To have so many budding young women animation directors, and staff vanquishing at the same time, will not only impact the Japanese anime industry, but also, perhaps, put a small but significant dent in women empowerment in the industry
On the morning of July 18, while everyone was going about their usual business, an arson attack took place on one of Japan’s most popular animation studios, Kyoto Animation, shaking everyone to the core.
For the anime fans out there, both new and old, the news of the Kyoto Animation fire was devastating. Clearly, the 34 lives lost in the arson attack was a shock to not just anime fans, but to most people around the world. However, from a different perspective, this fire, and the loss of lives means something beyond what we perceive it to be. It was a loss that not only took lives, but also snatched away the dreams and aspirations, and perhaps, the women that made the studio famous.
Although the names of the victims have not yet been confirmed, it is apparent that quite a few young female directors fell victim to this tragedy. As details started to emerge, and I learned more about the company, I felt the gravity of the loss was more than the lives, and the tangible possessions. This fire had burnt away the hopes, dreams, aspirations, and even some of the best work we might have seen in recent times.
Kyoto Animation's notable works
Despite being in the arena for only a few decades, Kyoto Animation, known as KyoAni to fans, became famous for its distinct drawing styles, and focus on teen and youth stories. One of KyoAni’s unique features is in its approach. They are mostly based on light novels and manga, and are mostly about female school students struggling to make sense of their lives.
Their stories feature struggle, obstacles, budding romance, and friendship. My most memorable anime series include Fullmetal Panic: Fumouffu, and I distinctly remember the strong female protagonist. In fact, KyoAni’s perceived flagship anime series like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Lucky Star, K-On, and Sound! Euphonium are all centred around strong female protagonists harbouring hidden talents, and defying the world, all the while managing, and maintaining friendships.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, when it came out, created a storm in the world of Japanese anime. The whole charade of cosplay, school uniform, kawai dance, etc all started as popular trends from then onward. In short, it created a cultural storm that is still raging among otakus these days.
The reason why Kyoto Animation stands apart
The reason Kyoto Animation Studio stands out, is because of the heavy establishment of the gender norms in Japanese society. Despite Japan being heavily patriarchal, the role of the studio in challenging patriarchy, and establishing women empowerment have been remarkable.
While you may find many female manga artists and novelists, there are not many female animation directors in the industry; this is where KyoAni made headlines. The studio is known to employ more women, particularly young women, providing in-house training to the budding directors. In fact, most of the 34 victims were women. To me, as a working woman in this part of the world, the tragedy felt like a step back towards the darkness that surrounds women empowerment.
KyoAni is also atypical as it pays its workers salaries, unlike the traditional ways of hiring freelancers, and paying them per-frame basis, leaving them overworked, and underpaid. This healthy work environment led the staff to concentrate more on quality.
As a fan and a working woman, this fire was a blow beyond imagination. It is hard as a fan to imagine that, perhaps some of the projects they were working on, may never be aired.
To have so many budding young women animation directors, and staff vanquishing at the same time, will not only impact the Japanese anime industry, but also, perhaps, put a small but significant dent in women empowerment in the industry.
The tragedy took away not only lives, but also the souls of perhaps what would be some of the best, yet to come in the future.