As part of the healing process and necessary restructuring after the devastating arson attack, Kyoto Animation’s staff blog paused operations after 19 years of daily writing about the employees’ work and personal life. Regardless of what they do with it in the future, we owe a look at their fascinating history in reaching out to fans directly.
Kyoto Animation’s staff are trying to move on. It goes without saying, but there is no forgetting what happened on July 18. The biggest tragedy in anime history shook not just the studio but the industry as a whole; despite their nearly complete isolation from other production companies, the loss of so much talent that people elsewhere looked up to, such a crippling hit to the studio that set the gold standards when it came to working conditions, meant that the repercussions were felt in every corner of the industry. And of course, there are the countless personal tragedies, the most painful part of it all. For many employees, this was the loss of the only people they’d ever worked with. From the daily exercising together to the dedicated spaces to play with one’s kids, so much about the way the studio operates is meant to foster a genuine family-like atmosphere – a positive trait that defined their identity, and yet one that also made this more painful.
Gratitude for "The ceremony of Farewell and Taking over the Will"
We held "Kyoto Animation Co.,Ltd. The ceremony of Farewell and Taking over the Will" without mishap on November 3rd-4th.
We appreciate that all attendants cooperated making calm space.https://t.co/F0GVY3HcRU https://t.co/uKjepGzYrM pic.twitter.com/9t9ssBwUQP
— 京都アニメーション (@kyoani) November 5, 2019
Today’s official statement by the studio remarks that they’ll never be able to forget the grief of losing their irreplaceable colleagues. However, it also emphasizes a sentiment we’ve been seeing constantly: that they’ve inherited the love and passion that their peers felt for their work, that the support they’ve received from all over the world has touched their hearts, and that the only way they believe they can uphold their legacy is to create more high-quality animation that can move their audience.
While giving closure to this tragedy is impossible, KyoAni has been making moves so that their staff are mentally prepared to move forward. Over the last few days we’ve seen perhaps the most emotional happenings in that regard. Replacing the initially planned biyearly fan event – which is still going to be held in some capacity since there will be orchestral concerts for Free!, Euphonium, and Violet Evergarden next weekend – the studio held a series of farewell ceremonies for all the victims. Those exhibited the countless messages they got praying for the recovery of everyone who was hurt either physically or emotionally, channeling everyone’s hope that the people who lost their lives can rest in peace too. Around 500 industry members were invited to the ceremony on the 2nd of November, while the next two days were open to all eleven thousand fans who showed up. A necessary step to begin the healing both for the team and the community.
The postcard given at today's KyoAni memorial event.
Thank you to everyone who gave something, whether that be money, prayers, or kind words. pic.twitter.com/TDDNK1QONn
— ultimatemegax (@ultimatemegax) November 3, 2019
As part of that attempt to move forward, the studio’s web site was also updated in a surprising but understandable way: their official staff blog, which had been running uninterrupted for nearly two decades, is now unavailable. They’ve yet to make any actual announcement about it, and the short in preparation placeholder message doesn’t give us much of a clue as to what its future is, but this felt like a good excuse to talk about the curious history of the studio’s creators and their attempts to reach out to fans directly.
It’s not much of a secret that one of the few KyoAni company policies I object to is their limitation of public social media presence. Although it’s hardly something specific to them, the studio’s nearly 100% in-house, full-time employment situation gives both the benefits and the rare downsides a much wider impact than they’d have otherwise; in the anime industry as a whole, NDA-like clauses are an absolute mess, often not implemented legally but rather as a series of assumptions of things you probably shouldn’t say. In contrast to that, KyoAni has a much tighter grasp on potential leaks… except they actually don’t, because their employees just have slightly more private accounts, making the whole limitation ineffectual.
To make up for that questionable policy, though, the studio’s had plenty of avenues for their staff to talk to fans directly. Although official staff blogs aren’t particularly unique, the unbelievable longevity of theirs and the frank nature in contrast to the kinda hermetic nature of the studio otherwise makes KyoAni’s blog rather exceptional. To find its first serialized instance we have to look back at the year 2000, when Yasuhiro Takemoto, Yoshiji Kigami, and Tatsuya Ishihara launched a blog for their foolish directors, where the 3 of them would rotate every work day to talk about the first thing that came to their mind, be it production-related matters or cute family anecdotes. That would set the tone for the studio’s blogs to this day. Marriages, parenting, favorite books and movies – as it turns out, 19 years of daily comments by the studio’s creators and management staff can give you a lot of trivia about their lives, but above everything else, it’s been representative of the gentle atmosphere at the studio.
The company was quite different at the time, of course. KyoAni had yet to produce their own animation – technically untrue but let’s roll with that, check here for a more detailed summary of their history – so their focus was producing high-quality outsourced episodes for other studios. All the studio’s departments were much smaller than they’ve grown to be in modern times, and that included way fewer people in key staff duties. Yoshiko Shima, one of the first episode directors at the studio, was on her way out. Both Noriyuki Kitanohara and the staff at Osaka were in the midst of training to lead production lines by themselves. That left this aforementioned trio as de facto leaders of their operations and thus the staff blog… but that wouldn’t cut it to give a voice to the studio as a whole. And so, just one year after it started operating, that director commentary page came to an end was immediately replaced by the AniBaka blog that ran until the day of the arson attack.
It’s worth noting that at the time, the staff blog encouraged fans to reach out to them via the KyoAni BBS, a message board open to fans to ask about whatever the staff had been writing about, or simply speak to them about the studio’s output. An Inuyasha fan could wander in and get none other than Shouko Ikeda or Ishihara himself to reply to their questions about the show – a type of direct relationship with the audience that’s hard to imagine nowadays considering the current climate online.
The growth of the staff blog since then runs parallel to the evolution of the studio itself. Initially, it was a bunch of key animators and animation directors that joined the directorial crew, as those were the positions with the most weight in the early 00s for KyoAni. As more departments were created or simply grew in the studio’s structure, so did their representation in the blog; in-betweeners, compositing and 3D artists, background artists, management staff and so on, right about every type of employee involved in the creation of anime has had a regular outlet to explain what their life is like. From the mid 00s to 2013, this was all hosted in Munto’s site of all places – as it was the title representative of their growth into independent animation creators. Even the growth of KyoAni’s side ventures can be observed via their blogging: the Osaka branch Animation Do got its own staff blog – the latest iteration is still available and was active up till the incident – as did the KyoAni School, which dedicates its updates to talk about how they’ve been tutoring young artists for about two decades. As cryptic as the studio can come across in some regards, there’s no denying that they’ve been telling us all about themselves in their own way.
It’s clear that something had to be done about KyoAni’s staff blog. It’s hard for the staff to move on while managing a site that’s a constant reminder of what they’ve lost. People like Takemoto, the very first writer and driving force in many of their initiatives to bridge the gap between creators and audience, are no longer with us. Whatever they choose to do, we should all respect it, but I do wish they relaunch their writing adventures if they get to the point where they feel comfortable with it, because the insight on such a special crew was very valuable – not just in the informative sense, but also in getting a taste of their worldview.