Thank You Kyoto Animation

After the horrific tragedy that occurred last July, I knew I needed to write as near a perfect personal tribute to the wonderful people at Kyoto Animation as I am able to before I would even contemplate continuing to write about anime. It seemed like the right and proper thing to do, as well as being the bare minimum I needed to do as so much of the joy that anime has given me in the 15+ years I’ve watched it has been connected to Kyoto Animation.

While the intent as obvious to me, the form of such a tribute alluded me. I almost decided on doing a countdown of my favorite KyoAni works, in part because I’d been thinking of doing one for years now, but realized after further reflection that some clickbaity sounding article was not even close to what Kyoto Animation deserved from me. A better option would have been a long post where I talked about an assorted list of favorites and I almost started blocking such a post out. I realized I still wasn’t happy with this idea since I could really make such a post about any animation studio. As I worked slowly towards the answer, I also realized that I sort of didn’t want to find the answer. Doing so would acknowledge what happened, make it a fact, and remove any space in my brain to retreat to and imagine Schrodinger’s box is still unopened. Incidentally, that’s why I’ve never watched Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue; once I do then there are no more movies of his I can look forward to seeing and I have to acknowledge he’s been gone for 9 years now.

To combat my disinclination to post this, I signed up for this year’s Anime Secret Santa that the website all geek’s considered is continuing from the tradition started by Reverse Thieves. To post my review for that, I need to write this first 🙂 .

And I eventually realized why I’m so uniquely thankful for Kyoto Animation. Episode 0 of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina.

There was never a time I didn’t watch animation, though I wasn’t always an enthusiastic watcher of said animation. Growing up I had the Saturday morning cartoons and there was Looney Tunes, but, I eventually reached the point where I decided I was “too mature” for cartoons and hated that my younger siblings had priority for the TV which meant I watched the animated movies of the Disney Renaissance so many times it was a point of embarrassment that I hid back then. I was okay with and loved more “mature” series like Batman: The Animated Series – I thought they were almost as good as a live action show.

Cartoon Network with their new series like Johnny Bravo, Daxter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, etc. kept me watching and enjoying animated shows. I discovered anime when I noticed the cartoons I sometimes caught my one younger sister watching during the afternoon Toonami block – Yu Yu Hakusho and Rurouni Kenshin – were pretty darn good. Around the same time I saw a trailer for Spirited Away and decided I needed to see it. I realized the grimmy rundown art house cinema in my rusting steel belt town was actually playing Spirited Away and, finding a single solitary person who was willing to go with me, I went to a screening were the two of us were the only people in the whole theater. I remember joking before the movie started how we could do anything during the movie and there’d be no one to stop us. The joke was on me because Spirited Away left me transfixed; I’m not sure I even blinked during the movie.

I became a fledgling anime fan and slowly consumed more and more anime. By 2006 I grew to following about a half dozen series each season as they aired in Japan in the only way fans of anime before streaming could. If asked I still wouldn’t have said that animated shows were on the same level as a really good live action show, though, since everything in those days had turned into reality shows on American TV, they were a better pick for someone who enjoyed a good story.

Then the Spring 2006 anime season started and the anime corner of the internet ignited over the first episode of a new show called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya even before it had been fansubbed. When I finally had the chance to see it, I was once again blown away by an anime. This time not from awesome beauty like in Spirited Away, but from how well that first episode was able to mimic a poorly made movie created by high school kids. I watched that first episode over 30 times in the week before the next episode aired; to this day I’ve never watched a single episode of anything that many times. I was in awe of the talent and effort it took to create this episode and it finally lead to an epiphany moment.

I realized at it’s most basic, live action shows and animation shows are two opposite approaches at creating the same thing.

Live action movies and series create their show by chipping away and focusing on the story they want to tell. A webcam feed of Times Square is not a movie. A pair of webcams that follow two people before, during, and after a date at Times Square begins to look movie-ish. Someone editing the footage down into a 2 hour block of footage trying to catch the highlights looks more movie-like. Trimming and focusing things even more through the use of cinematography finally brings a movie into being – in this case a romantic comedy. On the other hand, with an animated show there is nothing at the start, just a pile of blank paper, pens, pencils, paints or, more recently, a blank computer screen and a stylus. Everything has to be consciously added into an animated show. Animated shows have to answer the question of what is needed to include for a show to be a success and live action shows have to answer the question of what is needed to be removed for a show to be a success.

Of course it’s not that simple. For example, lots of things are normally needed to be added to a live action show for it to be complete, with a musical score and special effects being two big examples. These aren’t, however, a requirement. And it also explains why it’s possible for random cars to be seen off in the distance in the Lord of Rings movies or to a see a modern coffee cup during an episode of Game of Thrones and for similar mistakes to be an impossible thing in an animated show.

This realization of the opposite natures of live action vs. animation made me finally realize an animated creation is not inherently inferior to a live action creation – they’re different but equal. And there are times that an animated show is plainly better. The live action Disney remake of Aladdin was an all-around inferior product to the original animated movie. And imagine if Kyoto Animation had done an animated version of Cats versus how completely wrong the currently showing live-action Cats movie looks. To name two examples.

So, for getting me to finally give animation as a whole the appreciation it deserves – thank you, Kyoto Animation. And thank you for all the tears I shed, laughs I laughed, smiles I smiled, and all those moments of wonder that your terrific and talented crew forever implanted into my mind. My life and so many other people around the world have been made better because of you.

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