Shirobako – Season 1

Shirobako – Season 1

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Five friend on a school animation club, Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori work together to complete a new anime called Shinbutsu Konkou SHICHIFUKUJIN. All day every day they all spend their time on their anime production. As a team, they go from rough sketches to animation to doing some very awkward voice acting for their characters. After all their hard work, they eventually premiered their completed product at the school cultural fair six months later. After graduation, they all still wanted to pursue a career in anime together, and all swore that one day they would make another anime together.

I was quite excited about what this anime could offer me since it was focused on the anime industry and what it takes to make a successful career within in. Last season, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun had given me a little bit of an insight into manga production, and now I was hungry for more. I expected a lot from the five fresh-fashed hopefuls of the Kaminoyama High School Animation Club, so I was a little disappointed when Shiro Bako took off at quite the slow pace. I barely had time to link names to the faces of the five girls and their varying aspirations and interests in animation before I was completely overwhelmed by yet more characters as I was suddenly launched into the future, with all the girls working at different places.

1As you expect, working in anime was portrayed as very… busy, with many problems that have to be resolved before the deadline of the next episode. For example, trouble erupts when the key animator for episode 3 of Exodus flakes out, leaving Musashino Animation, the lead production studio, in a bind. They manage to find a fill in…but it happens to be the Animation Director for episode 4. While she will somehow get the key frames done for episode 3, this means that production work on episode 4 will come to a standstill, which has a domino effect on all later episodes. If anyone ever wondered how “production delays” occurred, this is how.

We then flash forward two and a half years, as we follow one of the girls in the club, Aoi Miyamori, who is now working as a production assistant for Musashino Animation. So, it would seem she is following through on her dream of becoming a member of the animation industry in Japan, which also seems to include getting into road races with gofers from other companies. We also see the staff gather together for the premiere of their new work, Exodus, which airs that night. Aoi gets back to the office just in time to join the gathering where we are much too hurriedly introduced to the members of the staff. The names of the characters are quickly flashed on screen, but there’s no way one will remember them all this quickly.

2Donut-loving Aoi is generally the focal character in what has so far been a fairly grounded look into the work behind the scenes. The (numerous) members of staff surrounding her have some minor quirks to help them stand out and, if that isn’t enough, their name and job role pops up near them whenever they make an appearance in a kind of Made in Chelsea-esque way.

There is something rather refreshing in Shirobako: we’ve left high school behind. The characters are all adults, though many of the younger adults hardly act any more mature than fictional high schoolers (a couple of the male production staff members commenting on the assets of a female animator are hardly different from any number of male high school characters in numerous anime). So far, there’s been no melodramatic romance, something that Progressive Animation Works, the studio behind this show, has been mired in for their last few outings (which includes the notorious GLASSLIP). I’m glad someone decided that they needed a change of pace.

The visuals here are quite competent, but don’t particularly stand out. However, this may be deliberate and a function of the setting. This is not an imagined world, nor an exotic location – it’s meant to have an element of realism to it. This is the real world, so we’re getting real world settings with a real world colour scheme. Instead of magical landscapes, we get very beautifully presented urban expanses that are grounded in reality. Interiors are brightly lit, but “real,” not heavily stylised or imaginative. An animation production studio office looks much as one would imagine a real one might look. The character designs are also meant to be mainly based on the “real world, real people” motif.

3Musically, the show does not stand out much. Fitting with a fly-on-the-wall workplace show, the use of background music is restrained in many situations, including when we are inside the company offices and seeing just run-of-the-mill events. We get it more in scenes where we see Aoi’s private life outside of work. Whilst sparse, the music is often quite bright – fitting for a light comedy/workplace drama such as this.

I’m still interested in what Shirobako can offer me in terms of an insight into the anime industry. We are starting to see more of the girls in the animation club and their journeys into 3D animation and becoming a famous anime seiyu. There’s lots of potentially interesting aspect on offer here, and this is what’s going to keep me interested in the long run.