It’s been nearly two weeks since the arson attack on Kyoto Animation’s Studio 1 but the pain is still raw.
Such an atrocity is horrible under any circumstances so to single out its target as a special case feels immoral. Yet I can’t get past the feeling that there’s no studio that such a tragedy falling upon could have left more of a scar on the anime fandom. KyoAni’s storytelling exudes a distinct quality of emotional authenticity that elevates their characters into the realm of humans. The studio’s humane workplace culture counters borderline abusive practices found in some other corners of the industry. They’re a trail-blazer for representation of women, not only in their works but also in their staffing practices. And, simply put, KyoAni’s works are consistently superb.
The fanbases I’ve seen grow around their anime during the time I spent working in/adjacent to the industry are unparalleled. To name a few, Sound! Euphonium, K-On!, and Hyouka all founded followings that to this day thrive based on the characters they’ve come to love. And then you have the (oft debated, but usually respected) classics of “yore” including The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Clannad. Haruhi was particularly formative for me, but it’s the first KyoAni series I watched that I first thought back on in light of the Studio 1 tragedy: Lucky Star.
When I was getting into anime beyond the periphery in 2014, a friend who was feeding me recommendations jokingly sent me the infamously hyperactive opening to Lucky Star. My response probably understandable response: “What the f- is this?”. Clearly it was the reaction he wanted as he went on to proclaim that I wouldn’t make it past one episode. Well, I watched the whole thing.
Truth be told, Lucky Star is probably not a great series for a burgeoning anime fan; it’s steeped in references to otaku culture, much of which is integral to its jokes landing. Further, the series can be slow-going even beyond what’s typical for the slice-of-life genre (to which this was my first exposure). But none of this mattered because of what I now understand to be KyoAni’s special touch of nuanced characterization.
Lucky Star is vastly different in style than the studio’s output this decade. However, the seeds of what was to come can be easily identified. This comes through best in the series’ iconic character Konata Izumi. While the team behind Lucky Star could have easily gotten away with playing her as the stereotypical “NEET otaku” and left it there, they instead give her a backstory about the death of her mother that shines a light on why she’s grown to be who she is. Konata is never portrayed as a deadbeat but rather a passionate person… who could just use to be a tad more productive (interjection: personally relatable). She’s always teasing her friends but rarely does it come from a place of maliciousness or contempt. Not all of this is spoken verbatim but it’s felt, and that level of nuance isn’t something most studios making an anime about archetypes can achieve. All of this is to say that Konata is iconic for a reason: she’s a relatable otaku, not a butt-of-the-joke one.
This craft of character that KyoAni has continued to polish in the years since is exactly why their vast fanbase has found emotional investment with the studio as a whole. The tragedy of Studio 1 stings all the more for this reason. These creators brought more than joy into our lives; they bestowed upon us fictional friends. Written characters that transcended into living beings. The respect they brought to their work was reciprocated by fans, forming a bond. A bond that has now been bruised.
Watching the aftermath reactions of the anime community through Twitter and beyond was heartbreaking. I don’t feel it necessary to go into detail here; we all experienced this and don’t need to live it again. But for me, there was another dynamic at play: July 18th was my birthday. I tried my best to separate the two things but in the midst of writing this post, I saw something that made it impossible to deny a metaphorical connection: I saw that Yasuhiro Takemoto (director of Lucky Star amongst many other legendary series) was one of the victims.
The date of death on his Wikipedia page: July 18, 2019. Seeing that hit hard.
I sat here thinking about how my “day of life” was also the day that Takemoto and others who brought joy to that life lost their own. I sat here and remembered that we can’t take anything or anyone for granted. I sat here ruminating that life is fragile and we should be thankful to have ours. And on every birthday going forward, I’ll take a moment to sit here remembering these adages.
To everyone who was a living victim or directly personally affected by the Studio 1 arson… in the off chance this reaches you I’m so deeply sorry for what words can’t describe. To those who passed, thank you for what you graciously gave the world. And to Kyoto Animation, I can’t wait to see what joy you bring to said world next.