A History of Kyoto Animation

Kyoto Animation is a favorite anime studio among fans, responsible for anime titles which instantly became classics, such as The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, and Nichijou. They’re also well-known for their moe art style. That is to say, their art style which they began using since the anime K-On!. This post will take an in-depth look at Kyoto Animation’s history, and the evolution of their anime.

Most anime fans have heard of the name Kyoto Animation (or KyoAni for short) sometime during their fandom, whether it be from watching the credits or chatting with other fans about their favorite studios. However, few people realize that the creation of the company itself is romantic story.

The Founders of Kyoto Animation

Kyoto Animation Logo

The president of Kyoto Animation, Hideaki Hatta, founded the company with his newlywed wife Yoko Hatta, who is currently the vice-president of Kyoto Animation. Yoko Hatta had previously worked at Mushi Production, which was an anime studio owned by Osamu Tezuka before he left the company and went on to make Tezuka Productions.

Yoko Hatta moved to Kyoto to live with her husband and together they founded Kyoto Animation in 1981. It became known as a limited company in 1985, and it wasn’t until 1999 that it became a corporation. Between 1981 and 1990, Hideaki Hatta and Yoko Hatta worked small jobs on various anime, such as Zillion, for which they both helped in production, and Urusei Yatsura, for which Yoko worked on the finish animation for the OVA.

The Beginning of Kyoto Animation

Kyoto Animation’s first creation was Munto in March 2003. It was an original video animation, or OVA for short, meaning that it came out exclusively in stores without airing on television. Munto is not a very well-known title, even today, and it wasn’t back then either. I’m not sure if it was bad or if it had just gone unnoticed. In any case, the company had to try harder to get a much bigger project in order to stand out.


In August 2003, Kyoto Animation released its first completed TV series: Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu. It was a sequel to an anime run by Studio Gonzo, originally adapted by the light novels Full Metal Panic! by Shoji Gatoh. Since it was not the first animated adaption of the series, Kyoto Animation’s work could have easily gone flat. However, this was their big chance to shine, and they were not going to give up without a fight. Fumoffu was a popular success, despite its late release (2009) in English, and Kyoto Animation went on to animate the next Full Metal Panic! sequel, Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid in July 2005.

By this time, Kyoto Animation had already released two other projects: Air, which originally began as a visual novel by the company Key, got its first TV series in January 2005, and Munto got a sequel OVA in April 2005, titled Munto 2: Beyond the Walls of Time. In the case of Air, it was the first time that Kyoto Animation released an anime that did not already have an adaption. As such, one could imagine what a big step this would be for the company.

KyoAni + Key

Not only did Kyoto Animation get to release such an important anime for the company’s progress, but in doing so, they formed an acquaintance with the visual novel company Key. Key went on to become an immensely popular visual novel production company, and they also continued to have KyoAni animate their adaptions. In October 2006, Key’s next anime adaption, Kanon, was released by Kyoto Animation. Unfortunately, Kanon was a flop as an anime. Fans were enraged to see their beloved visual novel turned sour. Fortunately for Kyoto Animation, they had already played a trump card by this time.

The Age of Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star


The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, a famous title, emerged in April 2006, half a year before Kanon. The anime was a huge success both in Japan and North America. The character Haruhi Suzumiya was rated the top favorite female character in anime on several polls, and the series even spawned numerous video games. The series continues to strive even in recent years, with only two years ago there being released a spin-off anime, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was such a success that the main protagonist of KyoAni’s next series, Konata Izumi from Lucky Star (2007), was also a huge fan of the Haruhi Suzumiya anime, and several nods to Haruhi Suzumiya were made during the release of Lucky Star, such as Konata’s ringtone being the ending theme, and Konata cosplaying as Haruhi herself. By this time, Kyoto Animation had become quite popular and well-known, but nothing could compare any anime fan for the series that was to come next.

Tears were Flowing for Clannad


Key’s next animated adaption, Clannad, was released by Kyoto Animation in October 2007. The series was split into two seasons, and the second season, Clannad After Story, aired in October 2008, consecutively with no other KyoAni releases in between. Clannad‘s anime series as a whole became an instant favorite among anime fans, and is considered essential to watch in many anime communities, even today. Thanks to the anime by Kyoto Animation, the title got so popular that even the original visual novel was eventually released in English.

The Arrival of Cuteness: K-On!


Kyoto Animation began the year 2009 off with a TV series for Munto in January. While it increased the people who know of the title, it still remains to be a widely unknown anime. In February 2009, Haruhi Suzumiya got two spin-off ONA (original net animation) called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya-chan and Nyoron Churuya-san. They were both based off of spin-off manga, which were both based on the original Haruhi Suzumiya light novels. It pleased the fans of Haruhi Suzumiya greatly. In April 2009, K-On! got a TV series. K-On! is pretty famous, but in all honesty, it’s mainly for its cute animation and characters. There is very little to tell, story-wise, in the world of K-On!. Nonetheless, K-On! became quite popular as an anime. On the same day K-On! aired, so did the rebroadcast of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which contained 14 new episodes that are considered to be Haruhi Suzumiya’s second season. The series aired in a different order than the first broadcast, and the first 8 episodes of the second season were so aggravatingly boring to watch that Haruhi fans from Japan filmed themselves destroying their Haruhi goods and posted it on the Internet. 15 days after K-On!’s anime debut and the second season of Haruhi began, Munto got a movie; KyoAni’s first released film. Despite Munto‘s small audience, Kyoto Animation continues to write an ongoing manga for Munto. Indeed, 2009 was Kyoto Animation’s busiest year yet.

Haruhi Suzumiya Disappeared

Kyoto Animation’s next release was its second film, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which had come to Japanese theatres in February 2010! The entire time KyoAni had not released a single movie, then bam, two movies come out side-by-side. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was a huge success, completely taking back all that was lost during the second season of the TV series. The box office for The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya received ¥830 million yen.

K-On! got a second season, dully titled K-On!!. The first season had only managed to get 13 episodes and one OVA, while the second season achieved 26 episodes and an OVA, essentially twice as long before counting the OVA. By this time, fans of Kyoto Animation had already begun noticing the difference in animation for Haruhi Suzumiya in contrast to the first season, the second season and movie using the same art style as the anime K-On!. However, Nichijou, KyoAni’s next animated series, used a completely different style.

The Comedy Legend, Nichijou


Nichijou began as a comedy manga and delivers just as many laughs through its anime, which premiered in April 2011. Its unique art style stands out in contrast to other titles, not just by Kyoto Animation, but in general. A legend of the comedy anime genre, Nichijou has been the source of many memes on the Internet and is often considered a must-watch in anime communities. K-On! also got its first movie in December 2011, which was oodles more impressive than the TV series.

Cuteness Overload


Kyoto Animation had released a few movies by this time, but in regards to TV animation, Kyoto Animation was slacking a bit. In 2012 they picked up the pace with the TV series Hyoka and Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions which came out in April and October respectively. In September, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions Lite became available online as an ONA.

In 2013, Tamako Market aired as a TV series in January directed by Naoko Yamada who also directed K-On!. In July 2013, the TV series Free! began airing. In September, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions got a recap movie told from Rikka’s point of view, which was not released in North America. Beyond the Boundary got its TV series in October, as well as an ONA in November. At this point in time, Hyoka, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, Tamako Market, Free!, and Beyond the Boundary all had the same art style as K-On! did. It was a somewhat bizarre and interesting choice on the part of Kyoto Animation to do this, but it lead to that art style becoming well-known as being KyoAni’s.

Sequels and Amagi Brilliant Park

In January 2014, Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions got a sequel season which aired on TV in Japan. In April of the same year, Tamako Market got a film sequel, Tamako Love Story. Free! also got a sequel in July. The only new title Kyoto Animation released that year was Amagi Brilliant Park, which aired beginning in October. Amagi Brilliant Park was interesting on an animation point of view, in that Kyoto Animation started to change their art style again. While the K-On! moe style was still reminiscent, there were definitely some unique changes made to the artwork.

Extraordinary Anime Art: Sound! Euphonium


In March 2015, Beyond the Boundary got a recap movie. In April 2015, it got a sequel movie. By that time, Sound! Euphonium had begun airing on Japanese television. While Kyoto Animation had been improving the K-On! art style beautifully, at this point it became obvious that they were trying to change their look. Sound! Euphonium had a beautiful art style, which while similar to the K-On! style, was unique and very detailed. Some have considered it to be one of the most artistically beautiful anime to exist in terms of animation. In December of that year, Free! got a prequel movie based on the second light novel in the original series.

KyoAni’s Recent Works

In January 2016, Myriad Colors Phantom World got an anime TV series, with a similar animation style as Amagi Brilliant Park. The first season of Sound! Euphonium got a summary movie in April. In October, Sound! Euphonium got a second season. However, the biggest highlight of this year for Kyoto Animation was the September release of the movie A Silent Voice whose box office received ¥2.3 billion yen. Surprisingly, A Silent Voice used the K-On! art style, which one would think KyoAni was moving away from, considering how other new titles had been staying away from it more.

Currently at Kyoto Animation…

As for 2017, Kyoto Animation currently has an anime TV series airing in Japan, titled Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid which premiered on January 11. The art style is different again, definitely using a moe design, yet not very similar to the famous K-On! art style.

An anime adaption for the light novel series Violet Evergarden has been announced, but few details are known, and it is currently unknown when this anime will be released.

KyoAni + Light Novels


Many of Kyoto Animation’s titles are based on light novels. The company has its own “Kyoto Animation Award” given to light novels that are submitted for a chance to become an anime. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, Beyond the Boundary, and Myriad Colors Phantom World were all adapted from novels entered into this contest, but they had all only won honorable mentions. Other than those three, only Violet Evergarden has ever been adapted into an anime from this contest, and it was the first light novel to receive the grand prize in 2014.

Kyoto Animation is one of my favorite studios, and I believe they do a marvellous job of painting the picture of anime we have today. Even when they reused the moe art style of K-On! several times, I always loved them. I believe that every anime fan, no matter how big a fan they are, should watch at least one work by Kyoto Animation.

Your Opinion

So, what’s your favorite KyoAni title and why? If you were to write a light novel, would you submit it for the Kyoto Animation Award? Drop a comment below!


3 thoughts on “A History of Kyoto Animation

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