Kyoto Animation and SHAFT are kind of similar

While this may come as a surprise, along with being a fan of the constantly-in-the-red SHAFT, I am also rather fond of the constantly-in-the-black Kyoto Animation. I will admit to liking SHAFT a smidge better–mostly due to them getting the better crop of source material–but as far as their attitudes towards production goes, I like them more or less equally despite being worlds apart as far as their approach to making animation goes.

To put it simply–they’re both extremes. SHAFT makes the most out of nothing, and Kyoto Animation makes the most out of everything. Studios that get too little or too much are a dime a dozen, but what separates SHAFT and Kyoto Animation from those other studios is the flair they bestow upon their work. SHAFT (I assume  by way of animation veteran Shinbo Akiyuki) finds ways to stretch their limited budget in ways that don’t result in yashigani (well, usually), but instead in very visually interesting minimalist pieces unlike what one usually sees in TV anime. Kyoto Animation lavishes their work with lots of character and life, rather than simply making something that’s well animated, but devoid of much life (Gonzo’s Gin-iro no Kami no Agito kind of felt like that to me.) Both studios also constantly wink and nudge at their otaku audience–and while that has become commonplace nowadays–there’s an unquantifiable authenticity to it, not unlike what Gainax does.

But it’s not as if these two don’t have a few misfires. I think that while SHAFT has a lot of good shows to their name, they also have far less inspired productions, such as Negima!? and Maria†Holic. I think all of Kyoto Animation’s Key adaptations (especially Clannad) lack a degree of spirit and creativity in their execution when compared to Haruhi, Keion! and Lucky☆Star.

What really ties these two together is that they both started in the same place. Both SHAFT and Kyoto Animation were, at one  point, outsourcing houses. Off the top of my head, after a few shows in the 80s and 90s, SHAFT didn’t really start making their own works in a big way until after the turn of the century. The same goes for Kyoto Animation. Before the year 2000 these studios were more or less unknown, so it’s kind of funny how they diverged–one taking the path of obscurity and experimentation, with the other taking the path of the tried and true. I know that SHAFT became the way they are now entirely due to Shinbo joining in the early-to-mid ’00s, but I can’t pin Kyoto Animation’s shift on anybody since I don’t know the studio well. I’m just going to guess Yamakan, even though that’s probably completely wrong.

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5 Responses to Kyoto Animation and SHAFT are kind of similar

  1. djwhack03 says:

    As a fan of yuri anime, I feel that Maria Holic is probably one of my favorite SHAFT shows. It’s a cruel mockery of a genre full of melodramatic tripe. It’s like Detroit Metal City just with less rape.

    As for the KEY adaptations, do you honestly expect any creativity out of a story written by Jun Maeda, the textbook one trick pony?

  2. VZ says:

    The little bit of the Negima!? anime I saw I liked. I don’t give a shit about the manga version and how it’s shounen action aspects (like every other Negima fan out there). Negima as premise to me works much better as a harem comedy which SHAFT found the right formula for. Plus it uses the absolutely wonderful chara designer of PPD!

    I don’t care for the Key adapted Kyoani stuff either. The three other things (Haruhi, LS and K-On) are their strong points.

    Gonzo could have been a great studio is they did more shows like Strike Witches and Saki and less Speed Grapher and Desert Punk but I guess it’s little too late for that.

  3. keideki says:

    At first I was tempted to just disagree with you based on the title of this post, but after reading it I do see what you are talking about.

  4. kgods says:

    A good post and an interesting parallel I’ve actually never thought of before, mostly due to me not watching a lot of SHAFT and KyoAni shows back-to-back. It’s interesting that while these studios couldn’t be more different (as you said) that they both have a similar idea on how they “centralize” their works, if you know what I’m saying.

    @VZ there’s more Strike Witches on the way, but I don’t know if Gonzo is doing it or not. I seem to remember reading that it got passed off to another studio (AIC if I recall), but retained most of the same staff.

  5. Dokuro-chan says:

    Dammit wah, do you know why I read this blog so obsessively? You constantly espouse my opinions, as if they were from my own mouth (except you know more about what you are talking about, so you make it all sound more believable).

    SHAFT and KyoAni are my two absolute favorite animation studios, whether they are the fad of the day or not (as both have been at various times in their lifetimes).

    I think a lot of what you are talking about may stem from the sort of smalltime feeling both of them have… Neither SHAFT nor KyoAni, difference in budgets aside, have nearly as many works to their name as the giants of animation, so almost every single one of their works seems to have certain level of distinction about it.
    Sure, there are the rather formulaic Key adaptations from KyoAni, or “off-mainline” SHAFT animations, such as Negima!? and Maria+Holic, but even those contribute to the Studios’ respective personalities in their own ways.