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Episode 12

by Rose Bridges,

This episode didn't have to do much to earn its place in the record books. It will forever be known as "the Shirobako episode where Hideaki Anno showed up and saved the day." His stand-in, "Kanno," has an even stronger resemblance to him than Kinoshita does to Seiji Mizushima, and directly references his magnum opus, "Ava." I like that even though Aoi didn't bone up on Kanno's work before coming to him, (She's only seen the Rebuilds! How scandalous!) he's still sympathetic and encouraging, and ultimately steers her toward an animator who can do the job she seeks. I have no idea how much this does or doesn't resemble the real Anno's personality, but it resonated with me, having had the opportunity to meet a few of my own artistic idols, only to find out they aren't nearly as intimidating in-person. Ultimately, because he pawns Aoi off on someone else, Kanno only plays a small role in the episode.

In spite of the cameo feeling like a bait-and-switch, I thought his veteran animator friend Sugie was a really strong addition to the episode. His struggles provide an interesting mirror to those of the main characters throughout the show's run. Shirobako has largely focused on the struggles of young people trying to break into the animation industry, but Sugie's story shows the difficulties from the other end. Musashino Animation still technically employs him, but he's retired in all but name, sticking around just to coach the younger animators. He had to outsource his work to another production because he felt so superfluous at Musani, since his art style didn't match the current trends in animation and made him feel like an old dog unable to learn new tricks.

Kanno remembers him though, and the work he did on Aoi's favorite anime, Andes Chucky, helps Sugie get work again. After he's finished leading the team for the climactic scene of Exodus's final episode, he tells Aoi how she helped him to feel useful again. I thought it was interesting how the production and animation teams had declined to ask him for help based on assumptions that had no basis in reality: "Would he really want to work on a moe show like this?" In fact, when Aoi actually takes the initiative, Sugie doesn't hesitate at all. He just wants to be a part of the industry again, and he's full of life once he gets that opportunity. The parts where Sugie and Aoi bond over Aoi's fangirlish love of his creation were also a sweet touch.

That half was strong, but the rest of "Exodus Christmas" feels like an afterthought. There are a few brief references to Erika's dad's illness, tying that plot's loose ends up, but they're so quick the whole subplot feels stillborn—which is frustrating after how much potential it built up last week. We get a montage of all the artists and animators rushing to complete the frames with Sugie's careful supervision, the production team screening of the final result, and a final celebration at a bar, but not many of the actual interactions that make this anime so compelling. One exception comes near the end where Ema and Aoi encounter Sugie outside the bar, where he tells them he needs to go to bed by 11 p.m., or else he would join them, but wishes them well instead. I thought it was sweet, illustrating the divide between the youngest and oldest at the company and how they've each pushed out in different ways. Still, it's just one moment in about eight minutes of fluff.

Yet it's a Christmas episode (even it feels less Christmas-y than the "Little Match Girl" sequences in last week's episode), and part of the spirit of the holidays is that kind of camaraderie and good cheer. It lets Shirobako leave its first cour on an emotional high note, exciting and encouraging viewers for whatever projects may come its way in the new year. As a mid-season send-off for Musashino's crew and for the Exodus anime we've watched them build piece-by-piece, I think it works.

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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