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SHIROBAKO Episode #19 Anime Review

4 min read
SHIROBAKO Episode 19
SHIROBAKO Episode 19

Because scented candles solve every problem…and that isn’t even a fraction of what is in store for this episode.

What They Say:
Episode 19: “Did You Catch Any?”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While splitting your focus and throwing in a lengthy flashback that becomes a stream-of-consciousness remembrance of things past could well have spelled doom for coherence and impact, what we get in the nineteenth episode of Shirobako is the opposite. The lengthy reminiscence flows perfectly into the show, not taking away from the action but leading into the ending quite well.

At the start, we are firmly in the present as Aoi is reeling from all of the crises suddenly hitting her as the Production Desk has to take the brunt of the various attacks thrown at the schedule. Fortunately for Aoi, Erika Yano, the most senior production assistant at Musani has finally returned to work, with her father’s health issues apparently resolved for the moment. Yano’s first piece of advice, however, is for Aoi to get some sleep. In many ways, not a bad idea, though. Refreshed and renewed, Aoi returns to work the next morning (helped a bit by Yano’s gift of a scented candle).

If only fried chicken were a health food…
If only fried chicken were a health food…

But…there’s still the problem of the schedule going completely to hell. While various factors have not helped, such as the original author’s fussiness and the sloppy work by Studio Titanic, these are not things that can be helped at this point. Whether they want it or not, they need Titanic’s help to get the key animation back on track, so Yano offers to work closely with them and even Watanabe, who as line producer oversees most of the production staff including Miyamori as Production Desk, will pitch in, having a word with Titanic’s president. Yano plans to take the matter on personally, going over to Titanic to help push things along.

Perhaps the most interesting development so far this episode is that Yano and Hiraoka, the slacker production assistant, seem to have some kind of history. They’ve known each other before and she wonders how uncomfortable Hiraoka is at a place like Musani (since here, he actually has to deal with people who are conscientious about their work). They also discuss Miyamori. It appears that Aoi is the type who still has dreams about working in the anime industry, finding it a wonderful experience. This is exactly the type that Yano loves and Hiraoka hates. While a fairly common device, having two minor characters provide a character sketch of the lead, this was well done.

Yano also goes after a certain episode director, Hiroshi Iketani. He’s of the kind who does not want to work, yet he needs to work in order to make money to live off of (like the rest of us). Yano tries her best to convince him to take the job as they really do need a competent episode director. It really is good for Aoi that Yano has returned. Aoi herself has a brief adventure as President Marukawa asks her to go with him on a short trip. It turns out to be a visit to an old bankrupt studio called Musashino Pictures, whose building is currently being used as a storage facility for Musani. It’s not that there is no connection between the two, though, as the former employees of Musashino Pictures went off to form new companies afterward, including Musashino Animation. Among them was Marukawa himself.

It’s a trip into the past as we see how animation used to be done: cans of paint, jars of ink, heavy cut bags holding not pieces of paper with line art to be scanned into a computer but key animation cels fully inked and painted. The upstairs production office is filled with these things from old shows Musashino Pictures made (including Aoi’s personal favorite Andes Chucky). Standing in the old studio, Aoi has something of a vision, as if she has taken a trip back in time to when Musashino Pictures was up and running. It is animation as it used to be in the old days. We see the old-fashioned methods of inking, painting, and filming take place. In this obviously loving vision of the past, we see a much younger version of Masato Marukawa, the now president of Musani, when he was the one running the production desk at Musashino Pictures during the creation of Andes Chucky. He is still the same Marukawa, though, as he makes snacks for the staff during the day. We see a young Sugie as well at work there. It appears that even a young Ookura, our background art specialist, worked there too (which is why Marukawa knew his weak points for Aoi to exploit).

Ghosts of animation production past
Ghosts of animation production past

The exploration of Musashino Pictures past then takes a short trip into the surreal, as we see a short scene from Andes Chucky…except that the characters all talk with full knowledge of the financial difficulties of Musashino Pictures. During a terrible blizzard (which is tied into Ookura’s work as he did the background image which set the general design for the blizzard scene), the characters take shelter in a cave and then sit around a fire wondering about what they will do for work if the studio goes bankrupt. This works to an interesting transition as we see the “film” come to an end, revealing a crying Aoi sitting in a projection room, watching an old reel of the show.

"Why don't you call me 'Yoda,' like the other staff do?"
“Why don’t you call me ‘Yoda,’ like the other staff do?”

It appears that most of what we saw was a visualization Aoi had based upon Marukawa talking about what it was like at the old studio in the past. His own reason to come there was to pick up some old mementos for a former employee of Musashino Pictures who went elsewhere after the break up, but still kept in touch (it appears most of the Musashino group stayed close even after they went on different paths). But this was not just a simple sentimental trip. Marukawa, while seemingly a jovial grandfather and nothing more shows himself (yet again) to be engaged in much deeper action. (While we’ve seen this many times before, perhaps it is time I finally comment about Marukawa, the classic “trickster mentor” who seems simple and kind but actually knows everything that is going on and prefers to work obliquely from behind the scenes). The trip seems to have the effect that Marukawa wanted on Aoi, as she feels a new enthusiasm to getting back to work and topping what was done in the old days.

Though she’ll have to survive Ema’s pickled plums first. Ema is working on a scene where Aria, the lead character of Third Aerial Girls Squad, makes a sour face and therefore needs a good reference to work from. While at first she tried to use herself (though it can be hard to draw from a mirror when your mouth wants to spit), now she has drafted Midori and Aoi to eat sour pickled plums, the best way to get the right expression.

So, things begin to turn around. Even Ookura returns and Aoi learns he didn’t just disappear for no reason: he was out looking at actual ruins in order to find inspiration for the background piece he is working on for Third Aerial Girls Squad. As for that background, which shows the ruins of the homeland of Aria, it is so full of impact that it makes Aoi cry. With Aoi having teared up twice, what better way to end the episode than with a special ending sequence, which appears to be the ending animation to Andes Chucky.

A lot of animation is simple and straightforward, making it easy for the viewer to grasp what is involved. On occasion, though, you get productions which are will to create a dense and layered piece of filmed entertainment that likely requires more than one sitting in order to get everything that is shown. We’ve seen this with some recent episodes of Log Horizon, and now we see it with Shirobako. This was not just an installment aimed at showing Aoi (with Yano’s help) righting the ship after (Studio) Titanic hit the iceberg (and as Watanabe points out, it’s not entirely Titanic’s fault, since they were originally informed that animation production would start a month earlier than when they were finally given the materials and directions to start producing key animation cuts. And even though the “fault” as such lies with the feckless Chazawa and picky Nogame, it is not their responsibility either. It is Musani’s to see that their subcontractors are given sufficient time to do the work). The episode was not just a simple walk down memory lane, waxing nostalgic about how “things were better in the old days.” While clearly the staff at PA Works have a nostalgic sense about “how things used to be” and made a tribute where you could feel the warm feelings they have towards that era, this was not just wallowing in nostalgia. That’s not it at all, since Marukawa is not saying things were better back then.

Things were actually just as hectic and screwed up as they are now.

And now we at last can establish a kind of lineage for Musani, since “Musashino Pictures” seems rather likely to be modeled at least somewhat upon the real Mushi Production, the original one which was founded by the famed Osamu Tezuka (and went bankrupt in 1973; a new company taking the name was formed in 1977 and is still in existence today). It fits better when you consider that “Masato Marukawa” is based loosely on Masao Maruyama, who once worked for Mushi Pro. We need not push the identification any further (Musani is not a revived Mushi Pro), but it is interesting nonetheless, as it places Andes Chucky as (a fictional) part of a wonderful group of anime classics (even if the show itself is almost certainly modeled on the anime version of Fables of the Green Forest (a.k.a Rocky Chuck the Mountain Rat) which was produced by Zuiyo Eizo, the predecessor to Nippon Animation).

Entertaining and informative, with a dash of sentimental too.

In Summary:
The only place you can go after you’ve hit bottom is up, so Aoi starts slowly to recover from her low at the end of the last episode, with significant help from Yano, the most experienced production assistant at Musani, who has returned to work. An episode director for episode 5 is found and Yano lights a fire under the Studio Titanic people. But that’s only part of the story, as Marukawa, the president of Musani, takes Aoi on a little trip into the past, to see where Musani comes from, where its ancestors, so to speak, are and where its spirit derives from. This is not meant to show that “things were better in the past” nor that “things are better today.” Nothing so simplistic. Instead, he wanted Aoi to regain her enthusiasm to move forward and have fun with making anime. The desired effect is achieved and things move forward. A very interesting episode.

Episode Grade: A

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Apple iMac with 4GB RAM, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard

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