Firstly I would like to start of with a little house keeping. I offer my apologies to those who read my writings if last weeks review seemed somewhat more rushed than normal, the cause of this is that over last weekend I was attending the MCM Comic Convention in London. As such I needed to be on a train that was about five hours before the time I normally put these out so did not have as much time to work on my piece as usual. Hopefully as I get more experienced at writing reviews my turn around will get a lot quicker (maybe even to the extent that I get them out on the same day the episode airs) but until then please bear with me.
With that out the way I’ll get started.
I’m undecided as to whether this weeks episode is simply an anomaly or whether Shirobako just can’t keep to a constant pace because by comparison to the previous few weeks this week we are taking things at a very sedate and, dare I say, relaxed pace. This inconsistency does however work relatively well with consideration to the content of the episode so without further ado, the following is my review:
Riding of the high note of last week with it looking as if all of Aoi’s problems have been resolved for the immediate future Shirobako chooses this moment to temporally switch the focus away from Aoi and over to another member of the animation club. And so this time we start of by joining Shizuka as she, clearly on her way to an audition, practices her lines aloud on a train, much to the confusion of a rather sleepy commuter.
One is reminded of the brief section of last weeks episode focused on Ema but I feel like this section is more of a set up for a significant future plot point rather than simply showing us how things are going for Shizuka. However, different as they are, both of these happenings, as well as most of this episode, perhaps foreshadow the inevitable paradigm shift from a show with one central character to one with a central group. The manner in which P.A Works have decided to hand the story progression of Shirobako is something that I find myself approving of. In the way in which I see it rather than taking their time building all of the character from the ground up, as is often done in this kind of show, they have thrown us in at the deep end with one character (Aoi) and then weave in the others as the story progresses. As much as it is possible to argue that this is as a result of the non-school setting I do feel that it is also a conscious decision to spice up the formula somewhat to make Shirobako stand out.
However, like her fellow ex-club member, Shizuka is unable to retain the limelight for overly long as straight after the credits we cut back to Aoi and her fellow production assistants. With the hectic happenings surrounding the production of episode four things are looking much quieter now as we are once again treated to the ineptitude of Tarou.
Aoi leaves the production assistants office and heads off to get her work checked by Madoka-san who she finds arguing with the director in a manner not to dissimilar to that of an old couple. After probing from Aoi, we learn that the argument is indeed a petty one, this time over whether or not the air-conditioning should be on or not.
The argument meets something or a rapid conclusion with a swift interjection from the microwave denoting that the directors dinner has completed its cooking. With the prospects of getting her work checked dwindling Aoi leaves the office booth and bumps into Ema. During the ensuing conversation it is confirmed that Shizuka was indeed headed to an audition and the poorly timed phone call from episode two was in fact Shizuka wanting to tell Aoi that she would be attending the audition.
With the focus of Aoi and Ema’s conversation, and so by extension the focus of episode on Shizuka we switch back to her perspective and join her as she heads into the audition building.
We move on to a scene in the lobby of the building in which the audition is taking place and see a very nervous looking Shizuka sitting down awaiting her time as other voice actor candidates are called in one by one.
With anxiety curdling in her stomach Shizuka’s attention is pulled away by the sound of a voice that she recognises. Unfortunately for her though it is not the voice of one of her friends coming to give her words of encouragement but the voice of Souma Rena-san, a popular and talented voice actor who, much to Shizuka’s astonishment, is to be auditioning for the same role she is.
Lacking the time to fully process what the ramifications of the appearance of Souma Rena-san as a rival, Shizuka refuses to give up just in time for her name to be called. In the following scene we see Shizuka struggling with the sound proof studio door before she introduces her self to the production staff and then taking her position in the recording booth. The set up in the recording studio nicely facilitates some dramatic irony as we get an insight into the happenings of an audition, we watch as an obviously nervous Shizuka gives it her all but still manages to fumble her lines much to her embarrassment. Unbeknownst to Shizuka the director present is the type who like to look for diamond in the rough type talent and we end the scene with the director deliberating as to whether or not he wants to short list Shizuka for the role.
Unaware of the fact that she managed to catch the attention of the director, Shizuka walks slowly home to fitting music looking very dejected as tears begin to well up in her eyes and then flow down her face.
With the somber music still playing we cut over to Aoi’s perspective once again as she finishes off her work day by reaffirming with Honda-san that all is in order and dealing with Tarou’s inquires into what she will be using her day off for.
Having returned home and whilst cooking a microwave dinner Aoi receives a telephone call from her mother who is calling to congratulate her on her work and also to check up on how she is doing in general. She also inquirers as to whether Aoi will be able to make it back in for New Years in what I hypothesize might be a set up for a future home-coming episode later on in the season. The inclusion of this scene is quite a nice one as a lot of anime completely neglect to so much as mention parental involvement so its inclusion in a series which arguably has more reason than most to not include it is quite a nice and somewhat realistic note.
As Aoi bids her mother a good night she discovers that she has received a message from Shizuka and with this we see the two half stories of this episode come together. Aoi decides that the best course of action is to call Shizuka so that they can talk directly. Despite neither of them wanting to talk for overly long on accounts of the days happenings not being the best it provides Aoi with the chance to apologize for and explain her inability to answer her previous call and also for both of them to let the other know that they are looking forward to tomorrows meet up.
After hearing from her friend Shizuka decides to cheer herself up by watching the doujin anime that she and the animation club made back in their high school days (I guess we all have an anime we fall back on when things are not going so well). Needless to say the production values are low and the quality is sub par but watching it serves to reinvigorate Shizuka and allows the anime to slide in to a brief flashback showing us the, about what one would expect, reception of the feature.
As the flash back ends so does the first half of episode four. We rejoin events the next day at the train station as the club members assemble at the arranged location and quickly reacquaint themselves with each other as if nothing has changed since their school days.
An episode of Shirobako wouldn’t quite be complete without at least one montage so it as at this point we phase into a fun day off montage as we watch the girls do all sorts of activities from shopping to praying at a shrine with only a brief pause after their trip to see a film to show us what it is like to know inside information about the production side of things (I personally like the inclusion of this scene as I, a chemistry student, get like this when looking at the ingredients list for foods and such).
With the days happening nearly over the five girls head to the final place they want to visit for the day, the bar at which Shizuka works part-time. It is a very traditional style Japanese place complete with friendly staff. The older than the average anime character status of the characters is once again emphasized by the fact that they are very vocal about their alcohol consumption.
With five girls who either work in or aspire to work in the anime industry the conversation drifts towards anime as Misa, like Aoi’s mother, makes comments about how happy she was to see the names of her friends in the credits for Exodus. As the conversation progresses the topic moves to the various woes that they have or are going though, the mood of the conversation suffers a sudden drop though as Shizuka, who feels she has not been doing so well as of late, contributes her problems into the mix with a case study of yesterdays audition to exemplify her situation and in spite of the encouragement she receives from her friends the mood still is somewhat somber.
Just as our cast prepare to order another round of drinks, Aoi is bothered by a call from the animation office. Predictably the one responsible for the call is Tarou who is inquiring as to Aoi is free and appears to be in some kind of trouble but is unable to communicate effectively with Aoi on accounts of him being distracted by the idea of Aoi and her cute friends being out drinking and as such Aoi ends up hanging up the phone assuming that it was simply Tarou just being his usual inept self.
Disgruntled, Aoi hangs up the phone and returns inside to her friends so that they can get back to that second round of drinks. At this point we learn that Shizuka is quite the lightweight as she suddenly becomes very drunk, making most out of place voices and babbling about yesterdays audition.
The night goes on and with the catalyst of alcohol the girls discuss their dreams and aspirations within the anime industry. Time passes and we cut to the now suitably inebriated girls as they head off home for the night, with Shizuka hammered (never did I imagine myself using this phrase in a slice of life anime review) to the extent that she needs Imai to walk her home. Aoi and Ema travel part the way home by train together and talk about some rather deep topics with Aoi pondering where exactly she wants to aim for with her career. The split at the station and we follow Aoi from there as she jauntily sings her way back towards home (singing about Chucky the hedgehog from the beginning of episode two no less).
It is at this point Aoi receives a second call from Taoru but being in the state she is Aoi is completely unable to deal with him and once again fails to revive whatever message Tarou is trying to give her, a message by this point we can assume is at least somewhat important.
We do not have to wait long to ascertain the gravity of the situation Tarou was attempting to describe last night as we quickly cut to next morning to discover that all kinds of situations have arisen over the course of Aoi’s day off.
And with that much episode four comes to a close on quite the cliff hanger.
Well that was quite the change of pace was it not? As I mentioned last week I feel that the over arching story pacing and the episode pacing in Shirobako are detached from each other. This week we arguably had an awful lot of story progression, with an extensive fleshing out of Shizuka as a character, but in a much slower paced episode. Personally I quite like the way this kind of format has the potential for real unpredictability and almost creates a feeling that, provided one is not watching the time bar, each episode is as long as it needs to be despite the fact that all the episodes are the same length which keeps you on your toes. However I do get the irking that P.A Works were conscious of the slower pacing percent in this episode and as such included the , arguably unnecessary, cliffhangers on the end.
On a non-pacing related note I have to say that I am finding Shirobako to be more of a drama show than a slice of life one. It still very much should be classified as both but where as the most hard-hitting issue that your typical Slice of Life show deals with is graduation (I know that as a man who was deeply moved by the end of K-On! I have no right to belittle this but bare with me here) where as Shirobako, only four episodes in is already dealing with the very serious issue of work related problems which to me suggests that not only is it going so a more serious approach but it also has a slightly older target demographic in mind with whom these issues will resonate more.
And with that I’ll sign off for this week, until next time.