Japanese Title: Shirobako
Watched in: Japanese
Length: 24 episodes
- Colourful visuals and characters.
- Good technical information on anime production.
- Inaccurate representation of actually working in the industry.
- Missed conflict opportunities in favour of comedy.
- Some childish performances for adults.
Shirobako, the anime about making anime. We dive into the world of anime production through the eyes of five women, each with different specialties in the industry, who promised to work on the same anime together one day. Their jobs are production assistant (main girl), 3D modeller, key animator, scriptwriter in training, and aspiring voice actress.
Each woman faces challenges in their respective jobs. The production assistant has to deal with lazy directors and slow animators, the 3D modeller suffers under the monotony of repetition, the key animator can’t handle criticism, the scriptwriter has no experience, and the voice actress can’t land a gig. They cope by hanging out in a friend support group after work.
I don’t like this anime. From the start, its happy-go-lucky attitude rubbed me the wrong way. Shirobako’s view of the anime production industry is too nice. Yes, they face problems, such as delays and low quality work, but they never feel serious. Every conflict has this honey glaze around it. They must redo an entire scene? Time for some drama? Nope, let’s turn the whole thing into some joke with humour crammed in. That worker is incompetent? Hilarious!
My problem isn’t the presence of happiness or humour. Absence of the opposite bothers me. The drama never shows the crushing weight of crunch time, it never explores the stress of being an animator working below minimum wage without a moment’s free time, nor does it attempt to describe creative struggles. At best, it touches on the voice actress’s depression after a series of rejected auditions. Her arc is the best of the five. Where’s the balance? If they wanted to do a comedic take on the industry, they shouldn’t have promised a deep dive into it.
Perhaps they didn’t want to scare away future anime workers. If so, those scared by the reality of the industry should find a job in their safe space instead.
Even between the friends, the writers missed conflict opportunities. For example, the actress is the only one not to find some level of success. Friends with good jobs surround her, yet the writers never imagined there would be some modicum of resentment? When the friends complain about some minor tiff they had at work that day, they never imagined she would finally snap and say they should be grateful at least for having the jobs they wanted? She may be wrong to snap, but that’s the point of conflict, to see how characters react to opposition. Stories with humour while still being honest about conflict do exist.
I did find some good in Shirobako. The discussion between upper production staff on which actress to use for their protagonist was interesting (even with the forced humour). Do they go with the established but inflexible big name, who can promote the anime easily? Or do they choose the malleable fresh talent with no fanbase? And there’s when the background artist explains why he puts so much attention into drawing mere clouds. These small moments hold Shirobako’s best. But the overarching story: boring. They could have also worked on a more interesting project.
My hope for the Rocky of anime production continues.
Art – High
Shirobako looks nice and colourful, which it better for a series about making anime. Could do with greater animation, however, considering the subject.
Sound – Medium
The acting is good, though several adult characters are childish in delivery (matches the feeble tone, I suppose). Standard music.
Story – Medium
A group of friends specialising in different areas promise to work together on an anime. While Shirobako has some interesting insights, its kid-friendly approach blocks all possibilities at serious conflict found in the industry.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. If you want a happy-go-lucky view of anime production, Shirobako is for you.
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