Winter ’15 anime reviews part 2: Shirobako and Junketsu no Maria

Credit to linked pixiv user

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)…

Credit to linked pixiv user
Shirobako

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!

Credit to linked pixiv user
Junketsu no Maria

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~!

13 Comments… read them or add your own.

  1. Myna says:

    I ended up picking up Shirobako even though I’ve basically sworn off P.A. Works. I enjoyed it a bit. But because of the subject matter they had to rely on a bunch gimmicky/quirky characters that really didn’t tickle my funny bone. I ended up not caring about the cast at all, but appreciated the insight on the anime industry.

    I’ve been debating about checking out Maria, too. I wanna try the Seven Deadly Sins and Yona of the Dawn first, though.

    Picking up for spring: Gunslinger Stratos (first episode was pretty lame), Nanoha ViVid, Arslan Senki, Re-Kan! (first episode was alright, though I think they should’ve gone with the twelve-minute format), Seraph of the End (alright), Blood Blockade Battlefront, Afterschool Pleides, Ninja Slayer, Puncline, and Nagato-Yuki-chan.
    Maybes: Kiniro Mosaic 2, Knights of Sidonia 2, Nisekoi 2, and a few others.

    How come you’re not watching much aside from sequels? I assume mostly because of school, but is it also because not a lot piques your interest this season?

    • Yumeka says:

      Well, at least you got some enjoyment from Shirobako XD

      I think you’d like Junketsu no Maria. From what I know of your tastes, I don’t think it has many things you would dislike, and probably a number of things you would like.

      I try not to watch more than my usual number of shows per season, and there just happens to be so many sequels filling up the slots this time XD But I may check out one or two non-sequel series besides Euphonium and Kyokai no Rinne.

  2. Kal says:

    Shirobako was a ton of fun for me! The insight into the anime industry (even if looked through rose-tinted glasses), was very interesting. And I liked the characters a lot. The 5 girls, even how they got into one anime episode together in the end, was quite realistic. Apart from the few over-the-top scenes, it was all quite plausible. I guess I found the characters quite relatable. Trying their best to work at what they like, but finding out it’s not all flowers and sunshine. Having to work with others that do not work at the same pace. It’s just pretty relatable to me. So I kept cheering for the girls, and it was great how they were able to do something together by the end. It was just lots of fun.

    Maria was also great. I think I had the same trepidation when I started it. I mean… A witch, that will lose her powers if she loses her virginity… Gosh, it sounded so trite… But, I’m glad I stuck with it, and it was really good. Another one where the characters were simply well written. They all acted in ways that I would expect them to. Even Lolotte, I mean, she’s around death so much, her life is based around the death of others. She’s probably quite used to change, and hard to surprise. The priest was also interesting, he was quite smart, and this logic led him down to some interesting conclusions as well. I can’t say I disliked any of the characters. I think it was really well written, and executed very well. Even for a 1 cour anime. Very nice indeed.

    This season, I plan to watch all those you mentioned, and I’ve already seen a few 1st episodes. One that really surprised me, is “Plastic Memories”. I like anything involving the singularity concept, and that one is right up my alley. I think it was quite well done, and started off really well. So this coming season is looking really good!

    • Yumeka says:

      Glad you liked these two shows as well!

      I get that Lolotte has been around death and destruction so much that she’s used to it, but I felt a more normal reaction would be to show no emotion and act “numb” about it rather than to treat it lightly and be cheerful. But that’s just me XD

      I read about Plastic Memories and it does sound interesting! The premise reminds me of Chobits, which I like. I may check it out if I can squeeze it into my already filling up watch-list.

  3. chikorita157 says:

    I agree with your thoughts with Shirobako and for the most part, it did a good job showing how the Anime industry operates. It gives some new appreciation how Anime is being made, especially for animators since they have a hard life in general mostly because they are overworked and paid very little (something I covered in an editorial a month back). But still, I agree that it’s a big improvement over Glasslip, which I haven’t reviewed yet.

    For this season, I’m mostly covering Fate/stay Night UBW and Hibike! Euphonium. Will also be watching Nisekoi 2, Yuki-chan and Nanoha Vivid… but yes, Spring seems to be a bit better in comparison compared to last season. Still, I’m behind on Sailor Moon Crystal, but I may as well wait until all the episodes airs before finishing that.

    • Yumeka says:

      Seeing an anime about anime could be a good premise if handled right, and I think Shirobako did a great job =) I know it idealized some things, but was overall accurate in its depictions.

      I may watch the Nisekoi OVAs before I start the second season just to get myself in the mood XD It’s one of a few series I watched but never reviewed on the blog because it was during the summer hiatus I had last year. I didn’t have too much to say about it though: despite getting very predictable in the latter episodes (I found myself accurately predicting all the interactions between Raku and Chitoge before they even happened, from having seen so many similar romance comedy anime XD) it still had a lot of funny moments.

  4. jimmy says:

    I’ve already mentioned Shirobako was one of my top series of the year, and I’m glad to see you liked it too. I found it pretty great overall. I wasn’t too sure on the wackier characters, such as Kunogi, but eventually made my peace with the fact that the show had those sort of over-the-top characters and scenes (Kinoshita’s storming of the publishing company is a good example of the latter, and one you mentioned as well). I appreciated most of them, but I thought the show’s was at its best when it was being sincere. I recently added a “Best scene” section to my anime seasons spreadsheet, and gave it to Shirobako in each of its cours: the first, the Exodus planning session, where they all get drawn into it and it culminates with the cast appearing spectrally; the second, Shizuka reading for the part of Lucy. From Aoi’s initial reaction to Shizuka reading “I just got a step closer to my dream”, the sequence was fantastic.

    Junketsu no Maria was one of the better series of the year, but I didn’t find it fantastic. I did think the historical+plus+witch+integration setting was well done and interesting, and the last episode was a good one, even if it was all a bit neat.

    I’m watching the series you look to follow, and others. I’ve written some posts in the ANN’s preview thread:
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com.au/bbs/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2962885&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=121
    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com.au/bbs/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=2962885&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=182

    At the moment, for me, Plastic Memories and Puru Purun Charm to Asobou are the standouts in quality, and Show By Rock!! is the standout in “WTF did I just watch?”. I’d recommend watching the first episode of that even if you had no intention to watch more from the outset.

    In answer to your Digimon question: sadly, I don’t work at Toei, but I gather it’s not going to happen this season. Reminds me of Sailor Moon Crystal, which, hey, did happen eventually.

    • Yumeka says:

      I think Shirobako was a surprise hit for a lot of people =) Even though I could do without the over-the-top scenes that I mentioned, they didn’t bother me as much as the comedy scenes in Shigatsu Uso and many others, probably because Shirobako is overall a light series, so it lends itself better to breaking into humorous moments than a series that’s otherwise sad and heavy.

      Skimmed through some of your posts – I’ve been hearing good things about Plastic Memories, so I’m pretty sure I’m gonna check that one out too XD I read the first handful of chapters of Kyokai no Rinne back when it first came out and found it way too similar to Inuyasha…but I may give it a watch anyway as I like Takahashi’s style regardless. I also may feel obligated to check out Yuki-chan since I’m a Haruhi fan even though I have little interest in spin-off series. If I can track down decent subs of Rinne and Yuki-chan that is.

      • jimmy says:

        Funimation’s just put them up for Yuki; not sure anyone’s planning to do Rinne. I never saw Inuyasha – in the year 2015, do you think it’s a good series to pick up and watch, assuming you have the time?

        • Yumeka says:

          Inuyasha was my most favorite series from roughly 2002 to 2007 (before Haruhi took that position), so that’s saying something in terms of how much I liked it ;) I still like it nowadays, but not as much obviously. The last third of the series could have been better, and when the manga finally ended in 2008, I wasn’t particularly satisfied. But I can certainly recommend it to this day if the story sounds interesting to you. The characters are fantastic and it has a great mix of drama, fantasy, comedy, and romance. But yeah, it is a long series, so only pick it up if you have the time. If you don’t care between the anime or the manga, I would go with the manga since you can get through it much faster.

          • jimmy says:

            Fair enough. I’ll give it a watch, though I can’t promise it’ll be this year. I assume we’ll see a “Shows I’m watching this season first impressions” post, but I’ll say that I think Ore Monogatari!! and Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku have struck me as worth checking out since, so I’d recommend those as well.

  5. I too loved Shirobako, as you know. =D

    I actually loved the over-the-top fantastical scenes in the final two episodes (director Kinoshita striking a pose in front of the publisher’s building with that spaghetti Western music in the background had me choking with laughter). But I know they were a departure from the usual tone of the series, so I can see why you would find them jarring or out of place. ;-)

    I’ll probably buy the DVDs. It would be fun to own Shirobako!

    • Yumeka says:

      Glad you enjoyed it too ;)

      Has a licensed Shirobako DVD release been announced? If it’s popular enough it should be, though probably not right away. Which is fine if you’re planning to watch it again with the DVDs XD

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