Don-Don-Doughnuts, Lets go nuts!
I wonder just how many Shriobako reviews have opened with that phrase? I’m guessing at least a few. Cliche aside I guess I should get started on my first review:
We start off this series being thrown straight into the middle of things with the first words of dialogue literally being a name suggestion for what we can only assume to be the anime the five girls are making. This is followed by a shot of a sign that leaves me feeling somewhat embarrassed and recalling my comments in the season preview of how much I feel a non-school based anime would be a ” rather refreshing change of setting”. A sign reading; Animation Club.
Our five main characters then proceed to make a declaration of intent to do their best on their self-produced feature and then toast to this decoration … with doughnuts (well at least its a fresh take on things).
The first episode then, without so much as a quick set of character introductions, slips into a gently paced montage as we watch the daily lives of the five club members drift over us and watch as their self-produced anime comes together. All the while to the sounds of a relaxing BGM set and of our cast talking of moving to Tokyo, promoting the consumption of doughnuts and the general woes and blunders one might expect them to encounter whist embarking on this kind of project.
Much like the daily happenings of our cast, the school festival and graduation ceremony simply wash over us. Leaving us at a scene showing Midori and Misa (who are apparently younger than the other three but as to how much younger they are, we are left guessing as we’ve never actually been told this) standing opposite Aoi, Ema and Shizuka, graduation certificates in hand, school lives at their end.
And so, with one last doughnut toast and a new vow to; one day be reunited and make a TV production anime together, our story finally begins.
We pick up the story again two and a half years later with a rather tired looking Aoi sitting behind the wheel of a car, staving of sleep whist disinterestedly listening to a radio show. There is perhaps evidence that I am not completely incompetent at analyzing PVs. Based on the package on the passenger seat it would seem that Aoi now has a job working for an anime studio on the production team of the fictional anime Exodus.
This lackadaisical mood however does not last long, for just as soon as the radio segment about exodus starts a rival appears and proceeds to challenge Aoi to a street race. That’s right a street race! (and I was under the impression this was a slice of life anime)
And so there was a street race. (During the opening credits no less!)
So, what was the point of that? Apparently it was to collect checked work from the animation supervisor Segawa Misato; a woman who really needs to think about scheduling appointments. No seriously, this is literally the only only reason why. (This is more a comment that a criticism though, that race scene was quite something)
During Aoi’s conversion with Segawa-san we learn a few things, firstly we learn that episode one of Exodus airs that night and secondly that Segawa-san is something of an anime genius who has been brought on to the Exodus production team. In order to justify the street race between people from two different studios I am choosing to infer that she is freelance and as such is somewhat overworked but, as with quite a lot of things that are happening at present, this is never explicitly said. This inference also helps to justify events latter on in the episode.
Aoi returns to the office to find that nobody is there. Seemingly confused Aoi wonders around for a bit in a fashion which conveniently allows for P.A Works to put in some rather pretty office space backgrounds. The effort that P.A Works puts into creating these beautiful environments is easily my favorite thing about the studio and I am pleased to see that they are continuing this tradition with Shirobako. After a short while she finds everyone to be having something of a party in celebration of the airing of the first episode of Exodus.
At this party we are introduced to quite a number of other figures from the animation studio and we are reacquainted with Ema again.
The airing of the episode goes well and we get quite the nice insight as to feelings experienced by the production team (I think that P.A Works themselves would be like this with episode one of Shirobako after how well Glasslip was received) and we get some nice mentions of twitter, forums and such, which gives a subtle but pleasant taste of familiarity.
The coverage of the first episode of Exodus is done is a very typical P.A Works manner, with a montage of aesthetically pleasing backgrounds showing various people in various different locations tuning in to watch.
It is also at this point that we see interaction between Aoi and Ema again for the first time in what feels like ages due to the pacing but in reality has been less than ten minutes.
It is during this massed influx of characters once again I catch myself thinking back to the comments I made in the season preview about how keeping track of an entire production at once would be hard. Thankfully Shirobako is nothing if not unconventional so most of these characters don’t make a second appearance in the episode thus eliminating the need to pay attention to them and rendering their introductions mostly moot at this point. My personal hopes for these characters is that they will fill something of an odd gap between being mere background and being important to the story. The best way to describe how I want them to fit into the series is with a somewhat contrived analogy; if we think of it as a card game then we could say that all of the characters we have been introduced to constitute an entire deck but in each indecent we see happening only a smaller selection of characters are relevant, which we can liken to our hand. It is my hope that with a format like this Shirobako will have the semblance of a busy production team but wont have to spend time fleshing out all of its members therefore allowing the focus to remain on the core characters.
We press on into the second half of the episode in a manner that fits with the format that I’m hoping will continue throughout the rest of the series. This time crisis hits the studio as we learn that Takanashi Taro, a production assistant, has failed to get a section of the key frames completed for the third episode of exodus meaning that unless a quick solution is found the episode will have to be delayed.
As events expand we learn that this problem has arisen due to Taro’s choice of key animator. It would seem that we are given an insight into the human resources side of an anime studio emphasising that a careful balance of quality and quantity is pivotal for a project that has tight deadlines. Prospects of finding an in house solution look bleak so it is decided to try and enlist the help of Segawa-san.
The visit to Segawa-san yielded something of a frosty reception with her coming very close to slamming the door in the faces of the three who came to pester her. However after she learns that resources are being diverted away from the episode that she and Aoi had been working on to deal with this crisis, she begrudgingly agrees to take on the job. During this scene we also witness a discussion between the animation directors as to how this change of key animators effects them. Both this and the fact that Ema is instantly ruled out as a replacement animator are points that distance Shirobako from the traditional cute girls doing cute things genre as the solution found is not centered around the main characters and can be considered realistic rather than the typical convenient solution out of nowhere.
Once the solution to this problem has been found we are again treated to an insiders view of how the solution to the immediate problem causes new problems further down the line. With Segawa-san now preoccupied with completing the missing key animation for episode three, the team working on episode four is now without an animation supervisor (I was right about Segawa-san being an anime genius, she can do multiple roles) hence is likely to also fall behind schedule.
Aoi returns home with a lot on her mind only to find that she is out of doughnuts. She proceeds to reflects and, despite the fact that none of this is really her fault, regrets how the day has gone through the medium of two random toys she has on her desk.
Renewed and refreshed Aoi returns to the office the next day where she and the rest of the team set about getting episode three in order. In yet another montage we watch as all the pieces fall rapidly into place bringing episode three back to the point it should have been in before this indecent arose.
After this (what I am going to assume to be the first of many) day of days, Aoi visits a patisserie to pick up the doughnuts required to compensate for last night. Food however, is better with company and without Segawa-san it is unlikely that they would have made it in time so rather than returning home Aoi heads over to Segawa-san’s apartment only to find all is not well. We end with a shot of Segawa-san having collapsed whist attempting to answer the door.
Unconventional is a work I have previously used to describe Shirobako and is still the word that is sitting on my tongue as I think back on this episode. I have already outlined my initial hopes with regards to characters, which leaves me to briefly talk about the issue of pacing in this conclusion. In my opinion the pacing very much feels that we could have easily gotten two episodes worth of content out of what has been covered here and yet I’m hesitant to call this pacing bad. It was certainly fast-paced but nothing felt that it was overly rushed and I was able to keep track of events. This is perhaps because, the back story of the five animation club members excluded, all of the character specific content didn’t materialise, in pace of introductions for the majority of characters we just got a caption with name and job title and then strait into the story. In all fairness though, were I asked if I wanted them to slow things down a little I would probably reply with a yes but provided it doesn’t get any faster I feel no urge to complain about it. Especially with consideration to this series being two cour, the fast pacing can be argued to hint that there is an awful lot of content in store for us.
The only downside I can see is that it may look like my hopes of a relaxing, slow-paced slice of life anime have been somewhat rained upon.