Known for his works with the animation studio Shaft, Inc, Shinbou Akiyuki (新房 昭之) is a freelance Japanese animation director. Well regarded for his use of light-handed references, avant garde cinematography, and minimalist style. In the past decade, his directed works have surged into popularity. With “Bakemonogatari (化物語)” leading post-2000’s sales figures, and “Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ)” trailing closely behind with a second-place standing, there’s no question that his directorial style bears fruit.
Graduating from Tokyo Design Institute as an animator in 1981, Shinbou would later go on to operate as a unit director for Studio Pierrot’s title “Karakuri Kengou Den Musashi Lord (からくり剣豪伝ムサシロード)”, working closely with the primary director, Akira Shigino (鴫野 彰). As a Unit Director, his responsibilities were to provide tertiary footage to compliment and add to the footage provided by the primary director, while attempting to replicate the style of Akira Shigino. Come 1992, he began to provide storyboards for the well known series “Yuu Yuu Hakusho (幽☆遊☆白書)”.
It wasn’t until 1994, thirteen years after his debut in the Japanese Animation Industry, that he made his directorial debut on the J.C.Staff produced Sci Fi Comedy series, “Metal Fighter Miku (メタルファイター♥MIKU)”. He continued his directorial work with several smaller OVAs and flims from 1995, culminating in his direction of two “Starship Girl Yamamoto Youko (それゆけ!宇宙戦艦ヤマモト・ヨーコ)” OVAs, leading to his second directed TV anime series in 1999, Yamamoto Youko. With a quick directorial followup in 2001 on the Tatsunoko Productions title, “The SoulTaker (魂狩)”, he had quickly made a name for himself as a director in the industry.
With the advent of 2004, Shinbou was picked up by Shaft, as the chief director of the series “Tsukuyomi (月詠)”, a television adaptation of the romantic comedy manga of the same name, by Mangaka Arima Keitarou (有馬啓太郎). Shinbou’s modern legend had begun. Utilizing a bright, vibrant palette, he brought Tsukuyomi to life in a way only he could. Much of his influence and directing was extremely apparent in the backgrounds of the episodes, showcasing an almost fetishistic relationship with post-modern, absurdest architecture. This would henceforth birth somewhat of a reputation for Shinbou moving forward, as the appearance of the background would often be a hallmark of his influence.
Immediately following Tsukuyomi’s ending on March 28, 2005, work began on the anime adaptation of the parody manga “Paniponi (ぱにぽに)”, by Mangaka Hikawa Hekiru (氷川へきる). From July 3, 2005 and on, viewers had the pleasure of enjoying Hikawa’s esoteric comedy presented through Shinbou’s trademark style. Though widely well-received, it wouldn’t be for a while longer until Shinbou’s works reached true market success.
Fast forwarding a bit, Shinbou Akiyuki continued to develop his craft and style through the years, working with Shaft to produce adaptive works with both critical and popular success. Quite often, he’d work multiple roles, from Director, to Storyboard, to Animation Check. Together, they brought to life a number of manga serializations from the monochromatic recycled paper tankobon to the colored, motion picture. Many of those works include the well known:
- Negima!? (ネギま!?) – Oct 4, 2006 to Mar 28, 2007
- Hidamari Sketch (ひだまりスケッチ) – Jan 11, 2007 to Mar 30, 2007
- Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (さよなら絶望先生) – Jul 8, 2007 to Sep 23, 2007
- Natsu no Arashi! (夏のあらし！) – Apr 6, 2009 to Jun 29, 2009
- Dance in the Vampire Bund (ダンスインザヴァンパイアバンド) – Jan 7, 2010 to Apr 1, 2010
- Arakawa Under the Bridge (荒川アンダー ザ ブリッジ) – Apr 5, 2010 to Jun 28, 2010
Many of Shinbou’s adaptations were allowed multiple seasons in between new adaptations, with Hidamari Sketch receiving four televised seasons and multiple specials, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei receiving three televised seasons and a short OVA series, and Arakawa Under the Bridge receiving two televised seasons.
Prior to the airing of Arakawa Under the Bridge, a deal would be struck that would change the number-game in the anime market permanently. With Shaft acquiring the rights to the adaptation of the already popular Nishio Isin (西尾 維新) written Light Novel, “Bakemonogatari (化物語)”, work began on a series that would both perfectly showcase Shinbou’s talent, as well as reward it.
Driven wholly by dialogue and characterization, Bakemonogatari was the perfect playground for Shinbou to exercise his unique artistry. Utilizing his own signature, experimental style, Shinbou created a number of abstract and surreal scenes, using nothing more than unconventional cuts and curious viewing angles to keep the visuals stimulating, despite the original work’s reliance on word play and dialogue. And of course, his absurdest, post-modern architecture makes a grand comeback. Upon the writing of this article, Bakemonogatari still crowns anime sale charts, leagues above the competition.
It wasn’t long until Shinbou directed yet another anime with mysterious, money-printing properties. On January 7, 2011, “Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica (魔法少女まどか☆マギカ)” went on the air. The brainchild of author Urobuchi Gen (虚淵 玄), known for his grim writing style, nihilistic themes, and tragic plot twists, Madoka Magica is often described as a deconstruction of the “Magical Girl (魔法少女, mahou shoujo)” genre. Presenting this deceptively upbeat show with a varied but washed out colored palette, and jarring, contrasting visual effects during battle sequences, Shinbou Akiyuki truly set this Magical Girl anime apart from the rest as visually as Urobuchi did thematically. Elements that viewers had come to love Shinbou for make a grandiose return, with architecture and scenes more abstract and absurd than ever before.
Though, it was with Madoka Magica that it had become apparent that Shinbou’s directing style had begun to stagnate. Though his known techniques had evolved and become more and more perfected over time, it was unsettling to recognize that, little by little, he had drifted away from a period of experimentation and discovery. Though the term “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” can bear much weight in the face of that criticism, as even so, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica managed to pull itself to a firm second place on sales charts, resting just behind it’s Shinbou-crafted predecessor, Bakemonogatari.
Both Bakemonogatari and Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica left their mark on the industry, as well as many reiterations and sequels to come. Shinbou, together with Shaft, continued to adapt the rest of Nishio Isin’s “Monogatari” light novel series, with well received anime adaptations of Bakemonogatari’s numerous sequels and prequels, with more films on their way to round out the series. Meanwhile, Shinbou and Urobuchi continued to develop Madoka Magica into a trio of films, with the first two recapping the series, and the third acting as a continuation.
Of course, a director’s work doesn’t end with a few critical and commercial successes. Shinbou Akiyuki continues to work with Shaft, having directed a number of well regarded series, including:
- Sasami-san@Ganbaranai (ささみさん@がんばらない) – Jan 11, 2013 to Mar 29, 2013
- Mekaku City Actors (メカクシティアクターズ) – Apr 13, 2014 to Jun 29, 2014
- Nisekoi (ニセコイ) – Jan 11, 2014 to May 24, 2014
- Koufuku Graffiti (幸腹グラフィティ) – Jan 9, 2015 to Mar 27, 2015
As of writing this article, Akiyuki Shinbou is known to be continuing work on the “Kizumonogatari (傷物語)” series of films, chronicling the backstory of the main protagonist of the aforementioned Bakemonogatari.