Schoolgirl Strikers: Animation Channel – 01 (First Impressions)

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To find our King Arthur, of course…

The Gist: this is the story of an all girls’ school’s semi-secret monster fighting team, that exists because monsters are appearing mysteriously more often than usual. While monster fighting and mystery are on tap, the true conflict appears to be cast need to balance their school lives, quirky friendships, and monster fighting lives at the same time.

You may enjoy SSAC for its visual gloss and character designs. Nothing is remarkable, especially the heavy use of CG for backgrounds, but the heavy use of color overlays for the technology and the bright pallet give it a rich feeling and pop.

The humor may also give you a smile, especially Protagonist-chan‘s quest to fabricate 7 Mysteries of the school, to make the school more exciting and possibly less likely to be criticized by the School Board in the process. (Cute concept, right?)

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The Verdict: Unfortunately, SSAC’s opening battle, which featured a dull gray CG rendered background and underwhelming sci-fi girls attacking a goofy-looking monster without any setup, followed by a GIRLS TAKE A SHOWER scene, completely tossed my interest out the window.

It’s neither quirky enough, nor is the action’s quality high enough, for me to get invested in what appears to be a large and forgettable cast. I didn’t even process any of their names! Unless Winter’s offerings are extra terrible, I can’t imagine reviewing this moving forward.

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Ushio to Tora – 26 (Fin until April)

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When Tora arrives, he’s really bored and just wants to smash shit, despite the fact things are more complicated due to the presence of Bal-chan within the Hakumen experiment. The insufferably procedural attitude of the scientists continues, with the three preparing to seal the entire lab and detonate it in order to prevent Hakumen from escaping—without regard to whoever is still inside.

That’s when Asako and Ushio are all like STFU with the science-y emotional detatchment, because it’s getting really old. They manage to convince one scientist, Helena, to stay behind and try to stop Hakumen to allow everyone to escape safely.

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Asako works with Helena up in the control room, but when Helena is seriously wounded, Asako has to take over getting the oscillator up and running. Once they immobilize the Hakumen in its tracks, Ushio and Tora free Bal-chan and smash the Hakumen to pieces. But while everyone is in a good position to be saved, Helena seems to know between her blood loss and the encroaching poisonous gas that her own time is up.

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In her last minutes, she’s enlightened by the power Ushio and Tora draw from each other, those they wish to protect, and the powerful enemies they face. As such, this episode becomes a kind of mission statement for the show and it’s core chemistry as a whole. No one in Ushio to Tora thrives alone. Ushio needs Tora and Asako; Tora needs Ushio and Mayuko (and vice versa all ’round); and Ushio and Tora need Hakumen no Mono to realize their full potential.

Without Asako and Helena’s help, Ushio and Tora wouldn’t have been able to beat Hakumen. When the humans succumb to the gas, it’s up to Tora to get them all out of the lab before it explodes. It’s a “pain in the ass”, but Tora has to do it nonetheless, or he wouldn’t be able to live with himself. More than that, he’d have a lot less fun without these humans around.

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I was glad to see Helena, initially a thoroughly unlikable and immoral mad scientist, redeemed this week, along with her less courageous colleagues, who surrender to the JSDF, ending H.A.M.M.R.’s brief rebellion. They can take solace in knowing their faithful colleague worked tirelessly until the end to get them data on Hakumen vital to developing a weapon against it.

As for Ushio, he’s faked out by the Asako dummy Tora made from his hair, and the real Asako is right behind him to hear him cry out for her. So naturally, the two start bickering in each other’s faces about who was more reckless today, but at the end of the day, aside from Helena, whose sacrifice made it possible, everyone is safe and sound.

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Back to Fugen’in we go, where it’s another day, another threat by Tora to eat Ushio, and another instance of Ushio successfully resisting being eaten by using his Beast Spear. Asako and Mayuko arrive to calm things down, or at least join in the chaos, and Shigure celebrates how back-to-normal life has become, hoping it can stay that way at least a little longer until the final showdown with Hakumen no Mono, who is awake and biding his/her time. We can look forward to that showdown this coming Spring.

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Ushio to Tora – 25

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Okay, now that I’m aware that this show isn’t ending with 26 episodes, I’m a lot more on board with episodes like last week’s which deepen the bonds of the characters through conflicts not directly related to facing and defeating Hakumen no Mono (also, Ushio isn’t quite ready to face the boss yet).

Last week was Mayuko’s time to shine, and shine she did; but I’ve also been itching for a proper Asako-centric episode, and this week delivered. It also re-integrated Hakumen into its conflict by introducing a new adversary not yet seen in the world of Ushio to Tora: Sthe anti-Hakumen scientific organization H.A.M.M.R. (it’s a tortured acronym).

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That’s right, Asako and Tora: these guys are trying to Science the Shit out of the Hakumen problem. But they’ve apparently gone rogue, or so (as Atsukawa, from ep 8, reports to Ushio’s dad), and this week let their hubris get the best of them, believing they can do whatever the hell they want in the name of scientific advancement.

They also don’t fight by the same rules as Ushio and Tora’s former foes, employing unsporting tricks like tranquilizers on the former and a “Kirlian oscillation device” on the latter. But while Ushio is passed out when he’s captured, Tora lets himself be captured, certain they’ll take him and Asako to their base where they can then rescue him.

Ushio uses his magic hair to create a distraction, then make a double of Asako, letting the real Asako loose in the facility, determined to save Ushio.

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Everything about the scientists’ approach once they have the Beast Spear offends Ushio; poking and prodding with machines what he knows was a labor of love and sacrifice. He knew the people whose souls went into the damn thing, and these white coats are desecrating it; but he’s too hopped up on tranqs to do anything about it.

With Tora locked up as well, that leaves it all up to Asako. She’s temporarily sidetracked when she enters a lab where numerous youkai and ghosts are being restrained and experimented on, including a gentle, blue-haired humanoid, Bel-chan, but this is a good opportunity for Asako to show off her profound decency for all beings, be they alive or dead. Like Ushio, everything about this place is just…wrong.

The Scientists have Ushio fighing a robot to test his levels and the spears when Asako is finally reunited with him, but a particle of Hakumen they collected goes berserk, and all their fancy tech can’t bring it down, Ushio has to take a stab at it. And in true Ushio fashion, while the scientists are pretty awful people, he still protects them from the monster they created, because that’s his job.

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Even so, he has to be careful, because Asako’s new friend Bel-chan is among the entities absorbed by the Hakumen fragment, giving him all their powers and abilities. Even though Bel is fine being killed and the scientists don’t know a way to separate the good from the bad, neither Ushio or Asako are keen on the idea of killing him.

That hesitation almost gets them all killed, but Asako still has Ushio’s hair tied around her finger. Once she pulls it, Tora—who’d been waiting impatiently in his cell, wondering if “that woman” forgot him—blasts out of his confinement in a very badass sequence. TORA-KUN HAS ENTERED THE BATTLE.

At first I was a little surprised the fight didn’t get wrapped up this week, but any resolution would’ve been so quick as to diminish the threat of the Hakumen beast. Also, it’s not inconceivable that Ushio’s dad could still show up to help out, since he’s aware of H.A.M.M.R.’s treachery. Finally, I’m game for a part two if it means I get to watch more Asako!

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Shirobako – 03

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Shirobako spent so much time showing us the dizzy-busy world of making animation in such an frank way (read: never breaking character or the fourth wall) my brain melted. Here, check the key frames! You can see my gray matter dripping out and plopping on the floor!

In all fairness, Shirobako’s overwhelming detail makes for exceptionally educational viewing. Except, according to people I know on FX’s Archer, Cartoon Network’s ATHF and PBS’ Peep, this is not entirely how the animation goes down in the USA. It’s not totally different, mind you, but the structural differences and timelines don’t really match up.

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Unfortunately it’s not very educational for me either; it would be if I hadn’t done some animation in school and/or if I wasn’t married to an animator and been roped into several of her projects.

Blah blah blah enough about me and my spoiled eight years of art school. what happened this episode?

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Lots happened but none of the details matter! Not even the people matter, really. You’d have a very hard time remembering any of their names without constant name-blocks popping up on screen and, even then, they are just cogs in the process of making the show.

And making of Exodus Episode 4 was all this week was about. Things have fallen apart, new people are getting overwhelmed and the old-timers (and a 2.5-hour drive) save the day.

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Is Shirobako bad, then?

No. No, it’s pretty good. At least, it’s very well-constructed, visually appealing, and very coherent in so far as understanding who is doing what and what they are working towards. But…

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Oh my god! I don’t care!

Excluding the occasional dolls coming to life in the protagonist’s sleep-deprived mind, it’s a show about a bland magical girl show being made by a head-splitting number of characters. The subs can be massive and the details provide nothing interesting if you don’t want to learn how anime is made.

And I already know most of that!

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Shirobako – 02

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Shirobako is a strange beast. It’s well-animated, well voiced and the plot and characters are moving on nicely. However, that plot is about a plucky young studio making a fictional anime, is deeply involved in the particulars of making anime in general, and features a cast so broad there is no way we will ever remember their names or come to know more than a sliver of them.

Oh yeah! Not only did it introduce new characters this week, but it sent a toss back to the opening of the first episode to remind us that the true story here is about the five girls who wanted to go into animation when they were in high school.

Ahhhh!

shirobako2_7Harry Potter is in the cast now…  for some reason.

This week, Exodus hits a few stumbling points. First, episode 3 and 4’s keyframe animator is sick and second, the wishy-washy director wants to redo a lot of work very very late in production.

Both of these challenges fall on the shoulders of our heroine, who’s name I can’t remember because she’s one of 40 characters zipping around all the time. Rather, she’s usually sitting down, but we are zipping from scene to scene.

Zooooom!

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Obviously, our heroine saves the day by finding a replacement keyframe lead and deftly directs the development conversation into better understanding the characters, and making those characters compelling enough for the crew to get on board with reanimating them.

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Then Exodus’ characters come alive right on top of the conference table. I have no idea if this was a literal scene or just an over the top manifestation of the crew’s communal vision.

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Because a show with a cast this large needed to introduce each voice actor for it’s own fictional anime. Rock’n!

Given how mundane yet technical Shirobako’s plot is turning out to be, not much is popping out for me to comment on. The show isn’t dull, per se, it’s just…unimportant? I mean, it’s hard to care about the world-building of an office that is debating world-building.

Yes! I went to art school for eight years, and Yes! I’ve done technical management and development in the creative industry for ten years, so Yes! I see this stuff all the time. But even I don’t find it very compelling storytelling.

…Yay?

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Cute jab at the industry and, basically, this week’s only “joke”…

I honestly don’t know what to make of this show. I’m not even sure I’m going to stop watching it — it’s very easy to watch and, while the characters may be played out if you have to work with people like them professionally, nothing is unbearable. But…

I mean what am I really watching? Why does this exist? It’s not especially compelling and the core characters are buried in extraneous other content. Crushed under it. Hrm…

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Shirobako – 01

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Shirobako starts with a team of 5 high school girls who form an animation club to produce their own mini-feature for their school festival. However, the show quickly blasts through to their graduation and then beyond to director Miyamori Aoi’s first televised work.

Shirobako is claustrophobically packed with characters and details about producing an animated series. We get to know all the steps, people, and process along the way, strung together by Miyamori, who rushes to keep it all together.

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I found the characters easy to visually differentiate and, as only a few of them are important to the immediate challenges of the animation’s day to day, my complete inability to remember the 20+ characters and their jobs has not yet been a problem.

That said, I really have no idea who anyone is, except Miyamori. Even then, I had to watch episode one a second time just to see who she was earlier in high school.

She was the blond in charge who liked Donuts most of all!

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What’s the story? Shirobako presents the creation story of Exodus, a magical girl anime and first full season produced by a new studio. While operations run smoothly at first, an early mistake causes delays for episode 3, which sets a chain of delay-making dominoes tumbling and its up to Miyamori to drive people emotionally (and in her car) to pick up the pieces.

Miyamori also drives very quickly in some funky fun hot-hatch drift racing action!

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Emotional support role-play from your dolls: good sign!

It’s tight, colorful, believable and, given that one of the contractors passes out (or worse by the end) Shirobako is also emotionally poignant. There’s a price to the anime we watch and Shirobako makes a case that we should care about the people paying it.

That said…honestly I’m worried this she is a tad indulgent. I mean, This is an anime about a studio making an anime, by a studio making an anime. Like writers writing about writers…I feel it risks being preachy more than meta.

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However I may feel about the artistic validity of it’s concept, I did enjoy Shirobako. I’m just not sure I have it in me to review it this season.

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