Kyoto Animation is an industry giant, and for very good reason. Every single show that they make in a year is looked forward to by millions of anime fans, and even their shows with the most mediocre of writing are salvaged by the ungodly amounts of eye candy put into every episode.
However, I did notice something on my recent binge of KyoAni shows, and that’s the fact that they all start almost the exact same way. Today, we’ll be breaking down that formula!
- A main character starts a club/joins a struggling club (usually reluctantly)
- The reason they even continue the club is because of an energetic and/or determined member who refuses to let the club disappear.
- They have a hard time getting members at first because they’re weird or niche.
- They get JUST enough members to stay afloat
- They do club promotion shenanigans for a few episodes
- They hit you in the feels out of nowhere with some serious club field trip and/or activity to make their bonds stronger.
• The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – SOS Brigade
• Clannad – Drama Club
• Hyouka – Classic Literature Club
• Beyond the Boundary – Literary Club
• K-ON! – Light Music Club
• Chuunibyou – Far Eastern Magic Society
• Free! – Swim Club
There’s a reason this formula works so well, and that’s because of the fact that people love tropes. Some critics may argue that being formulaic is a bad thing, but a formula works because it guarantees results, and the result is always a solid structure for a good story.
For starters, the member recruitment segments fulfill a number of narrative functions:
- It allows the show to introduce each character in a neat fashion through recruitment.
- It gives us an idea of how characters resolve problems.
- It gives plenty of opportunities for us to know the motivations of characters in recruiting said members.
Not only that, but club activities as well do double duty as framing devices for fun gags or serious character talks somewhere far from the fun gags. You don’t have to write in weirdly convenient reasons to go to different places or do certain activities if they’re school sanctioned!
Lastly, by having the the number of members always at the bare minimum, it establishes the stakes of the club possibly disbanding if even ONE of them decides to quit or give up, making for an easy but reliable source of drama.
Of course, while this formula is not limited to Kyoto Animation, I specified them because they’re the ones who perfected it to a tee, hence the number of successful and influential titles under their belt using this exact formula. KyoAni picks to adapt these for that reason, but they don’t just follow it and call it a day.
K-ON! Is the best example of KyoAni taking a good series and turning it into a classic. It was but a simple gag SoL during its manga run, but it was KyoAni that decided to take the story in a much more nuanced and heartfelt direction by making it about leaving a mark on your highschool life for the next generation to see.
While still being about cute girls, of course.
So why do school clubs work? Simple.