Thanks for all the hard work – A spoiler-free Shirobako review

Shirobako Poster

After I watched the first few episodes of Shirobako, I thought it would be a cheery, educational anime that probably won’t offer much in terms of emotional depth. Turns out I was a bit wrong about that.

Shirobako is the story of five friends who dream that one day they will be able to make an anime movie together. However, before that happens, they have to actually get into the animation industry, which is easier said than done.

Let’s break Shirobako down.

The Good

  • It’s pretty funny
  • Well paced event-driven plot
  • Consistently well animated, with some moments where the animators really get to shine
  • Has moments of high drama, and manages to become quite emotionally engaging in the second half
  • It’s quite educational and does give you actual insight into the anime production process, and the wide variety of people involved in it
  • Has a lot of quite surreal but fun moments that no way detract from the grounded nature of the main story

The OK

  • A wide variety of characters who all bring something to the show, even if some of them are slightly stereotypical
  • Predictably cheesy ending

The Bad

  • Some of the 3D is iffy, but that’s to be expected when it comes to 3D Japanese animation
  • As wonderfully varied as the cast is, aside from the main character I can’t actually remember the names of any of the supporting cast because there’s so many of them (it really does feel like you’re a new employee joining an office in that regard)
  • One horribly misplaced bit of fanservice in the first episode (thankfully never to be seen again)
  • Drama between characters never felt that weighty and some of the issues about the anime industry aren’t dealt with due to light-hearted nature of the show

Final Thoughts

After the first few episodes of Shirobako, I was left thinking that it was just a solid show. The animation was slightly better than average, and it was well paced, but I felt there were issues with the characters. For the most part, we weren’t really invited to engage with the protagonists, so much as we were told you can watch the story unfold from a bit of a distance. This gave it an almost documentary like feel in some ways, as you stood on the sidelines watching the crew at the Musani studio scramble to overcome production problem after production problem. Still, there was something about it that made me stick with it (it might have been all the cliffhangers).

Shirobako meeting
Musani trying to figure out yet another production problem.

As the show continues, you learn more about the how Japanese animation is done, the business of animation, and the type of people involved in it. And initially, while you don’t necessarily care about the people at Musani on a personal level, you do start to care about them as a studio trying to survive in a brutal industry.

Shirobako process
Miyamori still learning the ropes of the production desk.

However, something weird happens as the show builds up to its climax. Despite not really knowing much about the inner workings of each character, you do start to feel something for them. An important event happens in the show’s third act, and, surprisingly, I found myself tearing up. It was at this point that I realised that despite its flaws, Shirobako had become more than just another show to pass the time. It had somehow managed to get under my skin, despite appearing to keep me at a bit of a distance.

If you like light-hearted, educational slice-of-life anime, be sure to check out Shirobako.

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