searching for the real killers

Kyoto Animation Main Office

For any fan of Full Metal Panic, the special they aired before TSR is a gem. They go and tour Kyoto Animation’s studios. One thing that I noticed about the special is how few animators that they had. According to their company webpage, they have 67 employees currently between their animation studio and their school. By contrast, Madhouse has 120 employees in their company. Gonzo has 155. (BTW, Gonzo is a newer studio than Kyoto… Gonzo was the “baby” for the first FMP run.)

Kyoto Animation Cel Department

What does employee count or size of studio or age of studio tell you? Relatively nothing. Since Fall 05, Gonzo mainly concerned themselves with just two series, Solty Rei and Black Cat, and for the current crop of shows, I only see them doing Witchblade (I could be wrong… I haven’t gone through all 551 new shows this season yet).

One thing that is immediately apparent about Kyoto is that they just choose not to do the heavy lifting themselves. (I’m guessing more financial reasons than staffing reasons.) For Air, Kyoto depended heavily on two Korean art houses (AniVilliage and Animation DO) for both key frame and in-between work (in the scope of outscouring, key frame is like doing R&D if in-between is taking customer support calls).

For TSR, they used AniVilliage for in-betweening and during this time, they are cranking on Munto 2 in the background. Currently, Kyoto is churning out Haruhi and multitasking for the TSR “Tess OVA”. And they’re still using the Korean houses to supplement their own in-betweening work.

In terms of how they approach projects, obviously, if Sunrise is EA (Gundam = Madden), Kyoto would be pre-Vivandi Blizzard. Gonzo would be whatever John Romero is working on. Just like how we all want Starcraft 2, we want a full run for Haruhi.

Every studio has their preferences… one thing about Gonzo is that they have a track record where even if they have 155 people, you won’t see 5 or 6 new shows a season with them. The most was spring 05 when they were working on Speed Grapher, Trinity Blood, Basilisk, and Sunabozu… in other words, the worst spring anime season ever. They also almost always do 24-26 episode series.

Kyoto, on the other hand, has a history of just one main course and maybe one sidedish at a time. I have absolutely no problem with this, since it’s pretty much the Blizzard model and both churn out equally great work. Still, Kanon over Haruhi feels like if Blizzard choose to remake Grand Theft Auto 3 instead of taking a chance with WoW four years ago (yes, I know this sounds idiotic nowadays… but four years ago, when WoW was constantly pushed back, people were asking, “WTF aren’t they just making a StarCraft 2?”).

Why do I feel that Kanon is bumping off Haruhi?

There’s a great quote from Henry Ford, and slightly paraphrased, it’s, “If I listened to everyone, I’d just build a faster horse each year.” The insinuation is that people will always prefer the old to the new, even if the new (the car) is vastly superior to the old (the horse). He also insinuates that sometimes to really make the big hit, you gotta take chances with new ideas. Lastly, he’s sacrastically ripping on the lemmings that they don’t know what they really want.

I was using it as an example as to the dangers of relying on remakes to drive an industry. If you asked fanboys six months ago if they wanted 24 episodes of Kanon or 13 episodes of Haruhi, I think most fans would say, “Screw this Haruhi crap, get me my Ayu!” Most would have blasted the lesser-known Haruhi for delaying Kanon.

This whole debate started with my post about how remakes are eventually going to stiffle new franchises. While I liked Kanon, the original series ended only _three_ years ago… the original wasn’t A+ material, but neither was it D- material. It was average, and that’s good enough in my mind to wait a few more years before harvesting it. By contrast, ああっ女神さまっ fans waited a decade for the remake of an original so incomplete, they had characters in the OP that never made it into the series proper. (Honestly, I have less issue with sequels since they add to a franchise and present new stories… remakes are a different issue, especially if the original isn’t even five years old yet.) Quoting myself:

The original [Kanon] was pretty enjoyable, but if I had to choose between watching a remake of it or 13 more episodes of Mushishi, I’d pick Omega Pimp Ginko. Or, better yet, try launching a new franchise like Hayate the Combat Butler (desperately needs an anime). … While I am happy to see a less angular Kanon, I’m not happy to see that the animation companies would rather remake a three year old series than grow new franchises.

And I think the current debate has really steered off course from this. It’s not about Ayu over Haruhi or Haruhi over Ayu or even Akito’s MILF ranking, it’s about the possible stagnation of an industry if it doesn’t develop new lifeblood. Haruhi represents new lifeblood. Anime has always depended on new lifeblood. While “Haruhi is only 14 episodes” is a nice teaser for what could have been, the real question is, “What series could Kyoto have done instead of remaking a three year old series?” What new show doesn’t exist anymore because of Kanon? The question isn’t “Who are the real killers?” The question is “Who is the real victim?” It’s not about if Kanon needs a remake or if 14 episodes can contain the awesomeness of Haruhi, it’s about remakes taking slots from original work. I was trying to make a point for Haruhi… imagine if we got zero episodes of Mikuru-run because that’s the show that was bumped off Kyoto’s schedule in favor of Kanon. That was my point, and I’m sorry if it came off too much like a Slashdot headline from CmdrTaco.

It’s the new shows that get people excited (the start of a new season is always the highest traffic period for The 好き). It’s the new shows that brings in new fans get and gets old fans talking again. It’s the new shows that gives a studio a fighting chance at the next Ghost in the Shell, the next Gundam, the next Mai Hime, then next Full Metal Panic. For people who have been to Akihibara, you know that every few weeks all the signs and displays changes to reflect the new shows. At it’s best, anime has always been about the churn. The new. The next.

19 Responses to “searching for the real killers”

  1. I’m getting so tired of this ruckus over Haruhi and Kanon. When the awesomeness of the first half of Wolf’s Rain was broken with the four recap eps (then continued with considerably less awesomeness, with a totally wtf 26th episode and 4 OVAs that ended the series on a “very good, but could’ve been so much greater” note) because, as rumors went, Bones was spending most its resources on Fullmetal Alchemist, a show of much higher expectations (in terms of money), I didn’t hear anyone complaining.

    ‘(…) the real question is, “What series could Kyoto have done instead of remaking a three year old series?”‘
    Nah. The real question is, “Can Haruhi, a new show with relatively small fanbase, at least compared to that of Kanon, get us more than a remake of Kanon in the vein of Air, a highly successful show?” And if their answer is “no,” then that’s it. Studios exist to earn money – granted, some of them create awesome shows in the process, but the bottom line for studios is money.

    As for fans, it all boils down on personal taste. Kanon fans will like the news of the remake, and Haruhi fans will complain, and buy Haruhi hoping that if it proves popular enough, Kyoto will somehow make more of it. That’s all.

  2. Eh, hit the submit button before I could’ve edited the comment… “The real question is, “Can Haruhi, a new show with relatively small fanbase, at least compared to that of Kanon, make more money for Kyoto than a remake of Kanon in the vein of Air, a highly successful show?”

  3. I’m also curious, we overseas anime fans are NOT the target audience for Haruhi. How’s it doing in Japan? How’d Kanon do there? Given the number of doujin games featuring Kanon and its characters and the like, I’m sort of amazed it’s taken this long for another one. Aren’t Inukami and Skurun the comedies of choice in Japan at the moment? That should go a ways to explaining why the ‘bailing ship’ (and I don’t even believe they are) that people seem to be thinking Kyoto is doing. I also foresee a bit of a shift in opinion of Haruhi as they actually show the plot and background of the characters a bit more and it goes in a direction that I think about 95% of the ignorant English audience is not expecting. Maybe it won’t be major, but we’ll see.

    As long as we’re talking studios, I’m a big fan of JCStaff’s works as well. They seem to have a breadth of experience and ability that a lot of other studios lack in what they’ll produce. Azumanga and Mahoraba to Blood+ and Shana. Even when given crap for a budget (see: Rune Soldier Louis) they still manage to fit in some great scenes. They also tend to do a pretty good job of, while not always improving on manga stuff (see: Karin), bringing out and accurately sticking to the style they came from.

    I dunno, just sort of my rambling $.02

  4. The decision for the condensation of Suzumiya Haruhi was made long before production. However let’s look at another Japanese Industry that went stagnant, aircraft. During the Second World war Japan had very good products vastly superior to every other Allied aircraft in the region (The Legendary Zero). The war dragged on and few innovations were made until it was too late and the US was cranking out superior products. In the end there was innovation, but it was too little too late though some interesting concepts were realized. In the end suffice to say the lack of innovation was a direct contributor in Curtis LeMay having a free hand over Japan and Enola Gay and Bockscar created days that shook the world, in horror.

    I am all for continuations based on good material, I hesitate to give the same support for remakes if its only going to be a mere face lift and little else. Suzumiya Haruhi is something very unique since it doesn’t fall into a neat little category. I’ll admit that this turn of events is most unfortunate and has caused much anger, but the timid nature of Kyoto Animation is understandable in that they don’t want to lose what they have built. Hopefully widespread support even if its outside of Japan will cause Kyoto to give Haruhi justice somewhere along the line.

  5. The Question:
    >>What series could Kyoto have done instead of remaking a three year old series?>>

    The Answer:
    Probably the series that Kyoto will do after remaking a three year old series, it’s not like Kanon will make them go out of business, actually it would probably allow them to even greater things. There really isn’t all that big of a need for remakes out there. Kanon most likely is the exception, not the rule

  6. .. this is beyond retarded, common sense tells us that determining the episode count occurs well before the first episode is aired. I like Suzumiya Haruhi alot to, but this fanboyism is spinnin out of control


  8. Kite,
    Sometimes, but not always. It’s a little different since it wasn’t based off source material, but Futagohime is a good example of a show that was originally scheduled for 26 episodes… and has now grown to 104.

  9. Haruhi is doing very well in Korea, but there is a new show that is competing against it. It is ‘Saiunkoku Monogatari’

  10. I feel we’re discussing about the chicken&egg problem here.

  11. I think my next commentary post will be the even more pointless, even more controversial “Is Lunamaria’s miniskirt too long or not short enough?” Look forward to it!

  12. Folks over at Key: Hey, Tomoyo After’s and Clannad selling like hotcakes. How’s Little Busters? Uhhhhh……we haven’t thought of anything yet. Shit! What are we gonna do? (We shouldn’t have fired Suzumoto… Shutup! He was more interested in writing!) I know! Let’s remake Kanon! W00t! Yeah! (>o

  13. You should also make sure to include “Do Lunamaria’s pants hang too low or not low enough on her ass?”

  14. Or better yet,

    “The Many Uses of the Veritable Ahoge”!

  15. jason, Gonzo also have Glass no Kantai on the go this season, as well as the continuing production of Mardock Scramble. Desert Punk finished before Speed Grapher, Trinity Blood and Basilisk started. And in 2003, they had Last Exile, Kaleido Star and Gad Guard on the go at once, and the first two are definitely two of the better shows this decade even if not to your tastes. While yes, Speed Grapher’s abysmal animation suggests an overworked staff, Gonzo’s problems tend to involve their scripts rather than their actual production, and anime scripting is generally done on a freelance basis (and out of the three Gonzo shows from April ’05, only Trinity Blood had a Gonzo regular on script). KyoAni seem to have cunningly picked projects with strong scripts already, except for Munto which, frankly, is beautifully animated but very badly written.

    kuromitsu, the Wolf’s Rain recaps had nothing to do with FMA. Wolf’s Rain aired around the time that SARS hit, which put a major dent in production of most anime at the time as the workforce became essentially unproductive. However, Wolf’s Rain aired on Fuji TV, which airs a lot of stuff but had recently had a rather chequered relationship with Bones as RahXephon had massively outstayed its scheduled length due to delays in production/scheduling/whatever, running from January to September (9 months instead of 6). Since then, Fuji TV has become much stricter on shows and forces them to stick to a schedule; if they can’t keep up or the ratings fall, they’re cancelled/taken off and run their extra episodes elsewhere. Examples of this would be the Wolf’s Rain recaps, GadGuard having five DVD-exclusive episodes, Texhnolyze’s transfer to another station for the last 6 episodes or so, and the finishing off of Samurai Champloo and Mushishi on satellite TV.

    AC – Futago Hime was originally scheduled for 52 episodes, not 26. And with Junichi Sato and his crack merchandising squad on hand it was likely to go on longer; the only time I can think of that he hasn’t made more of a series than originally schedule would be Pretear, but even Princess Tutu got more episodes made and I can’t imagine it was a ratings success (despite it being an incredible show).

    I recently read some hardcore rankings where Haruhi was ranked number 2 in current anime hot property terms; number 1 was Aria the Natural (Junichi Sato strikes again!) and number 3 was Inukami! (Urusei Yatsura redux, basically, and the novels are popular). The Haruhi novels were the third winners of the Sneaker Grand Prize for light novels (after Trinity Blood and a series called Ragnarok) which would suggest it’s pretty big stuff among otaku; I don’t think it’s an underground hit at all.

    And seriously, KyoAni have had this show lined up for ages and undoubtedly will have had Kanon sorted for a long time; the production of Kanon is not going to have any detrimental effect on Haruhi, and saying it is is almost undoubtedly a kneejerk reaction. Virtually every studio has multiple projects on the go at once, whether massive behemoths like Sunrise or Gonzo or the smaller studios like KyoAni; even Gainax, who don’t produce an awful lot on a regular basis, contract their staff out to work on other people’s shows all the time.

  16. I wonder where Saiunkoku Monogatari is ranked at as the anime and the book is pretty how in Korea, right now. To tell the truth, Saiunkoku Monogatari has replaced Haruhi for the new number 1 spot in my family.

  17. Rankings like the one I cited (and I WISH I could remember the link) are compiled by mostly male otaku; a show like Saiunkoku Monogatari is unlikely to feature highly on there.

    However, Saiunkoku Monogatari airs on NHK, which everyone in Japan can receive, at 9 o’clock on Saturday mornings; it’s the perfect time for a family show that everyone can watch together at the start of the weekend. It’s very much a “family” show in that it’s not very action-packed but has something to appeal to everyone; it’s really not the kind of thing that otaku are likely to be salivating over.

    I’m glad to hear it’s very popular in Korea; the show deserves it. But it’s never going to develop the “massive” cult following of shows like Haruhi because it’s shoujo, basically.

  18. what i and everyother fanboy who has seen Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu (to show my support i will type out the full name not just haruhi) is agast at the very thought that it does not occupy at least a full season, the audacity of that fact is that we do not get to enjoy the thought of it entertaining us for a entire 6 months, the first thought im sure that went through many of us when the ending credits rolled on Asahina Mikuru no bouken was that “im gonna enjoy this show for the next 25 episodes” this fact that it will not has’poped’ that idea and so leave us sickened, whats more its been taken over because of Kyoto’s need to devulge human resources on Kanon which they’ve had over 3 years to do. Though the series of books has its seventh installment planned for release this May, so its probable that if at least this series goes well another will surely follow in its path, however, only time will tell.

  19. also ive just noticed, almost every article on this blog has some mention of Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, i mean how does haruhi parading mikiru around have anything to do with Meyrin being clingy to Arthrun?
    this shows how much a phenomenon Suzumiya Haruhi no yuutsu has becomes not even a month after its premier, this kind of show definitly deserves at least some kind of sequel.

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