by Rose Bridges,
Shirobako is one of the best shows airing right now, and I've given top marks to quite a few of its episodes, but this week's episode might be the very best. We still have one more left, but I really wonder how it's going to top this one. This episode combined everything that makes Shirobako great, tying it up into the perfect package.
First of all, it focuses on a core theme: the struggles of adapting an existing property into an anime. This is something anime fans often have strong opinions about, even before they know anything about how the process works. After all, if you're really attached to a manga, it's dispiriting to see it adapted with a lack of integrity! Hiraoka shares one such horror story of adaptation gone wrong, where his studio took a heartfelt manga and turned it into vapid fanservice. More often than not, the situation falls in the middle though, like the debate currently raging between Tokyo Ghoul anime and manga fans. There's a case to be made for faithfulness and for a looser adaptation. That's where Musani finds themselves, with the rejection of their final storyboards for Third Aerial Girls Squad.
Nogame, the manga creator, nixed the final episode because he wants the story to end with Catherine's death. Musani doesn't like this unhappy, unsatisfying ending, but they can't go over the creator's head. You really feel for them, forced into a corner by a creator's vision, and moreso by his unyielding editor. After a bit of inspiration from Honda's cake (because of course), Kinoshita finds a work-around. Nogame left his e-mail on the letter, and Kinoshita dashes off a message asking to meet with him and talk. Nogame immediately replies in the affirmative. That just leaves the task of making it to his boardroom, and getting past the rogue editor and his underlings.
This leads to the best comedy sequence in the entire series, which is no easy feat, and of course it comes from Kinoshita, the show's funniest character. He finally gets to play the cowboy from his bizarro Exodus ending, as he dons boots and a ten-gallon hat for his trek to the boardroom. He uses his MIGHTY BELLY POWERS (not kidding) to fend off everything from flying golfballs to the editor roadblocking him. These few minutes left me a mess of uncontrollable laughter and cheering. If anyone doubted that Kinoshita was the TRUE hero of Shirobako, this sequence should dispel those thoughts and leave you speechless. The frenetic animation and cheesy western scoring don't hurt, either.
By contrast, the next scene is calm, but no less powerful and heartwarming. Kinoshita and Nogame quickly open up about what Third Aerial Girls Squad means to them, arguing for their competing visions. For Kinoshita, the squad is like his animation team, which is why he wants a happy ending for Aria and pals. For Nogame, it's a way of working out his personal problems, with each girl as a different facet of himself. When Kinoshita learns this, he's quick to come up with a compromise: Aria finds a new reason for flying through processing Catherine's death, by meeting her sister Lucy. Nogame loves this idea, they shake on it and appear to be new best friends—only for the editor to burst in in a rage. Luckily, he's insta-fired when Nogame screams at him. I think he spoke for all of us in that moment.
I really loved that whole sequence, because of how well it portrayed the adaptational struggle from both sides. Up to now, Shirobako heaped all the sympathy on its anime studio, but that doesn't mean that manga-ka don't deserve to protect their babies. Hiraoka's story proves just how wrong an unfaithful adaptation can go, after all. The scene portrays both sides sympathetically and shows that they can come to mutual understanding if they get to the root of the problem. It's just creative differences. They have different visions for the stories, often equally valid and entrancing ones. That's what makes it so special when we get a Fullmetal Alchemist followed by an FMA Brotherhood, letting fans pick and choose by giving both visions all their bells and whistles. Still, you only get one shot most of the time, so the two sides just need to cooperate on how to execute it.
This decision ends up best for everyone, and especially the audience. With a new character means a new seiyuu, and -surprise!- it's Zuka. Her performance as Catherine was almost perfect except for sounding too young, but for little sis Lucy, that's exactly what they need. Aoi starts bawling while listening to Zuka record her lines, and I can't blame her. THE GANG'S ALL HERE! They've achieved their high school dream, to make an anime together. Now all they need is a new project where they get to design the concept and exert more creative control too!
Putting Zuka in was the perfect cherry on top of a flawless episode. It ran the full gamut of emotions and tones, from side-splitting comedy to heartwrenching drama, with maximum emotional satisfaction. This could almost be a finale to the show, but I'm really glad it isn't. I'm glad we get one more round with these characters and their project. Shirobako hit such a grand slam this week, I can't imagine how high the finale will fly.
Shirobako is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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