Shirobako definitively became one of my favorite anime series of all time in the wake a certain story event; but like with the show itself, so much of what’s great about that scene has to do with the context surrounding it–both within the text and within the show’s exterior meta. Let’s break it all down, with spoilers up through episode twelve; if you haven’t seen this show already, I recommend it more than I recommend breathing.
The scene in question involves the main character, Miyamori Aoi, who is an animation runner for a TV show that’s nearing the end of its production cycle and in dire straits over finishing the biggest piece of animation for its grand finale, which had been altered at the last minute. Aoi is running all over town in desperate search of anyone who can animate this scene on ludicrously short notice during the holiday season, passing by and jealously gazing into parodies of real-world giant studios like Sunrise and pining for the beautiful mechanism of a well-planned production.
By way of random chance encounters and connections, Aoi finds herself at the home of what is unmistakably a cartoon parody of the one and only anime legend Hideaki Anno–director of Neon Genesis Evangelion and, at an early point in his career, a fantastic key animator.
This is the first point at which the episode really hits me at my core, because it’s fucking Anno. In the context of the story, we’re told that this guy is a legend of the industry, and it’s easy enough to read what you’re meant to think about him and his attitude without having any idea what an Evangelion is–a show which was released when Aoi herself was only two years old. But if you do know who Anno is, then holy shit! It’s really Hideaki Anno!
And of course it is, because what more recognizable face and name is there in the anime industry, besides perhaps the truly reclusive Hayao Miyazaki? What could be more climactic an appearance–who could be more of a final boss for the cour-one climax of a show about anime production full of character parodies of real-life industry figures, then Hideaki Fucking Anno? I mean, you don’t even have to like the guy to appreciate this on the meta level–but coming from someone who wrote a video term paper about him, I think my excitement is understandable.
But it’s really everything that comes after Anno’s appearance that goes so far in not only justifying it, but making this show’s purpose oh-so-clear and saying so much about the anime industry and its history and its current state of being and what any of it is all about. It’s not just that he’s Hideaki Anno, infamously notorious director; it’s also that he’s Hideaki Anno, massive otaku and animation aficionado. It’s Hideaki Anno who would be as excited to meet and to work with a legendary animator as anyone might be to work with him; and it’s both of those Hideaki Annos whose advice is imperative to Aoi at this crucial moment.
Anno points Aoi in the direction of one titan of an animator who just happens to work at Aoi’s studio, and who’s mostly been doing assistant work for other studios’ shows because he isn’t good at the moe-style drawing that his studio’s current show is utilizing. Of course Anno can easily rattle off this guy’s prior work and where his specialties lie, because that’s the kind of knowledge that Hideaki Anno has; and if Aoi had known the first thing about Anno as an animator, as I do, then she’d know that he’s mostly good for explosions and debris–not so much animals or humans.
But that older animator, Shigeru Sugie, is not just a character in the show either. He isn’t directly based on a real-world figure in the same way that Anno is, but when we actually get to watch the scene which he animates at the end of the episode, it all clicks together to realize that it was in-real-life animated by one Toshiyuki Inoue–a real-life veteran of the industry who also is best known for his extremely realistic movement style and not really for having worked on anything moe–more like, so many of the most beautifully realistic films of the 90s and early 2000s.
It was in researching Toshiyuki Inoue after seeing this episode, that I found an interview with him conducted by the president of P.A. Works himself, Kenji Horikawa, who was of course the producer of Shirobako as well. In it, Inoue not only talks about learning from the techniques of people like Hideaki Anno, but also about how important it was for him to learn how to draw fast, and to be able to animate as many cuts as he could as quickly as possible–which mirrors the advice that the character Sugie gave to Ema in one of the early episodes: that it’s important to develop speed while you’re young and full of endurance, and to make up the difference in skill later; advice that I personally feel very strongly about and have relayed to many other creatives who were in search of guidance while directly quoting him.
I was lucky enough to meet Kenji Horikawa at Otakon this year, and got his signature on this reprint of an original genga drawing from Shirobako. He was personally very interested in the opinions of the American audience on the productions of PA Works, and had a questionaire for us to fill out on what we wanted from anime. I wrote that I want more Diesel-san.
If it seems like I’m spiralling away from the topic, it’s because this is exactly what Shirobako is all about–threading a needle through the endlessly rip tapestry of anime production. So much of anime creation is so tightly woven, as this small medium evolves so much in on itself and produces so many noteworthy figures and such passion from its audience. Somewhere between the fact that there’s all these awesome people in real life who made all these awesome shows together, and then some of them made this awesome show that features animated versions of so many of the other awesome people doing awesome things, is just fucking… awesome! To think that a few weeks ago, I was in a theater watching an excellent live-action Godzilla movie directed by Hideaki Anno, and that this guy who who signed this printing that I got at Otakon called in his friend, who once animated this scene in Jin-Roh and this scene from The Sky Crawlers, to animate this shot from Shirobako, under the pretense that in the story it was being animated by this guy, whom the main character was guided to by Hideaki Fucking Anno, is kind of destroying my mind right now.
Rewatching this episode again, it’s actually incredible how Anno is only onscreen for maybe two minutes or so–but there’s so much impact in the details. Of course Anno has a gigantic model battleship in his living room; of course they’d give him a stupid ass couch with the color scheme of Unit 01; and of course, he’d rattle off anime trivia and recount the impact of a piece of animation with the kind of passionate movement that… well, that I would. And yeah, when Miyamori makes the connection that Sugie must have animated this other, similar-looking scene from one of the dramatic moments in her favorite show from her childhood, in the same way that I was learning about Toshiyuki Inoue’s catalog of work after watching this show, is something that still brings a tear to my eye.
Shirobako episode 12 is a damn good episode of a damn good series, and every second of it reminds me of why I love anime so stupidly much in the first place. I know this isn’t a scene that everyone could relate to, or even that this video will mean much of anything to a lot of people; but for anyone who’s spent their days excitedly tracking down everything that your favorite director ever did, or brimming as you thumb through an animator’s tag on sakugabooru, this episode is practically the story of your life written lovingly by your very own idols.
Great Scenes In Anime is hopefully a video series that I’ll be revisiting in the future, and maybe next time with something not so intimately personal and more conventionally impressive. Until then, I hope you’ll share this video with anyone whom you think would appreciate it, and that you’ll check out my other channels for more of my passionate ranting about anime and stuff. Support me on patreon if you want to see more stuff like this and, as always, thanks again for watching–I’ll see you in the next one!