When I got back into anime in the early 2010s, I imagine like a lot of people who get into a large and unfamilar medium, I read up on various critics and listened to fans as to which shows “any and every anime fan needs to watch.” Classics, hallmarks, cultural touchstones; whatever you want to call them, over time I delved into the stuff most people are readily familiar with. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (which turned a decade old this year... yup, we’re all old), and even oldies from my days back as a kid watching Toonami such as The Big O and Zoids. On my travels, one show that stood out to me by how often it came up in conversation as a trademark show of the 2000s, was Full Metal Panic!
After all these years, I’ve somehow forgotten what drew me to it in the first place. Probably a mix of likable character designs and it (at that time) still being ubiquitous enough to warrant a watch; regardless, I found myself liking the first season of it well enough. A surprisingly good blend of high school comedy and military drama (with decent mech battles; not great, but decent for the time), and one of the best dubs I’d heard. After I got through the original 2002 series, I set my sights on the sequel shows: Fumoffu and The Second Raid. And what I found in them amazed me. I’d experienced shows making a tonal shift before, but this was... something else.
What makes the whole FMP series of shows stand out in my mind is how the show started as one series that was a decent (if albeit imperfect) mix of comedy and drama, but ended up developing into two more shows, that each focused on and damn near perfected on just one of those genres. Fumoffu is a slapstick comedy that lightly dabbles in high school drama, and The Second Raid, which does start with some of the franchise’s trademark comedy at the beginning, but by the end cements its tone as an unexpectedly hard hitting drama about two people realizing for the first time what they truly mean to one another. You might think this would make the series a bit of an uneven watch, but for me at least, it worked beautifully.
Imagine being unfamiliar with one of those “areas of entertainment” I mentioned earlier. Imagine being into baseball and knowing of Ichiro Suzuki, but thinking that he’s just a really good player, and not (in my humble opinion) the best player I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime. Or getting into cars for the first time, and viewing Alfa Romeo as just a quirky Italian automaker known for its lacking build quality, instead of a historic marque that has made some of the best handling, and most beautiful vehicles of all time. With that said... KyoAni isn’t one of my favorite studios. I mean that in the honest, no snark sense; not hate, not love, just... neutrality. I’ve seen most of their work, and I do like about half of it. But a lot of the time, the incredible attention to detail that’s given the studio its reputation... again, personally, the studio’s character design just starts to blend into itself from show to show.
I know a big part of it comes from how KyoAni was single-handedly responsible for the moe-shift the industry saw in the mid-2000s, and I know every studio has its own style that can attract as many viewers as it alienates; I just happened to be one of the few that’s turned off by eyes that appear just too fluid, and not as human as they should. Again, with all that being said, Kyoto Animation has always been a studio I’ve respected. Possibly the one I respect above all others, because in an industry where overworking employees and toxic work environments (especially for women), KyoAni was one of the too few where you never heard stories like that. In workplaces that focus on entertainment products, you become so used to the horror stories of people literally keeling over from trying to get something out the door, from video games, to comics, to anime. And over time, you just start to... subconsciously accept that fact. Otherwise, how could you separate art from the needless, profit-driven pain that went into making it?
That was unacceptable to Kyoto Animation. In spite all my grievances with their style, be it animation or hit-and-miss writing, their overall substance is something I sorely wish there was more of in their industry, because it’s that of a studio that goddamn loves what it does. And their first official show, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu, I still and will always say, exemplified this. Because it’s KyoAni before they were KyoAni; it’s the most un-moe show they made (next to Second Raid, of course), but you can still see their DNA in it, especially in how they take character designs that almost look like they were from the 90s, and animated them with a fluidity that’s still uncommon by today’s standards. It’s not stilted, every scene looks as though it’s breathing somehow, with an organic feel to it, and direction that... sadly, we’ll never see again.
Fumoffu is one of the very, very few shows I rewatch at least once a year, and it pains me to now know that Yasuhiro Takemoto (the show’s director), and over thirty others, from industry veterans to people who were just starting out in their careers, will never get to... work, live, do, be, ever again. I can only hope that the survivors, and the families of those who weren’t so fortunate, can and will go on. I hope they continue to work in this industry, but fully understand if they choose to leave it. I hope KyoAni continues onward, but I fully understand if they choose to close their doors. What I hope happens regardless is that the industry sees what made KyoAni so loved as it is: not just their attention to detail, but their upmost regard and respect for their employees and artists. How KyoAni treated its staff is something we should see more of in every industry.
And finally, I hope their works continue to be seen and experienced, years after the horribly too literal dust has settled. I hope it makes people laugh, cry, discover something new, or make them think about a positive change in their own lives. Because Fumoffu certainly did that for me, even with just a few laughs of a guy just trying to fit into a high school life, with a tsundere that despite what she said, knew he wasn’t hopeless.