Kyoto Animation (KyoAni) is one of the most well-known anime studios around, and was founded in 1981. Although KyoAni has only produced seven original series since their inception, they have contributed significantly to the production of several extremely well-known anime, with K-On and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yaatsu among some of the titles that they have produced. KyoAni products are of a fairly high quality (especially with respect to artwork and animation) and tend to focus on slice-of-life related elements. My interest in their works was piqued by a rather unusual source: an Otafest panel during 2010. After a bit of digging around the material a YouTube user posted, I decided to pick up Lucky Star. I would not be disappointed, as evidenced by the content of this page...
KyoAni produces anime that are oftentimes polarising in the anime community, especially with respect to thedesign of the characters. However, I consider myself to be separate from these communities, and as such, their opinions have little weight in figuring what I watch and don't watch. It's almost impossible to get a good assessment of the anime produced by KyoAni; regardless of whether that review came from a respected site or a more less well-known one, there is undoubtedly a certain degree of polarization; people either love their anime or hate it for their own reasons. However, the nature of the community should hardly be a factor in deciding the worth of an anime. I've mentioned this before, but I didn't show up to shamelessly praise or brutally stomp on a series: if it's here, I enjoyed it, and I'll be pointing out why I enjoyed it. From a personal standpoint, KyoAni anime are highly enjoyable to watch for character interactions and the animation quality itself. Simple and fun to watch, these series exemplify how light-hearted anime lacking a strong central story can nonetheless be extremely entertaining.
Okazaki Tomoya is a delinquent who finds life dull and believes he'll never amount to anything. Along with his friend Sunohara, he skips school and plans to waste his high school days away.
One day while walking to school, Tomoya passes a young girl muttering quietly to herself. Without warning she exclaims "Anpan!" (a popular Japanese food) which catches Tomoya's attention. He soon discovers the girl's name is Furukawa Nagisa and that she exclaims things she likes in order to motivate herself. Nagisa claims they are now friends, but Tomoya walks away, passing the encounter off as nothing.
However, Tomoya finds he is noticing Nagisa more and more around school. Eventually he concedes and befriends her. Tomoya learns Nagisa has been held back a year due to a severe illness and that her dream is to revive the school's drama club. Claiming he has nothing better to do, he decides to help her achieve this goal along with the help of four other girls. As Tomoya spends more time with the girls, he learns more about them and their problems. As he attempts to help each girl overcome her respective obstacle, he begins to realise life isn't as dull as he once thought.
CLANNAD- Personal Opinion
CLANNAD typically refers to the first of the two seasons produced by KyoAni. From hearing that producer alone, I find it unnecessary to review the visuals and music. Instead, this discussion will concern some elements found within CLANNAD that are worthwhile for those seeking an engaging drama. CLANNAD is broken up into two seasons: I will refer to the first simply as CLANNAD in my discussions. The first of the seasons is an introduction to the intricacies and depth that is found within the original visual novel and as such, focusses on character developement. It is titled after an interpretation of the Irish phrase 'clannad', which refers to family and friends. This forms the central foundation for both CLANNAD and its successor, CLANNAD After Story. Whereas the latter is family-driven, the first season is predominantly driven by the role of friends in an individual's live, and in particular, how friends can help individuals through a particularly difficult point in their lives. The family is the basic unit in society, being the closest form of interpersonal relationship amongst individuals. This is hardly surprising, since these are the people that one spends a vast majority of their lives with. It naturally follows that families provide support and assistance for individuals during difficult times; CLANNAD takes this premise and presents things from the perspective of an individual who lacks these connections.
Tomoya Okazaki is the individual in question, and is also the protagonist of the series. Tomoya has been labeled a delinquent, or a young person who defies authority due to his non-committal attitude towards school and general apathy towards living life; at the beginning of the story, he even hates the city he has lived in all his life where CLANNAD is set. He is very straightforward in his comments to others and will not hesitate to speak his mind, even if he comes off as rude during such times. Despite this, Tomoya is very loyal to his friends, and has been known to dedicate himself for those around him in need of help or support. He generally has a selfless personality and does not ask much from others in return for what he does for them. The anime was originally inspired by the visual novel, and as such, has distinct visual novel elements, especially with respect to the plot development. CLANNAD is told in a number of arcs; individual arcs focus on a specific character and their family central problems. As the story progresses, Tomoya and Nagisa helps that individual identify their problem and find means of solving it. These events allow Tomoya to appreciate the significance of personal bonds, while Nagisa develops a greater degree of courage. These interactions draw Tomoya and Nagisa closer with the other characters, eventually leading them to become friends. Each of these arcs are cleanly executed and resolved in a relatable fashion. While the arcs do not have any particularly profound elements, they are developed in such a way as to give them emotional weight and rationalise their significance to the story.
CLANNAD After Story- Personal Opinion
CLANNAD After Story is an instance where the sequel turns out to surpass and outperform everything that its successor had already excelled at. Reviews out there score After Story as a masterpiece, and for good reason: After Story is a subtle reminder to be thankful for the countless blessings that one encounters in life, and that there is hope even when all lights fade. Whereas CLANNAD is about the role of friendship as a support measure and their significance, After Story is predominantly about family, ranging from the defining moments to the simpler, subtle details one encounters in their day-to-day experiences. In order to direct the story along this path, After Story does something none of the anime I've previously seen do: it depicts Tomoya's life following high school and his passage from being a student to a member of society. Following graduation, Tomoya initially works at the Furakawa's bakery and later becomes an electrician. His marriage to Nagisa and the trials the two go through are consistent with reality: rather than simply making things work out like in a classic fairy tail, After Story directs the plot in a direction to drive home the point that life is not sunshine and rainbows. Over the years that follow, viewers see Tomoya doing his utmost to overcome his problems, and when he finds himself incapable, others take the helm. After Story is abtly named, being the continuation of a story following the original story.
With this in mind, the first half to After Story is structured similarly to CLANNAD in that it is still set in high school. It is nothing spectacular- it is precisely becuase of this gradual transition into adulthood that Tomoya's experiences become more human and easier to relate to. There is one particular point about Tomoya's character that is worth mentioning: his willingness to accept his shortcomings and continue taking care of Ushio is perhaps the most poignant and significant action within After Story, by far being more significant than any death, break-up or backstory for one reason alone. Tomoya demonstrates exemplary responsibility by admiting his faults and making the decision to set things right; while he and Ushio are initially distant, Tomoya comes to realise what it means to be a father. Thus, he is simutaneously able to come to terms with his own father and also accepts gratefully the responsibility of being a good father to Ushio. Tomoya does indeed neglect to take care of Ushio early on, but his desire to do so after they reunite is the key point: this is the responsibility that all parents should uphold. This is the single most profound standing point in CLANNAD After Story and alone makes the sequel worth watching; other viewers have found CLANNAD After Story to be a life changing experience, being similar to an epithany of sorts. While I myself cannot consider this to hold true for anything I watch, such recollections bear testament to the kind of emotions that a sufficiently well-made anime can invoke in its users.
As a young child, Aizawa Yuuichi had often visited his cousin in the city. However, something drastic happened to keep him away for seven long years. Now, Yuuichi returns, his memories of those days are simply gone. Settling into the wintry town, Yuuichi comes across several young girls, all of whom are connected to his past. As he befriends them and continues to interact with them, the long forgotten memories from his childhood begin to resurface.
During Yui Hirasawa's first year in high school, she searches eagerly for a club to join. At the same time, Ritsu Tainaka, a drummer, and her friend Mio Akiyama, a bassist, are desperately trying to save the school's light music club, which is about to be disbanded due to lack of members. They manage to recruit Tsumugi Kotobuki to play the keyboard, meaning they only need one more member to get the club running again. Yui joins, thinking it will be an easy experience for her to play the castanets, the only instrument she knows. However, the other members think their new addition is actually a guitar prodigy. When the final year of high school rolls around for Yui Hirasawa (guitar), Ritsu Tainaka (drums), Mio Akiyama (bass), and Tsumugi Kotobuki (keyboard), together with their junior member Azusa Nakano (guitar), they spend their days after school in the music room enjoying tea and sweets, and practicing music. Amidst band practice, preparations for the new student orientation performance, scouting for new members, and student responsibilities they still have time for "After School Tea Time".
One of the most noticeable aspects of K-On! that is perhaps an unexpected factor was the degree of character development each of these individuals received. Each character begins with the classic archetypes, but as the series progresses, each gradually acquires uniquely-defining traits. When coupled with the series' depiction of friendship, the subtle and dynamic nature means that the particularly emotional scenes are far more effective without relying on excessive drama. In general, the art in the series adds an additional degree of depth to the series, and while the cinematography is at times limited (i.e. animating the more intricate details of the girls playing their instruments), the methods nonetheless give rise to a sense of creativity when we consider how camera angles are used to depict the various moments. Despite being a well-done anime series, there exist many individuals who dislike this series owing to its premise. I full well understand that K-On! is a moé series, which simply means that particular emphasis is paid to making the characters appear more endearing to the audiences. While K-On! does take this to new heights, this factor alone is simply a style of storytelling and insufficient to make the series unwatchable. K-On! stands exceedingly well on its own merits, although not every individual out there shares this perspective. As a bioinformatian who is dealing with algorithms and gene sequencing problems on a daily basis, it is refreshing to be able to watch an anime that puts a smile on my face.
As Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi try to think of a present to give to Azusa before they graduate, they all decide to go to London for their graduation trip. Upon arriving, they end up having to give a performance at a sushi restaurant after being mistaken for Ritsu's friend's band, Love Crisis. As the girls enjoy the sights, Azusa seems to be rather cautious around Yui's odd behavior, having almost walked in on their plans before. Later, the girls are asked to do a performance for a Japanese Pop Culture Fair, where they are soon joined by Sawako, before they catch their flight back to Japan. Upon returning home, the girls perform a special live concert in their classroom. Afterwards, Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi work in secret to prepare a special song for Azusa, which they present to her on the day of their graduation.
The K-On! Movie remains one of the most anticipated movies of 2011, although for logistical reasons, also holds the distinction of being one of the more anticipated movies of 2012. This is for a good reason: the movie essentially amplifies everything that made the TV series so successful and is, for the lack of a more suitable term, awesome. The entire plot (and its execution) in the K-On! is straightforward: Hokago Tea Time go to London and write a song for Azusa. The character dynamics, coupled with everyday events like going to an airport, exploring a foreign nation and playing things by ear, lend a considerable amount of comedy to the movie. Character dynamics have formed the bulk of the plot in the conventional TV series and continues to do so; indeed, the movie feels a lot like an extended TV episode. However, movies have a greater degree of freedom in setup with respect to context. In this case, the girls set out on a trip to London, England (not London, Ontario). While this is initially done as a pretext to conceal the fact that they are trying to get a gift for Azusa, the trip becomes reality. The majority of the movie is focussed on the girls exploring various aspects of London, and returns to Japan in the final act of the movie as they finalize their graduation gift for Azusa. Thus, the movie can be seen as being broken into three distinct acts: the prelude going to London, exploration of London and finally, the preparations to give Azusa her gift. Finally, the animation deserves special mention; while viewers have come to expect high quality work from KyoAni, the K-On! Movie is animated a step above its TV counterparts, featuring more innovative camera effects in addition to the subtleties and contributes to the sense that this really is a movie and not merely a 2-hour special; with sweeping angles, viewers are treated to a sense of immersiveness that even the TV series did not evoke.
The opening act is executed in the familiar manner viewers have come to expect from K-On! and is centred around the carefree atmosphere surrounding the girls as they both struggle to decide on a suitable gift for Azusa and prepare for their trip to London. Once the logistics are setup, they arrive at the airport and immediately set about doing ordinary things with the Hokago Tea Time flair. Thus, viewers will note their own amusement at watching Yui and Ritsu mess around with the moving walkways, and Mio's overwhelming sense of awe at the sight of commercial aircraft. The flight to London is equally as enjoyable to watch, especially with respect to Yui and Azusa's attempts at wielding English. However, things really pick up once the girls arrive in London. Their limited English does not prevent them from enjoying the scenery in London to the fullest extent possible. Their travels set to a montage, some may find this scene a little rushed, reflecting on the sense of time during a vacation in a foreign nation, capturing not only the excitement and unfamiliarity surrounding travel in an overseas nation, but also how much of a blur things seem to go when one is having a good time in general. With this pacing in mind, no attention is spared to the details of the landmarks and settings the girls visit. It is clear that the K-On! movie goes to great lengths to capture these emotions and ultimately succeeds; one of the more subtle elements involves the choice to request native British English speakers to take on the role of the British citizens. In the original theatrical film, their dialogue lacked subtitles. These scenes prove easy enough to understand for native English speakers, but those unfamiliar with the language will probably be just as lost as the girls (except Mio, who demonstrates a reasonable level of skill in comprehension) as they try to talk with hotel staff and restaurant management. The language barrier sets up for an unusual turn of events: performances in London venues. Despite the context shifting so dramatically (and being somewhat unrealistic), the girls rise to the occasions magnificently and put on spectacular performances. These lapses in reality remind the audience that the movie is indeed fiction and that out-of-this-world stuff is possible. In the movie's context, it gives the girls an opportunity to perform in a foreign locale, while simultaneously reflecting how "Hokago Tea Time will always be Hokago Tea Time".
The final act returns the girls to Japan and with it, an overlap between the movie and the TV series, presenting the same events from a different angle. From the TV series, we note that Yui is running late on the day of graduation, but the reason is not explicitly stated. The movie then tells us that Yui is, in fact, trying to finalise Tenshi ni Fureta yo. From a personal standpoint, the final act is reminiscient of software development in that it shows the viewers how song development progresses, as well as how sometimes, inspiration can stem from the most unusual of places. The analogy is that people end up seeing the final product in all its glory (as well as its flaws) without seeing how the product reached its final state. In seeing Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi build this song, the extent of their feelings for Azusa become immediately clear and serves as the most natural, logical conclusion to the entire series. The K-On! Movie is ultimately successful for the same reasons that the TV series was so successful: it depicts a school trip in a polished, clean manner and accentuates the idea that the memories that an event has the potential to be arises not from the event itself, but rather, the people one participates in said event with. At this point in time, I can safely say that all the K-On! fans have already watched and enjoyed the movie, so no recommendations for them need to be made. However, the movie's plot is sufficiently standalone and focussed such that first-time anime fans might find this to be a suitable gateway into anime.
Lucky Star portrays the lives of several school girls attending a Japanese high school with a very loose, humourous tone. The main heroine is Konata Izumi, an athletic and intelligent girl who, despite these attributes, is not in a sports club, and her grades remain low. Her laziness at school is due to her love for anime and video games; she is not interested in much else.
Lucky Star is Azumanga Daioh kicked up a notch; from the way the episodes are written, the show seems to be a strong parody of otaku in general. The main appeal from the show comes from the innumerable anime and game references that Konata make throughout the show, as well as the parodies of how over-the-top anime can be at times. Lucky Star runs with the premise behind other slice-of-life anime, although in the case of Lucky Star, there is absolutely no plot whatsoever, with episodes broken down into two sections. The main section focusses on the lives of the main characters, while the second section is the Lucky Channel. Unlike other slice-of-life anime, the references and humour in Lucky Star derive off conversations and character interactions. In particular, the dynamics between Konata and Kagami drive a great deal of the humour behind the events; their interactions greatly resemble those between Tomo (Konata) and Yomi (Kagami). The other aspect about Lucky Star that is worth mentioning is the attention to subtle details; a sharp-eyed viewer will notice that Tsukasa's hair ribbon will spring up if she's happy, wilt if she's sad and spikes when she's shocked. Altogether, Lucky Star is a rewarding and enjoyable experience for anime fans, although those new to anime will likely not derive the same feelings from the same moments.
On the first day of high school a beautiful girl named Haruhi Suzumiya introduces herself as having "no interest in ordinary humans". She asks for any aliens, time travelers, sliders or espers to join her. Watching her weird behaviour is Kyon who sits in front of Haruhi and is the only person who talks to her. When Kyon comments about Haruhi's joining every club in school and then quitting he unwittingly gives Haruhi an idea to start her own after school club. Thereafter Kyon and several others find themselves dragged, literally, into the Save our world by Overloading it with fun Suzumiya Haruhi's Brigade (the S.O.S. Brigade for short).
Suzumiya Haruhi is an unusual and innovative anime, especially with respect to the structure of the plot and how events occur. The series will swing between science fiction and slice-of-life at the drop of a hat, allowing for the supernatural to be juxtaposed with the mundane- it is this that drives the central element of the story, and the character developments that accompany it. For me, the thing that stood out about this series was Haruhi's nature and how it affects the growth of other characters. I will not discuss the other aspects, as everything interesting about this anime could probably comfortably occupy a small book. As the title character, Suzumiya Haruhi's personality and goals are driven by the polar opposites to those of Kyon: she desires excitement, and goes to great lengths to create excitement. In fact, Kyon aside, each of the Brigade members are present to ensure that Haruhi does not become sufficiently bored, lest terrible things happen. The implications are that Haruhi is a god of some kind, but again, this is merely one perspective. I find that this analogy is a rather clever one on KyoAni's part, for if Haruhi were bored, in a sense, the world that they reside in would end due to a lack of marketing value. If there is nothing to watch, then the audiences would doubtlessly seek greener pastures, thus taking the series with it. Fortunately, the S.O.S Brigade are successful at keeping Haruhi (and the audience) entertained with their activities. There is a more sci-fi-esque side to the series, concerning alternate realities and their relation to Haruhi's mood. Haruhi, though she desires the extraordinary, is typically stuck with the mundane. Conversely, Kyon initially only wishes to be ordinary, but is thrown into supernatural events. His experiences motivate him to be more open minded and ultimately draw Haruhi and Kyon closer together, which would explain why he is in the S.O.S Brigade despite lacking any notable abilities. I feel compelled to say that Kyon's presence is likely a consequence of Haruhi's own feelings, but that matter is a rather troublesome. When all is considered, the turbulent and amusing events in Suzumiya Haruhi drive character growth, which, in the end, makes it an incredibly entertaining series to watch.
It is mid-december, and SOS Brigade chief Haruhi Suzumiya announces that the Brigade is going to hold a Christmas party in their clubroom, with Japanese hotpot for dinner. The brigade members Kyon, Yuki Nagato, Mikuru Asahina and Itsuki Koizumi start preparing everything for the party, such as costumes and decorations. But a couple of days later, Kyon arrives at school only to find that Haruhi is missing. Not only that, but Mikuru claims she has never known Kyon before, Koizumi is also missing, and Yuki has become the sole member of the literature club. The SOS Brigade seems to have never existed, nor has Haruhi Suzumiya. No one in the school has ever heard about her… except for Kyon.
Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu (which I will refer to as 'Disappearance' from this point for the sake of convienence) is, quite simply put, a masterpiece. Every aspect, from the plot's focus on the character's response to a changed world, to the animation and music, is seamlessly woven together to form a film that excels in every respect. The film lasts about 2 hours and 41 minutes, which gives us plenty of time to explore Nagato's more human side, something which manifests as a shy girl who has feelings for Kyon, as well as Kyon's attempts to come to terms with himself and ultimately take responsibility for his decisions. While the Nagato side was brilliantly executed, Kyon's plot convinced me that Disappearance was everything that makes a movie worth watching; watching Kyon interact in a world he had always desired since meeting Haruhi, and his subsequent rejection of a normal world in favour of the one he had grown accustomed to, is most telling of how he had changed since meeting Haruhi and forming the SOS Brigade with her. Kyon's choice of a unique world over a mundane one is reminiscient of Neo's choice in the Matrix. In both cases, the protagonists choose a path that yields more enlightenment, but also forces more responsibility on the indiviudal. It is choice that drives us and defines us- in Kyon's case, we know that he has come to truely appreciate being a member of the SOS Brigade and is willing to enschew the ordinary simply to be with the people he feels closest to. For me, this aspect finally convinced me of the sheer depth of story in Disappearance, which, coupled with the integration of time travel, ultimately created a powerful story.
With its clever use of scene direction, clever camera angles, and matching the intricacies of references and foreshadowing, a clever viewer will fit all of the pieces together and gain insights into sides of the story that are overlooked by a passerby. Long story short, the movie is an exemplary masterpiece of Tanigawa Nagaru's skill in weaving such an intricate story, raising the bar for how storytelling techniques may be wielded to their fullest potential. I remember getting into Suzumiya Haruhi out of curiosity (from Lucky Star's references to it), but having seen the movie, I can say that this is a series I now have great respect for.
Tamako knows just about everything there is to know about mochi, the traditional Japanese dessert treats. When she's not attending her first year of high school, she even invents new flavors and varieties for Tama-ya, her family's mochi shop. School and growing up, on the other hand, are some things that she's still trying to find the right recipe for. But with the help of her best friends Kanna and Midori, two girls whose parents run businesses in the same shopping district, Tamako's determined to make the best of things. It's complicated though, especially when it comes to emotions and her relationship with her best boy friend Mochizou, whose family runs a rival mochi shop. And lately, Midori's been feeling a little odd about her feelings towards Tamako as well. And what's with up with that strange bird fluttering around, the one that speaks fluent Japanese? It's all very mysterious and overwhelming, but at least Tamako always has one thing she can count on: No matter if your day's been good or bad, there's certain to be something sugary and delicious waiting at the end of every adventure whenever you take a walk through Tamako Market!
Tamako Market ends up being a simple anime about life in a local market that brings one unique element to the table: an anthropomorphic bird, Dera, that does much to add to the comedy behind the series. This single element lends itself to all kinds of amusement, whether it be Dera’s adherence to his homeland’s customs or the consequences of a diet, making each episode a riot as far as Dera is concerned. The series began as a simple slice-of-life anime about everyday life in the market district (and Dera's misadventures here), but the narrative shifts suddenly as the series progresses episodes, introducing elements that would have warranted exploration in greater detail: Tamako’s announcement and dismissal as a potential bride was an element that did not appear to contribute to the story overall, being presented far too quickly to have any appreciable effect. However, this is not a significant concern- as a whole, Tamako Market does an outstanding job of selling itself as a story about the daily life of Usagiyama market’s shopkeepers and their families, and perhaps more visibily, how the close-knit environment here allows them to maintain balance in their life even as extraordinary events occur. Thus, even as foreign characters arrive and change Tamako's life, Tamako is able integrate everyone, whether it be Dera or Choi, into their community. This simple, warm environment allows the anime to excel at invoking a sense of happiness and nostalgia in its viewers, even if the story does end up getting the short straw in the end. With beautiful visuals, as well as music that reflects on the atmosphere surrounding Tamako's daily life and the Usagiyama market's laid-back atmosphere, Tamako Market might be better classified as a healing anime in the same vein as Tamayura: both anime ultimately present these relaxing, nostalgic environments that simply allow one to relax at day's end.