Review for Shirobako Collection 2
In high school, five girls worked together to create an anime film to show at the school culture festival. Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Midori Imai, and Misa Todo together made a vow to work together on an anime feature film. Two and half years later, the five of them now live in Tokyo, each pursuing different paths to their dream. But the dream isn’t exactly what any of them expected it to be. The first season chronicled the travails of Musashino Studios, where Aoi and Ema work, as they launched the studio comeback with the production of the original anime, Exodus. A new season means a new anime to produce, and things will be even harder this year as the studio has to adapt a manga into a series, The 3rd Flying Girls Squad. It’s a baptism of fire, as this time Aoi Miyamori is in charge of the whole thing, running production co-ordination for the entire series.
The concluding episodes of Shirobako are presented on two Blu-ray discs from Sentai Filmworks.
13. What Kind of Cloud Do You Like?
14. Audition Meeting Without Honour and Humanity!
15. You’re Okay with this Kind of Artwork?
16. Turning the Tables
17. Can You Tell me Where I Am?
18. You Set Me Up!
19. Are They Biting?
20. You Simply Mustang!
21. Don’t Hold the Quality Hostage!
22. Noa’s in Underwear
23. Turning the Tables, Continued
24. A Delivery Too Far
Shirobako gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer, and this time two discs to showcase its episodes. The show looks pretty good, with no signs of aliasing or compression, or even digital banding to my eyes. I’m sure given the Aniplex treatment, the show would look even crisper, but Sentai’s presentation is certainly better than I expected. Studio P.A. Works deliver another high quality show, with appealing and memorable character designs, with an eye on realism, animated with thoughtfulness against rich and detailed backgrounds. There is a bit of shimmer on fine detail though. However I only noticed it on distance shots of CG car grilles.
Shirobako gets a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Japanese Stereo track with locked English subtitles. The dialogue is clear throughout, the stereo soundstage gets a decent workout, even with a predominantly dialogue focused show, and there is some nice music to drive the story as well as some toe-tapping theme songs. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, while on screen production notes are used sparingly but well to flag up all the in-jokes and references.
You get two discs in a slim BD Amaray style case, one held on each inner face. The content is presented with static menus, and each episode is followed by a translated English credit reel.
In terms of extras, you get one textless opening, eight textless closings including the Andes Chucky ending, and trailers for Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun, Tonari no Seki-kun – The Master of Killing Time, Space Brothers and Locodol.
The second half, second season really of Shirobako is even better than the first half, although you might wonder just what else there might be to add to the format. After all, Shirobako is a show about the animation production process, and the first twelve episodes followed the protagonists as they created a TV show called Exodus all the way to the broadcast of its final episode. You might think that you’d have learned all that you needed to know about bringing an anime to screen, from script and storyboard to broadcast. It also took its rookie main character Aoi Miyamori from virtual trainee to having settled in to her job as episodic production supervisor.
It turns out that there is a lot more to tell. For one thing, the character arcs of the five main cast members Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Midori Imai, and Misa Todo have a long way to go yet, with only Aoi and Ema actively working towards their dream at the start of the second arc. More significant is that there is a whole aspect of anime production that the first half didn’t explore; that of adaptation. Exodus was a studio original work that was handled mostly in house, and with no other pressures other than those of making the broadcast schedule. This time, they’re adapting a manga into an anime, The 3rd Girls Flying Squad and that bring a whole new set of pressures.
The series began in media res, with Exodus in production, broadcast about to begin. With the 3rd Girls Flying Squad, we get to see the process right from the beginning, as the company competes for the rights to the manga, courting the publisher to get the writer/artist’s approval. This is a major plot thread in the second half, with the mangaka having final approval on everything from the scripts to the character designs, and with the studio having to go through the editor to get those approvals. The editor is shown to be a jobsworth slacker who thinks his only responsibility is to keep the mangaka isolated and working on his manga, so communications tend to hit a brick wall more often than not in this second half.
Still, we’re getting the anime creation process right from the beginning this time, with jobs being assigned in the studio, companies being found to outsource to, character design, casting, script writing, all the preliminary stages of the animation process that we didn’t get to see in the first half. Speaking of job assignments, Aoi Miyamori went from rookie to episode production co-ordinator in the first half, but in the second half, due to staff changes in the studio, she gets to be production co-ordinator for the whole series, another baptism of fire, and another burden that has her questioning her own commitment. She’s in an HR hotspot, a trainee a year ago, and now having to train new recruits herself, while they also hire a veteran production supervisor whose cynicism and lackadaisical attitude causes problems on top when he has to take orders from Aoi.
At the same time, Ema’s role in the company is expanding, as she finds her own style with key animation, and she has to consider whether she’s ready to take on more responsibilities. Midori is the writer of the group, her research assistance with Exodus got her noticed, and she’s now given a role in the studio researching fighter planes for 3rd Girls Flying Squad, which gets her foot in the door when it comes to writing as well, as she latches on to the script writer as an apprentice in all but name. Misa had a steady but unfulfilling job in CG animation animating car tyres, and at the start of this arc she’s moved to a smaller company in a riskier job, but with the scope to animate a lot more than just wheels in CG. And of course Musashino Animation now need CG animated fighter jets. The girls’ career paths all seem to be converging, the prospect of their shared dream coming true. That leaves Shizuka who has less success getting her foot on the ladder as a voice actress. I won’t spoil it, but tears will be shed.
Shirobako tells an interesting and engaging story, and it does it with great characters and a rich sense of humour. It’s delightfully informative about the way the animation industry works in Japan, and it has a rich cynical edge to it when it contemplates the difficulties of adaptation and collaboration, and the kind of people that show up to act as sabots in the machinery of creativity. It’s not perfect though, and there are one or two nits I can pick. One example is the character of Ai Kunogi, a new key animator who Ema takes under her wing, and who is so shy that she makes Ema look positively demonstrative. She’s too shy to even speak, barely getting a syllable out before clamming up in embarrassment, leaving others, especially Ema to translate what she’s actually trying to say. Ai is a character so cute that she actually throws the realism of the show off a bit, and is obviously a sop to the fans. She is cute though.
For a show that is unlikely to get a UK release at any point, it’s a delight and a relief that Sentai’s Blu-rays are Region B compatible. If you want anime that tells stories unlike any other, want more than just the usual fan service and oft-regurgitated storylines and tropes then you could do a lot worse than Shirobako. It doesn’t hurt in the slightest that you’ll also learn more about what happens behind the scenes of anime production in this show than you will in a lifetime of behind the scenes featurettes and audio commentaries.