Like a lot of other people who have opinions that I respect, I’m seeing a pattern in anime that have been coming out lately. Anime have been sinking into a creative rut that all forms of entertainment or art fall into at some point. This creative rut that I’m referring to is the lack of creativity. To me at least, a larger portion of the anime being created over the past few years have seemed forced and generic. They usually cling to a safer route, something that has been done many times over in the past. Most of these safer routes are along the lines of high school comedies and dramas or fantasy shows with a boring-ass, male protagonist. Some series advertise themselves as something new and original but end up as creatively-barren as the other stereotypical shows (e.g. God Eater and School-Live!).
All I want is something with a dash of personality and thought put into it.
All I ask for is something genuinely entertaining and unique.
While I still am forced to pray for these things, it’s important for me to note that not all of the shows to air in recent years are utter shit or vacant of any worth. A few good representations of quality, intriguing shows that have come out in the past year – at least in my opinion – are Death Parade and Beautiful Bones. However, I know not everybody will agree with me on that front. But there is another show that fits that description, arguably better than the two shows I just mentioned. It's a series that gifted me with an entertaining experience that I haven’t seen in a while. If you’re still not on the same page as me, that series is Shirobako.
In a nutshell, Shirobako is seen through the eyes of the supposed main character (or the closest person to a main character that we’re introduced to), Aoi Miyamori. It is the story of her and her high school friends/ex-anime club members making a promise to create an anime that they conceptualized during their senior year. And so, they proceed to all enter the anime industry, each having a different job. This is basically only the premise. The show instead chooses to focus on how an anime is made from most areas of the industry.
What I like is how the show presents us with all of the areas of production from the production desk, to the animation, to the sound, to the voice acting, to directing. Not only this but it also delves into more specific areas of production like key animation, secondary animation, foley work, production assistants, licensing, scenario writing, and more. Even better is that the show presents all of these ideas through the eyes of a likable main cast who are almost as new to everything as the viewer. What I really appreciate about the plot is that it is an original take on something that is very familiar to most of us. I was also impressed with how technically correct the show was with all areas of the production without making any of the explanations boring or difficult to comprehend. Combine this with a plot that is streamlined and easy to follow, a cast that is extremely likable – albeit quite large - and stellar animation, and you have a recipe for a really enjoyable anime. The ending is even solid! Sure, it is open-ended to some extent and the girls never end up creating their own anime, but it wrapped everything up as well as it possibly could without dragging the anime down with it.
The show centers on how much effort is really put into creating an anime and the interactions between the colorful team members that put it all together. This may sound boring to some of you, but the characterization/interactions of the entire cast and the touches of surrealism and playful metaphors that are inserted among different areas of the series make this series a incredibly enjoyable watch. It allows the series to be fun, entertaining, and relatable without being off-putting and while still managing to be informative and intriguing.
What makes talking about the characters of Shirobako a more daunting task than other shows is the sheer amount of them that get a good amount of screen time. Unlike an overwhelming majority of anime, Shirobako actually provides screen time for an impressive amount of its characters and illustrates them with enough characterization to make them believable. What I think is particularly great about how Shirobako goes about characterizing its characters is how real it makes them seem. Sure, I could probably pick through the main cast and plaster stereotypical anime tropes on each one of them, but they have enough realism in their backstories, dialogue, and actions that it makes them seem more like people and less like characters from an anime.
It is also true that some characters are less likable and less believable than others, but that just comes with the territory of having such a large cast in a series that’s only 24 episodes long. If you haven’t already realized it, I’m not gonna go through every important member in this series – or even the main cast – because it would take eons to do. However, what I will state about the main cast is that each character receives a commendable slice of development in proportion to their screen time. This allows the characters to evolve from ‘complete newbie’ to ‘I sorta' got this...’ by the end of the series. This development also gives them more realistic objectives by the endgame which only further contributes to their realism as characters. Another nice touch that the show adds in is it introduces the characters Baccano! and Durarara!!-style during the show so us as viewers can sort out who does what in the large cast. It’s a nice addition that I personally appreciated and believe really helped character clarification.
The characters aren’t perfect, however. As I stated, the cast is large and even though I think most of the important characters get enough development and characterization to make them relatable, likable, and realistic, some didn’t receive as much attention as I would’ve liked because of time constraints. I’m mainly referencing the aspiring voice actress (and resident ‘Best Girl’), Shizuka Sakaki and 3D animator, Misa Toudou. Also due to the size of the cast, many that get a lesser amount of screen time habitually fall into the realm of stereotypical anime archetypes. But to be honest, that never really ended up bothering me that much seeing that they were enjoyable nonetheless. The only other slight gripe I have with the characters is that some of their actions can totally be branded as ‘irrational’ or ‘unrealistic.’ In all honesty though, it was never as bad as in other shows that I’ve seen.
In terms of animation, this is gonna be rather quick. Shirobako was animated by P.A. Works and they’re in my books as one of the prettier and high-quality animation studios. Along with other shows by them that aren’t super action-intensive like Another and Nagi no Asukara, a lot of the budget was able to be used for great amounts of detail in the realistic backgrounds. While not as visually stunning as Nagi no Asukara and not violent like Another, the backgrounds were still wonderfully detailed and actual animation was still quite fluid, even if there wasn’t a ton of movement all the time. Now, I’m usually not one to like CG in my anime all that much, but the CG used in Shirobako was never very disruptive to my viewing experience which I GREATLY appreciated. The color palate was brighter and full of color which melded well with the shows upbeat nature. The only minor issue I could foresee for some viewers is that because the cast is so big, some of the character designs for the more minor characters look similar to other minor characters which may hinder some in distinguishing who is who.
The sound I will only give slight mention to. The music in the background, while fitting, never really stood out to me, though I wasn’t expecting it to. Both openings and endings are nice, but forgettable. After the first few watches, I found myself fast-forwarding to the episode instead of lounging around and waiting for the OP to end. Though Shirobako is licensed by Sentai Filmworks and has Blue-ray releases, it is currently lacking a dub. Although, I don’t think it really needs one. The Japanese voice crew does applause-worthy job and I’ve never been thrilled with much of Sentai Filmworks’ dubs anyway.
Not gonna lie, this show is probably gonna be the easiest recommendation I’ve written since my review on Spice & Wolf. Shirobako is a fun experience for anybody who enjoys and is interested in anime. It’s a perspective that to us, as consumers, is really ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind.’ The truth is that even though we love, adore, and covet the medium of anime, we don’t know what effort goes into it. Thankfully, Shirobako gives us a glimpse of the effort that goes into producing some of our favorite shows – even if it does just boil down to a middle-school group project on a grander scale. I believe that this is a good enough and intriguing enough reason for anime viewers to go and watch this.
However, Shirobako not only reveals to us what goes on behind the scenes in anime production, but it does it in an entertaining way that, while intricate and informative, isn’t hard to follow. What really aids in this process is the large cast of lovable characters that drive the plot. They are realistic enough to be relatable while being surreal enough to add in the comedy, fantasy, and mild pandering needed to keep the audience completely engaged. The fantastic animation only helps keep the audience glued to the screen with it’s fluidity, color, and attention to detail. The show also ends on a higher note than most, being an open-ended, yet satisfactory ending. I’m not gonna go and say that the series is perfect because I don’t think it is and because perfection is completely subjective.
It is expected that with such a gargantuan cast that some characters get more screen time than others. While that is expected, those that received less time on screen aren’t nearly as fleshed out as they could’ve been. Honestly, there are a few characters in the series that appeared so sporadically that it took a good minute after I saw them each time to remember who the hell they were. I also believe that a couple of the main girls, specifically the aspiring voice actress and 3D animator could’ve been covered a little bit more extensively. I would like to mention, however that the show does do about as well as it could given the cast size and episode count. The show’s soundtrack, including the openings and endings are nice, but completely forgettable. Unfortunately for those that like dubs (especially considering this is a dialogue-heavy show), Shirobako doesn’t have one.
Though Shirobako isn’t perfect and isn’t the greatest look at the inner-workings of the anime industry, it sure as hell makes a good run at it. I suggest that most, if not every anime-watcher should try and get around to watching this if they haven’t. Though it’s not action-packed or mind-numbingly complex, it has something in it for everyone and is a great look into the medium that we all love.
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Anyway, until next time, keep watching anime!