My heart has belonged to Kyoto Animation for a long time. And their shows have always looked good – that’s not even a faintly nuanced observation. The 2010s was the advent of an in-house style that helped forge their identity without ever feeling like a stagnant or limiting trait of the production house. Be it the character work by Miku Kadowaki, Futoshi Nishiya, or others, the character art is something that hasn’t quite been matched by another studio.
Even before their in-house style became synonymous with their identity, their artwork was rarely a sore spot in the final product. However, how well do we regard the actual “animation” of Kyo Ani’s works?
Pretty well as a matter of fact. Consistently. From Liz and the Blue Bird to Silent Voice, I’ve praised the subtle character movements and facial twitches that create the small reveries of human pathos. Occasionally, these dramas or slice-of-life comedies might even present an action scene. Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid had ridiculously bombastic action and even Clannad had a pretty dope fight scene. However, I get the feeling that when people say that Kyoto Animation has great animation, they actually mean “great artwork.” It’s worth distinguishing between the two.
I don’t think any show from the studio has consistently reminded me of how great their animation talent is more than one particular show. If you would permit the generalization, the average viewer may not stray close to offering a critique of actual animation outside of shows or genres that incentivize consistent motion in their presentation. Hence why most people, regardless of their inclination to media criticism, often praise the animation of the hottest shonen/action series.
Following that line of logic, this week’s review is an action show with plenty to gush over. Beyond the Boundary – Taichi Ishidate’s directorial debut – is one of my favorite works by Kyoto Animation, and what I believe to be their best-looking show. Or rather, it is the most consistently upfront with what the studio is capable of, both in TV and film.
Here comes Matthew again, leaping to review another anime by Bones. I suppose that’s all I’m good for, isn’t it? And it’s directed by Masahiro Ando, no less…
Is Masahiro Ando my favorite anime director? He’s certainly up there with blokes like Takuya Igarashi. After all, Ando directed Snow White with the Red Hair, a show that I consider to be an empowering masterpiece of feel-good fantasy romance. Be it a drama or an action show, he is a talented director… though not without some missteps.
What I watched of Canaan never gripped me and reeked of a show whose potential was hurt by low-denominator tropes and poor writing. Under the Dog was an average pilot to a series that will never come out. And Sirius the Jaeger? More like Serious Disappointment (don’t hit me).
I would call Masahiro Ando the Brad Bird of anime. He makes some legendary stuff that will stick with you for ages, but he also tends to bat 50/50. It’s hard to tell why. Maybe it’s the source material on certain shows, maybe it’s other staff members, or maybe Ando is just inconsistent depending on the project.
I’ll cut through some of the snark and assure you of one thing, though. Blast of Tempest (or, Zetsuen no Tempest: The Civilization Blaster) is certainly on the good side of Ando’s batting average.
Early in 2014, when I was just getting into anime, I decided to watch Free! Iwatobi Swim Club, the now-famous sports anime by Kyoto Animation. Being in the closet at the time, I went into it with the kind of ironic half-interest that wouldn’t tip off my friends that I was hella gay (which didn’t work anyway).
To put it bluntly, Free helped me come out of the closet. Granted, the characters never canonically became boyfriends or stated they were gay in the show. Regardless, the characters were all content in their masculinity and displayed a level of intimacy and emotional expressiveness that was really meaningful to me. I will always have a soft spot for that series. I talked more about this in my tribute to Kyoto Animation that you can read here.
Ever since then I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Boys Love/ Yaoi genre of manga and anime. There are great stories that have been told, especially recently. Yuri on Ice hit the mainstream with gayness like a nuke and we’re still waiting for that fucking film. Sarazanmai went even harder, though I can’t say it was too memorable. The romance in No. 6 was the saving grace when the rest of it was a rushed mess. Finally, dated as it was, Banana Fish was the action drama infused with gay romance I always wanted and I should really finish it.
For every decent to great gay show that has seeped through the cracks, a lot of yaoi shows have turned me quite cynical towards the genre. The trash-tier of yaoi can be downright infuriating. Shit like Junjou Romantica and Love Stage too often treat non-consensual sex as the starting point to a relationship. There are a lot of really unhealthy tropes that have made it hard to get into anime with gay romances.
There is a lot of garbage out there, but recently, anime with gay characters are being produced more and more. Hell, half of the good examples I mentioned before came out in the last couple of years. And today I want to talk about a show that broke through a lot of that cynicism for me and left me a lot more hopeful for future stories like this.
The “best” anime of all time is different for everyone. Across all media, in fact, you would be hard pressed to find a unanimously agreed upon “best” thing, outside of the agreements found within one’s own tight-knit group. Even then, there will be differences in taste.
“It’s all subjective,” is the point I’m trying to get across, but perfection doesn’t have to be dismissed in critique just because it’s improbable. If the perfect anime is different for everyone, and no consensus can be reached, then perfection is purely personal taste. It is absent of objective standards of quality and instead panders to the greatest amount of our interests.
I believe most people have not found their perfect movie or TV show, possibly because it doesn’t exist yet. We all have favorites though, so it stands to reason that if I took three of my favorite anime of all time and picked them apart, I could get a sense for what my perfect anime would be. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.
One of the earliest scenes in Liz and the Blue Bird depicted the protagonist, Mizore, waiting for someone at the school gate. One girl comes through the school gate, but Mizore is met with disappointment as it is not who she is waiting for. And then, the music swells from a scarce pluck of the string to a delightful melody, as the tapping of one girl’s steps is heard along the pavement.
But it’s not just any girl. It’s THE girl. Like a wind coming from the distance, Mizore and the audience know that someone important is coming before they even see her face. It’s as if hearing the quickening heartbeat of a shy young girl faced with her crush, translated into song.
It is ranked number 4 on the list of highest-grossing films in Japan and the single highest grossing Anime film of all time. It has garnered worldwide acclaim and has taken the Anime community and the mainstream audience by storm. For a long, while it even beat out Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood on the MyAnimeList charts and even now sits at a comfortable #2. Yes, I am of course talking about Makoto Shinkai’s breakout success, “Kimi No Na Wa”, or “Your Name”. Continue reading →
Spoilers below, click here for my review of this show
In the first episode of Akagami no Shirayukihime our protagonist Shirayuki works as a herbalist in the country of Tanbarun. Born with exceedingly rare red hair, she is told that she must become a concubine for Raji, her country’s prince, giving up her life as a herbalist. She spends a long time thinking. Soon enough it is night time. and she makes a choice. Rest assured, the question of whether or not she would become a concubine was never even contemplated. She wouldn’t give up her career so easily. No, instead she pulls an all-nighter, concocting medicine for everyone she knows in town, before cutting her hair and leaving the bright red ponytail on the window sill before fleeing the country. This act of defiance would become one of the many reasons that she is my favorite female character of all time.
It seems that every year, I grow to appreciate the art of animation more and more, by growing fonder of different studios, actors, techniques, narrative styles, and directors and the conclusion I have come to is that without Japanese animation, I would not harbor the appreciation for storytelling that I possess now. It takes a special kind of show to remind me of that to the point that I am left breathless by what has transpired. Akagami no Shirayukihime, or Snow White with the Red Hair, is that show.