Kyoto Animation is the internationally beloved anime studio behind dozens of hit anime series, and we’ve been excited to bring many of their fan-favorite shows back to home video or on disc in North America for the first time. To commemorate the recent releases of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and Hyouka, we’ve asked anime authority and KyoAni enthusiast @ultimatemegax to showcase one of KyoAni’s prolific directors, Yasuhiro Takemoto!
Yasuhiro Takemoto is one of the most notable directors at Kyoto Animation (KyoAni). He joined the studio in 1992, working as an in-betweener for the Shin-chan episodes KyoAni was subcontracted to produce before moving to draw key animation frames starting with Tenchi Muyo!. His first opportunity to storyboard and direct episodes came with episode 4 of Gatekeepers, where he storyboarded/directed 4 episodes of the series at KyoAni. He was trusted as a director for a TV series for the first time when Kadokawa’s producer Atsushi Ito decided to allow KyoAni to produce the animation for the second series of the Full Metal Panic franchise, Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu and has been a great director since.
Takemoto’s works have one common element: a careful visual display of the mood of the characters, particularly the male characters. In contrast to other staff members at KyoAni who prefer drawing female characters, Takemoto loves depicting alternative sides of male characters and digging into their mental states through visual representations and careful scripting. This is most evident in his two most well-known works: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and Hyouka.
Takemoto took over for Yutaka Yamamoto as the series director for the Haruhi franchise in 2007, though both were supervised by Tatsuya Ishihara, the director for the TV series and general manager for the film. Yamamoto’s version of Haruhi amplified the comedic aspects, but Takemoto took the series in a more dramatic approach. While the series is called The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, the most melancholic moment in the entire franchise arguably comes in the first new episode in 2009, episode 8: Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody. In contrast to the more feisty Haruhi shown in the Melancholy arc, Takemoto’s Haruhi is quiet and sullen when she realizes how long it’ll take for her wish to come true.
Takemoto continues with that theme throughout the new episodes from 2009, letting the audience feel the annoyance and frustration Yuki Nagato feels when the Endless Eight loop continues over and over again through Kyon’s point-of-view. It culminates in The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya IV, where Kyon’s frustration with Haruhi reaches its peak when she tries to have an intoxicated Mikuru kiss Koizumi and Koizumi has to stop him from hitting Haruhi. These dramatic moments exemplify the difference between Takemoto as director and Yamamoto as director; the feeling inside the viewer is much more visceral than in any episode of Yamamoto’s Haruhi.
However, his direction culminates in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, which is finally back-in-print in North America! Takemoto takes the viewer inside Kyon. Literally. The very first scene of the film has Kyon’s eyes opening. Takemoto himself says “Haruhi Suzumiya is a series from Kyon’s perspective, so Disappearance starts when Kyon wakes up.” The first part of the film is shown as incredibly lively as Kyon walks to the SOS Brigade clubroom to meet our energetic troublemaker, but as soon as the world changes and Haruhi…disappears, the entire school is clouded in a weird quietness and muted color palette. It’s a stark contrast and begins to show Kyon’s world is much dimmer when Haruhi isn’t around. This culminates in Takemoto’s most memorable scene from the film: Kyon talking about his own feelings with himself for a 6 minute long scene. If you haven’t seen the film, this is an incredibly well-directed realization scene that has Kyon admit what he really wants for the first time in the series.
Takemoto doesn’t just focus on Kyon; nearly all the SOS Brigade members get a heavy amount of focus in the film. Haruhi’s feelings for Kyon are on full display, Koizumi finally gets to drop his mask, Asahina shows her own limitations as someone who knows too much and can’t say anything, and Nagato finally reveals what she personally desires. Disappearance is a story that changes the direction of the Haruhi franchise from its internal conflicts around Haruhi to something bigger than herself.
Thanks to Takemoto’s focus on creating believable groups and the interactions between each character, we are able to appreciate the connection between each and every one of the characters in a natural way. We sense why Kyon is shocked when he discovers a changed Nagato and we feel the despair he’s thrust into when Asahina doesn’t know who he is because we know how they’re supposed to act around him. When Kyon monologues about the rest of the group near the end, it’s a point of verbal acknowledgement due to how Takemoto crafted each interaction prior to that scene. Due to the visual presentation of the film, Disappearance peaks as the height of the Haruhi anime franchise and becomes a title that Takemoto can be very proud of.
The other work that most people associate Yasuhiro Takemoto with is one that’s coming out soon on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time in English: Hyouka! Hyouka adapts the first four novels of the “Classics Club” series by Honobu Yonezawa into a 22 episode series + 1 original OVA. Takemoto’s favorite character of all time is the main character in this series: Hotaro Oreki! Hyouka’s tagline from the Japanese promotion was “Adolescence isn’t just sweet but it’s not painful either.” In one word, Hyouka is often described as “bittersweet” and Takemoto exemplifies that through this series. The art staff mentioned he wanted “bitter” colors in the backgrounds, the stories resolve in many bittersweet ways, and Hotaro himself learns that life isn’t always as easy as a simple motto. It’s a very grounded series; the entire world has a very low-key atmosphere where Takemoto’s visual style creates such contrast only when it’s needed.
Hyouka is often mentioned for its visuals and deservedly so. Takemoto chose wonderful designs, matching colors and backgrounds, and allowed for immense creativity amongst the direction staff for outstanding moments. Takemoto imagined many different visual expressions of Hotaro through the series, leading the staff to follow with their own interpretations such as Eisaku Kawanami’s episode 4 scene where Hotaro thinks about the mystery with clock pieces and phrases flying around him to reflect his thoughts. That doesn’t mean he himself didn’t contribute; the most often shared image/gif of the series is Eru Chitanda’s eyes enchanting Hotaro into a delusion in episode 1, a Takemoto quirk present through many productions of his. These were ways for Takemoto to reflect the change of Hotaro through the series.
Takemoto begins Hyouka with a simple introduction to Hotaro: he’s not interested in your rose-filled life; he’s just going to do what he needs to do to live and that’s it. Hyouka is the slow process that changes Hotaro over the course of a school year and Takemoto is able to slowly reflect how he changes and how he changes that motto. The Classics Club begin with some relationships already established. Satoshi quotes Hotaro’s motto to him in episode 1 and we see Mayaka’s dislike of him in episode 2 from her “Well, well. It’s Oreki. Long time no see. Can’t say I’ve missed you.” opening line. Little moments like that along with their wonderful expressions show how these bonds start in episodes 1 & 2, but it’s the moments in episode 4 where the group meets to go over possible theories regarding the mystery of Eru’s uncle that show the growing bonds between all of them. We see the group as a whole begin to think about each others opinions on their thoughts. That episode sets up its parallel opposite one in episode 11; instead of the acceptance that Hotaro is likely thinking of the right answer, everyone consoles him when he’s proven wrong.
This is where Takemoto’s efforts shine most. Friends aren’t just people that spend time together; they grow to care about one another and help them out when they’re in trouble. The activities of the Classics Club strengthen these bonds not through extraordinary events like in Haruhi Suzumiya; instead it’s through everyday mysteries, after school club meetings, and trips to celebrate. Similar to Disappearance, Takemoto uses Hotaro, the main character, to show the changes that occur in the others as well. Eru has to act appropriate for the daughter of a respected family outside, but the others see her inner personality and curiosity.
Satoshi is self-deprecating, but we’ll see another side of him in Part 2. Mayaka starts off very stingy, but we see a much softer side of her throughout as a result of her bonds with the others, especially Eru. And then we see Hotaro himself change in this part. “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. If I have to do it, I’ll get it over with quickly.” That’s the start of episode 1. Through wanting to live up to everyone’s expectations, he does something he doesn’t have to do in the second arc, and then he realizes he didn’t live up to their expectations and becomes outwardly frustrated with himself. Though seemingly irrelevant, it’s Takemoto himself who wrote the script for the OVA episode to reset Hotaro not through his own actions, but by creating a nurturing environment from his friends to become himself again at the end of Part 1 of Hyouka.
“Adolescence isn’t just sweetness; but it’s not just pain either.” And so is the truth. Hyouka was written by a mystery writer who wrote everyday mysteries in this series. The first arc, based on the title of the first book, delves into a mystery of a missing uncle and why Eru cried when she last spoke to him. The second arc delves into an unsolved mystery film and who was a murderer. These stories don’t end in happy endings; the truth is rarely kind enough to allow for that type of tale. Takemoto captures that bittersweet sensation of knowing “why” in solving these cases. We’re glad we know what happened, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt somehow, even as a viewer. The stories in the second half are even better, but you’ll have to wait for their release in Part 2!
These aren’t the only works that Takemoto has directed. He’s handled many titles in the Funimation catalog:
- Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
- Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid
- Lucky Star (became director for episodes 5-24 and OVA)
- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya-chan
- Nyoron Churuya-san
- The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2009 episodes/broadcast)
- The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
- Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
While some of these are more comedic than the two I’ve highlighted, they show his attention to mood similarly. This is especially true in Dragon Maid, where he creates a loving family from an office worker, a dragon who wants to be a maid, and a child dragon amongst other fun characters. Hopefully you’ll note all the wonderful things Takemoto does to build the mood of a show next time you watch them!