Read through the first post on that anime thread carefully. Take particular note of Nichijou’s DVD sales figures. And let it sink in that these sub-1000 sales is for a Kyoto Animation anime.
Kyoto Animation pulling down fewer than a thousand DVD sales from Nichijou is truly a clamorously careering collapse for what previously seemed like the ultimate brand name in the industry. But due to that collapse, and the meteoric Madoka Magica rise, I would argue that SHAFT has now overtaken Kyoto Animation as the biggest and strongest name in the anime industry. In this blog, I will go on to explain how we’ve come to this point, and what it means for Kyoto Animation, SHAFT, and the anime industry as a whole. First of all, my intention here is not to bash Nichijou. I respect that it has some passionate fans, and that it does have an uniquely surrealist comedy that may appeal to people in ways that few other anime shows do.
Nonetheless, its poor DVD sales are a reflection of the possible Kyoto Animation/Nichijou mismatch that I first noted back in April.
I think that Nichijou would have worked better as a comedy if given a less visually dramatized approach, which KyoAni has unfortunately consistently applied to it. As is, however, the comedy is very hit-and-miss because the punchlines are very hit and miss. And given that the comedy aspect of Nichijou is hit-and-miss, and the show has virtually no plot to speak of (not even episodic ones), then the anime’s marketplace reception would have to depend on moe appeal.
However, Kyoto Animation is shockingly being beat at their own game by SHAFT. Specifically, by the most insanely moe show I’ve ever seen…
Denpa Onna, for its part, is pulling down respectable sales figures of 5,267 Blu-Ray sales and 1,361 DVD sales. Perhaps more importantly, though, Denpa Onna proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that SHAFT has mastered the art of moe appeal. This was the art that Kyoto Animation revolutionized and popularized. From 2006 through 2010, Kyoto Animation would have to be considered an animation company of unparalleled success (on a per anime basis, at least), and this was on the backs of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On, and Key adaptations, all brought to animated life with a dauntlessly delectable dash of moe.
So why has Kyoto Animation, once an unassailable force in the anime industry, fallen on hard times with Nichijou? I think the that these woes began with a certain endless recursion of time…
Haruhi 2009 was a sure symbolic sign that Kyoto Animation had developed an unhealthy degree of hubris. They had become overly fixated on cheap gimmickry, at the expense of doing simple solid work. Even before a certain infamous anime arc of 2009 became the main anime controversy of a summer of discontent, we could see a hint of such gimmickry in how Haruhi 2009 began as a stealth airing from out of nowhere, bucking standard marketing and promotional approaches for the anime industry as a whole.
Kyoto Animation basically felt it could do whatever the hell it wanted to do, and the customer would lap it all up regardless. But with Haruhi 2009 selling significantly worse than its 2006 predecessor, the first chinks in Kyoto Animation’s armor were displayed.
Thankfully for them, though, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie was a rousing commercial success, as was K-On!! Back in 2010, these two helped to reassert Kyoto Animation’s dominance.
One key about Disappearance and K-On!!, though, is that you could tell that KyoAni was sincerely putting some real effort in with these two, and lovingly crafted them to be appealing to their core consumer base.
The animation was made to fit the material, rather than the material being made to fit the animation.
What I mean by that is that Kyoto Animation’s artistic and animation approach to both Disappearance and K-On!! was to have it play to the inherent strengths of the source material for each, while doing what could be done to negate their inherent weaknesses. In Haruhi 2009’s case, though, the material was made to fit the animation – specifically by stretching out the Endless Eight story to ridiculous extremes while giving Kyoto Animation’s various animation teams an excuse to play around and experiment with their artistic styles in one E8 iteration after the next after the next after the next.
Much the same is now happening with Nichijou, I believe. Kyoto Animation is pulling out all the stops, animation-wise, for Nichijou, and is once again experimenting artistically. The problem is that this is being done, I think, with little respect to what would serve the source material best. Nichijou is nowhere near as suspenseful as Disappearance is, and so while a flair for the dramatic makes perfect sense for Disappearance, it often doesn’t make sense for Nichijou. I would argue that it’s causing the comedy value of Nichijou to suffer, and this is not good since Nichijou is first and foremost a surrealist comedy.
But Kyoto Animation’s hubris is not merely impacting their basic animation work. I would argue that it’s also having a negative impact on what projects they choose to do.
Prior to Nichijou airing, I don’t recall there being a great fan push to get it animated ASAP. On the other hand, I know that Haruhi and Full Metal Panic fans have grown increasingly impatient with Kyoto Animation over the years, wondering why it takes the studio so long to do more of one or the other or both. In FMP’s case, I know sales have struggled, but on what basis does Nichijou get greenlit for two cours over Haruhi getting more adaptation work done when there are seven Haruhi novels left out there to adapt?
This choice on Kyoto Animation’s part shows how out of touch it is with its own fanbase. Many Kyoto Animation fans are longing for more Haruhi, while relatively few were crying out for Nichijou before it was slated for an anime. Now, in an ideal world, Kyoto Animation would do more than just two or three projects a year, but given those limitations, choosing to adapt Nichijou instead of adapting more Haruhi was a mistake, in my opinion.
While Kyoto Animation has grown out of touch with its fanbase, SHAFT has unquestionably learned how to appeal to anime fans in general.
As of this writing, two of the three best selling TV anime shows of all-time belong to SHAFT, and you can see both of them in the picture above. 😉
What Shinbo has effectively done is adapt his quirky and unique style to be one that still has a distinctively avant-garde feel, but is also an alluringly accessible one. It hence feels different, but not too different. SHAFT has also wisely, and consistently, made its animation fit the material, rather than making the material fit its animation. This is why Bakemonogatari looks much different than Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and why both looks much different than Denpa Onna.
SHAFT is showing admirably astute ambition, in that it is slowly but surely eating one slice of the anime pie after another after another.
With Bake, it conquered harem anime in general, and made an excellent foray into Light Novel adaptations.
With Madoka, it now is competing with Nanoha for dominace in the Mahou Shoujo sphere, while showing how well it can handle one cour anime originals.
And now with Denpa Onna, it is making an impressive play on moe fans in general.
They key for SHAFT is to simply keep doing what it has been doing since Summer 2009 (while also taking more care to budget properly for later episodes, admittedly).
SHAFT can learn much from Kyoto Animation’s recent disappointments. From them, SHAFT can learn how an animation studio needs to be very in touch with the anime fanbase, and responsive to its current anime wants, in order to be successful.
And for Kyoto Animation to pull a comeback, that is what it will have to do. It will need to learn from its mistakes, cut out the gimmickry, and get back to basics. Hopefully, we’ll see more Haruhi work soon.
But Kyoto Animation will need to act quick. SHAFT is not its only major competitor that’s on the rise. A-1 Pictures and PA Works are also posing serious challenges to the once seemingly invincible Kyoto Animation.
A-1 Pictures has shown an uncanny ability to appeal to otakus with its great success in Anohana (according to what I read on that, it will sell well in excess of 20,000 DVDs/Blu-Rays), while PA Works has demonstrated animation quality (and commercial success) to rival Kyoto Animation in anime shows like Angel Beats! and Hanasaku Iroha.
These two animation studios also have their finger on the pulse of the modern anime fandom. And if Kyoto Animation doesn’t soon get their finger back on that pulse, they may find that their own pulse might start to be weak…
I hope it won’t come to that, as Kyoto Animation’s talents are great, and work marvelously when applied wisely and seriously.
2006 through 2010 will likely be remembered as the KyoAni era in anime. But whether that continues further into this decade remains to seen. At the moment, you could say that KyoAni is getting SHAFTed. 😉
What do you think, good reader?