ne phrase that would perfectly describe Shirobako is simply ingenious. Surprisingly, the series has cleverly put together a lot of elements into one stand-out show. Aside from being an exposition of how anime series are made, it also tells us a cute and charming story all while boasting a splendid cast of characters and vibrant, dynamic designs.
The art in Shirobako is lovely. Although vibrant and dynamic, it is never flashy nor exaggerating. It is clean-cut and simple but more than enough to bring the story into fruition and to distinguish one character from the other. The sound is also kept simple, evoking the right feeling at the right moment. Shirobako couldn’t ask for anything more fitting. The theme songs fit perfectly with the story too: inspiring yet also fun and relevant. All in all, Shirobako exercised its liberty pretty well regarding its production.
The giant cast of characters actually does not pose a problem for character development and, in general, for the series. During their respective screen times (no matter how little they had), they are well flesh out. The realism they portray is an exceptionally rare feat. They are not archetypal and overblown. All of the characters, especially the five girls, possessed and displayed certain realistic qualities that break free from the confines of typical slice of life anime. The series was careful to not be intimidated by the size of the cast and to handle it with finesse.
We follow the lives of five girls as they struggle to live their dreams in the anime industry and an unlikely animation studio fighting against all odds to produce quality anime. It is a tale of of the creative process, professionalism, teamwork, and finding one’s motivation. It is amazing to point out that Shirobako‘s core story is incredibly simple yet satisfying. The side stories are also quite enjoyable.
But what makes Shirobako stand out is how it is able to masterfully and effortlessly incorporate the core story, multiple side stories, and a brief but informative look into what goes down in the anime industry into one seamless and fluid narrative without ever losing focus. It is never overblown with the unnecessary. All these elements are treated with careful balance – something not all anime series have – that underlies the show’s ingenuity.
Shirobako is an anime that is “just right”. It breaks one’s expectations without betraying them. You just have to enjoy it as it is as you learn countless things about life, careers, and, of course, anime. The series is a force to be reckoned with and I could easily recommend it to anyone, especially to those in need of a surprise.
Shirobako is a love letter to the anime industry. It doesn't glorify it or portray animators as hyper-talented geniuses, and many of the characters in the show admit they do not even understand why they're working in the industry. But there's something that keeps them passionate about what they do, even if it may not be the most respected form of media out there.
Shirobako is also a genuinely well-written and entertaining story in its own right. It's a highly informative and interesting look at what the process of creating anime is all about, but it is more than that, too. And it is also courageous for being an original series and for telling a story about adult characters rather than the typical high school fare that anime is seemingly incapable of escaping from.
If you are expecting tons of drama or deep, philosophical themes (in which case I'd argue you're in the wrong medium), Shirobako is not going to be for you. It is a story about the mundane, the everyday struggles of the workplace. Rushing to meet deadlines is often the most the characters have to deal with in any given episode. And there's something inherently appealing about that, I think. The closer something is to reality-- the more mundane it is, the more you can relate to and empathise with what's going on. Being able to empathise is perhaps the most important part of any story.
Shirobako does attempt to break away from otaku fantasy-land by making its world more resemble ours. There are obese characters, old characters, married characters and all sorts of other types that populate our world and yet are seemingly extinct in the vast majority of anime. There's definitely still a large 'moe' appeal for most of the female characters, but there is never a point where it becomes overbearing. Shirobako doesn't resort to panty-shots and beach episodes and other sorts of contrived nonsense in order to make the girls appealing. Their cuteness is more natural; it stems from their personality and their flaws rather than their body, even if Yano's stockings and Diesel-chan's side ponytail are perhaps the greatest things my eyes have ever witnessed.
I do have to wonder why anime are so afraid of including female characters outside the high school age range, as if they are somehow incapable of being interesting or likeable once the clock strikes 18. The girls of Shirobako are in their 20's and yet they are far more appealing (and yes, more cute) than the vast majority of teenage characters. Maybe that could be my own oldness speaking, but I'd like to see more variety and more 20-somethings like there are in Shirobako. There's far more that can be done with adult characters. Shirobako understands that life exists outside of high school, and it isn't afraid of showing that life.
But only talking about the appeal of the characters would be a disservice, as there is far more that makes Shirobako an outstanding anime. Most people who watch the show are going to have their attention on its portrayal of the anime industry and the animator's lifestyle, which are shown with extensive detail in each and every episode. Even if you have no knowledge of how the anime industry works, by the time you finish Shirobako, you'll have a pretty OK idea of how it does. It does not just focus on the animators alone, but also the lower roles (such as the delivery dude/lady), all the way up to the very top management who decide the voice actors and how the anime should end. It does lend to a deeper appreciation for anime as a whole, as you'll realise that even the complete stinkers may have sucked because of a minor managerial mistake rather than incompetence.
I cannot speak to how accurate these things are since I'm not an animator myself, but what I can tell is that the show is obviously idealised to some extent. It is, after all, meant to be a piece of entertainment rather than a documentary, so occasionally the characters will do things such as working at superhuman speeds or engage in the usual manzai routine for comedic effect. The story actually goes completely bonkers in the last couple episodes (with one of the characters actually deflecting bullets with the lard in their belly - YES REALLY), so it wouldn't be a good idea to expect Shirobako to be a perfectly accurate representation of reality. And then there's those talking stuffed animals that are never really explained. Magic, or something?
The fact that Shirobako is an anime-original series and not an adaptation of some other manga or light novel makes it an inherently positive presence in anime, I think. P.A. Works not only made a great anime, but something that is strictly 'anime' and not a property of some other medium. Personally, I am getting pretty bored of anime's role as the 'adaptation medium'. The industry would benefit from more titles like Shirobako, even if that means studios taking a bit of a financial risk.
Shirobako can be a bit misleading, though. The first episode creates the impression that the entire story is going to be about the five high school friends working together in the anime industry, but that isn't really how things pan out. It is a story about the events of Musashino Animation. Only two of the five girls work there as regular employees for the majority of the series, with my goddess Diesel joining in the latter half and the remaining two pitching in at the very last moment. Some people may find this a bit disappointing, but I thought it was the proper route for the story. Adult life rarely ever works out exactly as planned, and Shirobako is very much an anime about adult life.
It would be pretty ironic if an anime about animation had poor animation, so it's fortunate that Shirobako looks and sounds as nice as it does. There is none of the usual 'sameface' phenomenon that plagues most anime with a moe art style (which Shirobako most definitely has), and the backgrounds are often filled with detail (like an anime figure sitting on a desk to the side) which makes having a wandering eye recommended. It's a bright and visually pleasant show, while the music, even if it's not particularly notable, creates an appropriate atmosphere. There are no melodramatic 'PLEASE CRY NOW' piano pieces, and for that I am thankful.
Regardless of preferences and standards, I think Shirobako is more than capable of being one of the most enjoyable experiences anyone has with anime for a very long time-- especially so if you have any sort of passion for the anime industry. It's well-written and free of any noteworthy flaws, sure, but it's also informative and unique for a medium that has been plagued by sameness for decades. Why there haven't been anime like Shirobako until this day remains a mystery to me, but it has made me regain some hope for the anime industry-- it's still capable of creating great things, it seems.