Tag Archives: shirobako

Through Older Lenses: A Candy Colored Pill They Call Shirobako

 

Someone recently asked me about current anime television, and what I have been spending limited time watching lately. And they were surprised to hear that a soft series like Shirobako, has pretty much dominated a majority of that time. Which is funny considering how easily the series borders on self-parody. (even when it seems like such a turn would in fact boost it by leagues) While we have flirted with anime about anime in the past, Shirobako feels a lot like the kind of show the fictional Musashino Animation would indeed produce. Something quasi-steeped in reality, but mired so deep in the artifice of anime, that all of the drama inherent seems to roll off the shoulders like a set of remote controlled plastic clouds. It’s like a tailor-made opiate for raging internet commenters. Which isn’t to say that it is bereft of any charm whatsoever.

We have for perhaps far too long, shared a world built around the concept of the smooth pill. The easy answer. Flat tire fix. It is a complicated thing to delve into when talking about the whys, and how things are often sussed out in the real. When discussing any number of topics facing our daily world, one of the replies that tends to slip out of my mouth is that quite often, we prefer the myth over the weighty responsibility inherent.

Examples:

Friend: Why do we seem so hellbent on playing the same game, even when the current model no longer seems to work? Like voting for one of only two political parties.

Me: It’s comfortable.

Or (and I know I’m being a bit pedantic here, but bear with me)

Friend: Hey, ever wonder why so many fans self-serve, rather than a reflect?

Me: Myth can be a drug. Doesn’t matter if the truth is obfuscated. Which is advantageous to those who sell the myth writ large. As long as the sleep continues, profits are kept relatively safe a little while longer. In the end, everything diminishes.

Shirobako, on its face feels like one of those great balancing acts so common in today’s market; eager to reflect the world of fans-turned-animators, yet hampered by market necessity. While we are constantly let in on the process of the creation of animated product in the Japanese system, we are also reminded of what is being used to sell the series-a near army of appealing, albeit typical teen anime girls. Definitely a latter day moé-wave title, with an easygoing pace, and ready with open arms to share the daily trials and challenges of televised anime with the public at large(all while remaining as soft-pedaled as its comfort food pedigree tends to allow). There’s nothing challenging about it save for the completion to air deadlines. It’s a fantasy about making fantasy.

Especially in a net climate where animators from both Japan and the rare U.S. expat have shared grueling tales of an environment rife with problems both internal and external, there is so much that Shirobako wishes to keep soft and harmless, so as to maintain the sales potential. While we are decades beyond Otaku No Video, we are certainly not ready to blur the line between anime and reality with this topic just yet. Or it could just be that at this point, with the industry in the place that it is now, writers and producers are in a zone where all they can think of is the familiarity of the workplace. The reality has been consumed by the need for an easier dose to down.

In one of the later episodes, a great question is posed by our central character, Aoi. She asks the big one. “Why did you chose to work in anime?” And the answers turn out to often be unfocused, and overlooked. When working in such an assembly line environment where artistic aspirations run head-on into the needs of commerce, there is a factory mentality that can often blur distinctions. And while some of the show’s animation staff try valiantly answer this burning question, the replies tend to be that of aimlessness, or a wish to share something cool with the world. Things whittle down quite rapidly as those in the wheelhouse scramble for some semblance of understanding why they do what they do. Only to reveal that very often, it couldn’t be less readily tangible.

taitanic

Now the show does its part to both warm up and warn viewers regarding the attraction and repulsion of the anime production world. From charming moments that feature analogues for medium legends (there is that HA guy, as well as a vivid rendition of Hiromasa Ogura who joins in on Musashino’s latest project), to some sweet breakdowns of the process by way of Aoi’s internal greek chorus in the form of a well-intentioned teddy bear and a cynical goth loli doll. But the real surprises come in later episodes that allude to production’s darker, more broken sides by way of new PA Hiraoka, and the clearly decimated backup ani-studio TAITAINIC. As unsubtle as anime gets, if one would believe it.

It is in the short moments we have here, that the horrors and often troubling realities of anime production are cursorily hinted at if not outright explored. Dank, nearly abandoned offices occupied by merely one staffer, unseen co-workers, and half-hearted work abound. One might almost want to delve deeper into this already telling plot footnote, but alas, there’s so much more to be absorbed by. Angel Workout, anyone?

Kill me now, yes?

Now this isn’t to completely disparage the show’s occasional dips into puerile moé shtick. But as a constant quiver in Shirobako’s arsenal, it is egregious to the point of exasperation. Sure, it’s to be expected of a fluffy anime series in the mid-2010s. Who expects an anime to get its hands truly grubby with the painful complexities engulfing the entertainment industry during one of its most trying technological periods? Still. While the show does its part to make light of how episodes are divied up by PA, and each separate element is ordered, prepared, and distributed, one couldn’t be faulted for wanting just a little more adroit honesty. Every time the series runs against a potentially challenging road block, in comes a new offering of nubile comfort food to keep those nasty realities away. In classically mild Japanese fashion (and to be fair, the old school Disney model as well), Shirobako never finds itself ready to unveil past a certain amount of skin.

In tradition of hoping our entertainment would take point, and offer up something new and potent, Shirobako has certainly done its part to be mildly diverting. But one cannot help but feel the pressure of market lining every corner of its production. Heck, one episode even went so far as to address the pressures of investors that often pit artistic ambition versus sales potential, no matter how shallow or trivial. It’s at least able to get that one welt in there. Now if only more of the show were as willing to take on the industry that spawned it. And so, we’ll continue to wait. Certainly, this series could have been far more harmful than it is. At least Genshiken takes some uncomfortable, yet well-deserved jabs at a business subculture saturated in repression, and shamelessness. Shirobako is simply born to be mild by comparison. Sure, firing retorts at a wired, conspiracy-obsessed populace by way of a peek at the sausage factory through a charming set of binoculars might work. But to quell the masses, perhaps something more up front might do wonders.

garrr

Anime Power Ranking Ballot (Week Ending Nov 29)

Short article this time, due to lack of time. Here’s my Anime Power Ranking ballot:

  1. Parasyte 8-9
  2. Mushishi 7
  3. Shirobako 8
  4. Your Lie in April 8
  5. Sora no Method 8

Parasyte’s double feature was so compelling, it felt like watching one episode rather than two. I’m glad that they decided not to play the usual superhero card and make Shinichi instantly popular and desirable–instead, the one girl who is in love with him is deeply disturbed by his transformation, and his new status just brings more danger. The balancing act between comedy, drama, and horror is something Parasyte handles better than anything I’ve seen in a long time.

Mushishi returns with an episode highly reminiscent of the melancholy first season, with a bittersweet and poetic ending that I found deeply satisfying. The connection to the water cycle and to life is very strong.

Shirobako continues its march toward becoming the definitive workplace anime dramedy, by resolving Ema’s creative dilemma with believable and true advice that anyone should follow, and also highlighting the differences in the way family members act. It’s come a long way since its shaky start as an overstuffed quasi-documentary.

Your Lie in April gives us not one, but two stunning performances, but centered around new characters who are not yet developed. There were signs of its overwrought direction all over, especially in the second half, when the colors and monologuing nearly got out of control. (This was not nearly a problem in the manga.) The other main characters were reduced to a peanut exposition gallery.

Finally, Sora no Method enters my list for the first time. It has been a slow buildup for the show, which took too long to get to the meat of the drama, but at last the character work is paying off and there was enough emotional restraint and beautiful imagery to make it an entertaining, sentimental watch. For the first time, the emotions feel earned.

Anime Power Ranking Ballot (Week Ending Nov 22)

With the absence of Bahamut due to its recap episode, and the surprise entry of several titles, this week’s APR was hard to choose. Many shows only just barely missed the cut.

  1. When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace 7
  2. Shirobako 7
  3. Parasyte 7
  4. Amagi Brilliant Park 8
  5. Mushi-shi 6

Coming in at #1 is When Supernatural Battles Become Commonplace (Inou-Battle), whose shattering breakdown rant by Hatoko ranks as one of the most memorable scenes of the season, if not the entire year. Bravura voice actress Saori Hayami, who did the scene in one breathless unrehearsed take, conveys long-standing frustration over being excluded AND jealousy AND an incisive critique of the chunni mindset, within 2 very long (and necessary) minutes. It was raw, repetitive, and ineloquent, which makes it feel even more real: it felt as if she had been talking not to the character, but to me, and all of my own faults as a fan with chuuni tendencies myself. Hideaki Anno could not have critiqued an otaku better. The scene was also framed by clever foreshadowing and a denouement and twist afterwards that kicks the show into truly high gear. Trigger could not have taken potentially mediocre source material and spun it into finer gold so far.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.41.40 PMSomething similar also happens in Shirobako, as the show continues to deepen its characters and relationships. Ema’s plight is one faced by nearly everyone who’s worked, especially in creative professions: whether to focus on quantity vs quality, and how to deal with criticism from superiors. Having had similar experiences myself, the emotions were painfully familiar, and even more poignant in light of how much she is likely earning every year. Her pain is universal, and portrayed with genuine gravity and empathy, something that the show is gaining rapidly. Meanwhile, Aoi continues to display how indispensable she is to the office as the bridge between different departments and superiors, and Tarou gets what’s coming to him. This has truly become one of the most solid workplace dramedies done in anime.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.44.12 PMParasyte continues its high standard of combining action, danger, and even occasional comedy–which makes its return with the introduction of Uda and his symbiote Parasite. The antics of Parasite, who speaks much more colloquially than Migi, was often laugh out loud funny, combined with Uda’s exaggerated timidity–which proves to not mean that he was useless, in the least. As for Migi and Shinichi, this episode brings a quick end to the central emotional dilemma and cements his rapid growth into the battle-hardened, confident, manlier man that exudes effortless cool by the end. Parasyte is a show that, up to this point, has wasted little time on extraneous scenes and character development, and its march toward being a dark superhero epic is one of the most compelling rides this season.

vlcsnap-2014-11-23-15h48m25s222Amagi Brilliant Park returns to the list with a truly funny, engaging plot about body swapping that ends up making amusing trouble for Kanie’s social life. The confusion/misunderstanding plot was a staple of the humor in Shoji Gatou’s previous Full Metal Panic, and for once, the pacing kept up with the jokes. It seems that Amaburi has at last found its stride, and it remains the funniest episode to show this week, with Garo’s “Full Monty” coming a very close second.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.47.10 PMFinally, Mushi-shi turns in another fine story inspired by traditional tales of what lies at the bottom of wells, as well as the idea of slipping into a shadow or faery world. The imagery of the otherworldly stars is simply gorgeous and the theme of families being unable to hear or understand each other works as a fine metaphor. Again, in keeping with the current iteration of this show, the ending is solidly happy, which makes one wonder if we will ever see a return to the melancholy of old. In either case, its unique “traditional folk tales for the new age” continues its march toward greatness.

THINGS THAT DIDN’T MAKE IT BUT WERE STILL GOOD
Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.50.11 PMFor the first time, Your Lie in April/KimiUso did not make it on the list, and that is largely because it is a transitional episode: a transition from the first arc, which focused on relationships and budding romance, to what I like to call the “tournament arc” that focuses on piano competition. The depiction of stage fright and impending doom was well-conveyed, and Kaori and Kousei share a nice moment in the park as well as some psychological drama, but as a standalone episode, it felt a little bit less compelling.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.52.18 PMGaro was a very near contender for Amagi Brilliant Park’s place, with a genuinely hilarious series of gags involving male nudity, chase scenes, and deception. German stands out as not just an all around womanizer, but as a great comedic lead, a contrast to his dour son. It reminds one of a well-directed Hollywood farce, almost veering into territory currently owned by MAPPA’s other project, Bahamut. The “Full Monty” reference is surely not accidental in that context. It was amusing but was just slightly bested by Amagi’s character-oriented humor this week.

Anime Power Ranking Ballot (Week Ending Nov 15)

APR ballot for this week:

  1. Parasyte 6
  2. Your Lie in April 6
  3. Shirobako 6
  4. Mushi-shi 5
  5. Bahamut 6

parasyte6Last week’s Parasyte episode is the best one yet. In some ways it echoes a traditional superhero story, like Spider-Man, but with a darker edge: this time, the transformation has made Shinichi much harder and more rugged–dare I say manlier? But it comes at a very painful price. Moreover, while it has made him stronger, it has made Migi weaker, which introduces a new level of danger. Finally, the scene where he confronts his father and his father’s subsequent disbelief is both tense and heartbreaking. I get the feeling that there will be no more comedy in this show, however…

kimiuso6KimiUso/Your Lie in April’s 6th episode spends some more time developing characters in its characteristically florid way. Here it begins to tread on familiar ground for anime romance, from the shafted childhood friend to emotional piggyback rides and sparkling stars. It still does it with all the overheated emotion of adolescence better than anyone else, but I am awaiting the next performance scene, which is being promised with the introduction of rivals–a mark of its shounen manga roots more than anything.

shirobakoShirobako continues to be the believable workplace dramedy that is it, but this episode is special in that it reminds the characters of why they got into the industry in the first place: fandom. The way the 2D and 3D artists bonded over Ide(p)on, complete with nods to Ideon’s OP and ED as BGM, was actually a little bit touching. It’s a shame that we all know a Tarou in every office, though.

mushishi6Mushi-shi presents a lovely tale, one of its most hopeful and positive ones in recent days, loosely based on the traditional stories of the tennyo (heavenly/angelic maidens). A fine metaphor for child-rearing as well as a meditation on how to raise a son, it’s nice to see an uplifting story from a series that has usually excelled most when it is tragic and melancholy. As always, the atmosphere of hushed contemplation and wonder is one of a kind.

shingekinobahamut3Bahamut takes a bit of a breather in both action and story, though it’s still nothing less than polished as always. Most interestingly we see the full mishmash of different mythologies and religions that comprise the show’s mythos, and promising developments for the show’s larger plot of preventing Bahamut’s awakening. Sadly, it appears next week’s episode is a recap so we will probably have to wait for a while for the story to continue.

Anime Power Ranking Ballot (Week Ending Nov 1)

For those who don’t know, the Anime Power Ranking is a vote on anibloggers’ favorite anime episodes of the week. It’s compiled by kadian1365 of The Nihon Review. Members of the APR submit their top 5 episode choices by Sunday evening, and additional comments are encouraged and sometimes quoted in the result posts.

I ended up writing so much in my additional comments for my ballot that I figured I might as well make it a post (and probably turn this into a weekly feature).

Here’s my ballot for the week:

  1. Your Lie in April, episode 4
  2. Mushi-shi 2, episode 3
  3. Rage of Bahamut, episode 4
  4. Psycho Pass 2, episode 4
  5. Shirobako, episode 4

Dammit, I don’t care about the emerging consensus against KimiUso/Your Lie in April–I’m putting it on the top of my list for this week, for the strength of the musical performance again and for dramatizing, in immediate terms, what being on stage felt like at that age. It hits me right in the gut, and both reminds me of and redeems my own memories of freezing up on stage. I’m going to be writing more about KimiUso later this week, so stay tuned for more developed thoughts about it and the controversy that’s engulfed it.

Mushi-shi would have been at the top were it not for KimiUso’s star turn. It was a fine, and arguably stronger, counterpart to the previous episode, steeped in the atmosphere of folklore that gives it such resonance. I kept thinking of the W.B. Yeats poem “The Stolen Child” and the stories of children being replaced by faeries. No one else is doing anything like this in anime.

Bahamut manages to top itself with some truly swashbuckling, pirate ship action, the equal of any Hollywood blockbuster starring Johnny Depp. It’s going to need more character development soon though. I like my well-directed spectacle as much as anyone, but it’ll take more to win my heart.

Back to controversial opinions: I’m also going to defend the latest Psycho Pass, which was indeed more graphic than usual but brought home of the stakes of the show’s central conflicts like nothing before. Ubukata doesn’t mince words or action, the way Urobuchi sometimes did.

Finally, Shirobako enters my list for the first time. It always got the detail and the frenetic atmosphere right, sometimes at the expense of comprehension. But this was the first episode that slowed down and took its time with its central characters, allowing us to see both the hardship and the camaraderie of being in the anime industry effectively. Plus, I’m beginning to finally get everyone’s names and faces straight…I think this show is only going to grow on me more and more.

Honorable Mention that I couldn’t enter: Watamote OVA. Shin Oonuma strikes again with some truly interesting directing (borrowing a technique he used on episode 1 of Dusk Maiden, showing both the poignant and ridiculous/pathetic sides of the Tomoko character. Plus there was a hilarious parody of Evangelion in the beginning, with Tomoko as Gendo. Gendomike approves.