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Episode 15

by Rose Bridges,

A new production means turning over a new leaf for Shirobako. For the first two episodes of this arc, there was a particular pattern of showing all the little bits that go into the creation of a new series, while still maintaining a singular focus. Last week was about many things, but it was mainly about the voice casting, both the bickering between the talking heads in the room and Zuka's disappointment outside of it. This episode breaks the pattern, as we flit constantly between different pieces in the anime-making process. It's all rushing from place to place, with no subject or character unifier to keep it together.

Well, that's not entirely true. This week is full of meetings, as the characters rush to get the first episode ready. The storyboards are just the beginning, of course: there are settings to be studied, characters to be animated, and soundtracks to fill up with background music. Anime is a work-for-hire business and a very collaborative process, with many competing visions that must be approved communally so they don't clash. (There's even a meeting specifically to ensure this unity is maintained within storyboards.) It's lost of hustle and bustle, and doubles as a great way to show off the series' large cast. Checking in on every section of the anime assembly line means seeing just about everyone who works for Musani, which now includes all of Aoi's friends minus Zuka.

Shirobako also demonstrates that it has learned from the mistakes of its first few episodes. In Episode 3, it was really hard to follow all the different tasks that Aoi had to juggle for getting that episode of Exodus together. It was all the more difficult since Shirobako plunked us down in medias res anyway, with the series' production well underway already. This time, we've followed Third Aerial Girls Squad's creation from scratch—and we even have narrators. Aoi's doll and teddy bear are frequently used for snarky commentary, but this week they show up even more than usual, explaining to the audience what each meeting is meant to accomplish. From the "accompani-meet" with the composer to the "film-meet" where the series' cinematography is discussed, there's a "meet" for every event of the production process and an accompanying snappy abbreviation. The toys even comment on that, concluding that it's easier because "everyone's busy" and then joking about what their own abbreviations would be.

The constant rushing back and forth in the plot means the show was lighter on character drama and humor than previous episodes, but there was still plenty to go around. For starters, we got to meet the new members of the production team, Satou and Andou. The latter girl already showed up in passing a few times and has been featured in a lot of promotion material, so I was eager to learn more about her. The first thing we found out is that she's REALLY PERKY! She's even more of an eager beaver than Aoi was, chomping at the bit to jump into the new project with maximum enthusiasm. Also, she's really knowledgeable about little bits of the process, leading to some discomfort when Kinoshita asks how much she knows and she reveals an unfortunate tidbit from Jiggly Jiggy Heaven's troubled production. Just when his coworkers thought Kinoshita was finally getting over his trauma from the experience!

There are also some shenanigans from established characters. Tarou is up to his usual nonsense, but now that he has a position of power, he flaunts it in front of everyone. When he's driving over to one of the artist's houses, he gets so power-drunk that he lectures Satou and Andou on everything up to and including how to drive. They chirp merrily in agreement but avoid him in the backseat, already catching on to his attitude. There's also another fun fantasy moment from Kinoshita, as he imagines himself in Tatiana's uniform while discussing one of her scenes. He can always be counted on to throw himself way too much into the creation process, so he's perfect material for when the show depicts that idea literally.

This episode didn't come together as well as others, but it's fun for viewers eager to learn more about the animation business and how collaborative it is. Shirobako appeals to me most when it transcends its premise and becomes a story about its characters' lives and the struggles of a creative profession, not just about how an anime is made. If you're here purely to be a fly on the wall though, this is one of the show's better episodes in that vein. It's learned from the clumsiness of earlier attempts, and found a formula for this concept that works. I'm sure it will not be Shirobako's last episode like this, so let's hope it sticks to its strengths.

Rating: B

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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