Culture

Remembering the staff of Kyoto Animation

by Matt Schley

Contributing Writer

Almost a month after the main studio of Kyoto Animation was set on fire, killing 35 and injuring many more, details of the victims are still emerging after police released the names of 10 workers on Aug. 2.

We know so far that Junichi Uda, Yuki Omura, Yuka Kasama, Yoshiji Kigami, Ami Kuriki, Yasuhiro Takemoto, Sachie Tsuda, Futoshi Nishiya, Keisuke Yokota and Mikiko Watanabe were killed as a result of the blaze on July 18, but what else do we know about these victims?

The youngest among them was 22, the oldest was 61. Some were rookies, lucky enough to be starting their careers at one of the most respected animation studios in the nation. Others were well-known by peers and anime fans as respected animators, designers, production managers and directors. None of them, nor any of the other employees who went to work July 18, expected anything other than a normal day, applying their talents to the properties that have earned the studio worldwide acclaim.

Yasuhiro Takemoto was one of the directors who helped the studio earn that acclaim. Takemoto, who was 47, joined the studio in 1996, and made his directorial debut with 2003’s “Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu,” Kyoto Animation’s first major series.

But the first Takemoto project that helped set the tone for the Kyoto Animation to come was “Lucky Star” (2007), a 24-episode adaptation of the manga by Kagami Yoshimizu. Much like the studio’s series “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” (2006) before it, “Lucky Star” featured oddball high schoolers, quiet “slice of life” stories and dance routines soon copied by legions of cosplayers. The majority of Kyoto Animation projects have since followed a similar template, depicting the sometimes comedic, often complicated lives of high school students. Takemoto was not originally supposed to helm the project, but he stepped in and rescued the show after its initial director was fired for performance issues.

The savior of “Lucky Star” went on to direct a number of other well-received series for the studio, including “Hyouka” (2012), “Amagi Brilliant Park” (2014) and “Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid” (2017), a domestic comedy about an office worker who inadvertently invites a shape-shifting dragon into her home as a live-in maid. The fate of the series’ second season, announced earlier this year, is as yet unclear.

While Yasuhiro Takemoto began his career at Kyoto Animation, Yoshiji Kigami, who died at the age of 61, entered the company as a seasoned pro. As a key animator, Kigami worked his magic on some of anime’s most celebrated films, including “Akira” (1988) and “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988). A veteran of Shin-Ei Animation studio, Kigami’s directorial debut was “Noroi no One Piece” (1992), a co-production between Shin-Ei and Kyoto Animation.

As a veteran animator, Kigami passed his years of experience down to younger Kyoto Animation members, becoming an official member of the studio’s training program. He also remained a vital part of the studio’s output, directing 2003’s “Munto” and serving as an episode director and key animator on series like “Tamako Market,” “Sound! Euphonium” and “Violet Evergarden.”

In a piece by Japanese news wire service Jiji, a high school classmate referred to Kigami as the “kind, older brother type” who could be seen “drawing practically every day.” That passion apparently never faded. One former Kyoto Animation employee said Kigami had a “leader-like presence” and a “passionate devotion to creating original Kyoto Animation properties.”

There is no doubt that passion for creation extended to key animator Ami Kuriki, to painter and special effects artist Sachie Tsuda, to animation director Futoshi Nishiya and to all the named and as-yet-unnamed people in the studio that day.

The lives and talents of the individuals lost on July 18 cannot be replaced. It is disheartening to think of the scale of loss. If there is any solace to be had, it is in the work left behind, and the moments in which that work inspires young men and women to create.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5