12 Days of Anime #1: Shirobako

Yo! If you don’t know what this 12 Days thing is about, here is the call to arms. This is the fifth time I am making these posts. My format is a little different though. I normally pick 11 anime and talk about my favorite moments in those anime. I have one post that is normally about something totally unrelated (previous posts include taste,  music , blogosphere and slightly older anime). Sometimes I have a thirteenth post talking about moments I didn’t cover. I normally structure my posts like this because I don’t really make many posts throughout the year, so this gives me the chance to sort of write a few quick fire reviews for some of the year’s best anime.

Oh and my posts have no meaningful order to them, though I try to roughly follow chronological order (when the show aired). First up on this list is an anime that started in 2014 and ended this year. I am sure many of my friends consider it to be anime of the year. Yes, I am of course talking about the anime about making anime: Shirobako.

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Shirobako aired a while back and my memory is bad, so forgive me if I can’t remember a lot of its better moments. I also can’t really sort Shirobako into concrete, comparable moments, so I am just going to list a few things I found memorable. Note that half of this aired in 2014, but I am going to pretend otherwise because I didn’t make a 12 Day post for it then.

Preamble: If there is one thing I realized after making this post, it is that Shirobako is too good and I need to rewatch it.

Speeding and racing

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Production Assistants racing and speeding to get to their destinations in time was a very funny, running gag in this show. I love how they even ended the anime utilizing it for the final stretch.

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Relatabality

Miyamori

Gif source

I think one thing that really resonated with a lot of people was how relatable Shirobako was. Sure, most of us don’t work in the anime industry, but many do work. Most of us have experienced that painful transition from being optimistic and hopeful to soulless and crushed. You know, you want to accomplish so much, and then you go out there and learn that life is rough and things often don’t go your way.

You see this in Aoi. She was a hopeful high school kid who wanted to make great anime and then she learned that it was a tireless job and that she actually had no proper direction in life. You see it even more in poor Zuka who had big dreams of being a voice actress, but her attempts kept getting crushed for almost the entire series. It is very sad and it hit really close for a lot of people (conversely, there were a very small number of people who didn’t like something so realistic and that’s a fine stance to take).

Hidden somewhere in Shirobako though is a nice message of hope. Perhaps, the message is a bit optimistic, but the anime emphasizes that the cast only makes it through because they are passionate and they truly believe in what they are doing. I think that is a nice message to take away. No, scratch that. It is a very nice message.

An Artist’s Struggle

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It is no secret that the staff behind most anime are underpaid and overworked. Shirobako doesn’t hide this (though I suppose it does sanitize it a little with cute anime charm) and continually reinforces the fact that making anime is less about earning a living (as there are better ways of doing that) and more about doing what you are passionate about. Shirobako also talks about how in anime, you often have to put your own growth goals aside to concentrate on doing what is required.

We see this illustrated through Ema. Ema is a talented artist. She isn’t the best, but she isn’t bad either. Unfortunately, working in anime means more than being able to draw good or cute things. You also need to be able to draw them really fast and on schedule without making them look bad. Ema struggles with this. She is told she needs to work on her speed and when she does, her art breaks. She is told to redo a lot of what she drew for that particular episode. The poor girl was already on a tight schedule, but now having to redo stuff and trying to improve its quality…well, it wrecks her as it would almost any artist. To make matters worse, she was still sort of new to the job, and that can’t be good for your self-esteem.

Shirobako was rather visceral with this and really made us feel for Ema. It was also a good showcase of how even well intentioned criticism can cut real deep and how even when you don’t intend to, you can still end up making someone’s day worse (Miyamori never realized poor Ema was having a bad time and just threw more work at her!). That is why Ema’s eventual resolution felt all the better when she succeeded in finding the right balance and growing as an animator because of the experience. Ema wasn’t the only artist who struggled. Even the experienced Iguchi had a rough time with something new (character design) when her initial work was rejected. But THEN THE GOTH LOLI TOOK THEM TO BASEBALL AND IT WAS AMAZING AND Iguchi pulled her drawings together and everyone was happy! I love this anime.

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Aria Flies Once More

Towards the end of the show, the cast runs into a big problem. They write an ending for the anime they are working on, but the original mangaka does not approve! Up until, the mangaka’s incompetent editor had lead to believe nothing was wrong, but clearly that agent was an idiot. The Director wanted the character Aria to continue flying (in her plane), but that went against the wishes of the original author. In what has to be one of the Shirobako’s most dramatic, intense and amazing scenes, the Director manages to storm in and hold a meeting with the mangaka.

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At first, their creative visions clash, and the Director can’t convince the mangaka, but then, he comes up with an incredible plot addition (that of a younger sister). The discussion as a whole is fantastic. It features two creative people who don’t want to back down and ruin their vision coming to an agreement and the end result ends up being much better because of it. It was great seeing that and great seeing the creative team finally find that spec of happiness that comes with seeing their vision play out so beautifully.

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It All Comes Together

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It might have been a tad bit convenient that all of the girls ended up working on the same anime (as per their original life goal), but it was still emotionally amazing. I was so happy for them. Good on you friends for finally reaching your dream. And you Zuku for finally getting a voice actress position. ;_;

Everyone’s Professional Growth

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We often talk about character development and growth and Shirobako has that in spades. What set Shirobako apart though was how the characters grew professionally. Most of the main characters started out reasonably inexperienced, but without them realizing it, they became mentors and experienced animators for others to look up to.

When the anime starts, Miyamori is a humble Production Assisstant doing whatever her superiors need her to do. Then shortly after Honda’s departure, Miyamori finds herself in the very important role of “Production Desk”. Now, she has PAs beneath her who need her guidance and the project as a whole hinges on her doing a good job managing everyone. Miyamori of course ends up panicking at times under the stress, but she pulls through! Rather, she does splendidly well. It is a testament to something she never realized, but we, the audience, did. She became better at her job without even realizing it. Shirobako starts with a Miyamori who can do her work, but ends with one who excels at it. I loved that.

Originally, I had this subsection title only refer to Miyamori, but changed it because everyone grew. Miyamori’s professional growth was the most obvious, but the rest all grew as well. Ema became a much better animator and even got promoted to animation supervisor. She even got a student of sorts! Diesel went from occasionally contributing reference materials to being much more involved in the writing process because she was genuinely good at it.

My memory is bad, but I think the writing staff like the Director became more confident in their vision and what they wanted. Heck, even Tarou became known as sort of competent and got Satou and Andou under him. Amazing!

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CG reconciliation

Don’t have much to say, but it was a cool episode and a nice, quick look at the viewpoint from both the 2-D traditional animators and the 3-D ones. I liked how the two men bonded through their love of an old anime.

Hiraoka’s redemption

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Hiraoka starts of as a bit of a jerk. He is moody, cynical, hates the industry and insults poor Diesel-chan because he thinks she is getting a free pass (I love how she pulled herself together and proved him wrong). He causes quite a bit of trouble for Miyamori who is put into a tough situation because the other PAs hate him. But you know, I can’t hate him. You are meant to at first, but it is pretty obvious from the get go he has been hurt real bad in the past.

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And then, the anime does explore his past. Poor guy just wanted to make good anime, but time and time again, people crapped all over him. He ended up pretty bitter and focused too hard on efficiency and not actual quality.

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But somehow, through an anime miracle (probably alcohol), he came to like making good anime again. It was great to see him finally get along with everyone and produce something good!

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Mentorship

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Shirobako focuses a lot on learning to become better at what you do and a lot of this is shown through trials and what not, but the only reason the new kids (especially Ema and Miyamori) can make it through those
trials is because of the help and guidance they receive from their seniors.

At first, Shigeru is shown to be an old animator who seemingly just hangs around the studio doing light work here and there. No one seems to know anything about his accomplishments or skill. He helps out Ema a lot by giving her good, solid advice and then later on, we learn that he is a master at animating animals (one of the best in the industry). Then all of the animators start learning from him as he begins work on the animal scenes.

From the beginning, Miyamori relies on Yano (a slightly more senior PA) to give her advice and help out. One of the coolest scenes in the anime is when Yano had to leave for a while and then comes back right in the middle of a major crisis to lend a hand. Miyamori also gets good advice from quite a few famous animators. Their advice is pretty damn valuable and it helps the Musani crew make it through. And then, the cycle continues! Miyamori gets PAs under her, Ema gets that cute creature and Tarou is put in charge of Andou and the others. Shirobako really emphasizes how important it is to not only learn from those more senior to you, but to pass it on and help those newer than you.

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I really liked Shirobako’s approach, but as much as I liked it, I am sure for those who are more familiar with the anime industry, this must have really struck a chord.

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(Sniff, so good! I love how Ai observes this and decides to go to a meeting without Ema there to help her. She learned from Ema too! Fantastic. Amazing.) Also I had totally forgotten the following occurred:

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Andes Chucky

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The episode where Miyamori and Marukawa go dig up old animation stuff on Andes Chucky was fantastic. What a great episode. I loved how it connected past and present. Well, tbh, I don’t remember much of it, but I know it was great, okay!Shirobako 1815

Baker Honda

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I have mentioned this before, but I want to work for a few years, make some money and then leave it all behind and open a bakery. Honda is the personification of that dream (well, minus the anime industry job).

Baseball

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ALL HAIL GOTH LOLI

ALL HAIL GOTH LOLI

No really. The little motivational story and advice she gave after that baseball scene was so good. She is the best. ;___;

Rooftop Dance

Yandere Yano

Tarou

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Let’s be honest here, Tarou is GREAT. At first, he is a necessary thunder goof who messes up everything, but like the rest of the cast, he grows up and becomes competent, but he remains funny throughout! I love him.

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p.s. Tarou x Miyamori is a good ship.

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I fucking love this guy.

I fucking love this guy.

There is probably a lot of other stuff I am forgetting and what I did mention, I didn’t articulate all that well, but Shirobako is a fantastic show. I had a feeling that I perhaps didn’t like it as much as everyone else, but making this post has proven me wrong. Shirobako was so good. I think I could write a post this long on every single episode. I must rewatch this! Shirobako truly does deserve a nomination for Anime of the Year. Oh and it also lots of amazing faces.

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  1. #1 by Emperor J on December 14, 2015 - 11:46 pm

    This was a good post. I think everything you described here is a reason why this series is held in such great regard by a great number of people. Character develop through their own struggles in ways that aren’t seen in many series right now because they either choose not to or because they don’t have the time. Why did I drop this again?

    • #2 by Reiseng on December 15, 2015 - 12:16 am

      Thanks J! And I am not sure. Some folk (well, only one person I know) felt it was boring because it was almost too focused on real life like struggles.

      You can always pick it back up if you have the time and energy (I sort of did that actually and only caught up when the final episode aired).

      • #3 by Flawfinder on December 15, 2015 - 7:20 am

        Some folk (well, only one person I know) felt it was boring because it was almost too focused on real life like struggles.

        No I just prefer it when realistic drama is actually dramatic and not “you can relate to this, right?”

      • #4 by Reiseng on December 15, 2015 - 9:52 am

        Hah, that is fair. My memory isn’t too good with nuance like that. Maybe it is just me, but I felt the drama was kind of good and any more would have been overdone.

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