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Exodus: Shirobako OVA I Review and Reflection

“How could you lose him?”
“He’s got a lot of firepower.”
“What? And you don’t?!” —Exchange between Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Foley and a cop in The Dark Knight Rises

The Shirobako OVAs were included in Blu-Ray volumes; capitalising in Shirobako‘s premise as an anime about making anime, audiences are treated to the first episode of both series that Musashino Animation worked on in-series. Because they are relatively unique compared to other Blu-Ray exclusives, their corresponding reviews will take into account that these are not full-fledged anime. Instead of focusing on the thematic elements and other aspects present in a typical anime review, these OVA talks will instead delve into whether or not Musashino’s anime might be something that would have merited picking up (and if so, the manner in which I would watch it). Exodus is the first anime that Aoi Miyamori contributed to during Shirobako as a production assistant, dealing with the idol group Tracy and their journey towards a live performance at Musashino Dome. The first episode shows them as being an obscure group quite uncertain of their futures as idols, but an effort to talk to their producer, Taguchi. However, things turn sour when he is found murdered. As fugitives, Akane, Aya, and Arupin evade the law enforcement: in a chase evoking memories of one from The Dark Knight Rises, their escape leads them to fall into a river and see each other without makeup for the first time. Here, Akane, Aya, and Arupin express their intentions to clear their names, and as the episode concludes, a voice over states that this marks the beginning of a great journey.

Objectively, Exodus‘ first episode is quite busy, covering a variety of genres and introducing a large number of conflicts amongst the characters. Exodus initially presents itself as an idol anime with a large action component, simultaneously depicting the challenges that Arupin and the others face as starting idols (in a manner reminiscent of Wake Up! Girls) while adding on top of this a detective mystery, and action-adventure elements after the girls escape a police force determined to find them as the perpetrators of their manager’s murder. Thus, Exodus‘ first episode might be seen as doing too much in so short a time. However, because Akane, Aya, and Arupin’s goals are immediately made clear in the first episode, the anime would likely try to tell a story about how this single motivation allows the three to overcome difficulties border-lining on the ridiculous during their journey across twelve nations, over three months, to stay ahead of their pursuers. If memory serves, Shirobako depicted the finale as something that’s over-the-top: Arupin, Aya and Akane are escaping their pursuers via horseback, and a biplane appears. Thus, Exodus could conceivably be done within a twelve or thirteen episode span, telling its story concisely and perhaps, though not giving Akane, Aya, and Arupin a happy ending in the finale, would paint a decidedly optimistic picture for their futures.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Tracy’s choreography and execution is above average, and it’s clear that Musashino is able to make use of solid cinematography to portray their performance, but their group seems to be relatively unknown in-universe: their first performance in an open area has an audience count of zero. This is even more abysmal than WUG’s debut performance in Wake Up! Girls, but in Wake Up! Girls, the focus is on the group’s progression.

  • The discussion for Exodus is nonexistent, and the certainty for this claim stems from my having done a thorough search before making thus. The reason most likely stems from the fact that Exodus is intrinsically more challenging to review (not that it’s going to stop me). Consequently, I will step up to the plate and offer the usual twenty screenshots. By comparison, The Third Aerial Girls Squad was executed so well, there’s no shortage of material to discuss.

  • The unidentified figure threatening Tracy’s manager, Taguchi, seems to exhibit characteristics of a villain that lacks the intimidation factor that one would typically anticipate from a proper antagonist. While his appearance does seem somewhat lacking, his actions set in motion the remainder of the events in the episode (and the remainder of the series).

  • It’s probably reasonable to say that Tracy is not well-regarded in their universe, given that their change room is the bathroom of a mall. Their conversation turns to their current situation: far from being well-known idols, the group lacks the audience and reach of a rival group.

  • Arupin shares some manjū with Akane and Aya, mentioning that even though the manjū itself appears unremarkable, its taste is exceptional. Manjū is typically made fromflour, rice powder and buckwheat and filled with red bean paste. This leads Akane to realise that Tracy can stand on the merit of their music, rather than through their appearances alone, and so, she resolves to talk to Taguchi. However, they find him dead, murdered by the same knives that the girls are presently carrying.

  • Thus, in the space of seconds, Exodus transforms from an idol anime into a detective fiction of sorts. Taguchi had left a message before he succumbed to his wounds, leaving “あ” behind, but because Akana, Arupin and Aya’s names all begin with an “A”, the message might be seen as incriminating.

  • Thus, for the present, the girls agree to leave the scene of the crime. They are aided by someone only known as onee-san, who plays a similar role as 007‘s M and Human Revolution‘s Prichard. Providing remote support from a desk and occasionally offering advice about the girls’ performances, her presence suggests that Tracy may be more than a mere idol group.

  • Detective Miho Koigakubo is assigned to investigate Taguchi’s murder, and she’s presented to be quite zealous in her duties, even resorting to excessive force during a previous case. Because of her single-minded drive to solve cases, she would serve as a minor antagonist were Exodus to have continued and might very well likely turn around, helping Akane, Aya and Arupin capture the real murderer at some point in the series.

  • Aya, Akane and Arupin meet outside the Musashino Dome, expressing their wishes to one day perform there. It’s blatantly named after Musashino Studios, and from the looks of things, Exodus turned out (in-universe) to have been quite successful. Curiously enough, Shirobako was a powerhouse performance that saw near-universal acclaim from fans: in their eyes, Shirobako demonstrated that P.A. Works had not begun sliding down a slippery slope after the debacle that was Glasslip.

  • With onee-san‘s help, Akane, Aya and Arupin gain access to a secured phone and a motorbike. Arupin has prior experience in operating a motorbike, suggesting that she’s older than she lets on. This element was mentioned briefly in Shirobako during Exodus‘ production as part of designing Arupin’s character.

  • The page quote comes from a scene in The Dark Knight Rises, during which the Batman, while pursuing Bane’s men after their hit on the stock exchange. Usage of motorbikes and pursuit by an inordinate number of law enforcement units in Exodus means that it’s quite difficult not to draw this comparison, and this scene in The Dark Knight Rises was, for the lack of a better word, downright epic. In Exodus, their equivalent was similarly fun to watch.

  • I’ve tried timing “Risen from Darkness” to the chase scene in Exodus for my own amusement: this track was used during sections of the pursuit scene in The Dark Knight Rises after the Batman shows up and begins going after Bane’s men, before Foley orders all his available units to apprehend the Batman instead. Here, Miho authorises the use of small arms to apprehend Tracey.

  • There’s a certain charm about Aya’s expression here after she relieves an officer of his service revolver. Gun laws in Japan are strict: the law states that citizens may not possess firearms. Those who wish to use an airsoft rifle or shotgun must pass a stringent series of examinations and checks, and even law enforcement officers are trained to rely on non-lethal means of apprehension. So, when pistols are cleared for use, Miho implies to the audience that she sees Tracy as being sufficiently dangerous as to warrant use of firearms.

  • During the pursuit, Tracy’s online presence takes a sudden climb upwards, and although it’s mostly bad press (with claims of individual users spotting the alleged murderers), it nonetheless helps spread the group’s name as online users begin searching for and storing every piece of information about them. While murder allegations are certainly not the most ideal means of generating publicity, it’s not difficult to see that, once Tracy clears their name, it is possible that this is probably what Tracy needs to take off as an idol group.

  • Like Gotham’s forces did to try and slow the Batman down, the police under Miho’s command cordon off a bridge with the hopes of forcing them to slow down. In response, Aya raises her revolver and fires a single shot. The bullet’s impact isn’t shown to illustrate that the shot itself was not of great consequence, but it does cause the riot officers to scatter in surprise.

  • Anime have typically struggled to animate large numbers of anything, and traditionally, it was commonplace to simplify large crowds out with white figures or by minimising each individual’s LOD so that they become easier to animate. With CG techniques taking off now, it becomes possible to animate scenes with much more visual fidelity, and Knights of Sidonia is an excellent example of what an anime done entirely in CG would look like.

  • Despite clearing the obstacle, Miho remarks that the way is shut. Similar to Foley, Miho is somewhat arrogant in her belief that throwing a large number of cops at something will be sufficient to solve the problem. In The Dark Knight Rises, Foley soon realises that Bane’s threat is real and loses hope in his duties after Bane murders the Special Forces units covertly sent into Gotham, but regains his composure and leads Gotham’s police forces against Bane’s men. Because there’s only one episode of Exodus, it’s not known whether or not Miho will play as substantial a role.

  • The Batman used the Batpod’s cannons to lower a ramp from a car-carrier trailer stuck in traffic and made use of said ramp to reach another segment of the freeway to continue pursuit of Bane’s forces. In Exodus, a conveniently-placed car-carrier trailer provides a similar role, allowing them to drive over the bridge’s side and land on a boat. With the sheer number of similarities between Exodus‘ chase scene and that of The Dark Knight Rises, I find myself wondering if the former inspired the latter. The girls’ landing on the boat also seems somewhat inconsistent:carrying a pile of loose rock, the impact should have dispersed pebbles and transferred their force straight down, but instead, it’s treated as a single solid surface.

  • Aya, Akane and Arupin see one another without makeup for the first time: I personally prefer their appearances sans makeup, as they look much more natural in its absence. Exodus seems to make extensive use of jazz music in its score. Jazz is known for improvisation, mirroring the fact that the girls have little idea about what their plans are, but just as jazz music itself is pleasant to listen to, the girls find themselves making the most of their new situations to continue surviving.

  • With the only episode over, Exodus was a romp through several different genres and in Shirobako, enjoyed above-average reception and consequently, might be something I could enjoy were it a full anime. This would set the stage for Musashino Studios to produce the well-known The Third Aerial Girls Squad.

Exodus‘ first episode shows that the anime could provide solid entertainment, and that, were it to be a real anime, would likely keep viewers on the edge of their seats each week. This unique interplay between the idol and action genre would allow Exodus to explore different avenues that would allow the genres to complement one another. After one episode, I would give Exodus a chance and likely stick around for three episodes before coming to a definitive conclusion: I enjoyed the first episode and presently wonder what Arupin, Aya and Akane’s fates are. Provided that I have watched the first episode, Exodus is probably an anime that I see myself watching on a weekly basis. On the flipside, in the absence of watching the first episode, it is conceivable that Exodus would not have ended up on my watchlist during a season if I had merely read about it in a season preview or watched a trailer for the anime, given that the anime’s premise and genre are outside the realm of what I normally watch during a given season. In such an event, curiosity would lead me to pick it up if there is sufficient discussion as to motivate me to see for myself what Exodus was about.