by Rose Bridges,
Aoi has really come into her own in Shirobako's second cour. It's hard to imagine that the character we saw in episode 11 is the same one who effortlessly oversees Third Aerial Girls Squad's production each week. She's grown and changed so much, and it'd be top-notch character development if we ever saw just why she got that way. Well, episode 19 provides our answer: She hasn't. Aoi's still very insecure deep down, and when worse comes to worst, those worries come bubbling out.
The episode starts from the previous cliffhanger, with Erika's return to the Musani office. Aoi and Erika talk shop on the roof, and Aoi slumps and starts up the self-doubt train. She tells Erika that she needs to take over the production desk, because a "newbie" like Aoi shouldn't do it. Aoi insists that she's the reason behind the studio's many mistakes, because she "doesn't have the ability to deal with it." Of course, the audience knows that's garbage: Aoi is the whole reason that Musani gets anything done in the first place. Third Aerial Girls Squad has so many factors aiming to crash it, from the perfectionist author to the lazy director. It's Aoi's hard work that helps keep it airborne.
Luckily, Erika knows that too, and so does everyone else that Aoi complains to about this. Erika's a seasoned veteran, much better at convincing stubborn animators to work for her than Aoi is. She's also more jaded about the industry, but not to the degree that Hiraoka is, as revealed by a private moment between the two. Erika still admires Aoi's dedication and zeal, and wishes she could recapture it herself. So she resolves to help Aoi realize that she's not alone, along with other members of the Musani team.
This leads to one of the series' biggest fantasy sequences. Marukawa drives Aoi to the studio's old building, from when it was Musashino Pictures. Musani kept it for storage purposes, and it's full of old cels from classic anime. This is how Aoi finds out that Musashino Pictures did her favorite anime, Andes Chucky (though I'm surprised she didn't know this already.) She can see her favorite characters reflected in the faded cels, and it jumpstarts a vision of the old Musashino Pictures team working on it. Later, she actually watches a scene from Andes Chucky on an old reel, and imagines the characters as the people in the studio, bringing Aoi to tears.
The "joke," of course, is that the old studio had the same problems Aoi faces now. They're problems that are part and parcel of working in the animation industry, not anything she caused from incompetence. The lesson is that if you truly love this stuff, it's all worth it because there's enough fun sprinkled in there anyway. These sequences were certainly inspired, especially the art design in the Andes Chucky one. P.A. Works did a lot to make it look like an old children's anime. They've aced the wide variety of art designs that Shirobako calls for in its many fantasy moments. That said, I thought both of these scenes went on way too long, especially the first one with the creators in the studio. As much fun as it was to see Marukawa in his hippie days, it stalled the narrative momentum to make an ultimately simple point.
This episode's meat came in the moments between Erika and the other production team members. It helped a lot to see a more human side to Hiraoka, and understand why he's so flippant about his duties at Musani. Tarou leveled up in obnoxiousness in response, and Andou and Satou became more bold by finally telling him what-for. I love when Shirobako takes flights of fancy, but it's best grounded in the day-to-day interactions of the Musani crew.
Shirobako is stalling a little in its home stretch. The fantasy sequences this week felt like they were meant to take up time, to stretch the simplicity of this week's theme as far as it would go. They were pleasant and fun, so I don't mind that much, but I expect a little more from Shirobako at this point. This second cour has been incredibly strong, and I hope it doesn't run out of gas in the last lap.
Shirobako is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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