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Episode 22

by Rose Bridges,

Shirobako is in its final lap. There's no one left to impress, it just wants to finish its race looking good, and it's firmly on that path as of episode 22. There's nothing flashy or unique about this episode. It's made up of vignettes of the characters working to get Third Aerial Girls Squad out and ready for broadcast. It isn't even connected by any obvious thematic tissue, like previous episodes. It's there to check in on our team, and make sure things are still going smoothly, (at least until the cliffhanger at the end.)

If there are common threads, one is the camaraderie that develops when people work at a studio together for so long. We see two different pairs of friends out drinking and talking about work. One is Shinkawa with a friend who long since put anime on the backburner to focus on raising her son. The other pair is Tarou and Hiraoka, putting the idea of "friend" in quotation marks. Still, this episode should raise a lot of people's opinions about the office's two biggest slackers. It's almost admirable how delusional Tarou is about his own abilities, but also how much he insists on getting through to his older coworker. He keeps suggesting that they're friends even when Hiraoka obviously doesn't see him that way. Something must have cracked in his armor though, because Hiraoka starts telling Tarou his story, and we get to humanize two jerks with one stone.

Hiraoka already had his big character-development moments last week, but his backstory builds on that. They really made me feel for the guy, with his pie-in-the-sky goals. Sure, it's a little ridiculous that he expected to make the first anime film to win Cannes. It's still upsetting to see someone with that much passion for the medium lose everything and become treated like garbage by the studio he started at, specifically asked to take the fall for mistakes, among other things. It's no wonder he was so harsh on Midori and Aoi in past weeks. He's resentful that they haven't yet developed his harsh cynicism, and because he believes it's universal of the industry, he wants to move that process along. It's a behavior borne out of jealousy, but also out of pity.

Hiraoka's story was contrasted with Ema's this week. Hiraoka was a man of too much ambition who had his hopes shattered by the workday struggles of the anime business. Ema is a girl who's satisfied with merely getting a cat animation cycle right, suddenly thrust into big shoes. She's asked to be the assistant animation director, and she's not sure whether she can handle the hefty task. After all, not long ago she was struggling with her current job. As she checks over the 3D with Misa though, it's clear how much Ema has learned. She's gradually gained a sense of authority and confidence in working with Kunogi, and it comes to fruition here. So Sugie leans over to urge Ema to take the job. He talks about all the talented people he knew who refused opportunities due to modesty, and how Ema reminds him of them. It's a positive push for the many Emas of the world: your raw talent and ambition might not matter as much as your drive to do the work in front of you. That said, you still have a lot more talent than you think.

The whole episode felt like the POV of an office supervisor, moving between the offices to see how everyone was doing. Kunogi was a shrinking violent as usual, and her outburst over drawing underwear gives the episode its name. Midori is still super-excited to be a part of this at all, and it seems like Kinoshita's penchant for physical excitement has rubbed off a little on her. Poor Zuka shows signs of Hiraoka's resentment, watching reality shows about idol seiyuu and voicing her jealousy at the screen. I really hope she gets some bit part in Third Aerial Girls Squad soon. Not only do I want the whole gang working together, but it sounds like she needs it right now.

Honestly, there's not much new that can be said about Shirobako at this point. It's an amazing show that keeps knocking it out of the park every week. Even for those who aren't obsessed with the behind-the-scenes of anime, Shirobako provides an intriguing manifesto for working in creative fields. It handles its giant cast with finesse, making everyone feel like a rounded and believable character. Anime just doesn't get much better than this.

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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