In rather stark contrast to the weather many of the readers of this post have been having, the weather over here in Britain has really started to warm up as of late to the extent that I am starting to have to shed my thick winter coat and don something more appropriate for the spring. The weather aside, the coming of spring also means the coming of even more work from my university (As if i didn’t have enough to do as it is) and as such I will not be doing an episodic series review for one of the spring season anime and instead I shall be focusing on my studies. All being well though I should be back for the summer season though so I guess I could call this an out of season hibernation or something.
All that is talk of the future though, in the mean time I should probably hurry up and finish of the reviews for the current season series. So without further ado:
Episodes seventeen, eighteen and nineteen are in my mind very reminiscent of the earlier episodes of Shirobako, not in their pacing, but in the nature of the problems that they showcase similar kinds of problems; dealing with uncooperative people, working within a tight time frame, finding enough freelance staff/contractors to cover shortfalls, etc but this time with Aoi as production desk. This change in role makes a lot of difference to the perspective with which we deal with these problems and it emphasis just how much Aoi’s character has developed with her now giving the advice to the production assistants rather than receiving it.
These episodes do not exist just for the purpose of singing Aoi’s praises however and Aoi is by no means in a situation where she can deal with everything on her own. With a new job come new problems, especially when one is promoted to a job suck as production desk in which one is responsible for the smooth running of a team. Not only does Aoi have problems from the newbie production assistants and their lack of experience but also from the “experienced” production assistant that was brought on board, Hiraoka Daisuke, who is lazy, unprofessional, antisocial and rather rude. Furthermore the studio that he introduced Musashino animation to, Studio Titanic, are perhaps the worst company ever (though referring to them as a company is perhaps a bit to charitable). Back in episode eleven Erika warned Aoi about using less that reputable individuals and this much is the pay off. Studio Titanic is far from organised and very difficult to get hold of, this much might be acceptable if the work was done well but this much can not be said even speaking in the broadest possible terms. If one were to point the finger of blame at a single figure it would be the episode director who signed the work off without actually checking it, thus letting work with mistakes as obvious as the artist drawing the wrong character, be sent back to the Musani team. Naturally this kind of failure (for there is no work more appropriate for this that failure) is contested by the senior Musani staff and he is inevitably confronted about it but disinterestedly feigns ignorance and eventually quits in a suitably passive aggressive and childish way. However blame can not really be assigned to a single person and the fact that this kind of thing is allowed to happen -and appears to be the rule rather than the exception- spreads the blame over the whole studio. In some ways the problems that have arisen from Studio Titanic’s lack luster attitude takes me out of things a bit; much as good words get around, bad reputations also spread and one can’t help but imagine that Studio Titanic would have an amazingly bad reputation. I understand why P.A Works have included this whole series of happenings and do like the idea of showing us the problems that arise for outsourcing work rather than just talking about it but I feel that it is perhaps a little over exaggerated in this case.
On the subject of uncooperative people, the worthless editor and unreasonable author return to cause even more problems. In episode seventeen, only just recently having satisfied the authors requirements for character designs, the production of a PV is ordered for exhibition at an upcoming manga event. It is during this crisis that the lack of experience in Musani’s current production team is made very much apparent, leaving both Andou-san and Satou-san in a position where they lack the knowledge puts them in a situation where they don’t know enough about making anime to improve the studio’s efficiency. The PV is made in time though but thanks in no small part to Aoi’s input as she is able to put her knowledge and experience as a production assistant to good use helping her colleagues.
These episodes do not only focus on offering a fresh perspective to problems we have encountered in the past, interlaced between the endless problems production desk Aoi faces are events leading up to a massive scene in episode nineteen showing us a flashback to the anime industry of the seventies. As we might expect this scene is very much viewing things though a pair of rose-tinted glasses but the closing ideas of this scene are ones that I find very progressive; acknowledging the good old days but suggesting that there is no reason for the anime industry of today to lose to them. Furthermore this scene serves more purpose than simply nostalgia baiting with seventies fashion and mustaches, it offers an awful lot of explanation about the Musani president, who up to this point has mostly been a peculiar elderly figure with a keen interest in cooking, as well as fleshing out the history of Musashino animation and tying in a number of the freshly introduced characters. This section is the subject of much praise from me as I feel P.A.Works have is employed excellent attention to detail in both the direction of the sequences and though their typically beautiful backgrounds, really conjuring up the feel of the period.
Alongside the introduction of new faces we once again see the return of older ones, most significantly the return of Erika to the office. Whilst I may have been singing Aoi’s praises earlier on in this post and her performance is indeed good but it is not without its problems and said problems do have quite the effect on her in a manner similar to that which we saw in episode three and once again it is Erika who offers reassurance and advice on how to deal with the situation. Erika’s reentry into the scene serves more than to give Aoi a push back on course, she represents the most competent production assistant Musashino animation has and is quickly back in the thick of things. Against Iron Yano the problems caused by the ever sluggish Studio Titanic; firstly helping to persuade a new episode director to take over from where the in-house one left off and then to relocate herself to the Studio Titanic office to whip them into shape. Honda-san also makes a reappearance, early in episode seventeen, at the office but only to deliver cakes. His appearance emphasis the notions suggesting that Aoi has fully taken over the role of production assistant and the fact that she is able to introduce him to the new faces as a former college goes a long way to develop the feeling that time has passed since the first episode.
Of course it is not just Aoi and the production assistants who do things in this triplet of episodes. Midori (or should I be calling her Diesel-san?) makes many appearances over the course of the three episodes; going about her tasks and offering help where she can. I personally like the fact that this much has been included, not only because I find her really rather adorable and deserving of more screen time, but also because it goes along way to cement her into her new job working as a scenario setting adviser rather than having her land the job only for her character to be put to one side again. Ema too, makes appearances showing us more of her mentoring Kunogi-san (A character who I am still unsure about). Ema is shown to be in a similar situation to Aoi with regards to her career, she is in a mentoring role and has experience but still is finds some things difficult despite knowing what needs to be done. The latter being demonstrated by a series of short scenes showing her eating sour foods (or forcing other people to) in an attempt to recreate the expression one makes. Developments are also made on the voice acting side of things but without using Shizuka’s character exclusively. I feel that Shirobako is putting a lot of emphasis on the difficulties faced by up-and-coming VAs and this is well demonstrated by the fact that episode eighteen includes a substantial section dedicated to once of the VA for the third areal girls squad who is having difficulties getting her lines to feel right. Now this scene could have just as easily been done featuring Shizuka instead and in many respects it would have been preferential to do so as Shizuka is a character we already know and are invested in but the use of an analogous character instead is very prolific and puts the viewer in a situation where they are forced to consider the prospect that Shizuka may still be years away from getting herself a major role. I should hasten to add that Shizuka’s character is not neglected though and instead of being used in the afore-mentioned scene she is shown working as a mascot character, perhaps showing us that voice acting is not really a job one can walk into and instead one requires a portfolio of “lower tier” work.
Well that is it from me for another three episodes, I have to say that Shirobako has been a consistently enjoyable anime for me and, as much as I don’t want it to end, I am very intrigued as to what note they will finish on. When I think back to my original predictions almost half a year ago, I remember being excited at the prospects of a show that offered a change of pace and that much it certainly has. I feel Shirobako has demonstrated that good slice of life stories can exist outside of your typical school setting and that you can have just as much drama and fun with characters who are more than a little older. As to whether we will see a paradigm shift because of Shirobako; I some what doubt it at this stage, there will always be a big market for school based slice of life stories as there should be but I do feel that Shirobako wont be the last show to feature a cast with a higher average age.
Till next time.