It would appear that most of the crises that beset production on Third Aerial Girls Squad have now passed and it’s just down to the difficulties of producing a show on schedule. That does not mean that it is smooth sailing ahead, though many of the personnel (and personal) problems seem to be resolved. Except one.
What They Say:
Episode 22: “Noa’s in Her Underwear”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
We go back to the somewhat more disconnected, but still linked, vignette style of telling the story in this episode, as we seen a great many Scenes From an Anime Production play out over the course of this installment. There is more in the way of “promoting the young and pushing people forward” as Yumi Iguchi needs help in order to oversee the animation for the finale to Third Aerial Girls Squad. Rinko alone will not be enough help so Ema is put forward as a candidate to be an assistant animation supervisor for the finale. She’s a bit hesitant to accept the responsibility (predictable, since she’s lacking confidence by design; it’s practically built into her physical appearance along with her personality), but is eventually talked into it, as one would expect, by Sugie, her mentor. She is not the only one stepping up as Aoi now proves that she has a greater understanding of her own job, which is mainly being the orderly in an insane asylum, keeping the inmates happy and working on the project without massive flare-ups and flame-outs. Aoi has even managed to get Segawa to agree to supervise episode 12, when just last week the buxom animation supervisor seemed ready to walk out on the production altogether.
If there is something of a theme that links all of the vignettes that form the bulk of this episode, however, it’s the idea of “anime and its discontents.” Don’t think that this episode is just a series of depressing scenes of unhappy workers. That would be to misread much of what we are shown. But the creators of Shirobako are not willing to pull their punches in laying bare some of the harsh realities tied to animation production. For every bright-eyed optimist like Midori, who is both scared and excited to see her work turned into product that is consumed by others, there is an Ema who is too self-effacing and frightened of getting it wrong to get over the fear of failure without a little push from someone in authority. Though this is not even where the real bite is.
We see two staffers who have only had the briefest of screen time, Doumoto and Shinkawa, go out eating and drinking, one last meal before the hell of rushed production on the final episodes descends. For two characters who have mostly been off screen, they complain about their second-class status compared to the featured staff members, as the production staff order them (they are involved in inking and in-between work, which are “lower” on the scale of importance) to do the impossible for improbable deadlines. We also learn that Doumoto’s son is showing an interest in otaku culture, but the two ladies agree that he should be warned off any desire to make a living in it. If you’re not in one of the “glamor” positions, the industry looks a lot less fabulous.
This pair is balanced by another pair, as Tarou drags Hiraoka out to eat and drink as well. As is common in Japanese culture, this kind of bonding over alcohol is normal and how one learns what another is truly thinking. We learn more about Hiraoka’s disillusionment: he was too earnest at his first job which was a sloppily run outfit. The experience broke him. He once had dreams of critical success, but they’ve been run through the meat grinder of the sausage-making process of the anime factory.
One of the most powerful vignettes, though, is the focus on someone who is feeling very low: Shizuka. We see her alone at home drinking away her sorrows, watching some TV special on up and coming seiyuu. When the squeaky little school girl who’s made it so far as to be asked to appear on this TV special complains that she can’t balance school, work, and fun, Shizuka asks if she would like to switch places. An emotional low, but an impact high for this episode, masterfully done in a scene that highly contrasts the shadows of Shizuka and her small apartment with the light coming out of the TV screen. While it may be unfair, I am kind of hoping that P.A. Works will resist the urge to give Shizuka a “happy” ending. Not because I wish her ill (quite the contrary, I feel quite a lot of sympathy for Shizuka), but because by depicting that the world is not all “just” and “fair,” and that even hard work and talent is sometimes not enough to make it, they will be keeping this world just real enough to give it some bite when the show does take on some of the darker truths of the business.
That unfairness and lack of “justice” comes through it the end of the episode, just when it appears that everything is going well (Misa and Ema are happily working on the pig in a plane scene while Ai Kunogi has finally shown that she can speak a complete sentence without Ema present). Dubbing for episode 13 has finished and it should be calm seas ahead, but just then we get typhoon winds and a call to Katsuragi from Chazawa. I don’t even need to tell you what he hears, as the weather shown already alerted us to the nature of the information.
Coming into the final episodes of the series, it becomes more and more apparent just how much Shirobako has attempted to tackle, from the darker sides of the animation industry to the lighter sides of human warm and camaraderie that develop among those working in the harsh world of production. Aoi and her friends have grown quite a lot, though we see that it’s not a simple or happy constant upward trajectory. There are pitfalls and even dead ends (where Shizuka currently seems headed). There are casualties (Hiraoka’s youthful idealism). For all of the artistry and creativity involved, there is also greed (the unscrupulous production committee members), indifference (Chazawa’s fecklessness has now nearly sunk Musani’s production work several times; Hiraoka and Studio Titanic show it within the production side of things) and unreasonableness (while Nogame the author might well feel justified in his objections and has the right to withhold consent to anything Musani does, his timing is impeccably bad and his lack of clarity—the entire delay over the character designs where he provided utterly useless guidance—in his complaints make him appear a less than reasonable figure). It almost seems as if the message of the show is “you have to be crazy to work in the animation production industry.”
As production enters the final phase for Third Aerial Girls Squad, it seems as if things are starting to fall into place. That does not mean that everyone is happy. We see that there is a lot of discontent and fear underneath the seemingly “happy” face of the industry that we, the viewers, often are presented with in canned production documentaries that are occasionally provided as extras for anime releases. We don’t see the disillusionment of a Hiraoka nor the minor griping of a Doumoto or Shinkawa. We especially don’t see the utter despair of a Shizuka, who seems headed down a path that leads outside of the industry altogether. And we don’t hear about the stupidity of a Chazawa or the apparent unreasonableness of a Nogame. It makes successful and high-quality productions seem like triumphs against incredible odds. Perhaps there is a small measure of truth in that.
Episode Grade: A
Streamed by: Crunchyroll
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