Finalizing My Thoughts On Shirobako

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Yeah, I know Shirobako is going to go on for another cour. I saw the advertisement that promised to introduce more characters and more problems. Still, there’s a reason this show isn’t popular on Nano and it doesn’t help that nobody wants to read the words of a man who hates their surprise-darling show of the year each week. As such, this will be the last I’m going to write about it, because after watching twelve episodes, I have to accept the fact that Shirobako (and PA Works stuff in general) is never going to appeal to me and move on to hating Ikuhara’s new thing or something. But before we part ways, I want to finalize some thoughts regarding why I’m not into this thing.

Obviously, I didn’t expect this show to explode in popularity (relatively-speaking) the way it did. But I sort of get why Shirobako appeals to the blogosphere. It has adult characters, which is considered rare in anime. It has snappy direction by the guy who made Girls Und Panzer, another critical darling that I don’t really care about. It’s about anime, and considering we’re anime fans, that appeals to a lot of us. And considering that a lot of us have jobs or are struggling to get jobs, it’s nice to see an anime that reflect that part of our lives.

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But here’s the thing, I’m not like most anime fans. I’m not the strictest blogger when it comes to what I consider junk food entertainment or whatever you want to call it, but I am totally against Frog’s way of thinking regarding what’s considered fun. I don’t agree with Cara’s statement that you don’t watch Lain to be “entertained”. Because you see, I “do” try to interpret things for basic enjoyment. I “do” want my fiction to not spoon-feed me what’s going on. Even though I am capable of liking summer blockbusters and laugh-out-loud comedies, what separates the good ones from the bad ones tends to be elements that tickle the mind. And when my mind isn’t tickled, it tends to shut off completely.

Obviously, there are limits to that sort of thinking. I like Mamoru Oshii fine as a director, but he can be obtuse to the point of being impenetrable (Angel’s Egg, Sky Crawlers). Still, I don’t like Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster trash and there’s a reason why Ingmar Bergman is one of my favorite foreign directors. Now I’m not saying Shirobako has to be at the quality of a Bergman film. That’s too much to ask. But for all you fans of the show, answer me this: what exactly is in this anime for thinkers like me? Because being educated on anime production doesn’t really leave much to the imagination.

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“What about how anime production affects the employers who make it? After all, that’s what you enjoyed about that one Paranoia Agent episode, isn’t it, Mr. Flawfinder?” It sure is, but here’s the thing: the employee died at the end of that episode as a consequence of his production fuck-ups. Shirobako’s biggest problem is that it never goes beyond threatening the characters’ work positions. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but that’s only intriguing depending on how the employees deal with said threat, and I’m not seeing anyone rob a bank in desperation. I’m not seeing anyone contemplate suicide. I’m not even seeing anyone make any kind of sacrifice to keep their job. I see people spouting textbook lines and…that’s pretty much it. This isn’t mind-racing. This isn’t even a plot. This is just fanservice without purpose, and I don’t do fanservice without purpose.

“But wait, Mr. Flawfinder! Considering who’s directing the show, surely you must be laughing at some of the jokes…” Okay, I’m going to have to stop you guys right there. Aside from You’re Being Summoned Azazel-san, Mizushima hasn’t directed anything I’ve really enjoyed, and the reason the former appealed to me so much – or at least the first season did – is because it was mean. It subverted my expectations in clever ways. It was borderline offensive. None of his other works do that, and Shirobako in particular isn’t even close to being mean. In fact, most of the humor comes from in-joking, and I hate that sort of stuff when it’s the crux of your humor. Hell, I found it (along with the lack of intriguing plot and character) painful in those Expendables films, and those movies are supposed to appeal to action fans like myself. And if I can’t like an action movie that’s pure purposeless fanservice, how do you expect me to like a slice-of-life anime that does the same thing?

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The characters aren’t appealing to me because without good comedy and a good representation of anything I can sink my teeth into, there’s nothing else they’ve got going for them other than their character designs and the fact that some of them are parodies of real-life anime staff (and we all know I don’t care about those). There’s no actual plot that goes beyond the characters living their lives. It’s not even doing anything all that bad. It’s just “there”, and what am I supposed to say about something that’s just “there”? Psycho-Pass 2? Whether you hated it or not, at least it was upping the ante regard its crazy failures each week. Amagi Brilliant Park? That’s a highly-exaggerated comedic take on what Shirobako does, and yet I’ve written about every single episode despite only finding it decent at best because at least each episode succeeded or failed in a way that was fresh. Your Lie In April? It’s one of the worst dramas I’ve seen in a while, but at least it’s coming up with new ways to be tastelessly boring as it goes along – albeit not every week – and it’s overall failures are fun to discuss.

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So if nothing is appealing to me in a good way, nothing is appealing to me in a bad way, there are no hints to indicate that this will change with the show’s second half, and it’s not even giving me good views, what else is there? Appealing to me in an average way? Yeah, that’s not my style, guys. Wake me up when PA Works makes an anime out of Jun Maeda’s new thing. At least that has a good chance of boring me in a way that’s fun to talk about.

PS: Yes, I know I didn’t write about Amagi’s 2nd episode. That was just an exaggeration.

PPS: Seriously, watch that episode of Paranoia Agent on Youtube if you have time. I rewatched it shortly after writing this post and it’s still one of the most biting insights into anime production/humanity’s faults I’ve ever seen.

6 responses to “Finalizing My Thoughts On Shirobako

  1. As someone who can’t stand the whole “cute girls doing things” genre, I really enjoyed Girls Und Panzer. It’s flawed up the ass,but those tanks battles are so well written and animated extremely well.I also can’t hate a show that loves the film Kelly Heroes that much.

    I understand the point Frog is getting at. Nothing wrong with a simple story as long you have a good script and good direction(basically don’t be Avatar).

    • but those tanks battles are so well written and animated extremely well.I also can’t hate a show that loves the film Kelly Heroes that much.

      Yeah, I’m not a fan of military stuff, nor did I find the whole “everything is tanks” joke funny. Been meaning to give the war comedy side of things like MASH and such a try, but eh. Sabagebu is more my speed.

      I understand the point Frog is getting at. Nothing wrong with a simple story as long you have a good script and good direction(basically don’t be Avatar).

      I’m completely against his saying that you don’t interpret things for basic enjoyment, is what I’m saying.

      • “I’m completely against his saying that you don’t interpret things for basic enjoyment, is what I’m saying.”

        I could agree with that.That’s what makes a film like High Plains Drifter or Eraserhead so enjoyable.

  2. Hmm. To me Shirobako is kind of enjoyable on a meta level; it almost feels apologetic at times, even scathing of the industry at moments. But only rarely. On a surface level it’s just a story glorifying the creation of shlock as something difficult and more artistic than it really is. It would be nice if they acknowledged the problems of the anime industry in Shirobako more openly, rather than hiding behind the viewpoints of their characters so much. Still, I guess it makes sense for them to be too timid to do that, if what they present about the industry is anything close to the truth.

    • The stuff they’re glorifying is really inconsequential to me. I’m all for taking silly elements completely seriously, but the problem is that what they’re taking seriously isn’t silly enough. If you had those two employees bonding over Borat, it’d get at least a chuckle, because hey, it’s Borat. But it wouldn’t go beyond that, and the show doesn’t even approach that level of self-referentiality.

  3. I very much agree with your take on Shirobako.

    It’s certainly quite competently made and, as you suggest, features “adults” as opposed to high school students, which has a basic appeal in an era when most anime characters seem like they might not have even hit puberty yet.

    That said, it’s pretty profoundly DULL and predictable.

    Take the episode where the main character’s friend was struggling with her inability to draw a cat. Is there anything more cliched than having the old guy who sits next to her suggest taking her for a walk – where, of course, she comes across cats and is suddenly awestruck with inspiration?

    There’s simply not a moment in the whole show that you can’t see coming from a mile off (I would note that I felt the same way about Girls und Panzer). Even the CG versus handrawn animation scenes all have the rote feel of being cleansed in a committee meeting of anything controversial or interesting.

    While narrative predictabliity isn’t always a bad thing, Shirobako isn’t compensating with great characters or profound insight beyond, “Work life kind of sucks (except when it doesn’t).”

    The characters are an inch deep and the story is bland and predictable.

    But I guess the fact that it is, in fact, quite competently made, lacks fanservice, and focuses on the making of anime, is really appealing to lots of viewers.

    To each his own!