Shirobako finale … oh, and Saekano’s too

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Did you really think they would fail?

While the big emotional punch came last week, there was still plenty to cheer and get weepy about in the Shirobako finale. And there was plenty of time to create tension over finishing Third Aerial Girls Squad in time. We’ve seen the characters scrambling and working their butts off before, so they didn’t spend too much time with that. We even got another mini-lecture about the process, which, like most of the others, went woosh over my head. The biggest crisis in production was a typo in the script, but it was effortlessly fixed in the dubbing, after a moment of panic for everyone involved.

Love how the little mascots run.
Love how the little mascots run.

The biggest problem overall was getting the tapes to the various studios in time, and the show had great fun with it, as various staff took cars (chased by cops), shinkansen, motorcycles, taxis, and even a ferryboat. Aoi had the toughest time as snow delays her train, traffic jams slow her taxi, so she ends up running. I knew those shoes she wore would come in handy one day. After that, it’s a bit of introspection, the wrap party, and a lot of joy, beer, and donuts.

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Which is how I felt the last couple of weeks. For two seasons it had slowly built up, keeping most of the attention on the practical, business end, while allowing time for Aoi and her friends to find their way in their work and for luck to get them to their goal, to work together on a series. When it was time to bring that goal back to the story, the creators did it beautifully. PA Works has always struck me as an honest, hardworking company that did its best no matter what the material, but recently the material (Glasslip, Red Data Girl, Nagi-Asu) hasn’t lived up to the care they brought to it. Shirobako is similar to these and other PA Works shows in that it’s (fantasy segments aside) a slice-of-life series involving ordinary people going through their lives, but this time they gave us a workplace that anime fans would like, a built-in goal (getting the shows done), and a batch of eccentric characters to follow each week. That they hit a home run with it is no surprise; PA Works cares about its projects even more than Musashino does. I’m delighted to see them back on track.

One more of Seiiji.
One more of Seiichi.

 

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I didn’t realize I was two episodes behind with that there were two episodes this week of Saekano until I loaded episode 12 and wondered what they were doing at a club. Anyway, episode 11 was basically clearing up misunderstandings (When I typed that I realized a lot of the episodes were about clearing up misunderstandings, but anyway …) about Michiru to the other girls. Also there’s the misunderstanding concerning if the harem girls, er, creative partners were really into making this game, though the fact that they all spent all nighters while Tomoya was having these doubts gives us the answer. I enjoyed the Megumi/Tomoya diner scene for the way she demonstrated why the girls were all freaking out a little not only for the cleverness of it but because it shows us a more playful side of Megumi.

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Then it was time for episode 12 … Oh, I guess this show is finishing too, and while Shirobako did everything it set out to do, Saekano finishes halfway through, begging for a second season. And while I’d love to watch another season of Shirobako, I’m not so sure about Saekano. This episode just brings Michiru deeper into the fold, as she discovers her band likes anime covers and she never knew it, thus, she’s an otaku, or something. There’s more jealousy from the other girls, save Megumi, who keeps those things hidden. Seriously, the emotion she showed all season was a cute pout, and yet she was my favorite character. To the end she could trip up whoever’s speaking with a quiet, seemingly-innocuous reply, a talent the supposedly more formidable Utaha and Eriri simply didn’t have. Plus, she wasn’t a type. In a show like this that’s an advantage. I should add that despite being types, Utaha and Eriri were fun to watch too, when they bickered and especially when they were torturing poor Tomoya. Well, if they choose to do another season I’ll probably watch it, and Megumi will be the main reason.

One more of the girls, in their usual poses.
One more of the girls, in their usual poses.

Shirobako 23, Kancolle 11, Saekano 10

You know, after Shirobako 22 aired last week, it occurred to me that if they’re going to redo the last episode of Third Aerial Girls Squad, that means re-recording, and that might mean Shizuka might be called in. The girls’ dream was to all work together on a professional production, right?

I am so glad to be right.

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That was the crowning moment of maybe the best episode of Shirobako, the season’s best series. We still have an episode to go, but I expect that will be mad scrambling and success, or at least not complete failure. This is too optimistic a show to have them fail now. In fact, the episode draws a lot of parallels between Musashino and the show they’re animating. They’re told that the original artist, Nogame, has rejected the happy ending, that the Aria character will not fly again. Such a downer ending bothers Seiichi partly because of the hassle of redoing everything, but mostly because it goes against his instincts as a director. But what can he do? Nogame, god, has spoken. Or his asshole editor did.

Cue the Morricone soundtrack.
Cue the Morricone soundtrack.

Seiichi long ago became one of my favorite characters in the series, and in this episode he reminds me why. His entrance into the publisher building is ridiculously dramatic. And it gets better when he actually meets Nogame. Now it’s two creative wills, both with solid points on their side (Seiichi, working with a team, sees the story in that view, while Nogame’s interpretation is more personal) until Seiichi suggests something that takes Nogame aback, and then it’s two creative minds working together, feeding ideas to each other, coming to an agreement that makes both sides happy. As for that editor, well, all I can say is about time. Funny story.

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So now all of the crises and themes are settled except one: they have to actually get that final episode finished, which I’m sure will take up all of the final episode except for the necessary scene of the girls celebrating. I don’t think it will have the punch that this episode does, but I can’t wait for it anyway.

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Kantai Collection 11 begins the mission to destroy the enemy’s main fleet (I think), and since it isn’t a one-episode battle, things look bleak at the end with a bomb heading straight for the defenseless Akagi. The show has added some extra undertones to the ones the WWII setting already provides by having Akagi have a series of nightmares about the mission going very badly. And there’s the question of fate. Has she already experienced this tragic situation before, in another life? If so, can she alter her fate? Since I hate in fiction the concept of history repeating itself, its characters doomed no matter what, I’m on Akagi’s side. Either way, it’s a darker thing to think about than I was expecting from this episode. Even the lighthearted scenes had a weight on them.

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Saekano 10 finally introduces the project’s composer, Michiru, whom we haven’t seen since episode one. Turns out she’s Tomoya’s cousin, born the same day and in the same hospital, a bit of dating sim coincidence that naturally throws the other girls into a tizzy, well, except Megumi of course. Utaha’s author-imagination coupled with Eriri’s reactions made for an enjoyable scene, well, it was even before they learned about Michiru, with Utaha snarking at Eriri through the speakers after Eriri locked her in the sound booth. To increase the tizziness, she’s quite uninhibited and loves to tease. Naturally, the show takes full advantage of this and we get a lot of body ogling scenes. In fact, Utaha and Eriri seem to ogled more than usual, too. And so does Tomoya, believe it or not, after he hears Michiru play a song that’d be perfect for the game. Only Megumi is spared, and is fortunate enough to have to do nothing but toss out more funny asides.

22s: Shirobako, Aldnoah

This isn't the crisis.
This isn’t the crisis.

Of course you knew there had to be a crisis-bomb dropped at the end of Shirobako 22. Everything that came earlier was smooth and serene. Aoi gets Segawa back in the fold, Ema gets a sort-of promotion (more work and risk), and even Tarou seems to be getting his work done these days. That leaves plenty of time for dialogues on every subject, from key frames with CGI animations (interesting) to Nick Cage, involving just about everyone.

Tarou's actually being useful here.
Tarou’s actually being useful here.

As a new, uncertain assistant supervising animator, Ema gets a few pep talks, one from Aoi, one from Yumi, and one from Shigeru, mostly about how she can do it, she should seize the opportunity, and things work a little different from her new perspective. Meanwhile, other staff are chatting while eating, or, in Tarou and Hiraoka’s case, drinking. I’m not displeased that Tarou might eventually pull Hiraoka out of his bitter mood; it’s a good thing for both of them. If Tarou can feed him some of his own enthusiasm, all the better. Yes, lots of nice little talks this week, setting up the busy final arc, which you knew was coming.

Meanwhile, in Aldnoah Zero 22, things take a turn for the bizarre.

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At first I thought that Inaho’s malfunction was a bit of program snuck in there to override whatever actions he might choose when he met Asseylum. Afraid that he might spare her life, I fully expected his arm to rise involuntarily and shoot her, but instead we get computerese talk about her being part of him, i.e., the program was confessing his love for her. I suppose this was supposed to be a sweet, romantic scene, but I was still getting over the software speaking for him at all, not to mention all the people going around shooting each other, to get into a romantic mood.

He doesn't care who knows now.
He doesn’t care who knows now.

It’s difficult to read the battle right now, but I think Vers is winning. They’ve got Barouhcruz slicing up good guys in space, Slaine is also in his big machine, etc. But there are too many cards to be played yet. Klancain is loyal to Asseylum and if she says “I want to communicate with the other side via this airlock,” he will probably bow and then help her out. Inaho is still lying there, at the mercy of whichever side finds him first, unless the software lets go and he gets his consciousness back. He’d better. He’s probably got another showdown with Slaine to get to. As for their first one, I’m a little surprised that Slaine told him flat-out what his intentions are toward Asseylum, though it made for a good conversation between the bullets. But it kind of shot the love triangle all to hell. Well, I guess the show had done that already. A pity. Slaine and Asseylum’s conflicting loyalties had given the show some depth.

Lie in April 20, Shirobako 21, Saekano 8

Kousei's looking pretty happy for the moment ...
Kousei’s looking pretty happy for the moment …

Not much change in Your Lie in April. Everyone’s still getting the rug pulled out from under them. Kaori continues to die, adding an attack of some sort right when Kousei and Ryouta come to visit, right after Kousei admitted to Ryouta that he was in love with her. To make it even worse for Kousei, and us, the show adds an unpleasant coda to the black cat motif they’d been doing this episode, starting with the one he tried to rescue as a kid, then the happy, content one behind Kousei and Tsubaki, and then, well … A bit of overkill, so to speak.

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Tsubaki’s story this week is partly a retread; she’s already had her rug pulled away over Kousei. Of course he doesn’t think of her that way. So we walk in familiar ground while their scenes add lemonade motif into their flashbacks, which I prefer to cats because lemonade doesn’t get killed, and this episode has death and doom looming everywhere else. And thank heavens for Tsubaki: she makes a move, and she makes it in a wonderful Tsubaki way, by going roundabout with Kousei about his feelings for Kaori, then telling him that she should love her instead. Then she kicks him and runs off. Just what the show needed! I’ve heard some gripes about the show’s comic bits, but without them this would all be a wearisome exercise in the joy of music, and pointless romantic-era-dripped death.

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Shirobako 21 starts with the theme from last week, “Why do you make anime,” and takes it in a different direction: “Why the hell is Hiraoka making anime?” I suppose it’s the nature of the show to want to dig deeper into the psyche of the man who replaced Tarou as the biggest thorn in Musashino’s side. In terms of plot, Segawa asks to not be assigned any more work from Hiraoka or Titanic Productions (a name that should have sounded ominous from the beginning). Aoi has to handle the complaints while keeping the production line rolling. It’s more of a setup for a bigger crisis, I think. There are lots of scenes where animators and whatnot work hard and finish on schedule, setting us up for a whammy down the line. Everyone there works with the fear of another Jiggly meltdown.

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I admired Aoi last week for not letting the “What do I want to do?” question get to her, but this week she can’t avoid it. I wonder about it too, since she is basically administration and not talent. True, Aerial Girls Squad would not get finished without her, but she doesn’t actually create any of it. With all the crap Hiraoka throws at her (and kudos to her for not backing down), Aoi has to be wondering more. But most of the time the show gives the characters the answers they need, and a visit Isokawa’s new company shows her how another person supports the creative talent they have. So it looks like Hiraoka will somehow be brought into the fold, although, in spite of Yano’s talk of how passionate he used to be, I’d still kick him out the door. Does that make me a lousy anime producer?

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How many episodes of Saekano are there, anyway? I assumed it was one season–most shows like this only go that long–but they’ve got so much business to take care of I guess it’s actually two. Otherwise they wouldn’t have an episode like this, where Tomoya and Megumi go to help Izumi sell her book at Comiket, since the only point of it seems to be to establish Izumi’s raw talent and to get Eriri jealous. As for that, I’m on her side. Tomoya, you know it’s impolite to praise an artist when another is in the room, or something like that. Nice contrast there, since Izumi earlier talked about how she loves meeting people with the same interests. Her view is more open than Eriri’s. Maybe if the latter didn’t have her parents manning her booth … Meanwhile, Megumi, in her usual deadpan fashion, tosses out some of her funniest lines yet. Oh, since I muttered about symbols in Shigatsu, Eriri loses her hat. In the first episode, Megumi lost her hat. Are thy working on a hat theme?

Lie in April 19, Shirobako 20, Saekano 7

One more time?
One more time?

Your Lie in April 19 shows Kaori deciding to have surgery which will be dangerous and maybe useless in order to perform with Kousei again. And she’s working out (in this case that means trying to walk) to keep her strength and stamina up just for that reason. And it makes me wonder at the phrasing. Not “play again” but “play one more time.” It’s as if the possibility of imminent death is now unavoidable. It sounds like the show is going to give us that maudlin ending I feared it would. Well, she’s not dead yet, and Kousei is an inspiration for her, as she is to him.

The arch rivals share egg sandwiches.
The arch rivals share egg sandwiches.

Meanwhile, Kousei, Takeshi, and Emi gear up for the big competition, meaning a lot of flashbacks of them as kids, in the same music hall. This week it’s Takeshi’s turn to perform, and it’s that intense Chopin etude, perfect for him, and he nails it. The second piece, well, we don’t hear it, but it seemed to be a letdown. Takeshi, too, was inspired by Kousei (also Emi) to work harder (so we get some scenes of him performing switched with Kaori struggling to walk), but the performance was also his declaration of independence, so to speak, as he works off the baggage that comes with admiration and frees himself to go his own way. I wonder if Emi will do the same when she performs next week? In the meantime, it’s nice to see these three rivals sit and eat egg sandwiches together before trying to pulverize each other in the dust–musically, of course. Your closest rivals are also your closest friends, and all that.

Seiichi's answer is no better or worse than the others.
Seiichi’s answer is no better or worse than the others’.

So far, Shirobako has pretty much avoided having a situation in their current project’s plot get reflected by events at Munashino, but episode 20 comes close. Not that the two have a direct connection. Aoi begins to ask everyone why they make anime and gets a dozen different answers, all from people who never really thought about it before. Meanwhile, Third Aerial Girls Squad’s main character is searching for a reason for flying. The manga hasn’t reached an answer yet so they have to invent their own, which also ties in nicely to watching scriptwriter Maitake and his “student” Midori, by the way. So they invent one for the character which, maybe, is one that Aoi was looking for herself, though the show is too subtle to state it directly.

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And we get some office drama as Hiraoka, who’s been a dick ever since he joined, gets into it with … whatshishame. Hiraoka doesn’t have a leg to stand on; it was a mistake to hire him and bring in those idiots at that other company. He later briefly ruminates about it, who the hell cares is this or that isn’t done, and I wonder why he’s even in the business at all. Well, he has a talk with the president and later apologizes, so maybe there’s a face turn for him. He’s the one that I’d actually like to ask “Why do you make anime?” Note that he leaves the room while Aoi is asking around. Also an odd scene between Midori and Hesitant Girl, where Midori answers one of Hiraoka’s gripes, but why invent a head cold and have HG have to come to her apartment to ask?

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Saekano 7 has a few scenes that don’t add up to much, and then tries to hand us a villain at the end, but I don’t see it working out. Lori, the villain, is an old friend of Tomoya and Eriri’s but they spurned him long ago for his underhanded attempts to work his way up the otaku ladder, or food chain. What he did isn’t explained well, but now he’s an important gopher or something for a prestigious circle, and they’re after Eriri’s talents. I don’t know how they’re going to convince her to leave Tomoya’s game. She doesn’t like Lori and has a past with Tomoya. Also, she’s made a commitment and she doesn’t strike me as the type who forgets those.

Naturally, all the other girls are within earshot.
Naturally, all the other girls are within earshot.

As for the other scenes, a pointless one where Eriri gets Tomoya to act out an 18-and-over script for her Comiket doujinshi. More amusing the sudden appearance of Izumi, Lori’s little sister and a perfect younger childhood friend model, giving all the other characters (who all happen to be there) a chance to be shocked and amused. It’s also interesting because it’s a new character midway through the series, when the show hasn’t even brought in the project’s composer yet.

Shirobako 19, Kancolle 7

Yes!  Please-please-please-please!
Yes! Please-please-please-please!

Shirobako 19 starts by being sort of the Erika Show. She learns the situation, sends Aoi home, makes some calls, drags Hiraoka to Titanic where she she kicks some butt, tracks down a “bearded hermit” and gets him to cover episode five, and generally shows why Musashino is lucky to have her. For a moment I thought the episode would spiral into Aoi’s despondent thoughts about being not up for the job, but the show makes a turn away from that. Besides, Aoi’s too busy.

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Instead, we get a conversation between Erika and Hiraoka about Aoi, a world-weary talk between two anime veterans about harsh reality and why some people in the field don’t stop dreaming, between two people way too young to have this conversation. It’s made clear that these two people stopped dreaming, at least Hiraoka has, and now he bounces from job to job for reasons the show doesn’t explain. Aoi hasn’t been broken yet, and he hates that, though Erika loves it.

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Contrast that to a later flashback to President Masato’s longhair days at Musashino Pictures, and see a bunch of people working hard on an old show, not broken at all, and we see that some of them, years later, still aren’t. (Followed by a downright weird fantasy sequence where cartoon animals talk about keeping Musashi Pictures alive–a fantasy within a flashback). Meanwhile, two of the misfit independent artists talk about the long strange trip it’s been. A meditation on keeping your artistic sanity in a frantic, commercial, competitive field? That’s what the episode feels like, down to the ED with the old-school characters.

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Story-wise, Kantai Collection 7 is predictable. Kaga and Zuikaku, the two carriers, still don’t get along, Fubuki doubts her leadership abilities (as well she should: why didn’t she order the two carriers back instead of letting them bicker?), until a crisis brings them all a little closer together. Well, Kaga wasn’t in the battle; she had taken a torpedo that would have sunk Zuikaku and so was in the hot tub, but there was plenty of self-recrimination and guilt to go around anyway. On the other hand, the battle scenes more than make up for the story. Like the others, they’re clear, fluid, and exciting, even if you sort of know what’s going to happen, and you really don’t. Since they sunk that one girl earlier you know that they could do it to anyone. So we watch those great-looking battle scenes with a touch of worry. Most of the time it’s worth going through the Fubuki self-doubt and the other, petty, land-based bits for it.

Kantai 6, Shirobako 18, Lie in April 17, Saekano 5

The 6th Destroyer Group makes curry.
The 6th Destroyer Group makes curry.

Kantai Collection 6, a silly filler episode about a curry contest, didn’t bug me too much. Since there’s a, er, fleet of characters to deal with it’s nice to see how they react to each other. The trouble is, apart from people Kongou, who is not only taller but dresses differently than the others in their schoolgirl/military uniforms, I can’t tell most of them apart yet, much less remember who is in which squad, and then there was the reorganization last week. This week we get more different group as we follow the 6th Destroyer Group in their brave quest to make the best curry on the base. I’m embarrassed to tell you how long it took before I realized I wasn’t watching Mobile Unit Three or whatever they’re called these days. As for the curry contest, the usual for this sort of show, though it did make me hungry for curry. Too bad about this diet … My favorite bit was Hibiki wearing that repaired pot on her head; it reminded me of Chino and Tippy. And one of the others makes cute noises sometimes.

First day of dubbing.
First day of dubbing.

Not much to say about Shirobako 18, but one thing I’m beginning to appreciate is how they not only give us the details of making a professional anime, but they show the human side as well. Sounds obvious, but it means we get scenes like the first dubbing session, the ritual of introducing everyone and giving little speeches, and, for added fun, working with the nervous newbie who’s playing the lead but is too wound up to get her lines out the way she did in audition (though you’d figure she’d be even more nervous for that). And we get to share in Aoi’s pleasure when the newbie gets it right.

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Elsewhere we have crises, of course, people not following through with their jobs, convincing an old drunk guy to do a job, and a trio of problems which hit Aoi all at once. I hate it when I get blindsided with new problems when I’m trying to deal with one already, so I admire Aoi’s reaction–brief panic, getting a hold of herself, dealing with the small problems quickly so she can concentrate on the big one. Which leads me to a final thing I like: they make a good story out of what is essentially a business project. Some people screw up, others step in, completely routine, and they make good drama out of it. Which explains why, when Erika appeared, I went “Yesss!” What other show could do that simply by having a character return from personal leave?

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The big statement in Your Lie in April 17 seems to be that there’s scary stuff out there and while you might not want to deal with it, eventually you’ll have to. First we got Kaori FINALLY telling Kousei that she might be dying, and that naturally puts him in such a funk that he once again can’t visit the hospital. Well, I can understand his problem. What DO you say after a revelation like that? Ryouta finally drags him to the hospital. We also have Tsubaki, who’s at least honest with herself now to admit she’s in love, but can’t come to grips with the fact that he’s leaving, to the point of following him after graduation. Nao’s trying to talk her through that.

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Finally, Nagi has a big scary festival performance coming up, and this time it’s Kousei and Hiroko doing the pep-talk. What Nagi REALLY ought to be scared of is what’s going to happen when her brother sees her coming on stage with Kousei. Well, good thing all these troubled people have friends. And let’s not forget about Kaori. The episode sort of did, even though Kousei’s helping Nagi for Kaori’s listening pleasure. It’s almost as if the show can’t face the impending tragedy, either.

Utaha writes a dating sim.
Utaha writes a dating sim.

Saekano 5’s best moments come in the first half when all the main characters are together. Eriri is trying to get a rise out of Megumi for her character designs while , in the back of the room, Utaha seems constipated over the story, and the snarky lines fly. Even Tomoya gets in a good one now and then. Then we get a nice encapsulation of the game’s bizarre story, draft one. It’s not exactly downhill after that, but the endless script-fiddling scenes don’t have as much going for them, though I’m glad to see Tomoya isn’t coasting on this project. The “date” scene isn’t livened up by Tomoya’s realization that the mall opening is like Comiket, because it’s too different from the first half, and we’re waiting for him to have the inevitable revelation of how to fix the script. Though the glasses scene was indeed very sweet.