A Letter to Kyoto Animation: Appreciating Their Works Over the Years

Opening Statement

Here at the Backloggers in light of the recent tragedy with Kyoto Animation, we wanted to express our love towards the studio, the staff, and their works by sharing some of our favorite experiences with Kyoto Animation productions. All of us here truly value their work in our own ways, and I hope that our thoughts below can give you some insight as to how we truly feel about this incident as a whole by showing you how much we value Kyoto Animation as a studio and the staff that created some of these memorable works that we love so dearly.


Mythos

A Silent Voice is a relatively new one from KyoAni’s catalog and so it may not have the same embedded fanbase as many of their other shows and movies.  However, to me, it struck an incredibly powerful chord that I will continue to look back on.

For the longest time, I’ve dealt with depression and an anxiety disorder.  The earliest I remember is when I moved schools in elementary and became the new kid and new target for several years.  I think whatever issues may have already been there were exacerbated by the bullying I received and they started to show themselves.  As time went on and I grew up, on a couple of occasions, my thoughts turned suicidal in nature. However, unlike many others, I was able to realize what was going on and get help.

Seeing the struggle both of our main leads go through in dealing with their depression was very visceral to me.  KyoAni did an amazing job in the animation of showing the numbness and inability to trust others while dealing with these things, particularly with the X’s over faces and other unique choices to better help the audience understand.

However, as much as I may seem to be a Shouko in how I’ve painted myself as “woe is me”, this movie also called me on my own past behavior as a young Shouya.  I have both been bullied and was the bully.

When I was young, I didn’t understand a lot of issues people may have due to handicaps put on them.  The earliest memory was of my aunt, who suffered from Short Term Memory Loss after a terrible accident from a drunk driver who hit her car.  For decades she had to be taken care of by my grandmother and so I would see her every time I’d visit. I remember being so angry as a child on multiple occasions that she would keep asking me the same questions over and over.  I didn’t understand that she just didn’t remember and I couldn’t comprehend the pain I was causing not only to her but to her sister, my mother, when I would yell and stomp away.

I had also never understood why a girl in my class was always “weird”.  She didn’t seem to understand basic social cues and was constantly pushing herself to do better to the point where she’d cry over getting a “B”.  Occasionally, I would make fun of her or talk bad about her behind her back. It wasn’t until I was much older that I had heard about how her father mentally and emotionally abused her and that her forced isolation was taking its toll.  My bullying only made everything worse. I spent the last year of school together trying to make up for all that I had done.

I never ripped out a hearing device from someone’s ear or physical hurt anyone but I was very much like Shouya and the classmates in this film who had a lack of empathy and understanding, whether they realized it or not.  Seeing that portrayed in front of me made me remember a lot of my own issues with empathy and genuine care for others that I lacked for so many years. Much like the kids in Shouko and Shouya’s class as kids, it was both my actions and my inaction that allowed these things to happen.

To me, A Silent Voice is not just about overcoming your own mental obstacles but also redeeming yourself by helping others do the same.  Not for your own benefit. For theirs. I would have killed to have had someone in my life like Shouya’s mother Miyako, someone who could cut through the bullshit and remind me how much they care.  But it’s hard for people to realize how bad things can be. We truly never know when or by how much someone is suffering. I’ve hid those emotions long enough myself to know that it’s not that hard to trick others into thinking you’re better off than you actually are.  And being on the other side of things, I’ve realized that I can’t just sit back and allow myself to not care. 

My actions have consequences.  I’ve hurt people in the past. And I know that I need to be there and be better for those that need me.  KyoAni was pinnacle in reminding me of this.


General Tofu

One of the most common responses I hear to someone mentioning KyoAni’s series Free! Is generally some degree of derision, or more commonly, just a statement of “it’s fujoshi-bait”, etc. Most of these folks have not seen Free!, and to be entirely honest, I had not watched it for the longest time because I heard many of these claims and decided to pass on it. This was a mistake. Free! honestly did not seem like the kind of show that I would like, but it’s because I made that judgment call on this show I had never watched that it took me so long to finally watch what I thoroughly believe is my favorite piece of media to come from KyoAni.

On the surface, it is easy to look at Free!, see the pretty, muscular boys doing pretty swimming boy things, and immediately think “oh boy, do I know where this is going.” I’m here to tell you that, unless you have an incredible power of precognition, you do not know where Free! is going. Eventually convinced by my partner to watch the first season, I came for the gorgeous visuals that KyoAni is so well-known for and swim club shenanigans, but I ended up staying because this show made me care about these characters, and because the struggles they were facing were so raw and real to me.

You’d think that a high school sports anime would primarily deal with the power of friendship, pushing yourself and your body to the limit, and playing for the love of the game and your dream, and in some cases, you would be right about Free! You would also be right, however, if you thought it was about imposter syndrome, the anxieties that come from your passions, deep-seated trauma, dealing with toxic relationships, and coming to face yourself in ways you would have never imagined. 

Early on in the series, our protagonist Haru Nanase quips that his grandmother once told him an old saying – “When you’re ten, they call you a prodigy. When you’re fifteen, they call you a genius. Once you hit twenty, you’re just an ordinary person.” While Haru initially takes this saying in stride and musing about how badly he wants to become ordinary, as the seasons progress and he begins to swim more and more competitively, he finds himself genuinely struggling with swimming, why he does this thing that he has been good at for so long, and coping with the fact that on an increasingly large stage, he’s having to push harder and harder to continue to be the genius that he was once hailed as.

Personally, I’ve always been fairly good with English, class-wise. I coasted through all of my courses with ease throughout my K-12 years, and my English classes during my time as an undergraduate were a breeze. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was a genius or a prodigy – far from it – but I never really had to strain myself too hard working through those courses, as the theories and writing came so easily to me. As grad school trekked along, I found it got more and more difficult to do as well as I had before – things were not coming as easily as they had before, and this showed most when I began teaching. I learned pretty quickly that I had really not learned much. Sure, I had passed classes with straight A’s and written some pretty solid papers, but applying what I had learned and developed over the years to a curriculum to teach to incoming freshmen was daunting. 

I asked myself, how could I be so bad at doing what I loved, which had been a breeze so recently before? I felt like an imposter – like at any moment, someone would find out that I was actually horrible at English and teaching, and that everything would be ripped away from me.

Haru and the crew struggle with this and more throughout the show’s three-season run, but it never fully goes away. What does happen, though, is that everything eventually leads back to love – finding a renewed love for the sport of swimming, reconnecting and loving your team and friends, and above all else, coming to understand and learn to love oneself. 

In much the same way, my feelings of imposter syndrome have not subsided, but over time, ive come to still love and trust myself in spite of these worries and anxieties, and watching Free! and seeing my own issues front and center was honestly refreshing to see, in a way. It’s certainly hard to watch characters you’ve come to love and care about go through such visceral struggles and mental anguish, but being able to see them learn to live and cope with those issues is reassuring. It’s for this and many other things that I’ll be forever grateful to Free! and the wonderful people who created it. 

And honestly, in these difficult times, a show that centers on love of all kinds, community, and recovery seems like just the thing KyoAni and we as a community need. 


Owningmatt93

Kyoto Animation is no doubt one of the few anime studios that I’ve had a high level of respect for since I began my adventures into Japanese animation, if it’s for their treatment of their staff or to their level of care and passion that goes behind making their shows. While there are plenty of reasons beyond those, I still believe that the reason that I love KyoAni’s work the most is because of just how much of an impact they’ve had on my viewing of anime as a medium, and as a whole.

The first Kyoto Animation show that I had an experience watching was K-ON!, which also just happened to be the first anime that really got my attention in terms of its quality, but also due to its attention to detail. I was huge into musical instruments and rock bands at time, which just added to the appeal of the series for me.

It was the first real “anime” that appealed to me, even with trying a few others in the past, and I honestly couldn’t have picked anything better for that period of my life. The upbeat and happy characters, the superb quality, and the overall tone of the series being about growing up and graduation from school, all were things I could appreciate at that point in my life, especially with me just graduating from high school as well. It had a huge impact on me, and I honestly don’t know if I’d be into anime today if it wasn’t for Kyoto Animation’s K-ON!

But the story doesn’t end there, my journey with anime had only just begun after all, and KyoAni had yet to make the biggest and most drastic change in my anime watching behavior.

At this point in time, we would consider Hyouka a classic within Kyoto Animation’s catalog, but I watched it shortly after it aired that season, still being one of the first 50 anime that I’d seen. Hyouka for me was not only one of the most in-depth and detailed anime that I had come across at that point in time (honestly, I’d still consider it in the top of those categories now), but it also changed my mindset on how I viewed anime from that point forward. Anime until this point was just something I watched out of pure enjoyment, and nothing more than that.

However, Hyouka had created a new mindset for myself that allowed me to look deeper into an anime to try and figure out what it meant for myself and for others as well. 

It was, what I would consider, the very first step into the starting point for this blog, as one of my first forays into Ani-blogging was Frog-kun’s post about the series and the different lenses that it could be viewed from. To this day, Hyouka is still one of the most influential works on my life as a whole, and I don’t think any other anime in the world can really replace it. 

Kyoto Animation’s Hyouka not only allowed me to come at anime from a new perspective, it also changed my entire viewpoint of what anime meant to me.

From there, this blog was formed, and from there, I was able to make new friends and share anime with others in an equally passionate way that the staff of Kyoto Animation was able to share their ideas and feelings with me. It’s clear that they’re a phenomenal studio with a unique background, doing things in a way that no one else can replicate in the same way. They could’ve just made anime like Hyouka or K-ON! forever and I would’ve been satisfied with every work that they would have created from then until the end of time. 

But they didn’t.

It’s clear that these animators and directors were so passionate and felt so strongly about the medium of animation, that they declared that they would take their level of quality as far as they could, and wouldn’t settle for the “status quo” that other anime studios feel like they tend to do. 

Works like Amagi Brilliant Park, Chuunibyou, Hibike! Euphonium and even some of their less popular works like Phantom World, Tamako Market, or Kyoukai no Kanata all had that level of passion put into those projects, and even if they weren’t always the greatest, you could feel something from them. You could empathize with the characters easily, you could understand how they felt through their expressions, and you felt like you knew those characters as well as the other characters in the show did. Kyoto Animation truly allows anime fans to experience anime in a unique way that’s just incomparable to many of the other shows out there, and that’s obviously something that they take pride in.

You can tell just by watching any of their works, Kyoto Animation isn’t just an animation studio, it’s a lifestyle for their staff. Animation to them is clearly more than just a profession or a way to pay the bills. It’s something they want to do, and they give each frame everything they’ve got until they have what they want from the work. Kyoto Animation treats their staff well, and if that wasn’t a well-known fact by any of us, you can clearly look at their works compared to others and tell that there’s something that KyoAni works have that other works sometimes tend to lack. The amazing thing to me though, is that they don’t have to do any of this for their projects to be popular either; they could easily be like any other studio in the book and get by just fine.

But the staff at the studio clearly doesn’t want that for themselves or their co-workers, nor do they want to disservice their fans in that way. They have respect for their art, and I think that’s something that truly can be appreciated from KyoAni’s methods (and something that other studios could learn from as well).

As we look at some of their more recent shows like Violet Evergarden or A Silent Voice, the amount of sheer effort and emotion put into those anime is just overwhelming as an anime viewer, and I think that’s amazing. That doesn’t make Kyoto Animation or their works without its flaws, of course, but it’s something that you can look at and respect the qualities of the work along with the staff behind the creation of that work. It’s truly just a remarkable sight to behold. Even those that aren’t remotely interested in anime can take something away from their works, because it’s not “just anime” to these staff members, it’s their life.

That’s why this situation has hit the community as hard as it has. It’s why this tragedy has been the most heartbreaking one for anime fans in a while. It’s why everyone is so scared about what might’ve happened to their favorite animators or directors. It’s why everyone is mourning the loss of lives and praying for the families of the departed. It’s why everyone is so afraid of what’s going to happen next for the studio as a whole. 

It’s because these fans truly believe in Kyoto Animation’s principles and have had their lives changed by them as much as mine has been. Every fan of Kyoto Animation has a story, and to even think that there is a chance that future anime fans may not have that opportunity is absolutely soul-crushing. 

But despite the situation looking bleak, I know that KyoAni will continue to fight. Even in the darkest of hours, I know that KyoAni will eventually once again reach that goal that they’re trying to achieve, despite all the hardships that they’ve experienced in the past few days. It might not be tomorrow, it might not be 20 years from now, and it might not even be 200 years from now, but I believe that Kyoto Animation has things that cannot be destroyed by anyone. Those things are their passion for creating and their compassion for their staff members and the community.

Yes, I believe that KyoAni will continue to soar.


Final Remarks

Our hearts go out to all of those at Kyoto Animation that were affected by this incident, and also to those in the community that are suffering the most from hearing about this painful and heartbreaking event. Animation fans are truly in a state of solidarity regarding this event, and it’s amazing that so many people have had their lives changed by one animation studio that puts their best effort into making an anime the best it can be. 

If you would like to support the incident and haven’t done so already, there are a few different ways that you can do so. There is Sentai’s GoFundMe, Crunchyroll’s KyoAni Message Campaign, and also KyoAni’s own website where you can buy digital prints of some of their recent shows. If you’re in Japan, you can donate via the Animate retail chain as well to support the studio in this trying time, or if you want to donate money directly to KyoAni, they posted their bank account information on their site. Here’s a Twitter thread on how to do so.

Thank you to Astral Gemini (@TheAstralGemini) on Twitter for encouraging us to write this post, as it was a topic that was close to our hearts as well. Kyoto Animation is one of the most unique and influential anime studios around. We offer our condolences to the already passed and give the recovering our best wishes.

Thank you Kyoto Animation for all that you’ve done for the anime community and for the medium of anime as a whole.

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