Thursday, 2 October 2014

4000 Episodes Reflection: The Key of Type-Moon

So, a couple of days ago my father sent me a link to a blog post about how modern dictionaries fail to live up to their full potential by one James Somers. It was a great read, so naturally I wanted to know if he was constantly that good, or if it was more of a one-off thing. Turns out, he's pretty consistent. One post in particular that stood out to me was about how people should write more, even if they never plan on showing it to anyone else. The next day, I happened to watch Julie and Julia, which is a movie about someone who decides to start a blog because she wants to be a writer. I think it's high time I updated this blog, don't you?

Actually, as a brief aside before I start explaining what a "Key of Type-Moon" is, let me just say that Jason Somers is, for lack of a better expression, everything I want to be when I grow up. He's a talented programmer (mostly web development, but I'll forgive him; somebody's got to do it), he has an excellent grasp of the English language, he writes articles for The Atlantic and TIME, and he just one day decided that he was going to learn how to fly an airplane... so he did. That's pretty much the coolest thing ever. Learning to fly has been a dream of mine for a long time, although I've never actually pursued it. I hope that one day I'll be as cool as he is. Or, better yet, as cool as I think he is.

Alright, back on topic. You know, I spend so much time watching anime, I could have sworn that more of my posts were about it. Apparently not; I haven't posted any anime related articles since January, when I hit the 3000 episodes watched mark. I just hit the 4000 watched mark, so I guess it's time to revisit the topic. On that note, 1000 episodes in 3/4 of a year? Goodness that's a lot...

A graphic of my anime watched stats, including total hours spent and ratings distribution.
I'm actually taking a screenshot this time, so I can look back at my stats later.
In Japan, there's a genre of video games called visual novels. The best way to describe them is kind of like choose-your-own-adventure books, but with pictures and sound. Visual novels aren't very big in North America, although that's starting to change. The two best known visual novel developers are probably Key and Type-Moon. Key tends to write romances with a hint of the supernatural that will end up crushing your soul (Kanon, AirClannad), while Type-Moon tends to write verbose action-adventures that wax philosophical (Kara no Kyoukai, Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Zero). Now, these two descriptions may not sound very similar, but that's mostly because they aren't similar; Key and Type-Moon stories are actually very different from each other. But even though their stories are almost nothing alike, there is one striking similarity between Key and Type-Moon properties: the anime adaptions.

For some reason, I really enjoy looking into the behind-the-scenes of media production. I like to know what company produced a particular piece of media, who its writer and director were, the names of the actors involved, the publisher, the composer... I like to follow a person's work and see who they're collaborating with on what project and almost build a mental graph of the industry, showing who is related to who in what way. I also enjoy looking into the process of how the industry works (which is why the special features from the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings are so amazing). So the other day, when I happened to be looking into the various anime adaptions of these two companies, I suddenly realised that they have almost the exact same history; the narrative behind their adaptions is strikingly similar.

What does "the narrative behind their adaptions" even mean? Well, I'm trying to say that the order and time frame of their adaptions in combination with the studio who produced it and the general opinion of the adaption end up following the same patterns. How so? Well, here's a couple of handy little tables to highlight the similarities. Note that I'm only listing the major story releases, not fluff like Carnival Phantasm or the Kara no Kyoukai Epilogue.

Avoid At All Costs Don't Bother Watching - Worth Your Time - Please Watch This

Key Adaptions

Title Release Date Studio Length
Kanon Jan 31, 2002 -- Mar 28, 2002 Toei Animation 13 Episodes
Air in Summer
Jan 7, 2005 -- Apr 1, 2005
Aug 28, 2005 -- Sept 4, 2005
Kyoto Animation 13 Episodes
2 OVAs
Air Feb 5, 2005 Toei Animation Movie
Kanon Oct 5, 2006 -- Mar 15, 2006 Kyoto Animation 24 Episodes
Clannad Sept 15, 2007 Toei Animation Movie
Another World
Clannad After Story
Oct 5, 2007 -- Mar 27, 2008
Jul 16, 2008 -- Jul 1, 2009
Oct 3, 2008 -- Mar 26, 2009
Kyoto Animation 23 Episodes
2 OVAs
24 Episodes
Angel Beats! Apr 3, 2010 -- Jun 26, 2010 P.A. Works 13 Episodes
Little Busters!
Little Busters! Refrain
Little Busters! EX
Oct 6, 2012 -- Apr 6, 2013
Oct 5, 2013 -- Dec 28, 2013
Jan 29, 2014 -- Jul 30, 2014
J.C. Staff 26 Episodes
13 Episodes
8 OVAs

Type-Moon Adaptions

Title Release Date Studio Length
Lunar Legend Tsukihime Oct 9, 2003 -- Dec 25, 2003 J.C. Staff 12 Episodes
Fate/stay night Jan 7, 2006 -- Jun 17, 2006 Studio Deen 24 Episodes
Kara no Kyoukai
Kara no Kyoukai: Mirai Fukuin
Dec 1, 2007 -- Aug 8, 2009
Sept 28, 2013
ufotable 7 Movies
Canaan Jul 4, 2009 -- Sept 26, 2009 P.A. Works 13 Episodes
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works Jan 23, 2010 Studio Deen Movie
Fate/Zero 2
Oct 2, 2011 -- Dec 24, 2011
Apr 8, 2012 -- Jun 24, 2012
ufotable 13 Episodes
12 Episodes
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei!
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei Herz!
Jul 12, 2013 -- Sept 13, 2013
Jul 9, 2014 -- Sept 10, 2014
? 2015 -- ? 2015
Silver Link 10 Episodes
10 Episodes
? Episodes
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 2
Sept 28, 2014 -- ? 2014
? 2015 -- ? 2015
ufotable ? Episodes
? Episodes

Now, I must confess that I haven't watched all of these myself, specifically Tsukihime and Fake/kaleid, so the colour ratings for those are just based off of the general opinions that I've heard on the internet. I'm a much bigger Key fan than Type-Moon fan, so I don't feel compelled to watch everything Type-Moon, regardless of quality. For Key though, I had been putting off watching the Toei Animation versions of Air and Kanon because of what I had heard (and from watching the Clannad movie), but I finally decided to just sit down and watch them so I could formulate my own opinions. Honestly, my expectations were so low that I ended up being pleasantly surprised by them (although they still fall far short of their Kyoto Animation counterparts). Note that I took the liberty of colouring in the adaptions that haven't aired yet. For instance, I coloured the new Unlimited Blade Works show green because I have confidence in ufotable. I could be wrong now... but I don't think so! (It's a jungle out there...)

Alright, so what exactly is similar about these two tables? Let's start with the obvious and get the easy stuff out of the way: both companies have had their major adaptions done by a whole bunch of different production studios. Key has had 4, and Type-Moon 5. Not only that, but some of these adaptions came out at the same time as each other, the strangest example of which is probably Air. I cannot fathom why anyone would think that it's a good idea to release the movie version during the airing of the TV series. The other easy thing to note is that while there has been a great diversity in quality among the adaptions, if you look at a particular studio's quality, it tends to be fairly consistent. This holds true regardless of if it's a Key or a Type-Moon adaption. The standout here is ufotable, who has never done anything wrong, ever (at least among these Type-Moon adaptions; I can't really speak to anything else they've done). The last easy observation that we'll make is how all of the green-rated adaptions fall to one of two studios, depending on the company being adapted from: Kyoto Animation for Key, and ufotable for Type-Moon. I suppose that you could technically say the same thing about orange-rated adaptions, but since there's only one Type-Moon adaption rated that colour, it's not quite as impressive.

Those easy correlations probably aren't enough to warrant writing a full post on, which is why it's a good thing that there's more. Actually, the things I've already mentioned aren't even what I noticed first. What prompted me to look into this in the first place was a chance observation that the different production studios that have made a Key adaption could be correlated one-to-one with a studio that has done a Type-Moon adaption. Well, one relationship is one-to-two, because Type-Moon has had one more studio do an adaption, but it's still pretty close. I'm getting tired of making tables, so let's try representing these correlations in a different way: formatted like a block of code! The Key studio is listed on the left, the Type-Moon studio on the right, and the pairings are listed in order of increasing studio quality. I'll be giving a brief description of each studio's history and what they're known for as we go along.

Key: Toei Animation. Type-Moon: J.C. Staff, Studio Deen.
(Toei Animation == J.C. Staff + Studio Deen) {
Toei Animation is one of the big kids on the block in the anime world. Their first show came out in '63, and they've been behind hits like Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, and the insanely popular One Piece. J.C. Staff (Japan Creative Staff) is a bit newer with their first production released in '87, and have mostly produced smaller-scale shows. Their biggest hits are probably Azumanga DaiohNodame Cantabile, and Toradora!. Studio Deen started releasing content in '83, and their hits are Rurouni Kenshin, Fruits Basket, and more recently Hetalia.

This pairing (trio-ing?) is simultaneously the strongest and the weakest. It's weak because it took two studios to match one and the colour ratings for the shows don't match exactly. On the other hand, it's really strong because Toei Animation has a monopoly on the lowest scores in the Key table (and has no higher scores), while J.C. Staff and Studio Deen have the only red-rated adaptions across both tables. And trust me, the Unlimited Blade Works movie was absolutely horrible; the story was way too large for an hour and a half long movie, but I digress. These three also hold the distinction of being the only studios to have their works re-adapted (well, Toei Animation and Studio Deen have; Tsukihime fans are still hoping).

Key: P.A. Works. Type-Moon: P.A. Works.
(P.A. Works == P.A. Works) {
P.A. Works (Progressive Animation Works) is the second youngest studio on this list, with their first series being released in '08. Their biggest hit is far and away Angel Beats!, but they're also the studio behind Hanasaku Iroha, the Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva movie, and The Eccentric Family. They're also one of my personal favourites, and are well known for having beautiful scenery as the backgrounds of their shows. Case in point, Nagi no Asukara. It's like watching a series of award winning paintings with romantic melodrama drawn on top.

There are only two studios that have adapted series from both Key and Type-Moon, P.A. Works and J.C. Staff. Their names are pretty similar too. In an interesting turn of events, P.A. Works actually ended up matching to itself because its two adaptions, although not rated the same, are actually viewed fairly similarly. They even came out at around the same time, only 6 months apart. The general sentiment about both shows is that though they have a lot of potential, they don't end up fully capitalizing on it. Actually, the area that I would end up citing as the weakest for both series would be their characters, albeit for different reasons. Angel Beats! has great characters, but the show is so short and the cast so large that almost none of them get any screen time and the whole thing feels stunted. On the other side of the issue, Canaan has several characters that I didn't care for and who end up feeling one-dimensional and fake, even though the cast was an appropriate size for the number of episodes.

The other interesting thing to note about both of them is that neither are actually adaptions. Angel Beats! was an original anime project (there was no existing source material), and Canaan was written by Type-Moon as a sequel to another company's game. Oh, and they also both feature heavy use of guns and other weapons, strangely enough. Personally, I love Angel Beats! and I would highly recommend it, but I won't do the same for Canaan, sadly.

Key: J.C. Staff. Type-Moon: Silver Link.
(J.C. Staff == Silver Link) {
Silver Link is the youngest studio on this list, with their first production being released in '09. Their most notable productions are probably Baka and Test, Kokoro Connect, and Watamote (or No Matter How I Look at It, It's Your Guys' Fault I'm Not Popular!, which is a bit of a mouthful). Also, their logo is not very exciting. I'm a fan of minimalism, but there is a point where it becomes boring and forgettable, which is not really what you want for your corporate image.

If I'm going to be honest here, this is a pretty weak pairing. It's more or less a "Well, these two studios are left over after matching all the others and they have the same colour rating; let's match them with each other for clean up!" sort of pairing. The colour rating point is true though, so maybe there is something here. I haven't heard too much about Fate/kaleid, but all the rumblings that I have noticed have all said that while it's not a stand-out series, it does what it tries to. Little Busters! I did watch, and although I can't put my finger on it, it's lacking something. From a technical perspective, it seems fine to me. I can't quite put my finger on why it's not even as good as Kanon, so all I can really say is that as good as it looks, something feels slightly off about it. It's not bad, it's just... lacking.

Key: Kyoto Animation. Type-Moon: ufotable.
(Kyoto Animation == ufotable) {
Kyoto Animation's first show came out in '03, but their big break came in '06 when The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya came out, skyrocketing them to fame and fortune. Aside from that and their Key properties, they're known for shows like Full Metal Panic!K-On!, and Lucky Star. They're also my favourite studio, hands down. ufotable's first production was released in '02, but they didn't really become well known until '07 when the first Kara no Kyoukai film was released. Aside from their Type-Moon adaptions, their best known work is probably Manabi Straight!, the Tales Of Symphonia anime adaptions, and the Tales of Xillia games' cutscenes. Although that image is their official logo, I've never seen it in any of their shows' credits. In fact, I'd never seen it before at all until I had to look up their logo for this post; usually it's just plain white text, entirely in lowercase letters.

On further reflection, this is definitely the strongest pairing. Like I said, I'm a massive Kyoto Animation fan, entirely because of their work adapting Key properties (although adaptions like HyoukaK-On!, and Nichijou and their own properties like Free! and Love, Chuunibyou & Other Delusions have only made me like them more). If you visit any anime rating site and look at the top anime of all time list, you're guaranteed to find two things: Kyoto Animation's Clannad After Story will probably be in the top 3, and ufotable's Fate/Zero and/or Kara no Kyoukai (or The Garden of Sinners, which is not the literal translation; that would be "The Boundary of Emptiness") will probably be in the top 30. All of these adaptions are top quality, not just as adaptions but as shows in their own right.

I've said this elsewhere, but Clannad After Story is my favourite anime of all time. Together with Air and Kanon, some fans refer to the three as the "holy trinity" of Key adaptions. Comparing them to the Toei Animation versions isn't even fair: there's absolutely no contest in any area. On the Type-Moon side, Kara no Kyoukai and Fate/Zero are unbelievably beautiful to look at, blowing the Studio Deen adaptions right out of the water. If you want to watch a truly successful show, these are the studios to look at. I'm sure I'll end up talking about these studios more in a later post. Just as a warning, all of these adaptions these studios have done contain some rather distressing content. They're all worth watching, but only if you know what you're getting yourself into and you don't mind. These shows are not for everyone.

There are a few other, smaller similarities between the narratives of the two companies' adaptions (like how they both started out with low quality, and have more or less risen over time), but I won't bother to point them all out. I haven't even looked into cast lists to see if there are any similarities there. If you want to go poke around and see if you can find any similarities of any sort that I haven't pointed out, by all means, do so. In fact, I'd highly encourage it. And then, like Jason Somers says, you should write about it. You can write about it here in the comments, or you can write about it on your own site, or you can just write about it on a piece of scrap paper lying next to your computer; it doesn't really matter where as long as you actually write. If you're feeling up to it, I'd also encourage you to proofread what you wrote after you've finished it, to see if you can improve on it any. Simply writing words can only take you so far; you really get better at writing when you start actively trying to improve what you've already done.

Well, that's enough of that. I enjoyed writing this piece, and I hope that you enjoyed reading it. Oh, and since we've been talking about Key I have to mention that, for the very first time, one of their visual novels is officially available in English on Steam: planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~. It's short, it's poignant, and it's only $9.99, so you can't go wrong. You should buy it, and then wait with bated breath for the official release of the Clannad visual novel. Sekai Project, keep doing the impossible.

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