When people talk about anime made by studio SHAFT, they often toss around the name of it’s chief director, Akiyuki Shinbo. After all, Shinbo’s influence as a director has the biggest effect on the creativity of SHAFT anime, as proven by the fact that his style has largely been retained from his time before going to SHAFT. However, a lot of people give him too much credit, when SHAFT is more like a body with singular goals with him at the head, rather than him dominating the creative influence. Shin Oonuma would have been proof of this. Oonuma is one of the important members of SHAFT, who co-directed Pani Poni Dash, along with other SHAFT anime. Oonuma got his personal directorial debut with 2007’s amazing ef ~a tale of memories~, but somehow, his influence was overshadowed.
When ef was released, Shinbo was credited as ‘supervisor’. However, because the show was so in-line with Shinbo’s works, people treated it like it was still Shinbo’s show. The problem is, there was no singular ‘Shin Oonuma’ anime to show what exactly his style was. It doesn’t help either that Oonuma completely bombed with the second installment of ef, ~a tale of melodies~. It’s not to say that the show wasn’t well-liked by many, but it was undeniably poorly directed with god-awful pacing amd often confusing and overbearing imagery (whereas the first season used it’s experimental imagery for emotional impact, the second season went overboard with having it just to obscure the shots in any way.) It began to seem like Oonuma was trying to use Shinbo’s style and failing at it.
Well, the time has finally come to show Shin Oonuma’s true potential to the world. He is directing Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu with a different studio than SHAFT, this time with SILVER LINKS, who have done in-between production on several SHAFT anime, but whose other productions were far weaker than Baka to Test. Baka has been granted a totally surprising high budget and SILVER LINKS is showing what it can do, which is great news for Oonuma who seems to be at his best.
As you watch Baka to Test, you’ll see a lot of directorial decisions that may hark back to the SHAFT anime you’ve seen. Well, now you can watch those shows again and say ‘ah, so that’s what Oonuma did.’ You may be wondering how we can be sure that Oonuma isn’t just copying Shinbo. Well, simply put, these aren’t Shinbo’s techniques. If you were to look at a non-SHAFT Shinbo anime and look at Baka to Test, the only similarity is that they are uniquely directed, but none of the actual techniques are the same. I know, because I’ve seen virtually everything that Akiyuki Shinbo has directed (lol). And for confirmation, I have the Pani Poni Dash DVDs, which feature brief interviews with Shinbo and Oonuma themselves in the liner notes!
In them, Shinbo notes how he and Oonuma brought very different things to the show. Shinbo explains that he was coming up with most of the older references while Oonuma had a lot of the modern stylings, and he also noted that all of the video game references were Oonuma’s doing (such as when the show turns into an RPG or other games.) Those techniques are in full force in Baka to Test, which uses it’s video game setup as the core of it’s design. Shin Oonuma is showing us a directing technique that is distinctly his. This isn’t anyone but his idea – Baka to Test is based on a light novel series, so it’s not like this stuff was showing up in there. Another famous technique from Pani Poni Dash was having a chibi character and a text bar appear at the bottom (or top) of the screen and start saying off-screen dialog, which is used in Baka to Test episode 2.
But there’s one odd connection to ef that I particularly have to point out, because I don’t know how much of it is the source material and how much is the adaption. The characters in Baka to Test are surprisingly honest with their emotions!!! I have become so fucking tired with characters that won’t admit their feelings that it’s made me sick, so I was overjoyed to see the red-haired girl asking the main character to say that he loved her, to see the pink-haired girl writing out a confession note, and to see them tug-of-warring over the main character at the episode’s end. Even the class rep girl physically forced the Kamina dude to go on a date with her! I can’t tell you how much I like to see people taking action like that. It reminds me a lot of ef which I greatly respected for having a lot of honest characters, so I wonder if Oonuma has a hand in this or if it influenced his decision to direct this show.
I’m quite excited to be able to watch this and see exactly what Shin Oonuma’s influence was on some of my favorite shows, and I’m also just happy to see that he’s doing a show so good after I was thoroughly disappointed with ef melodies. What’s more, Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu is one of the most outright hilarious anime I’ve seen in a long time, so if it keeps up it could even rank among my favorite anime comedies. Damn good show!
And hell. Here I thought I promised myself I wouldn’t do any industry-focused episodic posts. Ah well.