There are some things that really just go over the head of most consumers of a medium until there’s at outstanding example of one of those aspects. It’s fairly easy to say that one of those unconscious things is production value. Whether it’s things in music like the doujinshi band Foreground Eclipse that was famous for their high production value despite being an incredibly young band, things in video games like Bombservice’s extremely surprising gem that was the fourth instalment of the Momodora series, or even more well known things like Broadway plays that have become so famous for their high production value. But, to most people, until you run into an example of a production of any kind that has particularly high (or low) production value you don’t actively notice something like that. I felt like talking about production value and in particular felt like using production value to defend an animation studio that receives a lot of hate for their very particular type of production value, so that’s our topic this week.
When you think of anime with high production value what’s the first studio to come to mind? For a lot of people it’s studios like A-1 Pictures, P.A. Works, or ufotable. For others it’s more niche types of studios like CoMix Wave or SHAFT. For me, it’s Kyoto Animation every single time. I won’t get into this too much now, as this is an opinion that I can already feel myself being judged for and one that will require time to defend myself, but before then let’s get into some shows and films in particular have extremely high production value.
CoMix Wave have definitely formed an opinion from you if you’ve seen any of their films. Not everyone has, as the films are far from for everyone, but you know that if you’ve seen one you have a certain set of thoughts and feelings about it. One of the things I can indisputably deny is that a ton of effort was put into the production value of their works to help drive the point of what they make home. The art in their craft as far as storytelling is concerned is very subtle and the quality of everything else that they drive supports those subtle details to an extreme. If it was done in any less of a balanced way or with any less careful touches to all of the most important details, everything they created would be a drastically lesser version of what they put the time into fine tuning.
One thing I would like to note however, is that their art style is incredibly consistent and every single character design from their two most prominent works, Byousoku 5 Centimeter and Kotonoha no Niwa, are incredibly similar. Yet this drastically increases the effect their works had both times. Sure, if they were done with a more generic J.C.Staff style the same general message would have gotten across, but I strongly believe that this art style and these character designs played a huge role in the storytelling that took place and I know that plenty of people agree with me. If every Studio Ghibli film had the more generic “anime” appearance, would the same exact story get across the same way?
Another fantastic example of this, despite me saying they were another studio along with CoMix that was rather niche, is studio SHAFT’s works and the difference between The Monogatari Series and Madoka Magica along with how each show’s respective style and the amount of effort out into each one payed off as an element of the show. I say this because both shows did have a very clear style and appearance wise are very different from each other, but still avant garde and still extremely effective. The Monogatari Series used it’s specific style in a way that was amazing and was able to guide the audience through it’s very dialogue heavy production while Madoka Magica used it more as an accent that clearly separated the sane from the insane without totally detaching their audience through the entire show.
Monogatari has very flat colours. Everything is overdone and hyperbolic, the amounts of dialogue is massive and incomparable to any other production (aside from Mekakucity Actors) and how the show used the other aspects of the production to guide that was incredibly important and one of the reasons people love Monogatari but tend to have lesser opinions about Mekakucity Actors. Monogatari uses key images, changes locations of where the same conversation is happening rapidly, always gives you something to look at, and doesn’t stay still for too long while always making sure that the audience is keeping up with the story they’re being told. Everything in Monogatari is told, so much so that the fights are sparks of intensity and stand out from everything else the show has to offer and in a way that was clearly on purpose. Mekakucity Actors does the opposite. It keeps still frames more often than not, plays a more realistic card with keeping the scene in one location until it’s conclusion, and in a lot of ways is so boring to watch that the words felt more drawn out and the scenes felt less impactful and throwaway. Mekakucity Actors wasn’t fun or enjoyable to watch when compared to it’s clear inspiration and thus failed as a spiritual derivative of said inspiration. The same aspects were applied to both productions but while one production used more aspects, the aspects it knew made it so successful, to amplify the effect of the show, the other hyper focused on one side of the coin and ignored everything that made the initial show more successful.
Modoka Magica on the other hand has a very interesting way with approaching the circumstances it wants to present to the audience. The character designs were far from the general style used in every other show and the avant garde was cranked up to the highest it had been in a SHAFT show since ef. While the character designs were just a nice attention grabber, the times they broke past every single thing anyone could have expected form the show in a purely artistic field was when the idea of production value shined at their best. The photorealistic and out of place graphics used to distinguish the outside world, which was drawn as very beautiful and complex yet simplistic scenes, from the inside of a witch’s labyrinth played a huge part in how it amplified and highlighted the zany from the ordinary. Well, no duh, if you’ve seen Madoka Magica that’s a no-brainer. However, by the time we get used to the effectiveness of this work and how jarringly different it is initially we don’t realise how important it becomes. The drastically different artistic style articulates everything as unreal and presents the different turning points in the story as something very clear and obvious to pay attention to, almost as if saying “Hey! Look at this! This isn’t normal, and it’s very very important!” And, without a doubt, it worked.
But, as you could guess, production value and adding to it doesn’t create an automatically good production. Glasslip looked gorgeous. Don’t even try to lie, the show itself looked absolutely stunning. The highlights and attention to detail were along the same line as what I just talked about with Madoka Magica and Kotonoha no Niwa when it came to a pure appearance stance. Yet, it was considered the worst from it’s season and it’s one of my least favourite anime of all time. Glasslip could easily be misinterpreted as an excellent and thought provoking show from the promotional videos. It takes a lot of time to create moments, but it never strings those moments together and in turn makes the entire thing confusing and frustrating to watch. Confusing is the best word I can use to describe Glasslip. How all the abnormal elements tied together was confusing, how the plot points tied together was confusing, the order of events was confusing, but taken completely out of context, every single moment could appeal to a separate type of audience. Take any scene completely out of context and play it from start to finish and the beauty in the production value could carry the entire thing to be interesting. It’s stunning to look at and experience, but when those things are put right after one another and things just constantly get added and added and added until there’s not anything even left to add anymore, it loses all meaning.
This is the problem I have a lot with Trigger and diomedéa as well. In the case of Trigger, they rely on their quirky and random style that’s very western inspired too much and it leaves a lot of their shows fluctuating in tone and mood too much to get a common grasp on what the hell is happening; that’s my biggest gripe with their most popular show at the time of writing, Kill la Kill. diomedéa on the other hand just doesn’t feel like they care at all with shows like Kantai Collection and Mayoiga under their belt, where I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t have a love for the craft at all anymore. They rely on common appeals more than they rely on a solid backing and their shows fall apart even more because the production value is abysmal. They went from creating a show that I will endlessly recommend because of it’s abnormalities and how that highlights the good in the show, Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo?, to creating such split and confusing productions like the two aforementioned that it makes me feel like they finally got something to click and then just stuck with it and applied it to everything when that wasn’t the answer.
So what does that have to do with defending Kyoto Animation? They tend to get a lot of hate for doing all of the positives of production value as a supplement to their already great stories. Kyoukai no Kanata (aka Beyond the Boundary) is still my favourite show done by Kyoto Animation and likely will be for a long time because of how it tied together everything, story, visuals, character, sound, and music, to create something that worked in beautiful harmony. It’s not their best show, as that would pretty unanimously go to Clannad, but it’s one that I feel like highlights their capabilities as a studio to their fullest. Everything just works, and it works so well that ever since I watched Kyoukai no Kanata, Kyoto Animation became synonymous to production value for me.
The animation is always nice and articulates the movements the animators wanted to make stand out, the backdrop and scenery for every single setting defines the show almost more than the characters in a lot of cases (take Amagi Brilliant Park for example), the sound comes together and positively effects the production in so many ways, and while the story may fall short in a lot of cases, Kyoukai no Kanata included, the common gripes I always hear about the studio are so disprovable and dismissable that it’s honestly almost laughable. “Every single character in all of their shows look the same way!” So does like 99% of every other studio with a defined style ever. The only exception to this rule that I can think of is SHAFT, literally everyone else has a character style that they like sticking to. “It’s all just moé pandering!” And Trigger isn’t action pandering? P.A. Works isn’t art crap pandering? ufotable isn’t Type-Moon pandering? I know the argument of other parties doing the same thing isn’t a very solid one, but studios become good at one thing and like to stick to that. It’d essentially be like flagging Rick Riordan for only writing teen fantasy fiction or Stephen King for all of his writing having such a similar vibe when those are their styles. The same thing happens with video game studios. We don’t expect Nippon Ichi Software to release a twitch shooter and we don’t expect NetherRealm Studios to create a tactical roleplaying game because that’s just not what they do. We expect them to stick within their genres, we expect writers who are good at writing fantasy to continue writing fantasy, so why is it different with Kyoto Animation? Because moé is killing anime? Because the similarity in appearance is a result of them putting a pretty much equal amount of effort into how each show they create looks?
It doesn’t make sense to flag Kyoto Animation for all of these things, when just a second ago we were just agreeing that everything they do for their works make something better. You can flag their producing of the same show’s sequels over and over because the initial success of the first, the writing in shows like Kyoukai no Kanatai for falling short, but production value, appearance, and effort is something I couldn’t even dream critiquing them for. Every single other studio that you love out there does the same thing and you love it when they do it, so why is KyoAni a scapegoat?
Thank you for reading today’s editorial! It’s currently 5:02 AM at the time of writing and I have class in five hours! Isn’t life amazing! But seriously, thank you so much for spending a short amount of time reading a post that took me legit two hours to write up. As always, I read every single comment on these posts, so please do let me know what you think as I’m very curious about the opinions of my readers. Like what I do here? Maybe consider following me on Twitter to see what other poor life decisions I make daily. Like always, I will see you all next week!
The featured image for this post is promotional art from Kyoto Animation.