Key/Visual Arts is a Visual Novel
developer, usually in the Romance
genre, whose works have become very popular in recent years. They are especially well-known for creating heartbreaking stories that appear perfectly normal at first but always contain some thread of the supernatural from the beginning, which becomes more obvious as time goes on.
The company began after a lot of workers broke off from Tactics after the creation of the game One Kagayaku Kisetsu E
, which has been adapted into a 3-episode hentai OVA
as well as a 4-episode all-ages OVA. They then created Kanon
, which was incredibly hyped before its release and even today is considered one of the best romance games, as well as the game that made the plot-heavy eroge
just as marketably viable as its Porn Without Plot
counterparts. Most of Key's games are of the utsuge
variety, with a lot of emphasis on melodrama and sad storylines
Later games got more popular, more tragic and more adventurous. planetarian: Reverie for a Little Planet
and the last two segments of AIR
venture into Kinetic Novel
territory as well as... well, we won't spoil it. CLANNAD
, Planetarian, Little Busters!!
are entirely clean rather than eroge, though Little Buster's got an Updated Re-release
as "Little Busters: Ecstasy" that included H-content along with its other additions.
Key/Visual Arts seems to have had a deal with both Toei Animation
and Kyoto Animation
in that both studios will adapt their works. At first, Toei made a 13-episode version of Kanon
. Years later, Kyoani made a 12-episode
plus OVA version of AIR
; Toei followed up with its own version, a movie that cut out many of the characters and changed the dynamic to a more overtly romantic story. Then Kyoani made its own Kanon
in return. The setup part of it synchronized in the fall of 2007, where their versions of CLANNAD
aired at almost the exact same time as The Toei film came out in September, and the Kyoto Animation TV series came out in October. Kyoani cuts less out and stays faithful to the original, while Toei opts to change things for its own means and make the story shorter. However, P. A. Works
did the animation for Angel Beats!
in 2010, and the Little Busters
adaption is under the direction of JC Staff
Key is also known for its seasonal imagery in its more famous works. Kanon
makes full use of Snow Means Love
and may have defined the modern Sad Girl In Snow
does the same for summer, and CLANNAD
for spring, though the snow plays a darker role
. They're not limited to seasonal settings, though; planetarian
was set in a Dystopia
where robots had taken over the world and one good Robot Girl
without a purpose hid in a planetarium with a refugee, and Angel Beats!!
is set in what appears to be a world where no one can die (affectionately dubbed as Purgatory).
Most of the anime adaptations of the Key Visual Arts works have their OP songs sung by J Pop
artist Lia (true in AIR, CLANNAD, and Angel Beats!
Since they've made a strong impression and changed the genres they write for, Key is cited as a major influence on a lot of writers and studios. When They Cry
are both outright stated by their creators to be strongly inspired by Key's works, even if they go in completely different directions from Key's Signature Style
Key/Visual Art's' works include:
- Kanon (adapted into two TV series, light novels and a manga)
- AIR (adapted into AIR and AIR in Summer, as well as a movie and a manga; the setting was used for the Kanon/AIR crossover manga, Kanon & AIR Sky)
- CLANNAD (adapted into CLANNAD and CLANNAD ~after story~, as well as a movie, manga, and 2 Alternate Universe bonus episodes following the Tomoyo and Kyou routes)
- Tomoyo after: It's a Wonderful Life (adapted into the manga CLANNAD ~ Tomoyo After: Dear Shining Memories)
- Planetarian ~the reverie of a little planet~
- Little Busters!! (adapted into manga and an anime)
- Kud Wafter (like Tomoyo After, it's a spinoff sequel based on a minor heroine)
- Rewrite (adapted into manga)
- Rewrite: Harvest festa (a Fan Disc set after the events of the first game. Kind of like the After games, but each girl has a story instead of a focus on just one.)
- Angel Beats! (which is their first work that wasn't originally a visual novel, it was an Anime First with a VN announced for 2014)
- Charlotte (a new Anime First project)
Tactics' works with the original team include:
Their favoured tropes include:
- Artistic Age: The hatedom just loves to claim that the characters are children, and when it's pointed out that they clearly aren't, point to the art style and say "well, they look like it!".
- Baseball Episode: Key seems to have a thing for baseball. Little Busters! centres around it, a story arc in CLANNAD shows the main cast playing baseball, in Angel Beats! one character's backstory heavily features baseball and the characters play it on occasion, and a Kanon drama CD references baseball often as well.
- Bishounen: All the male protagonists.
- Bittersweet Ending
- Bleached Underpants: To a minimal extent. All the visual novels come in clean versions, which in some cases are better for the lack of a shoehorned sex scene.
- Bromantic Foil: It's usual for protagonists to have just one male friend, almost always a Butt Monkey, whose plot relevance is somewhere between moderate and very low.
- Character Development: A lot of their works, but even moreso with Angel Beats! and CLANNAD. Also, it's the whole point of the story in Little Busters!.
- Chick Magnet: Ya think?
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: It's rare to find a Key girl that isn't at least a little odd.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Key seems to have a colouring scheme to determine what year a character is in. Green is freshman, red is sophomore and blue is senior. Appears in Kanon and "Little Busters" in the form of ties on the uniforms (though in LB! its rather Pinker than red) and in CLANNAD as a patch on the uniform.
- Darker and Edgier: Rewrite. Full-stop. Having Romeo Tanaka and Ryukishi07 on staff (In addition to Yuto Tonokawa) probably contributed to that.
- MOON. is this for their Tactics era. We go from a simple story about high school sweethearts moving in together (Dousei) to a story about a girl investigating a murder in a creepy psychic sex cult.
- Deadpan Snarker
- Deus Angst Machina
- Diabolus Ex Machina: You'd think God has it out for these guys when you see the kind of stuff they're put through. Especially when the downers happen.
- Disney Death (usually reserved for minor heroines, although Ayu from Kanon and Nagisa from CLANNAD got one each too, and in Little Busters! everyone except the protagonist and main girl undergoes one in Refrain.)
- Downer Ending
- Dulcinea Effect: Extremely visible in CLANNAD with antisocial Tomoya becoming obsessed with helping Kotomi, Nagisa, Tomoyo, Yukine, and Fukko. Also with Yuuichi's unhealthy interest in Mai.
- Dysfunction Junction: No Key character is without a Dark and Troubled Past, save for maybe the odd comic relief side character. Justified in Angel Beats!, where a tragic childhood ending in premature death is one of the requirements for living in the particular Purgatory that makes up the setting.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: It will be hard, you'll be put through Hell, but when you get there it WILL be worth it.
- Eroge: The company in general seems to go back and forth on this, with some games getting H releases and others not, which is quite odd considering practically none of the sex scenes in them impact the plot anyway.
- The Gadfly: Half of their work has one of these as the main protagonist. The other half just has at least one as a secondary or minor character.
- Ill Girl
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Most of the protagonists, with the main pairings tending to have the troll-and-derp dynamic. Strangely enough, in Angel Beats!, Otonashi isn't the jerk, it's Yuri.
- Killed Off for Real: Usually reserved for major heroines, although again, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule.
- Kinetic Novel: Key Visual Arts is notable for lending the name to the term for non-interactive novels, but has since then been used to describe novels of a similar nature.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia
- Magic Realism: Very, very present in their works, as while the focal points of their stories are character interactions and school life, the framing for the story usually ends up being something supernatural. Depending on how much foreshadowing leads up to the eventual reveal, the magical element is used to either greatly explain or handwave many of the story developments. How the magic itself works is rarely explained.
- Rewrite takes this trope and runs wild with it to the point where it becomes a straight-up Urban Fantasy.
- Mundane Fantastic
- Official Couple: Even though they are visual novels where you can end up with any of the heroines, there is always a girl the protagonist is "destined" to be with.
- Only Six Faces: Or less of the characters in the same game, especially girls. The arts change each game, but this trope does not.
- Pretty Freeloaders: Used straight in Kanon, inverted in AIR where the male protagonist is freeloading off of the heroine, and twisted in CLANNAD, where the male protagonist freeloads off his male friend when he can't stand to be at home and one of the minor heroines freeloads off the major heroine.
- Questionable Consent: A lot of the sex scenes have a bad habit of employing this, and then acting like nothing went wrong. Particularly infamous examples include Makoto's sex scene in Kanon where Yuuichi elects to have sex with her when she's already well deep into her mental regression back to the fox she once was (they even use the doggy style position!), and Komari's sex scene in Little Busters! Ecstasy where Riki coerces her to have sex with him while she's still in the middle of her mental regression and breakdown after remembering the death of her older brother. The scenes are often Out of Character on the part of both participants at least a little, too, and much of the fanbase ignores them. It's gotten better over time, though, or at least the studio seems to be recognizing it; the unhealthiest sex scenes in Little Busters! Ecstasy, including the one mentioned above, are relegated to the bad endings, and despite a spike in fanservice, the company announced that Rewrite will never get an 18+ release.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: If the work has a mascot, it's one of these, usually belonging to (or a stray that attaches itself to) one of the minor heroines.
- Snow Means Death/Love: Whenever snow is used, expect either a corpse or a kissing couple soon after. Mostly the former. (Though summer will not save you.)
- Tearjerker: Key specializes in Utsuges, so all of its works are well known for their tearjerkers.
- Theme Twin Naming: Ryou and Kyou Fujibayashi, Shiori and Kaori Misaka although they're not twins), Haruka and Kanata.
- There Are No Psychologists
- Utsuge: All of their visual novels. For the most part they're very optimistic, cute, (usually) have happy endings in spite of the struggles faced to get there, have plenty of comic relief scattered about, and are especially lighthearted towards the beginning of the game. But once you start a girl's route, expect the tone to darken quickly as you learn more about her life and/or as bad things begin to happen in the present.
- Verbal Tic: Abused to no end in Kanonnote , and there's usually at least one per game, wafuu~.