Enshutsu: Kyoto Animation

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Special thanks to ultimatemegax for reviewing and adding to my data for this subject.

Back in October, we took a look at the Fall 2013 season of anime to get a general idea of the gender inequality among enshutsu, or episode director, roles across the industry. In that season, across all companies, just 10 percent of episodes were directed by women. As one of many follow-ups to that project, we’re focusing on Kyoto Animation. Known for its earlier success with many popular series like Clannad and K-On!, and its modern business practice of being the primary financier of its many series, Kyoto Animation has also developed a reputation of having many women on its staff. At the series director level, Naoko Yamada has become a mainstay of the company. Hiroko Utsumi was tagged to direct the very popular Free! TV series. After leaving the company, Noriko Takao also became a series and movie director with her years of experience at the company. However, this project focuses on enshutsu, a level down from the series director role, but also a likely step for the many who could become a series director. If Kyoto animation is among the better animation companies for hiring women, then that should translate at the enshutsu level as well.

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Between 2003 and 2016, 23 percent of episodes were directed by women. This data includes all OVAs, compilation and recap episodes, as well as the Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Lite shorts (the collection of shorts counted as one episode each). This is more than twice the level of the Fall 2013 season.

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This trend becomes significantly more apparent in 2007. Excluding 2003, 2005, and 2006, the share of episodes directed by women jumps to 27.6 percent. This is still well below parity, but even well before 2013, Kyoto Animation likely had women directing episodes at a level much higher than the industry overall.

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Beginning with 2007’s Lucky Star anime, the proportion of women directing episodes jumped immediately to 30 percent, with Tomoe Aratani and Noriko Takao handly the bulk of those episodes. Aratani had debuted as an enshutsu on 2005’s Air, while Takao got her first shot on a an episode of Kanon broadcast in Winter 2007.

The series with the least amount of women directing episodes since 2007 are Tamako MarketBeyond the Boundary, and Myriad Colors Phantom World. The inclusion of Tamako Market is somewhat surprising Naoko Yamada served as the series director. On that series, Yamada and Rika Ota each directed one episode. The two of them also directed on episode each on Beyond the Boundary. Haruka Fujita directed two episodes of Phantom World.

The series with the most episodes directed by women were the two seasons of Hiroko Utsumi’s Free! On the first season, Rika Ota directed three episodes, co-directing one with Eisaku Kawanami. Yamada and Utsumi both directed one episode. For Free! Eternal Summer, Ota had left the company, but her efforts were matched by former Madhouse animator Ai Yukimura, also directing three episodes, co-directing one with Utsumi. Yamada and Fujita also worked on the series.

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At Kyoto Animation, it appears that the gender of the series director does have an impact on the staff of the project¹. The effect is mitigated slightly when excluding 2003-2006 of if you exclude Free!

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Regardless, Hiroko Utsumi was able to get more women on her direction staff for Free! Between K-On! and Tamako Market, Naoko Yamada remains ahead of the men in Kyoto Animation’s director pool.

This list includes Yutaka Yamamoto and Yoshiji Kigami. Yamamoto directed just four episodes of Lucky Star before leaving the company (Noriko Takao directed the second episode of the series). Yoshiji Kigami directed the two episode OVA series Munto and directed all episodes with Yamamoto².

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As Kyoto Animation is also known for its ability to keep its projects largely in-house³, its easy to keep a historical track record of its enshutsu. Yasuhiro Takemoto, Tatsuya Ishihara, Noriyuki Kitanohara, and Yoshiji Kigami have been mainstays of the company since it became a primary animation production company. The first woman to debut as an episode director in this time period is Tomoe Artani, however she subsequently left the company to join Nintendo. Noriko Takao was the second to debut, but also left the company, going on to direct the Saint Young Men film and The Idolmaster Cinderella Girls.

The third to debut was Naoko Yamada, and stuck with the company ever since. She has become one of the companies brightest stars, directing one of its most popular series in K-On!, leading three movies, as well as her standout work as an episode director and storyboard artists on Kyoto Animation productions. And of course, she’s still just 32 years old.

Hiroko Utsumi was next to debut, a staff member of Kyoto Animation’s child company Animation Do based in Osaka. She also left the company and has since worked on series such as Bungou Stray Dogs and Days. Rika Ota spent the shortest amount of time as an enshutsu among women, leaving to join Liden Films Kyoto. Haruka Fujita and Ai Yukimura are the most recent women to join Kyoto Animation’s enshutsu pool. Yukimura originally joined from Madhouse  but has absent from the industry in the past year. Fujita is an up-and-comer that gained a lot of attention as the director of the “Festival Triangle” episode of Sound! Euphonium.

The most female enshutsu the company has had at one time is four. Currently, they have only two active enshutsu, Yamada and Fujita.

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Over the years, Kitanohara is by far the leader in number of episodes directed for Kyoto Animation. Among women, Takao still edges out Yamada, likely as the latter has had more series direction duties. Notably, Haruka Fujita has already matched or overtaken the output of a number of her predecessors.

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Despite the company’s significant progress compared to the industry overall, Kyoto Animation still lags behind parity among the genders in episode direction. The currently airing Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid has already had an episode directed by Haruka Fujita. However, in order to reach parity, Kyoto Animation and other companies would need to aggressively groom new female talent and give them opportunities.

Next on the Enshutsu project list: A-1 Pictures.


  1. For the two seasons of Sound! Euphonium, Tatsuya Ishihara served as chief director and Naoko Yamada served as series director. For the purposes of this research, Ishihara is considered the head director of the series.
  2. Munto was later turned into a 9 episode TV series but is not included in this data.
  3. On Fullmetal Panic? Ffumofu, Kyoto Animation outsourced four episodes to Tatsunoko Productions. Those episodes were directed by Tomohiko Okubo, Sumio Watanabe, and Masatsugu Arakawa and marked by an * in the chart.

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