P.A. Works – A Studio Still Waiting to Shine

If there is any anime studio that has made a name of themselves lately, it surely must be the Toyama-based P.A. Works founded year 2000. With the help of lovely, no, gorgeous, wait, masterful animations and visuals, they manage to charm and captivate the viewers unlike any other as if it were child’s play. In a sense, they are out of this world when it comes to weekly series, playing in their own league only truly rivaled by Kyoto Animation and Production I.G. Who was not stunned over the dazzling Hanasaku Iroha last year, or why not the remarkably detailed and moving backgrounds in True Tears from 2008? Instead of creating artsy and abstract low-budget slideshows, P.A. Works take the word “animation” literally and brings us some of the currently best-looking series, seamlessly blending hand-drawn animation with CGI.

Despite having only made their debut roughly four years ago with True Tears, P.A. Works is a studio to count with, thanks to their experiences of assisting other studios’ with great works such as Eureka Seven and Mushishi. They were even allowed to animate an original story by Jun Maeda, famous from the visual novel studio Key, which eventually brought us Angel Beats!. Another noteworthy mention is the Professor Layton video game franchise, in which they do the animation and later even created a whole animated movie! So, yes, it is needless to say that P.A. Works has a bright future ahead of them, along with high sales numbers I might add.

Picture by snsns-n – Source

But let us face the truth: they have yet to make a high regarded series. All of them are mostly all fun and games, but they are severely lacking in one area. Something that ruins what could be a perfectly crafted piece of anime. The one thing they all have in common is… poor storytelling.

It hurts to say this, but none of P.A. Works’s series (Canaan excluded as I have not watched it) have managed to flow very well, often feeling choppy and having untapped potential. Personally, this was most noticeable in Angel Beats!, which deeply suffered from a personality crisis. Should it be comedy? Drama? Romance? Fights? Playing around with all these resulted in severe mood swings, hurting an otherwise intriguing story. There were basically too many great ideas put in that made it well over. Was it because of the length, with it only being 13 episodes? Or was it for being created by Jun Maeda? We will never know.

A more recent series, Another, was even more of a mess, but not due to mood swings, but due to being a bad story overall. It was a bold move by P.A. Works, unexpectedly deciding to adapt a horror light novel, a genre they had never done before. In the first few episodes, they did a surprisingly good job at maintaining an unsettling mood that implied something weird was going on. There were some irks, such as completely random cuts to dolls which never even played a part in the series, but overall, it was interesting. But after episode three, the ball was dropped and all the tension was gone only to be replaced by a chaos of laughable deaths, dumb characters and more. It was as if P.A. Works did not even try to improve the slightest upon its source material and only rolled with it for fun, while providing pretty visuals as always.

Perhaps it is possible that P.A. Works only have had bad luck in choosing what to adapt? Well, this is the exact reason I became so disappointed over Hanasaku Iroha. It would be a fully original 26-episode series created to celebrate the studio’s 10th year anniversary. That meant that they could pace it however they wanted, structure it in a proper way and make an engrossing story. It should have been perfect!

But reality wanted something different.

Even their first attempt at an original series did not succeed in telling a story. The very first episode promised something magnificent, something that would be P.A. Works’s first time to shine.

It was all a lie.

I cannot even express my frustration over how it became. It was drawn-out, bumpy and more, just as the rest of their repertoire. Does the problem lie within the company? Do they have incompetent staff?

Nevertheless, P.A. Works have at least only produced one truly bad series, which is the aforementioned Another. Every other one has ranged from mediocre to good, all with their own loveable quirks and ideas. Moreover, the fact that they actually decided to do a horror series indicates that they wish to experiment and test out new ideas. I interpret it as a way for them to find out what they are good at by trial and error. And if I do wish it pays off in the end.

As early as this summer we will see if they have improved, with Tari Tari starting in July. With a character design eerily close to the one in Hanasaku Iroha, they will once again try to make a slice of life series revolving around a few girls.

Another big step for P.A. Works could be the upcoming and long-awaited adaptation of the visual novel Little Busters!, once again created by the visual novel studio Key. As of this moment, no studio has been announced for the project. However, we do know that only Kyoto Animation and P.A. Works have worked with Key so far. With Kyoto Animation having their hands full of a bunch of other series, it is very unlikely that they will animate it, unless they for once decide to animate more than one series at a time. This only leaves P.A. Works, a possible choice considering their work with Angel Beats!. If they do animate Little Busters!, I am absolutely sure they will have their true breakthrough.

But as for now, P.A. Works are still waiting to spread their wings. If wishes do come true, it will not be too far away.

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19 thoughts on “P.A. Works – A Studio Still Waiting to Shine

  1. A Day Without Me says:

    Honestly, I sincerely hope that P.A. Works does not turn out to be the studio working on Little Busters! considering their previous work; in my opinion, it is the Key game with the most interesting story to tell, and I’d hate to see it fall to the likes of P.A. Works to do it. I’m not really willing to gamble that a studio *may* finally find its way with a property that has such promise; I’d rather go with someone proven on that front (hello, KyoAni… although the first season of Clannad was kind of a mess).

    I… mostly agree with you. I think P.A. Works is quite over-rated; Hanairo is garbage, Angel Beats! was all over the place, and Another was horrible. It’d be nice to see them come into their own, and it certainly could happen, but I’d tentatively say that the chance of them doing so is diminishing rapidly as they’ve passed their ten year mark. I would prefer that they proved themselves via something other than Little Busters!, though, as I’ve said. Tari Tari doesn’t look terribly promising, but at least with that I wouldn’t be disappointed about the ruination of something with promise.

    • Marow says:

      I am a bit on the fence about that matter. One part of me says that it would be great if it was P.A. Works, as that said part thinks it will turn out to be great. The other part of me screams “nononononono” and fear the worst. I mean, their history doesn’t point towards it being good (though I am one of the few who believes Angel Beats would be awesome if given more time).

      Even if they are over 10 years old, they only debuted 2008, 4 years ago! And as you said, Tari Tari doesn’t look exciting. But we only have a picture so far, so perhaps it will be more promising later on 🙂

  2. Ty-chama says:

    I’m not too familiar with PA Works having only watched one of their productions, Angel Beats. Still, one can only hope for the best for them- nothing is more satisfying than watching the under-dog studio climb up the ranks to become one of the best out there, *cough* SHAFT *cough*

    • Marow says:

      You should give them a try… together with Shaft (and to some degree Brain’s base), they are the studio I’m most interested in.

      Shaft is great, as we all know 😉

  3. EhNani says:

    You’re forgetting Toei Animation from your list of studios that have worked with Key. They did a hell of a better job than Kyo-Ani on Kanon and Air. I think P.A. Works did a decent job with Darker Than Black, but I can’t blame the studio for working with a bad script.

    Another… though… is just a failure all around.

    • Marow says:

      Toei, that’s true! I forgot about them… though it’s for natural reasons (they aren’t really in the spotlight). I’ve only watched their version of Clannad, which was outright bad in my opinion. Much more curious about the Air movie, as it only focuses on the good part of the series 🙂

      Was Toei’s Kanon that good? I heard people say that KyoAni’s better?

      • EhNani says:

        It wasn’t really that good, but it was short and to the point. None of those time-wasting emotional bullshit filler animation to show off their amazing animating skills. The AIR movie was lazy, because they didn’t even bother animating half of it, but it was short and focused on the main story. It also made more sense than Kyo-Ani’s. Why did they waste two episodes recapping the anime through a crow’s eye?

        The problem with Key anime is that they don’t deserve more than four episodes. Otherwise, shit gets real.

      • Marow says:

        I think the Crow was there to let us show a family and how Misuzu’s life would be without the main character. I’m not really sure to be honest, Key series tend to have magic and hocus pocus, so it’s best not to speculate too much. 😛

  4. kiddtic says:

    This is exactly how I felt about Hanasaku Iroha, it would have been in my top 3 anime of all time, easily but it really faltered. I do love the studios animation and backgrounds and those character designs dear God do they look gorgeous.

    I really liked the retrospective on P.A Works! its one of my favourite studios and I hope they can bust out more great shows.

    • Marow says:

      Glad you liked it 🙂

      Still sad about Hansaku Iroha. I wonder we would feel differently if we re-watched it (though episode 3 never will exist)?

  5. I only ended up finishing half of Hanasaku Iroha. I actually really enjoyed it while I was watching it. Eventually I will get around to finishing it but sadly there are no glowing reviews make it a higher priority.

    Also I wonder what type of show P.A. Works was trying to create with Another. I wonder if it was actually intended to be a horror show.

    Anyway… interesting read.

    • Marow says:

      If you enjoyed the first half, then you’ll surely like the second half too. You should continue watching it and ignore the reviews!

      Who knows what they wanted to create. Probably horror or mystery. Can’t say they succeeded ^^’

      Thanks! 🙂

  6. seinime says:

    Although I feel that only KyoAni can do it justice, I don’t mind P.A. doing it as they did a pretty good job with Angel Beats, also from Jun Maeda. But my inner fanboy desires. It hungers.

    • Marow says:

      It’s currently rumoured that J.C. Staff will animate it and we will have our definitive answer if it’s them or not in a few days. Makes me curious, as it feels like an odd choice. But heck, there’s gotta be a good reason for it if it’s true. Meanwhile, I’m laughing about it. Too weird to be true, isn’t it? 😀

      Let’s hope your inner fanboy gets what it wants!

  7. alsozara says:

    Instead of creating artsy and abstract low-budget slideshows

    Is that a dig at SHAFT? Because if you’re suggesting that PA Works is better, or more enjoyable to watch than SHAFT, I’ma gonna have to take issue.

    Apart from that, I agree I guess, except not sure about the bright future thing, or that they’ve shone out that much. I’ma go with E Minor on this one, their animation is nice, it just has very little going for it except raw technical prowess. There’s not much artisitc flair there, it’s all very by the numbers.

    Also, I’d say Angel Beats was good because of Jun Maeda and in spite of P.A. Works (not that it wasn’t pretty). It was planned to have double the episode count, which would have fixed a lot of the pacing issues, but executive meddling cut it in half.

    • Marow says:

      Yep, it is! But don’t worry, I love Shaft, they are my favorite studio. I like what they do. It’s just that when you hear the word “animation”, you think of movement, not static pictures!

      I actually don’t quite agree with E Minor, as I find their settings enthralling and, of course, visually impressive. I think it’s more of their use of color in my case though, the type you can see in Hanasaku Iroha and now in Tari Tari. That style works with me.

      However, I understand what he means. It’s so well-crafted and so “calculated”, it can seem as it lacks a soul/artistic flair.

      I loved Angel Beats despite it’s obvious flaws. Though, it’s one of the series I wish were longer. You say it was planned to have more episodes, which is something I’ve also heard. Supposedly, Maeda brought a script that could’ve been six cours, although that is a bit too much for me to believe. But 26 episodes, I buy that.

      • alsozara says:

        If it works for you, I guess it works for you. I enjoyed Hanasaku Iroha visually, don’t get me wrong. It’s mainly that the issue you pointed out, poor storytelling, pretty much ruins my enjoyment of their work. Besides Angel Beats, I’d have trouble naming a series they’re responsible for where the negatives of my experience didn’t outweigh the positives, and Angel Beats still had an ass tonne of issues, even with the benefit of having one of my favourite writers behind it.

        I’m really not sure where this stuff about SHAFT’s works being a bunch of slide shows comes from. Madoka is fluid, and a wonder to behold. Bakemonogatari is a lot of talking heads, but when action does come in, it’s very smooth and pleasing. Again, Arakawa could hardly be called static. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is about the only series I’ve seen of theirs that I could call worthy of this criticism, and it’s style suited it to a tee, so I don’t really see the issue.

        I once read the transcript of a discussion between a bunch of important people in animation in the West on the topic of anime, and one of them said something that struck me as rather apt when comparing Western to Japanese Animation. Anime treats itself more like a film, and actually utilises techniques of cinematography, paying careful attention to camera angels etc etc. To me, no studio is as explorative of the use of cinematography in anime as SHAFT, and I think a bit of that artistic flair I mentioned before can be attributed to this. This is also why I think SHAFT is the superior studio, probably followed by studio 4 degrees C, but that’s a different matter.

        As far as the actually meant to be 26 episodes thing goes, I got that info from tvtropes, so you can decide yourself whether that seems reliable.

      • Marow says:

        Most likely, a lot of that criticism comes from how their older shows were, the “pre-Bakemonogatari times”, aka, before they got all the money. The most notably example would be by comparing the first season of Hidamari Sketch to the third, which reveals a world of differences.

        But then again, Shaft is playing around, doing new stuff all the time. It’s experimenting. And that’s what I love about them.

        Interesting discussion you mention! I have not watched too much Western animation except shows from when I was a kid, so I can’t think of any distinct differences.

  8. […] with my animation studio pilgrimage, The next stop is P.A Works (Progressive animation works). Like Marow said in his blog “If there is any anime studio that has made a name for themselves lately, it […]

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