- Genre : Slice of Real Life
- Episodes: 24
- Studio: P.A.Works
In high school, Aoi and her friends had a dream. A good one. They wanted to be part of a world that brought so much joy to their lives that they were willing to dedicate their futures to spreading that joy around. In Japan anime is more than simple entertainment, it’s a tradition and a cultural touchstone. But it’s also a demanding and rapidly changing industry with a reputation for exhausting all those who dare enter it. Now that she’s all grown up, will Aoi be able to make her dream a reality and bring new dreams to the next generation of anime watchers. Will hardships and disappointments end in disillusionment or serve to steel her determination?
I’ve made no secret of my fascination with the mechanics of putting anime together. I’m one of these people who really likes taking things apart to see all the moving parts. Sadly, although I can bluff my way through discussing visual elements or narrative structure, my knowledge of the mechanics of anime production was always rather spotty and I have been meaning to rectify that for ages. Turns out, Shirobako was the documentary I was looking for!
I recently went on this Kyoto Animation journey of rediscovery, here I sang the studio’s praises for excellence with conventional visuals, but P.A. Works is not that far behind. Their animes tend to look great as well, if a little less exciting when it comes to color palette. They also take small risks with their art designs from time to time, which makes their series less predictable in appearance. I think they also deserve recognition for consistently pretty shows.
As for Shirobako, it’s not one of those risk takers. It’s very pretty and very typical looking. Considering the in-show discussions about traditional art, the future of anime and the impact of art styles and technique, I think choosing a traditional look really serves the narrative. If I could change anything about the visuals in question, it would be to put Yuka in the background of every shot. I really think this needs no explanation.
Fact is, Shirobako is a wonderfully produced series. After watching it, I have a much greater appreciation for what that means in practice. And let me tell you, I’m impressed! I suspected anime was magic for a long time, but now that I’ve seen a tiny glimpse behind the curtain, I realize it’s pure witchcraft!
There will be Spoilers in my review. Yup Spoilers for Shirobako. I got skillz!
One thing that struck me pretty quickly about Shirobako, is that it can be slightly misleading with its opening episode. The series starts off on 5 high school girls, enthusiastically putting together a student made anime for their school’s fest. Everything about this opening act leads you to believe that this will be a CGDCT show with an anime emphasis. And that’s not entirely wrong but it’s pretty wrong.
First off, forget about the 5 girls. The story really focuses on Aoi and her experience as a production assistant. We do see all of them at various points with their own career struggles, but they are less present then Aoi’s coworkers. Even Ema who is an animator at the same studio, doesn’t get as much air time as the director for instance. Some of the girls are completely absent until the second half of the show.
Second, remember that director I just mention, well he’s definitely not a “cute girl”. The cast is very diverse, and time is dedicated to characters of various genders, ages and levels of cuteness.
Finally, and what delightfully surprised me most, they are not doing cute things. Animation is a very competitive business and it requires a lot of hard work. Most of it is unglamorous and repetitive. As a production assistant, Aoi has to coordinate and bring together all the different elements (an people) that make up a series. And Shirobako feels very authentic in its depiction of grueling production schedules, last minute complications, endless meetings and small celebrations. I say feels, because I still don’t know enough about anime production to validate any of this, but everything is just so likely.
People grumble about details, pride and feelings get hurt but the show must go on. Veterans see themselves slowly get left behind as their skills whiter and their style no longer reflects the current standards. And when dealing with so many creative personalities that are forced to conform to a rigid corporate structure, things are bound to get difficult at times.
Everything we see in Shirobako is fairly run of the mill office reality for anyone who works on big, schedules projects. It’s present in a casual, relaxed matter with no flights of fancy and only slight exaggerations for comedic purposes. And it’s fascinating. The subtle difference between computer movement and traditional one. The importance of key frames. The difficulties of anime character design adaptations from 2d mangas. I could go on for a long time. I didn’t want it to end.
In case you didn’t pick up on it – I loved it. This is the adult workplace comedy I was waiting for. And it’s worth noting that the dramatic tension was entirely derived from the struggles and quest for personal fulfillment of young women in the workplace. Not a single mention of romance or physical attributes. Aoi and her friends have just started their professional lives and they are entirely dedicated to them. Shirobako is very career oriented and that’s a novelty I find. One I really appreciated.
The only reproach I could find is that the five “main” characters were sort of interchangeable. To me, they all sort of seemed like the same character in different skins. It’s a bit odd as Shirobako features a lot of colorful and varied characters of all kind, yet Aoi and her friends share a single personality. This isn’t a big issue since, as I mentioned earlier, most of them aren’t that present, and the personality in question is pleasant and nice to watch, but it felt like a missed opportunity.
While I was watching it, I particularly latched on to Shizuka and her difficulty at breaking into voice acting. Of all the characters, she was the one struggling the most with her career, working as a waitress and waiting to land her first role. We see her audition and fail time and again. Get overlooked and discarded without so much as a phone call. It’s one of those cruel realities of showbusiness I’m afraid and Shirobako nailed it. As the episodes went by, I remember thinking to myself how impressed I was that the show was resisting the urge to give Shizuka her happy ending as it really looked like the series was going to wrap up before she ever got that first break. It takes a lot of guts to add in a bummer storyline like that (a fact the show itself pointed out). But I respect guts and I thought it was great of Shirobako to give a nod to the ones that don’t make it.
Remember when I said there would be spoilers. Here they come! You would think that I’d be disappointed that Shirobako caved in and Shizuka was cast as a last-minute character out of the blue. Not only that but they really poured it on real thick. Showing us Aoi reacting to her friend’s emotional performance, after seeing her survive years of disappointment and hardship. I would be disappointed, but it was so perfectly executed that I couldn’t help but cheer and cry a little. The scene is just downright beautiful. Here is a little bit of it:
See, see!!??!! I bet that even out of context you thought that was touching. Now imagine if you actually cared about any of them. I’m saying you should probably watch Shirobako. If you love anime, cute girls, cats, donuts or working hard – you’ll find something to like.
Favorite character: Yuka
What this anime taught me: Every subject should be taught in anime format.
Home is where the wine is waiting
Suggested drink: Work in Progress
- Every time anyone drives like a maniac – take a sip
- Every time production is delayed – take a swig
- Every time anyone works ridiculous hours – be grateful
- Every time we see donuts – get a snack
- Every time sleeps at work – take a sip
- Every time we see a production cell – take a sip
- Every time anyone goes drinking – join them
- Every time there’s a production meeting – sigh
- Every time the president cooks – get a different snack
- Every time someone says “key animation” – take a sip
- Every time we/hear about Andes Chucky – take a sip
- if we hear the OP – sing along!