Founded in 1981 and incorporated in 1985, Kyoto Animation (once known as Kyoto Anime Studio) is a good studio to look at the evolution of a studio that once focused only on one aspect of animation into a subcontractor into an animation producer into an multimedia studio. This is a look at how they grew into who they are now.
In 1981, most animation was produced for TV through hand-drawn pictures put onto cels that were painted and then photographed onto film. One painter that would later go by the name of Yoko Hatta painted cels for Tatsunoko Production and Sunrise. She married Hideaki Hatta and moved to Kyoto. In Kyoto, Hideaki and she started Kyoto Anime Studio, which was later re-named Kyoto Animation. The studio originally focused on solely painting cels, but later added a drawing section in 1986 after it became a company in 1985. The studio was a subcontractor for studios like Sunrise and Production IG (which Hideaki helped found in 1987). They would get episodes contracted to them from long-running shows like Inuyasha and complete the episode’s animation for the animation production studio. With the switch to digital animation coming, the Hattas had bigger ideas.
In 2002, Fuji TV wanted to animate a spinoff of the popular Full Metal Panic! series and asked Kadokawa to make a committee. They did, but instead of using Gonzo like the main series had done, the company decided to chance the series on a studio who wanted to produce the animation for their own series for the first time KyoAni accepted the funds and made the show. Since they weren’t on the production committee, they did not receive any additional financial support from this project. Later in 2003, the studio would produce the first of two self-funded OVAs for advertising their services, Munto.
Later in 2004, producers from TBS, Pony Canyon, and Movic saw their work and decided to partner with them to produce AIR, their second self-produced series. It was a success and KyoAni got some of the returns from the sales. The cycle went on between Kadokawa and TBS/Pony Canyon for nearly ten years with KyoAni moving up in the production committees. Eventually, we started to see a trend being formed with two main committees KyoAni worked with:
Kadokawa clique: Haruhi, Lucky Star, Nichijou, Hyouka:
Kadokawa Shoten (publisher/international rights)
Kadokawa Pictures (video distributor/domestic distribution (TV and internet), later combined into Shoten)
Kyoto Animation (animation production)
(Lantis) – Only in a couple of shows (music distribution/production in all shows)
Klockworx (rental distribution)
Movic – Nichijou only (merchandise production)
TBS clique: AIR, Kanon, Clannad, K-On!:
TBS (main financier/domestic distribution (TV and internet)/international rights)
Pony Canyon (video distributor/music distributor & producer (K-On! only))
MOVIC (merchandise/live event producer)
Kyoto Animation (animation production)
In 2009, KyoAni decided to alter their role as a studio even more by announcing a contest for novels, manga, and scenarios to be published/animated. They received entries and announced no Grand Prize winners, though a few Encouragement Award winners were awarded. This wasn’t viewed as anything important at the time in the industry, but it marked a huge course change for the company. Instead of being contracted to animate someone else’s work, KyoAni wanted to be the producer of their own material. This led to our third clique:
KyoAni clique: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!, Tamako Market, Free!, Kyoukai no Kanata
Kyoto Animation – (publisher/animation production)
Pony Canyon – (video distributor/music distributor/producer (Tamako only)
Lantis – (music producer/distributor excluding Tamako)
TBS/Asahi Broadcasting Company(Free! only) – (digital distribution/international rights)
Notice the huge shift in committee lineup? Instead of being third/fourth on the list and earning a smaller portion of the profit, KyoAni not only became the biggest financier of the project, but owned the copyrights/publication rights to get a much bigger share of the earnings. They have to invest more (higher risk), but they get to earn a lot more than before (higher reward). For a show like Chuunibyou, they not only got a much bigger share of revenue from BD/DVD sales compared to something like Kanon (15k sold to 18k sold) as they are actually selling the disc alongside the committee (unlike Sunrise’s shows), but they also got their novels published in many new stores and increased demand for that label. People look at Chuunibyou‘s earning as only BD/DVD sales, but it was much much much more profitable than that for them when you add in novels, merchandise, and copyright ownership. They took a big risk, and got rewarded heavily.
Following the airing of the final CTFK work, Kyoukai no Kanata, two new productions started while work was progressing in sequels for all the CTFK works. While both would adapt properties owned by other publishers, they both told different sides to how the studio would work in the future.
Amagi Brilliant Park production committee:
TBS (main financier/domestic distribution (TV and internet))Kadokawa (Shoten: Video publisher) & (Fujimi Shobo: Print publisher)
Kyoto Animation (animation producer/self-produced merchandise seller
Amagi was a light novel series written by Yasuhiro Takemoto’s old friend from the Full Metal Panic series, Shoji Gatou. He wanted to adapt Gatou’s new novel series, but Kadokawa wasn’t funding a lot of 12 episode productions anymore. Hideaki Hatta and Takeshi Yasuda (from Kadokawa) asked TBS’s Nakayama for assistance in funding the show and they agreed. This was the first Kadokawa/TBS co-produced show (not counting the Media Factory brand the Kadokawa group purchased in 2013) and it was made possible through the connections from the past. This was likely a one-shot pairing as the three sides each want different goals with animation production in the future.
Hibike! Euphonium production committee:
Kyoto Animation (animation producer)
Pony Canyon (video publisher/publicity/international rights)
Lantis (music production/distribution)
Rakuonsha (sound production)
Released in December 2013, Ayano Takeda’s novel captured the interest of two producers at KyoAni, Eharu Oohashi and Riri Senami. They made a proposal and presented it to the publisher of the novel, Takarajimasha, who allowed them the rights to animate the novel. Again, this is unlike before. While KyoAni had adapted works from other publishers, they were either on the committee (Kadokawa) or the rights were requested by TBS. While the revenue sources aren’t as large (due to not publishing the novel and owning copyrights), they still are larger than other productions.
It’s really amazing to see how far the studio has come in 30 years.
2003: Animation Producer
2011: Content Producer
2015: Content Acquirer
Who knows what else may come in the future? With Euphonium, we now see that KyoAni has the ability to acquire good works from other creators and lead those committees. The potential for creation from the studio has opened up and now can focus on appealing to an audience outside the general otaku fandom. As the studio looks to grow larger in control of their productions, it’s fascinating to think where they go from here. Time will tell what happens next, and no one outside knows what direction the studio will go with their next work, so there’s no use guessing what the future holds.