First Look: Shirobako

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Alternative titles: White Box, Anime Inception, Shirobako: Tokyo Drift
Anime Original by P.A. Works
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Two years after graduating high school, five friends from the school animation club pursue careers in the anime industry. They find the work is difficult and stressful but the rewards are… well, at least they have donuts?

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Jel’s verdict: Cancelled

As I’ve reminded everyone as recently as our Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun coverage, I really hate art about making art. While that particular series made me question my stance by spending very little time on the details of making manga, Shirobako is very much an anime about making anime down to the most boring details. It’s a perfect example of why I hate this kind of thing. I’m sure the challenges of keeping a weekly anime series running smoothly and on time are interesting and relatable to a person in the industry, but I simply do not care. Long stretches of this episode consisted of conversations that came down to “AS YOU KNOW, if we don’t have this and this done then we can’t do this and this!”, all of which I started to tune out after the first sentence or two. While I suppose it is kind of interesting on a surface level to see behind the scenes, I’d rather watch a documentary as opposed to a series that ultimately comes off as the creators indulging themselves and overly romanticizing what they do.

To the show’s credit, there are certain universal truths to the workplace presented here, most notably picking up slack for annoying and incompetent co-workers. So it’s not completely impossible to relate to. It also manages to present a matter-of-fact believability without being totally joyless, having our main heroine obsessing over donuts and racing around the city streets with reckless abandon. The actual staff is a mix of ages and genders when they could have easily made the entire cast cute young girls, so bonus points there as well. Really there’s nothing wrong with Shirobako, but how anyone outside the anime industry could find this interesting for 12-13 episodes is beyond me.

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Gee’s verdict: Greenlit

As an animation student and illustrator, I suppose I confirm Jel’s belief that this is the kind of show only people who are truly invested and interested in the industry are going to find particularly interesting or even relatively easy to follow. With a rapid introduction of a large cast, it’s understandably hard to keep track of what everyone is doing. But hey, that’s animation for ya. These moving pictures with cute girls are the result of dozens of people and Shirobako is already simplifying it. Speaking of simplifying it, while I understand the intent, I can’t help but grimace a bit at how much Shirobako has whitewashed the Japanese animation industry with cute girls and smiling faces. Let’s get this out of the way, animation is not easy. Japanese animation especially the case, between the hellish crunch hours and terrible pay. So on one hand, I’m not sure how I feel about making something that stressful a slice-of-life anime.

That said, Shirobako does earn points with me because it does do a generally decent job of portraying the kind of hectic schedule any animation studio works under. While I’ve never experienced (and hopefully will never experience) the working conditions of Japanese animation, I can sympathize and understand their woes and tribulations. At least in my opinion, I think Shirobako does an alright job of showcasing the animation industry to an audience that might not be fully familiar with the nitty gritty. That alone might be enough to keep me in it for the season. But this is an characteristically strong season filled with a lot of good contenders. Like how producing the first episode of an anime doesn’t mean the work is finished, we’ll have to see if Shirobako can keep my interest in the following episodes.

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Aqua’s Verdict: Full Series Order

What is it with P.A. Works and their fascination with bubbly girls working hard? Shirobako starts off as a generic cute-girls-in-a-high-school-club show, though when the action skips to two and a half years later and our resourceful heroine Aoi gets taunted by a smarmy-looking fellow in a crappy sedan marked ‘G.I. Staff’ (I see what you did there, P.A.), the whole thing clicks into place. Shirobako is part interesting and surprisingly realistic insight in the regular goings on behind the scene of your favourite anime — including outsourcing, PR managing and healthy rivalries between competing production companies —  and part affectionate parody, as Aoi and her competitor race down Tokyo’s abandoned streets Initial D-style to see who can make it to a freelance animation supervisor’s home first. Pretty funny stuff. Though Shirobako makes the wise decision to focus on Aoi exclusively, it still comes over as incredibly intimidating to those not unaware of what a production assistant does or what key frames are. It introduces an immense cast of directors, supervisors, managers and other slaves to the wage in a very short time, yet luckily, its tight focus on the everywoman main character hastily circulating through the entire cast to politely ask them to do their job effectively conveys the incredible levels of stress that must come with working on a tight schedule.

Although P.A. Works’ signature idealism still pervades Shirobako to its very core, what with the abundance of cute girls, staffers genuinely caring about the anime they are producing (ha ha ha) and a relative lack of the toxic workplace behaviour present at every Japanese company that I’d love to see Shirobako address, it is surprisingly realistic in its portrayal of the industry’s high workload and little rewards. Various adorable little details, like actual voice actresses showing up on a radio show promoting the company’s fictional anime, Aoi’s gravity defying car or the old key animator who ‘can’t draw moe anime’ give Shirobako the heart it needs, though a dearth of levity isn’t exactly the show’s biggest fault. It lacks the complex characters, conventional slower pacing and — pardon the language — educational nuance to have any sort of value for those not interested in, and lacking some basic knowledge on anime production already. I find Shirobako surprisingly entertaining, honestly, but the fact remains that, with its reliance on inside jokes and overly romantic perspective on even the industry’s most bullshit practices, it is too self-indulgent for casual viewers too enjoy. Anime made only for people who like anime is bad enough, but anime made only for people who make anime, that might be taking it a bit too far.

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