Has Kyoto Animation gone south?

This is how I feel for every KyoAni series for the past few seasons.

This is how I feel watching every KyoAni series for the past few seasons.

Kyoto Animation has built quite a reputation for itself. A small production studio that began with anime series such as Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, Air and Full Metal Panic: The Second Raidthe third example being one of their finest works ever in my view ― they slowly and gradually found their niche in producing shows that emphasize high-quality visuals and lean towards the moe genre. Kyoto Animation’s niche productions are a sign of how it has found its own comfort zone and, although not all viewers would appreciate moe every time, it makes sense for the studio to stick with what it’s good at: slice-of-life high school shows.

But lately I’ve noticed a trend from KyoAni judging by the last few seasons. Back in Spring of 2012, they gave us Hyouka, a series that started with a few weak episodes but gradually became an amazing story that not only maintains top-notch visuals (which in this series were a little overzealous sometimes), but focuses on illustrating intricate storylines and building its characters. However, all the series that follow for the next few seasons up to now have been far from impressive, from the loony cast of Chuunibyou to the fujoshi-pandering Free! and now the underwhelming Kyoukai no Kanata. I’ll go into detail why each of these series have been disappointing:

DISCLAIMER: The following content may contain some spoilers. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Number 1: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!

Touka is my favorite character here... and she's not even weird.

Touka is my favorite character here… and she doesn’t even need to be weird to be interesting.

Chuunibyou is a weird series. Really, how can anyone not think that this isn’t a weird series when the characters are made up of kids who don’t even act their age? The zaniness isn’t the problem here: it’s the storyline. While KyoAni vividly visualizes Rikka’s larger-than-life battles, it doesn’t focus on simply telling a compelling slice-of-life story. What I thought would be a tale about not being afraid to be oneself eventually turns out to be one of Rikka simply refusing to accept reality, and with that, undermining her already childish behavior. From then on, it degrades into a melodramatic ending where they all remain who they are without growing up.

See, having a show about characters behaving like children in a fantasy because they are children deep inside is one thing, but not seeing them develop into something else is another. I don’t feel emotionally invested in such characters. For all of KyoAni’s fluid animation on Rikka’s fights, things would’ve been so much better if there was more time spent on developing characters rather than just showing how odd they are.

Number 2: Free!

You know what I'd love to see in this show? A fugly male with a male name just to break the status quo. But we all knew that's not going to happen.

A fugly male with a masculine name would be great, but we all knew that’s not going to happen.

Oh, this series. You know, a lot of male viewers ― including myself ― dreaded Free! even before it aired because they all knew what they were in for: hawt sexy male characters in Spandex. And indeed, that’s what everyone got. But that’s not all: the male leads have girly names and they also behave like girls (think K-On! if they had spent time swimming instead of making music over afternoon tea… after undergoing sex changes). Deep inside, I was hoping that I would see at least a half-attempt at KyoAni making a genuine competitive sports anime. Oh, how more foolish and wrong could I have been?

Anime has been criticized as a chauvinistic medium but we all know it also has a generous amount of material out there to gratuitously please the female viewers. So hey, it shouldn’t harm anyone if KyoAni produced one aimed at pandering to the female folks, right? Well, at least that’s how we justify this series.

#3: Kyoukai no Kanata

Yes Akihito, I find your show "unpleasant".

Yes Akihito, I find your show “unpleasant”.

KyoAni producing a show about spirit hunters? Now that’s going to be a treat for everyone,” I first thought. Oh, how disappointed I felt just after watching Kyoukai no Kanata! Not only is the show a Bakemonogatari-wannabe, there’s nothing compelling about the show at all so far. Led by a pair of protagonists made up of Kuriyama Mirai, who’s your textbook meganekko, and Kanbara Akihito, who’s basically Araragi to a vast extent (even the immortality part) sans a different name, the show hasn’t really lived up to my expectations. It has been a two-trick pony relying on either the fight scenes or Kuriyama and Kanbara’s one-two bokke tsukkomi routine, both of which just don’t gel very well in a supposedly dark series.

Being something similar to one of Shinbo’s most popular works isn’t a problem per se, but when you have something made up of unoriginal and uninteresting elements, it doesn’t have substance to be intriguing. It’s still early to really say if KnK would impress eventually, but so far it hasn’t given me the positive signs to think or hope so.

So these are 3 series by KyoAni that have made me think the studio is somewhat losing its edge. Either that, or it has set its sights on producing shows that pander to certain groups of viewers only. I know it’s asking too much to see something like Hyouka or The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya more often, but at least I would say that there’s a downward trend when it comes to the past few seasons.

So what do you think? Are Kyoto Animation shows dropping in quality as of late? Or is it going for a new direction? Maybe my observations are invalid? Voice out and share your opinions with the rest!

(And one more thing: if you are wondering why I left out Tamako Market, it’s because I didn’t watch it. I couldn’t even make it past the first episode; why would I give a damn about a show on a shopping a street and a talking chicken diva, anyway?)

15 Responses to “Has Kyoto Animation gone south?”

  1. Honestly, I think KyoAni are trying to appeal to different markets whilst still utilizing their moe traits. Combination…is less than desirable to most people, including you. I dig KnK because I think it’s what Monogatari and Railgun should have been (fuck those shows ignoring their concepts to focus on fan-pandering bullshit and dull character development that doesn’t develop a goddamn thing!) but not everyone is going to feel the same way. Unlike most people, I don’t need to be emotionally invested in characters to find what’s happening interesting.

    Funnily enough though, how you feel about KyoAni is how I feel about Shaft. Ever since 2010, they’ve stopped producing anything I’ve liked. Madoka? Bleh. Denpa Onna? Irritating. Sasami-san? Ew. The new Monogatari? Kill me. That upcoming Nisekoi? Going to be godawful. That idol show? Might be good.

  2. There is one factor that holds the shows you’ve mention together. All of them have been adapted from Light Novels published by Kyo-ani themselves, and these Light Novels are written by first time authors with no prior publication to their name. Notice that all of their older shows tended to be adaptations on Light Novels published by third parties, and produced on the behalf of another third party.

    On the other hand, Free!, Chuunibyou, Tamako Market and Kyoukai no Kanata came from works of new authors that Kyo-ani sourced from and published.

    To me, Chuunibyou source material is weak (and the novel badly written), and the Anime’s plot and even characters is very different from the Novels cast and plot. Free! is a sequel, not an adaptation, to a prior Light Novel published by Kyo-ani called high speed. Tamako Market…. wasn’t very interesting to begin with. And I’ve read on various forums that Kyo-ani has taken alot of creative liberties and modifications to Kyoukai no Kanata’s plot.

    I have a certain tolerance and even enjoyment of Kyo-ani moe pandering, but Kyokai no Kanata’s last episode crossed that line for me.

  3. just don’t gel very well in a supposedly dark series.

    I keep hearing this. That Kyoukai no Kanata was supposed to be a “dark” series. Where is everybody getting this idea? Because if this is a “dark” series, I’d fucking hate to see what Kyoto Animation considers a “light” series.

  4. Free! revolved around one theme that made it interesting to me, that is finding your place among your peers. The way Rei wanted so badly to be part of the group while thinking they would prefer Rin to be there instead are dilemmas I experienced when I was in grade school and even high school. Most shounen shows (Yowamushi Pedal being a recent example) trivialize these issues by shoving feelings aside and solving the problem the way us guys usually do (“here, grab a bike, let’s be friends”), but Free! went ahead and explored the emotional side of the dilemma. It was refreshing to see and sometimes I thought that perhaps this series was actually written for guys.

    As for the rest, I have to agree they are trash (but unlike you, I watched max two episodes, then dropped them). The commonality mentioned by Andmeuths is important, but I cannot understand KyoAni fanboys who give KyoAni a free pass because of that. They produced these shows to have a bigger stake in the IP, yadayada, but still if it’s shit content it doesn’t deserve your support. Then you have guys on Twitter who lose their shit because Amazon doesn’t let them preorder KyoKai from Amazon, it’s fucking depressing.

  5. On the other hand, Free!, Chuunibyou, Tamako Market and Kyoukai no Kanata came from works of new authors that Kyo-ani sourced from and published.

    Interesting, I didn’t know that. I wonder if this is as crassly commercial as it looks: I bet they keep a lot more money than if they had to license someone else’s light novels…

  6. I think it’s undeniable that the movement to in house light novels coincides perfectly with their complete deterioration as of late, but lets not forget that they produced past crap like K-ON! and Munto, so this studio has never been on a place of excellence to begin with IMO. Hyouka was the EXCEPTION, and never the rule since 2009.

  7. I think their flaws are just becoming more apparent with time. This studio started on the top in terms of popularity so people were very quick to praise the positives of the studio like the animation quality focus while IMO failing to notice the emerging shortcomings paramount of which is just how often they rely on essentially the very same setup and execution for a lot of their shows. When your staff and general approach also changes so little over time I guess the charm starts to wear off eventually and people notice the shortcomings more and more.

    Kyoto Animation is a studio I think for better or worse is simply a studio that has gotten very “good” at animating one particular type of show.

  8. Yeah, as a few people mentioned above, the reason for KyoAni’s change in story style is because they started producing only anime from their own IPs. Ever since they started doing that with Chuunibyou, they’ve garnered more revenue for themselves (since there’s no third party company that’s the main rights holder to take most of the profit) so they’ve had little incentive to go back to their old method. I actually wrote a post about this, or specifically why it’s unlikely they’ll ever make more Haruhi anime =/ http://animeyume.com/blog/2013/08/28/the-beginning-of-the-end-for-haruhi/

  9. @yumeka
    Now that we’ve begun plugging our blogs, allow me to make a counterargument ;-):

    http://theworldisrotten.wordpress.com/2013/10/12/why-we-dont-need-haruhi-suzumiya-season-3/

  10. And now… taking KyoAni’s place in terms of hype is Studio Trigger.

    I don’t like Trigger’s shows though.

  11. I think KyoAni feels trapped in the moe/slice-of-life niche. They want try new things, but so far, they still have to rely on their old audience.

    Free! was a less than ideal move from them, they opened to a new audience which stirred controversy among their older fans, so they try to placate them with more fanservice in KnK, also new seasons for Chuu2 and Tamako Market (which is odd, because I heard that the latter is bombed).

  12. Late reply, but I looked at KyoAni’s releaseson Wikipedia, and the only releases I have enjoyed after After Story in 2009 was Hyouka and the Haruhi movie. They’ve been crap for almost as long as they’ve been good. It’s hard to believe that Clannad After Story was released 5 years ago, but I think it’s past time to give up on this company

  13. You might want to take a second look at Free! again. Strip away fanservice (which is also great btw) and you get refreshing new characters, refreshing new plot, and a slice of life I never expected from what I originally-thought as fanservice anime, AND sports anime. The sports did not focus on extraordinary almost inhuman powers, nor did it focus on intense sheer will/intense sense of teamwork. Instead, it focused on relationships and big character developments to create a light but very satisfying watch. It’s climatic when it needs to be, deep when it needs to be, done with tact and good comedy to boot. There’s much more including KyoAni’s impeccable art (amazing water animation) but I don’t want to get too much into it.
    Just because it’s new and not the traditional male fanservice, it doesn’t make it bad. A lot of people dreaded it and I wonder why, seeing that male fanservice is very accepted in the industry – and this isnt even pure fanservice. I’ve learned to love the characters and see them grow that the muscle flashing just seemed ordinary now and I’m much more interested in the cast than anything else.

  14. Although I agree with the above comments. I think they are now at the dead end.

  15. Please help with this advice apitecpared?I really dont know what to do or ?How to resolve this, Your help or advice would be great. Please be sensitive as I am feeling quite low.Back in 2005 an abusive ex was arrested for beating up another woman, he was immediately given 15 months in prison (he did 9 months of the sentence) not only was I appalled at his actions, but it meant he had cheated/lied to me to have been with her. This was my que to have a fresh start. I was working at a gym, did an access to nursing course (worked very hard to study and have a job and manage my flat, finances etc) I also met a great guy that I worked with. I wrote to the bad guy in prison and told him I had moved on. For once I was happy. Me and the new man had a great few months, I was enjoying my studies, got in to an amazing nursing college, was happy and getting self esteem back and this new guy treated me great. In June 06, the toxic man was released from prison (I had ignored his calls and letter) he knew I was in a relationship. Yet, still turned up at my home un invited. He could see I was going places, was happy and had moved on. He was trying every trick in the book to win me back but I told him I was with someone and happy. He didnt listen. In Sept 06 he came to my home and violently raped me. I have had psychological counselling. But because of what he did I pushed the good guy away. I didnt even tell him what had happened as I was too ashamed. Eventually at some point in 2007 our relationship fizzled (down to me being down, unreliable and not myself). Yet, it was only in 2008 that I came forward to police about the rape and abuse as I was not ready to deal with it until then. I had left my University nursing course, I had depression and frankly my life was a mess (still is). The rape trial was due to be 22nd Feb this year, but due to police negligence (they lost one of my video statements) and a catalogue of errors the case was thrown out of court by the judge! Not only has this man destroyed my life and saw that I was moving on and happy and did what he could to ruin it, but he walks free from court for what he did. The nice guy has moved on and is engaged and happy, and I am left picking up the pieces of my life. The last 4 years have been sheer hell. I had a brief relationship in the summer and I am now 7 months pregnant, I just feel like my life is a total mess and dont know what to do to get back to my old self.I am currently in the process of suing the police but the injustice of all this is awful Please help, thanksthe length of time it took me to report the rape is irrelevent as I forgot to mention I had visited a rape clinic straight after where forensics and medical evidence were taken and a DNA match was found. I havent spoken to this beast for 18 months and dont intend to.

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