Weekly Digest 11/7/14 – Shirobako, Psycho-Pass 2

Shirobako - 05 -11 Shirobako - 05 -20 Psycho 2 - 05 -4 Psycho 2 - 05 -9

I had no idea when I called Shirobako a WUG for the anime production world that it would turn out to be as true as it has.

Shirobako – 05

Shirobako - 05 -1 Shirobako - 05 -2 Shirobako - 05 -3
Shirobako - 05 -4 Shirobako - 05 -5 Shirobako - 05 -6
Shirobako - 05 -7 Shirobako - 05 -8 Shirobako - 05 -9
Shirobako - 05 -10 Shirobako - 05 -12 Shirobako - 05 -13
Shirobako - 05 -14 Shirobako - 05 -15 Shirobako - 05 -16
Shirobako - 05 -17 Shirobako - 05 -18 Shirobako - 05 -19


First off, I would certainly acknowledge that Shirobako is an interesting series – and that it’s better, on the whole, than Wake Up! Girls.  But many of the questions that popped into mind watching WUG are doing so again here, and I’m feeling many of the same frustrations.

Watching an episode like this one, it’s hard for me not to wonder – just how much of what he’d really like to say is Mizushima Tsutomu being allowed to say?  How much was Yamamoto Yutaka?  Each of them is a near-auteur director taking on an industry that’s rife with problems (many of them inter-related with the other).  Is the fact that these shows are soft-pedaling the problems symptomatic of a reality where neither man can be honest or hope to continue working in the business, or is that an accurate reflection of how they feel?  The truth is, there’s really no way to know.

I do know this – Shirobako (like WUG) is at least shining a light on some areas that could use a little exposure.  And that so much of the potential of this series is frittered away because of its insistence on clinging to anime cliche and flavor-of-the-week pandering to try and sell discs.  If Shirobako wasn’t saddled with a generic “five moe gal-pals” premise, and determined to force frankly insulting caricatures of incompetent and simple-minded male idiots being saved from themselves by plucky and overburdened females, it could be so, so much more.  There’s the essence of something enlightening here but – ironically – I’m not sure that anime as it exists is the medium in which it could ever be brought to fruition.

What was especially interesting this week was the conflict that arose over key animation vs. 3D rendering – even if the denouement played as is if it’d been written by a studio P.R. Director.  This is a huge issue, of course – it could hardly be more elemental to the present and future of the industry.  It’s a powerful subject on an economic level, and equally so an emotional one.  There’s the artistic debate, as fundamental as it gets – can 3D animation capture the soul and impact of well-drawn 2D animation?  And then the hard and painful reality that animators all over Japan are quite rightly living in fear of their jobs being taken away by CGI (which is already happening, in a big way).

I applaud Shirobako for taking this on.  But I was disappointed in the way it settled on a pretty pat answer, and that it more or less dismissed Endou-san (Matsumoto Shinobu) and those like him as relics of the past, stubbornly clinging to the old ways (“If you want to do CG animation, go to California!”) and refusing to accept the future.  Admire him for his idealism, fine, but more than anything pity him for being doomed, a museum piece.  The series is going to throw a bone by allowing the explosion scene to be done in 2D, it seems, but the overall message it’s sending could hardly be more clear.

Again, full credit where it’s due – I’ve not seen an anime even raise this issue in a remotely serious sense, just as I’d never seen one question some of the venal aspects of the idol trade as WUG did (albeit in an incredibly watered-down fashion).  It was probably too much to hope for an unsparing and nuanced presentation, as that sort of thing is close to extinct in anime generally these days, and certainly not going to happen when it’s looking inward.  It would be great if Shirobako could do that, or if it could spare us endless tripe like Tarou’s relentless idiocy causing problems for the female cast to solve or the shameless (and relentless) depiction of Kinoshita as an utter buffoon, and show us what an anime production is really like.  But what we’re getting is probably as close as Mizushima-sensei could get to that, even if he wanted to get closer.

Psycho-Pass 2 – 05

Psycho 2 - 05 -1 Psycho 2 - 05 -2 Psycho 2 - 05 -3
Psycho 2 - 05 -5 Psycho 2 - 05 -6 Psycho 2 - 05 -7
Psycho 2 - 05 -8 Psycho 2 - 05 -10 Psycho 2 - 05 -11
Psycho 2 - 05 -12 Psycho 2 - 05 -13 Psycho 2 - 05 -14

Any day where I drop both halves of a full NoitaminA slate is a bad anime day indeed, but that’s where I find myself.  I’m not nearly as broken up about Psycho-Pass 2 because unlike with Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso I was never more than mildly interested in this series, but it’s still a shame.  It’s NoitaminA, and it’s a show that isn’t completely trading on anime cliche, one that focuses on adults who work for a living, and with a signature style to boot.  Those don’t grow on trees.

Last week’s episode gave me a whisper of hope for this series, but it was founded on the most superficial of reasons (good shock value).  And really, despite the presence of the always-interesting Saiga, it’s remarkable how bored I was by this episode.  I looked back over a few of my posts about the original Psycho-Pass and it really reminded me that for all its flaws, it was infinitely more interesting than this one.  Gen Urobuchi is a flawed writer to be sure, but he does present interesting ideas and problems (which he never truly resolves) and he has a way with quirky characters and engaging dialogue.  I think this year is fascinating in that Aldnoah.Zero, Fate/stay night UBW and Psycho-Pass 2 all serve to highlight that Gen’s absence in the creative process leaves a gap that isn’t easy to fill.

Perhaps most tellingly, Psycho-Pass – even (or perhaps especially) when it was most irritating – was always an easy and interesting series about which to write.  This sequel isn’t remotely.  It feels flat, hollow – the characters are lifeless and lack distinction and are frankly way too stupid for the most part.  Kamui has none of the menace or frightening magnetism of Makishima.  The big personalities of the likes of Makishima and Masaoka are desperately missed (even Kougami would be a breath of fresh air).  And there’s no sense of larger moral and ethical dilemmas being explored.

Bottom line for me?  This series is simply not all that good.  You could make an argument that even the first P-P wasn’t the best utilization of NoitaimA (though as long as a show is good, I don’t really care about the demographics or genre) but this one is just a shame.

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7 comments

  1. H

    I'm really glad they have Saiga on board the team – but why did it take a year and half to happen? Yeah, they would have spent a period chastising him for aiding Kougami (I now have Mika ringing in my ears!), but surely Sibyl saw his worth earlier than shown here…

    They've introduce too many new characters these past few weeks than they did during S1! Not to say that there's no room for potential. But it's pretty disconcerting.

    Anyway, that whole angry birds massacre was pretty silly but at the same time downright terrifying. Putting lives in the hands of oblivious trigger happy gamers does behold a certain chilling commentary to it.

  2. E

    Bad sequel indeed.
    As a villain, Kamui doesn't have a speck of Makishima's charm.
    This guy is simply a hentai.
    A hypocrite who talks about free will, while in fact, makes people into his pawns to do his biddings and thrown aside after that; makes a young inspector his sex slave.
    A madman who kills innocent people, tech workers, by making use of oblivious people.
    How is it free will? Do those gamers intend to kill people?
    How is it doing this, deals damage to the Sybil System?
    Also, If he hates the cops so much, he should make the workers friendly units, and marks only the inspectors and enforcers as target.
    An ultimately cardboard character who falls flat on his face.
    Sigh.

  3. m

    After being thoroughly disgusted by that attempt to titillate the audience using shock tactics last week psycho-pass I already have zero expectation for this show and is now only watching to practice my tsukkomi skills (and maybe for Saiga-san).

    Nonetheless, I find the 'angry bird's' parody at the end of the episode to be stupid beyond even the show's low standard. In season 1 we see that Kagari is the only one who plays video games implying that its a vice in society, so why would Sybil even allow a game that's basically a 'killing simulator' become popular in society? We already know that merely thinking about what goes on in a criminal mind could raise one's criminal coefficient, and here the inspector can think 'die, mooks' without having his one rise? This goes beyond stupid to 'who cares about already established canon when we can have people being gunned down by gamer controlled drones?' level of carelessness.

    I think the failure of Psycho-pass 2 and to some extent aldonah zero really illustrates what's special about 'Urobutcher's' brand of violence and why its so compelling. While Urobuchi's works are violence, the violence he inflicts is psychological violence which by necessity requires the victim to have some psychological depth. While physical violence is still present in his works, its more often then not serving as a coup de grace for an already mentally broken character rather than as cheap shocks.

  4. It's funny – I thought Shirobako was the much more interesting episode this week, and I certainly put more into the write-up, but all the commentary has been about Psycho-Pass.

  5. Z

    Regarding Psycho-Pass 2, when you have Jun Kumagai on the series scripts it is not so surprising the results.

  6. Z

    A shame really.

  7. R

    I kept telling myself before this season start, "Brace yourself, PP2 trainwreck incoming" when I saw Jun Kumagai's name credited as the scriptwriter. I mean, just look at his resume.

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