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Episode 14

by Rose Bridges,

Shirobako continues its mission to show every moment of making an anime from scratch. This week, viewers get to peek in on the casting process. I'm sure for a lot of fans, this was the most important and exciting part of finding out what goes into creating an anime. Just as your average movie fan knows far more actors than directors, otaku (at least the ones I've met) tend to follow more voice actors than people involved with the other parts of anime creation, a few directing and writing superstars aside. This is even truer in Japan, where seiyuu are often active in other celebrity ventures like pop music and modeling. Choosing which real-life names to put to your anime characters is risky business.

The creators of Third Aerial Girls Squad know this, and it allows for some of the best jokes the series has delivered so far—and that's no small feat. It also brings Shirobako back into the realm of pure slice-of-life comedy, with the exception of a sadder moment near the end of the episode (more on that later). As much as I've enjoyed Shirobako's explorations of the darker side of working in creative fields, it's a relief to be back here after so many characters have been struggling with tough career decisions. Not that this week is any better at showing how rough the business is.

The comedy comes from watching the producers bicker over who they'll cast for each role in Third Aerial Girls Squad. Mainly, it's between three special-interest producers, who each have a particular promotional focus in mind, versus the people actually involved in making the show—conveniently seated on the opposite end of the table. One producer only wants the most famous names, in the hopes of maximizing viewership and Blu-ray sales; he rages over the idea of casting a girl without a Wikipedia page, and discusses picking the seiyuu with "the most followers on Twitter." Another works for a music agency and insists on the girl with the best singing voice for character songs, ideally someone he represents, of course. The last is the silliest, pushing for the best-looking girl at events, waxing poetic about (exact subtitle quote) "dat ass." He doesn't even care if one girl has no acting experience whatsoever. The three explode between each other, as everyone else waits for them to calm down so they can pick someone with the only qualities that really should matter: voice-acting chops, and how well they fit the role. The music works overtime through this, growing in intensity as the arguments get increasingly frustrating and ridiculous, from tense strings to blasting brass. Aoi and others slip in and out to deliver food, and the producers carry on as though they're invisible. The whole thing is superbly directed, and guaranteed to generate laughs.

More importantly to the ongoing plot of the show: one of the girls involved in the audition was Zuka. She's asked to read for Catherine, a friend of the main character, and makes it down to the last two candidates. The three special interests are falling asleep by this point, so they leave the actual creators to choose who they think can act best, and they're excited by Zuka in spite of her lack of experience. When the other girl is too busy, it looks like Zuka's won the job. On top of this, when Aoi is asked to get more research from Midori—or "Diesel-chan," as the writing team has dubbed her—it results in her getting hired as a part of the series' setting production. The show sets up a little too obviously to have all five girls on the team for Third Aerial Girls' Squad, finally achieving their dream of making an anime together.

Except, of course, it doesn't work that way, because this is Shirobako, where the real anime industry can be cruel. Zuka doesn't get the part after all. As her friends get blubbery over this, Zuka goes on about how much she still learned from the experience, where she tried to be more confident (something the casting team noted when they considered her). She feels like she's grown, so overall it's a good thing, but her friends are still upset and the moment is bittersweet. We got some comedy this week, but clearly it couldn't last forever, and Shirobako was able to nail this tiny bit of tonal whiplash.

I like Shirobako best when it makes me laugh or it makes me feel, and this week brought plenty of both. This was my favorite episode so far, and that's saying something, because I keep saying that with this show. Shirobako, like its characters, keeps pushing itself to do better and better each time, and it succeeds.

Rating: A

Shirobako is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rose is a musicologist who focuses on film music. She writes about anime and many other topics on Autostraddle.com, her blog and her Twitter.

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