Ask John: Why do Americans Ignore So Much Anime from SHAFT?
Why is studio SHAFT only getting notice now from the western fanbase? As much as I loved Madoka Magica and Bakemonogatari, I feel like many only noticed SHAFT and Akiyuki Shinbo with those show and paid no attention to other shows the studio and director have done like Hidamari Sketch, Pani Poni Dash and SHAFT’s version of Negima!?
Naturally, anime production studio SHAFT receiving the most notice for its most popular titles, Madoka Magica and the Monogatari franchise, makes sense. Just as Gainax is most associated with Evangelion, Production I.G most recognized for Ghost in the Shell, Sunrise most associated with Gundam, and Pierrot best known for Naruto & Bleach, studio’s most popular titles typically overshadow the studios’ many other works. But additional circumstances particularly tend to narrow the focus of SHAFT’s work onto a very small number of titles.
Anime studio SHAFT was founded in 1975 but spent its first twenty years supplementing and assisting the work of other studios. In fact, SHAFT studio’s own homepage lists its first work as production assistance on the 1992 OVA Little Twins. The studio didn’t produce its own in-house anime until 1995′s Juuni Senshi Bakuretsu Eto Ranger television series – a show which proved moderately popular in Japan but has never gotten more than transitory notice from the English speaking anime community. According to SHAFT’s own website, from 1995 until 2002 the studio only independently animated the 1997 Sakura Tsushin and 2000 Dotto Koni-chan (a gag comedy from Excel Saga director Shinichi Watanabe that’s entirely unheard of in America) TV series and the Initial D Extra Stage and Arcade Gamer Fubuki OVAs. Despite three of these works getting official American releases, they’re not high profile titles. In 2003 SHAFT produced the Popotan television anime, launching its new identity as a studio specializing in esoteric and niche productions. Fully independent in-house productions including Tsukuyomi ~Moon Phase~ (2004), Paniponi Dash (2005), Negima!? (2006), Hidamari Sketch (2007), Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei (2007), the two “ef” series in 2007 & 2008, Mariaholic (2009), Bakemonogatari (2009), Arakawa Under the Bridge (2010), and Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru (2010) followed. Since 2002 SHAFT has also produced the relatively innocuous 2006 REC and 2009 Natsu no Arashi television series, but clearly the majority of SHAFT’s in-house anime during the past dozen years has been esoteric, highly stylized anime that appeals to an offbeat audience. Desite being very specialized otaku-oriented shows, Madoka Magica and the “Monogatari” series have managed to also capture the attention of a larger audience of viewers typically interested in more conventional, mainstream-oriented anime. Simply put, Madoka Magica and the Monogatari anime have a degree of cross-over appeal that SHAFT’s other anime like Hidamari Sketch, Zetsubou-sensei, SoreMachi, and Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko don’t, especially among English speaking viewers. These other SHAFT anime are ultra-niche shows only watched and appreciated by a relatively small audience of otaku that enjoy unconventional, abstract, highly stylized anime.
Furthermore, the point should be remembered that American otaku are largely fans anchored in the present. Countless American fans love Evangelion, but very few of them seek out Gainax’s obscure earlier anime productions like Naki no Ryu, Beat Shot, Circuit no Okami 2, Money Wars, and Houno no Tenkousei. Even though SHAFT’s independently produced anime only date back to the mid-1990s and the majority of them are less than eight years old, these days the American fan community perceives a digital fansub that appears two weeks after broadcast as “late,” and an anime from 2008 may as well be ancient history. Many of SHAFT’s contemporary productions are unusual shows that simply alienate average viewers. Combining that peculiarity with vintage doubles the reason why average American otaku would tend to ignore the bulk of SHAFT’s productions. The studio simply never produced a breakout mainstream hit that appealed to a large percentage of American otaku until 2009′s Bakemonogatari, and since 2009 Madoka Magica has been only the second work that SHAFT has produced that has also been able to secure an American audience larger than the niche demographic of fans that enjoy quirky, offbeat anime.