The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Shirobako- Review and Impressions After Three

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” —Vince Lombardi

Shirobako is P.A. Works’ title for this season. Stepping away from love stories and Newtype phenomenon, Shriobako follows Aoi Miyamori’s role as a production assistant at Musashino Animation, a fictional anime studio. Having followed through with her promise to her high school friends about entering the anime industry, Aoi finds that an occupation in anime is both hectic and rewarding, as the company goes about completing all of the necessary components that goes into making a show. As animation and artwork falls behind, or when the director desires a change in execution at the last minute, things look particularly tough, but this is balanced out by the moments where things do fit together and the final product is ready to air. After three episodes, viewers have seen an approximation of daily life at an anime studio is like; while it is a little unorthodox experience to be watching an anime about producing anime, Shirobako is quite refreshing to take in, giving viewers an idea of the kind of effort that does go in to producing anime behind-the-scenes.

  • I’m only about two days late with this post, which is good going considering how things have kicked up lately. Now, owing to the number of characters in Shirobako, I probably won’t committ any cognitive resources towards memorising everyone’s names. However, from left to right, we have Shizuka Sakaki, Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara and Midori Imai, with Shizuka Sakaki  not visible here.

  • Shirobako starts out with a group of girls putting on a final presentation during their final days in their high school’s animation club prior to graduation, and it is here that Aoi develops a love for doughnuts, it seems. Apparently, the hole in a doughnut is to maximise the amount of oil, and therefore flavour, a doughnut can pick up during cooking, although there are a great many number of theories pertaining to how doughnuts acquired their distinctive hole.

  • Fast forwarding a few years, Aoi and Ema are working for Musashino Animation. Presented as a stressful job where any bottleneck in the animation process can ruin a schedule, working for an anime company is far from the glory most anime fans would imagine the industry to be. Here, Aoi speaks with Misato Segawa about animation of some key frames after a mishap threatens to send their third episode off-schedule.

  • Much as how anime fans wish to work in the industry, there are some who feel that video game testing would be an appealing occupation. The truth is that game testing is a tedious occupation that offers low salary and low job security, and to get into the more respectable game development positions, one needs at minimum a Bachelor’s in Computer Science and other experience. As it stands, I won’t be fully competitive as a developer until I finish the graduate studies program, as my background is in health informatics and computational biology. I probably will look to get into development of mobile software and take some management courses later down the line.

  • For the present, I’ll focus on surviving my graduate program and begin looking in earnest for a full-time software developer position once May 2015 rolls around. Returning back to Shirobako, one of the anime’s strongest points is depicting many of the subtleties involved in anime production, and with a full twenty-four episodes to tell the story, it’s not difficult to predict that Shirobako could integrate some of Aoi’s personal background into things.

  • Character designs from Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha make a welcome return in Shirobako, including some over-the-top facial expressions. In Glasslip, the characters bore a slightly different design with their eyes, even though their faces shared a similar design. This would preclude Glasslip from being included in a massive crossover like Utopia, which featured characters from True TearsHanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari.

  • Shirobako might not have the same spectacular graphics that its predecessors had, but the artwork and animation are solid overall. One might even say that, without the lighting effects seen in shows like Tari Tari and Glasslip, the environments look more believable in Shirobako.

  • In an average day for Aoi, she’s moving between many departments to obtain key frames and keep other in the loop, working with many people over the course of a day. Casually note the utilitarian, cluttered layout of the animation studio.

  • P.A. Works depicts the animators and artists as making extensive use of Apple iMacs with Adobe Photoshop and Premier. At one point, Aoi is seen using Microsoft Project to keep track of scheduling-related matters. I typically find Mac OS X to be a clean, controlled environment for doing software development, whereas Microsoft Windows offers users much more control over some of the fine-grained details. I use both, so I do not say I am in the Mac or PC camp.

  • Elsewhere on the vast world-wide web, discussions have expressed a wish to see P.A. Works actually try their hand at producing a magical girl anime, although truth be told, after Madoka Magica, the market probably isn’t ready for another magical girl series, especially since the belief that “darker is better” is now widely-held. While Madoka Magica was able to depict the more pessimistic side of being a magical girl, it also failed to give the girls the strength and resolve they needed to overcome their issues.

It’s clear that Shirobako is meant to be a dramatisation of the animation industry in Japan, but even then, the atmosphere that is present at Musashino Animation is remarkably convincing. Audiences typically are used to seeing anime coming out on a weekly basis, without ever appreciating the sort of work that happens in the back that makes the show possible. Thus, when delays occur, people would take to the internet and vehemently gripe about things without understanding what motivated the delay. Shirobako is able to present what happens from a fictionalised perspective, showing that making anime is a difficult and challenging process, from the character developement and story-telling, to artwork, animation and voice-acting. This is precisely what had happened during Girls und Panzer‘s original run, which was fraught with delays and saw the final two episodes delayed by nearly three months owing to production issues. However, when the episodes were released, audiences were left with a product that exceeded expectations and was worth the wait. Given that Shirobako is directed by Tsutomu Mizushima (who had previously directed Girls und Panzer), one wonders if his experiences with Girls und Panzer is shaping some of the events in Shirobako.

  • This is one of the recording studios that Musashino Animation makes use of to do their sound and voice recordings for Exodus!. Returning to the discussion from the previous bullet, the views held in Madoka Magica are decidedly Nihilist, and from a personal perspective, Nihilism is an irresponsible way of thinking (i.e. “life is pointless and meaningless in and of itself, so why bother trying?”). I hold Nietzsche’s views in high regard: even if life is intrinsically without value, it is meaningful to find value in life.

  • Here’s a rough draft of one of the scenes in Exodus!, which illustrates the completed character animations against a sketch of the background. My copy of the K-On! Movie Official Guidebook/Travel Diary illustrates a similar process, and although I cannot fully read it, the images capture the sense of effort that went into making the movie. Similarly, Shirobako captures the sort of work that goes into producing an anime.

  • At one of the group meetings, the production team argues whether or not it is feasible to completely redo one of the more pivotal scenes as the airing deadline approaches. This brings to mind the rather hectic last week-and-a-half of July, just before the Giant Walkthrough Brain was set for its first live performance at the Banff Center. As the lead software developer, I was assigned countless corrections and updates to ensure that the software would be flawless; things were quite stressful as I would make updates and continue to wait for requests for new updates, especially since I accidentally broke a few functions during a few of the update processes. Thankfully, I back everything up, so in the end, all of the requests were integrated in, and the show ran without any problems.

  • Aoi’s input encourages the team to go with the director’s requests, and even though this will mean additional effort, Aoi feels that it is the only way that they’ll be able to capture Arupin (Exodus!‘s protagonist) appropriately. Design of believable, relatable characters is a major part of anime, and stereotypes of invincible or moody characters have long been felt as unappealing to viewers.

  • Whereas Glasslip made egregious use of chibi characters during scenes that did not require them, they seem far more effective in Shirobako, such as when Aoi is visualising her upcoming assignment’s different components within her mind. Suitable for comedies or a character’s thought-processes, their use in Glasslip was particularly jarring, provided that Glasslip was intended to be a drama rather than comedy.

  • The sheer amount of files and boxes in their office space does bring to mind the interior of M5 Industries, although it should be clear that the boxes in Shirobako hold things related to anime, whereas the boxes at M5 are much more diverse and hold old components that were used in MythBusters. It seems that the Build Team has left the show now, and with just Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman left, it appears the show will be returning to its original format from eleven years ago.

  • I wonder if I’ll be watching Shirobako just to see moments like these: throughout the third episode, the stress associated with the impending release of their fourth episode leads Aoi to display emotions that are simultaneously endearing and evocative of sympathy. This still also allows me to point out carefully the Aoi’s eye design: even at a smaller size, her ellipse pupil can be seen here, being similar to that of the characters from Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha.

  • Our lab makes use of Mac Pros from the late 2008 period: their age is beginning to show now and became especially noticeable as I began working with more graphics-intensive processes in Unity. The newest machine we have is an iMac from late 2012, which is equipped with an i7 and a high-end mobile ATI graphics card. The newest iMacs ship with discreet NVIDIA GPUs and now feature 5K Retina displays, although my eye is presently on the upcoming Broadwell-powered Macbook Pros.

  • After three episodes, everyone manages to pull everything together and the fourth Exodus! episode is set for release on schedule, standing in contrast with Girls und Panzer: it seems that every new release they have is invariably delayed, starting with the sixth episode, then the final two episodes, followed by the OVA depicting Ooarai’s match with Anzio, and now, there’s been no news about the upcoming movie, which I had once optimistically (and perhaps foolishly) claimed to have a 2014 release date. With the complete lack of information, it’s quite possible that the Girls und Panzer Movie will now be released somewhere in 2015.

  • Apparently, Exodus! will be released in OVA format somewhere in the distant future, probably before the Girls und Panzer movie, if trends are to be believed. That’s pretty much it for this discussion, and I’ll be returning somewhere in January to discuss thoughts on Shirobako after the halfway point. For now, the next post here will be about the Tamako Love Story movie.

What’s seen in Shirobako is very welcoming, providing anime fans with (albeit a fictionalised) perspective on the anime production process. The interactions are largely consistent with those for a workplace, and while there are some moments that serve as a critique of the anime subculture and the industry in general, overall, this is a series that looks to be an adventure into anime production. From the looks of things, there will be twenty-four episodes, so there’s plenty of time to explore things. This additional time will probably be well-spent, since there are many characters. Consider that the number of characters is such that their names and roles are mentioned by means of subtitles when they appear on-screen. From what I’ve heard, many of the staff at Musashino Animation are inspired by real-world personel. After three episodes, I will continue to follow Shirobako, as it represents a much-needed break from love stories: there’s nothing wrong with these shows, but a change of scenery is good every so often.

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