The medium of anime can seem pretty straight forward to the uninitiated as it seems to be less detailed than Western animation [lip flaps being the prime difference], but it really isn’t. More often than not, much more work is required and tighter deadlines exist in the anime production world and SHIROBAKO wishes to unveil the inner workings of the typical small animation studio breaking out into the big time whilst lacing a rites of passage story into the mix too. Can studio P.A. Works redeem itself after the colossal flop that was Glasslip?
In a school’s animation club, five young girls endeavour to create their own animation; their skills spanning the majority of departments that make up a studio – acting, animating, mixing and writing. Sadly though, time has conspired against them and the group must part ways as graduation looms close for some of them. Their binding love for donuts as a motivator is what keeps them together and is their staple in times of crisis [it regularly crops up later on in the series]. They vow to see each other in the industry and that they will all make it. Fast forward a few years and we meet up with Aoi, bleary-eyed, driving the latest cels for Musashino Animation [the company she works for] in the dead of night. From the get-go, we are thrust from the safe and secure world of the school club into the harshness and exhaustion of the professional circuit. It’s at this point where you the viewer have to make a decision about whether to continue or skip this anime – are you interested in the behind the scenes workings or not? If yes, then you’ll be fully enlightened; if not, then it’s best to leave this anime for something less grounded. There’s no magic or illogical plot devices. It’s all real-life situations and the prospect of adulthood. For those that stay the course, get ready for some endearing narratives.P.A. Works has created a true-to-life reproduction of how an anime is made. If you wanted to see how a Japanese company makes the cartoons you watch, you’ll get the works. Direction, animation, acting, writing; all avenues are explored led by the progression of one of the plucky schoolgirls at the start of our series, Aoi. Aoi is now twenty-two and rising up the ranks in the outfit Musashino Animation. In our first arc, she is in charge of the studio’s fourth episode’s animation admin for their series Exodus. It’s her job to lead it and it’s a big task, especially when fate conspires against her and it’s up to her quick thinking and guidance from her colleagues to get things going in the right direction after many roadblocks and creative flip-flops. Believe me, this kind of stuff happens in the creative circuit. Things change last minute and you have to change them fast. SHIROBAKO is able to present a grounded plot whilst not getting too bogged down in the trappings of animation…most of the time. It IS a pitfall which is bound to happen if you’re going to go deep like the writers have done for this series. This level of detail is fascinating to some, but not to others. Some viewers just want to see Aoi and her friends progress and might not be so keen on the terminology being bandied about; but it IS necessary in order to convey an accurate facsimile. Failure to do so will cause annoyance with enthusiasts and the people in the industry!
There have been quite a few rites of passage slice-of-life shows this year with Wake Up Girls!, Shounen Hollywood and Locodol being the first examples that spring to mind. The idea of having a group of teenagers become popular and watching that rise is quite compelling a story; but it has become derivative as of late because it has been constrained to the music industry. This time however, it’s focusing on the television industry and even broaching ‘meta’ status. It’s an anime about making an anime. There have been shows littered about the years that talk about the topic, but this is probably the most comprehensive that I have personally seen. It’s also the most authentic and charming. The crew of Musashino are a diverse bunch. Some are eccentric, some are supremely professional and others are just plain odd. Even the boss gets involved [like he’s your favourite uncle], frequently cooking for his employees and buoying morale when times get rough. It makes you aspire to work for such a company; one with a strong sense of family and solidarity, you know everyone there and want them to succeed as a team. That’s what PA Works has succeeded at themselves. Producing a real-life show which is not dull. It’s a return to form after their disastrous summer. They can make pretty scenery AND detailed plots just like they have done before the summer! It’s all rather deep and thought-provoking.
In the end, SHIROBAKO is an anime with an anorak. If you are into content creation or wish to know about how your favourite anime is made from the ground-up without sugar coating and the hardships behind it, you’ll enjoy it and gain an appreciation for the hard work that goes into it. You’ll also enjoy the personal progression that the characters go through over the weeks. Overall, this is a very well packaged product worthy of the praise it’s garnered.
SHIROBAKO is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
RATING: CONTINUE [For the hardcore anime fan or media enthusiast mostly but a compelling plot regardless.]
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