My 5 Favorite Anime Works by Kyoto Animation
by Lynzee Loveridge,
I'm writing The List this week a somber heart. As of this writing on Friday, 34 staff members from Kyoto Animation have passed away due to senseless act of arson. These are immensely talented people with family, friends, and loved ones who have worked tirelessly to share their art with the world. Kyoto Animation holds meaning to an incalculable number of people thanks to their joyous comedies, heartfelt drama, and captivating art. Myself included. It's a privilege to be the author of this column and I've taken the last few days to reflect on how KyoAni's works have affected me personally. This is a list of my favorite series by Kyoto Animation as a way to honor their work.
My first encounter with Key/VIsual Art's work was the original adaptation of Kanon. The original adaptation isn't really looked back on fondly anymore but Ayu's story really got to me. Kyoto Animation would take the reins on the Kanon reboot before delving into the tragic romance of Clannad and Clannad After Story. Our hero Tomoya is kind of a fuck up. His dad's an alcoholic who hits him and one altercation has left him unable to continue playing sports. He's quit caring about much of anything until he meets Nagisa, who is also a bit of a mess. Tomoya is drawn to Nagisa's determination to create a drama club and end up pulling in a bunch of misfits into the mix. However, Nagisa is sick (she's already had to repeat a year of high school due to it) and Tomoya finds himself unable to break her away from her tragic fate. They have a child, something else Tomoya can't deal with it in the very real way a stunted adult fleeing from trauma does when confronted with responsibility.
Clannad and After Story is very much about family: what makes a group of people, related by blood or not, a truly supportive unit. Watching Clannad, the characters (some more than others), grow on you like they're your family too. I was angry at Tomoya, I cried with the twins over their mutual heartbreak, and I wanted to support Tomoyo in her big dreams. As a newly minted adult when it premiered, I also wanted to find my own clan of misfits to cheer on.
This show was a phenomenon. I can tell you exactly where I was when I watched "Mikuru Asahina's Adventure Episode 00" and knew this show was going to be something special. It had a biting narrative humor (courtesy of Kyon) that I had never experienced in anime before. I've said in a few places on ANN that I'm not a huge comedy person but Haruhi Suzumiya was funny and left me busted up over and over again. Kyoto Animation also took some major risks in its adaptation leaving fans puzzled on its chronology (season one) and trolled (Endless Eight!). Find me another studio that would dedicate eight whole episodes of a series' run to adapting the same exact content with minute differences. RESPECT.
I've read Keiichi Arawi original work and the guy is a master of deadpan and absurdity. KyoAni's adaptation takes it to a level rarely seen in four-panel manga adaptations. The .gif above concerns Mio and her friend Yūko. Mio is a pretty reliable girl while Yūko can only be trusted to not complete her homework. Mio hands over her math homework to let Yūko copy it only to realize that she randomly drew some yaoi fanart of her classmate on the opposing page. The situation culminates into an intense game of keep away as Yūko at first thinks Mio is trying to get out of sharing her homework only to slowly realize that there's something interesting in the notebook's pages.
Nichijou consistently makes me laugh (or at the very least, exclaim "WHAT?") as it throws random nonsense (a robot makes rollcakes in her arm!) and high school hijinks together and still works.
Free! was my gateway anime into BL content. That might be surprising given that Free is often seen as a tease in that regard (and it knows it) or because I've been in anime fandom a really long time. It was a sub-genere that I never sought out even though I'd watched plenty of LGBT live-action films and TV before. I didn't really "get it" and relegated as something other people liked, like sports anime.
Oh yeah, Free! got me into sports anime too. I wouldn't have tried out Haikyu!! without Free!
The show introduced me to two new things that had never really clicked before and helped ease me in to expanding my entertainment tastes. I learned that even if I am not (nor have I ever been) athletic, I could get really invested in a game when it's shown with the proper intensity. I also learned that if BL series has the right kind of personalities, I could get invested in those romances, too. I ended up trying out a lot of anime I'd ignored do to preconceptions that I just wouldn't like it. Finally, Free! felt like a show specifically made for me, the female demo. It's not that KyoAni's other works weren't appealing, but Free! felt like "yes, this fanservice IS for you" and that was it's own special little moment.
Miss Kobayashi is about two important things: being yourself and family. You could look at it as building off some of the themes I mentioned in the Clannad After Story with a queer bent. Miss Kobayashi is a character I felt mirrored myself in a lot of ways. We're both old in anime years, she takes her work seriously and is seen reliable and competent, and she acts like a doofus when she drinks.
When Kobayashi gave her sincere speech to Tohru's dad about why her dragon-maid-girlfriend should get to keep living with her, I cried my bisexual eyes out.
You have to understand that leading up to this moment, Kobayashi never really raised her voice. She would emote but it was often subdued. Her persona is shown as a no-nonsense, straight-laced person with the exception of when she drinks. This was the first time she acknowledged her own loneliness before Tohru and bluntly stated her importance in her life. Miss Kobayashi is beautiful like that, it really seizes viewers by the heartstrings and gets you to care about this wacky family.
A Silent Voice is based on a manga by the exceptionally talented Yoshitoki Ōima. If you haven't read the original manga, I highly recommend it or check out To Your Eternity, which will tear you apart in a completely different way. A Silent Voice though, this film is amazing not just for its artistry but for highlighting the lives we rarely get to see in anime entertainment. In all the anime I've watched, I've only seen Deaf characters portrayed twice: Nicolas in Gangsta. and Shoko in A Silent Voice, both released within a year of one another. While perhaps not comprehensive, Anime Planet has 17 Deaf characters total, listed across all anime and manga. It isn't a point of view we often get to see and the story didn't shy away from depicting the bullying that can come with being Deaf.
In fact, the protagonist of the entire film is one of Shoko's former tormentors. The movie offers a unique moral exercise on growth. Shōya has committed horrible acts and is directly responsible for stress experienced by Shōko and her family when she was in elementary school. Shōya also knows it was wrong and is fully committed to growing as a human and making good on the pain he caused. But does it matter? I think a lot of us that have experienced bullying related to a perceived disability, physical attribute, or other aspect of ourselves we have zero control over have grappled with this question. It's the part that makes you Facebook search your tormentors just to see how they're doing as adults. A Silent Voice lets that play out in real time after Shōko and Shōya reunite in high school. It was challenging for me personally, not knowing whether I really wanted to root for him or not. But that's good art; the kind that makes you reflect on yourself and your own feelings.
My thoughts are with Kyoto Animation right now. I want to thank them for creating the above works that have made me laugh, cry, and evaluate my own feelings. From the bottom of my heart, thank you KyoAni. (Twitter.)
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