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Earlier this week, the world renowned animation studio Kyoto Animation located in Kyoto, Japan suffered a deadly arson attack, leaving 34 dead and 34 injured. The suspect was apprehended, and confessed to the crime in police custody.
On behalf of Culture of Gaming, I’d like to express and extend our sincerest condolences to the families involved. #KyoAniStrong.
In the wake of this tragedy, I’d like to take a look at some of the past series Kyoto Animation (KyoAni) has done, and how they impacted the anime scene as we know it today.
Raising The Bar
Before diving into specific series, it’s worth taking note as to what makes KyoAni so well regarded just not among fans, but throughout the anime industry in general.
As a whole, the anime industry has a severe issue of underpaid and overworked, something that anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics knows is unsustainable. Yet, KyoAni leads by example in this regard. KyoAni pays their workers a liveable salary, and instead of turning them out once their project is completed, keeps them on board with the company. This is in contrast to many other animation studios, which only hire talent on a per-project basis, and during their tenure of that project, can pay as low as the equivalent of $2300 USD per month. Among actually being paid a salary, KyoAni also offers several other perks of employment, like maternity leave. A benefit all but absent in the animation industry.
Past exceeding the industry standard for working conditions, KyoAni is highly regarded for having a very high visual and animation level in all of their productions. Doing things like fully hand animating a throw-away idol dance scene, when so many other studios, even for dedicated idol shows, will use CGI 3D animation to animate the dance sequences. Perhaps the best examples of KyoAni’s visual prowess is (and I’ll talk more about these later) are Violet Evergarden and Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid. Violet Evergarden excels at being hyper realistic, and proved to be a prime example of KyoAni’s animation technique and engine, which they were excited to show off here. Switching gears to Dragon Maid, the show has a much simpler style then Violet Evergarden, as Dragon Maid appears to take on a more “watercolor” like style to it. Yet, despite being simple, the animation isn’t careless or lacking in fidelity.
A high visual fidelity can be found throughout KyoAni’s library, with comparatively older shows like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006) and K-On! (2009) holding up to the visual standards today. Speaking of K-On!…
Cute Girls Doing Cute Things
To briefly summarize, K-On! Is a classic series that spoke to themes of friendship and passion for an activity. Four high school aged girls join their schools now defunct music club, and despite some of them never having played instruments before joining the club, the girls go on a journey learning, practicing, and performing together. In all this, forming bonds of friendship that stand the test of time. Perhaps one message of the show is to try something new. It might ignite a passion or talent for something you never knew you liked, and that passion or talent may stick with you the rest of your life, even out of highschool.
On a macro level, K-On! seemed to inspire KyoAni’s later explored themes of friends
becoming family. It also revolutionised a genre in itself of “Moe”. That is, quite simply, cute girls doing cute things. K-On! showed that even if your show primarily revolves around the previously mentioned ‘moe’ genre, you can still send powerful messages to your audience.
A New Purpose
Violet Evergarden is the visually spectacular show about Violet, effectively an android returning from war time, and attempting to reintegrate into society. She feels purposeless, now that her ‘duty’ was fulfilled. She quickly becomes an “Auto Memory Doll”, someone who helps others write in case they can’t do to say a disability.
Violet, through fulfilling the wishes of so many others, through helping so many others, is able to find a renewed purpose in her own life, and help her figure out one of her mysteries after returning from the war. Violet Evergarden sends the message that helping others can be just as fulfilling of a life, no matter what your “original” purpose was for.
Outside of the show, Violet Evergarden sets a new standard for visuals in an anime series. This show is absolutely gorgeous, and I look forward to the movie releasing in January 2020. Unfortunately, Violet Evergarden is still recent enough to see how it impacts the industry long term.
Family Through Friends
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid tells the tale of an overworked salary-woman, who, stumbling home from work drunk one evening, helps a dragon who shows up at her door in a humanoid form. The two form a friendship that eventually grows into more of a sisterhood, and their journey of getting closer to each other and learning from each other is fantastic to watch.
More to take away themes, Dragon Maid shows how keeping close friends eventually leads into a sort of family being formed. Just because you’re not blood related doesn’t make a close friend any less of family then say a sister.
As previously mentioned, Dragon Maid is visually simple, but that doesn’t detract or reduce its quality in anyway. And quite simply, it shows that KyoAni doesn’t need stunning visuals in order to produce an entertaining experience, or convey a heartwarming message.
As is the case with Violet Evergarden, Dragon Maid is still too recent to really show if it will have any macro effect on the anime industry.
The Everlasting Classic
Perhaps the most well known of KyoAni’s works, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a series I credit as being the pioneer of super modern anime.
To briefly summarize, Haruhi centers around a high school girl named Haruhi Suzumiya, who, unbeknownst to herself, has god-like abilities so powerful that changes in her emotions and moods can lead to different worlds and timelines being altered and destroyed.
Perhaps the first notable thing about Haruhi is that it is truly a product of its time. As the internet was emerging and modernizing, Haruhi, who, to her own credit and god-like powers aside, is pretty intelligent, recognizes the importance of websites, and forces her school club members to create a website for the club: the infamous “SOS Brigade”. Furthermore, the characters are all shown using cell phones, and their emergence in young people. Truly reflective of the times of 2006.
And, this one is a bit more on the subjective side, but Haruhi truly made you feel cool for liking anime. It’s hard to describe exactly why, maybe it’s the overall fun, light hearted, and modern (for the time) tone of the show, or maybe it’s how involved it makes the viewer feel as Haruhi often points at the camera, i.e you. In terms of formatting, I dare say Haruhi provided the template for how to handle a successful series: two or more seasons and a movie. In Haruhi, staples and trends of modern anime appear. Things like the token beach or pool episode, for example.
One last thing of note regarding Haruhi, and this speaks to the talent of KyoAni, is that the infamous “Endless Eight”, a string of 8 episodes in the series that were more or less the same thing (yes, I swear it serves a purpose) feels in place, and not a waste of time. It can be grueling and annoying to get through, but it’s all in the name of connecting the audience to the show better.
Also the dance to Hare Hare Yukai will forever be etched into my brain.
KyoAni has produced some great works. There’s one elephant in the room I’ve neglected to mention, however. A Silent Voice was KyoAni’s movie hit hat released in the shadow of the mega phenomenon of Your Name (a hyper analysis of which you can read here). Because of this, A Silent Voice flew under many people’s radars, and unfortunately, my own as well. So as I’d like to speak about A Silent Voice, I personally cannot.
KyoAni are certainly well renowned, and it’s easy to see why. All of their shows turn into almost instant classics, and I can’t wait to look back 10 years later on Dragon Maid and Violet Evergarden to see how they hold up. KyoAni is responsible for some of my favorite series in anime, and any time you see them behind a production, you know you’re in for a treat.
Once again, our best wishes go out to Kyoto Animation and all of those affected by the deadly arson attack. If you’d like to directly support Kyoto Animation, a fundraising page has been setup here.