First Impressions: Shirobako


An anime that makes an anime

Shirobako is many things--a story about a struggling animation studio, an anime production starting to go haywire, the promise of five young women in the pursuit of their dreams, and that is just to list a few. Shirobako, to me, is the love letter of the anime creation process as shared and dramatized by the same creators to the people that watch it. Still, it's an anime about an anime. How much that speaks to each of us has a lot more to do with who we are rather than what Shirobako is, so this special anime starts out on an usual note.

Making anime is a grind, a business, after all. For some it means long hours and little pay. For others it's hair-raising stress. For some it's a childhood dream. The same can be said of Shirobako's viewers. It could very well be just another late-night TV anime out of the dozens of new shows every season that you are checking out. It might be another PA Works production for those keeping score at home, featuring director of Girls und Panzer and Big Windup. For me it's anime-of-the-year material because of the specific type of anime otaku inside of me.

I'm definitely jumping the gun with that proclamation just two episodes in, but the Shirobako story is already off a great start. The conceits to dramatize a busy production means combining the excitement of a high-stress environment with the realities (and all that it comes with) of a life-like, adult setting. Having the story describe a difficult project means Shirobako can play up the challenges and tribulations as a way to pivot the plot up and down, giving its characters chances to shine. And quite frankly a crazy project going down into flames is often more entertaining than an well-oiled Japanese business machine.

At the same time, Shirobako anchors our perspective with a student-made animation by five excited and driven graduating students, who swore on doughnuts that they will reunite in Tokyo, each looking to fulfill their promise to each other as the best cog they could be in the anime dream machine they seek to be a part of, together. After that start, the pilot episode swings to Aoi Miyamori, the animation assistant for Studio Musashi, as she peels rubber late at night, in a methodological race with another strangely marked car labeled "G.I. Staff." They are animation runners.

And it goes beyond Kuromi, the last animated animation runner most of us are familiar with. Today, the production or animation assistant role goes beyond transporting vanilla envelopes of animated cuts between various animator. In essence, she is the project manager of a specific episode, and works with the episode director to put the week's anime through its paces, keeping tabs on animator resources and making the schedule work. When the schedule slips, that's when the driven and passionate assistant get to show her colors. It sure beats pulling one's hair out.

It's no surprise that the animation assistant take the lead in a story like Shirobako. Aoi gets to interact with most of the staff in the production pipeline, from director all the way to driving the sakkan (animation director) to the dub recording session. Armed with the company car, she is more than just a gofer--she literally drives the anime making machine. The action sequence in the beginning of the first episode is reminiscent of Initial D, perhaps, and it's a bit of a concession to having to show the world such a mundane task as producing a TV anime--here's a car chase for you to enjoy. At the same time,  it's within this crazy scene that Shirobako shows off the touches of the various chases in Girls und Panzer, as Aoi corners methodologically. 

And it's in the details that this letter to the anime otaku shows its love. Shirobako punches for its weight. For long-time Otakon goers like myself seeing grand-dad level producer Masao Maruyama animated as a character was a great treat. As the fans go to work identifying the other cameo appearances in the show, Shirobako also makes some very obvious references, directly putting three of the voice actresses from the show as almost themselves. Seeing them voicing characters that are themselves, then voicing the in-show characters, is a pretty funny exercise that is also a bit surreal as the actresses apply their craft as they know, presented without any trimmings. The slightly less obvious reference include several of the other sound staff and the director himself. I'm sure more will be uncovered as we move through the series.

Perhaps the most impressive thing, other than seeing a dramatically amusing version of the animation machine, is that despite all the grinding, daily drag, the passion of the animators leaks through to the characters in a very one-to-one way. It really feels that the people making Shirobako cares, and the story seems to explain this in a direct way. I'm wondering if it ever gets too awkward when what happens in the show is too close to real life for comfort. At this point, however, it hits me in a spot few shows do, and I hope Aoi and her friends and coworkers pull through by the season's end, to the end of Shirobako.

[Watch Shirobako on Crunchyroll!]

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Jeff Chuang
Jeff ChuangAssociate Editor   gamer profile

Yet to be the oldest kid on the block, this East Coast implant writes cryptic things about JP folklore, the industry or dirty moe. Attend cons and lives the "I can buy Aniplex releases" life. ... more + disclosures



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