Shirobako
Episode 18

by Rose Bridges,

Some days, it's really good to be Aoi Miyamori, and some days, it really, really sucks. As the responsibilities pile up for her position as head of production desk for Third Aerial Girls Squad, it's looking like more of the suck and less of the good. The second season has been all about her character arc, as Aoi comes into her own in her new position at Musani. This episode is all about the downsides.

Responsibility is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand, for Aoi to be granted so much trust and power boosts her confidence and her spirit. It's clear she enjoys helping people (as in her genuine cheer for Aria's seiyuu through her botched recording session), so knowing that everyone looks to her to solve problems makes her happy. Still, there are limits even to Aoi's patience, and they're limits some co-workers are all too happy to push, whether they realize it or not. In the discussion with the seiyuu, Katsuragi and Kinoshita attempt to explain the project, but throw up their hands and leave it to Aoi to instead. They're seasoned veterans, who've survived these preliminary seiyuu discussions countless times, but they can't help but rely on the resourceful and available newbie. As more and more responsibilities pile on this week—and on Aoi's desk—it's no wonder she starts to lose her composure. Even she can only do so much.

The episode continues in that vein: overworking Aoi and giving her errands where she's clearly not ready or the best suited for the job. For instance, she's assigned to track down an old art director, the kooky Ookura, to fill in on some key scenes. Aoi has to go to a bar and play drinking buddy to the old man. While she enjoys herself, it's clear that she's out of her depth in such a boys' club atmosphere. There's symbolism here, with Aoi insisting on ordering tea even after Ookura suggests that everyone drinks there.

This adds to the intriguing gender issues at play in Shirobako. The men are the major players at the company, and usually the ones behind its biggest problems. (Ema's art issues, or Suzuki's acting this week, are temporary problems that were mostly in their minds. The big crises are usually due to a dude's incompetence or excessive demands.) Yet, Aoi and other lower-down female employees are the ones left to pick up the pieces. Their male equivalents get away with incompetence, annoying everyone (Tarou) or barely showing up to work (Hiroaka). The girls in Shirobako are the ones who work their butts off and keep the production from falling apart. Exodus or Third Aerial Girls Squad wouldn't exist without Aoi as the glue to hold it together. It's probably why Shirobako resonates for so many female viewers, because it reflects the often thankless jobs that women must take up in the workplace. This includes the anime industry, which features plenty of female names in credits but few among the directors and writers. I wouldn't call this a feminist show or anything, as its reflection of the industry's gender dynamics is likely unintentional. It's interesting food for thought nonetheless.

There's a bigger message here too, about who really makes our favorite anime pop. It's easy to get lost in the creative vision of superstar directors or writers, with their bold voices that shine through even in anime's work-for-hire mold. Yet Shirobako reveals how much wouldn't get done if not for the production desk and other less "glamorous" roles. Maybe the little people do deserve as much celebration as the guy behind the script. Perhaps his vision set it in motion, but would it be here at all if that in-between animator hadn't made their deadlines? Or if the production desk hadn't been so organized and diligent in the first place?

Shirobako may have a lot of heart to go with its head, but its chief pleasure is the window it provides into the anime industry. This week makes it clear that anime is a team effort, where even those low on the totem pole can affect the entire series' fate. Aoi is the delegator, and it's not an easy or prestigious job. She's the reason why everything happens, but she doesn't get to be part of any major decisions like casting. They're happy to push more onto her, but she's not really a part of the "creative" process like she dreams of being one day. It adds so much to her character—and the show—that she keeps at it week after week anyway. Meddling authors, fickle animators, no matter the crisis, the show must go on! No matter where their names appear in the credits, Shirobako wants you to remember the Aois.

Rating: B+

Shirobako is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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


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