Believe it or not, sometimes a studio that animates a particular show sometimes brings appeal to a work. As seen with the likes of Studio Shaft, Production IG, PA Works, Sunrise and Kyoto Animation, they add something unique. Most notably, Kyoto Animation from the past several years has gained a lot of praise for its production values. This is more so with the airing of Hyouka and now Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai this year. I felt that they do deserve the praise for various reasons as they pay attention to detail, bringing appeal to the characters and their ability to make faithful adaptations. (Image Source)
One of the defining features that set Kyoto Animation apart from other studios is the art direction. While there are a few inconsistencies depending on the show, they take animation as a work of art. If you watch the K-ON movie or any of their shows, you will notice that they have actually gone through the trouble of traveling to the actual location, take pictures and implement it into the setting. As revealed in a Q&A session, Naoko and Yoshihisa visited London twice to find locations and second to flesh everything out1. From their trips to various places as seen when they implemented it, you can see how ambitious they were in capturing the setting perfectly.
To go a bit further, they take the time drawing the scenery and painting it along with some other stuff as described in a series of videos here. This is what set this studio apart from others like JC Staff as they pay close attention to detail to make the setting feel that you are actually there. In addition, they thought for the future as they used a bigger key animation sheet (720p) starting with Kanon and eventually getting into higher resolution (but not quite 1080p) for Nichijou, Hyouka and now Chuunibyou2. It’s a big feat since the artists have to draw on a bigger sheet of paper. However, it will benefit them on the long run for those Full-HD releases and possibly airing in 1080i.
Another interesting thing that contributes to their art direction is the amount of dedication has to their work. Besides the studio having more female artists than males is the amount of work they do. You would have expected that the artists have to work overtime to give the amount of detail they put into their work. However, that is not the case. In the question session, Naoko said that employees sometimes worked slightly longer hours (but not too long), but still consistently give a high quality output3. It’s quite amazing how they didn’t put much strain on their staff since doing so would have an impact on productivity. I think this is contributed for the fact that Kyoto Animation only works on one or two projects at a given time, which allows them to produce a quality production rather than just getting it done.
The second reason Kyoto Animation is so successful is how they capture the characters. Besides the animation, the characters have very enjoyable personalities. There are many instances like this such as Eru who is always curious, Rikka who is in her fantasy world and of course Haruhi. In comparison to other shows like AKB0048, it’s very apparent that they are doing more with the characters by making them appealing rather than just riding on the moe fad. This is the main reason K-ON became so popular even though there is a group of people who actively hates that show. Even so, I think faithful adaptation also plays a big role in how they present the characters.
Lastly, the ways they adapt the source material have also contributed to their success. While it’s not possible to incorporate everything, especially if you are talking about a visual novel, they managed to keep most of the stuff in tact without making too many changes. In one of the notable comparisons are the Toei adaptations they did for Key. Apparently, they changed a good number of stuff such as the character’s personalities and story line, which caused a lot of backlash from the fans. Thankfully, Kyoto Animation manages to fit most of the things while made some changes that don’t feel out of place. As a result, they gained a good reputation. This is also the reason why people reacted harshly when JC Staff announced Little Busters as they won’t give a same level of quality compared to Key’s previous adaptations they did with Kyoto Animation.
On the other hand, the interesting thing to note is that the K-ON movie is actually an original production. During the Q&A session, Naoko revealed that she and her staff tried to preserve the spirit of the source material rather than doing it themselves2. This is important since people want the movie to have some relation to the first two seasons and even the manga rather than go off track to something like the Clannad movie that had little resemblance to the original story in a movie format. After watching it several months ago, I think they did a good job incorporating the club’s decision to go to London and wrap it up by showing how they came up with the special song for Azusa played in the finale from the second season.
As a whole, I think Kyoto Animation is still a great animation studio despite having a few missteps in the past. From what I have watched and the amount of effort put into creating a quality production, I think that others will have a difficult time matching it. Sure, there is a good amount of studios that worked hard to match their animation quality, but haven’t done the same in the other departments. We’ll see if that trend changes in the future. For now, I think Kyoto Animation is still king of the hill for the amount of talent and quality they shown thus far.
1. Noel, John. “Scotland Loves Anime 2012: Day 2.” chaostangent. N.p., 13 2012. Web. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. chaostangent.com/2012/10/scotland-loves-anime-2012-day-2/>.
2. ultimatemegax, . “Kyoto Animation: Studio discussion, speculation, and whatnot..” 29 2012. N.p., Online Posting to Animesuki. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. http://forums.animesuki.com/showthread.php?p=4417370
3. Noel, John. “Scotland Loves Anime 2012: Day 3, Naoko Yamada Q&A session.” chaostangent. N.p., 13 2012. Web. Web. 14 Nov. 2012. <http://chaostangent.com/2012/10/scotland-loves-anime-2012-day-3-naoko-yamada-qa-session/>.