ve got the early history of MAPPA out of the way, let’s jump into the Attack On Titan era.
When Masao Maruyama stepped down from his position as president in 2016, many anime fans have accused MAPPA of losing sight of its past values. However, this new era – characterized by fast, quantitative growth – first started attracting serious negative attention for staff working conditions in 2020.
Attack On Titan is one of the most popular anime series of all time. First animated by WIT STUDIO, in 2020 Attack On Titan switched to the hottest studio at the time – MAPPA.
This led to fans voicing their concerns about the differences in production, animation quality, and all other normal worries that one might have about their favorite series.
However, things escalated towards the end of 2020, when a group of fans launched a series of cyber-attacks on MAPPA staff about the overall quality of animation. This forced an anonymous staff member to issue a now-deleted statement about the tight production schedule for the series in January 2021.
While we no longer have access to the statement, several reaction tweets and Reddit posts are still available:
MAPPA criticized for underpaying animators
Months later, in July 2021, veteran animator Ippei Ichii criticized MAPPA and Netflix for underpaying animators after Mushiyo, a former Attack on Titan animator, alleged in a series of now deleted tweets on May 14, 2021, that the studio makes them work in “factory-like conditions” “until the sun came up” while another raised concerns over the company’s unsustainable workload.
MAPPA responded to these claims that it has never offered unreasonable compensation to creators, but competitive and fair rates relative to the budget of the project, and that it has never forced or coerced creators to work. And things did seem to be looking up for a while.
July 2021: A director speaks up in favor of MAPPA
Director of Chainsaw Man, Ryu Nakayama, made a public statement on Twitter in July 2021 over his dedication to improve the working environment for anime industry workers.
Responding to a tweet with photographs of a new and improved MAPPA studios (made with animators in mind) he expresses his interest in working together with young illustrators, and creating an environment where everyone can produce anime together. However, as you will see, this statement should be taken with a grain of salt.
2022: Attack On Titan’s director worked for 72 hours straight
A year later, following the release of Part 2 of Attack On Titan’s final season, the controversy surrounding MAPPA’s working conditions and production schedule continued. So, what happened?
It all began when Attack On Titan’s then-director, Teruyuki Omine, tweeted on February 7, 2022: “I went home for the first time in three days”. The tweets were deleted within a few hours, but it was too late for MAPPA, as they’d already gone viral.
Omine received supportive replies from fans of the series on Twitter. However, his simple statement which implied that he had been working on the series for 72 hours straight, renewed discussions about the anime industry’s work culture.
2023: Jujutsu Kaisen continues MAPPA’s struggles
You’re most likely reading this article because of anime’s biggest controversy at the moment: Jujutsu Kaisen’s production. We’ve already got a detailed article on the series, but here’s a brief summary.
Of course, as we’ve already discovered, Jujutsu Kaisen wouldn’t be a MAPPA anime without an online debate surrounding the claims of poor working conditions. But here we are again, another season, and more animators speaking out.
September 30: NDA revelations
On September 30, Twitter began buzzing with news that MAPPA allegedly forced its employees to sign an NDA about the working conditions, and behind-the-scenes whistle-blowers struck a cord with anime fans.
One of the most prominent creators is Itsuki Tsuchigami, known for Chainsaw Man and Mob Psycho 100. On September 30, he took to Twitter to discuss the poor working conditions in one tweet, and to confirm the news in another that MAPPA forced its employees to sign an NDA.
In this tweet, he says that MAPPA is essentially “a mess” and that “people who want to do their best shouldn’t get involved.”
In this tweet, he said: “Instead of making people sign a pledge to avoid complaints, could you create an environment where they won’t complain?”
It’s a simple statement, one of which has not yet been deleted, but the sentiment is clear: MAPPA’s working conditions don’t appear to be getting any better. But from here, the MAPPA controversy exploded, with fan accounts tweeting (unverified) statements about the situation.
November 1: Manabu Otsuka’s interview
Things went from bad to worse when an interview with Manabu Otsuka was released by popular Japanese website, Comic Natalie.
The interview discussed the studio’s foundation, its rise to the top and plans to the future. However, the seemingly oblivious CEO also revealed that his goal is to match the standards set by Kyoto Animation, which includes increasing the volume of projects. Provoking Gege Akutami, the creator of Jujutsu Kaisen, to express concerns.
November 14 and the animator meltdown
MAPPA’s troubles worsened following multiple animators tweeted about the working conditions, indicating that they were approaching their limits.
This includes directors Itsuki Tsuchigami and Kazuto Arai, with Tsuchigami’s now deleted tweet saying: “Although it is unpleasant to be praised in the name of the company, I have to be grateful for the hard work and dedication of the company’s production and filming staff. They are contributing immensely to the work despite the unavoidable circumstances.“
November 20: Production studio controversy
The latest development in the MAPPA meltdown involves animator HoneHone, who shared a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Jujutsu Kaisen’s latest episode.
In this playful tweet, he explained how he used the floor plan of MAPPA Studios’ office as inspiration for the destruction of an office building in the latest episode.
While it appears that it was shared in a light-hearted manner, this creative choice has drawn attention against the backdrop of the ongoing controversy surrounding MAPPA Studios.
MAPPA is not the only anime studio to find itself on the receiving end of such controversy. Accusations of poor working conditions, insufficient wages, and unpaid overtime have been persistent issues in the anime industry over the years. However, as the MAPPA Studio controversies continue to unfold, it highlights aspects of the anime industry that have gone overlooked for decades. So, could this be the beginning of a new era for anime? Or the simply the beginning of the end for the 2010s biggest studio?