We made it through our first watchalong! Huge thanks to special guest Miles for joining us every week to talk about SHIROBAKO. What has been the most memorable part of our discussions for you? What did you think of the watchalong process itself? What would you like to see us watchalong next? Let us know in comments!
Date Recorded: Saturday 17th June 2017
Hosts: Amelia, Peter
1:56 Overall feelings of this 6 episodes
8:35 Aoi’s Uniqueness
12:25 Hiraoka is also the worst
16:15 Hiraoka and Tarou
27:55 Expectations vs Experience
30:25 Shizuka’s big break
37:25 Miles Expectation vs Experience
38:51 Desires for another season
46:31 Miles desires for another season
49:15 The future of the main five
52:54 Thoughts about the watchalong
AMELIA: Hi, everyone, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name’s Amelia. I’m the editor and chief of Anime Feminist, and I’m joined today by Peter Fobian and Miles Thomas. If you’d like to introduce yourselves?
PETER: I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an Associates Features Editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
MILES: My name is Miles Thomas and I just spent $50 on the preorder for the German SHIROBAKO Blu-Ray just to have it in a fourth language.
AMELIA: [Laughter] I’m so glad that you changed your introduction every single week. I wasn’t sure you could do it. I underestimated you. I apologize.
MILES: I’m glad I was able to get there. I realized actually walking into this that I had not come up with something ahead of time, so I’d have to think about it. Then I’m like, “Wait, no. I just remember what I did last night.” Oh my god.
AMELIA: This is up-to-the minute stuff. We’re right on the edge here.
Okay. We’re here for our final episode of the SHIROBAKO watchalong, which is why we’ve asked our special guest Miles to join us for all of the SHIROBAKO credentials he’s listed throughout the episodes. If you missed them, go back and listen. And the idea of a watchalong is that we watch six episodes at a time in a group where some people have never seen it and have no idea what it’s about, and some people have seen it and love it.
So, Peter and I have never seen SHIROBAKO–or, had never seen SHIROBAKO. We’ve now seen it all the way through. And we’ve week-to-week been talking about what we hope for the next six episodes, how the previous six episodes lived up to our expectations. So, today we’re going to be looking a little bit at the last six episodes, 19 to 24, but also the series as a whole. And, for this one, Miles is going to be answering more of the questions, I think, than in previous weeks.
But let’s start by looking at the previous six episodes, 19 to 24. Everything wrapped up. Peter, what did you think of this one? This set of six?
PETER: This set of six episodes? I thought it was better. The hiccup with it…I mean, they still showed up with the teddy bear and the pirate. It took a backseat again, which I appreciated. I really felt like they started getting into…They kind of made sure everybody had a moment in the last six episodes, and then near the end there’s some sort of disaster where they have to come together again. And, of course, every one of the main five girls got to contribute to the anime in some way, so–
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] Yeah!
PETER: –I thought it was a really good conclusion to the series. And even some of the characters who I didn’t think would get much time, who felt like joke characters, had their moments as well. So, really good ending.
AMELIA: Yep. I agree. Shizuka got to be a voice actor in the series! I was so pleased! I really wanted her to get something in there, and when it was revealed that it was gonna be Catherine’s younger sister, that was just perfect.
MILES: You feel good about calling that?
AMELIA: Yes. Really pleased with that.
PETER: That was an amazing scene, too.
AMELIA: Oh my goodness. So, I basically started crying around then and then didn’t stop for most of the last episode. It was surprisingly emotional. And actually, for me, with the earlier episode, as well–I think it’s episode 19–where she goes into this old animation studio and watches Andy’s Chucky on a film reel. That really got to me. I was surprised by how emotional that made me for this culture I’m not in and this industry I know nothing about. The sense of nostalgia in it really got to me despite that. I was so impressed with the story-craft of this show.
MILES: That was my favorite episode.
AMELIA: Oh, I’m not surprised. It was beautiful. It was just a standout episode.
PETER: And that was the president’s moment, too. He kind of realized she was struggling, so he showed her some of his old stuff to remind her why she was doing what she was doing. Seeing anybody kind of…I don’t know…get to have a moment where they connect with one of their original anime, or something that really influenced them as a kid–maybe not necessarily anime–and they get really emotional over it…That’s a really good moment. Especially considering what the soul of the series is.
PETER: Yeah, I really love that episode too.
AMELIA: Yeah. Absolutely. And I didn’t expect it. But it was…I can’t even remember what was happening in the rest of the episode, but that just stood out to me so much. The impact really surprised me. I really loved this set of six, I think, partly because it really converged. There’s a lot of previous episodes where it’s opening up, opening up, always treading new ground. Whereas in these six episodes, it feels like it kind of consolidated and built on everything that came before. And that’s always a part of a series that I absolutely love.
PETER: The wrap up.
AMELIA: Oh yeah. And I think it did a really good job of a conclusion to such a sprawling series with such a huge ensemble cast and I thought they handled it really well.
MILES: I know it’s kind of jumping ahead a little here, but I wanted to ask: A lot of people said, “When is season two?” the moment the last episode hit. But I want to know: did you both get that feel? Did you get that sensation when you completed the series that, “Oh! Now what I need is a season two!” Or did you feel more satisfied than wanting?
AMELIA: I think when I got to the end of the season, it felt more like: “This could go on forever.” Had it been a Western show, I feel like it would have gone on in various versions for a very long time. And the knowledge there isn’t a second season was always with me. So, I’m not sure I got to the end and thought, “Oh, I’d really like a second season.” That didn’t really occur to me. But just the fact that they’ve set this format up and you think, “Actually, they could just go through Aoi’s life and show her progressing within this industry and it would be delightful.”
And by the end of this season, I realized it had gotten to a point where I just enjoy spending time with these characters and their lives, so I felt…I felt satisfied with the end, I suppose, but I would also be really happy to see more. If that makes sense.
MILES: No, I mean…There’s a production level that I want to kind of hit on. This was originally planned to be four cours. So, a full 52 episodes. And every cour…Aoi was gonna get another promotion.
AMELIA: Ah, that would’ve been amazing.
MILES: So, that was the original plan. And so this news hit in May–not May–in March. March 1st or something like that. So, one month before the ending. And, so, that kind of put a perspective in a lot of fans’ minds of, “Oh my gosh. How are they gonna wrap it up if it was supposed to be double the length? What are they gonna do?”
And then I watched it and I just felt so satisfied with what we had. I mean, of course I would desperately want another. I would love to see Aoi become a producer, right? But at the same time, I was really happy with this. Clearly.
AMELIA: That explains so much, though. That explains so much. So many of these plot points that they hinted at but never dug into…So, presumably, her sister, Kaori–we would have met her again in the second half of the series.
MILES: [Crosstalk] I would hope so.
PETER: [Crosstalk] Maybe, yeah.
AMELIA: So, things like that that were kind of throw-away. I actually think that it adds up to something really special, because the fact is in your working life, people do walk in and out. People do leave. New people join. And the fact that it doesn’t give each person even an interior life, let alone a backstory, let alone their own plotline…The fact that these people just kind of drop in and out…That felt so natural. By the time I got used to it. So, very early on, I expected everybody that we met to be important. This is why I kept saying, “What’s the deal with Endou and Segawa? I want to know more about them.” And by the end of it, it’s like it just doesn’t matter because we don’t actually see inside either of their thoughts, their emotions, anything like that. We just see them as Aoi’s coworkers, really. And that’s okay.
So, I learned to be really comfortable with that style of storytelling, which is very light for some people and very deep for others.
PETER: It really wouldn’t surprise me if they were gonna make more, too. I don’t think at any point I thought that Aoi would really be stalled. I think that they were building toward her continual promotion. ‘Cause even in the last six episodes, there were a lot of moments where she really got noticed. I remember there was one episode where everybody was drinking. Hiraoka and Tarou were having their own thing. But two of the–it was Iguchi and I don’t know who the other woman was–they were talking about–
AMELIA: Oh, yeah. They were at the oden stool, weren’t they? Yeah.
PETER: Yeah, and earlier on, actually, Erika talked to Hiraoka about it too. They just talk about people in industry and conversation always goes to Aoi. And she said there are some people–I think she called them “idiots”–who never lose their enthusiasm.
This is gonna be a weird reference, but I remember they talk about that on The West Wing, too, which is a show I really like that I know a lot of people hate, where one of the guys says, “They call them ‘true believers,'” who really believe in the political process despite how cynical and awful a lot of the bureaucratic elements of government are. They never lose their sense of inspiration. And a lot of the stuff they said about that character–whose name escapes me–reminded me of how they talked about Aoi. She’s somebody who loves anime so much that you just can’t not notice their passion for it. And they kind of stick out in your memory. And that is why she’s able to get so much done. It’s because she leaves such an impression on people.
AMELIA: That makes perfect sense. And I love…Nabe-P, in the final episode, he refers to her as “the Ace,” and the director kind of pulls her up on stage and says she’s the one who’s gonna shoulder MusAni in the future. And there’s actually a moment in the previous six episodes where I think Nabe-P said, “Stop teasing our Ace.”
And it seems like, even then, she’s starting to build up this impression of herself as somebody who’s the future of the studio. And that really…That’s really clear by episode 24, but they’re building that from early on.
I mean, the fact that they made her the production desk. Even that gesture of faith…They didn’t beg Erika to stay around or anything like that, they just…They didn’t bring in someone new. They didn’t give it to Hiraoka, which they could have done. The fact that they gave her that position after a year, a year and a half. And the fact that they keep giving her more recognition…I think it really does say she is the senior woman that I have been wanting to see. That is her in ten years’ time.
PETER: Actually, I was…I just finished the other day…episode two. And I remember you were discussing…I kind of feel bad ’cause I felt like maybe I was dropping the ball on my side of the conversation. You kept bringing up the mahjong game. At the time, we were talking about Aoi’s agency and some of that subplot that was happening at the time. But you would kind of move down and I don’t think that we really moved along with you to the part where she’s talking about how they were trying to keep her out of that male space.
PETER: But then in one of these last six episodes, those same…The same group of guys is talking about her, and they said, “Let’s invite her over.”
AMELIA: They call her in. Exactly.
PETER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So she gets invited to that space that used to be exclusively male.
AMELIA: Exactly. I thought that was such a beautiful moment. And the fact that it was people who had previously interviewed her and turned her down. Intimidated her. And got this impression of her as being quite fragile and nervous.
And she got invited in as, “No, no, no. This is our production desk. This is the person who is making this entire production happen.”
So, that was a beautiful full-circle moment, I think.
I want to look specifically at the last six episodes before we look more at the series as a whole. So, there were a few feminist points of interest, I think. The most notable one is that moment where Hiraoka comes across Rii and he looks at her clothes, and she’s got this stripey dress and polka dot tights and he tells her that she’s not taking her job seriously. That she…Because she’s a girl, it must be nice. She can just make googly eyes at a guy and get anything she wants because she’s managed to persuade–not persuade, necessarily–but she’s ended up in a position where Maitake, the lead writer, is mentoring her and giving her assignments. And he suggests that’s because she’s a girl. She doesn’t take her job seriously.
So, how did you respond to that at the time, you think?
PETER: I remember you and Miles in episode three were both talking about how you disliked him. And I kind of…I didn’t really like him. I thought he was pretty annoying. But I didn’t actually dislike him until that scene. That’s what really…That’s what…What’s the opposite of getting sold on someone?
AMELIA: [Laughter] Off? Repelled?
PETER: Yeah. That’s what did it for me.
MILES: I take issue with that, Peter. I take issue with that. Because he was like that before.
PETER: Oh? Yeah, yeah. [Laughter]
MILES: He was that person before, and because he was only explicit about it then…He was still brazenly sexist and brazenly looking down on all the other girls before then. So, I would hope you would have been pissed off a little earlier. [Laughter]
PETER: I guess I was…I had Tarou there who…Everybody looks clean next to somebody that gross.
I don’t know. I definitely thought he had a shitty attitude. But it felt like he was doing work. But in this six episodes it became very obvious that he was also just a huge fuckup as well. ‘Cause we get to the scene where Segawa basically says, “I don’t wanna work with this guy ever again.” And so he’s criticizing the fact that she’s…By his perception–what’s her name? I forgot her name–
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] Rii?
PETER: [Crosstalk] Ema. Ema.
AMELIA: Oh, Ema.
PETER: It was Ema–is getting all this help when she’s not…She’s just being recognized. And meanwhile he’s doing the least amount of work he can do without being said that he’s not working at all. And he kind of resents the fact that she’s getting recognition. And that’s…yeah. That put a frame around it, I guess.
AMELIA: At the same time, I really appreciate the fact that they included a character like this, who had been completely disillusioned. I thought that was a really nice touch. I had very little empathy for him until they said, “Well, actually, he had big ambitions.” And then he gets drunk and he talks about how he wanted to make the first anime feature film to win at Cannes. And that’s a really sweet ambition. And the fact that he just lost it…He’d been so badly burned on his previous production that he had lost all interest, but he was presumably just pigeonholed by his CV into this kind of work, and…Yeah, I’ve been there. I really feel for him.
But at the same time–
PETER: [Crosstalk] Or he just doesn’t know what else to do.
AMELIA: Yeah. And that’s such a…That’s such a relatable position to be in, I think, once you’re working. If you’ve got a few years somewhere on your CV, then even thinking of yourself in a different position can be really challenging. Making that break, in actuality, can be really hard. And there’s probably still a part of him that thinks, “Well, I used to love anime, so this is what I do. This is just who I am.” It is really easy for your identity to get caught up in your work. This is why I feel–
MILES: [Crosstalk] This is why I love him as a character so much.
AMELIA: Yeah. I can really understand that now. That was hard to see six episodes ago. But I really appreciated him now.
How do we feel about Hiraoka and Tarou’s friendship? The two different types of quite unpleasant aspects of masculinity, and then they joined up and suddenly became a lot more likable, I thought.
PETER: Yeah. I felt like I couldn’t imagine them making a way where you feel like Tarou’s accomplishing something good, but in some sort of unintentional, roundabout way, he keeps Hiraoka engaged with the studio. And I guess Tarou’s so dumb, and has such balloonish ambitions compared to the amount of effort that he puts into things, that he gets really excitable and wants this guy to be part of his plans, and I guess that…I don’t want to say “it’s a little infectious,” or something. But it seems like he’s actually making…A couple things contribute to Hiraoka turning it around at the end. I’m surprised how much development he got in a six-episode arc, basically.
MILES: So good.
PETER: But Tarou, I felt like, was a pretty integral part of that. Which was kind of shocking, actually.
MILES: Look at that. Did you ever expect to say that sentence in your life?
PETER: No. I didn’t. I didn’t think Tarou would ever do anything good, ever. I thought he’d be a net minus on humanity. And he’s still a net minus.
AMELIA: [Laughter] Yeah, I’m not entirely convinced he’s not. But in terms of Hiraoka, specifically, I think that it’s quite interesting that Hiraoka seemed to have a much higher tolerance for Tarou than he did for Aoi, or for Erika, even. And I do wonder if that’s because Tarou is a guy. I did wonder that. I’m not sure. You know, Erika knows him really well, but he never treated Erika like that.
And Tarou is…I think Hiraoka is one of the few people who can say to Tarou, “Your dreams are ridiculous. You can’t just become a director.” And Tarou will perhaps actually listen to him. We didn’t get to that point but it felt like he was starting down that trek, where he’s got somebody who can bring him down to Earth a bit, just like Kinoshita and Honda were, at the very beginning. So, it felt like potentially that is actually a director-producer relationship that could work in ten, twenty years’ time when Tarou’s got a lot more humility.
PETER: Yeah, I think…I feel like…Maybe just treat them differently. It seems like no matter what you say to Tarou, it rolls off him. And Tarou would specifically…He’s like, “Oh, you’re leaving? I’m coming with you.” It’s like he couldn’t shake the guy. It’s like somebody who no matter how much you’re an asshole to, they don’t even seem to recognize that you’re trying to mistreat them. So, I feel like Tarou’s kind of invulnerable to anything Hiraoka could say to him. Whereas, with the girls, they actually care and take criticism.
So, it’s a different interaction. And they don’t want to talk to him, ’cause he’s a jerk.
AMELIA: At the same time, that maybe suggests why Aoi’s handling of him was so good because she didn’t fire him. They mentioned at one point that she could. And I think that’s…It seemed almost like that would be the natural outcome of what he was doing at the time, where he was just pissing off so many people that they didn’t want to work with him, and that’s untenable. So, she could legitimately have fired him, and she chose not to. She chose to say, “You know what? We’re gonna make this work. I’ll talk to the people involved. I’ll make sure it’s all smoothed over.”
And she did that for him. And that’s such a contrast to his previous experiences where he was so badly burned. I think just people having that staying power with him is perhaps something he responds very well to. Perhaps the same with Erika. They have a civil relationship.
Although, Erika is a bit of a special character in her own right, I think. What did you think about her in this six episodes compared to earlier?
PETER: I’m not sure. She…It seemed to focus on her a bit more, although most of her scenes were just keeping that guy from escaping through increasingly ridiculous methods.
MILES: I love it when SHIROBAKO is a cartoon. I’m not gonna lie. Those were some of my favorite moments of these six episodes.
AMELIA: [Laughter] I loved…I’m not usually into that kind of thing, but I have to say, I loved the sequence where the director goes into the book publisher building like it’s a Western and he’s a cowboy. He just goes through the entire building to get to the author. I thought that was so funny and well done. And that’s the kind of thing that normally I’d be rolling my eyes at. But they just handled it so beautifully.
PETER: Yeah. And the conversation afterward. And then, finally, “Funny story” guy getting…I guess he actually did get fired.
AMELIA: I think I hated him more than Tarou. I think I hated him more than Hiraoka. I think he was the rock bottom for me.
PETER: Yeah. It turns out he’s the reason why they almost don’t finish the series in the end.
AMELIA: But we knew that, right? The whole way along, every time, they said, “Oh, well we’ve heard from”–is it Chazawa?–“we’ve heard from him that it’s fine, so we can go ahead.” And I was thinking, “No! Get in contact with the author.” But yeah. It was good to see him get a comeuppance.
And Tarou did not get any comeuppance. And I thought I’d be disappointed by that, but I wasn’t.
PETER: I think you do kind of get the recognition that he’s never gonna be promoted and he’s always gonna be on the bottom, though. Which is kind of like that.
AMELIA: Yeah. Aoi gets such good recognition from everybody. That kind of balanced it out in a way.
PETER: Yeah. You really see how their difference in effort and mentality pays off in the end, and I think that’s…It’s very validating.
Miles, what did you want…What did you expect of Tarou’s arc when you first saw it? Did you think…’Cause you asked us, “Do you think he’s gonna be redeemed? Do you think there’s gonna be any redemption for him?”
What did you expect when you first saw it?
MILES: I don’t think I had as much of an expectation one way or another, actually.
AMELIA: Oh, okay.
MILES: No, I…This is kind of a situation where I went in and I was happy to just be along for the ride, and I didn’t question the narrative in any substantial way.
AMELIA: Entirely understandable.
MILES: It’s…This was…I mean, my relationship with the series is such that it’s not like an escapist narrative. It was something that I just got really emotionally involved with, and I wanted that to be my first foot forward with the series.
So, certainly on revisits, I’ve gone back and taken a more critical eye, or looked out for things. I’ve watched it, I think, four times in completion. I’ve watched certain episodes as many as ten times. But I never had a watch-through where I was surprised, where I was really trying to figure out what was going to happen.
AMELIA: Hm. That makes sense.
MILES: I know that’s not for you guys. [Laughter]
AMELIA: No, no, no. I think that makes perfect sense. I don’t think I would have thought about it unless you’d asked me, because it does…It turns into a show almost like a slice-of-life, only it’s not really slice-of-life, I think. It’s got too much of a traditional linear plot for that.
MILES: And I was way too invested in that linear plot. But it certainly does have all the appeal points of a slice-of-life story.
AMELIA: Yeah. We actually had somebody comment on animefeminist.com when we put this up, saying that it was actually quite stressful for them to watch because they’ve worked in a production environment before and it brought back lots of memories. And I can completely understand that. I…There are some series or films that I refuse to watch because it’s just a bit too office cubicle-y. I kind of remember things and go, “No. Don’t want to deal with that.”
So, yeah. It’s almost the opposite of an escapist show, I would say. But, at the same time, it’s really an enjoyable group of people and enjoyable situation to spend time in, especially if you’ve never worked in an environment like that–which I thankfully haven’t, because it looks incredibly stressful.
MILES: Actually, that’s a good question. Would you want to work in anime having watched this series?
AMELIA: No. No. 100% no. Never. Absolutely not, in any capacity. Peter?
PETER: Uh…it’s hard for me to really recognize how much of this is cartoonish and how much of it is trying to be realistic. I could definitely say I believe I could work in anime and find the work to be extremely fulfilling. I guess it would just…It would really depend on how realistic this is.
At the level of the show, I think the answer would probably be “yes.” But I don’t know if it’s…It seems like they try to cartoon-ify a lot of it a lot of the time, so you’re not maybe really getting a sense like that. And I also know that a lot of people in animation are terribly underpaid. I don’t know. I’d probably be somebody on the production side rather than the creative side since I’m not that talented. But it’s kind of like…I know animators have a really rough time and not a bunch of people get very much money and kind of live on a poverty income. So, that aspect would probably…That’s another dimension to why the job is hard.
So, if it was strictly an accurate portrayal, I might say no. But, based on SHIROBAKO, I think the answer might actually be yes. Yeah.
AMELIA: Yeah. I think the only role in SHIROBAKO that I would see myself in is probably the director, and he’s awful. That’s actually very close to how I operate in real life, as Peter can tell you, for sure. Because this is why…You have to lock me in a cage to get me to do my equivalent of storyboards sometimes. And I completely identified with certain things that he struggled with, and kind of having that sense of vision. Like: I want it to go this way but I can’t necessarily communicate that and I don’t necessarily want to deal with it right now.
Yeah. So. I’d be the awful, appalling director.
PETER: He was better in the second show than the first, though.
AMELIA: He was, wasn’t he?
PETER: They specifically mentioned he got stuff done early in some situations.
AMELIA: [Laughter] Are you telling me I should shut down AniFem and start up a new website? ‘Cause I can do that.
PETER: No. I guess maybe AniFem 2. We’ll rebrand, and then…Perfect.
AMELIA: Excellent. I look forward to that. In the meantime, guys, I’m so sorry.
So, you’d be on the production side and I could absolutely see you doing that. I think you’d do Aoi’s job really well.
MILES: And for clarification, Aoi’s job…The average pay is the equivalent of about $19,000 a year.
AMELIA: Oh my god.
AMELIA: Not worth it. Not worth it.
MILES: It’s pretty…The part of Tokyo where a lot of these studios are in, that gets you a long way. You can live on that. It’s not easy. You make about as much working as a waitress or waiter at some random place.
I just…It’s…I would love to see a world where animation staff gets paid more, personally. But I guess that’s not what we’re here to talk about necessarily.
AMELIA: Pay for your anime, people. That’s what we’re saying.
PETER: Yeah. That’ll wrap it up. That’s a good bow.
AMELIA: So, looking at the series as a whole, how did you expectations before watching SHIROBAKO compare to your actual experience watching SHIROBAKO? Peter, let’s start with you.
PETER: Hmm. I don’t think…My impressions of the show based on stuff like Twitter were actually kind of negative, and I…It’s just the way I interpret people talking about certain things. I remember I was also turned off to Sound Euphonium because a lot of the ways people celebrate the series are very gaze-y, I guess. Or they come across that way, where I don’t really feel like they’re enjoying the series or even the characters so much as just kind of the cuteness factor, or something like that.
So, they always talk about when they do some goofy face thing, or something like that, and it doesn’t feel very substantive, but so many–
MILES: [Crosstalk] Peter, are you saying that debates on Twitter are not substantive?
PETER: Uh…Maybe that’s what I’m saying. Yeah. It’s not even debate. It’s whenever somebody’s like, “This is cool.” It’s never a narrative moment. It’s somebody eating a sour plum and…Yeah, that was a funny face, but…
PETER: But yeah. I ended up liking both this and Sound. So I guess I just thought it was gonna be a “cute girls doing cute things” show and it turned out to very much not only be that, so…
AMELIA: Not “only.”
PETER: It was definitely cute girls and they did some cute things, but there was a whole lot of really good plot in there and I’m really happy I watched it.
AMELIA: Yeah. It felt more like they put “cute girls doing cute things” sprinkling on everything else, so every now and then there’s a little hint towards that point of appeal, but for the most part, that’s not where the substance is. And I’m so please for it.
PETER: Funfetti in a narrative cake.
AMELIA: Yes. Exactly. So, for me, I expected more of a traditional approach to storytelling, I guess. So, I expected more focus on the main high school friends, and, as it happens, we barely saw two or three of them for most of the series. So, Mii and Rii…We got to see a little more later, but…They had their moments and drifted off again and then they’d show up again and drift off again.
I think at the end of it, I was amazed by how deeply affected I was by Shizuka’s storyline. That was perhaps…Her scene, where she finally gets in the voice-acting booth…I think that probably had more emotional impact on me than any other moment of the entire series, and I was not expecting that from what I thought was a relatively flat character earlier on.
She’s…You know, she spends the whole time saying, “I’m gonna keep trying. I’m gonna keep working” and then she goes back to her room and she’s kind of depressed, understandably. And going to auditions, and trying too hard and messing up, and going up back to her room and being depressed. And going to work and serving the others drinks, and…It wasn’t that interesting, and I kind of wanted her to just end up making a decision one way or the other on voice acting, I guess.
And then, when she actually got that moment, when she’s given the sign: “Yes, this is the right place for you. You have a path forward. You can actually make it. You’re close to your dream.” And it really hit me. And that was just so well done.
PETER: Yeah. That was probably my most emotional scene, too. I think they did it…I suspected from the beginning…I think they did it really well. Especially when they had them read the second part, I knew she was gonna get a part on it, but approaching that scene, when Aoi was meeting with…When she’s invited to the male space, which happens to be at her cafe, and she’s gonna introduce her friend who’s an aspiring voice actress, but she specifically shakes her head and says, “Don’t introduce me that way.” She didn’t want to get in with Aoi’s help. She wanted to do it on her own merits. And so I knew that scene would end up being a surprise to Aoi somehow. I knew that she wasn’t gonna be like, “Oh, my friend got hired.” It was gonna be: her friend suddenly shows up and she’s working.
So, I kind of had the way that scene was gonna play out in my head. I figured that’s how it was gonna go. But that..It was just as impactful. I don’t know. Just her getting to be there when her friend has her big break into the industry, and just completely out of nowhere. Absolutely by surprise.
AMELIA: That was so beautifully done.
PETER: Yeah. And she did it without her friend’s help, at all. Which I thought was really important.
AMELIA: But that’s really interesting to me. ‘Cause I didn’t interpret that scene in the bar the same as you did. You interpreted that as: “She wanted to make her own way without Aoi’s help.” I interpreted that as: “She’s not feeling very good about herself right now and she would be embarrassed to talk about her non-existent career as a voice actor with people who actually work in the industry.” That was what I took from it. I took that she did not want to broach the subject because it would be embarrassing for her.
PETER: Yeah. I didn’t think that was the whole reason…I figured it was a couple different reasons, but I think one of it would be…If Aoi had said that, and then one of them goes, “Oh, hey, do you want an audition?” because they respected Aoi and not her, I feel like, if she got that job, that would probably feel a little shitty, even if that was her big break.
AMELIA: Yeah. You’re probably right. And the fact is that she’s known the four of her friends are working on this show and she auditioned for it and she didn’t get it. She hasn’t asked them to pull strings at all. She could have said, “Can you at least have a word and make sure that I get into a crowd scene?” or something like that, and she didn’t say a word. She just completely backed off from the production. She just didn’t get the audition.
MILES: [Imitating crying]
AMELIA: [Laughter] I’m so glad that she did get it in the end, though.
PETER: Yeah. I loved it when she looked in the booth and saw Aoi crying and she throws the book up in front of her face. That was really good.
AMELIA: Yeah. It was so beautifully done. I would watch that scene again on its own, just whenever I wanted to cry. Just go back to that scene.
The other thing I was surprised by…I think I was expecting us to flesh out the characters more than we did. Now, I touched on this earlier, about the fact is in your working life, people do drop in and out, and so even though they weren’t able to flesh everyone out as completely as they had intended to with 52 episodes, I can only assume, I actually think it was really effective that they didn’t. And the result, for me, was that I got to the end and thought, “Oh, I want to go back and watch it from the beginning. And now I know these people and I have a better idea of what they do…It will be meaningful to me in an entirely new way.”
MILES: Yep. God, I’m so excited to stare at you guys. This is great.
AMELIA: [Laughter] Yeah, so, I thought at first that everybody we met in the first episode we would eventually get a sense of who they were emotionally, how they thought, what they felt, and we did not, at all. We still haven’t seen inside their heads. We spend a lot of time with pirate girl and the bear scenes in Aoi’s head, and rightly so. And we spend enough time with characters like Ema that we get a really good sense of her emotional sense, but there were many many people that we spent time with, but didn’t actually see anything deeper. And that surprised me, but, actually, I think it makes it a richer series in some ways, that not everyone does have a major plotline in Aoi’s story. For her, it’s just glimpses here and there, and that’s fine. That’s enough. To become satisfied with that is…I don’t know if I’ve experienced that in another show, actually. Where you just kind of get comfortable with the idea that when people drop in, you may not necessarily get to know them and they may not necessarily be important to the story. I’m not sure I’ve encountered that with another series before.
PETER: I do feel like…It got to the point where I felt like the jokes with the two stuffed animals were starting to become missed opportunities for other scenes. I don’t know if I felt like the story was obligated to give me more information on any one character, but I felt like if it had decided to take the time to explore the personal life of any of the characters, like Segawa and the other guy–
PETER: Yeah, Endou…Like the way it did to Endou, where you got a glimpse into more of his home life, I felt like that would have been constructive for just about any character.
AMELIA: Especially the main five. We really didn’t spend a lot of time with Mii, Misa. The…After she changes jobs, we don’t really go back to her at all, except for the work that she’s doing on the series, and they could’ve fleshed her out a bit more. We could have seen more of Rii trying to balance her work at the studio with her life as a student, we could have…probably not done more with Shizuka. I feel like her arc was really well handled. But they could have–
PETER: [Crosstalk] Yeah. She got a lot of personal time.
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] Yes.
PETER: –that was necessary to show how uncertain she was and how awful it feels to not be doing well when you’re auditioning and still know that you basically just have no credits to your name. So what do you do? With her, it was definitely necessary. With other characters, since they made it, I think they kept the content more in regards to their work.
AMELIA: Miles, you said that when you saw episode one, it was a pleasant surprise for you, having seen the promotional images. But how did you feel at the end of the series compared to what you expected from episode one?
MILES: Gosh, I mean…So, SHIROBAKO is almost like a religious experience for me. I just became so invested and involved in such a deeply emotional way that…I kind of bought into all the stuff that I didn’t even like about the show. Yeah, I just…Episode one just kind of made me feel like, “Yeah, here it is. This one is for me.”
And I very rarely get that sense when watching media because so many things are just not for me. But most of my time spent watching media is focused around Japanese animation and I am not Japanese, and I’m exceding the target audience for a lot of these late-night shows, which is…18-24 is the central audience, though it certainly is broader than that.
So, I don’t know. I don’t know. But I continue to have this incredibly strong affliction of SHIROBAKO-ness.
AMELIA: “Affliction.” [Laughter] No, that makes sense. That makes sense.
Let’s look instead, then, at what we would like them to do if they had got their wish and they had the 52 episodes. If we got a second season of SHIROBAKO, what would we want to see? From a feminist perspective, but also generally, as a viewer. Peter, what would you like to see?
PETER: I did think that it would be interesting if they had to…’Cause they made a cutesy magical girl series, and then Aerial Girls, which was kind of on the moe action side, which I believe both demographics are pretty strongly male, actually. Correct me if I’m wrong right now, Miles. But–
MILES: I won’t.
PETER: So, I thought it would be interesting if they worked with a female creator on some shoujo series, or something like that. Especially because there’s that one scene where Tarou is making fun of Andou ’cause she likes BL.
AMELIA: Oh, yeah.
PETER: So, I thought…I thought that that was maybe…In retrospect, after you said that they were planning 50 episodes, I was like, “Hmm, was that trying to build toward their next project?” Because I thought the interactions with the male author actually turned out to be pretty interesting, and if you’re talking about…It felt like somewhat of a stylistic shift, but not a major one between the two series, so if they have to…Shoujo and shounen, especially, and Moe, can have very different styles…having to really change the way that they draw anything and maybe have some interactions with a female creator instead of a male creator along the same lines as they did for Aerial Girls I think would have been a pretty interesting way to take the show.
And then, of course, in the last season they’d work on Seven Lucky Gods.
AMELIA: Yeah, I’d love to see a female director, for sure. We’ve…Obviously in the last six months or so, Sayo Yamamoto’s star has risen quite significantly and people are now very widely aware of who she is. And–
MILES: [Crosstalk] Naoko Yamada is the best director in anime right now.
AMELIA: Oh my goodness. She is certainly very popular. She is very popular. And we have these high-profile of women directors who are producing quality work, producing popular work. It would be wonderful to have one of these women dealing with Tarou, dealing with Hiraoka. Acting as a mentor, perhaps, to some of the other women in the office. So, it would be really great to see that dynamic. I think I would love to see…I know I just said I got really comfortable with the idea that we don’t get them fleshed out at all, but I really would love to know what the deal is with Segawa and Endou. I would love to know what their background is, and what their relationship is now, and how they view each others’ art. We got glimpses, but really digging into that, I think, would be great to see.
PETER: Yeah. I felt really bad for you, too, when Segawa goes to the office and sits right next to Endou, because production’s so volatile that they need her in-office. And I was just like, “Oh, nothing’s gonna happen.”
AMELIA: I was like, “Oh, this is your chance! But there’s literally minutes left of this. It’s not gonna work.” Yeah, it was…I genuinely thought for a minute that we might get something and we got nothing, and I should have known by now, but I was optimistic anyway.
But, yeah, I would love to see that. I’d love them to dig into that. I’d love to see Kaori again, kind of check in with her and see what her life has been like since she got back from Tokyo and how it affected her–if it did affect her. I mean, I assume it would have, but it would be nice to see that in person.
PETER: I did…I actually…Since we’re mentioning Segawa, I do want to mention that I really love the scene with her and Aoi when she’s working out the problems with Hiraoka. Specifically because of a decision they’ve made.First of all, just Segawa saying, “This guy is shitty. I’m not gonna work with him.” And Aoi deciding to take personal responsibility for anything that happened after that point. So, she’s basically putting her reputation on the line, right? And this is one of their most important animators, so she said, “I can’t trust you guys to properly manage the project anymore. I’m just not gonna work with you.” That would scuttle the entire studio.
But when they come to an agreement, Segawa gets out of her chair and sits on the floor with Aoi, so they’re on the same level after that. I thought that was super good writing, and, you know, just framing the scene after that. ‘Cause, you know, they kind of reach an accord, and so they…She’s looking eye-to-eye rather than down on Aoi at that point, which was good for both characters. That was really a well-constructed scene. I just had to mention that at some point.
AMELIA: But she made such a good point, as well, when she said, “Our work on-screen, that’s our business card. That is people recognizing us.” And, you know, we…In anime fandom, even here, we have sakugabooru and we see clips and we identify the animators who work on clips, and that…There are people who can look at a cut and say, “Yep, this animator did it.” I can’t do that, but there are people who are doing that. And, yeah, if it’s shoddy, people are gonna say, “Oh, not up to their usual standard.” And it’s such a good point. Nobody’s gonna say, “Well, production clearly didn’t do their job properly.”
So, it was a really great point. And when she said to Aoi, “No, specifically how are you going to take responsibility? What can you possibly do that will balance out the risk that I’m going to be connected to shoddy work?” And it really forced her to think about it rather than just this vague kind of, “Well I’ll take responsibility.” Well, it probably won’t matter even if you do. But Aoi was–
PETER: [Crosstalk] Yeah. “You could say it was my fault.”
AMELIA: Exactly. But nobody will see that who matters. And especially since animators work for so many different people, it’s not like being in a studio. Unless you’re in KyoAni. I think they have in-house animators, don’t they?
MILES: I mean, a lot of studios have them, but…
PETER: KyoAni is well known for not outsourcing.
MILES: Yeah. Except in rare circumstances.
PETER: Yeah. I think that’s another interesting point about the studio, is MusAni only has the one director who appears, right? Isn’t that unusual for a studio. Usually they have several directors, at least something that size.
MILES: Having a director in-house is also pretty weird. It’s usually only studios where the director is one of the founders, or a businessperson too. So, Studio Kara–Anno is one of the directors because he’s one of the founders.
AMELIA: I was gonna say, when they got to the end of the series, and they said, “Next time we’re gonna have two lines,” presumably that would mean bringing in a director to handle one of them
PETER: So that would be…My guess, growing to the point where they could…So I guess that guy was part of the…Yeah, ’cause he was the director of their last series, too. So, I guess that he was maybe a founder and he gets to decide whether they’re willing to bring in more directors, but if…I mean, if you have a director on staff who’s never leaving, and you’re not big enough to really be working on more than one project at a time, what would that director would be doing if not directing something?
AMELIA: Yeah…Potentially, the other director they’re gonna bring in could be our female director. That would be really good to see. If they had two lines running at the same time, two shows running at the same time, and they had Kinoshita on his original, and a woman on the other, that would have made for a really great second season.
PETER: I think…A little optimistic even for this series, but that would’ve been cool.
AMELIA: Miles, what would you love to see in another 24 episodes of SHIROBAKO?
MILES: So, one of the reasons why I was kind of excited for SHIROBAKO prior to it coming out was the head script writer, the series composition, was done by Michiko Yokote, who is an excellent writer. She’s had a lot of questionable series, but even more incredible ones. So, some things that she’s done that I’ve really liked are…She did a lot of Patlabor stuff, she did Red Data Girl, Princess Tutu. Princess Tutu, especially, is very compelling to me. Genshiken.
So, she’s done a lot of things that I was a big fan of. And I would have loved to see her in the series. She’s the one writing SHIROBAKO. I would love to see her experiences represented in some way. ‘Cause you never really see anyone in that role, actually, at all. You don’t see any screenwriter, especially–
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] That’s a really good point.
MILES: –especially hers. Yes, the director…I loved the interplay between the scriptwriter and the director, and how they kind of go at it, ’cause the director’s the one writing the storyboards, usually. And so there’s always this really interesting tension. And Michiko Yokote is one of the most veteran women in anime, who’s at the top of her game, at the top of her…If the script is written by her, it usually advertises the fact, right? Which is not something that’s done for most production staff.
So, I would really love to see what her personal experience in the ’80s were, working on things like Patlabor with someone like Mamoru Oshii.I would love to see how the two of them butted heads. So, I would like…I wish it were a little more [unintelligible].
PETER: Yeah, that would be really good too, ’cause Oshii is pretty famous for being a jerk, right?
MILES: Oh, yeah. Oshii is awful.
AMELIA: Yeah, that would’ve been incredible. Anything else you’d like to see from a second season?
MILES: More of the girls. I…In spite of myself, I ended up falling in love with all five of them and just wanting them to succeed, and…I guess–
PETER: [Crosstalk] In spite of yourself?
MILES: ‘Cause I came onto it resenting the fact that they were even part of the show.
PETER: The other girls?
MILES: The main five girls. When I saw them, I resented their inclusion, because I was like, “These girls are just here for fanservice. They’re in the way of all these other characters based on real people. What’s going on here?” And then they ended up being what I loved most about SHIROBAKO.
AMELIA: They’re the emotional heart, aren’t they? Absolutely.
AMELIA: Yeah. I’d love to see more of them. I’d like to see how being more successful affects their friendship and their childhood dreams. So, there’s…At this point, they’re actually working together because they’re junior enough to work together. The more senior they get, chances are the harder it’s gonna be for them to make that happen. So, it will be really nice to see how their success has an impact on them.
PETER: Yeah. Especially unequal success. ‘Cause you saw how much that was stressing out Shizuka. So, if they keep growing at different rates, if that were to bother any of them, they’d have to reconcile the fact that they’re not all going to continue advancing in their careers at the same rate. Some of them are gonna be luckier, better, something like that.
AMELIA: Yeah. It’d be interesting to see how Rii’s career develops, ’cause she’s in this really odd position where she’s a part-timer. So, she’s ahead of the game in terms of being a student, but once she graduates, she’s actually fairly…She’s low on the ladder, but she’s also in an unusual position. So, how does she transition from that to being a writer? If she continues to be mentored by Mitake then maybe that’s her way in. Is that necessarily the way in that she wants? She just talked about how she doesn’t like the idea of being male or being female getting in the way of doing her job. But if she’s got this mentor who just brings her up with him, that’s not necessarily what she wants either.
PETER: I think they did do, as part of a greater narrative about having to take risks and put yourself out there, even if you’re uncertain whether you can handle it…’Cause they did that where Ema was…She gets a really big…Assistant Supervising Editor is what they make her.
PETER: I think they said “editor.”
AMELIA: Okay. I thought it was animator. It doesn’t matter. To me. Sorry if it does matter to you. [Laughter]
PETER: Yeah, but she…The crux of that was she didn’t think she could handle that, and Sugie is just kind of like, “Well, you’re never gonna be certain you can handle it. You just have to do it.” Because…What did he say? “I’ve seen a lot of talented people never get further in their career ’cause they didn’t think they were ever ready for anything.”
But then the same thing happens to Rii–or is it Mii? I always get them mixed up. I should just call her “Diesel-san.” She has that scene where they’re talking about the first idea they had for the end of the series, where she has that conversation and they say, “Well why don’t you just write the dialogue?” And she has a moment’s hesitation ’cause she doesn’t think she’s ready for something like that.
But she goes, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” And, of course, they don’t end up using it, but that means they’re willing to allow her to write stuff for scenario. So I figured that’s how she was gonna continue advancing, that way. Just kind of taking on more responsibilities when it came to writing up the script and then actually getting assigned to write out an entire scenario, like Mari Okada or maybe be director or something like that.
AMELIA: I think it would be interesting to see if her relationship with Maitake kind of follows her through her career a bit, so people just assume that the fact that she’s a cute girl actually was her foot in the door, and they make assumptions about her on that basis. I think that would be absolutely plausible and make for a really interesting arc, where she has to try and navigate that territory without outwardly offending people herself, but also without letting those assumptions be made about her. I think that would be really interesting to see.
Okay, I think we’re gonna have to wrap this up soon. So, final question is about this watchalong process. This is the first time we’ve done this. And has anything surprised you about this process of watching the six episodes at a time and then discussing. Anything happen that you weren’t expecting, or did this go pretty much how you thought it would? Peter?
PETER: I guess if anything it would be Miles’ expectations coming into this. [Laughter] We wrap up each episode with him kind of having predicted that we would talk about certain things, and seeing where he thought the watchalong would go as opposed to the directions we ended up taking it, like how we had different takeaways, I think was pretty interesting. Usually when I do stuff like this, it’s like everyone watching it for the first time. So, having somebody who might be the single greatest fan of the show ever predicting which areas we’ll delve into deepest, and then critiquing that later, I thought was the most unique thing about what we did.
AMELIA: Excellent. That’s…I didn’t realize that would be unique, but I found it really interesting, actually. You pointed out a few times, Miles, things that I thought about but they weren’t important enough to me at the time to put them in the notes myself. Or, I hadn’t even thought about, and then when you brought them up, I went, “Oh, yeah. We should’ve talked about that more.” So, something I really appreciated was having that perspective.
MILES: We also didn’t talk about the lean.
MILES: When Aoi leans on her desk at one point.
MILES: It’s a single frame.
PETER: A fanservice moment or something?
MILES: It’s not even…It is fanservice, but it’s the most benign fanservice possibly imaginable, but I just get really offended when they try and sexualize Aoi of all characters.
AMELIA: Oh, yeah. There are those body pillows out there, aren’t there? Dakimakura.
MILES: [Crosstalk] Oh yes. But they actually–real quick–
AMELIA: [Crosstalk] Yeah. I saw articles on those before watching. Sorry, say that again.
MILES: Real quick on the body pillows. They are the most respectful body pillows I have ever seen. And I am so happy that, if there are body pillows of SHIROBAKO characters, all of them except for Ema look like they’re happy to be there. And you know what? I will take that. That is a small victory, but I will take that.
AMELIA: I maybe have only seen unauthorized versions of the dakimakura, then. I’m not sure. [Laughter] I’m not sure that there’s a positive way to view the ones I’ve seen.
MILES: Believe me, I’m stretching to get you this positive way.
AMELIA: [Laughter] Okay. “They don’t look like they’re not consenting.” Okay. That’s the positive side we’ll take of it.
MILES: The smallest of small victories. But I will take it.
AMELIA: Yeah. Not tearing up. We’ve got our low bar at the moment, people.
For this watchalong process, I was surprised that I didn’t actually run out of things to say. I was really worried that, in six episodes, there might not be things of feminist interest to talk about. But actually, I was amazed that, I think, episode two of this series, this four-part series that we’ve done, episode two, which was seven to 12…I finished that, and I was like, “Oh, no. I’ve got nothing to say.” And then I started thinking about it, and ended up joining dots. And I think that episode, now, is probably gonna be my favorite of these four. Because it was so interesting asking you guys questions and then realizing that you hadn’t viewed it in quite the same way I had, and just having that contrast right in front of me was just a fascinating process for me.
PETER: Yeah. Editing that episode…I just finished editing that, and yeah. I noticed the same thing. You were even saying specifically what the aspect of it was that you wanted to bring up and I don’t think either of us picked up on the thing you were trying to say. But listening to it again, where I could see both sides of the conversation advancing at the same time, I got it. The thing about–what was I just talking about?–the male space with Aoi not being invited in. You were even saying that, and I thought we were still talking about Aoi’s agency. I didn’t see the issue until literally yesterday. So…That was two weeks ago that we recorded.
AMELIA: Yeah. And I think that is the way it goes. I know there are quite a few times where you and I have talked, Peter, about things that we’ve watched, and we noticed different things entirely, and that’s why this has been a really interesting experiment for me. And there have been some weeks where I’ve had less to say than others, and some episodes I had less to talk about than others.
But, overall, there’s been something to discuss every single time, and it’s been really easy to have conversations about this show.
Miles, how about you? To finish this off for us.
MILES: I’m very pleased with this process. I’ve had one conversation on a podcast about feminist issues in SHIROBAKO before, but it was mostly framed around the “sameface,” and it was a three hour SHIROBAKO podcast where we spend maybe ten, twenty minutes talking about that one issue. Which is to say that I’m very happy I was able to hear both sides…both of ya’ll back in forth in a lot of ways. I felt…I really liked my role in this, as kind of like a third party observer of the podcast who was able to jump in with specific elements. And I think that was very healthy for me because I am definitely coming from the more “SHIROBAKO expert” side more than the “feminist” side, as much as I do subscribe to most feminist theory.
AMELIA: Absolutely. We invited you here for your SHIROBAKO knowledge, right? [Laughter]
AMELIA: If I were gonna invite someone on for feminist knowledge, it probably wouldn’t be a straight, white man. I’m sorry.
MILES: I would really hope not. [Laughter] And I mean, I…I think in the course of this podcast, I’ve exposed a very subtle but important hypocrisy that I had about the show, where I was defending one element of SHIROBAKO for being true-to-life, but…and yet, at the same time, in a different context, saying, “I wish it wasn’t true-to-life so that these women could have a little more agency or diversity in their personalities.”
And, so, catching myself in those kind of situations…I did not have to challenge the way that I look at this series like I have with the two of you, so I really appreciate it.
AMELIA: Well, I really appreciate the fact that you joined us on this. It’s been four–no–it’s been almost four solid weeks of recording. It’s really good of you. When I originally invited you, it was just to come in at the very end of the very beginning, and you just said, “Nope, I’m up for every week. That’s fine.” And I’ve been so grateful for that as the weeks have gone on. I think, had it just been me and Peter and one other from the team, I’m not sure we would have got the same type of conversations we’d ended up with you.
So, thank you so much for joining us here every week.
MILES: Of course.
AMELIA: Very much appreciated. I’m really happy that you were a part of our very first watchalong!
MILES: Thank you so much for having me.
PETER: Yeah. Thanks, Miles.
AMELIA: Okay. I think that wraps this four-part SHIROBAKO watchalong up. Thank you very much to you both. Just a little bit of housekeeping.
We have our main site, www.animefeminist.com, where we put up these podcasts and also other blog posts and types. We have a Twitter account where you can find us @animefeminist. We have a Facebook, facebook.com/animefem. We have a Tumblr, animefeminist.tumblr.com, and we have a Patreon, which is patreon.com/animefeminist.
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Thank you so much to Peter and Miles, and let us know in the comments what shows you would like us to do a watchalong with next.
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