The Works of SHAFT, From Monogatari to Madoka Magica

Puella Magika

By Tom Speelman

Anime studios live through their legacies, and SHAFT has a long and prolific one.

Founded in 1975 by Hiroshi Wakao in Suginami, Tokyo, SHAFT first became known outside of assistant work to larger studios by collaborating with Gainax in the ’00s on shows like Mahoromatic and He Is My Master.

RELATED: A Guide to Magical Girls, From Cute to Grim

But its current course was set in 2004 when Wakao retired and his successor, Mitsutoshi Kubota, hired Akiyuki Shinbo to direct MoonPhase (which we’ll talk about below), and he’s stayed with them ever since, maintaining the same team of collaborators across a variety of projects that’s led to anime noted for their attention-grabbing visuals and a signature head tilt that’s even become a meme.

Let’s take a look at some of the SHAFT and Shinbo collaborations available on Funimation to guide you to your next favorite show!

MoonPhase (2004)

MoonPhase Screenshot Shaft Feature

Also known as Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase in Japan, this goofy supernatural romance is patient zero for what SHAFT would become, and it’s fascinating to see Shinbo and his collaborators take their first stab at what are now their signature moves.

Based on a manga by Keitaro Arima, MoonPhase follows Kouhei Morioka (Hiroshi Kamiya, Jason Liebrecht), a somewhat dim freelance photographer who can’t see ghosts or anything supernatural but is naturally gifted at capturing them on film.

He accompanies his cousin, trained exorcist and occult magazine writer Seiji Mido (Takahiro Sakurai, Sonny Strait) and Kouhei’s childhood friend Hiromi Anzai (Michiko Neya, Laura Bailey) to a ruined, supposedly haunted castle in Germany.

Kouhei, sent to explore and photograph, finds out this is true when he encounters Hazuki (Chiwa Saito, Monica Rial), a vampire permanently young and trapped in the castle. With the help of her colder alternate personality, Luna, she attempts to turn Kouhei into her enthralled servant.

However, her bite has no effect. Surprisingly shocked by the cruelty Hazuki is subjected to, Kouhei helps set her free. In gratitude, as is anime tradition, she follows him, Seiji and Hiromi back to Tokyo and moves into the house the two men share with their grandfather, claiming Kouhei is her servant anyway.

This sets off an odyssey of vampire intrigue, Kouhei discovering his own supernatural powers and, eventually, romance. Striking colors, well-done special effects and a great sense of atmosphere make this show work, and it’s not hard to see why this was a hit.

Watch MoonPhase on Funimation!

Pani Poni Dash! (2005)

Pani Poni Dash Screenshot Shaft Feature

SHAFT and Shinbo’s next work, co-directed with Shin Onuma, couldn’t have been more different from MoonPhase. Based on the comedy manga Pani Poni by Hekiru Hikawa, the series’ 26 episodes are…extremely silly.

How silly? The show follows Rebecca Miyamoto (Chiwa Saito, Hilary Haag), a half-American, half-Japanese child prodigy who graduated from MIT at a young age and returned to Japan to teach math at Peach Moon Academy, where she takes charge of Class 1-C.

Along for the ride, though not necessarily helping in any way whatsoever, is her severely depressed rabbit friend, Mesousa (Vanilla Yamazaki, Christine Auten), who mostly shows up to get hilariously injured in many ways.

In the vein of Azumanga Daioh, the main students we follow are all girls, and they’re all incredibly goofy. There’s also Lord Cat (Hiroshi Kamiya, Tommy Drake), an omnipotent being who seems to do nothing but hide inside vending machines selling drinks, and the aliens, who are observing Rebecca for…well, they don’t really know why.

So yeah, this show is on the Hetalia sphere of “Wacky Things Happening for Wackiness.” Maybe one to take an episode at a time, it’s definitely worth looking up if you want some shenanigans.

Watch Pani Poni Dash! on Funimation!

Monogatari (2009-2019)

Monogatari Screenshot Feature

OK, there are a lot of Monogatari shows and they’re all connected. Given that the franchise is based on a series of light novels by Nisio Isin (with illustrations by VOFAN) that is 28 novels long, clearly one show wasn’t gonna do it.

But as big as the Monogatari source material is, the anime wasn’t an immediate guaranteed hit. Why? Well, it boils down to the franchise’s two key ingredients: long philosophical discussions and as much fanservice as its late-night TV slot would let it get away with. And yet, it was a hit, and from the very start of the series, Bakemonogatari, it’s not hard to see why as it’s genuinely like no other anime out there.

The series follows Koyomi Araragi (Hiroshi Kamiya), a third-year high school student who, shortly before the show began (something that was explored in the Kizumonogatari film trilogy), was turned into a vampire.

Cured with the help of homeless ex-priest/supernatural expert Meme Oshino (Takahiro Sakurai), Koyomi begins helping various girls he meets with their supernaturally afflicted problems, beginning with his classmate, the beautiful, sharp-tongued Hitagi Senjyogahara (Chiwa Saito), who lost all her weight thanks to a confrontation with a crab god.

From there, the two start dating, and Koyomi finds himself fighting various apparitions of all kind because, as Oshino memorably puts it, “…you can find gods everywhere. They’re everywhere around us and nowhere at all.”

RELATED: Complete Monogatari Episodic Series, Kill la Kill and More Arrive on Funimation

In short, this is a series that teaches you how to get on its wavelength, no matter how spaced out it can get. And if you can, it’s a rewarding ride. Definitely one of the stranger anime hits of the 21st century.

If you’re curious as to viewing order: While the novels are ordered in a different chronology from the anime, it’s best to just follow the various Monogatari series in the order they aired. That’d be Bakemonogatari, Nisemonogatari, Nekomonogatari Black and Monogatari Second Season which are all up on Funimation!

Dance in the Vampire Bund (2010)

Dance in the Vampire Bund Screenshot Feature

Based on a manga by Nozomu Tamaki, this series follows Akira Kaburagi (Yuichi Nakamura, Eric Vale), an apathetic high school student whose only real problems seem to be wondering what his relationship should be with his now ex, Yuki Saegusa (Saito, Alexis Tipton), and dealing with amnesia that’s blocked out everything from his life prior to the last year.

But his life gets turned upside down when Wilhelmina Vlad “Mina” Țepeș (Aoi Yuki, Monica Rial), an impossibly ancient vampire and the ruler of all vamps worldwide, comes into the picture.

Obsessed with Akira after he pledged to protect her as a child, Mina seeks him out, and they subsequently both get attacked by an enemy vampire. In the process, Akira gains back enough of his memory to recall his promise…oh, and that he’s a werewolf whose real last name is Regendorf. Also, his family is pledged to protect Mina’s royal vampire bloodline forever.

Unlocking his werewolf powers, he moves in with Mina while she enrolls at his school–which she also owns, due to the whole “being centuries old” thing–and they set out to redefine the relationship between humanity and monsters as well as each other.

Watch Dance in the Vampire Bund on Funimation!

Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011)

Madoka Magica Feature Screenshot

One of SHAFT’s biggest franchises, Puella Magi Madoka Magica appears to be a typical magical girl series, complete with fantastic transformations and cute character designs. But this show is not what it seems.

Middle school student Madoka Kaname (Aoi Yuki, Christine Marie Cabanos) lives a pretty charmed life but wakes up one night having had a mysterious dream about a black-haired girl fighting a mysterious monster. Her world is turned upside down when that same girl transfers into her class.

It only gets weirder when Madoka and one of her best friends, Sayaka (Eri Kitamura, Sarah Anne Williams), find this girl winding through a mall trying to kill a strange creature calling itself Kyubey (Emiri Kato, Cassandra Lee Morris).

Why, and what Kyubey offers Madoka and Sayaka, sets off a saga that leads the girls down a path of [REDACTED]. You didn’t think we’d spoil it for you, did you?

Almost a decade later, Puella Magi Madoka Magica holds up remarkably well. SHAFT’s fluid, smooth animation, combined with Gen Urobuchi’s grim and compelling scripts, the smart direction of Akiyuki Shinbo and Yukihiro Miyamoto, and Ume Aoki’s cute and distinctive character designs, unite in perfect harmony to create a show that’s at once a loving tribute to magical girls and a massive heel turn for the genre. Tying it all together is the mind-bending work of animation duo Gekidan Inu Curry.

Taking inspiration from Czech and Russian animators like Jan Švankmajer and Yuri Norstein, the duo combined cutout techniques and collaging to create something unlike anything else ’00s anime had seen before.

Watch Puella Magi Madoka Magica on Funimation!

March comes in like a lion (2016)

March comes in like a lion screenshot feature

This adaptation of a manga by Honey and Clover creator Chica Umino became a huge coming-of-age hit because of its well-shaded characters, stunning music, animation and remarkable attention to the details of emotion.

The show follows Rei Kiriyama (Kengo Kawaniishi, Khoi Dao), a 17-year-old pro shogi player and a child prodigy who–his family long dead and his foster family estranged–is living by himself in June town. And though he attends high school, Rei is completely isolated and withdrawn, only leaving his bare apartment for school and to attend his shogi matches.

Rei’s only real connection with anyone outside of shogi, aside from his would-be rival/best friend Harunobu Nikaido (Nobuhiko Okamoto, Zack Aguilar), is with the three Kawamoto sisters who live in nearby March town. They all make Rei feel welcome and connected, but they’re dealing with their own pain as well: the recent deaths of their mother and grandmother.

The main thrust of the series is that it’s a staggeringly well-realized portrait of formative trauma, depression and healing. The atmosphere Shinbo and co-director Kenjiro Okada conjure up combines with the lush score by Yukari Hashimoto. It’s instantly striking.

Watch March comes in like a lion on Funimation!

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story (2020)

Magia Record screenshot magical girls guide

There’ve been loads of Madoka Magica spinoffs (mostly in manga), but this one is the first one to be adapted back to television. And what a blast it is. Magia Record hits the ground running, and it’s a highly entertaining ride back on the series’ horse.

Set at some point during Puella Magi Madoka Magica, this show follows Iroha Tamaki (Momo Asakura, Kira Buckland), a crossbow-wielding magical girl who, while not unhappy with her chosen role fighting Witches, begins to wonder why she’s haunted by mysterious visions and can’t remember the wish she made when contracting with Kyubey.

RELATED: Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story Season 2 Announced

Her friend and fellow Magical Girl Kuroe (Kana Hanazawa, Faye Mata), who’s tired of almost dying for her wish, tells her of Kamihama City where it’s rumored Magical Girls can go and be saved from their contracts.

A battle in a Witch’s Labyrinth not only leads them there, but helps Iroha remember what her wish was. So, she sets out for Kamihama to fulfill it, despite that city’s resident Magical Girl Yachiyo Nanami (Sora Amamiya, Erika Harlacher) having warned her that the city is crawling with Witches.

With Gekidan INU Curry writing and directing (and bringing some major horror-fairytale vibes), with original Madoka Magica director Yukihiro Miyamoto assisting, this isn’t just the beloved rock band reuniting for a tour; they’ve pushed themselves to the next level.

Watch Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story on Funimation!

What’s your favorite series from SHAFT? Share this post and let us know! And stay tuned to Funimation for the latest on new and exciting anime catalog additions!

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