Let's chat on how Kyoto Animation has changed my life, through their celebration of everything that makes anime special.
When I woke up on the morning after the Kyoto Animation fire, the news was already too terrible to fully comprehend. I think I might have been lucky in that regard—I think it might have been worse to be reading the news as it was released, at first hoping for the best, and then slowly learning of the overwhelming scale of this tragedy. The studio behind such anime treasures as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!, Hyouka, Sound! Euphonium, Nichijou, A Silent Voice… a studio known for so many good things, from the incredible beauty and emotional richness of their works, to their uniquely collaborative and admirably supportive studio culture. A studio full of young, brilliant creators and dedicated to training more, where artists enjoy full salaries and women’s voices are celebrated, and whose work embodies the unique sensitivity and reverence for small miracles that makes anime such a distinctive and moving medium.
On the morning after the Kyoto Animation fire, the scale of that loss was too great for me to hold or examine. In so many ways, Kyoto Animation is essentially synonymous with my hope and optimism regarding anime as an art form, and it was hard to hope for much of anything upon learning of that terrible crime. I can’t begin to fully articulate or properly capture all the myriad things that make Kyoto Animation so special; their work is too rich for that, too rewarding for any one person to appreciate it in full. All I can hope to tell you is what Kyoto Animation means to me.
The first time I saw a Kyoto Animation production was as a teenager, at an all-day animation festival hosted by a local theater. In spite of that day also serving as my introduction to such impressive productions as Nausicaa and Mind Game, it was an animated version of a bizarre, inexplicable student film production that most stuck in my mind. The first aired episode of Haruhi Suzumiya is an exercise in absolute creator confidence, and also a hilarious love letter to the quirks of cinema, as we're introduced to the show's main cast through the ramshackle student film they create for their school's class festival.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kyoto Animation works so often feature in-universe amateur filmmaking; the studio seems genuinely, deeply awed by the power of cinema, and forever sympathetic to the struggles of ordinary people to create great, lasting art. Haruhi Suzumiya’s student film production feels effortless in a way that embodies Kyoto Animation’s strength—only artists with a brilliant understanding of effective filmmaking could make something so charmingly, believably amateur.
The next time I encountered Kyoto Animation was just after college, when I found my interest in anime rejuvenated by the magnificent Hyouka. Chatting about Hyouka on a weekly basis actually helped me keep in touch with absent friends, as the show itself once again expanded my conception of what anime could achieve.
I knew anime could elevate the Big stories—I’d first fallen in love with the medium through the apocalyptic theater of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and had since then enjoyed plenty of bombastic fantasy shows. But I hadn’t realized just how much gravity and nuance animation could bring to the smallest stories, the intricate human dramas that actually compose the substance of everyday life. Hyouka was a gorgeous, sensitive, and deeply personal production, each new episode offering moments in time so perfectly captured that it almost seemed impossible that humans actually made this. As a viewer, it made me feel noticed and accepted; as an artist, it left me determined to keep fighting, and perhaps one day make beautiful works like this.
The third time I ran into Kyoto Animation, I was doing my best to follow through on that pledge, and working unsatisfying days as a proofreader at a local publishing company. Taking lonely train rides home from a job where I never really fit in, one of my greatest sources of weekly comfort was thinking about the next episode of the goofy, heartfelt Chunibyo. Wanting to express my appreciation of that show was the motivation that pushed me towards writing about anime in forums online, a hobby that would eventually flower into my current work in professional criticism. That goofy romantic comedy about the Tyrant’s Eye and the Dark Flame Master literally changed the course of my life.
Since then, Kyoto Animation’s productions have been a constant source of comfort for me. Stories like Sound! Euphonium and A Silent Voice are beautiful in their own right, and also a reminder that some people in the world care about the same quiet feelings and beautiful, ephemeral moments that I do. In fact, some people have such reverence for those tiny fragments of beauty that they’ve dedicated their lives to celebrating them—to acknowledging how our most personal feelings are valid and laudable, and how the dignity and small pleasures of everyday living can contain just as much human drama, triumph, and sorrow as any epic quest. Stories like Liz and the Blue Bird speak volumes in the most thoughtful and gentle of tones, observing their confused and complex heroes with great sympathy, and celebrating the tiny moments of joy and solace that give our lives meaning.
All of Kyoto Animation’s works are buoyed by such magical and poignantly observed moments, the hushed sighs and missed glances and languid sunsets of a thousand carelessly spent days and irretrievable evenings. Their artists consistently find warmth and majesty in the mundane, their works fervently insisting that all our lives are worthy of celebration. The empathy and closeness of their perspective has been an incredible comfort to me, both as a person who greatly relates to their introspective protagonists, and also as a lover of quiet, delicate cinema. No matter the overt genre of their works, that keen perspective carries through, and that great empathy for everyday lives and the people who live them.
I cannot fully express my gratitude towards Kyoto Animation for all they’ve done for me, or my sorrow at this attack, committed against people whose own business practices echo the empathy and thoughtfulness of their productions. I’ve loved their works, and I love these people for having cared so much, and worked so hard, and been so generous in their moving, inspiring art. For rising to the heights of artistic expression, and using that vantage to insist that all of our lives are suffused with beauty and worthy of song. From that girl Haruhi who was so disappointed by the absence of magic in this world, Kyoto Animation has built a catalog that celebrates all the hidden magic of everyday living. The redemptive solace of lazy days with friends, the quiet dignity of practicing for a competition, the harrowing vulnerability of expressing how much you care; Kyoto Animation has celebrated all these and more, embodying all the greatest qualities of this marvelous art form.
I wish Kyoto Animation’s staff and families all the best in overcoming this terrible tragedy, and can only say once more how important their stories have been to me, and how much they have brightened my own life. Thank you for everything, Kyoto Animation.
If you would like to support Kyoto Animation in the wake of this tragedy, please consider contributing to Rightstuf’s direct donation initiative, which makes it easy to contribute on whatever scale you’d like. Please take care of yourselves, and I hope you continue to celebrate Kyoto Animation’s stunning creations for many years to come.