Known for their signature “head-tilt” and avant-garde approach to animation, Shaft has been around since 1975, producing some of the most interesting and unique titles. Working with director Shibo Akiyuki, the studio has managed to create a personal fingerprint in the anime it produces – Shaft works are in many cases unmistakable, and the incredibly artistic approach to the animation which goes into every show creates a unique anime experience. With a healthy roster of great anime, we thought we’d draw up a list of some of our favourites, so here goes – Top 10 anime by Studio Shaft! There is an older list which covers a Top 10 as decided by a poll in Japan which you can find on Honey’s too!
10. Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai (The Beheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Bearer of Nonsense)
- Episodes: 8
- Aired: October 2016 – September 2017
After being banished from her family and sent into exile on Wet Crow Feather’s Island, located in the Sea of Japan, Akagami Iria spends much of her time inviting geniuses of various orders from around the world to her mansion. One such guest is Kunagisa Tomo, a genius in the field of computing who is accompanied by her closest friend, “I-chan”, the nameless protagonist. Their stay at the mansion is coming to a close; however, things take a dramatic turn when one of the guests is found murdered, and the suspect is unidentifiable. Now “I” and the rest of the guests need to find out who did it, before anyone else falls victim to the same fate, but is it really that simple?
Based on the original work by NisioisiN, Kubikiri Cycle makes use the centuries-old mystery genre plot device: the closed room. With access to the site of the murder having been restricted to only the victim at the time of the murder, as well as the other clues on-site leading to an endless loop of unsatisfactory speculations, fear sets into the hearts of the characters. Being a NisioisiN work, Kubikiri Cycle is dialogue-driven, with the interactions between characters being the centre of the dynamic; however, put against the intricate and colourful Shaft animation style, the eccentric characters almost seem that much more interesting.
- Episodes: 9
- Aired: February 2006 – March 2006
Matsumaru Fumihiko is your average salaryman. Currently single, his luck in that department is still yet to change after his plans to watch a movie with his colleague, Ms Tanaka, fall through when she doesn’t show. As Matsumaru is about to toss the movie tickets into the bin, a cute girl appears and asks him not to waste those tickets. After the movie and dinner, he escorts her home and finds out that they live in the same neighbourhood. Unfortunately, her home caught fire a few hours later. With nowhere else to go, Onda Aka moves into Matsumaru’s place and the two have a relationship that is clearly beyond friendship, but not quite lovers either – and they have to keep all of it a secret.
Rec is a unique entry on this list given the fact that it is the most stylistically deviant anime in terms of the visibility of Studio Shaft’s touch. Be that as it may, it still has a pleasant look and feel to it, word to Shaft’s quality. From a viewer’s perspective, the short episodes make it instant binge material and the slice of life nature of the show allows for it to go down much easier - a fact further rarefied by the way in which the art “mellows out” at some points, appearing a little less rendered and rather, a little more cosy.
8. Dance in the Vampire Bund
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2010 – April 2010
Mina Tepeş, the Queen of the Vampires, reveals their existence to humanity on live television. She states her plan to create a sanctuary for vampires in Japan, what she calls the “Vampire Bund”. Using her family’s wealth to pay off Japan’s national debt, the Japanese government agrees to build this location for the vampires; however, some people are still not convinced by the vampires’ desire for peaceful cohabitation. Kaburagi Akira is a high schooler who doesn’t believe in vampires, but feels uneasy whenever they are mentioned and has no idea why. Other than having sustained a head injury a year ago, his life is normal until he meets Mina, who triggers his memories, causing him to rediscover his identity as a werewolf sworn from birth to protect the vampire queen.
Straying away from many of Shaft’s tendencies when it comes to art and animation is Dance in the Vampire Bund, a vampire anime which feels very much like mid-to-late 2000s anime when it comes to the art style. It goes for a more realistic feel when it comes to the characters. The anime sometimes views like a documentary or slightly older film, with the varied camera angles as well as the familiar Shaft manner of panning out to long shots. Visuals also have an element of graininess to them which is reminiscent of old cameras.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2009 – March 2009
Kanako Miyamae transferred to Ame no Kisaki Catholic School in order to find love, inspired by her parents’ story of falling in love there; however, Kanako is allergic to men and has therefore come to the all-girls school to find her love. When she meets the beautiful Shidou Maria, Kanako is certain she’s found her person but it turns out that Maria is boy dressed in feminine clothes. He threatens to expose her objectives unless she keeps his real gender a secret and goes as far as replacing her roommate in order to keep an eye on her. Will Kanako be able to find the girl of her dreams in this nightmare?
Ripe with the familiar Shaft style of animation which makes use of various beautiful shots, sometimes in rapid succession, Maria†Holic is a humorous anime which plays with the genderbending trope a little bit. With its bright colours and beautiful backgrounds, Maria†Holic brings us some highly enjoyable absurdism and that little pinch of romance in the chaos that we need sometimes. We also see much of the Shaft touch in this anime, with head tilts galore and a juxtaposition of characters against highly detailed backgrounds and landscapes.
6. Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2007 – September 2007
Itoshiki Nozomu is an incredibly pessimistic school teacher. His glass is so half-empty that the smallest misfortune sends him into a well of walling despair – sometimes pushing him to the point of wanting to take his own life. With his band of eccentric students like Komori Kiri, who doesn’t leave school, Kobushi Abiru, a mysterious learner who always arrives with severe injuries, the highly optimistic Fuura Kafuuka and all his other students, Nozomu tackles his everyday modern life with humorous results.
Much like Bakemonogatari and other notable Shaft works, Sayounara Zetsubou Sensei bears a familiar Shaft-esque animation style which incorporates still frames populated with textboxes at random junctures. These serve as narration and are an important part of the animation. In addition to the in-anime text narration, we are still treated to the same avant-garde approach for which Shaft is known.
5. ef: A Tale of Memories
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2007 – December 2007
On Christmas Eve, Hirono Hiro runs into Miyamura Miyako, a girl who takes his bicycle in order to pursue a thief. Later Hiro finds his bicycle totalled and Miyako unconscious, leading to the both of them unexpectedly spending Christmas Eve together. Their relationship develops further as they realise that they go to the same high school; however, Hiro’s childhood friend, Shindou Kei, becomes jealous of the two’s growing relationship. Unbeknownst to Kei; however, a creepy photographer has become interested in her, wanting to capture the perfect shot. On the other hand, Asou Renji is a boy who dreams of becoming a girl’s heroic saviour, who runs into Kei’s twin sister, Shindou Chihiro and befriends her. Chihiro is a bookworm and the two decide to write a book together, but Renji soon realises Chihiro’s tragic secret: she has a condition which causes her memories to last but for a short while. Will they ever be able to write their story?
A clear-cut romance; ef: A Tale of Memories explores relationships between characters while propping them up against some top-class backgrounds. Again, Shaft bringing in its flair with certain shots being animated differently for different effects. As a dialogue-driven type of story, the changing visuals make for a much more engaging watch. The art is incredible especially over a decade later, the characters while generic-looking in their design, look good. From an artistic perspective, the stops were pulled out and if you’re a fan of romantic anime, you’ll probably share that insight about the story itself too.
4. Denpa Onna to Seishun Ototo (Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2011 – July 2011
Niwa Makoto’s parents have moved overseas for work, so he moves to a new town in order to live with his aunt, excited at the prospect of life away from his village. However, his aunt claimed that she lives alone, so when Makoto meets his long-lost cousin, Touwa Erio, Makoto’s various plans for life in that house come crashing down. To top it off, Erio is his age but extremely eccentric, choosing to wrap herself up in a futon rather than go to school. She also claims that she is an alien, with a zany personality and speech pattern to back it up. His dream of having a normal life is instantly cancelled and with more encounters with other eccentrics, Makoto must get used to the fact that his life is anything but normal.
Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko really shows off the sheer skill that Studio Shaft has at its disposal through the colourful artwork and character designs that make this show what it is. It is beautiful to look at from the word go. Dialogue and art-driven, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko is a humorous slice of life title which whips out elements of the absurd in its interactions between characters. The characters themselves are unique within the bounds of the story and while they may all be eccentrics, the way in which they are is vastly different.
3. 3-gatsu no Lion
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: October 2016 – March 2017
Kiriyama Rei reached professional status in the game of Shogi when he was a middle schooler. As a result, he has experienced an incredible amount of pressure from his adoptive family as well as the Shogi community, who consider him one of the few elite players. At 17, Rei moves into an apartment in Tokyo, away from his tumultuous life back home; however, living alone, Rei doesn’t quite take the best care of himself and his reclusiveness causes him to be alienated from his peers. However, soon after his arrival in Tokyo, he meets the Kawamoto sisters - Hinata, Akari and Momo, who live with their grandfather. The trio of sisters, each coping with past tragedies share a familial bond with Rei which he has lacked in his life and it could be the aspect he needs as he struggles to maintain himself throughout his Shogi career, teaching him many much-needed lessons about himself and the world around him.
One of those anime which follow a niche interest, 3-gatsu no Lion is an emotional rollercoaster which does a good job of fleshing out its characters over the span of 22 episodes. An archetypical Shaft work if there ever was one, 3-gatsu no Lion shows us the extent of Shaft’s abilities when it comes to giving us beautiful scenery and backgrounds over and above characters who are appealing to the eye. The art style is somewhere between real and exaggerated, making it accommodating to the colours and backdrops which are consistent throughout.
2. Arakawa Under the Bridge
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2010 – June 2010
Ichinomiya Kou is the son of a wealthy businessman. The Ichinomiya family motto is to never be indebted to anyone, so when Kou falls from the Arakawa Bridge and a random stranger saves him from drowning in the Arakawa River, he finds himself owing his entire life to a stranger. He insists on paying her back; however, the blonde, stoic, tracksuit-clad homeless girl known as Nino lives under the bridge and wants nothing more than to fall in love. When Nino asks Kou to be her boyfriend, he has no choice but to accept – so Kou moves in with Nino under Arakawa Bridge!
A show filled with several eccentric characters and humour of the absurd kind, Arakawa Under the Bridge is a whole lot of fun! The animation style brings out much of the unique elements which have become synonymous with the animation studio, including the classic “Shaft head tilt”, which we see on several occasions in addition to the way in which episodes are not marked by their episode count, but rather each segment is denoted, so the Arakawa Under the Bridge experience might be like watching a cartoon where several different stories are explored separately while chronology is maintained. The art is excellent and reflects the light-heartedness of the show, with its bright colour schemes which capitalise on the fact that most of the show happens outside.
1. Mekakucity Actors (Kagerou Project)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2014 – June 2014
August 14th. Summer. Kisaragi Shintarou finds himself forced to leave his room for the first time in two years. During an argument with Ene, the cyber girl who lives in his computer, Shintarou accidentally spilled soda on his keyboard. To make things worse, online shops were closed to observe the Obon Festival, so Shintarou had no choice but to finally leave his room. The journey makes him anxious, but as his horrific luck would have it, Shintarou’s first journey outside results in him getting caught up in a hostage situation. Luckily, a group of superpowered teenagers who call themselves the “Mekakushi-Dan” arrive and sort things out. Shintarou must now join the Mekakushi-Dan with Ene, as they realise that their powers fit together like a puzzle, the secret to it all lies in their pasts…
Seemingly hidden by the flow of time, Mekakucity Actors is in many ways a quintessential Shaft work. The animation is fluid and colourful, not to mention at times downright mesmerising. The story is incredibly interesting and makes use of the past and memory to develop its cast of quirky, colourful characters. The show also plays with several frames which are divorced from the characters themselves and thus the viewer’s experience is one set up by the intensely colourful and detailed scenery that sets it all up gorgeously… all with some of it being made to look like it was documented with a video camera. Shaft also uses its wide shots often in Mekakucity Actors, making it the kind of anime you watch when you want plot, characters and intensely beautiful art and animation bringing it all together.
Shaft is a studio with an extensive and decorated roster of anime and its unsurprising that they consistently give us anime which we talk about well over a decade after their passing. Their highly experimental, sometimes even frustrating approach in some instances is the kind of fingerprint-level personal mark which sets them apart from many other studios. A Shaft work will often tell you it’s a Shaft work, eventually you watch so many that they can be picked out. Are there any other Shaft shows you’d like to recommend? Drop a comment below (and do the head tilt dramatically) and tell us all about it!
If you’re being parodied, you’ve definitely done something right. It means you’ve managed to become noted for a given characteristic trademark, and this is definitively the case for Shaft.
Mentioning the name of this company will most likely produce a specific image in any serious anime fans’ head: stunning, often weird and unusual animation, a story set in a high school featuring a lot of schoolgirls but not as much fan service as one would expect, a LOT of references to American and Japanese popular culture, and, last but not least, the infamous head tilt.
Shaft has managed to build a reputation as one of the most distinctive animation studios in the past few years, largely thanks to the excellent direction of Shinbo Akiyuki – the "father of the head tilt". Loved and hated in almost equal amounts, Shaft has produced a surprisingly varied repertoire of anime that will please both the casual rom-com lover and the anime connoisseur.
But enough talk, let’s dive into the best shows of one of the best anime studios out there: below is our picks for the top ten anime made by Shaft (as the prime contractors for the anime listed).
10. Hidamari Sketch
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2007 - March 2007
Although it’s set at an arts high school – Yamabuki Art High School to be exact – that’s just the backdrop in this totally unpretentious, cute story about three friends. After finally passing the entrance exam of the school, Yuno Yamabuki moves into a new apartment, befriending the other occupants, two senior students named Sae and Hiro. Later on, she meets genki girl Miyako, and the two become best friends.
The contrast between Yuno and Miyako’s opposing personalities drives Hidamari Sketch forward, making it an enjoyable viewing experience that is a tad quieter than other, similar series. Akiyuki Shinbo (together with Ryoki Kamitsubo) was of course behind the wheels, giving the anime the unmistakable shaftiness.
9. Dance in the Vampire Bund
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2010 - April 2010
After hiding for many years, Mina Tepes, the Prinsess-ruler of vampires, reveals their existence to common people, and is allowed to open a district for vampires in Tokyo. While she and her werewolf friend Akira Kaburagi do their best to let humans and vampires peacefully coexist, it will prove more difficult than initially thought. Of course.
Dance in the Vampire Bund was Shaft and Shinbo’s second flirt with the vampire genre (the first you’ll longer towards the bottom), and was a commercial hit for the studio.
Dance in the Vampire Bund - Now Available on Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack - Anime Trailer
8. Arakawa Under the Bridge
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: April 2010 - June 2010
A guy whose number one guiding principle in life is not to make himself indebted to anyone, becomes indebted to a girl named Nino, as she rescues him from drowning after he falls of the titual Arakawa bridge. In order to pay her back, Kou Ichinomiya promises to become her lover, and goes on to spend his days under the bridge, together with a wide range of crazy characters.
Arakawa Under the Bridge is fast paced, beautifully animated (okay sorry for repeating this over and over), and manages the art of being over the top while not too over the top, if that even makes sense – Shaft style, in other words.
Arakawa Under the Bridge Trailer
7. ef: A Tale of Memories.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: October 2007 - December 2007
If you’re looking for something more serious, for example a series that might even go as far as to make you shed a tear, you might want to consider Ef: A Tale of Memories. With a darker tone, this romance slash mystery starts on a christmas eve where two former strangers coincidentally end up spending the evening together. Some moments earlier, Hiro Hirono had just found Miyako Miyamura passed out on the ground, after she tried to steal his bike. They discover that they’re students of the same school, and, unavoidably, feelings start to emerge.
Ef: A Tale of Memories gets both beautiful, dramatic, sad and confusing as the backstories all the characters slowly unfold, a good anime, in other words. It is notable due to the fact that it’s directed by Shin Onuma and not Shinbo Akiyuki, although the former assisted the latter in directing other notable Shaft series such as Pani Poni Dash!.
6. Maria Holic
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2009 - March 2009
She can’t stand boys, so luckily, she’s already found her safe, same-sex romantic partner at an all-girls high school. A perfect execution of a carefully thought-out plan. Apart from the fact that it’s not, as she’s been led to believe, a girl, but a perverted young cross-dresser, and, with such an interesting premise we’re almost guaranteed an interesting anime, which of course, in the hands of Shaft, results in a particularly enjoyable tale of a nosebleeding lesbian. What more could we possibly ask for?
Maria Holic is based on a manga written by Endo Minari, also known for Dazzle, and was aired as a special broadcast on Animate TV.
Maria Holic trailer
5. Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica (Puella Magi Madoka Magica)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2011 – April 2011
Madoka is different from most other Shaft anime because of it’s darker tone – the usual humor is seemingly missing. This is probably due to the involvement of scriptwriter Urobuchi Gen, whose work is often characterized by tragic and nihilistic plots. The visual style is, however, unmistakably Shinbo/Shaft-esque – flawless, psychedelic and beautiful, particularly the fights with the crazy "witches". The characters are beautifully designed, strong and dynamic, and it has a surprising and interesting twist at the end.
Many critics rank Puella Magi Madoka Magica, which is one of the only original Shaft anime, as one of the studio’s best, in fact, many consider it one of the best anime series ever made. No wonder it became such a critical hit, with each of the of the BD volumes selling over 50,000 copies within the first week of release.
4. Mekakucity Actors (Kagerou Project)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2014 - June 2014
Originally a vocaloid song series called the Kagerou Project, it follows the shy nerd Kisaragi Shintaro as he takes a rare walk outside his house, because his computer broke. As fate has it, however, he get’s caught in a hostage situation at the mall, the start of a strange journey that sees him get caught in a mystery revolving around the so-called titular Blindfold Organization.
The original music project was a big hit online, with the most popular song getting over 3 million views. Mekakucity Actors followed up this success, and, while receiving some criticism, was also praised by critics for it’s original plot, fantasy setting and, yes you guessed it, outstanding visuals.
- Episodes: 15
- Aired: July 2009 – June 2010
You’ll understand what kind of show Bakemonogatari is when you, in the first episode, hear the self-proclaimed tsundere character listing the recipe for her "harsh remarks": 40g of copper, 25g of zinc, 5g of hiding her embarrassment and 97kg of spite. It falls somewhere in between taking and not taking itself too serious, and maintains an interesting, sometimes serious plot with supernatural elements, while still preserving classic Shaft-esque parody and self-reference. In fact, Bakemonogatari is one of the most representative example of a Shaft anime there is out there, in terms of style, animation, characters and dialogue. Bakemonogatari was Shaft’s first venture into the vampire genre, something which proved both a commercial and critical success. It won the Users’ Special Award, and has, together with the follow-up Nisemonogatari sold over one million DVDs and BDs.
2. Nisekoi (Nisekoi: False Love)
- Episodes: 20
- Aired: January 2014 - May 2014
A recent entry in to the Shaft library, the anime adaption of the popular manga of the same name has become quite a success both in Japan and abroad. We meet Raku Ichijou, a typical high schooler except for the fact that his father is the head of a local yakuza gang, who gets forced into a relationship with Chitoge Kirisaki – probably the most stereotypical tsundere character since Naru Narusegawa of Love Hina (which Nisekoi most certainly was influenced by) – in order to make peace with a rivaling yakuza gang, whose head happens to be Chitoge’s father.
Throw in a childhood promise, a sweet classmate, and the colorful Shaft animation, we’ve got all the ingredients needed for a top-notch romantic comedy, that is sure to please people of both of the aforementioned categories.
NISEKOI: OFFICIAL TRAILER (30 sec) by SHONEN JUMP Alpha
1. Koufuku Graffiti (Gourmet Girl Graffiti)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: January 2015 - March 2015
Koufuku Graffiti is the newest member of the Shaft family, and is a slice of life anime largely about cute girls and food, where a girl named Ryou Machiko makes friends through her outstanding cooking. Or, that’s the official story anyway – many viewers have noted that the many eating scenes undeniably contains a lot of sexual innuendo, but I’ll let you be the judge. Koufuku Graffiti was, as Nisekoi, directed by Tatsuwa Naoyuki and, of course, Shinbo Akiyuki. One could say that Koufuku Graffiti represents the best and the worst of a typical Shaft anime – it looks excellent, but it isn’t really all that deep. Not that that bothered any of us, though, as we were drooling over the delicious FOOD the Ryou Machiko prepared for us.
While the haters are most likely going to continue doing their thing (hating, that is), the rest of us will continue to be amazed, if not by all the storylines, but at least by all the beautiful frames and interesting characters Akiyuki Shinbo and Shaft continues to offer us.