My history with A-1 Pictures

Lately, the subject of my feelings towards A-1 Pictures has been coming up constantly in response to my videos, and has been the subject of a lot of argument and misinterpretation. The upcoming 9th part of the Asterisk War Sucks series is almost entirely about my problems with the studio in general–but it doesn’t really dive into how I came to the conclusions that I did about the studio. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that I hate A-1 shows just because they’re A-1 shows, which is weird and ridiculous–why the hell would I just decide I don’t like a studio? My hatred for A-1 comes as a result of not liking their output, and my feelings towards them have come from the long and winding process of watching them develop over the last eight years or so. As such, I think it’ll help for the sake of argument, and for the sake of people not asking me the same questions over and over again, if I just detail my history with the studio in full.

I first heard about A-1 Pictures in 2008, around the time that the first season of Birdy the Mighty Decode came out. I enjoyed that show well enough and watched it all the way through, though I never got around to season 2 in 2009 (but I still want to, and I’ve seen tons of gifs from its fight scenes). I never got around to Big Windup, tho from what I’ve heard/seen of ep 2, it’s really good; and Kuroshitsuji didn’t seem like my thing.

When I started taking interest in the studio was around the time Kannagi came out. I didn’t actually watch more than 1 ep of it, but there was a lot of hoopla over the fact that it was directed by Yutaka Yamamoto (Yamakan) after he’d been fired from Kyoto Animation after directing the first 4 episodes of Lucky Star. A lot of ado was made over how Kannagi looked like a KyoAni show in it’s designs, at a time when those kind of designs were just coming into prominence and becoming controversial. Somewhere around this time is also when Yamakan founded his studio Ordet, and Ordet and A-1 were often collaborating together, so there was a lot of intrigue around what kind of stuff they’d produce.

I skipped out on Valkyria Chronicles and Fairy Tail, but I actually came to be a *fan* of A-1 Pictures in 2010 when they ran their Power of Anime block. Sora no Woto was my favorite show of the year–one of my favorites of all time–and was a really cool original series. They then put out Occult Academy, which was a show that was totally all over the place but ultimately interesting, and Night Raid 1931, which started strong, got really boring, and ended pretty poorly; and I think Night Raid is probably the most representative of what my problems with this studio would eventually be. 2010 also saw the first A-1 and Ordet collaboration on the movie Welcome to the Space Show, which I really loved.

In-between those shows, they started Working!!, which had intrigued me with its premise and characters, but I felt like the comedic timing was always a bit off, and the jokes got stale very, very quickly. I actually picked up the manga and enjoyed it a lot more than the anime, and was reading it along with its scanslations; and I ended up watching the rest of the anime with my brother and not really liking it. We watched all of season 2 together as well, and I didn’t really like that either. By the way, if you want documentation of my feelings on ALL of these shows at the times that they were airing, I blogged about all of them on this very site. The search bar is your friend; the writing probably sucks, tho.

Where things started going downhill with A-1 for me was on their next collab with Ordet on the Yamakan-directed Fractale. Fractale was yet another show with a very strong start and some really flashy visuals, which very quickly became a roller coaster of quality that took a nose dive by the end into complete shit. At this point, all of the A-1 original series had been inconsistent in this way. Even Sora no Woto, which I loved, was kind of all over the place and a little rough around the edges; but between Occult Academy, Night Raid, and Fractale, it felt like everything the studio did was a huge mess.

Right after that, they put out Anohana, which eventually would become crazy popular, but wasn’t really all that hyped at the time. I’d seen the first episode and loved it, and I was already a fan of Tatsuyuki Nagai and Mari Okada (the duo that did Toradora and is now doing Iron-Blooded Orphans), but I never got around to continuing. A few of my friends who had also been excited at the start told me that it really fell apart and got lame in the end, and from what they described of the plot, it seemed like something I’d really hate, so I decided not to bother finishing it.

Blue Exorcist was a case where I’d been really into the manga, and had read the first three volumes, but I absolutely hated the way that the anime handled it when I watched the first episode. It was totally visually unappealing, and didn’t match the great style of the manga, which I’d really wanted to get an adaptation from BONES. I didn’t really attribute the failure to A-1 in particular, as I still didn’t have a total ire for the studio yet, but in retrospect it’s one more thing that pissed me off.

The Idolmaster was the next A-1 thing that made a big splash, and to me was the thing that was most indicative of the style the studio was going for–putting lots of flashy, very modern-looking animation into shows about cute girls (which until this point, were typically not very well-produced if they weren’t from KyoAni) and marketing the fuck out of them. I watched like seven eps of Idolmaster and it seemed like it was always middling between “okay” and “not very good” so I lost interest. Again, I heard from people who did finish it that it kind of fell apart in the long run.

Space Brothers was one where I only watched 1 ep, and it seemed like it was a bit too slow and a bit too ugly for me to take interest–and like something where the manga was probably better (which fans of it seemed to be saying). My brother watched like 25 eps of it and got tired of it for reasons that sounded like they’d annoy me, so I didn’t bother.

Tsuritama, which I actually never finished, was the last A-1 show that I was pretty into and excited about. I’m generally a big fan of the director and I was really into the feel-good tone of the series. I did think that the visuals were kind of wonky, and not as interesting and experimental as the director’s other work, but it was nonetheless a fun and unique series.

So then we have Sword Art Online. At the time the first 2 eps came out, me and my brother had pretty high expectations for it as an MMO anime that actually had action scenes and drama in it; but after 7 episodes I totally lost interest and stopped watching.

Meanwhile, I hated the first episode of Shin Sekai Yori and dropped it immediately–and since this was around the time that I stopped watching a lot of anime for about a year and a half and focused on other things, I didn’t really hear about the hype for the series until long after it was over. Keep in mind, though, that at this point, I still considered A-1 to be a pretty decent anime studio in general.

I never got around to Magi, Servant X Service, Vividread Operation, or any of their other 2013 output, since I wasn’t watching anime at the time, and I’ve never heard any strong recommendations for them from people whom I generally trust. I wouldn’t see any more A-1 shows while they were airing until Nanana’s Buried Treasure in 2014.

Now, keep in mind that Nanana’s Buried Treasure was coming out right when I was getting back into anime, and started making anime videos on my channel. At the time, I had become aware of a massive amount of hype surrounding Sword Art Online, and people started asking for my opinion of the series constantly. Now, at the time it had been airing, my brother had made it 18 eps into the series and thought it was a complete piece of garbage, and had been complaining about it ever since. Early in 2014, my girlfriend T the time had discovered the series and totally loved it, and when I tried to explain to her why I’d dropped it years earlier, she didn’t really get it. Ergo, a few months later, after we’d broken up and a million people had asked my thoughts on the show, I thought fuck it, I’m gonna watch the damn thing and figure out how to put what I feel into words. I ended up hating it way, way, way more than I expected to, and then made a bunch of videos about iT that got really popular and sort of put me on the map. You’ll notice, though, that even in my SAO videos, I don’t really spend a lot of time talking about the studio behind it–I mostly rag on the original writer. It’s only soon after that I really started growing in ire for A-1.

I tried out Silver Spoon around this time, but I wasn’t really into it–in part cause I don’t care for the subject matter or the ethos of the show, and in part cause it was pretty boring. I’m sure this show is probably not all that bad, but it’s really not my thing.

Nanana’s Buried Treasure was the show that finally made me realize I had a problem with the studio, because once again, it was a show that started out really strong, and I was into it, but then I thought it turned to complete shit by the end. You can see my vlogs chronicling this on Digi Does Anime, and in the last one I think I even state how I’ve realized that every A-1 show seems to start off promising, and turn to shit by the end.

Up next was Aldnoah.Zero, which I was pretty disgusted with by the end of ep 2 and dropped. It was all flash and no substance, with a terrible script and plot holes right out of the gate. When the hype train for that show very quickly became a hate train as it went along, with guys like Demolition D and Anime Addicts ripping it apart, I wasn’t surprised, and I started to feel like A-1 was just a studio that made really flashy, tacky shows without any kind of writing chops to back them up.

I sampled an ep and a half of World Conquest Zvezda Plot and wasn’t into it, though I’ve heard good things and still want to give it another try. I sampled an ep of Galileo Donna and wasn’t into it, and everyone seems to agree it’s a pile of shit, so I didn’t bother.

Your Lie In April was one where my friends and I were sampling opening episodes of shows that season, and I found the first episode infuriatingly trite and boring. I really am not into the whole genre of mopey teen drama, and I felt like the visuals were actually pretty mediocre, but had been covered in tons of flashy colors and filters to make them look appealing. A lot of the reviews I saw for the series later corroborated this, and nothing I heard of the show’s praise sounded like anything I’d enjoy, so I didn’t go back to it.

Around this time is also when I started making a lot of videos about Psycho-Pass, and I was getting tons of people in my comments telling me to watch Shin Sekai Yori because of its similar themes. There seemed to be a ton of positive talk about the series, so I gave it a shot, but I struggled through the first four episodes and absolutely hated every single aspect of it. I hate the visuals, directing, pacing, writing, characters, and setting completely. I asked a friend who kind of liked the show whether it was likely something I’d get into in the long run, and they said no, so I stopped there.

When episode 0 of Saekano came out, it completely pissed me off and I hated it. I hate the particular brand of meta where a show just embodies a bunch of tropes, and then calls attention to them like that’s somehow clever, and I hated all the characters. Later on I was convinced to give the show another shot, so I watched three episodes when I was marathoning romcoms in October 2015. I conceded that the show was not badly made, but that I still hate that brand of comedy and all of the characters besides the boring girl.

By this point, I had a pretty full-blown hatred of A-1, since everything they put out was either immediately infuriating, or disappointing by the end. The studio was pumping out like four shows a season, and not one of them was grabbing my attention. I’d heard that the second season of Oreimo was complete bullshit and everyone hated it, so I didn’t bother watching it. Nanoha Vivid was pretty okay if nothing to write home about, and the manga was ultimately a better time anyways.

I didn’t bother with Cinderella Girls since I don’t like idol shows anyways, and I couldn’t even finish the first episodes of Gunslinger Stratos or Ultimate Otaku Teacher (which no one seems to care about anyways). I watched the first episode of Gate and thought it was total garbage–the visual direction and pacing were appalling, and that’s pretty much the point where I realized that, yeah, my problems are really with the studio as a whole.

So then, finally, it was with the first episode of The Asterisk War–seeing this studio hit rock bottom and produce a flat-line 1/10 series with no redeeming qualities–that I decided it was time for me to be “that guy” and start cutting promos on the studio left and right. I liked the first episode of Perfect Insider well enough and I still want to finish it, but I wasn’t surprised when a lot of people told me it fell apart in the long run. I hated Grimgar and I wasn’t into Boku Machi, and if the latter turns out to suck in the end, don’t fucking dare say that I didn’t warn you.

20 thoughts on “My history with A-1 Pictures

  1. I think the reason people complain about your hatred of A1 is NOT that your reasons for disliking those shows aren’t valid(they are, everyone is entitled to dislike whatever they do) but because they are not related to each other but you talk about the studio as if they had some underling problem where there isn’t really one.

    That all those shows failed for you isn’t actually anything beyond coincidence, the people involved in making all of those are different, animators, directors, writers. There is no pattern, although some staff is sometimes certainly reused, but it feels like you talk about there being one.

    Your problems with Saekano I think could easily be attributed to the source material and not A1, Shinsekai Yori is an adaptation of a well regarded sci-fi novel in Japan, that was produced knowing it wouldn’t even sell, Aldnoah.Zero was Ei Aoki wanting to do an original anime and wanting to create his own studio “Troyca” much like “MAPPA” happened with Nabeshin. Some of this shows sucked, some are great, all flawed, like most anime, like most art.

    I think it is fair to say that it is indeed coincidence that you don’t like any of their stuff when 99%(number I just pulled out of my ass) of anime consumers certainly find at least a few anime they like among the library of shows made by A1 in the last few years. The source material they have chosen to adapt is just as varied as any other studio. Award winning novels, award wining manga, generic battle harem LNs, original mecha shows, there’s pleny to go around and the people behind these shows have different and at times opposite goals. Creative freedom, making money or adapting something that deserves to be adapted just for the sake of it.

    Ultimately it comes down to “knowing”, or more accurately, expecting, that everytime you talk about a new A1 Pictures show you will not like it, when you talk about there being a pattern with their stuff it feels more like an irrational bias than anything else, and it makes your opinion harder to trust as a critic. Everyone has biases of course, it is how we handle them that makes people trust or not trust an opinion.

    Just so you know what my bias is here so you can decide whether or not to give the time of the day to my opinion: I should say that I do appreciate some of the content you make, when you have information your opinion I think provies a lot of value because you are not afraid to have a strong one. I am only bothered when I hear something out of you where your opinion is just as strong but you don’t bother to have the information to sustent it. The difference between the very good Monogatari vidoes you have done, or that one lucky star video that made me really one to watch it and even feel I missed out by not doing so back in 2007, and the Asterix content you put out(which is funny to be fair), or try to talk about the industry at large.

    I am not suscribed to your Youtube channel but I am here and lately I’ve been considering unfollowing. Knowing that you are at least receptive of some negative critisism does make me want to stay here for longer.

    • All I can really say is that part 9 of my Ass War vids is entirely about showing the patterns that I do, in fact, think are there, and are massively imperative to the quality of their shows, so I hope you’ll stick around for it.

  2. >I felt like the visuals were actually pretty mediocre, but had been covered in tons of flashy colors and filters to make them look appealing. A lot of the reviews I saw for the series later corroborated this

    I absolutely DISPISE YLiA (couldn’t finish it either and felt the same for the fist episodes), but that thing you just wrote is a whole load of youtube-comment tier bullshit.
    I wonder which reviewers exactly back you up on that the visuals are mediocre?

    • The main person I remember complaining about the visuals in that series was Oscillot. I couldn’t tell you where else I saw it, but if I ever decide to make a full-on analytical review of the series, then I’ll be sure to break down exactly why I feel that way.

    • There are a couple of anime bloggers who talk about this:

      Basically, the visuals, when stripped of their pomp and circumstance reveal a much more average show.

      “The color palettes are loud and flamboyant; scenes are doused in bright cheesy light. It was always troubling, tasteless even, to see Kaori tormenting Kousei in comedic tones, keenly emphasizing the moments with exaggerated comical facial features and embossed floral designs.”

      This is of course absent the concert scenes. Even those however, didn’t do much for me. When people talk about the “beautiful visuals” and the “great visual representations of the feeling of music” I sort of fail to see it. Putting a pink background behind music that is happy is something every fucking show has done.

      I understand why people enjoy this series but on even a writing level this series seems contrived. I don’t know, it may be because I don’t like Mari Okada’s style of melodrama.

  3. I haven’t seen many of those shows, but from the ones I have seen, they were only first episodes, I might have the same opinions you have. About the studio that is. Silver Spoon and Gate had fucking weird first episodes. I liked the first episode of Shin Sekai Yori tho, I like the artstyle as well, but I like different looking visuals in general so that might be it.

  4. I really liked The Perfect Insider but it admittedly becomes 2deep4u near the end of the series. (Though I think this is a problem with the original book (which has surprisingly been adapted a lot of times) and not something the adaptation brought about) The type of 2deep4u that can be described as “pretentious.” Just warning ya.

    Also, considering that the manga for Boku Dachi is supposedly pretty good (I don’t really read manga so I can’t confirm this) I don’t think a decline in quality will happen. But the manga is still on going (There may be a hint that its ending soon because there is news on how the anime will adapt the original ending) and the adaptation is only a single season (12 episodes) long, so rushed pacing will likely be an issue in the long run, but who knows really? Still have my doubts that it’ll at least stay at the level its currently at with many. (Besides, if the adaptation turns to shit there is still the original manga (but I’m not sure if that’s legally available right now))

  5. Magic Kaito 1412 was pretty good, especially if you enjoy Conan. I like it a bit more than Conan since it feels like there’s actual character progression with Kaito, and even though there’s a lot of problems with the show’s plausibility, I still found it loads of fun. The show started out kinda weak like Conan did, but by about episode 4 or so I was hooked.

    Otherwise, I don’t really know many shows from A-1 I like. Silver Spoon was pretty homey and charming, though the humor could get lame at times, and I wasn’t always entertained.

    Your Lie in April is a show I’m incredibly mixed on, as there are things I like about it, and there are things I don’t. I like its drama and focus on music, but I dislike its inconsistent tone and odd dialogue.

    I liked Blue Exorcist until the show went original material only then had a trainwreck of an ending that was far worse than most anime original endings.

    Aldnoah.Zero was horrid, plain and simple. Gate was mediocre, until the second season started, in which it had a rape scene that lowered the show to being terrible. The Perfect Insider was dry and had a really bad script, lacked focus on its characters, and was overall a mediocre mystery.

    SAO and its sequel were terrible, as was Asterisk War. Ultimate Otaku Teacher was almost unwatchable, and easily one of the worst things they’ve ever made.

    I really am liking Boku Dake ga Inai Machi, and I find Grimgar unbelievably boring, but I really hope Boku Dake stays good. It’s easily my favorite A-1 show since Kaito. I unfortunately haven’t seen the stuff people like from A-1 such as Shinsekai Yori, Birdy the Mighty, Tsuritama, and Anohana; however, I do eventually want to check them out.

  6. TBH I hate studio A1 as well. Essentially none of their shows has really been amazing and they really like making teen garbage. It is saddening to see so many shows which have promise to crash and burn in the end. A1 was off my radar until SAO and I had to be shit faced to even finish it because of the garbage that I saw, and I was the target audience (a 15 year old). I absolutely support your hatred of a studio that just doesn’t make worthwhile adaptations or series in general, the only other studio that can come even close to pissing me off as much as A1 is Gonzo with the stupidly spotty animation.

  7. Anohana is one of my favorite anime, and I really enjoy Your Lie in April. Both these shows do have problems, but for me the good far outweigh the bad.
    Though I guess it’s okay to not like A1 pictures considering it made its success from Sword Art Online (I only ever liked the first arc). It’s like how I love Madhouse studio and will easily lap up any new series from them, even if it’s about only people running.

  8. I feel like the idea of hating an entire studio is an inherently vague and messy idea to be invested in, because as theplake said a studio isn’t some sort of homogenous collective and a lot of these shows are ultimately created by completely different staff with completely different goals. I guess the thing that’s ultimately lacking from this collective of anecdotes about all the A-1 shows that you hated or weren’t interested in or felt disappointed by is that you haven’t really questioned where this is all coming from. Does A-1 have a defined universal business model that lends to this? Is there some common thread besides the name “A-1 Pictures”, like particular individuals who you can actually attribute the supposed A-1 style to? I would have to guess no on both of those.

    I look forward to what you have to say in your Asterisk War video, but as it is I can see the common threads between the SAOs and the Asterisk Wars but not the Perfect Insiders and the KimiUsos. For one thing, even if a series like KimiUso does indeed hide mediocre animation behind pretty colors I would argue that it uses color in a vastly different way that’s not even remotely comparable to something like a floaty SAO action setpiece. Whether or not you like what a series like KimiUso does there’s a much more distinct and defined purpose to its flashy highlights, namely its incredibly in your face visual storytelling. My point here is that I see a vastly different creative mindset to some individual A-1 shows, regardless of whether you like or dislike those mindsets for ostensibly similar reasons.

    Even though I doubt you’re consciously hating these shows I feel as if you’re always gonna bring your baggage to A-1 shows, that you’re always going to frame them in the same criteria where you subconsciously seek out the things you deem to be what’s wrong with the studio and let things hinge on whatever confirmation you can get of those elements. Media is complicated, and you can find countless reasons to like or dislike basically anything if there’s a genuine will to do so, and although I can’t tell you that any of your opinions are wrong I do feel like you leave yourself open to prioritizing reasons to dislike these shows, whether that’s your intent or not. Obviously we all have our biases, but this is a pretty broad bias that I feel it deserves a little more questioning than you give it.

    • As far as skepticism over my A1 rage goes, this is all fair enough. I won’t deny it’s a weird bias, and there’s a huge part of me that feels like I need to literally watch everything they’ve ever made to figure out how much I’m blowing it out of proportion; but it’s also something I feel very strongly, and am very frustrated with how few others seem to get it, so the temptation to push back that much more strongly is also powerful.

      • I think a good place to start is to check out Al’s business model, and see if you find any warning signs.
        See, a while back, RCAnime made a video discussing KyoAni’s business model, and it made me respect the company more than I used to. Granted, I don’t like all of their works, but now u see where they come from.
        You need to do something similar.

        On a related note, how long till the next *war review? Or is it delayed because of YouTube’s poor management.

        • It’ll be out as soon as Davoo finishes editing, probably in a week or so. And yeah, I talk about KyoAni’s methodology in my upcoming vid, tho I haven’t seen RC’s vid yet.

      • Yeah, I get where you’re coming from as far as what brought you to your dislike of A-1, and in many of their popular shows I can see a few common threads (for one thing ERASED has the same director as SAO, although I personally think he’s a talented director whose chops shine a lot better on a quality source material like ERASED), but as a whole A-1 is a fairly big and not so insular studio and I think it’s incredibly difficult and complicated to make a well-informed case for basically everything they’ve ever done. I’ll see what you have to say in your next Asterisk War video, but as it is right now I think you’re still talking in fairly broad strokes and that you need to dig a bit deeper and find some more concrete tangible ideas as far as why it’s very specifically A-1 things that turns you off so many of these shows.

  9. As a massive fan of Valkyria Chronicles (the game) and how it handled its characters and their interactions, I *DESPISE* the anime. They totally screwed over Welkin, turned Faldio into almost a Gary Stu, turned Alicia into a tsundere, and turned Jaeger and Selvaria into the Imperial Team Rocket – goons always trying to come up with scheme instead of y’know… being military leaders.


    • All of what A-1 did to the original source materials remind me of what Fox has did to the X-Men. These kind of people will at least one of it exist in media world. Too bad, they got money so they don’t bother to correct their mistakes.

  10. I am from the opposite perspective and would like to share my thoughts. Personally, A-1 Pictures is my favorite anime studio, followed closely by Kyoto Animation. My experience with them is rather limited since I am rather new to anime as a whole, but it is only positive so far. My first anime ever was Sound! Euphonium and upon wanting to find something similar to it, I came across Your Lie in April. It immediately became my gateway into anime and I hadn’t ever seen a story quite like it. The anime still remains in my top 3, as does Shinsekai Yori, my favorite anime thus far. I will admit that Shinsekai Yori has a rather slow start, but it picks way up around episode 4-8 depending on the person (episode 4 for me). Anyway, I watched Silver Spoon soon after Shigatsu and found it to be a highly entertaining coming of age story that was funny and interesting. At this point, I figured that I would like most of their stuff, but didn’t know much about studios as a whole yet, so I continued to check them out. Anohana was my next anime and it quickly became a favorite after its incredible and emotional ending, the hardest I think I ever cried (including Your Lie in April and Clannad). The trend you might see here is that I like melodrama, which to be fair, I do, but I feel that Shigatsu and Anohana handled their melodrama much better than other similar shows and they were emotional but not manipulative or forced. Anyway, Tsuritama was my next show and while I don’t think it’s a masterpiece or anything, I found it to be highly enjoyable. I really liked the different art style too. Next was Sound of the Sky and at the time it was my favorite purely slice of life show. Next up, I saw the movie Anthem of the Heart, a very emotional and enjoyable movie that touched me with a powerful and true to life message, though it’s melodrama wasn’t handled quite as well as Shigatsu and Anohana (though it was still handled well enough). Finally, I watched the aforementioned Shinsekai Yori, which became my favorite anime upon its completion, even with it’s painfully slow start. As you can see, I’ve seen 6 shows and a movie from them and rated none of them lower than an 8/10. Shinsekai Yori, Your LIe in April, and Anohana are in my top 10 while Sound of the Sky and Silver Spoon aren’t far behind. Tsuritama is my least favorite of the bunch but I still really liked it a lot. The movie was also very enjoyable for me. From KyoAni, my second favorite studio, I’ve seen 5 shows: Euphonium, Clannad, Air, Kanon, and K-ON’s first season. and while I at least liked them all, Kanon didn’t impress me, which is why the studio is slightly lower for me. To be fair, I haven’t seen A-1’s well known crap like SAO, Fracktale, and Galelei Donna, but I absolutely loved everything from them that I’ve seen so far.

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