This post has come just after I’ve seen the first PV for 2021’s Luminous Witches, another show in the increasing World Witches franchise; I know the PV has been up for a while, but I just didn’t get around to catching it until now. But did any of us expect SHAFT to produce it, though? Ask that to the same people who didn’t see them making a show for Fate/Extra, that ended up becoming Fate/Extra: Last Encore.
This is a show will be something that, I think, will divide the hardcore SHAFT fans even more. So what have the studio ever done to bring the fans to this point? Myself included, we were people who rode the Monogatari wave, the Madoka Magica wave, and can spot a 90 degree head tilt from miles away. SHAFT can choose to produce/adapt whatever they want of course, and yet we as anime followers/weebs/etc. are becoming not as impressed anymore. Perhaps we should take a look at their back catalog first, before making any wild speculations.
Their biggest and most well-known franchises have been the Monogatari series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and the critically-acclaimed March Comes in Like a Lion. Maybe what a lot of us know the studio just as well are the traits they frequently add into their shows. Just as the likes of Kyoto Animation and Trigger do, SHAFT have used some real distinct things in all of their shows to make them stand out among the rest; the most well-known being, of course, the head tilt.
And that is precisely what we, as SHAFT fans or not, will know them for, good or bad.
I go back to what I said about recent and upcoming SHAFT shows dividing the hardcore fans…so what do I mean about that? I’ll be going over this with three of their shows, all of which are fairly recent ones at that. My first case study will be Fate/Extra: Last Encore, from 2018.
Personally I really enjoyed the show, and it didn’t bother me that Netflix’s monopoly (sort-of) on the Fate franchise in the West meant it not getting so much exposure. It was an adaptation that combined plot points from the original Fate/Extra game with some entirely new story ideas. People might believe that, because Netflix have exclusivity for the show, that is the sole reason why it isn’t so good – that is, of course, an extremely shallow way of thinking.
Fate/Extra: Last Encore was announced over a year before it actually came out, and it caught my eye straightaway, despite knowing next to nothing about the Fate franchise. When it finally came out, I’ll admit that I was initially concerned that, due to my lack of knowledge of the franchise, I wouldn’t enjoy it so much, but I was proven wrong. However, this was not a show that entirely won over the Fate fans, who were left feeling rather disappointed here. It was full-to-the-brim with outstanding action, interesting character design and avant-garde animation, but the complicated story and more philosophical tone wasn’t something viewers welcomed so much. That, and the fact that there was a little too much unnecessary violence and fan service on the part of the female lead, Nero Claudius/Red Saber. I think SHAFT may have ended up biting off more than they could chew with this one; Fate/Extra: Last Encore was not a terrible show and was something that ticked all the SHAFT trait boxes, but I believe that it needed to have more to win over the Fate fans completely.
Case study number two is Magia Record, the recent Madoka Magica spin-off and game adaptation, featuring a whole new bunch of Puella Magi on a slightly different, and less darker, story. It brought together the hardcore Madoka Magica fan base who knew that they weren’t going to get the Madoka x Homura yuri Valhalla happy ending that they were hoping for.
Now I already have a sad, depressing and melodramatic history with the Madoka Magica franchise; in this past Anime Solstice post, I talk about how my love of the show was so intense at the time, it cost me some really close friends. For the sake of the people I loved and to save my own sanity (and health), I made the choice to leave the franchise for good. So if I’m no longer a follower of the franchise, why have I made Magia Record a case study here? It’s because I was not impressed with the way it was presented to the public.
Could this have been just me being bitter, though? As someone who had picked away at the original Madoka Magica show with a fine tooth comb, and had talked about countless metaphors, references to Judeo-Christianity, and much more, was this just me feeling a little disappointed, even despite the fact I had abandoned the franchise? Sure enough, it was just a spin-off show, but I looked at Magia Record from the original get-go, and just saw something that was very lifeless and flat. I noticed that it didn’t get that great a reaction from a lot of other anime followers either; maybe they, like me, were thinking the show was going to offer so much more than it did. It’s probably very likely that, if I had decided to stick to being a crazed and rabid fan of the franchise, I might have not watched this either.
At the time, the staff at the SHAFT studio may have already been feeling a little burned out after the release of March Comes in Like a Lion and the Kizumonogatari film trilogy. Was this the old guard taking a step back and the new guard arriving with some new ideas, like a Fate adaptation and a Madoka Magica spin-off that both got mixed receptions? We as hardcore SHAFT fans had seen some really amazing stuff from them, so it’s no surprise that we felt a little taken aback when these shows came and got the reception that no-one was really expecting.
My final case study is Zaregoto, which came out in 2016-17. What’s Zaregoto, you might ask? Don’t worry if you hadn’t heard of it, since none of the big streaming platforms picked this show up – more on that later, though. Created by Nisioisin, the very same guy behind the Monogatari series, Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai (or just Zaregoto) told the story of a group of geniuses sent to a isolated island to keep a reclusive woman entertained, and how they work together to solve a mysterious murder. The positive thing here is that the show has all the things that the Monogatari fans loved (colorful animation, off-beat script, and a variety of bizarre characters), but the negative thing here is that it was a show that…no-one really asked for. I’ll explain why.
No way am I putting down the Zaregoto light novels at all; they sound like really fascinating reads, and I’d be very interested in taking a look at them if/when I can. My issue here with the adaptation is that it was a show that we didn’t really need. The Monogatari fans were heavily absorbed in all the original shows, were picking away at each episode mercilessly, were thinking about the pros and cons of Koyomi being shipped to every girl in the show (regardless of whether he is related to them or not), etc. And so a good share of them didn’t have to look at another entirely different Nisioisin show at the same time. Now if Zaregoto were to be released at another time, it may have gotten a far better reception. The show never got picked up by all of our favorite streaming platforms, and it may have been this reason why they didn’t, and have no current plans to. All of their focus was on keeping the Monogatari fans happy, and so getting the clicks on their streams was something that, in their eyes, may have been more important than acquiring the rights for a show that may or may not have been as popular. I don’t consider Zaregoto to be a terrible SHAFT show; I believe that it just came out at the wrong time.
The Fall 2020 season brings us Assault Lily: Bouquet at last. This was one of many shows that ended up getting delayed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Critics are going to take one single look at this and immediately think that SHAFT are going downhill after all, and are caving in to what the investors want, which is another pretty magical girl show featuring kids that look not unlike the kids we saw in Madoka Magica. In their eyes, perhaps, it’s a matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I’m actually looking forward to watching this as, even though I slightly agree with some of these critics when they say that this might as well be Madoka Magica but with weird-looking weapons, I don’t want to make any massive speculations until the show passes the ‘3-episode rule’ for me. I want to see this for myself first and pass judgement then.
As we look back again to the kind of shows SHAFT have made in the past and are well-known for, you could understand now why some of us SHAFT fans might be a little concerned at the direction they are going in, especially those of us who have been there on the long haul. Cynics would say that the studio has turned from innovative geniuses to complete sell-outs. I’ve kept a close eye on SHAFT for over 10 years now, and have seen this ‘journey’ that they’ve gone on. From what initially began as shows with off-beat animation and even more off-beat scripts, to shows that either bore the heck out of us or make some of us despair for the studio’s future. Maybe I’m actually one of those cynics too…
…but I refuse to blindly judge these upcoming shows like a lot of anime critics and cynics are doing already. Perhaps Assault Lily: Bouquet and Luminous Witches (and any future projects they have) will impress us just as much as their past shows have.
Now as for time of writing, I have absolutely no idea on whether Luminous Witches will be any good, or if it was a good choice to make a World Witches show with a concept completely different to its predecessors. Personally, I was hoping that SHAFT (or any studio, for that matter) would have adapted the Suomus Misfits Squadron light novels, as that was where it all began, and featured a really interesting cast of characters. A part of me is, admittedly, worried that this spin-off show might end up becoming a total flop, purely because of the direction it has decided to go on – witches who, instead of fighting the Neuroi, sing and dance to cheer up civilians. Yes, you heard me right: a Strike Witches idol group.
None of us want SHAFT to go down a painful road here. Yes, they are changing into a studio that is far different than the studio we have long since known them for. I just don’t think that we should judge these new SHAFT shows so harshly, or dismiss them so quickly. Looking at it from another viewpoint, though, if they had kept making the exact same kind of shows again and again for over two decades, we might be complaining even more.
If you love/loved SHAFT as much as I do, I’d be interested to hear your opinions. Do you miss the SHAFT of old, are you hyped for their new shows, and do you still believe Madoka and Homura will fly away into the sunset, and live forever in yuri Valhalla? Let me know in the comments…
Puella Magi Madoka Magica is available on home video and various streaming platforms around the world. Fate/Extra: Last Encore is available to watch on Netflix. Magia Record is available to watch on Crunchyroll. Assault Lily: Bouquet is available to watch on Funimation. Luminous Witches will be coming in 2021. Zaregoto is, as of time of writing, unavailable to watch in the West.