I-It’s not as if I like J.C. Staff or anything. Baka!
I should preface this discussion by saying that studios are largely irrelevant to the storytelling quality of any given anime. That comes down to the director and screenwriter for the most part. So comments like “_____ studio sucks!” come off as misguided at best and outright ignorant at worst.
That’s never going to stop people from saying J.C. Staff is a crap studio, though.
I understand what people mean when they say this. They’re not saying that J.C. Staff is bad at animating things. It really comes down to this: “I don’t like the anime which J.C. Staff makes.”
But – so what? Like any studio, J.C. Staff has its share of hits and misses, and because it’s been around in the business longer, the misses have added up. But I think what people are really getting at when they single out J.C. Staff in particular is that they don’t like the studio’s iconic titles.
Okay, that’s fair and good. You’re entitled to your opinion. Having said that…
J.C. Staff Makes Really Good Anime-ish Anime
Shakugan no Shana, Index, Railgun, Toradora!, Hayate no Gotoku!!, Azumanga Daioh… whether you like these titles or not, you have to admit they “feel” like anime. There’s an aura of timelessness about the typical J.C. Staff show that transcends the anime cliches they embrace. When you want to show someone an anime that exemplifies the medium in all its flaws and glory, chances are you’ll be pointing to a J.C. Staff show.
I think this is worth analysing, because I think among all of J.C. Staff’s most standout hits there’s one factor that stands out the most in terms of the appeal, no matter what the genre: nostalgia.
This is something that comes across most strongly in J.C. Staff’s romantic shows like Toradora!, but I think it shows in their more plot-driven and otaku-focused shows as well. Shana stands out among light novel adaptations, not simply because it was one of the first in the bunch but because there is genuine soul poured into bringing Shana idiosyncrasies to life. In the early days, at least, there was never any sense that Shana was simply a tsundere for the sake of it; she always had strongly human reasons for acting the way she did.
Zero no Tsukaima managed a bit of this too. The idea of Saito’s characterisation was to make the audience think, “He reacts just like I would in that situation!” and yet, at the same time, you’re also made to envy him for succeeding where others would obviously fail. Saito is basically made out to represent both who the audience is and who the audience wants to be, which is probably why he’s one of the more well-liked harem lead characters out there.
J.C. Staff Shows Are Good At Portraying Friendship
Kairi (one of the Random Curiosity bloggers) once wrote that “J.C.Staff, better than most studios, has a real understanding of what friendship is” in reference to Little Busters!, and that’s a theme that really shows across all of J.C. Staff’s output. The anime-only additions to Railgun emphasised the friendship themes more strongly than the manga’s story, and for a “cute girl” anime with obvious yuri overtones, it felt surprisingly down-to-earth. Even in the more romance-centric series like Ano Natsu de Matteru, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo and Toradora!, the friendship dynamics are central to the story’s themes.
In a typical J.C. Staff series, it seems, friendship is portrayed as equally important to love – we are made who we are by the interactions of all those we hold dear. I agree with this: in concept, this is how friendship works in reality.
At the same time, I would in fact argue that the appeal of how those shows portray friendship is in how it’s not realistic!
Take Toradora!, a romance often praised for its portrayal of friendship. In her negative review of the series, Rebecca on Chromatic Aberration Everywhere rightly pointed out that the portrayals were in fact exceedingly idealised and this led to the characters acting in ways that we would certainly not consider “realistic” by any means, especially in the second half. But what makes the less cynical viewer accept that break from reality while at the same time praising the characters for acting like real people? We see humanistic catharsis in a completely romanticised depiction of cartoon characters! How does that work?
The reason is that the friendships in Toradora! and other J.C. Staff shows, including their “maturer” works like Nodame Cantabile and Honey and Clover, reflect the kind of friendship we inwardly long for so strongly that it takes only a slight nudging for us to accept it as true. These are friends who would do anything for each other, even hurt each other. In saying friendship hurts when the characters beat each other up in melodramatic fashion, it really brings up a wistful reaction in the viewer – you want people to care that strongly about you that they would resort to such means to get through to you, but day-to-day friendship is never that intense. You see yourself in it, and at the same time it’s what you want to be. Sounds like what I was saying about J.C. Staff’s otaku-pandering abilities earlier, huh? It’s very much the same thing.
So unlike pure fantasy (the genre) which is sustained almost purely by the author’s vision, this kind of fantasy is something the viewer constructs along with the creator.
I would argue this is very much the point of anime as a medium in general. It’s a very interactive medium, where viewers are encouraged to invent their own interpretations. The fact that J.C. Staff’s most popular shows engage on multiple levels simultaneously is the strongest underlying reason for why I think they feel “anime-ish” in a way that feels iconic rather than simply tired cliche.
I discussed Toradora! a lot in this post because I assumed most readers would have familiarity with that story, but if you were to ask me what series typifies J.C. Staff anime to me, it would be Ano Natsu de Matteru. It’s a very typical wish fulfillment romcom about a herbivore male who meets a hot alien babe (yawn) but because the entire story was filtered through nostalgic lenses, its fantastical elements somehow managed to contribute powerfully to its themes of growing up. A weak story that became something more by the strength of its direction alone.
tldr; J.C. Staff panders to me and I like it
I think it’s a controversial opinion among critics, but I’ll stand by it: J.C. Staff is not a crap studio.
Do you agree or disagree?