Kyoto Animation and subsidiary Animation Do held their second ever fan event over 2015 October 31 and November 1 in the exhibition space at Miyako Messe in Kyoto. Though some marketing materials for upcoming shows were unveiled, on the whole it was an opportunity for fans of the Kyoto Animation oeuvre to get up close with the pre-production materials, animation process and creators that gave birth to their favorite works. A follow on from the well-received 2013 CTFK event (Chūnibyō, Tamako, Free! and Kyōkai), this year’s subtitle was a boisterous Watashitachi wa, Ima!! (私たちは、いま！！ This Is What We Are Now!!).
In my early days as an anime fan, I rarely paid attention to the production side of the shows I watched. I simply went for works that were more highly regarded by critics or particularly popular among fans. As I began to take a more mindful approach to what I consumed, it was a fun surprise to discover so much of Kyoto Animation’s output had been among my favorite shows. These days, much of my attention is allocated to studying the minutiae of anime background art, and I consider Kyoto Animation to be the standard bearer for both photo realistic settings and high production value in general. I hesitate to declare my undying love for a particular creator or studio, as it makes it tough to maintain a neutral observer stance as I evaluate works, but as my daughter and I ofter talk about Shinonome Nano, Hirasawa Yui or Kitashirakawa Tamako as if they were real people, it is perhaps a bit too late to be helped.
My only real complaint about the weekend concerned the weather. Crisp fall air, deep blue sky with wispy clouds, and leaves beginning to turn to yellow, orange and red, warmed up a few shades by the sun. It was almost unbearable, and I really hope they can do a better job for subsequent events.
Seriously, this sky. It’s like something I’ve seen in—a KyoAni show.
The first floor space held the shopping area, where limited run goods only available at the event were for sale. I found myself a nice Tamako Market poster and a few other goodies at the KyoAni shop in Kohata, Uji earlier in the week, so skipped the lines and devoted my time to the main parts of the exhibition.
The upstairs corridor was lined with congratulatory flower displays sponsored by other companies and fans.
The front half of the large exhibition hall featured a gallery of key visuals (the primary piece of marketing collateral used to promote a work) and other advertisements, arranged in the chronology of Kyoto Animation’s output as the main producer. There were also life-sized panels of the casts from recent works. Photography was permitted in this area. There is a photo roll of all the posters at the end of this article.
You may be tempted to continue shooting as you turn to the back of the hall and cross into the no-photography zone, but Kawakami Mai has her eyes on you.
Ok, maybe just a few quick ones from behind the line.
The heart of the event was the exhibition of intermediate work products from completed shows and a few from upcoming releases. Pencil sketches were covered with plastic or glass to prevent smudging, but all of the ink key frames were simply hung with a few tacks. You could reach out and (very gently) run your fingers over the indentations where animators used their fingernails to hold down the key frame while using it as a reference.
Some of the more surprising finds were the original character designs for Hibike! Euphonium. Kumiko and Asuka changed very little from their original concepts, while others went through dramatic changes. Midori began with a huge pile of hair that dwarfed her frame, while Hazuki sported some twin tails.
The original sketches for the instruments in Hibike! were all done on graph paper, drawn precisely to scale. There are also character design height charts that include the instruments, to help animators maintain consistent relative sizing between the instruments and musicians.
I’m very fortunate to have once rummaged through a digital treasure box of Tamako Market materials in a private meeting, but one item I found at the event either was new to me, or I had forgotten about. The setting in Tamako Market draws on Demachi and Fujinomori, two areas along the Kamo River in Kyoto. In the early episodes of the show, butaitanbou (scene hunting) fans were hard at work investigating if the show setting preserved the real world spatial relationship of these areas to each other. We eventually determined it not to be so, based on temporal proximity and no use of the Keihan Line trains. However, all is made clear in a fun little sketch of the Demachi area, with the Masugata Shōtengai in the west, river delta in the center, and the relevant section of Fujinomori dropped in the east side where Demachiyanagi Station and the edge of Kyoto University would be.
With limited capacity, passes to attend the stage events were distributed through a lottery and based on preferences you indicated through a web reservation. I was able to see the Directors’ Forum, a talk on upcoming series Musaigen no Fantomu Wārudo, Crew’s Forum and the 2D&3D CG Artists’ Talk Session. With my limited Japanese ability, the panel discussions were a good challenge and helped me gauge how much I can and can’t understand at native speed.
Most of the panels were moderated by voice actor Shiraishi Minoru who, among other roles, was the voice of Sakamoto (the cat) from Nichijou. Sakamoto is a smart ass. Shiraishi is like Sakamoto without a filter. It was glorious.
The Directors’ Forum was the most difficult for me to follow, though I got the general ideas. It seemed more of an opportunity for Yamada, Ishidate, Takemoto and Ishihara to reminisce and swap light banter than anything else.
The Musaigen panel was straightforward. Director Ishihara, character designer Ikeda and voice actress Uesaka Sumire (Kawakami Mai) gave us an overview of the characters and the show’s fantasy premise. No auditions were held for the voice roles. Part way through, they unveiled the first PV for the series. From the PV and prior marketing images, the butaitanbou community has thus far identified location models in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture and a large building from Kyoto Prefecture.
The Crew’s Forum was the most meaningful of the panels I saw. Lesser known heroes that do all the work under the director to make magic things happen were given the stage to talk about what inspired them to go into animation as a career, and how they ended up at Kyoto Animation or Animation Do, specifically.
The 2D&3D CG Artists’ Talk Session was the most fun group of panelists, and with a well-organized agenda and visual examples to accompany each portion, the easiest for me to follow and understand. Each panelist was given a slot to share a sequence or two that they were the most proud of, and then dive into how it was created. The crowd broke into spontaneous applause at the “umaku naritai” scene from Hibike! Euphonium, where the camera tracks screaming Kumiko as she runs along the river from the train station and across Uji Bridge.
Passion for creation and challenges is alive and well at Kyoto Animation. Though fans don’t always agree with the directors’ creative choices, and some folks really regret the works or sequels the studio has chosen not to make, it’s hard to doubt the dedication of the staff when you see them in person. Each is a unique individual with his or her own story and goals for personal growth. Though billed as a fan appreciation event, the two days at Miyako Messe were just as much about fans cheering on the people who have given us many great memories, and hopefully many more.
Of course, no ambiguity about which one I’d take home with me, if only I could…