SHIROBAKO 第1話 「明日に向かって、えくそだすっ!」
SHIROBAKO #01. 「Exodus to Tomorrow!」
Source Material: Original anime series
Studio(s): P.A. Works
Director(s): Mizushima Tsutomu (水島 努)
Character Design: Ponkan 8
Series Composition: Yokote Michiko (横手 美智子)
Music: Hamaguchi Shiro (浜口 史郎)
Shirobako is an original television anime series produced by P.A. Works, directed by Mizushima Tsutomu. A manga adaptation entitled Shirobako: Ueyama Kōkō Animation Dōkōkai written by Sugihara Kenji and illustrated by Mizutama began serialization in the November 2014 issue of ASCII Media Works‘ Dengeki Daioh to coincide with the premiere of the anime.
Female schoolmates and fellow members of the Kaminoyama High School Animation Club, Miyamori Aoi, Sakaki Shizuka, Yasuhara Ema, Toudou Misa, and Imai Midori make a donut-themed pact to create a self-produced animated feature before the graduation of their eldest club members. They manage to do so with their production, Shinbutsu Konkou: The Seven Lucky Battle Gods, which they screen at the school’s cultural festival as their club’s attraction. Soon after, graduation comes around, and Miyamori, Sakaki, and Yasuhara bid their underclassmen farewell, and the club makes one final promise to one day meet in Tokyo and make an anime feature together once more. Two and a half years later, Miyamori works at Musashino Animation as a production assistant who is responsible for various tasks such as picking up animation frames from animation supervisors, creating checklists for the progress of certain episodes, taking notes during meetings, and driving staff members to and from various locations. Musashino Animation is currently engaged in producing a new anime series for the fall season called Exodus, and Miyamori returns to the studio office from animation supervisor Segawa Misato’s home the evening of Exodus‘s premiere air-date to find the whole production staff in a meeting room nervously awaiting to watch the first episode together. After the crew watch their anime and are relieved to discover a positive reception online, they return to work on the consecutive episodes. The next day, another production assistant, Takanashi Tarou, fails to make sure that all the key frames for episode three are finished in time, and the entire show’s production is in jeopardy. Because all of the key animators are working on other separate episodes and are unavailable to assist with the dilemma, the crew decides to turn again to Segawa, who had just barely finished her own designated material. Miyamori takes a stance in helping sort the problem with the third episode out, compromising her own assigned work with episode four. Segawa is able to finish drawing the key frames in time, and Miyamori immediately goes to retrieve them to give to animation director Madoka Hironori, so that the rest of the crew may begin the subsequent process of dubbing the episode. After the long day of work, Miyamori stops by her favorite donut store, Pekka Donuts, to purchase some donuts for her and Segawa to eat together. But when Miyamori arrives at Segawa’s front door, she hears a loud thud and enters the apartment complex to find Segawa collapsed on the floor.
If there’s one thing P.A. Works knows how to do flawlessly, even more so than visual quality, it’s swiftly establishing a heart-warming atmosphere through both sound and art. Shirobako‘s premise of “an anime about making anime” may seem tripe and akin to other such series that overdo the parodical caricature of it all, but it’s meaningful to not forget the P.A. pedigree that this project derives from. An opening sequence has the members of a school club banding together in their club-room on a pensive, rainy day to make an ambitious and passionate pact to make their own self-produced, animated featurette. With donuts in each girl’s hand, and the essential atmosphere-inducing soundtrack by Hamaguchi Shiro (oh, we meet again, he who instilled such musical emotion into Tari Tari), there’s a subtle juxtaposition of silliness and youthful story-telling at play, and I can definitely say its the latter that takes control of the overall presentation. If that scene in particular wasn’t enough, what immediately follows are scenes of familiar life-talks among friends about what the future holds, a graduation ceremony, the departure of upperclassmen role models (if this was a shounen sports series, I’d be in emotional shambles at this point), and one final promise to reunite one day, still ignited by the passions that brought them together in the first place. (“Don-Don’Donuts, let’s go nuts!”) Shirobako is fun. I think there’s an impression that you can get from the show, that despite it being a P.A. Works production somewhat expected to be of cultivated presentation, the character designs of the entire cast are toned-downed and normalized from the usual dramatic flair to fit the scheme of the show in its coverage of a more day-to-day, professional life-style. Likewise, we say farewell to the beautiful montages of scenery we’re accustomed to with the studio, and say hello to a modicum of shots of the Tokyo urban setting but even more so to the interior design of recording studios, staff rooms, apartment complexes, and the metropolitan like. I mean, did you see all those distinctively styled office areas? I’m starting to wonder just how much the show’s artists are using this production as a medium to convey their fantasy work environments and experiences. (This of course brings about the important point that you should perhaps watch these portrayals with a grain of salt, as hardly ever does one instance of expose perfectly and universally depict an entire subculture. ) As we’ve seen in this episode already with the Initial D homage, A Certain Temple’s Self-Mummified Monk (Blu-ray & DVD on sale October 25th, by the way, for you inhabitants of the fictional world within in this fictional show), and various nods to real life figures in the anime industry, the girls’ road to becoming an anime dream-team is accompanied by the show itself alluding to a lot of the ins-and-outs of the actual production process (and even the reception process, i.e. the production team’s joint apprehension about checking the online hype and key-word rankings revolving around their show, making tweets with the respective hash-tag to ask viewers to tune-in, or even just watching the premiere episode together at the office). And this should be much to our, the viewers’, delight, because such an inside look is exactly what Shirobako promotes itself as. It’s a supremely meta show (I just can’t help but imagine one of the artists drawing himself drawing), so much so, that its probably only those with experience as staff members themselves who can fully relate to everything on screen. (“I’m always the most nervous right before the first episode airs. That’s when I know the thirteen episode cour is starting and there’s no going back.” – Suddenly I don’t know who to blame for green-lighting only one cour for an anime adaptation of a manga series that is more than one-hundred chapters and still ongoing.) For us, the viewers, on the exterior, it may not be familiar whatsoever (I definitely was surprised at the simultaneous production of different episodes and just how much the entire staff seemed disjointed), but that’s what makes it a spectacle, a fresh jump into the world of Japanese animation, as opposed to the familiar, fatiguing everyday work of an office job. But besides the self-referential material going on, there is an overlying, or perhaps underlying, narrative of our five heroines, whose emotionally aggrandized story was effectively side-casted well before the episode’s five-minute mark to make way for the exhibiting of the aforementioned material. And it’s in that story-line where the biggest question mark of the show presides; I was surprised the moment Yasuhara made her time-skip appearance as a fellow employee of Musashino Animation just to have her interaction with Miyamori be one that definitely didn’t resemble an interaction between old high-school friends. As Yasuhara is (literally) boxed in her cubicle at the studio office working as a newly-hired key animator, Miyamori’s position beckons her towards much more sprightly activities, and it is with the newly-acquainted superior employee, animation supervisor Segawa, that Miyamori establishes her greatest rapport this episode. I’m curious just how much this show aims to align with its exposition; and while it’ll be quite tragic to see the friends’ tender promise be overshadowed, again, I guess it did only take (less than) five minutes to establish the emotional backing of it. The symbolism settles in finely with this meta conflict, though, because if there’s any profession that manages to retain the youthful dreams of its occupants, I like to think it relate to the process of imaginative and animated story-telling. While the design of Shirobako‘s plot seems to be a yet colored gray area, the atmosphere that the premiere episode sets the tone for the rest of the show quite nicely. What awaits the show now is its struggle in becoming an engaging narrative or a resounding resource, or both.
*With the paradigm shift into mostly in-door scenes of production work, it looks like P.A. Works is utilizing 3-D animation more than they ever have before. One shot in the ending sequence almost even acts as a confirmation of this technological movement; indeed, it’s never too late to provide an insightful look into this industry that is ever-changing.
*The line of the week goes to the delivery of “There’s no way he can draw moe anime! Not happening!”, recited concurrently with a portrait shot of the studio’s oldest staff member. Haha, what a subtle statement.