Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Anime Review: Shirobako

When I first saw the summary for this story I thought "But if I've already seen Animation Runner Kuromi do I really need to see this?" and now having seen the showI would actually recommend seeing that 2 OVA series first! The two shows are actually fairly different but Shirobako drops you into the animation production assuming that you already know a lot of the basics and ARK gives you a great rundown of those missing parts or you can also check out this handy glossary for the show.


A group of girls once swore together over donuts that after high school they would make anime together again as adults but two years later that dream seems farther away than ever. Half of them are working in the industry already and the rest want to break in but, with all the ups and downs of Musani Animation it's hard enough to keep the present under control never mind the future!

Shirobako is a story of two parts and the first part of it is that it's very much a loving tale about how anime is made. It's hardly an easy journey but whenever the characters succeed and finish an episode, wrap a show, etc you can see that their love for making anime only gets stronger and the audience's does too. While the show does skip over the very basics (what key animations vs in-between animation is, etc) it does get into the nitty gritty for how something like a recording session goes or how a direction and a writer work together, although the episode where they listed off just about every meeting the director has with the various teams was a bit of overkill. I'm always interested in visuals parts of anime like color schemes so I wish some parts of that process related to that had been touched on a little more, like who decides how a show will look in general and individual episodes or scenes and how much freedom the rest of the staff has. I'm sure the answer is "well, it varies from production to production" and it did talk about how some shows will create art boards and then backgrounds while some skip just to backgrounds, but since this series didn't focus on those characters as much to start with I'd love if the story could talk about them more in that rumored "second season" (basically, the show was originally planned to be a year long so they still have those ideas for a second half!).

I can't fault the show for not focusing on certain groups of characters or others because the series had a huge cast to start with and remarkably, about 75% of them are based on real people. Here's a short round-up of some of the people and sadly I don't know of a more complete list, I do know that the guy who made the art boards was also based on a real person. Less surprisingly, the shows within the show were based on real ones (not "Exodus!" or "Third Squad Aerial Girls" but things like the background posters or "Andes Chucky") and the locations are too, in fact the Tatiano Studio was based off of a real building which then modified itself to look more like the Shirobako version in a very weird moment of meta (although an even weirder moment was the very intense debate over using established voice actors vs newbies and realizing that the five central girls are all done by relative unknowns). Despite how silly the whole show is it was really hard for me to remember that these were only fictional characters and not a minute-by-minute documentary of their lives, especially when the characters were having trouble staying on schedule and the real world simulcast of Shirobako kept getting delayed!* There were only a few times when I felt like the comedy was too over the top and if it had been just a show about making anime then I would have loved it.

I've seen a few people online say "basically any character that isn't a moeblob is based off a real person", I should mention at this point that it has a large female cast and many of whom aren't moeblobs, but I've heard that one of the "writers" for the series is actually a collective name for a group of three female writers so I have no doubt that there are elements of those three women in the five central female characters the way there is something of the real director in Tarou. Those five characters, associate producer Aoi, student Midori, aspiring voice actress Shizuka, animator Ema, and CGI artist Misa, are the reason why I keep recommending this show to my friends, in those five girls you find elements of just about every young person's life story in there, doubly so if you're in a creative field. I actually just started an internship in a video production company so it was fun to see some things mimicked on screen (yes people still do use production tapes!) and I swear that my life is so similar to Rii?'s that I had a hard time not laughing during my first day. And I've felt so many similar things to the other characters, Aoi and Ema's combined struggles of figuring out precisely what they want to do and how to do it well when they're young and in a better position, and Shizuka's part time work while she doggedly looks for seiyuu gigs are all hugely reflective of my life. The only one that didn't really ring true for me was Misa's conflict about staying at a very secure, but boring, job vs striking out for a much more perilous but creatively fulfilling job and that's because I've worried about money much longer than most of these girls and Misa had remarkably good luck for landing a new job quickly (bonus points that most of these girls would be "freelancers" in the US which has it's own set of job woes that you don't see in the "young office lady" dramas which are usually the best I can hope for). 

I will freely admit that this series's love of anime does mean it glossed over a bit at the toll this job takes on you both socially (there's a passing mention just once that the PAs only get one day a week off and the office work continues even when they're gone) and financially (aside from a one off episode where it's part of Ema's motivation for wanting to become even better early), especially with an America animator talking about his experiences in Japan and I've also seen several rebuttals to it (mostly scattered on twitter so no links). Thankfully some fans made a handy chart about the pay bands for various positions in anime so we can learn about it anyway! The show also has a little bit of trouble with it's pacing, the events flow together very well and fill up it's two cours nicely but I had a very hard time getting a grasp on just how much time was passing in the show and found it disorienting. There would be moments like "oh hey it's Christmas now!" but none of the usual setting or clothing cues to go along with it (which was bizarre since the designers went to so much trouble to give every single character a closet of separates with varying combinations).

I am super happy that I caught up with this show while it was airing, not just so I could see what other fans were catching that I wasn't (like the various cameos and references) but also because it was just a good show. It told a good story, it had a hopeful message for people like me and amazingly enough it's actually selling well too! Who knows if it'll get a second season (I hadn't even considered before how short 6 months might be for pre-production but if they're just bringing back an old cast and using designs they already have....) but I feel like there is room for more of a story and if that happens I would be thrilled! In the meantime, Shirobako has been licensed by Sentai Filmworks and can be watched either on Crunchyroll or Hulu.   

*another thing I'd love to happen in a sequel, have Musani get a show which is simulcast and have to deal with that headache too!