What They Say:
It’s official. Musashino Animation’s next production is “Third Aerial Girls’ Squad!” In a surprising turn of events, Aoi finds herself assigned as the production manager for the project, but from the very beginning it looks like she may be overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the project. Of course, her old friend Ema is already aboard as one of the animators, while Midori makes an enormous contribution by taking on many of the program’s important research duties. And when Misa’s new company contracts to produce CG for the series, all but one of the members of the old animation club are working on the same production! Left out again, Shizuka auditions for a role, but, as a relatively new voice actor the odds of her being cast in a major part seem highly unlikely. That doesn’t break the bonds of their friendship, however, and there are tons of surprises ahead as TAGS’s journey to broadcast draws to the finish in the second collection of SHIROBAKO!
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as its only mix, which is encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. I really wish this show had a dub simply because the range of actors and characters involved combined with such different than normal story material would have been fun to have had. The show is one that has its moments of good action in a sense, mostly coming from the driving sequences, but the bulk of it is very much dialogue driven. It’s not a mix that will stand out, even when we get the Exodus animation scenes shown off, but it works the soundstage well for the dialogue in general. While not a rich mix we do get one that’s well put together and enjoyable, especially when there are multiple characters on screen at a time and the conversation moves about them in a very good way.
Originally airing in 2014 and 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes of the second half of it are in this collection and are spread across two discs as opposed to the single disc of the first set as we get nine of the first and three on the second. Animated by PA Works, the quality is definitely here from start to finish in something that’s richly detailed, beautifully colored, and has some great blending of CG when needed. There’s a labor of love element to this series to be sure and it really does shine through with the look of it. The backgrounds are fantastic, the changes in character costuming is a big plus for me, and the detail and variety in the designs is just as strong. All of this comes through beautifully in the transfer with great colors and wonderful representation of detail, making it a fully engaging experience. With the fully realized world that we get here, it’s important to have a strong transfer and this one pays it off.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray cast the holds the two Blu-ray discs it comes with against the interior walls. The front cover goes for the familiar promotional image from the second half that features the sizable cast that works at the studio all together with a sense of hope and optimism toward the future. Of course, it also only features the female characters as it knows its audience. The only thing I don’t care for and haven’t since the show first came out is the logo as it’s something that just doesn’t feel like it fits well. The back cover works some decent angles to bring in a good range of images and a look at the studio itself so it’s busy but not excessively show while showing off a lot of what’s inside. The tagline works well, going more for a serious and earnest approach, while the summary of the premise captures the show pretty well while not giving away too much of it. The bottom uses the blue graph paper design, a bit darker, to break down the production credits and the technical grid, both of which look good and covers everything in a clean and easy to read fashio. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is about as I expected as the main static images that dominate gives us a look at the main production staff side of the studio with all that’s associated with it, giving it a detailed and busy feeling while also letting the characters come across well with their personalities for the few that we get here. The navigation along the left is decent with a big yellow block that has the episodes by number and title with blues, greens, and reds used for it. It doesn’t feel like it has a strong thematic approach to it like we get with a lot of other Sentai menus and that leaves it feeling a bit weaker in the design department. It’s solidly functional though which is what really counts.
The only extras included with this set are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
The first half of Shirobako worked a lot of material as it introduced us to the cast and the makeup of Musani with its production studio and how they approach things. Marathoning the show was definitely a plus, though I can easily imagine having a ton to talk about with individual episode reviews about the nature of the business. With the second half, the show shifts gears a bit in a positive way as it’s not about really getting to know the characters – we know who they are now – nor does it try to shoehorn in romantic relationships or other forced drama. No, what we get here is the studio taking on an adaptation of a light novel series from a difficult to deal with creator. And that has its own host of issues on top of all the usual production ones.
The premise for this half of the series revolves around the light novel series 3rd Girls, which is an end of the world fighter pilot series with a group of women from different countries flying together as a wing to deal with the enemy. Like the first season, the concept itself doesn’t get a lot of time because you can get the basics. What you get about it is the hard work brought into play by adapting another work and the view of the original series through the eyes of the production team. While a job is a job in its most basic sense, with productions like this you really have to believe in it because of the immense amount of time spent on it. So seeing the cast getting emotional at times, really working through understanding the characters and their motivations, it’s an important part of it because they have to take the story from print to animation, which means a new slew of interpretations through visual design, sound design, mechanical design, and the voice acting itself. Suffice to say, you really have to be into it to some degree to capture it right, to understand the source material.
Which is part of my own frustration with so many adaptations these days as they’re pretty much slavish to the original work. And as we’ve seen from countless other productions there are plenty of areas for improvement or just changes that need to be made to accommodate a different medium. I always use Marvel as an example of a company that has figured out that you can take from the source and respect the source, but you can’t adhere to it completely because it simply doesn’t function that way. 3rd Girls runs into this to some degree as it progresses as we get the team trying to capture the look right, which is important when dealing with someone else’s designs, but also a significant problem toward the end about the ending itself since the light novels are ongoing and the creator, Nogame, wants a downbeat and uncertain ending whereas the director wants something that’s uplifting because of his own view of the meaning of the series. Each has to work to their medium, plus the change in animation itself these days where second seasons are rare coming off of works like this.
To be fair, the problems with the author are revealed to be different than what we think early on, though you can tell that there’s something fishy going on anyway with the editor that’s managing this as the interface between him and the studio. There’s all sorts of layers in how this all works and it’s definitely an interesting piece of it. What I liked in particular is that, going back to my previous point, we saw how one of Nogame’s prior works was adapted and went in such a terrible and unrecognizable direction that you can understand why he’s as insistent as he is about what he wants and doesn’t want. The problem is that the Musani team gets so little direction and it screws up production and timing so much that it really does come across as a temper tantrum at times. Again, there’s a deeper piece to this and those that have seen series about the publishing business in the manga/light novel world will certainly recognize some of these characters from there.
This half of the series does bring in a couple of minor staffing change-outs as people move on to other things and there’s less focus on some of the characters that were stronger in the first half – including the director as his kind of goofy and over the top ways are lessened. This isn’t a bad thing as we see some of the younger ones coming into a better position, such as in the key animation and character design side and the very slow subplot on the voice actor side with Aoi’s friend, but the real focus is on Aoi herself. She ends up with the position of Production Coordinator, which Taro thought he would get, and that means she’s in charge of the whole series. It’s delightful when we see her getting the “first things to get done” list for setting up for the adaptation and all it entails and then realizing that it is just that, the first steps. Aoi’s been the core of the series to be sure but watching her progress throughout this second half is really wonderful as she engages with so many people, understands why they’re so committed to their jobs as they are, and truly begins to figure out what she wants out of her career as well. Especially when she gets a great reconnect with the other studio that she interviewed with but was intimidated by. Aoi’s growing confidence is the huge and primary driver in this second half.
Shirobako brings its (first?) season to a close in a strong way and in many ways worked better for me than the first half did. The show the studio was working on back then didn’t do much for me and the director was problematic with how realistic he was. This half of the season may not dig into some of the supporting characters from the time Aoi was in school with her friends that were pursuing their own goals in the industry, but its heavy focus on Aoi and the challenges of adapting a light novel are very well done. The 3rd Girls material doesn’t do much for me but it was interesting to watch unfold and not quite the focus that the first series was since this has different (and more engaging) challenges. This is a strong work overall and the kind of piece that all anime fans should watch and understand so they grasp the basics of the nuts and bolts of how anime is produce. That, in my view, makes you a better viewer and more engaged with criticisms about a show. Highly recommended.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: May 24th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.