This Cold Money-Driven World and Magical Girls: SHAFT Completely Sells Out

SHAFT always struck me as a unique studio. Their keen eye for design as a result of tight budgets and scheduling, their ties to subculture with the songs used in their shows, and their off-beat otaku edge made them a studio worth paying attention to. It also helped that the original works SHAFT adapted from were quite unique in their own right, and SHAFT elevated these works beyond mere curiosities to snappy and stylish anomalies that stand out amongst the many other otaku-oriented works that oftentimes feel way too similar to one another.

As such, I spit up a bit in my mouth upon seeing the promotional material for Prism Nana.

Once Madoka Magica proved itself as a big success, I had a very bad feeling that SHAFT was about to abandon all artistic integrity and “sell out”, as it were. I mean, they basically sold out by making Madoka, but that at least had a few things going for it stylistically. The same cannot be said for Nana.

Upon switching on Nana’s trailer one is assaulted with a typically spastic anime song and a collection of bullshit fluff scenes featuring girls you’ve seen in every light novel ever. The girls reveal all there is to their shitty paper-thin personalities in a series of one liners that you most assuredly have heard elsewhere, in typical boring moe-styled voices you have definitely heard everywhere. Things get worse upon delving into the several 30-second promos out there, where you’re bombarded with even more boring anime songs that are all taken from the boring moe anisong playbook, along with further imagery that doesn’t do much to inspire.

Let’s head back in time a bit: I would say that the first work that made SHAFT stand out was their first collaboration with Shinbou Akiyuki: Tsukuyomi Moon Phase. There was something dark, edgy, and cool about it, despite being an otherwise typical otaku show in many ways. But as the show goes on, one realizes it’s saying valuable things about family, and the fan service is in fact quite self-aware, with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. A few years later Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei came on the scene with a deliberately antiquated look and sharp cynical tongue. And in recent years, the Bakemonogatari series brought its dialogue heavy script to life wonderfully with its quirky presentations of character interaction, while serious scenes were bestowed with a very theatrical sense of gravity with their dark shadows and haunting color-schemes.

Music-wise, Tsukuyomi boasts the talents of world famous jet-setting entertainer Dimitri From Paris, and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has old school rocker Otsuki Kenji screaming his lungs out for every season of the show. Bakemonogatari admittedly keeps its music pretty safe, but Kimi No Shiranai Monogatari is a slick pop number I wouldn’t be ashamed of playing in front of people. And of course, I would be remiss to neglect mention of Natsu no Arashi and how its opening by my favorite filthy Japanese band Omokage Lucky Hole got me into them.

I’ve said this stuff before, and I’ll probably say this stuff again, but my point is that between the types of works adapted and the artistic choices made ranging from the style of visuals to the use of music, there is a demonstration of knowledge of works outside of the insular otaku sphere. It’s these influences that helped make these works interesting, and distinguish themselves from the more conventional fare out there. In short, they’re quite special.

So what does Prism Nana got going on? Well, going by what we have, some of the battle scenes have some level of unique design sense, but it’s all very safe. I guess the mob characters are all silhouettes with little stars patterned all over them, which kind of makes it feel like a SHAFT production, but on the whole it just doesn’t look very interesting.

As of right now the only staff listed for this show is the character designer Kantoku. As such, Shinbou–who directed all of the great shows mentioned in this post–may not even be involved, which may explain why it doesn’t look very exiting.

But despite me getting on SHAFT’s case and accusing them of selling out, I realize the realities of this world, and know that they need money to continue on.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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