Warning: contained within are spoilers pertaining to Shirobako episode sixteen and episodes preceding. It is recommended that you watch this before reading this review.
Well as the title of this post suggests I am finally making a concerted effort to work my way though the substantial backlog of episodes I need to write reviews for that has amassed while I spend my time doing work for my university course. Sadly I am not finished with all this work yet so don’t have the time to write single episode reviews so am instead going to be producing combined episode reviews until I catch up I the hope that this will make catching up some what possible and not leave me writing reviews for Shirobako and Kantai Collection in the middle of summer while I sun myself on a Mediterranean beach or something (though now that I mention it, that does sound pretty good).
So without further ado, let us get on to the review.
This triplet of episodes are centered around the early stages of anime production and showcase to us a lot of things that were skipped out back when we started the first cour, what with them throwing us right into the middle of production. This nonlinear approach to the story telling is rather novel but I feel very effective as it allows us to focus on what are arguable some of the most critical parts of anime production without being overwhelmed by the sudden torrent of new characters we were introduced to. Not to say that there are no new characters or character developments in these three episodes (far from it in fact) but this much is at a much more controlled pace allowing for focus to be placed on both aspects in turn.
The emphasis on explaining what is happening is made all the more poignant be the increased number of appearances from Aoi’s two hallucinogenic friends who now seem to have taken the role of would be narrators. The use of a third-party to explain what is transpiring in the various meetings is quite an effective, all be it rather simple, way of keeping the audience informed on what is going on without having the characters break the conversational flow to provide context. A solution that would be jarringly awkward and really clunky. The use of two narrators means that we see a split of opinion with one side recognizing the need for structured communication within the staff and the other expressing frustration with the amount of meetings that need to happen before anime production can begin in proper.Meeting are not the only thing that are showcased though, episode fifteen contains a scene showing of a location scouting trip, this time to a small active airport rather than a museum. I’ve mentioned this before but I do feel that the use of real locations or buildings in anime can be a very effective technique as it crates a nice contrast between real settings and animated characters and can be used to create a more grounded feel to the world in which the story transpires.
With respect to characters, these episodes serve to introduce the new additions to the Musani staff. Most of these are to the production staff where we see the return of douji girl and the girl who had no real interest in anime (I didn’t really expect to she her again but I guess that she was better than all the others we saw) and the new faces of a very standoffish Hiraoka-san and the very timid animator, Kunogi-san. The addition of new faces does a lot for the progression of our returning characters and shows how much they have grown, or failed to grow enough in a certain someones case, which is nice to see and helps to prevent the series from stagnating. On the subject of returning characters or more specifically characters returning we check in on both Honda-san, who is enjoying his new life as a patissier, and Erika, whose father’s condition is stabilizing. This I quite like as it suggests to me that neither of them have been completely written out of the story and still potentially have roles to play.
The time covered by these episodes also bares quite a lot of significance for basically all of the former animation club members. We see that Misa has managed to get her new job working for Shimoyanagi-san’s friend, whose company is being contracted for some CG work, and get to witness an exchange between Aoi and Misa as employees of different companies (A slightly serial experience for the two of them). The fact that Misa applied to, interviewed for and got her new job completely off-screen was something of a surprise to me, especially after there was quite a long section showing her frustration with her previous job, but one suspects that this much is because of time limitations. Despite being a two cour show there is an awful lot of content to cover and characters to develop. This is seen again in the fact that the new animator Kunogi-san has practically appeared out of nowhere.
Kunogi-san’s purpose is to be in the care and guidance of Ema and to give her a role other than having difficulties. This development is something of a mirror to the development Aoi is experiencing in these episodes and works equally as well, If not more so. With Ema being a diligent character who is not really suited to being a constant source of issues, a mentor role feels more natural and it is nice to see that she is now more comfortable in her own skin whist still retaining her quiet charm. Kunogi-san’s character is one that I am not too sure about, the mute character feels a little too trope worthy but if any anime can make it seem refreshing then I feel it would be Shirobako.
These three episodes also yield quite the advance in Midori’s career progression as after unofficially helping out on multiple occasions the idea of her officially working for Musashino animation is suggested by Maitake-san and Seiichi-san and quickly taken to an interview stage all within episode fourteen alone. Midori’s, or should be say Diesel-san’s job is in scenario setting and is pretty much doing the same kind of thing she was doing before, only now she can be accredited for it (though I somehow doubt that this has dawned on her). The addition of Midori to the Musani staff allows for a nice diversity in Aoi conversations, giving her someone -who is involved in the production side- that she can talk to on more personal terms rather than as a superior.
Sadly these three episodes do leave one member of the animation club out. Despite what I originally expected, Shirobako’s grounding in reality prevents a no-name voice actress from securing a leading role in a much-anticipated series. This much is quite the bitter pill for Shizuka’s friends, who seem more upset by the fact she is the only one not working on the project than she is which is really rather adorable. Unlike after her last time at the recording studio Shizuka is not all that dejected by this rejection, she feel that she has done much better this time -this much being qualified by the fact that she was asked to read lines for a different character- and went about her audition with much more of an air of confidence about her. Hang in there Zuka-chan. On the subject of voice acting and in a throw back to my earlier comments on how many meeting are shown in this section, one of the meeting pertains to voice actor selection which contains rather loud and obnoxious representations of collaborating companies all of whom have vested interests which one can only assume to be P.A.Works having a dig at other companies who try to profit from their work (Don’t worry, we are 100% not profit here at Anime Corps).
Of course Shirobako would not be Shirobako if there was not an element of drama to the story and this triplet of episodes is no exception. The primary source of it this time comes from the inexperience of newly appointed character designer, Iguchi-san, and the lack of communications with the source material author. Up until the end of episode fifteen all appears to be going well and production is getting of to a good start but after so long without any form of feedback from the author, a message saying that he doesn’t really like the character designs throws quite the spanner in the works. Production is halted and the character designs are reworked but still fail to please the author and a failure on his part to specify why he doesn’t like the designs only exacerbates the problem (One would think that being an author and all, he would be good at communicating his ideas). Production starts to fall way behind schedule but to her credit Aoi, after initially being unsure as to how to deal with the situation, keeps things rolling, prioritizing work that doesn’t require character art; backgrounds, storyboards and such. Which is not a bad showing from a first time production desk.
Aoi’s efforts do not really address the underling issue her though and for this to be identified and addressed the intervention of a certain goth loli girl is required. The issue here is that Iguchi-san does not know how to and therefore is unable to improve on her character design work, the limited assistance from the bookshop people is indeed problematic but the responsibility lies with Iguchi-san who is obligated to produce designs that meet the authors expectations. The fact that Iguchi-san is not receiving direct feed back does however, push her towards improving in general rather than simply improving the designs and this much is the strategy that Ogasawara-san employed getting Iguchi-san to take a step back and then to immerse her self in role. Though her giving this advice we are able to explore her background a little and discover that her gothic lolita attire has more to it that simply being there to look cute. Shirobako doing this much is rather nice in my opinion as prior to this episode Ogasawara-san stuck out to me as different to the “realism” of the other characters but with consideration to why she dresses as she does it makes much more sense.
And so ends the first in what will be quite a few multiple episode reviews. With me being so far behind the anime in terms of writing there is little point in me using this space to speculate on where the story will go from here as most people will already now what happens after this and if not then I certainly do (I’m not quite shallow enough to pretend I don’t and make “predictions). I guess my conclusion is rather short this time: Shirobako is still Shirobako and I hope that it continues to be so.