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SHIROBAKO Review: An Entertaining Foray into the Anime Industry

The sleeper hit of the Fall 2014 season, the two cour, or two season, original anime Shirobako is a truly excellent anime that has certainly reversed P.A Works’ recent fortune in sales for Glasslip and Nagi no Asukara. While in some ways a combination of the comedy, drama, and slice-of-life genres, Shirobako stands apart in its tackling of the animation industry.

Much of the work is informative about the process of making anime and the various roles and manpower required to make that happen. For some, Shirobako might come across as too jargon heavy, but it generally seems to strike the correct balance in not overwhelming the viewers. Still, perhaps the show’s strongpoint is to use the industry in which the main characters work as a vehicle for exploring ideas such as following one’s dreams whilst still allowing the industry aspect of the show to remain interesting.

Story

The story of Shirobako first introduces the audience to the five main characters of the show when they are still in high school. The five friends have just finished producing their anime as the members of the animation club. Subsequently, the friends make a vow to come together and create an animated feature in the professional sphere. The plot then jumps forward about two and a half years where most of the members of the animation club now work in the industry to some degree. Aoi Miyamori works as production assistant for Musahino Animation, Ema Yasuhara works as an animator for Musahino as well, Shizuka Sakaki is a novice voice actress, Misa Toudou is employed at a 3D designer, and Midori Imai, their most junior member, is still in college.

At first, it seems that the focus of the show might be blurred with so many main characters, but Shirobako manages to neatly avoid this problem. Rather than allowing the show to become overambitious by pursuing each of their storylines in full, Shirobako mostly follows the life of Aoi at Musahino while sometimes following the other characters’ lives. This approach also allows the show to more widely explore the industry as well.

The plot as the show develops involves following the attempted bounce-back production of Musahino Animation after following out of relevancy. Musahino has been allowed to make the original work Exodus! with the company’s hopes riding on this work. This half of Shirobako definitely involves more of introducing viewers to the industry and the many roles involved. The show’s early episodes present the audience with animators, character designers, production assistants, directors, writers, and more. The first half of the show also introduces some of the problems that fully develop in the second half, such as Aoi’s pondering on why she wants to work in the anime industry or Shizuka’s increasing struggles as a voice actress as her friends make progress towards their dreams. Shirobako humanizes its characters and allows their struggle to resonate with the viewers with experience in the workforce and life. While its narrative is certainly well-told and a strength of the show, the ability to couple that with its individual character’s hopes and dreams is a very definite selling point.

Characters

As is proper with conveying the amount of manpower required in producing an anime, Shirobako features a legion of characters. Even the five principal characters aside, there are the myriad members of Musahino animation, freelance animators, members of other companies, and voice actors and actresses. Still, the show laudably balances the characters’ screen time in proportion to their importance quite well.

One of the strengths that the majority of the cast possess is how relatable they are due to the realism with which they are portrayed. Even just among the main cast, Aoi loses sight of her dream against a barrage of deadlines, long hours, and sleepless nights. It is implied that Ema endures financial difficulty in the small hope of fulfilling her dream. Misa works at a great company by almost every obvious standard but feels trapped by its gilded cage due to the meaningless of the work to her. Midori, like her upperclassmen, shares a desire to enter the industry without any idea of how to do so after she graduates. Shizuka endures her own lack of progress as a true voice actress as she watches her friends make steps toward fulfilling their dream.

Source: entravity.com

Source: entravity.com

Shirobako makes it a point to capture the humanity behind the characters and their struggles. Most everyone can relate to the ideals of dreams being swept aside and forgotten by an inexorable working life. Aside from simply being relatable, the characters in Shirobako are also excellent in the sense that they are not just an amalgamation of traits clumped together, but rather as people who think in different ways, talk in different ways, and have clear and interesting personalities.

Art

The animation quality is across the bar excellent as has come to be expected of P.A. Works. Regardless of virtually every other aspect of the show, it has become almost insane to deny that any show animated by P.A. works will turn out amazing. Naturally, this simple principle holds true when applied to Shirobako as well. The character designs are aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly distinct. The backgrounds are always lovely and pretty, although sometimes some CG elements do not mesh wonderfully. In fact, the show as a whole handles the idea of animating the process of animating very well in addition to fluidity of movement and the like.

One thing to note about the quality of animation is that an in-series show, Andes Chucky, was supposedly animated during the cel animation era. When choosing to render the series in the show, P.A. Works faithfully created all sequences of Andes Chucky with cel animation.  The studio’s attention to detail and commitment to quality in their works is something to be admired.

Overall

Ultimately, Shirobako stands as a somewhat unique achievement. Its foray into the anime industry is fruitful both as a narrative and informative source. The art is of the high standard expected from P.A. Works, allowing gorgeous visuals to reinforce the already strong story and characters. Perhaps most importantly, the characters and their struggles are undeniably human and the pursuit of one’s dreams and happiness against the tide of life is one that many a viewer will find themselves able to deeply resonate with.

5 out of 5 stars

5 out of 5 stars

 

Cover image via

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Categories: Anime Reviews

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