Funny story: it’s pretty predictable what will happen to someone who thinks they are the good guy, trying to prevent annoyances from bothering the creator, when the reality is that he’s just standing in the way of a good story being told.
What They Say:
Episode 23: “Table Flip Continued”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I could write a very long description of what happens in this episode. I could recount in detail how the staff reacts to the news that Nogame, the author of Third Aerial Girls Squad is very unhappy with the storyboards for the final episode of the anime adaptation and the long story of how all that changes. I will tell that tale in parts, but it’s probably best for all of you to experience it yourselves.
Over karaoke, Katsuragi and Watanabe attempt to plan for the future, a future where Nogame continues to stand in the way of the final episode being produced on time for broadcast. The dreaded “recap episode” maneuver, the one that still haunts the currently-blissfully-unaware Seiichi Kinoshita, might have to be employed. As for our jovial director, he is happily drinking in a restaurant with the voice cast at the wrap party for the dubbing of the final episode (final so they think). That does not mean production is over and Aoi pulls a little fast one on the director, having one of the sound staffers lure Kinoshita (blindfolded) into a waiting car, where Aoi whisks him back to the studio to oversee work on episode 10.
Katsuragi and Watanabe go to see the editorial staff at Yotaka Booksellers, the publisher, trying to seek some guidance as to what, exactly, is wrong. It briefly enters their heads to try to negotiate over the final episode but are flatly told that “in this world, the creator is God. If he says no, it means no.” Yes, that is entirely true in the industry, but what if God is being uncooperative and too cryptic? That’s a question they’re not going to address (and it would be dangerous territory for any animation production house to question the motives or sanity of a creator…if they ever wanted to work on an adaptation again), but there is another way of discovering what Nogame’s particular qualms are, though this will come later. For now, they get Chazawa to ask Nogame what, specifically, is wrong about the final episode. Nogame, it appears, was not at all pleased with letting Aria (the main character) fly again. He wishes the final episode to end with the death of Catherine (the character we saw headed for the final frontier, whose end inspires Aria to take up piloting again in the ending created by the Musani staff). The Musani staff cannot quite believe that this is the ending he actually wants. It’s a massive downer, but more importantly, Kinoshita identifies an important flaw from a viewer’s perspective: it’s anticlimactic. Instead of a bang, the show would end on whatever it is you call the weak noise of air being let out of a balloon slowly. Surely, Nogame is being unreasonable.
Now, Shirobako being what it is, you can expect them to tell Nogame’s side of the story, which they proceed to do. Hiraoka is our narrator. It appears that the first time a work of his was made into an anime was an earlier series called Sailor Suits and F3s, which was focused on car racing. The problem is that the animation house that did the adaptation changed everything. Out went the sailor suits and in came swimsuits when the main character was actually driving her race car (along with breast enhancement surgery and a complete personality makeover). The original story was pretty much thrown out the window and low ratings followed, with Nogame catching some criticism for it, though none of that was his fault. With this knowledge, one can hardly blame him for being fussy about his work being adapted for the small screen.
Everyone is feeling down, which must mean that it’s time for a wise mentor to step in: on cue,
Yoda Marukawa calls Kinoshita aside and gives him a little pep talk. Further reinforcement arrives: enter again the pastry chef, as Honda comes to pay a visit (he has heard what is happening) and he helps Kinoshita figure out a way to contact Nogame (his email address was sitting there in front of them the whole time on the message relayed by Chazawa). Kinoshita humbly asks the author if they could meet to discuss the show. To his surprise, Nogame answers quite quickly and a meeting is arranged at the headquarters of the publisher. Marukawa prepares him by giving Kinoshita a silly outfit to wear.
In a scene that’s sheer lunacy…or brilliance…I’ll go with both…Kinoshita swaggers in like The Man With No Name accompanied by background music reminiscent of a spaghetti western. He has an early face-off with Chazawa who tries to stop him, but Kinoshita’s massive weight flings Chazawa away (finally, a little karmic payback to the idiotic flunky who has caused Musani so much trouble) and grabs one elevator. Watanabe seems to have arranged for backup to make sure the meeting happens, as Chazawa cannot get into the other elevator (with Katsuragi in a repairman disguise declaring it Out of Order). The next opponent that Kinoshita must face is the senior editor for Yotaka, who fires golfballs at him. Kinoshita deftly avoids them all and even uses his massive stomach to fire one back at the senior editor. The last obstacle is the editor-in-chief of Yotaka, but Kinoshita whips up a whirlwind with his belly to blow him (non-lethally) out of the way.
So, we have the climax of the episode, as Kinoshita finally meets Nogame. Explosive outbursts and angry words? No. Quite calmly and reasonably Nogame explains, in detail, his reasons for ordering the final episode redone. He himself has not decided whether Aria will ever fly again and it does not feel right that Aria get over Catherine’s death so quickly. There is the possibility that Aria will never recover from these events and the story will come to an end. Kinoshita now lays out his reasons why he cannot end the anime like that. The whole time, he has been trying to tell a hopeful story, getting at the reason why the girls have decided to fly and to fight. Their enemy is overwhelmingly powerful and the end of the world may well be near. But the girls have decided to fight, as we all fight to survive in the real world. No matter how painful, we can do it because of our friends.
Nogame then explains how this is a complete misreading of his work. For Kinoshita, Third Aerial Girls Squad is his own production team at Musani and Kinoshita, the leader, feels responsible for leading them forward. So, Aria should lead forward the Third Aerial Girls Squad. But this is not what Nogame was writing. For him, Third Aerial is a very personal story, with the five female protagonists each representing an aspect of his own personality. The enemies they face are the troubles Nogame is experiencing in real life. Here, however, Kinoshita surprises the author. We’ve seen in the past, for all of his comic joviality, that Kinoshita is genuinely something of an artist (Jiggly Jiggly Heaven aside), with the soul of one. He immediately latches on to Nogame’s vision of the work and realizes that Aria cannot just get back to flying relying on her own sense of responsibility and guilt. She must resolve her inner turmoil and find her own internal reason to fly (not just because she feels she owes it to the others). She needs a dream of her own to believe in. And together, the two men find a reason for Aria to fly again.
And karma comes back to hit Chazawa. Harder.
So, the final episode is back on, with the new addition of a key scene: Aria will meet Catherine’s younger sister, which will inspire Aria to fly again. As they’ll need an actress to play the little sister…well, we can see where this is going. There will be tears…not from whom you expect though. Normally, I don’t want to see Aoi cry, but these are happy tears.
Okay, so I lied about this not being a lengthy recap of what happened, but there was just so much, and so much of importance, going on, I had to put it down for myself to make sense of it all. On the one hand, we have a simple story of conflicting visions of a work that are brought into harmony with just a little talk and genuine attempts to understand the other side. On the other, we have some brilliant commentary on the difficulties involved for both sides in the world of anime production: the creators and the adaptors. The creators constantly have to worry about their original intentions being misunderstood or, worst of all, ignored. If you are not a best-selling or famous author whose word will be respected by the animation adaptation staff, you could find something quite different from your vision appearing on screen (what it must be like to see your work done by Nabeshin or Shinbo).
But if you are an anime adaptation team (the director and series composition (head writer) along with the episode directors and script writers below you), you have the problem of being squeezed between the broadcaster’s schedule and the potential of being delayed by a demanding creator who can micromanage things down to specific scenes and events in individual episodes if he or she wishes to (though most creators do not exert this level of control in the real world). Further, you are as yet unsure what the audience reaction (which can be the key to home video sales which is where you and the other members of the production committee will recoup most of your production costs—other than the music production company which will sell soundtracks and character singles) will be, so you will strive to present the tale in such a way that your audience, which will include those who have not read the original source, will like it. It’s easy, from this perspective, to be angry at an author who has already made his/her money from book sales causing you trouble by telling you that you can’t do this or that in the anime, which you know will go over well with the audience (though not always so: we know why Sailor Suits and F3s was changed—the anime studio thought their version would appeal to the anime-watching audience. It didn’t work out that way).
But on top of all this…P.A. Works throws in an absurd showdown in full Wild West mode right in the climactic middle of this rather deep look at the problems involved in creating anime. Sheer brilliance and lunacy, though judging by that one scene with Kinoshita and Marukawa, perhaps you need to be a little crazy to be in this business.
As we come to the end of Shirobako, we find out that men of reason who come together in the spirit of mutual cooperation can get a lot of things done (especially when annoying idiots with repetitive catch-phrases are removed from the equation). We also see that utter absurdity will not blow a deep and provocative look at the insides of the animation industry off course. Not a bit.
Episode Grade: A+
Streamed by: Crunchyroll
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