After graduating from university, Aoi Miyamori and her best friends Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sasaki, Misa Tōdō, and Midori Imai—all five of them past members of the same high school animation club—are pursuing careers in the animation industry. Shizuki is an aspiring anime voice actress. Misa, a 3D computer graphics animator. Midori, who is still in college, is an aspiring scriptwriter.
Ema is a key animator for Musashino Animation, where Aoi also works as a production assistant. Aoi, the series’s main protagonist, is the only one among her friends without a clear idea of what she wants to be in the anime industry. And this uncertainty will play a major role in her character development throughout the 24-episode season.
Directed by Tsumomu Mizushima, Shirobako is an anime series about how anime is made, albeit from a very positive point of view. The title refers to the white boxes VHS tapes were stored in when videos were sent out to production members prior to the anime’s release. Despite the introduction of new technology, the old terminology is still used today.
This series centers around Aoi, whose job it is to ensure that every cog of Misashino Animation’s anime production machine works efficiently and effectively. Despite being a task that lends itself to Aoi’s talents, it’s a very difficult one that she struggles with throughout the series.
Shirobako is divided into two arcs of 12 episodes each. In the first arc, the animation studio is producing the anime series Exodus! under the helm of director Seiichi Kinoshita, whose reputation was badly damaged by a previous project of his. In the second arc, the animation studio produces The Third Aerial Girls Squad, an adaptation of the hugely popular manga written by Takezō Nogame.
Truly, producing anime is a gargantuan task, where a single problem, from poorly drawn key frames to incomplete storyboards, can lead to delayed production, substandard quality, or worse. The number of people, both company employees and freelancers, who work on producing individual anime episodes alone is astounding. What more 12 episodes of it? As such, the number of characters in Shirobako is astonishing as well. More amazing is how every single character is well-rounded, unique, and essential to the story.
The series touches on a variety topics relevant to the anime industry, including the debate between hand-drawn and CGI animation, the relationships between anime directors and manga authors, as well as the never ending task of doing quality work and meeting deadlines. Each of the five protagonists also face individual challenges. For example: Shizuki’s inability to land a fulfilling voice acting job, Misa’s getting tired of designing computer generated tires all day, and Ema’s feeling inferior to her senior key frame animators.
Each of their story arcs, including Aoi’s, are resolved satisfactory by the end of the series, which will leave most viewers feeling happy and inspired. The series does a great job tackling serious themes like a parent falling ill, a humiliated director trying to make his comeback, and a once passionate anime lover now jaded almost to the point of leaving the industry for good.
Unfortunately, the series sometimes suffers from exceedingly obvious and obnoxious storytelling. One episode has the production heads of Musashino Animation choosing voice actors for The Third Aerial Girls Squad. Present in the meeting were three representatives of voice actor’s studios. Each of them were demanding their voice actors be chosen, one because she’s popular, the other because she can sing, and the last one because she’s hot (for lack of a better word).
Obviously, all these have nothing to do with actual voice acting talent, so the whole shouting match was really cringe worthy, similar to watching politicians bicker on live television. There were a few other scenes like this, though that ‘having vested interests’ scene was, by far, the worst. Fortunately, the problematic scenes were few and far in between.
VERDICT: Shirobako is a wonderfully uplifting anime. It is also a very satisfying anime about making anime, providing viewers with a very in-depth look into the industry through rose-tinted lenses. Some episodes suffered a bit story-wise, but everything comes together in the end. The series is critically and popularly regarded as one of the best anime in recent years. An inspiring breath of fresh air. Shirobako definitely deserves the praise.
Coffee Bean and Tea Reads Rating:
Oh, and let me leave you with this epicly cute scene. For more of Ema and her cuteness, watch Shirobako! 🙂