On Thursday, July 18, an arsonist set fire to Kyoto Animation, leading to a very difficult day for everyone in the anime community and beyond. The following morning, the final death tolls came in and it became clearer the gravity of what was lost. 33 confirmed dead and 36 more injured.
At the same time, the tragedy gained worldwide attention and over one million dollars was donated to a fund set up by Sentai Filmworks, while others suggested a myriad of other ways to help the studio. There is a lot that has already been said about how terrible this event was, and others far more loquacious than I have shared their words of mourning.
Regardless, I endeavored to try and figure out exactly what the studio meant to me and the effect it has had on my life. I considered how it effected me when I began watching anime, how it persisted as I became a critic, and most personally, how it helped me find myself.
As a Viewer…
… Kyoto Animation seems to have it all. There are a lot of anime that made me cry a lot, and while KyoAni may not have made me cry as much as they did my friends, the power of their stories is no less clear. I remember watching Clannad with my friend Michael, with whom the show resonated with immensely in his youth.
Clannad is a weird show and arguably overrated for how its most emotional beats are almost artificially sad. This high school melodrama with an almost unfitting supernatural element was surreal and soothing thanks to the musical composition and bubbly artwork that takes some getting used to.
Seeing KyoAni’s work through the eyes of a casual viewer is made easier when I think about my friend Michael and his history with the studio. I still remember him texting me the morning after he binged all of Beyond the Boundary, a show dear to his heart for the romance at the heart of its narrative, which meant even more to him as he entered into his first serious relationship with the girl he is still madly in love with.
I shared in this love of the show, admittedly more for the world-building and the mechanics of the urban fantasy at the forefront of the show. Beyond that, the series was another shining example of how visually distinct KyoAni is.
I’m not even just talking about character designs, which tend to follow an in-house style subject to differences depending on the series. KyoAni has done for liquid, lighting and backgrounds what Ufotable did for digital effects. They are one of the most visually appealing studios in the world.
The above is a lot of the technical aspects that speak to me, but when I think of Michael and his love for KyoAni, I’m reminded the most important thing about them. They make shows that are hard to forget and harder to assess critically for how they achieve this. I remember reviewing Violet Evergarden and struggling to put into words what made the story so poignant and beautiful.
As a Critic…
… I see KyoAni’s recent strides in film as the proud steps towards making new masterworks in film. I gave A Silent Voice an A on my friend Joe Viso’s radio show, Variety Viso, a belated review I would later post here on this very blog, albeit without the letter ranking. Before that, I more punctually covered the release of Liz and the Blue Bird, a slow film that only grew more relatable as I dealt with my own stresses similar to that of the main characters.
In my top ten films of 2018, Liz and the Blue Bird came in at number five and at number one on my top five shows was Violet Evergarden. KyoAni never lost their ability to make these relatable character-driven stories, the only difference is that now they are stepping their game up and getting deservedly praised for it.
I think most people have their own individual reasons for loving Kyoto Animation. It can be a specific show or a particular episode. A character’s tragic story or a grin-inducing romance. For me, though, I knew I loved them when I watched Free! Iwatobi Swim Club.
As a Gay Man…
… I didn’t have a lot of role models that could reasonably teach me about what it meant to be what I was. I grew up loving all kinds of fictional characters who taught me about respect, responsibility, love and yeah a lot of them were superheroes. But the plight of being gay? I didn’t know anyone who could help me with that.
Middle school was rough. I was experimental, trying to figure out what I was, but I was also in denial and terrified of being gay. I didn’t want people to hate me. Middle school just sucks in general so it was one issue of many that I could repress until high school when everything started getting better.
It was January of 2014 and I was halfway through my sophomore year when I started watching anime. I could go on for hours about the shows I watched and how they contributed to how I officially became a fan, but in the spring I started watching Free!, out of this curiosity to see how gay it really was.
I still remember when they had a kiss-fake out in the episode where Haru was going to give another character mouth-to-mouth and I literally leaned back in my chair and shouted “DAMN IT!” I was openly excited to see two dudes kiss and for the first time ever I was the target audience of fan-service teasing.
The show as a whole was like looking into a dream world. A cast of beautiful men who were all incredibly secure in their masculinity, just being best friends. KyoAni took the “cute girls doing cute things in high school” formula, flipped the genders, and created an iconic and beautifully produced show with worldwide acclaim.
Even if I lost interest after season two, wanting more direct gay representation, I still owe a lot to Free! for helping me come to terms with my sexuality. By junior year I was undeniably gay and more than happy to admit that to myself before soon coming out to my family and friends.
Kyoto Animation helped me realize it was okay to be me.
Here you will find the GoFundMe page for helping Kyoto Animation, set up by Sentai Filmworks.
Also, high-res photos from their online store directly support them.
Thanks to Digibro on YouTube for his very raw and emotional tribute to Kyoto Animation, in which he brought the latter of the two options for support to my attention.
Let’s all be there to support this studio through this horrible event in this industry. The costs going forward will be difficult to stomach, but we can still honor their work, praise it, and show it to as many people as possible, so that no one forgets what KyoAni means to us.
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