Series Review – Shirobako

Review written by Bananaowns
Images courtesy of P.A. Works & Warner Entertainment Japan

It can be said with certainty that I am very passionate about anime.  My weekly production of anime videos showcases this crazy love of mine.  Despite my love, I find that I do not actual have a lot of knowledge about the production of anime.  It would be more correct to say that I did not realize just how much work went into producing just one season’s worth of anime.  Between the production assistants, director, original author, there is much more to anime then a normal person would realize.  Shirobako presents a fascinating, albeit slightly sugarcoated, look of the industry.  I am Bananaowns and this is an Otaku Youth anime review.

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Story

Shirobako tells the story of a group of 5 friends that all had the dream of working in the anime industry.  The series places a large focus on Miyamori, the only member of this group that acts as a production assistant.  However, every character does get a significant amount of time except for Shizuka, the aspiring voice actress.  It is split into two arcs, detailing the production of two separate anime series.  It covers every aspect of production ranging from early talks of character design to finalizing CG work. It also presents a rather large cast of characters that are involved with each aspect of production ranging from animators to production assistants.  Any person with a moderate fascination of anime will find this look very entertaining.  I certainly learned a lot about key frame animation and the inherent difficulty of producing a solely animated work.

The plot largely deals with the high stress environment of production and the amount of problems that Aoi has to deal with.  Naturally, a workplace drama deals with the concepts of failure and insecurity.  Many of the characters undergo arcs where they are unsure about their future in the industry due to their relative newness.  The result is an anime that captures real world stress perfectly.  While this series showcases a lot of negative aspects, it still doesn’t portray production completely accurate matter.  Real world anime production possesses terrible pay for some absolutely defeating levels of time.  It’s unfortunate but Shirobako does not hide this reality fully, but just presents a rather idealized version.  Overall, Shirobako is a fascinating story that surprisingly uses its relatively large cast of characters remarkably well.

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Characters

Shirobako has an absolutely insane amount of characters due to the various jobs required for production.  It can be quite overwhelming at first, but these characters are ingrained quickly in the audience’s memory.  For the most part, all of these characters are fascinating.  Except Taro, fuck that character. For the purpose of review, I will focus on the five main characters.

Miyamori is one of the most competent characters in an anime. She constantly manages to solve every challenge that is thrown at her.  She also is very insecure.  Unlike her friends, she does not possess their level of artistic talents.  As a result, the series spends a lot of time focusing on her insecurity regarding her future career goals and just exactly how she fits in the anime industry.  Ema is the recently hired animator.  As a newbie animator, she constantly questions her ability especially when compared to her animation senpais.  A significant portion of her arc focuses on her acquiring a level of confidence in her ability.  Early on, she leans heavily on her superiors, which is both beneficial and detrimental.  She also is a very talented dancer.

Misa is the 3D animator of the groups and her character arc differs slightly from the rest.  She manages to acquire a great job, but one that leaves her very unfulfilled.  As a result her character arc focuses on the very real idea of being unsatisfied with work.  Midori is the aspiring writer of the group.  She does not get a lot of screentime.  Her arc mirrors Ema’s as she needs to acquire a sense of confidence in her abilities.  In my opinion, it is one of the less interesting characters arcs, but that is solely due to the similarity between hers and Ema’s character arc.

The most interesting arc involves the aspiring voice actress Shizuka.  Shizuka is the only one of her friends to not have a job in the industry.  So the story deals with her continued failed attempts to break into voice acting.  Being Shizuka is suffering, especially when all of her friends possess jobs in the industry.  I believe the story places too little time on this arc, it is only resolved in the last couple of episodes.  Shizuka is definitely the most interesting character besides Aoi.  The concept of dealing with the success of friends while you are unsuccessful is haunting, but absolutely real.  Overall, the main characters are developed very well.  The rest of the cast similarly gets developed albeit to a lesser extent.

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Animation

The animation quality for Shirobako is fairly standard, but possesses a few aspects that make it standout.  The character design is on point, with each character being dressed very well in a variety of outfits.  My personal favorite is Goth Loli Sama.  As for the movement, it’s pretty standard because there really isn’t much in terms of spectacle.  It’s a series that portrays a real world industry.  What is interesting about the anime is the showcasing of key frames and various aspects of production.  The anime does not shy away from showing the process and even early parts of CG work.  It shows what an anime looks like when it’s unfinished and this stylistic choice is phenomenal.  I love every scene that showcases Ema’s work, especially the one that has her trying to draw the face of someone who has just eaten a sour candy.  Little moments like this comprise the rather stand out quality of the animation.  There is no gigantic spectacle but the little moments add up.

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Sound

The voice acting of Shirobako has a meta quality to it.  The cast perfectly captures the real world aspect.  The dramatic performances do not feel forced.  The voice actor for the director character gives an astounding performance as a man who has a wide range of moods. The actress for Shizuka similarly gives a fantastic performance as she manages to perfectly capture the nuance of auditioning.

Similarly, the anime grants focus on some aspects such as sound effects.  One episode features Miyamori assisting with the creation of a variety of sound effects.  This is a great meta moment as it showcases foley work.  The foley for this show is great because it is brought to the forefront.  The same could also be said with in show direction of the voice actors.  It places an emphasis on how different alternate takes could be.  As for the music, there is a showcase on scoring an anime.  However, the actual music for the show is not memorable.  I enjoyed the openings, but this really isn’t a highlight of the series.

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Final Verdict

Shirobako is an amazing series that deserves to be watched.  The story and characters are handled very well and showcase a rare thing in anime, a real world.  The animation and sound design show a range of stylistic choices that create a very meta feeling.  Shirobako earns my Bananaowns’ stamp of approval.  Every fan of anime needs to give this a watch.  I’ll be back next week for another anime feature.

Bananaowns stamp of approval

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