And here are my reviews of the last two anime I finished this season – Shirobako and Junketsu no Maria (a.k.a. Maria the Virgin Witch)…
I’ve watched, and enjoyed, a few anime that have a premise based on the manga industry, such as Bakuman and Gekkan Shojo Nozaki-kun. Anime about the anime industry however, seem a bit rarer. So when I read about Shirobako, I of course wanted to check it out. Even though P.A. Works disappointed me last season with Glassip, I know they usually put out good stuff, so I wasn’t about to not give them another chance. And I’m glad I did because Shirobako was a ton of fun!
I don’t think there’s any anime that really delves into all the aspects of the Japanese TV animation industry as much as Shirobako does. It shows us everything, from how series are solicited, how tasks are divided between the various staff of an animation studio, how deadlines are (or aren’t) met, how seiyuu are picked, what goes into a good key frame…it’s got it all. If getting a behind-the-scenes look at how anime is made sounds interesting to you, I can’t imagine not liking Shirobako. Its premise could of course start to bore after a while, especially with 24 episodes…which would be the case if its large cast of characters weren’t likable and entertaining! With so many characters, I didn’t expect all of them to get an equal amount of screentime, but all the important ones did, and they turned out to be a very fun cast; from our hard-working lead Aoi, diligent Ema, trooper Shizuka, the kinda immature but passionate director Seiichi, the cool and reliable Erika, and the wise, elderly Sugie, most all the characters were memorable and had at least one chance to shine in the series. They had a diverse range of ages, personalities, and roles to fulfill at Musani, which led to a great mix of funny, suspenseful, and heart-warming scenarios as they struggled to get their anime completed on time and to the best of their abilities. It was difficult to remember who all the characters were and what position they held in the company though; even by the end I still didn’t know everyone’s name and job title. But as long as you remember the main characters, and can at least remember the other ones by sight and have a general gist of who they are, it’s not hard to follow everything that happens.
Besides having a wonderful cast of characters and an interesting premise, I also found Shirobako to be well-paced. Each of its two cours focuses on Musani putting out a new anime series, with each episode dealing with particular problems that may arise during the process, or the occasional character drama, such as Shizuka’s repeated attempts to get freelance seiyuu work. But through it all, it retains its light tone and never gets too dark or serious. The show has a wealth of nuances too that really add to the atmosphere of scenes and emotions of the characters, such as a flustered Shizuka forgetting to take off her shoes when entering the recording studio. Being the character-driven series that it is, the only main plot point, besides the staff of Musani getting their work done on time, is for the five main girls to fulfill the promise they made to each at the very beginning of the series: that they’d all work on the same anime together someday. Of course, by the end they achieved that goal, though it didn’t turn out to be quite the emotional spectacle I thought it would be. There was a lot more emphasis on the completion of Aerial Girls Squad than on our heroines fulfilling their promise, with only a couple brief scenes of Aoi and Ema shedding a tear at the realization. But at least they did their little doughnut thing again ;)
As much as I enjoyed Shirobako, I’ll admit that there were a few things I didn’t like. There were a handful of characters I never cared for: Taro annoyed me…if I had to work at a desk next to him everyday, I would ask to be moved XD As for Hiraoka, I know he redeemed himself in the end, but I still don’t think his backstory excused his rude behavior in earlier episodes. There were some scenes where I really wanted to smack him. And what was up with Kunogi’s crippling social anxiety? How was she able to function each day when she couldn’t even get a full sentence said to anyone? Her and Tomoko from Watamote should get together. I also thought that some of the gags in Shirobako went a tad overboard, for example, the scene where Seiichi had to “battle” his way through the staff to meet with Nogame, and the scene in the last episode with the manager very obviously driving dangerously in order to deliver the tape. I know they were played for laughs and not meant to be taken seriously, but they were still too over-the-top for my taste and shattered the show’s realism a bit. Most of the characters and their interactions were funny enough on their own, without the need for overly obvious jokes. But luckily scenes like this were relatively few and the more normal humor dominated.
All in all, Shirobako was a highly entertaining series with a unique, interesting premise and fun characters. Anyone who enjoys light, character-focused anime that don’t take place in the typical high school setting, should definitely check it out!
I was a little wary about this series at first when I saw some of the fan-servicey character designs. But the story sounded interesting nonetheless, so I decided to give it a watch. Thankfully, it became apparent early on that fan-service jokes were far from the series’ goal, and while it did sneak in a couple in the beginning, an epic fantasy story revolving around war, magic, and religion was the main focus of Junketsu no Maria – and by the end, I think it told that story well.
Taking place during France’s Hundred Years War (well, with fictional elements mixed in), it’s obvious that a decent amount of research was put into the show’s setting, especially in the role religion played at that time, which is eloquently expressed in the dialogue of characters like Bernard and Gilbert. With a solid background like this, having a character – our heroine Maria in this case – stand up against this accepted status quo, makes it even more fascinating. A protagonist rebelling against authority isn’t anything new, but I found the conflict between Maria and the archangels to be somewhat unique in the sense that both sides had reasonable arguments, with Michael not presented as just a “bad guy” and Maria having her share of flaws and not seeming overly perfect.
Besides having a well written conflict and setting, another of the show’s highlights is, of course, having an admirable protagonist. Anyone who stands so strongly and firmly for what they believe to be the good and just choice, never giving in no matter how badly they’re beaten into submission, earns my respect, and to me, Maria encompassed this quite well. And it’s not like she did the things she did without any thought for the other side; some of my favorite scenes in the show are when she seriously questions Micheal and Bernard about the justifications of their opposing views, and naturally they don’t convince her. Maria is one of the strongest female anime leads I’ve seen in a while. Even though she does have a love interest, it was obvious that she had her own inner strength and didn’t rely on him to give her the strength needed to deal with her struggles, nor was he the one always rescuing her (her fellow witches rescued her, and then she rescued him). It’s also a plus when an anime brings up universal themes in its story that make me think and are applicable to the real world as well. Parasyte did this too by questioning whether humans are that different from the alien parasites, and whether it’s just for humans to eradicate them, and Junketsu no Maria’s themes of whether “unholy” means (magic) should be used to stop war and whether it should be accepted that God remains silent while war and suffering go on, are just as thought-provoking.
Another good thing the show had going for it was a likable cast of side characters. There were many scenes that really showed how much Artemis and Priapos cared about Maria, and how much Ezekiel learned to care for her and understand her ways as well. Even Viv, who was practically a stranger to her at first, was inspired by how strongly Maria held onto her beliefs, even to the point of risking her life. Edwina did the same to an extent, too. And even though Maria and Joseph didn’t share that many scenes together, I still felt they had chemistry, especially in terms of Joseph also being inspired by Maria’s beliefs as they contradicted his own, causing him his share of inner turmoil. Other characters like Martha and Ann were believable as well in how they were conflicted between their love for Maria and the teachings of the Church that forbid those feelings. Galfa was an interesting case too in that he had some redeeming qualities in the early episodes, but gradually became an unlikable character as the series progressed, becoming an antagonist by the end. This could be a bad thing if not written well, but I found that his character “descent” if you will, made sense in terms of everything that happened to him. The only character that made me raise an eyebrow was Lolotte…that chick was just way too blase about everything that happened.
With such heavy conflicts going on, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the show’s ending. While I didn’t think it was prefect, I would say it was satisfying. The whole “love conquers all” thing has, of course, been done tons of times before, but it’s a trope people never get sick of, and as long as it can be presented in new, or at least believable, ways, I’m all for it. The trope gets an easy pass in a show like this because, when you’re dealing with magic and heavenly powers where anything’s possible, you can’t prove these things aren’t highly affected by love. So with that in mind, I felt the ending was fine, if not a little bit fluffy. The only thing I didn’t really go for was having all the other witches besides Viv and Edwina join in Maria’s fight – it just felt forced that they would suddenly be willing to risk their lives like that after being indifferent to her before. And having Micheal laugh in the end was a tad cheesy.
Despite having a few minor issues with it, I liked Junketsu no Maria very much. It has a compelling protagonist, heavy themes to ponder, and an engrossing setting. Not sure if it’s good enough to make my top 5 of the year, but there’s a chance XD
There’ll be a couple more editorial posts before I write my first impressions of the spring anime I pick. As of now I’m planning to watch Euphonium, Nisekoi 2, Fate/Stay Night 2, and Kiniro Mosaic 2 (wow, that’s a lot of sequels!) Kyokai no Rinne and Disappearance of Yuki-chan are maybes depending on how I feel. I’m definitely gonna watch the new Digimon too whenever it airs…it’s supposed to be this month but I haven’t seen a release date yet. Anyone know? Still continuing Sailor Moon Crystal as well.
See ya next time~!