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Episode 20

by Rose Bridges,

At this stage in Shirobako's run, this is as close to a "Midori" (aka "Diesel-chan") episode as we'll get. It's amazing to think that, as distinctive as her character is, she's never really had a focus episode. The show focuses on the anime industry more, so Midori was hard to fit in at first. I'm glad it finally got there though, because she's my favorite character among the main cast. Musani's resident Dostoevsky fangirl richly deserves this place in the sun.

The show makes this spotlight work by tying in everything thematically to her storyline, even if it's not directly about her. Aria needs a motivation for leaving the squad at the end of the series, and to do that, the team must figure out why she flies in the first place. They realize it's probably like the question of why they make anime, so Aoi and co. start asking around the office for everyone's answer. Each member has their own strange tale for how they got into this business, and it all ties back into Midori in its own strange way. She loves anime because she needs to tell stories, and the episode becomes about the stories we tell about ourselves. It's about how we make sense of ourselves through telling our stories, as Yamada makes clear through his reasoning. He can't forget that he made Jiggly Jiggly Heaven, because it's an irreplaceable part of his story that tells him who he is.

Midori makes sense of herself by constructing stories about other people. She spends much of the episode consumed with writing training exercises, inventing "coffee aliens" for a prompt. She's focused, creative, and passionate to do this kind of work off the clock, but that doesn't stop Office Jerk Hiraoka from lighting into her with sexist bullcrap. This is yet another way that Shirobako sneaks in subtle commentary about the extra hurdles women face in an industry like this. The office's most tireless member still has to hear from the local slacker about how he belongs there more than she does. The show then uses this to tell us more about Midori: she turns this incident into a prompt for another story she makes up on the train.

Hiraoka is the episode's secondary protagonist, as it follows him struggling (more like not even trying) to adapt to Musani. The "why do you make anime?" question ties in with Hiraoka and Erika's conversation from episodes past. Back then, they discussed Aoi's idealism about anime, and how they respectively hate and love that attitude. Hiraoka reveals how jaded he is through this, just going through the motions, and how much he lacks his own story for Why He Does This. He think he can hide this lack of passion because he's so experienced, but the rest of the office notices (with even Aoi getting in jabs at his attitude). This finally comes to a head in one of the most satisfying scenes of the show, when Madoka finally has it with Hiraoka's refusal to find new animators. Madoka lights into him about all his sins, even shoving him and starting a fight. Their co-workers break up the battle, but they all know Madoka is right. Luckily, Musani is a nice place where Hiraoka doesn't have to grovel too much, and after an apology, he gets a new job with his Office-Jerk-in-Waiting, Tarou. Hopefully, that will bring Hiraoka a new appreciation for what he does.

It was a smart choice to contrast the office's freshest, most enthusiastic member (Midori) with its most cynical, world-weary one (Hiraoka). Shirobako makes a point of showing both sides of each new conflict. You see the frustrations and disappointments, but always with a positive outlook to follow. The show gives Hiraoka time to talk, and makes a good case for his cynicism. (The older, more experienced creators had more trouble coming up with their "whys" earlier). Ultimately, Shirobako takes the side of the idealists. This episode really sold that contrast, by giving Hiraoka a direct confrontation with Midori and indirect confrontations with others, such as Ema's disagreement with his animation comments. Shirobako wants you to believe that making anime is Worth It, and you should just know how much you're getting into once you take that route.

Midori knows what she's getting into, and that's why she's back on top at the end of this episode. She actually gets to write one of Aria's final scenes, after the central staff loves her ideas for it. They'll end up re-wording everything she writes, but it's still a huge promotion for her to even get that chance. When you love this stuff that much, Shirobako says, you're willing to work that hard, and people will take notice—even if you're a newbie college girl who the Office Jerk dismisses. Maybe that optimism isn't false after all. Maybe if you do things right, it won't ever go away.

This episode of Shirobako didn't have any fantasy sequences or other bells and whistles. (Unless you count the scenes from Third Aerial Girls Squad, which I'm now really sad I can't watch.) It was built instead on the show's real foundation: strong character writing, wrapped in commentary on the state of the industry. People came to Shirobako for many things. I know I'm still here for Aoi and her friends, especially Midori. This episode was among the show's best for remembering that.

Rating: A+

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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