by Rose Bridges,
It's January, which means it's time for a new season in the anime world. The same is true in the world of Shirobako, where production on Exodus wrapped last episode, and now we're back to square one with a new series. Musashino Animation has acquired a manga series called the Third Aerial Girls Squad, something about moe girls flying planes. So Aoi sits down to hear about it, finding out that not only does she have to work with the dreaded Taro, but she's in charge of everything!
As one of the heads of production, she now oversees all the bits and pieces that go into their new series. That means meeting with the director to make sure he hasn't lost track of his marbles, going with him to hunt down new animators when their go-to expert, "Goth Loli-sama," decides she's not up to it, and even researching planes for their designs and stories. We already learned in the previous two episodes that Aoi lacks confidence and direction, so while it's exciting for her career to take off like this, it's easy to see why she feels in over her head with so much responsibility thrust upon her. At the same time, Aoi is resourceful and proactive, as her plan to avoid Kinoshita's last-minute edits reveals. She wants to know all his wild ideas up front this time. Even Kinoshita and the rest of the production staff are taken aback by her sudden boldness.
This episode focused pretty heavily on Aoi and Musani, and not much on the other main characters. We got to peek in a little with each of them as they played their roles in Musani's new project. For example, Midori showed up to help with Aoi's military research, and Ema was there when Aoi and the rest of the production team met with the artists. Most excitingly, Zuka found out she's auditioning for Musani's new show, and so with Misa currently looking for a job, maybe Third Aerial Girls Squad will turn out to be the "anime they make together." Yet, the focus was clearly away from Aoi's friends and more on how Musani prepares for their new project, which makes it an interesting entry point into season two. The story of Exodus' creation began in medias res, with its first episodes already underway. Now, Shirobako is showing us how an anime gets made from scratch, and how dealings with a source creator are done for an adaptation. Thirteen episodes in, Shirobako still has more to say about the inner workings of the anime industry.
I was reminded frequently of episode 3, with the story and structure of Aoi rushing from place to place to pull a bunch of little things together. Yet, this episode is much stronger for two reasons: one, that we've had time to get to know these characters, which adds to their interactions here. Two, this episode is far more organized. Everything that happens is tied in in some way to a larger goal: assembling the team who will create Third Aerial Girls Squad. Between all the tense negotiations, the show even makes room for comedy, as in the scene with the eccentric art director rambling about clouds that gives this episode its name. Shirobako also uses its background music for humor, and has excelled at this throughout its run. Yet it's particularly memorable here, when a meeting with a gabby and self-important executive is accompanied by dark and dramatic music.
When Shirobako really shines, it usually has something to say about the struggles of young people trying to achieve their artistic dreams against all odds. Its best episodes have all focused on this in some way, whether that be Ema's drawing difficulties, Aoi's interview flashbacks, or Misa having to choose between job security and creative fulfillment. This episode has little of that character navel-gazing. It's all about moving the plot forward with the creation of Musani's latest anime, and its character moments are only in service of that. Shirobako is a show that can nail a wide variety of tones, from workplace comedy to personal drama. This episode marks a strong start to its second cour, and bodes well for its creators' abilities going forward.
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