Rei in Neon Genesis Evangelion
(Gainax/Studio Khara)

Why One of Anime’s Most Influential Studios Is Filing for Bankruptcy

On June 7, 2024 we all found out that Gainax—the studio behind major hits like Neon Genesis Evangelion, FLCL, and Gurren Lagann—had filed for bankruptcy. In fact, they’d officially filed the week prior, on May 29.

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At first glance, this may come as a shock. Evangelion in particular is still a cash cow, with Rei’s face seemingly lining every pachinko parlor in Japan. Several IP that spawned from Gainax—Eva, FLCL, Panty and Stocking—have either gotten new installments in recent years or are getting new series soon.

But that tells only a fraction of the story. Gainax has essentially been defunct as a studio for a decade. All the creators who made it great—including co-founder and creator of Evangelion Hideaki Ano—have moved on to create their own studios. As such, Gainax has been involved in multiple legal negotiations to hand over the rights to their biggest hits to the people who made them—FLCL fully to collaborator Production I.G, Panty and Stocking to Trigger, etc.

What’s more, Gainax has been embroiled in several financial scandals in the last decade. So when looking at the larger story, Gainax’s closure isn’t surprising at all. You could even say it’s felt inevitable for some time. And you could even say that, for the future of many of its series, Gainax’s bankruptcy is a good thing.

Gainax, a brief history

Gainax was founded in 1984 by a large team of animators. Among them was Hideaki Ano, one of Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite animators among his workforce at Studio Ghibli. The studio’s first major commercial success was 1988’s Gunbuster. In 1991, in a satirical OVA called Otaku No Video, they pioneered their big namesake: the gravity-defying, gratuitous boob jiggle now known as the Gainax Bounce.

But Gainax’s greatest success came in 1995, from a series heavily inspired by Ano’s depression. To attempt to briefly gloss over influential Neon Genesis Evangelion continues to be, over thirty years later, would do it a disservice. Its avant-garde storytelling, ambitious scope, and controversial ending mean that anime as a whole can truly be sorted into “before Eva” and “after Eva.”

However, the forces that would contribute to Gainax’s ultimate downfall were already at play. The company was found guilty of tax fraud for concealing a massive amount of the income Eva generated. Adjusted to current rates, Gainax’s management hid over $10 million. The company’s president and accountant were both arrested.

However, thanks to new talent, Gainax continued to dish out some major hits. FLCL (2000, co-produced with Production I.G), Gurren Lagann (2007), and Panty and Stocking (2010) in particular helped launch the careers of some of the next generation’s most promising anime directors.

But a lot of that talent was starting to leave Gainax. Ano started his own studio, Studio Khara, in 2006 and formally left his leadership role at Gainax the following year. Hiroyuki Imaishi, who directed Gurren Lagann and Panty and Stocking, formed Studio Trigger in 2011.

It was all downhill from there.

The fall of an empire, and what happens now

As per a statement on Gainax’s website, the company’s situation decidedly took a turn for the worse in 2012. The company fell on multiple financial woes, interlaced with scandals like “large unsecured loans to individual executives.” These myriad misfortunes caused management to privatize the company, so the extent of the financial problems weren’t public-facing.

These woes meant a slowing of Gainax’s creative output. Gainax’s final anime series, Wish Upon the Pleiades, released in 2015, with the final installment of its last OVA series, Masamune Datenicle, releasing in 2018. In 2019, the president of the company was arrested for taking nude photos of an aspiring teenage voice actress, putting the company’s leadership in limbo going into the pandemic.

As might be expected, Gainax’s practices remained shifty all the while. In 2016, Hideaki Ano’s new studio, Khara, sued Gainax for not paying out royalties for Eva and other properties Ano helped create. Gainax was also incredibly slow to transfer IP rights to their creators. Hiroyuki Imaishi and Studio Trigger, for example, only got the rights to Panty and Stocking in 2023.

While Gainax’s bankruptcy and shuttering is sad from the perspective of anime history, one could easily argue it’s good news for creators in the modern day. Ano and Studio Khara are overseeing the transfer of Gainax’s many assets, making sure that every IP goes back into the hands of their rightful owners. As per Khara’s statement, they’re also working to “resolve unpaid payments to studios, writers, and creators within the animation industry.”

The incredible legacy of Gainax’s incredible series continues, and may now even thrive since those rights will go into hands more focused on creation than financial scandals. At the very least, you wonder if Evangelion will still be so weirdly synonymous with pachinko parlors in the coming years.

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Image of Kirsten Carey
Kirsten Carey
Kirsten (she/her) is a contributing writer at the Mary Sue specializing in anime and gaming. In the last decade, she's also written for Channel Frederator (and its offshoots), Screen Rant, and more. In the other half of her professional life, she's also a musician, which includes leading a very weird rock band named Throwaway. When not talking about One Piece or The Legend of Zelda, she's talking about her cats, Momo and Jimbei.