Key is a Japanese visual novel studio which formed on July 21, 1998 as a brand under the publisher Visual Art's and is located in Kita, Osaka, Japan. Key released their debut visual novel Kanon in June 1999, which combined an elaborate storyline, an up-to-date anime-style drawing style, and a musical score which helped to set the mood for the game. Key's second game Air released in September 2000 had a similar if not more complex storyline to Kanon and a more thorough gameplay. Both Kanon and Air were originally produced as adult games, but Key broke this trend with their third title Clannad which was released in April 2004 for all-ages. Key released their eighth and latest game Kud Wafter in June 2010, and has worked in the past with Interchannel and Prototype for the consumer port releases of previous Key titles. Key will release their ninth game Rewrite in April 2011. Key collaborated with ASCII Media Works' Dengeki G's Magazine to produce a mixed media project named Angel Beats!, which was produced into an anime which aired between April and June 2010.

Co-founder Jun Maeda is a prominent figure in the company, he having contributed on the planning, scenario, and music composition in the majority of Key's visual novels. Itaru Hinoue, also a co-founder, is Key's main artist and was the art director for Key's first three games. Na-Ga, another prominent artist in the company, mainly worked with background art in earlier games, but with Key's sixth game Little Busters! was given the position of co-art director with Hinoue. Shinji Orito, Key's main composer and another co-founder, has composed music for all of Key's titles. Yūto Tonokawa, a scenario writer, first worked on the scenario in Little Busters!. Jun'ichi Shimizu, a music composer, first contributed with the music in Kud Wafter.

Key has been an active participant at the Comiket convention since Comiket 57 in December 1999, where they sold Kanon-related products; Key's latest appearance at Comiket was at Comiket 77 in December 2009. In 2001, Visual Art's created the record label Key Sounds Label to release music albums and singles with music related to Key's visual novels. In December 2007, Key began to produce an Internet radio show called Key Net Radio in regards to the company.


Before forming Key, the founding members worked for another visual novel development company called Tactics. At the time of Dōsei's production, Tactics' first game, four of Key's original staff worked on the game: Itaru Hinoue as art director, Shinji Orito as musical composer, and Miracle Mikipon and Shinory contributing to the computer graphics. After Dōsei, the rest of Key's founding staff joined Tactics and contributed to two more games: Moon., and One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e. After the release of One on May 26, 1998, these developers transferred to Visual Art's where they formed Key on July 21, 1998; the name Key for the studio was decided by majority rule.[1] Key released their debut title Kanon on June 4, 1999, an adult game,[2] though the scenes containing sexual intercourse were kept to a minimum. This gave the player more of a focus on the characters' stories and on the visuals and music, especially for a visual novel at the time of its release. A year later, on September 8, 2000, Key released their second game Air, which was also an adult game and similar in storytelling to Kanon.[3]

The third game named Clannad is a visual novel similar to Key's previous games, but is entirely clean, without any adult content. Clannad was meant to be released in 2002, but was delayed, leading to the game finally being released on April 28, 2004.[4] Seven months after Clannad's release, Key released their shortest game, Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume, on November 29, 2004.[5] Planetarian, in contrast to Key's past games, is a linear visual novel that does not require the user to make choices during gameplay, but just sit back and enjoy the story; this is what is referred to as a kinetic novel. The company's fifth game was Tomoyo After: It's a Wonderful Life, an adult game and spin-off to Clannad released on November 25, 2005, which expanded on the scenario of the heroine Tomoyo Sakagami from Clannad.[6] Key released their sixth game, Little Busters!, on July 27, 2007 with no adult content,[7] but released another version of the game entitled Little Busters! Ecstasy on July 25, 2008 with added adult content, story, and visuals.[8][9]

Key's eighth game, released on June 25, 2010, is an adult spin-off of Little Busters! Ecstasy called Kud Wafter, which expanded on the scenario of the heroine Kudryavka Noumi from Little Busters! and Ecstasy.[10] Key announced their ninth game Rewrite on April 1, 2008,[11] and will release it on April 28, 2011. In commemoration of Key's ten-year anniversary, Key and Visual Art's held a two-day event between February 28 and March 1, 2009 called "Key 10th Memorial Fes, Our Song to Pass the Time That Began From That Day" (~あの日から始まった僕らの時を刻む唄~ ~Ano Hi kara Hajimatta Bokura no Toki o Kizamu Uta~?).[12] Key collaborated with ASCII Media Works' Dengeki G's Magazine to produce a mixed media project named Angel Beats!, which was produced into an anime which aired between April and June 2010.[13]

Key Sounds Label

Main article: Key Sounds Label

In 2001, Visual Art's created the record label Key Sounds Label (KSL).[14] The music albums and singles released by Key after this were put under this label, meaning that this does not include the first two albums and one single which were released before it was officially formed. The first album on this label was Humanity..., though the only direct connection to Key's works is that it contains a remixed version of the opening theme to Air. The albums under this label are composed by Key's signature composers: Jun Maeda, Shinji Orito and Magome Togoshi. Three of the singles feature songs sung by Lia and one album, Love Song, features the singer Riya from Eufonius. Three drama CDs have been released as well.[14]

To celebrate Key's ten-year anniversary, Key hosted a concert called KSL Live World 2008: Way to the Little Busters! EX on May 10, 2008 in Tokyo, Japan, and again on May 17, 2008 in Osaka, Japan. Each time, the concert lasted for two and a half hours and featured songs sung by Lia, Rita, Chata, and Tomoe Tamiyasu who have previously sung songs for singles and albums released under Key Sounds Label.[15] Another concert called KSL Live World 2010: Way to the Kud-Wafter was held in Tokyo between May 21–22, 2010.[16]

Key Net Radio

Main article: Key Net Radio

Key began to produce an Internet radio show called Key Net Radio (Keyらじ Key Raji?) in regards to the company with the first recording released on December 13, 2007.[17] It is hosted by Shinji Orito and Itaru Hinoue of Key, and another woman named Chiro who works for Pekoe, another visual novel studio under Visual Art's.[18] Listeners can submit thoughts about the show and any requests they may have for the show, along with submitting questions to the host trio.[19] The broadcasts for the first 30 episodes were available via download on Key's official website and were available for download on the radio show's official blog for the first nine broadcasts.[18][20] The broadcasts can also be listened to on Visual Art's' YouTube channel named Visual Channel.[21]

For the first six episodes, the show had five corners, or parts, which started with opening greetings from the hosts and went onto thoughts and impressions that listeners had about the show. This moved on to an informal talk between the hosts, followed by a section where entries previously submitted by listeners concerning their enthusiasm for Key were read by the hosts. The fourth corner concerned answering questions that had been submitted by listeners, and the final corner had Orito playing the flute; listeners could submit suggestions for songs he was to play.[18] Two more corners were added starting with the seventh broadcast. The first corner added concerns scary stories that the hosts can tell themselves, or read from submissions by listeners, and was added party because Hinoue enjoys such stories. The second corner added deals with submissions by listeners describing a new fictional character, and Hinoue will take these submissions and form a new fictional character out of combining elements from multiple submissions together. During the broadcasts, tracks from the soundtracks released under Key Sounds Label play in the background.

Comiket involvement

Comiket, short for Comic Market, is a large comic convention held twice a year in Tokyo, Japan during August and December, which are referred to as the summer and winter Comic Markets respectively. Key has been an active participant in the convention since Comiket 57 in December 1999, where they sold Kanon-related products (as Kanon was their only release at the time); one such product was a Zippo lighter.[22] The first Air-related products Key sold at the convention were at Comiket 59 in December 2000.[23] Typical products include: postcards, telephone cards, calendars, posters, and albums.[23][24][25][26] The products Key sells at Comiket are all related to the visual novels the company produces.[23][24][25][26]

Key, through Visual Art's, generally participates at the winter Comiket in conjunction with other brands under Visual Art's, but has been known to appear at the summer Comiket too, such as with Comiket 70 in August 2006 where they sold Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume related products.[27] The combined total of the products Key sells at a given Comiket range in price between 3,000 yen (about US$27) and 5,000 yen (about US$45).[24][25][28][29][30] This includes the selling of music albums released under Key's record label Key Sounds Label which has been releasing albums since Comiket 60 in August 2001 with the release of the label's first two albums, Humanity... and "Natsukage / Nostalgia". If there are any unsold products by the end of a given Comiket, Visual Art's has been known to set up an online mail order to sell the remaining goods from all the brands under Visual Art's that participated at Comiket. After Comiket 73 in December 2007, Visual Art's started taking mail orders on March 4, 2008, and only six days later on March 10, 2008, Key reported that all of Key's goods sold at Comiket 73 were now sold out.[31][32] At the end of the second day of Comiket 75 in December 2008, all of Key's goods at the convention were sold out.[33]



Key's main staff members are attached to the visual novel studio, and therefore Visual Art's. Most of the main staff have been with Key since its formation, and do the majority of the work involved. Jun Maeda has worked on the planning for the individual projects and was one of the main scenario writers; he has also composed music for all of Key's games except Planetarian.[34][35][36] Maeda was reported to say in the February 2007 issue of Comptiq that after the completion of Little Busters!, he would not be working on the scenario staff for Key any longer.[37] However, in an interview in the December 2007 issue of Dengeki G's Magazine, Maeda said that he would still be working on the music for Key's next game.[38] Itaru Hinoue is Key's main artist and was the art director for Key's first three games.[39] Na-Ga, another prominent artist in the company, mainly worked with background art in earlier games, but with Little Busters! was given the position of co-art director with Hinoue.[7] Further computer graphics have been provided in the past by four graphic artists: Shinory, Mochisuke, Minimo Tayama, and Torino.[40][41] Key's main composer, Shinji Orito, has been with the company since Kanon.[35][42] With Maeda no longer contributing to the scenario, another scenario writer, Yūto Tonokawa, joined Key and first worked on the scenario in Little Busters! and later worked on the scenario for Rewrite.[43] Jun'ichi Shimizu joined Key in 2009 and headed the musical composition in Kud Wafter.

Former and outsourced

Many of Key's staff have left the company over time, or have been briefly employed as outsourced contributors. Naoki Hisaya had worked as one of the main scenario writers for Kanon,[40] but once the project was complete, he left the company; Hisaya later provided the original concept for Sola. Another member of the staff that made Kanon was OdiakeS, an outsourced composer who has since helped Key with two music albums, one each released for Air and Clannad, but has done nothing with Key since 2004.[44] Three staff members only worked with Key on Air: Takashi Ishikawa as one of the scenario writers,[45] Kazuki Fujii as a scenario assistant,[40] and Din as a background artist. Air and Clannad had Tōya Okano and Kai who contributed as scenario writers; Kai later headed the planning and design of Kud Wafter. Another scenario writer, Yūichi Suzumoto, worked with Key between Air and Planetarian. Eeji Komatsu worked as the art director for Planetarian,[46] and another artist, Fumio, worked as the art director for Tomoyo After.[47] Leo Kashida worked as an outsourced writer with Key on Tomoyo After and Little Busters!.[7][48] Chika Shirokiri, another outsourced writer who worked with Key on Little Busters!,[7][48] also wrote the scenario for Kud Wafter. Two composers—Manack and PMMK—helped with the music in Little Busters!, and MintJam helped with arrangement.[7] One of the original computer graphics artists, Miracle Mikipon, left after Clannad. Magome Togoshi had been with Key since Air, working as one of the signature composers, but left the company in October 2006.[49] Two out-sourced writers worked on the scenario for Rewrite: Ryukishi07 of 07th Expansion, and Romeo Tanaka.[43]


File:Promo yumemi.jpg

According to Satoshi Todome's work, A History of Adult Games, Key's impact on the visual novel (primarily the adult game variant) world stems from before Key was formed and most of the founding members of Key worked for Tactics under Nexton.[50] Due to an influence by Leaf's visual novel To Heart released in 1997, the developers at Tactics created a simple formula for a game: a comedic first half with a heart-warming romantic middle followed by a tragic separation and finally an emotional reunion formed what is known as a "crying game" or "nakige". The main purpose of such a game is to make the player feel for the characters and make them cry due to emotional scenarios which serves to leave a bigger impact on the player after the game is over.[50] Tactics' second title One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e was created based on this formula.

After One was complete, the development team quit Tactics to form Key where they developed their first title Kanon also based upon on this formula.[50] Kanon was "heavily hyped [and] had gamers impatient until its release. It was only one game released by Key so far, and yet [it] had already sent major shockwaves around the industry. And yet another game [Air], two years later, sent even more shockwaves. Air was equally hyped and well received."[51] The success of One and Kanon on Key's formula to create a "crying game" was later adopted by other visual novel developing companies which were influenced by this formula. Examples of this include: Kana: Little Sister by Digital Object, the Memories Off series by KID, D.C.: Da Capo by Circus, Snow by Studio Mebius (also under Visual Art's), and Wind: A Breath of Heart by Minori.[50]

Ryukishi07 of 07th Expansion wrote in 2004 how he was influenced by Key's works during the planning of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni.[52] Ryukishi07 played Key's games as a reference, among other visual novels, and analyzed them to figure out the reason why they were found to be so popular. He figured that the secret was due to how the stories would start with ordinary, enjoyable days, but then a sudden occurrence would happen leading the player to cry due to the shock value. He used a similar model for the basis of Higurashi but instead of leading the player to cry, Ryukishi07 wanted to scare the player with the addition of horror elements. In this way, Ryukishi07 wished to be in some way associated with Key who he described as a "masterpiece maker".[52]

Key is one of seventeen brands under Visual Art's with games included in the Lycèe Trading Card Game published by Broccoli. Characters from Key's first five games were included in the first three out of four Visual Art's card sets,[53][54][55][56] and characters from Little Busters! were featured in the fifth Visual Art's card set.[57] There are also seven out of fifty-five rare promotional cards with characters from Key titles.[58] Other big-name visual novel companies included in the card game include: AliceSoft, August, Leaf, Navel, and Type-Moon.[59]

Leaf, Key BBS

A bulletin board system (BBS) based on the interface of the large Japanese Internet forum 2channel (2ch) was formed on January 26, 2000 named "Leaf, Key BBS" (leaf,key掲示板 leaf,key Keijiban?), otherwise nicknamed as "Leaf-Key Board" (葉鍵板 Ha-Kagi Ita?).[60][61] The board originated from 2ch's video game discussion board due to a dispute involving the game Kizuato in December 1999;[60] Kizuato was an early game of another visual novel producing company named Leaf. Ultimately, fans of the game moved to 2ch's adult game board, but there was not much resolution, and at the time Key fans on the board were being shunned for discussions on Kanon and, at the time, Key's upcoming game Air. This resulted finally with the Leaf and Key fans moving away from 2ch and forming again on the PINKchannel Internet forum.[61] The board serves as a discussion board for anything related to Leaf and Key. This includes the games the companies produce, but also the companies themselves and the staff that make up those companies. The BBS gets approximately 900 posts per day as of March 2010. Like 2ch, the board has a default anonymous posting setting, and the default name is "Nanashi-san Dayomon" (名無しさんだよもん?, lit. "Mr. Nameless-dayomon"), a reference to the heroine Mizuka Nagamori from One: Kagayaku Kisetsu e who uses the words "dayo" and "mon" frequently.[61]


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  13. "Key's Angel Beats! Project Gets TV Anime Green-Lit". Anime News Network. May 27, 2009. Retrieved May 27, 2009. 
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  22. "Image of a Kanon Zippo lighter sold originally at Comiket 57". Retrieved September 20, 2008. 
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  34. Untranslated quote: 自分の書いた曲では一番気に入ってます。
    Translated quote: "Out of the songs I wrote myself, I like this one ["Zankō"] the most."
    Kanon Original Soundtrack booklet, page 4.
  35. 35.0 35.1 "Chudah's Corner on the Kanon Original Soundtrack". Retrieved November 13, 2007. 
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  38. "Jun Maeda and Shinji Orito Interview". Dengeki G's Magazine (December 2007) (MediaWorks). 
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  42. Untranslated quote: サウンド担当 折戸伸治
    Translated quote: "Sound Director Shinji Orito."
    Kanon Original Soundtrack booklet, page 5.
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  51. "Short Key history". Retrieved May 3, 2007. 
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External links

ar:كي (شركة)ko:Key (기업) id:Key (perusahaan) ms:Key (syarikat)th:คีย์ (บริษัท) vi:Key zh:Key (公司)

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