The Infinite Zenith

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

Shirobako: Review and reflection at the halfway point

“Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

As an anime about the anime industry, Shirobako has proven to be surprisingly entertaining, delving well beyond just the process behind the production. For this reason, Shirobako (perhaps unsurprisingly) is highly relatable for audiences, who are either in education and wondering what their futures entail, as it deals with topics as diverse as the balance between personal interests and financial stability, whether or not one is in a particular occupation by choice, the consequences of technology altering how work is finished, the kinds of stresses associated with trying for new positions and roles, and the challenges that people face in their occupations. Thus, at the halfway point, Shirobako is an anime that leads me to do a little bit of self-reflection, but before we get on to the boring stuff, I should note that the anime has been fantastic insofar. Thanks to her persistent and encouraging presence, one cannot help but cheer on Aoi as she acts as the force that keeps Musashino Animation going, even during tight deadlines. This kind of dedication to the job, and her talent for managing to pull everyone through difficult times, has earned her the respect of her coworkers: Erika Yano and Tatsuya Ochiai remark that Aoi is well-suited for production industry, even if Aoi herself has not fully decided what she’d like to be. At the halfway point, Exodus is now finished, and as the second half begins, Musashino Animation undertakes the animation of The Third Girls Aerial Squad, an anime about a group of fighter pilots.

Watching Ema struggle with her work was the first moment in Shirobako that led me to wonder about things in my own world; after having difficulty in animating a cat’s movements, Ema begins to rush her work in the hopes of being able to advance and earn a sufficient income to survive. When her work declines as a result, Ema feels that she won’t advance as an animator. She becomes withdrawn and compensates by working harder, but without a full picture of what she wants for the future, she declines into despair. It takes some advice from a fellow animator, Yumi, and a walk, for Ema to find her inspiration and rediscover why she chose to be an animator in the first place. At another point in Shirobako, Misa grows weary of working on vehicle rims for a CG company, and after wondering if this is what she had signed up for, decides to quit to pursue a position that emphasises story-telling. I hear this constantly from those who care, asking about whether or not my own career choices are sustainable with respect to finances. I openly admit that my undergraduate degree in Health Sciences was motivated by a half-hearted aspiration of becoming a medical doctor. However, medical ethics is not something I’m comfortable with, and in the end, as my degree gave me a satisfactory background in software development, I turned my game around and applied to the university’s Faculty of Graduate studies for a Master’s in Computer Science. I reasoned that, given my own interests and enjoyment in working with technology, this field would better be suited for me. Moreover, the increasing demand for technology and software means that developers are still in demand. However, there is a caveat: most development is now outsourced where it can be done for a much lower rate, so to stay competitive, I’m looking to take a certificate on project management, as well. How well I stick with this will be left to the future, but I’m hoping that with an objective that’s somewhat clearer than Ema’s or Misa’s, I’ll at least have a starting point after this graduate program ends. While there’s nothing wrong with persuing one’s dreams, contrasting Ema, whose role as a junior animator has her working for peanuts, I’ve gone with a more practical route and hope that what I’m getting myself into is what I signed up for, being an occupation that balances my own interests with a reasonable degree of financial stability. At this point in time, I’m a little more than a quarter finished my program, so this is the perfect time to begin looking for work.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • This updated layout will be used from here on out: posts structured this way appear easier to read, and the addition of a “Screenshots and Commentary” header would (in theory) make it easier for the Google crawler to associated “Shirobako screenshots”. Other than that, the talks are still of the same structure and still feature twenty screenshots as they always have.

  • If Shirobako is to be believed, anime studios have specialised office spaces that are designed to “encourage” productivity, and while it may be amusing from the observer’s perspective, the tight deadlines and unique nature of creativity means that some organisations may resort to extreme measures to keep their staff on track.

  • I might just come back at some point and do a special topics post on “the thousand faces of Aoi Miyamori”: in the earlier episodes, her mien takes on some hilarious attributes as she reacts in shock or desperation in response to bad news.

  • Here, Aoi speaks with Misa about the benefits and caveats of 3D animation while eating dinner. Misa offers the suggestion that new techniques allow one to work faster, while old techniques are still more effective at capturing atmospherics and emotions, so a combination might be a viable approach to doing things, and this is what motivates some of my research.

  • Shizuka speaks with her old instructor, Mari Tateo; the latter suggests to Shizuka that while waiting for the results of an application can be quite unsettling, what matters is what one does in between during the wait. This is an admirable and correct view of things

  • It turns out that the disagreement between Ryousuke and Yuuichirou were actually perpetuated by Tarou: Aoi spends much of episode six trying to figure out how to get Ryousuke back to work after the latter rage-quits when his work is seemingly discarded. However, at an Idepon convention, the two find that they get along remarkably well, and Ryousuke agrees to return to the team and resume his role as a key animator. This episode leads Aoi to be christened “Idepon Miyamori”, a nickname as adorable as Girls und Panzer‘s “Miporin”.

  • Kaori, Aoi’s older sister shows up for a visit; apparently, she’s on a paid vacation, and flashbacks suggest she’s not particularly happy about her job, but throughout the episode, sports a joyful personality. Flashbacks are also shown, depicting Aoi’s apparent lack of direction after her first applications to anime studios failed.

  • Episodes seven and eight are dedicated to depicting Ema’s struggles with her position, and with entry-level animators working for peanuts, it’s little surprise that she’s intent on improving so she can make a more reasonable wage. One blog out there leaves the readers hanging with an unanswered question and never does a follow-up: for the curious, the question was how Ema would deal with her dilemma of either being forced to throw in the towel or improve at a pace beyond what might be considered realistic.

  • The answer turns out to be neither, as Yumi, one of Ema’s coworkers, shares with her a picturesque spot for taking a walk when things get ugly. This is precisely what I do when I’m out of ideas about how to solve an implementation problem, or when a particularly elusive bug has me tearing my hair out. Granted, a more formal workplace probably won’t allow one to take short walks, and the only viable long-term solution is to improve, but the aforementioned blog’s author seems to fail in comprehending that a break is sometimes necessary to put things in perspective, and may provide the much-needed inspiration to get one back on their feet. After a walk, usually comes some of my best implementations.

  • Thus, after two episode, Ema seems to return to her old self, while Aoi, Shizuka and Midori make a vow that they will produce an anime together in the future. Shirobako is a fiction, and as such, is able to allow for relatively quick conflict resolutions.

  • Aoi’s imagination is quite active, and during periods of stress, she imagines her dolls to be alive in a manner reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, offering her conflicting advice about her current situation. I believe this here is a visual representation of the divide-and-conquer algorithm design, in which multi-branching in recursion allows a problem to be recursively broken down into simpler sub-problems until each of these pieces can be solved directly, and these solved pieces are combined to return the solution to the entire problem (quicksort is one such example).

  • After expressing dissatisfaction at the current ending for Exodus, Seiichi Kinoshita, the project’s director, decides to come up with a more fitting ending that conforms with the anime’s message. His visions are bold and do a satisfactory job as a conclusion, although I’m not sure how I’d feel about watching a moé anime with this sort of content.

  • As a production assistant, Aoi is involved in a variety of odd jobs, involving her making errands all over town to ensure that different packages get to their respective recipients on time. Through these errands (such as delivering a dombra to a sound studio), Aoi learns more about the makings of an anime, such as the effort paid to making realistic sound effects, and in doing so, Aoi’s role as Shirobako‘s main protagonist is a well-chosen one, for she has exposure to a plethora of different aspects that are involved with producing anime.

  • Misa originally signed up to be a 3D artist, but grew disillusioned after working on nothing but hub caps in Maya. The reality of industry is that entry-level jobs are more monotonous, and while Misa is not able to accept this, I am quite ready to work on something so as long as I am able to give my absolute best towards said project. At this point in time, I’ve learnt enough Maya to modify textures and materials, as well as create simple objects for my simulations.

  • Aoi remarks that she’s unsuited for interviewing potential employees, and encounters a group of interesting individuals who will take on a larger role in the second half.

  • With the deadline for the finale looming, Aoi reaches the end of her rope in trying to find additional animators to help with the cuts. In her journey, she even speaks with a highly-skilled animator, Mitsuaki Kanno, after Watanabe’s friends jokes about recommending him. However, this turns out to be a good decision; Mitsuaki says that there is an animator of a very high calibre right at Musashino Studios: Shigeru Sugie is a senior animator who had animated Aoi’s favourite childhood show and masterfully handles the execution of Exodus‘ animation.

  • Shirobako is set entirely in an urban area, although the city streets are remarkably quiet for a Japanese city. The landscapes and environments in Shirobako are impressive, and while they do feel like they lack the same ambiance as the landscapes found in something like Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, they remain consistently clean throughout the anime. With the hubbub surrounding Nagi no Asukara finally dying down, I’ve decided that I’m going to watch it once time permits.

  • The atmospherics at Musashino Studios still brings to mind the feeling that the lab had during the summer, when I had been working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. At some point in Shirobako, Aoi’s age is mentioned to be 22, meaning that I’m a bit older than she is, although thankfully, I’m still a ways from being thirty. By the time I hit this milestone, I’ll hopefully have been working for a few years, and maybe will have project management certification under my belt, as well as my own place. With my graduate studies a year-and-a-half from finishing, it’s time to get serious about the job hunt, especially in an economy that’s declining.

  • With plenty of elbow grease and some luck, I think I’ll be able to survive. Then again, my tendency to not play Kantai Collection while I’m supposed to be implementing my simulation or working on papers would tend be most helpful an asset, accounting for why I’ve got my sights set for finishing within two years. There’s also the sobering fact that funding priorities first and second year Master’s students only (elevating pressure to finish quickly), and that I’m also free of other distractions for the foreseeable future quite some time.

  • The first half of Shirobako is rewarding to watch, and the second half is sure to be a journey. That’s pretty much it for this post, and the next post on Shirobako will deal with the final impressions I’ve had for this series. For the present, though, I need to do some catch-up on Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata, and a post for that will come out once I’ve made reasonable progress on my midterm paper on master-slave cooperation in multi-agent systems.

At the halfway mark, Shirobako shows no sign of losing its pacing, and although the number of characters is quite large, Shirobako takes care to make sure that all of them serve a role. This large cast is unified by Aoi Miyamori’s perseverance: her determination and spirits have served her quite well thus far, allowing her to solve a conflict between Yūichirō (a 3D effects artist) and Ryōsuke (a key animator), as well as push for the completion of Exodus‘ finale. Her role in keeping Musashino Studios together is what allows Exodus‘ finale to air on time, even in spite of the director’s last minute changes. While Shirobako may have a massive cast, it should be clear that Aoi is at the centre of everything, and even with some staff changes come the second half, familiar faces will make a return. P.A. Works appears to have gotten their game back together with Shirobako (following the little mess we know as Glasslip), and as the second half begins, I look forwards to seeing what lies on the table with the The Third Girls Aerial Squad. With that being said, it’s almost certain that I’ll begin falling behind again, as I lack the tenacity to watch and discuss regularly as the folks elsewhere, but I definitely will return at the series’ end to do a final reflection on what has been an immensely entertaining, and thought-provoking anime thus far.

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