I actually mislead myself into thinking that last week was the finale, and was actually a bit surprised that Sore ga Seiyuu! would end on such an unequivocally happy note, but at the same time I could see how it could be appropriate. After watching Futaba beat herself up for the entire series perhaps we could just indulge in her having a genuinely successful moment. But since we do have an episode 13,more self-flagellation is in order. One last round of drama, coming up!
If Earphone’s big concert would have been the ‘climatic finish’, I suppose Futaba’s assessment would be the ‘retrospective finish’, with the interview and its implications being a very straightforward device to look back on the growth of our protagonist. I understand why Aozora Productions would have this assessment—a probation period of sorts, I suppose—but their actual process is something that I have conflicted feelings about. Sure, I understand that they’re not pulling any punches, and Sore ga Seiyuu! has never done that either, but a 6 v 1 panel? That’s some heavy handed intimidation there. I’m not sure if they ever intended an interview, or just wanted to bully their rookies into contrition. I suppose with Futaba’s low approval rating there was no way that her experience in there was going to be any less than, ‘why shouldn’t we sack you?’, but there must be more constructive ways to give negative feedback than this. This is what happens when you have an oversupply of labour, like in the seiyuu industry; feel free to treat your drones like trash. There are others to take their place.
At least Futaba pulled herself together for the generic, ‘where do you see yourself in the future?’ question, because that’s where her growth shows. Futaba’s always been a creature of self-doubt, and considering Sore ga Seiyuu‘s emphasis on small steps she’s hardly going to change now. But her Aozora Productions friend is right; Futaba’s wallowing in negativity is rude to those who have less. It’s one thing to be humble, but it’s another to lack perspective. Contrast Ichigo, who always seems to be emotionally healthier because while she’s only doing a bit better than Futaba, she still has enough pride to sustain herself. It’s about having a clear self-image (such is the irony of Ichigo’s character). Futaba allowing herself that modicum of ambition, to want be able to persist in the industry, is growth. Sure, she might never rise above mediocrity. But being able to maintain mediocrity for a long time is surely an achievement in itself.
And thus the ending: Futaba neither passes nor fails, she’s just persisted for another year. It’s a thoroughly humdrum kind of conclusion to the entire drama, and a bit of a status-quo ending, but I suppose it’s fitting for Futaba. Rin aces her entrance exams, Ichigo gets to voice a mutant strawberry (hey, some of those local mascots are a pretty big deal in Japan), but Futaba? Being in limbo is apparently already a win. Baby steps, baby steps. As long as Futaba persists, opportunities will come. How about that big announcement at the end? Is Earphones going on tour? Is it a hook for a potential season 2? Are they making an anime based on Earphones? (Woah, the meta). Even off-screen, the life of these seiyuu continue.
Full-length images: 21.
Final Impressions, Take Two
There’s something to be said about looking for sleeper anime each season, and I think that Sore ga Seiyuu! can rightfully be called one of them (although Stilts will no doubt tell you that he told you). I must admit that I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it myself, just an idle curiosity and a gut feeling that I might be pleasantly surprised. And, indeed, Sore ga Seiyuu! was everything I hoped for and perhaps more (time to feel smug again). It was never a high budget, blockbuster hit, sure, but that was never necessary for good anime. More important, I feel, is a clear understanding of what one is doing with their show and then back that up with clean execution. In that regard, Sore ga Seiyuu! was an incredibly solid show. Its aethetics were serviceable, its pacing never too fast or slow, and it always managed to maintain the correct balance of humour and seriousness. That last one is particularly important to note, because while Sore ga Seiyuu! is a comedy, it never downplays the hardships of the seiyuu life. So our protagonists (Futaba especially) always has it rather tough, but it never feels too heavy because the comedy—which approaches black comedy sometimes, but is quick to come back around—softens the blow. Sore ga Seiyuu! makes it look simple, but I think it actually takes a deal of skill to balance idealism and reality, to have our protagonists be optimistic but still be able to fail. I suppose the important part is that even if they do badly, they’re still doing better. This finale is that message in a nutshell. Futaba’s never going to break out and take the seiyuu world by storm. Nobody, including herself, has particularly high expectations for her. She’ll probably always be that panicky mess. But she’ll keep doing what she does. It’s the Seiyuu’s Life, alright.
If there’s one criticism I would make of Sore ga Seiyuu!, it’s that in its quest to keep itself grounded it also became just a tad too formulaic. Each week, one of our girls would face some trouble or doubt, they meet an industry veteran guest star, and they are inspired to tough it on. It is, I admit, quite an effective formula and the girls do grow at a steady (if slow) pace, so it wasn’t all that bad, but it did mean that episodes like 05 (where the cameo stuck around for longer and played a bigger part) and 09 (where it was the manager as protagonist with a seiyuu cameo) felt noticeably ‘fresher’. This adherence to the routine was probably routine, to drive home a very Japanese kind of moral. The younger generation follow in the experience of the elder, and thus grow. Rinse, and repeat. Only once does Sore ga Seiyuu! break from this, perhaps appropriately in this final episode where Futaba finds inspiration from youth (out-of-context youth though they may be). Otherwise, it’s all about treading the path of those who came before, even if that path is decidedly horrible—hardship builds character! Now go fetch me my switch so I can beat you with it.
I suppose it’s all very forgiveable since the cameos, as a whole, really were quite inspirational, and also rather interesting (and not something I expected coming into this show). Sore ga Seiyuu! was already quite educational about the various nuances of the voice industry, but the guest stars added an air of authenticity to the entire thing, and of course learning about their personal quirks was a bonus for their fans. I like to think that all the guest stars came on very willingly, because Sore ga Seiyuu! really is a love song to the entire industry, harsh though it may be, and does all seiyuu a lot of credit without ever being patronising or condescending. Nobody ever pats Futaba on the head and gives her superpowers. Nothing was whitewashed for Sore ga Seiyuu!. Yet it was, at it core, quite the charming show, full of optimism in the face of hardship, both true to life and true to spirit. Sure, Futaba never really got very far over 13 episodes, but looking at how genuinely happy she and her friends are about it, it’s hard not to be happy for them as well.
Our final guest star was the author of the source manga herself, Asano Masumi (if you wanted more, here’s Aice5 singing the Sore ga Seiyuu! ED). Asano-sensei’s ambition was to hit it rich, and while I don’t know how serious that one is (probably not very), I hope Sore ga Seiyuu! works out well for her. Even if it’s not the greatest pay-day, (though considering all the angles from which they’re monetising it, I’m sure it’ll be something), I’m still going to count Sore ga Seiyuu! as a sucess in its own right. Like Futaba herself, it never was the blockbuster of the season, and perhaps never shone as brightly as some other stars. But it had its own little ambitions, and I must say it has filled them quite adeptly. You don’t need more than that for good anime.
ED3 Sequence ~ Cameo Parade
ED3: 「光の先へ」 (Hikari no Saki e) by Earphones (Takahashi Rie, Nagaku Yuki and Kouno Marika)