Everyone might forget that Kyoto Animation (though now more known for more moe/BL shows) was once an animation studio that only produced quality shows. Remember Clannad? How about Full Metal Panic? What about Haruhi? Kyoto Animation in what is now referred to as its golden years, had the world of anime by the balls. Any show that they made instantly became a cultural hit and a near masterpiece. Nowadays it seems that all they’re good for is appealing to certain fetishes of people and throwing in above average animation. Yes, I’m talking about Free, K-On, and now Musaigen no Phantom World. When they’re not appealing to people’s fetishes, they’re making a washed up show like Hyouka, so it’s really become a lose lose situation with Kyoto Animation. Granted, Free is not a bad show and neither was Hibike! Euphonium, but the shows still have yet to reach the pinnacle of quality that their earlier works had seemingly reached with ease. The best thing they’ve put out in recent memory was Nichijou which was 5 years ago in 2011.
I guess the argument could be made that the first season of Chuunibyou wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t something that could be considered great or amazing like Nichijou was. In fact, Chuunibyou is basically the perfect place to mark the starting point for the theme of KyoAni’s selection of adaptations and shows. Basically every show that followed Chuunibyou is a boy meet girl in high school with the protagonist being removed from his daily life by the eccentricity of the girl. This is a very common storyline not exclusive to KyoAni but one that many other anime use as well. In fact, even Haruhi and Clannad were like that, but the content, characters, and quality animation that Kyoani produced made them a cut above the rest. The shows now lack the content and characters while retaining the same quality animation, leaving KyoAni high and dry in terms of quality shows.
Notice that the best shows that they’ve produced in recent years, Free! and Hibike! Euphonium, don’t have those elements at all. There is no boy meets girl situation, the characters set off on their respective journeys either at the spur of a friend or because of a drive for something that they didn’t know they had. The characters, though comprised of moe/BL elements, were supplemented by more character driven stories and events thus making them as well as the anime they were featured in much more powerful and interesting especially compared to their other shows which are just saturated with an extremity of either moe or blandness.
Most of the shows they produce are just moe cash grabs that are low in quality. Remember Tamako Market? Yeah, I don’t want to either. Tamako Market was probably one of the biggest black spots on their track record. It was the very definition of a moe blob. If you thought K-on had no substance, you’d get a real kick in the nuts from Tamako Market. It had some of the worst characters in all of KyoAni history accompanied by a very flimsy plot and the most boring progression of events. This was definitely the lowest point of KyoAni, but it never seemed like KyoAni completely recovered from it. Most of the shows after that improved slightly in the plot department, but still kept the same elements that made Tamako Market more popular than it should have been– moe. KyoAni has basically just been a moe animation studio since it did K-on! and for people like me that remember the KyoAni of old, it’s a real shame.
What’s funny is that there was an online ranking of KyoAni’s best anime that surveyed Japanese fans and the #1 series ended up being… Hyouka. I plan to make a post eventually talking about why Japanese fans are so different than other fans especially in regards to their short-term memory. Hyouka was a decent series, but it became bland, repetitive, and ended extremely poorly. It’s like Chris from Parks and Recreation breaking up with Ann, she didn’t even realize he broke up with her. Hyouka ended without it even feeling like it ended just showing how week of a show it really was. Despite that, Japan seems to have loved it or at least the small sample size of random people on the internet.
This being said, I am excited to find out that they’re going to be doing Koe no Katachi though, because it’s a relative far cry from their more recent shows. For better or for worse, it’s going to be a movie, but at least they’ll be doing a show with actual potential. I believe that if KyoAni goes back to its roots, it can be one of the best anime studios out there once more. At this rate though, they’ll just be associated with moe blobs and Free instead of the good shows that they were able to work on before.
What it all comes down to is mostly money. They can easily make more money on moe blobs than they can by risking it on other shows and I doubt they’ll ever touch Haruhi again because of their second season and then their amazing movie adaptation of Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu. I know I’m not alone in wishing that they’d do another season of Full Metal Panic. There’s a crap ton more of source material that they can work with and FMP is still one of the biggest series they’ve ever worked on. I don’t know the politics around how they decide on what shows to do, but it seems like a no brainer to do more work on a series that’s gotten you not only a lot of popularity but money as well.
In regards to animation, KyoAni has gotten better and is without doubt one of the best animation studios solely based on animation. In terms of other things like plot and substance, KyoAni is still a farcry from breaking even the top 5. The main reason I made this post is mostly due to their latest series, Musaigen no Phantom World. I’m getting really tired of their current state and Phantom World was one of the last straws. It was basically a drop back to almost Tamako Market levels of pointlessness moe and vacancies in the areas where there should be plot, making it one of the biggest disappointments of the season. I’m hoping that this year, they’ll start doing better shows and get back to their original high quality form, but most likely, they’ll keep doing what they’ve been doing and getting that good money.