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Episode 10

by Rose Bridges,

Something I consistently love about Shirobako is how well it portrays adult female friendships. At first, it leaned a little too much on moe anime clichés of girls all getting along blandly, but it didn't take long for it dig more into the specifics of how positive adult female friendships work. They're all distinct people with their own struggles, and their friends' jobs are to tune into those and support them—whether that's by actually helping with their work, or just bringing the drinks and donuts when a friend needs to cry or rant.

That's what our characters need this week, since this episode deals with one of the most difficult parts of pursuing a career in the arts: knowing when to quit. Multiple characters realize it's time to move on from their jobs, from Misa quitting a company so she can animate "something that has a story" elsewhere, to Honda realizing he doesn't even want to work in anime and pursuing his dream of baking instead. This is even visualized in a fantasy sequence at the end of the episode, where they each come to a crossroads leading to either their current career or eventual goal. Honda goes running toward the cake instead of the anime girl, and Misa runs toward the penguins (from an anime she loved as a kid) instead of the cars she's been animating.

That material wasn't nearly as strong as the previous week's cast-wide themes, though. If anything, it seemed naïve, something Shirobako hasn't been since its first few episodes. Shirobako normally excels at balancing encouragement with realism, but it tipped the scales a little too far toward the former this week. Honda was smart enough to get a job lined up at a cake shop before he quit Musashino Animation, but Misa seems like she's jumping without a parachute. The show does acknowledge this somewhat, with others helping her land more gracefully—like her boss giving her three weeks to remain at the company (and look for another job), or Aoi asking around at Musashi about animator jobs. In a way though, this acknowledgement almost works to its detriment; the show knows what a long fall it is if Misa doesn't get a job right away, but still encourages her decision? It's nice to see Shirobako acknowledging that following your dreams can result in some tough choices, but I wish it did that with a bit more finesse.

One of the better parts of this episode was the number of fantasy sequences. The show has done very little with this between episode 2 and last week, and it's like the creative team just rediscovered how fun they can be. Aoi's doll and teddy bear help her work hard again, Kinoshita imagines himself actually flying on a plane as he draws one, and of course there was the "two roads diverged in a wood" sequence with Misa and Honda. They're all excellent, and reveal a lot about their featured characters. It's really fun when a serious "slice-of-life" show suddenly jumps inside someone's head, and Shirobako has more room to play around with this than live-action workplace dramedies. It's nice to watch a show about making anime prove itself such an excellent argument for the medium.

It's also good to see that Shirobako is learning more about how to use its bland protagonist well. Scenes that focus on Aoi are usually the weakest parts of a Shirobako episode, since she's easily the most generic of its major characters. Yet she serves as a good mirror through which to deal with unrelated parts of the animation business that the other characters' roles don't cover. This week, it resulted in a cool bit where Aoi stumbles into the sound design department to deliver a musical instrument they needed. She's recruited to provide walking and vocal sound effects for the company, where any young woman would have worked. Embracing her generic nature, as a good person to bounce other characters and plots off but not that interesting in her own right, is a smart decision. I mean, I'd prefer to see Aoi developed into a rounded character, but this is a good compromise.

This episode is a weird mix of building on what works, and stumbling by trying new things that don't quite stick. It's Shirobako going through growing pains, but the sum of its parts is still strong. It's just wrapped up a lot of ongoing arcs at the heart and soul of the show, so I hope it continues to impress going forward.

Rating: B+

Shirobako is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a graduate student in musicology, who has written about anime and many other topics for Autostraddle.com and her own blog. She tweets at @composerose.

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