In recent years, there has been a relative proliferation of anime adaptations of visual novels from the famed VN stable, Key. Not since a certain adaptation in 2002 have the Kagikko ever had it so good, and this is arguably all due to one thing; Kyoto Animation, and how its studio debut of AIR (TV) took the first step of rewriting the rules of what an adaptation of a Visual Novel should look like. Ever since then, Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation have taken turns in giving us their animated adaptations of KEY’s greatest stories, and Fall 2007 marks the third time Toei and KyoAni have locked horns this season, with their respective releases of "CLANNAD: The Motion Picture" and "CLANNAD (TV)" respectively.
Nevertheless, why is there so much hype towards CLANNAD in the 2007 Fall season, and why has the popular view been that KyoAni’s KEY adaptations are infinitely superior to Toei’s? To find the reasons behind the hype for KyoAni’s CLANNAD, and the general disdain that the Kagikko have had towards Toei’s take, one will have to look back at recent anime history, and sift out the factors that led to today’s general consensus amongst the Kagikko that when it comes to KEY adaptations, KyoAni over Toei is the way to go.
First off, let’s look at the face-off that started it all;
Round 1: Toei’s AIR the Movie vs. KyoAni’s AIR (TV)
6th January, 2005. It was the day that AIR, the second Visual Novel produced by KEY, got its first anime adaptation under the hands of a relatively unknown animation studio in the Kyoto area. Who could have foreseen that an adaptation of an "eroge", with all of its accompanying stigma, would become the breakout hit of the season? Yet that was exactly what happened with AIR (TV), with fans gushing over the lush animation quality of the up and coming Kyoto Animation, and praising the studio’s dedication to faithfulness in its adaptation of one of their favourite stories of all time. In the midst of AIR (TV)’s run, Toei’s AIR the Movie hit the big screens on the 5th of February, proclaiming itself to be a "re-interpretation" of the original AIR storyline, directed by the famous Dezaki Ozamu.
Top to bottom: AIR the Movie, AIR (TV)
This first face-off of KEY adaptations was what started the slew of KEY adaptations, and brought Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation into their recurring battles of the KEY adaptations.. While AIR (TV) did not become the turning point for Kyoto Animation (that would come later with Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu), it did remind the Kagikko of the Kanon adaptation that was made by Toei back in 2002, and it got them thinking, "what if KyoAni did Kanon? What would it look like?"
Within a year and a half, they got their wish.
Round 2: Toei’s Kanon vs. KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
With Kyoto Animation receiving numerous calls from viewers to remake Kanon after the cameo of the Kanon girls in AIR (TV) Episode 2, the studio finally relented, and on October 5, 2006, the first episode of Kanon (2006) aired.
From top to bottom: Ayu in Toei’s Kanon, and Ayu in KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
From top to bottom: Nayuki in Toei’s Kanon, and Nayuki in KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
That is, until KyoAni delivered their second sucker punch at Toei, by unveiling Kanon (2006). While Kanon (2006) did not match the achievements of the wildly successful Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, it was a redefiner of its genre in its own right. Along with the luscious animation quality that fans have come to expect from the studio, KyoAni pretty much showed everyone how a bishoujo adaptation should be done; with faithfulness to the source material, meticulous care to detail, and a storyline that interwove the five different stories of the Kanon Girls into a largely (though not perfectly) consistent narrative, Kanon (2006) broke many long-held beliefs about the limitations of a bishoujo adaptation,
From top to bottom: Aizawa Yuuichi in Toei’s Kanon, and Aizawa Yuuichi in KyoAni’s Kanon (2006)
one of which was the stereotype that "harem male leads are a bland, wimpy lot". Even though that particular stereotype was not without justification, KyoAni’s Aizawa Yuuichi was a breath of fresh air in a sea of lackluster male leads, and was considered by many to be in a class all of his own, being a so-called "harem male lead" who was actually manly enough to take control of the situation, instead of waiting for things to happen just like so many other male leads in his position. Thus was solidified the notion that whatever adaptation of a KEY work that Toei could do, KyoAni could do better, with better animation, more faithful treatment of the source material, and a better male lead to boot.
All in all, this is all of the summary of the recent history between Toei Animation and Kyoto Animation, and their battle of the KEY adaptations resumes, once again, for Fall 2007
Round 3: Toei’s CLANNAD the Motion Picture vs. KyoAni’s CLANNAD (TV)
From top to bottom: Furukawa Nagisa in Toei’s CLANNAD the Motion Picture, and Furukawa Nagisa in KyoAni’s CLANNAD (TV)
If we are to judge by recent history alone, we can reasonably deduce what Toei and KyoAni would do respectively for their adaptations of CLANNAD, KEY’s third visual novel and their longest one to date. From previous experience, one might reasonably predict that "Toei + CLANNAD" = shaft; with them producing a 2-hour movie out of source material that’s said to exceed Kanon’s and AIR’s combined, it is almost a given that the movie will exclusively focus on Tomoya and Nagisa, the two main leads of CLANNAD, to the exclusion of almost everything else. From the trailers, one might also see that the animation style from AIR the Movie is more or less carried over to CLANNAD the Motion Picture; in other words, a snowball’s chance in hell of matching KyoAni’s kami-sakuga quality. From all previous indications, I would automatically give CLANNAD the Motion Picture a miss; however, I will be inclined to be more open-minded about Toei’s third chance, if word reaches me that it’s not as shafted as I expect it to be. We’ll see.
From top to bottom: Sakagami Tomoyo, and Fujibayashi Kyou, both from CLANNAD (TV)
How would it turn out? Only time will tell. And is this the last battle of the KEY adaptations? I cannot look into the future, but I can predict. And before I sign off, let me offer you my prediction in a thousand words, for that is what a picture is worth:
The great prize: Who will get to animate the Planetarian movie?
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