A Year of Shaft – A Primer
2016 was the year that I leaned fully into my role in The Backloggers and started taking the blogging aspect of my position much more seriously. It wasn’t the smoothest of starts, but as the year went on and the posts rolled out, I felt progressively more comfortable with the medium, and I put out a number of pieces that I am fairly proud of. However, these posts were few and far between, and I was left feeling as though I could do more, so I decided to put this idea into action instead of my usual habit of planning something at length without actually executing it. For no particular reason other than personal interest, I came up with the idea for this project: A Year of Shaft. This is going to be a twelve post series covering the anime of Shaft, one release for each month of 2017. The anime selected will cover releases by Shaft from 2006 through 2017, with one of the twelve anime from each respective year. I realize that Shaft has produced works from well before 2006, but I was enamored with the idea of doing a yearly, chronological post project, so here we are. The project is not meant as a commemoration of any major event for the studio, but is more a project of personal interest, and an exploration of a studio I have little experience with outside of some of their more widely-known works.
Now, it’s important to note here that the anime I selected for this project is not at all meant to be indicative of the quality of Shaft as a whole, nor is it meant to be a showcase for what I consider to be the “best” works of the studio. On the contrary, when the anime released in each year allows for it, I have opted to try to pick a show that I have not seen before and which is not a sequel series, special, or OVA offshoot of an existing series, unless the year’s offering does not allow for me to abide by these rules. I’ve done this with the intention of going into each series as blind as I can and get a sampling of what Shaft was working on each year, and just getting a feel for it. With that in mind, the first anime in our romp through Shaft’s past works is the 2006 rom-com, Rec.
Month 1 – Rec (2006)
Synopsis: Rec is an anime adaptation of Hanamizawa Q-taro’s manga of the same name, which began publishing in 2002. The series follows the endearing relationship of up-and-coming voice actress Aka Onda and snack company salaryman Fumihiko Matsumaru as they come to live together through a series of events and develop their careers, as well as their relationship with one another.
Rec is an interesting start for this project, as it is somewhat atypical in its broadcasting format. Counting the DVD special episodes, the entire show only lasts ten episodes, and each one only runs for around thirteen minutes, opening included, so it makes for a fairly quick watch in comparison to some of Shaft’s other, more lengthy series. I actually ended up greatly appreciating that Shaft opted to adapt the series this way, because it kept each episode feeling fresh and free of any egregious amount of filler, which is one of the show’s strengths. I wouldn’t say that Rec delves into any groundbreaking territory with how it handles its place in the rom-com genre, and it certainly is not free from genre tropes of the time that we still see alive and well today, but the way in which it carries itself within the genre is a nice change of pace from how similar shows usually pan out.
One part of Rec that was immediately interesting to me was the initial progression of the relationship between Aka and Matsumaru. One night, the two, who are complete strangers, see the Audrey Hepburn movie Roman Holiday together because Matsumaru’s date stood him up. The two realize soon after that they live around the same area as one another, and later that night, Aka’s apartment complex burns to the ground. Matsumaru is awoken by the commotion and rushes to the scene, where he finds Aka, who got out with nothing but a pillow and her pajamas. In what genuinely seems like a kind gesture, Matsumaru takes Aka back to his apartment to stay the night, since she has no friends or family in the area. As Matsumaru is about to take his futon on the floor to sleep, however, Aka breaks down and clutches to him for comfort. In the moment, after a long, shared glance, the two kiss, and go on to have sex (a decision which, somewhat ridiculously, seems to have garnered quite a bit of flack from many vocal viewers, if discussion board conversations are any indication). From there, Aka comes to live with Matsumaru, though with the stipulation that they are friends, not lovers. Though at the time his acceptance of this is somewhat begrudging, Matsumaru quickly adjusts to this new life with Aka as a friend and fellow peer in the workforce. I personally cannot recall a series in recent memory that has opened with such a shifting interaction between the main figures in the show, and it is refreshing to see that the characters, though sometimes immature in their actions, are able to bring a mature development to how they view and behave towards one another in general.
What is also enjoyable to see is that Rec does not present the relationship between Aka and Matsumaru as a consistently awkward, typical rom-com relationship. There is, of course, a smattering of trope-y elements at play in the story, such as the timeless “you saw me almost naked; get out, you pervert!” scenes, or the omnipresent anime force that is misunderstandings, but in most cases, these are actually resolved in ways that normal people would actually approach them. That being said, the relationship between Aka and Matsumaru is propelled forward on a basis of mutual respect and support. Neither of the two have what either would call easy jobs, and in their own way, they help each other as much as they can, whether it is Matsumaru helping Aka practice her acting for a particularly uncomfortable job she has taken on, or Aka making sure that Matsumaru is getting out of the apartment and properly de-stressing from the life of a salaryman. It genuinely feels as though you are watching the development of a strong friendship, with some other feelings growing beneath the surface, and it is a breath of fresh air to see this happen through what feels like perfectly natural means, as opposed to the great pen in the sky writing in awkward scenarios at every given opportunity.
The duo also go through their fair share of rough patches, as they suffer from genuine insecurities and problems in relationships. Aka suffers from self-confidence issues from being a young newbie in the voice acting career field, despite her aspirations to, as she says, become Audrey Hepburn, and it reflects in her ability to perform well on the job. During a time when Matsumoto has numerous project proposals rejected and Aka is actually gaining more contracts than ever, he resents and lashes out at Aka, even though at the time he knows full well that what he is doing is completely unfair and irrational. It deals with very human concerns and struggles for people in the workforce, and the trials that the characters go through at no point left me feeling as though they were unrelatable.
Thankfully, Rec also succeeds in aspects beyond that of its story, such as its visuals. The character designs are all fairly simple, but those combined with their personalities and a small cast made each character fairly memorable. The animation itself is nothing exemplary, I do applaud it in that it keeps its quality consistent. I can’t recall a point in watching it where I was particularly put off by a scene’s visuals, or where it felt like there was a significant drop in quality. Even when the show occasionally opted to use CG, it usually did not feel out of place, or it was isolated in a scene that only used CG.
The sound design for Rec is fascinating, as well. The music, when employed, can go from a poppy, synthetic beat to what can only be described as ethereal. On paper, it sounds odd, but in practice, each track fits the given scene well. Now, I do say that the music works well “when employed” because Rec spends a great deal of time during each episode with scenes that have no musical backing. This is an interesting choice, considering the show partially centers on a voice actress, whose life in many ways revolves around sound, and this allows the focus of each of these scenes to be given fully to the characters. For a show that is so heavily character-driven, this paring back of the music in favor of character focus makes perfect sense, and it feeds into the show’s overall drive to present a strong narrative in the short amount of time it is given.
Rec is by no means perfect, but it is most definitely a show that knows its focus and respects its viewers and its characters. Moreover, it is a solid, feel-good start to my year-long delving into past works from Shaft, and it has given me a good spark to see what is in store in the coming months. If you’re in the mood for a good rom-com, but you’re short on time and want characters that for the most part will not make you want to tear your hair out, I would highly suggest giving Rec a shot.