Shirobako, Episode 5

Subtitle: On the Importance of Workplace Communication

Shirobako‘s a pretty sneaky show—it gives us an episode titled “Those Who Blame Others Should Just Quit!” and then proceeds to give us an entire episode of one guy who probably really does deserve to be blamed (although not entirely). It’s pretty eye-opening to watch Tarou’s exhibition of his absolutely abysmal communication skills (and lack of common sense), and as fun as it is to just blast him over sucking at his job, I think there’s a pretty impressive opportunity for self-reflection here. Even if you don’t have a job right now, Shirobako‘s highlighting a pretty important message here: communication is key.

And, along with all that, Shirobako managed to squeeze in a whole bunch of jokes, commentary on the 2D-3D debate, parallel that debate with Aoi’s struggles with her future, and lead us into the “one person’s problem is everyone’s problem” episode.


Now, to start off, Endou quitting as the episode director for episode 8 and storming out of the office is a pretty childish path to take. He’s understandably upset, having made his name by doing effects key animation, but despite his pride as an artist, just dropping off a project for the sake of his own ego is a pretty immature choice to make—one that doesn’t affect just him, but also everyone else on the team. You don’t always get to do the tasks you want to do on the job, and sometimes you just have to accept that.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Tarou completely fails at his own job; that is, communicating. I don’t know that much about animation production or chains of communication, but it’s pretty clear from what Shirobako has shown us so far that Production Assistants are the essential communicators at animation studios without their own internal phone system. The hilarity/irony/tragedy of this crisis is that if Endou and the 3-D director had just gotten together for a five minute conversation, the entire problem could have been avoided. However, that’s apparently not how things work, so the onus falls on Tarou to convey each side’s messages to the other clearly and effectively. He doesn’t.


You’re not wrong, Tarou…but somehow hearing this from you just irks me…

So, while Tarou’s not at fault for Endou’s ego or the director choosing to go with 3-D, his is responsible for failing to convey the messages of each party to each other to aid the negotiations. Instead, his constant need to interject his own opinions and put his own spin on things continually isolates Endou, making the animation director feel attacked and unneeded.

I was basically watching is disbelief as Tarou moved back and forth between the 3-D department and Endou, miscommunicating constantly. “No, Tarou, what are you saying?!” was the constant refrain in my thoughts. Feeling the need to interpret (erroneously) the subtext behind each message, Tarou basically deconstructs Endou’s talents and purpose—unintentionally, but still! And all this is compounding by the fact that Tarou doesn’t act as a negotiator, or even completely clue Endou in on what’s happening. So, not only does Endou feel attacked, but he’s also in the dark as to what’s really happening…


…which leads to him starting work that’s no longer needed. And so, when Tarou FINALLY actually tells him that they’re doing the cut in 3-D, Endou hears that his work is no longer needed. Again, this all goes back to communication. If Tarou had simply communicated the director’s wishes verbatim (or even close to it) to Endou—”the 3-D works well, so if you haven’t already started the key animation, don’t”—the whole situation could have been avoided. Instead, Tarou frames his introduction in a way that sounds like a debate: “He said it looked cooler.”

For me, though, the worst part is that Tarou refuses to really take responsibility for the mess he’s caused until the end of the episode. Instead, he tries to blame Aoi (10%, really?) and compel her to clean up his mess, refusing to go to his boss and explain the situation. Sure, his motives might, might be good—after all, Honda was under a lot of pressure this episode—but Tarou had ample opportunities to bring things up before that point. Not acknowledging and trying to immediately fix your mistakes in a workplace environment is one of the worst things you can do, and Tarou falls right into that trap.


And gloating over Aoi’s problems? Being a jerk is half the reason you don’t deserve any sympathy, Tarou.

But, that’s not all this episode did—which is a pretty decent representation of why Shirobako is so good. This workplace tiff leads nicely into a little discussion on the future of anime (2D versus 3D is something that’s debated in the industry, not the just fandom, it seems), and there’s a lot of artistic pride on the line. And it makes sense. Have you seen really good sakuga animation? It’s incredibly impressive stuff that obviously requires a lot of artistry. I like technology as much as anyone, but there are some things that computer just can’t replicate yet (and maybe will never be able to). So there’s that.

But Shirobako‘s not content to just let that lie, but parallels its musings on the future of anime with Aoi’s own concerns about her future (which we got a hint at last episode). Shirobako already has a ton of meta-layers going on here, but taking it another step? My head is spinning, guys.


And we end up with a beautifully laid counterpoint (or companion, perhaps) to this episode on blaming other people with Tarou’s problem becoming Aoi’s problem. Because that’s the flipside of this whole deal—Tarou may have screwed up, but Aoi’s part of his team and what’s one member of the team’s problem is the whole team’s problem. Now, I’m not saying Tarou was in the right to hide everything from the other staff members and continually pressuring Aoi alone into helping him, but now she gets to see the results of blowing him off come back to haunt her.

Don’t forget that when Aoi was in trouble with episode 4 of Exodus a few episodes of Shirobako back (oh my gosh), the whole office seemed to jump to help her. Now, obviously Tarou’s decision to not tell anyone besides Aoi about the problem limits the team’s ability to assist me (there’s a lesson in that), but it might have been good of Aoi to remember that she was once in her annoying coworker’s place. But we can save that for next week.


I hate it when that happens.

2 thoughts on “Shirobako, Episode 5

  1. Shirobako should carry trigger warnings for people who have worked in similar fields. I worked in movie visual effects once upon a time, and a good friend was a production assistant on a particular famous movie. The production assistant is in the impossible position (at least in a VFX house) of having infinite responsibility, and absolutely no power. They are charged with getting people above them (animation directors in her case too) to do stuff they don’t want to, and that the producers/directors/VFX directors don’t want to get involved with. The tangle Tarou got into was not at all surprising considering the position he’s in (an underling having to direct his superiors, risking bruising egos, and getting tossed out on his ear).

    True, Tarou didn’t handle it very well, but there was no handling it well. The shop jumped to help Aoi, as you mention, but her problem was logistical, not political if I recall.

    You mention this: ” if Endou and the 3-D director had just gotten together for a five minute conversation, the entire problem could have been avoided. ” So true! and so often impossible! I used to say that to my friend over lunch all the time, “Just get them together instead of running back and forth giving messages” Wasn’t going to happen then, and not in Shirobako either, I guess.

    As far as trying to blame Aoi. definitely uncool. He’ll make a fine producer someday.

    Again, this show needs trigger warnings. The specter of cascading delays still gives me a cold sweat.


    • Yeah, Tarou was put in a bad spot, but man did he handle it badly. & yeah, it’s a good point that Aoi’s problem was different in nature than Tarou’s. Like I said, he really hamstrung himself by not reaching out to anyone besides Aoi. What, realistically, could she have done to help him anyways?

      And yup, yup, yup. Communication is so key—it’s pretty weird how many people in business don’t understand that concept at all.

      Trigger warnings and just general “do not try this behavior at work” warnings, too.


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