When I was fifteen in late 2012, freshly a high school student, I began to learn Japanese. It was to help me with this that I picked up regular anime viewing. Wondering where to begin, I remembered one series a friend I’d known some years back told me about, but which I’d never finished: K-On! became my first anime as a dedicated viewer of the medium. It was extremely pleasant, but I did not feel especially affected by the experience; I liked the atmosphere, the comedy, the cuteness, but that was the end of the line for me at the time. And so I moved on swiftly. But unbeknownst to my little self-aware teenage self, K-On! would exercise an undeniable influence on my taste in anime: for me, it was now about cute girls and the utopian sight of them living their daily life to the fullest. K-On! was by no means my favorite anime, and it still is not; yet it shaped my relationship to the medium in a profound way.
The first Kyoto Animation series to leave a strong impression on me was CLANNAD. Even now, when enough years have passed for me to wonder what about it made me feel that way, I can still recall the feeling of awe, of watching something both otherworldly yet doubtlessly humane. It gave me emotions stronger than any other anime did: I laughed with the whole cast in the first season, watching the adventures of Kyou and the rest with a warm eye, and cried with Tomoya and Nagisa in After Story, cried at this story where those who never achieved anything grand were still judged worthy of one miracle. The warmth of it didn’t leave me even as the memories became more abstract. I continued to regularly encounter works by Kyoto Animation. I loved Hyouka and would escape to its mundane intrigues several times (it still remains one of my favorite shows). I was bored by Tamako Market, never bothering to watch the latest episode (until I recently watched it with my boyfriend and appreciated the whole much more). I liked Tamako Love Story, and the recent second viewing has made me love it. I thought nothing of Kyoukai no Kanata. I was highly entertained by Amagi Brilliant Park.
Then the first season of Hibike! Euphonium aired in 2015. Just like with K-On!, I found it fun, but failed to gain a deep interest in it, and felt some emotional distance from its events, even as I appreciated the care put in the depiction of the characters’ feelings. But this is not about the first season itself, as much as what would come after it. A year on the second season aired. At that time, I was slowly changing; under the new influence of new acquaintances, I was learning much, and immature as I still was, I was slowly beginning to see many sides of the world around me I had failed to consider. In this situation, Hibike! Euphonium 2 affected me strongly. For the first time I appreciated the depiction of youth: the passion, the resolve, the disappointments, the joys; I was able to say it: even if I struggled to believe in it, I held it all in deep admiration. Slowly my cynicism was crumbling apart, making way for a yet wary sympathy. Looking back, maybe this was the start of my slow reconciliation with who I am. The ending had moved me profoundly, and to this day remains my favorite final scene in any anime. From this second season, a character stood out to me: Yoroizuka Mizore. But I’ll come back to her.
Then mid-2017 came. It was then―I remember that I was spending my days on Breath of the Wild at the time―that I watched Koe no Katachi. Viewing it was a wonderful moment, but it left something even stronger; slowly, as the memories of it melted into me, I could feel them leaving traces in the depths of my emotions. The movie had left a lasting impact on me. Something profound about life itself had been conveyed to me through the movie, something that could not have been expressed in any different way: the struggle to relate to others, to communicate with them; the guilt we come to carry along the way; the need for togetherness and forgiveness in spite of it all; that we may have faltered, but that realizing we all have can help push us forward. All those things became engraved in a deep part of me, and still are. Koe no Katachi both touched me and gave me something to search myself in: it told me something about who I was, and projected a hope about the future in the same movement. When, in early 2018, looking for something to move me, I saw that Koe no Katachi was screening in a theater not so close to my Tokyo apartment, I didn’t hesitate to go and spend some seven hours outside all for less than two hours of film, in a small screen with only four people, me included; but I knew why I did all this.
Fast forward to the 21st of April 2018. It was the morning, I was in a theater in Shibuya, maybe the most excited I’d been since starting life in Japan. Today was the opening day of the latest movie by Koe no Katachi’s director Yamada Naoko: Liz to Aoi Tori. It is a spinoff of Hibike! Euphonium centering on Yoroizuka Mizore and her gal pal Takasaki Nozomi. I wrote about the experience on this blog before, so I will forego the embarrassing details. To this day I have seen the movie seven times, in more or less pleasant conditions, but it is still far and away my favorite work of all time. It’s no exaggeration to say that it changed my life; but I don’t know if my life really has elements of Liz or if I want to see Liz everywhere in my life. No words can quite express how deeply I love this movie. The awe and the trembling, the tear I shed when I first watched it, knowing I would never forget this day, have not faded way; all those movements of my heart are all firmly with me, more than a year later. Mizore’s story taught me something about myself that inspired me to move forward in life again. Every detail of the movie made me feel like it represented artistically some aspect of my emotional structure that had hitherto been buried too deep for me to see. The experience of Liz to Aoi Tori gave me something to love, something to drive me forward, when I was about to close myself off. It is both incredibly close and in a place I could never point to. It is the most beautiful and moving experience I have ever had, and it came at the lowest time of my life. I still get childishly excited whenever I notice a new aspect of it, come up with a new interpretation for this or that detail; and yet I have never written about it, because I still feel incapable of saying anything worthwhile about it, nothing that could even begin to pay homage to what this movie has done to me. Maybe the blue bird will always make me chase after it.
And now we arrive to this day, when the tragedy has hit: Kyoto Animation’s first studio has been the victim of arson, killing thirty-six people and injuring about as many, out of a total of less than eighty people in the studio at that time. When I first heard about all of this, I was shaken, but none of it felt very concrete. They were just number, and the names we did hear were those of the people who were fortunately safe. But a few hours later, it all started falling into place. Maybe I do not know the names of the people who passed, maybe I will not be able to identify them even after they come out; but all of those people have, on some level, contributed to making the works that have changed my life irreversibly. All of them I owe something profound to, and yet now I will never be able to thank them. The names, the faces, it doesn’t matter if I don’t know them; that they existed was enough. That they were out there somewhere was enough. That, while I was going about my life, I could remain assured that they were going about their work was enough. That I lived in the safety that they were out there, going about their unexceptional days just like me, was enough; the sheer mundanity and self-evidence of it all was enough, because at the end of the tunnel was a new release, an event that may once again change everything for me. But now this time has stopped. There is no daily life of Kyoto Animation parallel to mine going on right now. Time is out of sync. The lives of many have come to a halt, and will never begin again. But mine cruelly continues, as if nothing had ever happened; many people around me have no care for any of it. Depressing as it all is, seeing people reporting and translating the news on social media offered some sense that other people were also affected, and that feeling alone was helpful. Putting grief in common is one of the only comforts we can have in such times, a rest from the sheer helplessness that glares at me wherever I go.
There is little I can say about the tragedy itself that others have not already repeated many times over. There is no movement right now, just the anxiety induced by being in a constant state of waiting for the next piece of news, of being unable to do anything until the newest announcement imposes on us with all its depressing authority the feeling we must now experience. Some people, of course, attempt to put their libido back into movement by investing it all in hatred for the perpetrator; but I will remain on the side of immobility, which at least offers the potentiality of some future, when KyoAni eventually release a new work and the passion for what they do that is now suspended can resume. Wasting it all into hatred means closing off the possibility of that moment.
Because the seeds are already there. The loss of those lives we owe so much to is tragic and nothing can ever fully repair it. But the works they produced remain. Those are with us at all times, they continue to accompany us; the events that were our discovery of them, with all the irreplaceable feelings we experienced then, continue to push us forward. They exist on a plane of time that not even the saddest tragedy can erase. I am not attempting to call upon the cliché that the works of these people makes them eternal. But something remains certain: so long as those works are available to us, they will continue to work their effects, and hold all sorts of potentials for us and future viewers alike. They are the events of the past that no one can alienate us from, the feelings we hold dear in the present, the possibilities the future retains for us. They will bridge the seemingly infinite gap that separates us from the future at this moment; they are already starting to, as we come together to realize how much we all love KyoAni and their works. They will connect our temporalities, our lives.
The story will begin again.