So I’ve been meaning to put this review up, because (spoiler alert!) Shirobako is a personal favorite of mine. It’s a 24-episode drama that aired over the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 cours, and it’s the only anime I know of which is about the anime industry. We get to see highs, lows, stress, more stress, and a lot of interesting details about the entire process of anime creation. More importantly, we get to know the people behind the fictional shows that are being created in Shirobako, and what drives them. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.
The show follows the five former members of a high school anime club, young women who have grown older and started working in the real world. Miyamori Aoi, our main character, is working as a new production assistant at Musashino Animation, where her friend Yasuhara Ema works as an animator, while Toudou Ema, the third member, is a professional CGI artist at her own company. The last two members of the club (Sakaki Shizuka the voice actress and Imai Midori the college student and writer) are still trying to break into the industry…and that’s where things begin.
What The Show’s Like
In case you didn’t know, I’m a creative at heart. I haven’t gotten very much solid work together, but I know the mindset, and I’ve learned a bit about how to make different types of media. So let me say this off the bat: from the first episode, it’s obvious that Shirobako gets what it means to be a creative. The show starts you off by showing you what these five girls are like in high school: earnest artists trying to create something awesome. And yeah, it’s kinda shoddy and amateurish when you finally see it, but it’s made with a lot of hard work and the spark of absolute joy when they finally get a little bit of it working is amazing.
And then the show takes that core of youthful optimism and throws it against the grind of day-to-day work. Making anime isn’t nearly as glamorous when it’s your day-to-day job, and when you’re on a schedule and AHHH EPISODE 3 IS TWO WEEKS BEHIND PRODUCTION AND IT’S HOLDING UP EPISODES 4 AND 5. Each of the five main characters gets to see the industry from a different angle, and they’ve all got different personal struggles going on as well. That’s what the core of the show is: following them as they hit roadblocks, recover from them, hit more roadblocks, and somehow look for the strength to keep going, learning along the way.
How It Shakes Out
Yeah, it’s awesome. This show clicks in all the right ways, weaving a powerful character story about the five main characters…and also bringing the many supporting characters of the studio into the fold with grace! You remember how I ragged on Plastic Memories for not holding up as a character piece? Well, Shirobako is basically the opposite of that. Not only do the five (!) main characters get solid screentime and character moments, but all of the supporting characters at the studio feel real, even if we don’t see much of them. And when a supporting character reveals some of the depth that they’ve had within themselves this whole time, it’s a marvelous surprise.
At the same time, the show is grounded. If you didn’t know anything on anime production, you might pick up on some stuff. Granted, it might come across as some sort of technobabble, but I can guarantee you that it’s all real, and maybe you’ll even get curious and research stuff like keyframes, tweening, or the different stages of animation. You get to look behind the curtain of a living, breathing, complex process, and see how it comes together from every side, and you get more attached to the process because you can see the people striving to make this whole crazy thing work, and you can’t help but cheer for them.
In that way, it’s a bit like a sports show…but for artists! You see their struggles, their hopes, their sadnesses, their weird little quirks. When they’re having a hard time, you want to make it better–and when things line up just right, you feel their joy and cheer for them, because these are people you care about. Doubly so for me, because they’re artists. They’re trying to make wonderful things, despite the fact that they also need to make anime for a paycheck. And the show is a wonderful exploration of that dynamic.
My Final Word
You really should watch this show. Not only is it my favorite show of the last year, but it’s set to be one of the most memorable shows of the decade. It gives you the peek behind the curtain, showing you people who pour their heart and soul into creative work, but also showing you just how human they are.
You can watch Shirobako at Crunchyroll.com