Production studio: P.A. Works
So it seems like I’ve been writing reviews for a lot of underrated anime lately. There’s definitely a larger need to start conversations about underrated anime than just hyping up all the series that are already popular. With that being said, here’s a review about another hugely underrated gem of an anime, Shirobako.
Shirobako is everything we’ve ever wondered about the process of anime-making, with voice acting, producing, scriptwriting, CGI computer graphics operating and traditional animating each represented by five best friends who were part of their high school animation club. After graduation, the girls all entered the anime industry hoping to someday create an anime together.
The plot follows Aoi Miyamura, the producer of the team working as a production assistant for the animation studio Musashino Animation. Aoi struggles to handle the stressful workloads of working in the anime industry, and we follow her journey of coordination and communication between the staff of Musashino Animation and her personal journey of discovering her career path in the industry. Aoi also has the difficult task of dealing with the impossible Seiichi Kinoshita, the director for the original series the studio is producing. Director Kinoshita is haunted by the flop his previous series faced, but even so, it doesn’t stop him from lazing around and wasting his precious storyboarding time munching on more desserts.
While Aoi faces her struggles at the production department of Musashino, another one of her best friends Ema is working as a key animator at the same studio leading a similarly stressful life. Ema becomes increasingly depressed and discouraged when she is unable to draw a set of frames for the animation, all while trying to meet a tight deadline. The other girls were facing problems of their own as well; Shizuka who aspires to be a voice actress is continuously rejected from the voice acting roles she auditioned for, and Misa, a 3D computer graphics operator is unsatisfied with her limited job scope of creating CGI for tyres and automobiles. Only the scriptwriting college student Midori is temporarily safe from the strains of this demanding industry.
The plot of this anime largely exceeded my expectations. When reading up the summary for it (with a picture of a group of cute girls and a very basic one-line description of the plot), I saw myself watching yet another slice-of-life that focuses on nothing but the mundane everyday routines of a bunch of girls with no defining personalities. I can tell you affirmatively that I was very wrong. Shirobako portrays the anime industry painfully well, and the way Aoi leads her life as a working lady resonates with many new members of the workforce in real life. It is definitely not a simple job trying to deliver quality anime to an audience within a challenging weekly deadline, and things get worse when the studio becomes short-staffed, leaving Aoi to deal with it and find a solution.
Just as she was almost pushed to her limit, she finds inspiration and newfound determination in the leading veteran key animator of Musashino, whom she discovered was involved in the production of her favourite childhood anime Andes Chucky. Shirobako constantly reminds us what it means to be working for the sake of passion, as Aoi regains her lost spirit with greater confidence and a clearer determination for the future she is working towards.
I was extremely sad when the storyline seemed to lead up to the climax, but I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it has 24 episodes instead of 12. There are two main arcs of this anime, with each one focusing on Musashino’s process of making a different series. There is clear character development over the second half of the series as we see how Aoi has grown in terms of capability and personality. The loose ends are tied up nicely as the climax of the second arc pulls in all five girls to work on Musashino’s anime adaptation of The Third Aerial Girls Squad. Aoi reflects on her journey of working in the anime industry and finds a greater resolve for her passion.
Aoi is constantly engaged in conversations with herself, represented by the gothic pirate girl Mimuji and the stuffed teddy bear Roro. We get an insight to her thoughts and her feelings, and I personally think this is a great way for the audience to connect with Aoi’s character. There is just no way one could not like such a hardworking, cheerful and earnest person who feels so real and relatable. The four other girls are also lovable, and we would definitely be cheering them on. Even the staff of Musashino Animation, made up of a diverse cast with different personalities, made me support them all till the end. (With the slight exception of Director Kinoshita – I’m not sure how I feel about him.)
Art and Animation
P.A. Works did a lovely job with the animation of this series. The color scheme is bright and cheerful, perfectly reflective of Aoi’s personality. It is interesting to note that the characters in Musashino were designed based on actual people working in the anime industry. The designs are so detailed that the animators got them right down till their outfits. Director Kinoshita looks exactly like his real-life counterpart!
When I think about it, there’s real irony in how the production staff of Shirobako are animating the production staff of Musashino Animation animating Exodus! and The Third Aerial Girls Squad. The whole production process of Shirobako is just downright mindblowing.
Sound and Music
The first opening song “Colorful Box” by Yoko Ishida is so addictive that it’s still stuck in my head after all these years. The other songs are equally fun and cheerful, especially the ending songs which are sung by the voice actresses of the series. The voice acting for the series is comprised of a wide range of personalities that shine through the characters they voice. It is also worth mentioning that the voice actress characters shown to voice the girls in The Third Aerial Girls Squad are designed based on their actual voice actresses too!
This anime is too beautiful not to watch. It has the level of depth that is rarely found in comedy/drama genres, and frankly, I’m offended it’s still not as popular as I expect it to be. Shirobako will make you laugh, cry and feel for all these characters that resemble us so much. To end my review, I only have one last thing to say:
“Don Don Donuts, Do-n to Ikou!”
(Watch Shirobako and you’ll understand, I promise.)