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Watch this series on Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/shirobako
If Barakamon showed us that the struggle of individual creativity is real, Shirobako ramps it up to the next level, showing the struggles of many creative individuals working together, and the overall struggles of being a working adult–especially an adult whose career is tied into their passion. Relating to Barakamon was always gratifying when Handa made a big breakthrough, but Shirobako isn’t interested in that kind of gratification. It looks at every revelation with a sideways glance and says, “about time you got that work done; by the way, you’ve got three hours to finish ten more cuts, and tomorrow you’ll have to do twice as much work twice as fast. Good luck thinking past tomorrow.”
The story follows five young women who decided to pursue careers in animation after producing a short anime film together in high school. Sakaki Shizuka wants to become a voice actress, but has spent years struggling to make her debut in a saturated industry that favors popular, established voices. Imai Midori is a college student who wants to become a screenwriter, but doesn’t even know where to begin with actually pursuing such a career. Toudou Misa becomes a CG animator, only to find that her field is incredibly limited in its creative output, and the reality that she may be designing CG cars forever looms heavy. Miyamori Aoi and Yasuhara Ema have landed jobs at the mid-level animation studio Musashino Productions, wherein Ema works as a newbie key animator and struggles with trying to make artistic progress while also meeting intense deadlines, while Aoi keeps constantly busy running around as a production assistant, with no idea what her long-term goals are with the job.
Shirobako makes for the best look into the inner workings of the anime industry possible, while weaving a dense and at times even stressful narrative about the difficulties of working life. It presents us with characters whose greatest weakness might be their incredible passion for anime, which continually drags them into the depths of this terrifying industry. Most of the first twelve episodes, which aired this year, follow Musashino’s production of a cult hit series called Exodus. We see how even when a series manages to somehow turn out good and reach relative popularity week after week, everything is in constant disarray behind the scenes. It feels like a miracle every time an episode is actually completed by the time it goes to air, and leaves you wondering just how much worse it can possibly be for a show that falls apart, like the director’s previous work, Jiggly Heaven.
Many of the supporting characters in this series are directly based on real anime staff, which serves not only as a great bonus for those of us who heavily follow the careers of various anime creators, but also as a calling card to the show’s intentions as a tell-all story. Everything in Shirobako is based firmly in reality, which makes it that much more frightening to think about. After all, this is an animated series itself, meaning that for a lot of the show’s staff, they’re essentially recounting first-hand experiences.
There’s a plot thread in episodes eleven and twelve in which Miyamori is desperately searching at the last minute for a key animator who can draw a scene of the Exodus characters making a great escape on horseback, among dozens of highly detailed horses. She ends up tracking down a specialist within her own company, who has to work with the assistance of most of their staff on a days-long grind to complete the scene; and then later in the episode, we actually get to see that scene. Think about that. They just showed us how difficult it would be to get someone who could animate this sequence for the big finale of a show, and then they actually showed us an incredibly well-animated scene of stampeding horses as the mid-part finale… so who the hell did they have to bring in to draw this?!
Shirobako is often engrossing in its intensity as we watch the Musashino staff desperately try to hold their production together; but the best moments in the show come from characters having heart-to-heart moments with other creators to learn things about themselves. Our young main characters are lucky to be surrounded by professionals who can guide them with advice, even if the stresses and pressures that they feel always loom just over shoulder. There are lines of dialog in this series that shot right past the characters on screen and hit me in the face, turning into advice for myself as a creative, and even advice that I’ve imparted onto others facing similar issues to the characters in the show.
If there’s one thing I could complain about, it’s how this series is not at all subtle in its writing. When the five main girls get together to discuss their problems, it sometimes feels like the show is beating us over the head with the point. That said, it doesn’t ever break realism in this regard. If the point is to show us how five newly working and passionate adults will most likely turn every conversation into a conversation about how things are going at work, then they have captured reality perfectly. I only find myself wishing that I got less of those scenes so that I can get more of the show’s meaty action, but overall I haven’t felt disappointed with Shirobako once.
I love the design sense of this series, which manages to have a colorful cast of characters while still feeling down-to-earth and believable. It’s a little funny how the characters tend to wear just one or two outfits most of the time, but when I consider how difficult it was at first to remember who every character was and why they were relevant, I’m thankful that they were easy to visually distinguish. The backgrounds are always highly detailed as well, but what impresses me the most is all of unique little moments; like when they show the characters watching or designing a scene, and I find myself thinking about how they had to get someone to draw this very specific thing that the characters are watching or doing. In many ways, Shirobako is a gift that keeps on giving, since I’ve watched a lot of the episodes twice while the show is airing, and found that they were even more gratifying the second time around.
Shirobako has a lot of potential to ultimately be one of my favorite shows, and I’m totally excited to see where the series plans on going in 2015. The fact that this show isn’t in the top five should be taken as a testament to just how good the other shows on this list are, as it’s almost painful to not put this show higher. You can watch Shirobako legally for free over on Crunchyroll.
So what did you think of Shirobako? Let me know in the comments below, and in case you missed them, check out my videos on #7, Barakamon, and #8, Baby Steps, and stick around on my channel to see what my fifth-favorite anime of the year will be tomorrow.