By Deanna Nguyen
Whether you’re a visual novel player or a long-time anime fan, Key’s works are easy to recognize. Founded as a brand under the Visual Arts publisher by Itaru Hinoue, Naoki Hisaya, Jun Maeda and Shinji Orito, they have created many stories that have seen anime from legendary studios like Kyoto Animation and P.A.Works! Um…wow.
Maeda, a pioneer of nakige visual novels, has contributed as a scenario writer, lyricist and, more importantly, musical composer for many games. Na-Ga has worked as a graphic designer and illustrator and helps give the studio its distinct character designs that we’ve come to fall in love with. The power of their combined mastery has sent shock waves around the industry and is the foundation for those story elements that punch you right in the gut with feels!
From the early days of Kanon to the currently airing The Day I Became a God, the anime from Key’s collaborations have made a mark on the community. Whether through tears of laughter or sadness, the sentimental response is what makes Key’s works a heartrending journey. Let’s take a look at some of these legendary anime streaming on Funimation and reminisce on each show’s emotional footprint.
Kanon (2002, 2006)
Based on a visual novel of the same name, Kanon was produced by Toei Animation with a total of 13 episodes. It later received another adaptation in 2006 from Kyoto Animation, which is currently streaming on Funimation.
The story revolves around Yuichi Aizawa, a second-year high school student who returns to a city that he last visited seven years ago. With little memory of what his life was like before, he receives help from five girls, who are all connected to him in one way or another.
Kanon, the visual novel, ranked second in best-selling PC games in Japan and has since sold over 300,000 units across several platforms! While different people wrote the anime adaptations, the story beats are mostly the same, and studio Key did an incredible job making sure it kept its meaning.
Reconnecting with people in the present and creating new memories are more important than dwelling on the past and recovering what was lost. Powerful!
Angel Beats! (2010)
Angel Beats! stands out from previous Key titles for its otherworldly premise. Yuzuru Otonashi, the main character, wakes up with no memories and soon realizes that he’s in the afterlife. The catch? He’s returned to high school, and there’s been an ongoing war between the Afterlife Battlefront and the mysterious Angel.
Full of bombastic humor and unsettling violence, Angel Beats! has the same pulse as other Key works in that it focuses on connecting with people and moving on from the past. Throughout its 13 episodes, the characters come to discover why they’re in the afterlife, who Angel is, and what their next step should be. They all have a “dying wish” that they need to fulfill to move on, allowing them an opportunity to correct past feelings of guilt.
Meeting these beloved characters and being able to complete unfinished business is certainly a world we’d love to wake up in.
The story takes place in an alternate reality where a small number of preadolescent children have supernatural powers thanks to the dust from a passing comet. We follow Yuu Otosaka, who can possess another person for a few seconds. His antics get noticed by Nao Tomori, who’s the student council president at a school for people with these special abilities, and she makes Yuu transfer to keep an eye on him.
As another show that manages to switch between comedic and bittersweet moments, Charlotte takes a different approach by directly giving the characters superpowers. The characters’ powers are flawed, but that doesn’t stop secret organizations and terrorist groups from exploiting them.
The first half is both silly and hilarious in its slice of life style, while the second brings the classic “crying game” elements that Key is known for. The themes and motifs from previous titles appear right before our eyes as the story slowly unfolds.
Key takes a turn from the afterlife and supernatural settings for a postapocalyptic one in Planetarian.
Based on a visual novel that was released in 2014, the five-episode ONA follows a nameless “junker” who scavenges the ruins of civilization to survive. He comes across an abandoned planetarium and meets a gynoid in the guise of a young girl named Yumemi. She shows him a projection of a starry sky before the two leave and encounter war machines.
The memory motif is prevalent in Planetarian; Yumemi serves as a reminder of what humanity lost. She preserves pre-war memories, and despite her being a machine, she seems more human, offering hope in a very bleak world. Although the show is short, the focus on only two characters allows them to be more fleshed out.
Like most endings for Key’s works, expect a tearjerker with a profound message about human life.
The Day I Became a God (2020)
P.A.Works continues their streak animating the works of Key with the latest title The Day I Became a God. With no original source material, the show is a completely new project and was written by Maeda. Na-Ga also designed the characters with a color palette that’s reminiscent of Angel Beats!’s characters.
The story follows Yota Narukami, who’s preparing for his university entrance exams when a girl named Hina suddenly appears. Calling herself Odin, she says she’s the “god of omniscience” and warns Yota that the world will end in 30 days.
A large cast is nothing new when it comes to Key’s works—all the more reason to look forward to character dynamics and relationships! Oh, and also to see if the world will end.
To say that the works of Visual Arts’ Key are emotional roller-coaster rides would be an understatement.
Whether you’re eager to get in line to ride again or happy with one go—at the end of the day, we’re all left feeling complete and satisfied! And we’re here for it.