I don’t think that SHAFT produces pure gold 100% of the time, but one thing that characterizes all of their works is a habit of injecting large amounts of visual flare on a limited budget. This is one of the things that is polarizing about them, even though it really shouldn’t be. Over the years they have developed a number of signature techniques, which are updates and additions to Shinbo’s visual quirks that defined his early body of work from the early 90s to mid-2000s. A mark of a good SHAFT show is when they bring some new tricks to the table.
This is what I like about SHAFT. There’s always an attempt to reach out and do something new in the face of limited resources. But since this is what most people say about them, allow me to qualify it. A lot of early anime is marked by experimentation, be it experimentation as far as animation techniques go (usually in an attempt to make use of a limited budget) or experimentation in the realm of storytelling. While these experiments may not always be successful, some of them morphed into techniques used across the industry, or have helped to define some of the industry’s most momentous works. One of the main reasons the third Gundam movie and End of Evangelion stick out in my mind so much is due to them having very visually arresting and experimental scenes.
SHAFT is constantly in the position of Japanese animation studios way back when–understaffed and underfunded. Well, it’s not like all anime studios aren’t in that position, but SHAFT is doubly so. However, rather than just halfassing it, they make the most of it, and try to make something really cool. It doesn’t always work, but this approach is preferred to the way most studios would usually go about it.