I love anime. We go way back, to be honest. We're tight. One might even call me an "anime fan" or something crazy like that. And in my formative years, back when I was rocking a Naruto headband and a vocabulary of broken Japanese that annoyed everybody else in my school, there was one studio who I loved more than anyone else. That studio was Kyoto Animation. These people? These people knew what they were doing. You want your emotions punched in the gut? They brought you Air. Want some weird humor that was incredibly inaccessible to anyone not versed in useless Japanese pop culture? Lucky Star had you covered. Oh, yeah, and you want a masterpiece that changed the modern anime landscape, for better or worse? The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was exactly that.
But like the legendary game studio Rare, something went wrong. They got too big for their own good. A formula that they created started backfiring every time they tried to repeat it. You know those people on Facebook who post a repost of a repost of a repost of a lame "meme" that wasn't funny when it was posted four years ago? Yeah, that's what KyoAni is now. A badly compressed JPEG that isn't funny, and should be eradicated from existence. Whenever I say this, though, some people jump me. "How dare you! Their shows are so pretty!" "Oh, you're just an angry fanboy mad about Free!, you sexist!" So, to those people, I'm writing this, My definitive five reasons on why KyoAni, as it once was, is dead, and is now a deranged serial killer wearing a suit of the studio's old flesh.
5. (Almost) Everything After 2009 or So Is Subjectively Awful
With her in the picture, the show went straight to the same place JonTron's credibility has gone in the past few weeks, which is to say, straight to the septic tank. Just to be clear, that's where your poop goes. And with it went the quality of almost every KyoAni production. While I would defend Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya as one of the best animated films in history, and while the first season of Chuunibyou was solid, everything else is... it's... it's just not good. I've tried watching Nichijou on three separate occasions and had to stop for my own sanity. Hyouka is patently bad. The second season of Chuunibyou made me want to vomit and cry into said vomit. Tamako Market did the same thing to me, only with more vomit and more tears. And Beyond the Boundary did a thing right, then did ten things wrong, and repeated that cycle for everything I've seen of it so far.
Oh, yeah, and Free!? Free! is the all-male equivalent to awful fan-service shows. I'm not discriminating against female fans when I say this, because I hate all shows like this. Fan-service shows are the actual worst, no matter who they're geared towards, and Free! is no exception. There is no plot. Everyone is a walking stereotype. The music sounds like dubstep flatulence. The pretty animation is wasted on pandering garbage. It's... it's just awful. I mean, of course, all of this is in my subjective opinion, and by all means, disagree with me if you must. Just know that you're wrong.
4. They Do The Same Shit Over And Over And...
And before the angry comments I've received on Tumblr any time I dare to speak ill of the almighty Kyoto Animation gods screech in, "they're just being faithful to the source material" is not a valid excuse. Yes, I know a majority of their productions are based on light novels and comic strips. Thing is? There are hundreds of light novels published in Japan each year, and a healthy amount of four-panel gag strips out there. But no. The people in charge of KyoAni cherry-pick material that's similar to their past stuff, complete with tired archetypes and plot progression, then wing it from there. They add in some "aww look how cute X character is" and "oh X character seems bad but they're really sweet" moments, use their ridiculously talented animation staff on some useless skirt flutters and hair flips, then call it a day. It's sad. No, actually, it's not. It's actually pathetic.
The same characters, the same settings, the same concepts... it just gets old after a while. Even the good stuff, like the first season of Chuunibyou, is good because it's almost within vague striking distance of Haruhi, not because it's good on its own. And before more angry comments tell me that Nichijou and Tamako Market are original productions, well... yeah. That proves my point. Those shows are unfunny and uninspired, and sometimes, I forget they exist. And my life is better for it.
3. They've Become What Haruhi and Lucky Star Made Fun Of
Lucky Star is a fucking great show. Like, look. I'm talking up Haruhi like it's a masterpiece, and make no mistake, it is. It fucking is. It's an ingenious piece of entertainment that everyone needs to fucking watch, and I mean, my religion on Facebook is still firmly set to "Haruhiist," so saying I "like" that show would be a vast understatement. But Lucky Star? Man, it's a fantastic comedy. It's not easy to get. It's not for audiences who don't "get it." But those who do love it, and for good reason? It's an on-the-nose subversion of moe tropes, calling itself out for its usage of stereotypes and cliches. To me, it's a rare gem of a show, and one that every anime fan should at least try to watch, even if you end up not liking it. There aren't many things quite like it out there, outside of like... Seinfeld. And that's not even an anime. Although a Seinfeld anime sounds fucking bomber. Sure would make up for Bee Movie.
But I digress. What made Lucky Star so good, aside from solid writing and clever gags, was the permeating sense that the writers knew damn good and well what they were doing. The sense that every trope, every cliche, every "anime moment" was put in there intentionally. It was a wink and nod to anime viewers, and it was great. Of course, then, it ran into the Haruhi problem. KyoAni thought the stuff that made it work wasn't all that, but the atmosphere of cloying cuteness that felt wholly ironic in the actual show. Instead, they banked on that, stripped the rest, and repackaged it into more and more shows. Somehow, these people missed the point of their own damn production. They went from making ironically humorous, cutesy slice-of-life shows with the occasional bizarre happening to making unironically cutesy slice-of-life junk that had "bizarre stuff" that wasn't so much "bizarre" as it was "flaming stupidity that shouldn't exist."
Same thing with Haruhi. The titular character states what archetypes a good club needs, what needs to happen to keep a series interesting... so on, so forth. Hell, she even has a short conversation about different camera angles that end up getting utilized later on the actual series. Again, sly self-awareness. And again, something that later KyoAni shows lacked. It seems like they realized a formula of "sickening cuteness + school clubs - depth = merchandising wet dream." Which is sad, because I really thought more of them than that. I feel kind of cheated on for ever trusting them.
2. They Brought Us Into The Dark Ages
Look, the anime industry almost died in North America. Some may even say it was dead for a while. But it's never died in Japan. Some people claim that "X thing is killing anime" or "Y thing is ending the anime industry," but let's face it, it's always kept on chugging along. Like those underground machines in Metropolis (the silent movie, not the anime,) the ones run by slaves. Whether you know it or not, the industry keeps on basically printing its own money. So, no, anime didn't need "saving" by Trigger, even though Kill La Kill was a pretty damn fine show despite some problems. And no, nothing is really destroying the anime industry. But with that said, something insidious and awful was happening for the longest time, and we're finally starting to see the death knells of it in recent years. And I'd argue KyoAni is behind this. You know what I'm talking about. Horrible, insipid, "cuteness for cuteness' sake" anime, or "let's make a club" anime, or... well, you get the idea. I mean, look at Tamako Market. Just... just look at it.
When Haruhi hit big, it looked like a perfect storm. No one would be able to replicate it. But when KyoAni was able to crank out lesser shows that still made serious bank, more and more studios started paying attention. Cheap knock-offs like YuruYuri, Softenni, Chronicles of the Going Home Club, and others bubbled to the surface like gaseous bubbles in a dirty swamp. Now, I'm not saying all of these shows were bad. LoveLab, for example, is an excellent show, and Encouragement of Climb is a genuinely cute series with some great direction. But most of these have been absolute garbage, and should be treated as such. That isn't to say this hasn't happened before. Evangelion struck gold, and several studios tried their hands at "heady, smart sci-fi." Akira was a global hit and you bet your ass there was a flood of "gritty futuristic action with copious gore" hit the market. But at least that stuff was interesting, shocking, engaging. Shows about cute girls and boys doing cute things in a cute way with cute widdle pwoblems just... just aren't. Not to me, anyway. I know some people live and die by that shit.
Point is, KyoAni set a horrible example for the entire anime industry, and stifled creativity for a good while there. Luckily, good shows were able to surface while that sickness ran its course, like Rainbow and Flowers of Evil and other stuff that isn't pandering bullshit. I've noticed a decline in KyoAni runoff in recent seasons, too, which is nice. Still, it's hard for me to look at the studio the same way again after the horrible flood of garbage people have had to wade through for good shows.
1. I'm An Opinionated and Bitter Person
I've been watching anime for a long time. Oh, wait, I gave you that spiel earlier. Anyway. That means a few things. It means I've seen a lot of anime. It also means I've seen a lot of good stuff, and a lot of bad stuff. And in turn? That means I have incredibly high standards for anything. And when something impresses me, I expect a lot from the people behind it. For example, I vehemently dislike Psycho-Pass not because it's necessarily a terrible show, but because I expect more from the man who gave us Madoka Magica. And the thing is, when a studio or creator impresses me several times in a row, I start expecting more and more great things from them. Full Metal Panic! FUMOFFU, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Air, Lucky Star... these are all shows Kyoto Animation made up through the mid-2000's, and they were all wonderful. They all helped shape my tastes, make me love anime even more.
And then? Well, they started making pretty ordinary stuff. Stuff that played it safe, and from a studio that never played it safe in their earlier works, I guess I expected more. Which is incredibly unrealistic, I know. It's incredibly privileged and unfair to think a studio, comprised of dozens of unique members that come and go over the years, would stay consistent throughout the years. They need to stay afloat, and to do that, they need to do what sells. And they've found what sells, to the detriment of the initial bursts of creativity and brilliance they displayed. Which sucks, yes, but it's not the end of the world, I think. There will be more shows that knock my socks off like Haruhi and Lucky Star did, and in fact, there already have been.
So yeah. For those who stuck through my rant, I apologize for the bait-and-switch. I did it to prove a point. I'm an angry white nerdy guy on the internet who complains about Japanese cartoons. And sometimes, that makes me feel objectively right. But I know I'm not. I know my standards are a bit too high sometimes, All the stuff above is stuff I've been saying for a while, but this? This my big "but maybe" moment. Of course, KyoAni's stuff isn't nearly as good as it has been in the past. Of course it isn't. But maybe? Maybe I need to stop being stop being so pissed off and appreciate the actual good anime that comes out every season.
And I think that's what I'll do. Ah, yeah, and rewatch Haruhi for the 4th or 5th time.