One of the best series in recent years comes to an end with both a madcap race against time and some thoughtful moments about life choices for our young focus character, Aoi Miyamori.
What They Say:
Final Episode: “The Delivery That Was Too Far Off”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Everyone has their marching orders for production on the final episode of Third Aerial Girls Squad. We see the staff at Musani hit full speed ahead. There isn’t really much need for description, since we have been seeing the entire production process all season long. Quick cuts, filled with fast-paced dipping in and out of the action, watching all of the departments do their work for the show (and we even have a brief look at Shizuka, who seems to have scored a bit part on The Prince of Baseball) fill much of the opening section of the episode.
Of course, as has been traditional with this series, there is always some kind of hurdle to face. The final labor Musani must accomplish comes with the delivery of the on-air tapes. Since the show is being shown by several different television channels in different regions of the country, Musani needs to deliver the final broadcast version of the episode to the different stations in time for them to make their scheduled airings. It’s a goofy scramble filled with both tension and comedy (Okitsu is called upon to drive one tape to a rather remote station. During her drive, she of course exceeds the speed limit and draws the attention of an increasingly large number of police cars as she does not stop). We see the usual scenes of frantic running and stumbling. In a classic cliche, Aoi is stuck in traffic en route to her destination and has to jump out and hoof it to the TV station in order to make it on time. Instead of a dignified or haughty finale, again the production staff has chosen comedy, which is still a very good choice. Many shows do not do the transition from intense drama to comedy that well, but Shirobako has proven itself one of the few that can manage those shifts in tone without ruining the experience.
The atmosphere shifts again with the antics over, as they immediately take us back to a more thoughtful place. Literally as Aoi, on the train ride back to Tokyo (she had to go to Hiroshima), thinks over her future life. Does she want to continue making anime, or at least helping other people make it? Aoi’s constant companions, Mimuji and Roro, appear as always to help express her inner thoughts. Even if it is a rather old device, it has been well-deployed throughout the show and works one last time here, helping Aoi to find her way. The answer right now is yes.
Self-reflection over, it’s time for the after party, as Musani celebrates the completion of Third Aerial Girls Squad. Kinoshita has some words to say, but he hands over the mic to Aoi (after she stumbles in, the last one to the party). Aoi gets up there…and is just herself. Honest, self-effacing, sincere. We have a speech that is a salute to all of those involved in making the show, given over scenes of all the people involved in making the show. A fitting send off for the hard-working staff of Musashino Animation. It also serves as a tribute to the industry in general. For all of the gentle ribbing Shirobako has been aiming at themselves and their colleagues at other studios, this is P.A. Works’ firm statement of love and appreciation for all they do.
That is not the only send-off, however, as we also have a separate one for the five girls from the Kaminoyama High School Animation Club. Following the end credits, we see Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa, and Shizuka together. They still have their dream of re-making their high school animation project, though now all of them can do a much better and more professional job from the animation to the voicing to the writing. So, it must be time for the Donut Oath to be made again, as they renew their vow to make their anime in the future. As a coda to the entire series, it is a fitting end. The same could be said of this final episode as a whole. Episode 23 was the height of the drama and tension, the climax which was so expertly turned into a farcical encounter between Kinoshita and Musani’s nemesis, Chazawa. Here, we have the somewhat more quiet, but no less full of impact, final look at this world. The victory lap after the struggle, but one that does not wallow in self-congratulation or smug satisfaction. It’s that time when you exhale and admire that you survived completing a lengthy and difficult project at all.
So, we come to the end of our journey with Aoi and the others. While I was slightly hesitant at the beginning of the series, I have few doubts now. Not that I was entirely happy with the first half of the show in particular. At times, I felt that the first half of the series fell too much into a rut of “crisis of the week” episodes which seemed wedded to some stale formula of how a “show about making shows” should be. This changed dramatically with the second half of the series, however, when the show seemed a lot more sure-footed overall about what it was doing. Actually, that change even came fairly close to the end of the first half, especially in two incidents: Aoi’s meeting with “Mitsuaki Kanno” and the resolution of the horse-filled final animation cuts crisis for Exodus by turning to the abilities of senior animator Shigeru Sugie. While the crises and problems that crop up from the demanding schedule asked of the production staff never disappeared, for me the writing overall felt more assured, more confident, and more focused about what it wanted to say.
While the visual image is extremely important (and the visuals are a major factor in anime’s continuing appeal for me), at the base of everything is the writing. Once the creators found their voice and really began to focus on what they wanted to say (and they had a whole lot to say, most of which I’m not even going to attempt to summarize here; you just need to re-watch the entire show or re-read all of the reviews I’ve written previously), this show began to operate on a whole different level from most of the other weekly shows out there. It was not a matter of going highbrow or overly-complicated or pretentious. I think that kind of writing would be a target of satire for director Mizushima and head writer Michiko Yokote. There was plenty of slapstick and farce thrown into the show to retain its light touch. Criticism was delivered more with a wink and a smile than a frown or a stern look.
What happened is that we could see clearly that this show was so many things rolled up into one: a look into the realities of animation production; a view of the business side of the industry and how economic decisions affect not just the quality of the production but even the quality of the materials that get made into anime; the fictionalized versions of what are, with some caveats, fairly believable real life stories of what it is like to produce anime; and the psychological benefits–and costs–of wanting to involve yourself in the insanity that seems to pervade almost all aspects of the industry.
The story was brought to life using the full array of traditional storytelling methods (including quite deliberate, but well deployed, invocations of standard tropes and narrative elements), demonstrating that sticking to the basics does not mean being stuck in the past or in mediocrity. A well-crafted tale can be formed from quite familiar parts. Fortunately, this was matched by very high quality visuals so that there were no distractions on that front (while I have not always been amazed by the stories P.A. Works have told, especially in their last couple outings, they have always been consistently among the best studios in terms of the quality of their animation. Their shows almost always look very pretty and extremely polished). It is a happy marriage between layered, thoughtful writing and beautiful visuals present here in this show.
While only time will be able to have the final word on the matter, I have a feeling that Shirobako at least has a chance of making it into the small group of shows which will be judged “classics” in the future. In comparison to what I’ve seen in the past few years, it is definitely one of the best.
The staff at Musani wave good-bye to Third Girls Aerial Squad, as production completes on the work. That does not mean they are free and clear when the last episode is in the can: those cans (actually, HD master tapes in plastic black boxes) need to be transported physically to various television stations throughout Japan, giving director Mizushima one last chance to throw in a wacky race segment, a bit of the slapstick which he appears to enjoy. It forms part of what is a fitting final installment of the show, paying homage to the large cast of characters who have shown us some truths and some idealized fantasies about the creation of anime. Predictions are always hard to make whether a show will continue to draw attention in the future, but for me this is one of the most memorable shows of the past several years.
Episode Grade: A+
Series Grade: A
Streamed by: Crunchyroll
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