Shirobako – Anime Review
Synopsis: Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa, and Midori make a promise over donuts to follow their dreams and work in the anime industry. Since then, day after day, the five girls have spent all of their time trying to fulfil their promise. (Official HIDIVE Synopsis)
Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Shirobako offers some amazing insight, if dramatized, into the behind the scenes of anime production. Interspersed between the series’ character drama we get snippets of understanding for the process, the sheer amount of work and dangers faced when making the medium so many of us enjoy.
Linny: Shirobako manages to give off an air of authenticity for its depiction of anime production. Yes, it does have certain bizarre elements sprinkled in every episode, like two people engaging in a drift race out of the blue but overall it offers a sincere look into all that goes into making anime. It’s enlightening and even educational with the more surrealistic sequences only adding to the enjoyment and fun factor.
Tom: Despite its often grounded depiction, those surrealist sequences are where the show breaks its grounded setting in favor of over the top action, or anthropomorphic toys, all elements used to add a little more whimsy and fantasy to the series. Each of these sequences is relatively self-contained and played in such a way that audiences who enjoy the more grounded aspects to Shirobako can safely chalk it up to our lead, Miyamori, and her fantastical imagination, or simply a more whimsical depiction of the mayhem associated with anime production.
Linny: Shirobako does a splendid job of offering up characters that capture your attention. Miyamori, the go getter Production Assistant or Ema Yasuhara, the struggling Key Animator are people you can’t help but love for all their drive and passion. Conversely Taro Takanashi, an ongoing screw up, is someone you can’t help but loathe for the sheer frustration he sparks in our heroes. The series is great at making you love or loathe its entire cast, or at the very least find them an interesting addition. A lot have fleshed out personalities, including ones that could be easily dismissed as mere side characters. The main girls themselves, like Miyamori, Ema and Shizuka, are each shown to have some struggle all of their own, fighting hard to make their lofty dreams come true. It makes it easy to root for them.
Tom: Our five leads are indeed extremely likable as they work hard to make a break through in each of their anime related fields. They’re so easy to root for as each faces adversity and difficulty in their quest to be the best production lead, animator, or voice actress. The difficulties they face are common, rather than character specific, helping to touch on the show’s ‘tell all’ behind the scenes nature. There’s also a number of antagonistic characters that add to the overall drama, like Taro, never portrayed as outright scum, but rather the kind of difficult folk you’ll find in any industry, chasing riches rather than passion or hampering the work flow with their bumbling, self-serving, incompetence. Shirobako generally handles its cast well, although certain side characters, even likable ones, disappear towards the show’s final episodes.
Linny: Even though the show opens with the five main girls and features them heavily in the credits, some receive far less airtime and exploration than others. It’s a shame as each girl is involved in a different aspect of anime production and it would have been nice to get a more well rounded look at their part of the process and personal struggles.
Tom: Out of our five leads only two truly get significant focus. Miyamori, our production assistant, and Ema Yasuhara, our key animator. These two girls get the most screen time, with the series frequently exploring their struggles above all else. Others, like Shizuka Sakaki our voice actress, get far less screen time and less exploration. Shizuka’s struggle is often a brief distraction from time to time as she fails to get callback after callback. Misa Todo gets an episode or two, but due to her station at another company she remains too distant to be tied much closer to the main plot. Midori Imai, university student and aspiring writer, lucks into things far easier than the other four, making her struggles feel less real, or honest. Still, what’s done with each girl usually feels compelling and rarely wasted potential. Many episodes end with intense cliffhangers, sudden obstacles for each of the girls, that have you dying to see what happens next. It’s this constant flow of drama and hardship that keeps Shirobako engaging episode to episode.
Linny: Shirobako has a major weakness: Its lack of broad audience appeal. No matter how well it pulls off its focus on anime production, that very industry specific depiction is limiting in appeal. Handling such a technical topic and spending so much time exploring the ins and out means that to really enjoy everything Shirobako offers, you have to be either a huge anime fan or curious about the production process. There’s a LOT of shop talk, which could leave casual or younger fans feeling confused and/or bored and makes it certain that Shirobako has the odds stacked against it ever becoming a majorly popular show.
Tom: For all Shirobako gets right on depicting the behind the scenes pitfalls of anime production, there’s also a lot it leaves out, something that could irk the more technical minded viewers its aiming for. People in the know have pointed out how little Shirobako addresses certain aspects: Like the pay diversity, the contracts for extra help with in-between animation from other Asian territories and more. It’s best to remember that, much like Bakuman, it’s still a dramatized work, often over-simplifying things for the viewer’s benefit. It tries to find a balance between informative and offering relatable, easy to digest drama. I think it largely succeeds at that middle ground.
Linny: To wrap things up, Shirobako is a show about anime production that mixes a bit of the eclectic with a fair share of shop talk. Despite an opening sequence that features a group of friends who dream of making a proffesional anime together, Shirobako is mainly concerned with the story of Musashino Animation Studios’ journey to produce two anime television series rather than truly focusing on the journey of these girls. You should pick up Shirobako if you’re interested in seeing workplace drama and a layman’s dose of the technical work that goes into making anime. It is most definitely not a factual encyclopedia-like source of information for the behind the scenes of anime but makes for a fun and interesting first step towards learning about the process.
Tom: I do agree with Linny, that without at least a mild curiosity for the inner-workings of anime studios, Shirobako isn’t nearly as strong a watch. But when viewed through that interest, Shirobako is largely a success with lovable characters, tight drama, insight into the work behind anime, and stunning animation. The show boasts a satisfying enough conclusion that it stands on its own, rather than begging for a follow up season. Shirobako does suffer a few flaws, but otherwise stands as joy to watch for anyone who loves anime enough to wonder what it’s like behind the scenes. It’s dramatized, and perhaps a tad simplistic, but a good starting point for anyone wrapped up in anime and eager to learn more.