The Infinite Zenith

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

Shirobako: Whole-series review and reflection

“The very first step towards success in any occupation is to become interested in it.” —William Osler

We’ve finally reached the end of Shirobako, an immensely entertaining anime with the premise of making anime at the fictional Musashino Animation. The first half followed Aoi Miyamori’s acclimatisation to life at Musashino Animation as they were producing Exodus, and the second half involves Aoi’s role as the production desk for The Third Girls Aerial Squad, all the while training new production assistants to help with the studio’s work. The road to completion for The Third Girls Aerial Squad is non-trivial, for its author, Takezou Nogame, seems to be dissatisfied with everything Musashino Animation has produced thus far. Moreover, the tight schedule means that finding animators is a challenge. However, it turns out that Chazawa was shirking his responsibilities, and with director Seiichi Kinoshita finally meeting up with Takezou Nogame, the two reach understanding with one another to decide on a suitable conclusion for The Third Girls Aerial Squad. Meanwhile, Ema Yasuhara gradually becomes more comfortable with her ability and confident in her assignments, taking under her wing. Misa Toudou joins Musashino Animation as one of the CG animators, and Midori Imai also is hired as a researcher for Musashino Animation. Having struggled to find employment as a voice actor, Shizuka Sakaki is assigned a small role as a character added for The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s revised ending: though their paths were winding and difficult, they ultimately fulfil their promise to work on a single anime production together, and this realisation brings Aoi to tears in what is Shirobako‘s most emotional moment. However, the journey doesn’t end here: there’s still the matter of delivering the tapes, and once Aoi is given a chance to talk to her friends, realise that there’s much to do as they work towards turning their own dreams into reality.

Shirobako has been a surprise hit like Girls und Panzer: while viewers may have initially felt the premise to be mundane, P.A. Works has largely been successful in telling a story about a group of friends’ journey into the animation industry. While Shirobako is a fictional work and cannot to be said to be a realistic depiction of the industry, the anime presents details that hint at the intricacies within the anime industry, and moreover, drives home the idea that one’s occupation very much becomes a part of them, and that their path from a starting point is largely determined by their motivation and enjoyment for the job. However, Shirobako also shows that disillusionment is possible for individuals whose vision and reality differ too greatly, and that acceptance might often be a critical part of being able to make the decision as to whether or not such an occupation is really for them; this is something that audiences can immediately relate to. University students such as myself will wonder where our degrees and experiences will lead us, while those in the workforce will look back on all of the challenges and choices that led them to their current position, and what they might aspire towards in the future. By being able to invoke this self-reflection, Shirobako becomes an anime that holds universal appeal: tapping into something that viewers constantly think about, Shirobako weaves a story of perseverance, effort and daring to have large goals, ultimately, suggesting to viewers that it is possible to reach one’s dreams, even in the immeasurably competitive environment that is the workforce. This sense of immersion is quite persuasive, and audiences feel remarkably satisfied whenever things are going on the right track or culminate successfully for Aoi and her friends.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Here I am, armed with twenty screenshots for Shirobako‘s final half: while twenty screenshots seems like a reasonably small number, it still takes a bit of time to give all of them interesting figure captions. These figure captions are, in a way, the “episode notes” that some blogs are fond of, and provide my own thoughts on particular elements that the main paragraphs do not cover. However, they take time to write, and as such, I’ve capped the numbers at twenty, so not all moments can be captured.

  • Part of making fiction captivating is doing sufficient background research to ensure that the included elements are authentic enough such that viewers can view them as a natural element of the fictional world. In The Third Girls Aerial Squad, the focus is around an all-girls squadron flying older aircraft against overwhelming odds and overcoming their own internal struggles as they fight together.

  • The casting of voice actors is no easy task, and Musashino Animation’s staff work tirelessly to select the voice actor best suited for The Third Girls Aerial Squad. Shizuka is amongst the candidates, and although Musashino Animation considers her to be meritorious, they also find her voice to sound a little young for Aria’s role. However, even now, it’s clear that Shizuka has improved since her earlier auditions.

  • With Midori having accepted a position at Musashino Animation to aid in setting research, everyone save Shizuka appears to be moving closer to their promise from long ago. Back in the real world, the economy’s fallen upon difficult times because of low oil prices, making it difficult to find full time employment. For another year, I’ll hold my position at the university, but will need to consider full-time employment after graduation.

  • To this end, I’ll begin applying for positions come September; I cannot be a student forever, and admittedly, the idea of a PhD sounds quite intimidating, even more so than a Master’s degree. I’m hoping that the economy recovers, but as Sun Tzu said, one cannot count on their enemy to fail, but rather, upon their own preparedness.

  • The Third Girls Aerial Squad presents requirements that even push the more senior artists and animators to their limits; for this project, Aoi acts as the production desk and despite the new responsibilities and pressures, manages to fulfill her role exceedingly well. However, this is a project filled with roadblocks brought on by a creator whose editors never seem to wish to put in touch with the animators, leading to all sorts of difficulty with character designs and even story.

  • Someone is going to have to explain to me what is so special about Ema’s angel exercise and what its relation to Tetris is: as far as I’m concerned, this is not something that’s noteworthy enough to spawn memes. With that being said, keeping active takes on an increased significance if one’s occupation does not involve so much physical activity. I capitalise on my gym membership and lift weights, since I otherwise spend long hours with software. Beyond this, Ema’s flexibility does not warrant paragraphs of gushing.

  • The reason why I’ve got no screenshots of Exodus or The Third Girls Aerial Squad is because these two shows have their own OVAs: the former has already been released, and the latter will be released somewhere in June. Assuming a light blogging schedule, I will aim to get talks on both out in one large post, and focus on whether or not Musashino Animation’s works could be viable as standalone shows.

  • While movies have always had first rate soundtracks, a great deal of attention is paid towards music in TV shows and games in the present. While software and synthesisers can pull of orchestral music quite easily, music played by the actual instruments tend to contribute to the emotional depth that music can bring into an anime. It is this reason that allowed the Disappearance of Suzumiya Haruhi to perform as well as it did, it is this that I hope to see in The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, and in Shirobako, the music quite good at fulfilling its intended role of drawing out the moods in the different moments.

  • Daisuke Hiraoka is one of the new staff hired as a production assistant. Throughout the second half, he displays an overwhelming sense of apathy, making him an immensely unlikable character. It isn’t until his backstory is given that the audience begins to sympathise with him: his love and dedication for the anime industry caused him more pain when faced with the realities of the job, leading him to adopt the idea that rolling out a finished product on time is more important than rolling out a finished product the viewers will appreciate. Aoi allows Hiraoka to continue with his work on the condition that he communicates more clearly with the other animators.

  • I captured only 95 images across Shirobako‘s second half: most of them are actually inside Musashino Animation’s office space. Here, Tsubaki Andou and Sara Satou can be seen. They’re the new blood at Musashino Animation and have Aoi as their senior, learning very quickly the ins and outs of the job. The desks and interiors show an animation company that’s got a lived-in, inviting appearance: my own desk is probably the most tidy of everyone at the research lab at present. I’ve omitted Aoi’s excursion with Masato Marukawa to their old studio, where Aoi cries her eyes out after viewing a moving episode of Andes Chucky.

  • Director Seiichi Kinoshita dons a Western outfit and squares off with Nogame’s editorial department after emailing the latter for a meeting to discuss how The Third Girls Aerial Squad should end. The amount of effort it takes to actually speak with Nogame borders on insane, with various staff members employing some unusual measures for keeping Seiichi out, and Seiichi capitalising on his own strengths to overcome them. These moments must be seen to be believed, as screenshots do not come close to doing this section justice.

  • Watching Nogame and Seiichi converse and subsequently reach an agreement on the ending was one of the best moments of Shiobako, outlining the significance of communication between the creators and producers. It is for this reason I’ve got an eye on development management and other positions where communication is important; having a multidisciplinary background means I should be able to reasonably keep up with both the developer’s technical terms and the client’s application-driven requirements.

  • The new ending introduces a new character that Musashino Animation’s staff must incorporate into the story; it turns out that Shizuka’s voice is perfectly suited for this role, and she delivers the lines with finesse, signifying just how far she’s come since her earliest auditions at Shirobako‘s beginning.

  • Aoi realises that, with Shizuka providing her voice for The Third Girls Aerial Squad, everyone has worked together on their first project since high school and is overcome with emotion. Shirobako joins the likes of Nagi no Asukara and Angel Beats as anime that convey the moods of a moment so well, I tear up alongside the characters. It speaks to just how well-written the scenes in Shirobako are if it can invoke such strong emotions for the viewers.

  • Shirobako‘s finale is centred around the delievery of the tapes carrying the finale to various broadcasting stations around Japan, and ordinarily, this would be quite a mundane task involving carrying a small package to the studio. Shirobako transforms this into a high-emotion, high-octane scene, even involving a police chase that rivals the urgency in Halo: Reach presented as it followed Noble Six’s efforts to deliver a package to the UNSC Pillar of Autumn.

  • After delivering her package, in a Calvin and Hobbes-esque bit of self-reflection, Aoi decides to continue making anime owing to the fact that she greatly enjoys the nature of her work, and the people who participate in the industry. This is a simple enough reason in and of itself, but as per the page quote, one is typically doing their job well when they are genuinely interested in what they do. Unlike Aoi, I do not have the luxury of figuring out what it is that I seek from life; graduate school has answered that for me, so it’s time to finish this program the with my absolute best, and then transform those experiences into something I can do for society itself.

  • Aoi makes it back to the celebration just in time to deliver a speech, but not before falling on her face in her haste to make it. While viewers nearly agree universally that Shirobako is good, no one’s quite been able to articulate why this is the case (before I stepped in with my uncanny analytical prowess). People can speak about expectations, production values, realism, and all sorts of other elements, but these things are secondary when compared to what makes Shirobako so enjoyable- it’s a story that most anyone can relate to, and when they see a bit of themselves in Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa and Shizuka, they cannot help but empathise with, and cheer for them as they make their way in the animation industry.

  • Aoi gives a speech to the whole of Musashiro Animation at their celebration, speaking of her awe at just how many people are involved in producing anime, beginning with the artists who created the first shows, and every single individual who has subsequently innovated in animation techniques or provided the stories for animation companies to bring to life. With Shirobako now over, it’s time for my usual speculation- Shirobako ended on such a solid note, in so decisively a fashion, that a sequel probably won’t be made. One would be quite welcome, although given Shirobako‘s impressive performance, a sequel would have some very large shoes to fill.

  • A very good place to start would be following Aoi and the others’s journey of bringing their own dream of animating and producing The Seven Lucky Battle Gods, which would act as a thrilling continuation of Shirobako. I might not recommend Glasslip to my worst enemy, but Shirobako exemplifies that one below-standard production from a studio does not suggest that a studio has lost its touch. I’m presently around halfway through Nagi no Asukara, and will probably finish in April. I also aim to pick up Isshuukan Friends and Koufuku Graffiti: typically, I steer clear of anime that gains excessive hype and will watch them on my own terms later. This way, I can say that I chose to watch a show of my own volition and found any merits in it quite independently of everyone else.

As an anime, Shirobako is one of P.A. Works’ strongest offerings in living memory; aside from offering a highly focused and relatable story, Shirobako also had a memorable cast. Consider that, even if I do not know the names of every single employee at Musashino Animation, I most definitely recognise their faces and mannerisms. Audiences can become invested in their actions and concerns, because time is taken to flesh out the characters and give their presence a context within Shirobako. As such, even if there is a vast number of characters, their presence confers a very life-like atmosphere at Musashino Animation, enhancing the sense of immersiveness and giving the impression that Musashino Animation is quite real, with numerous employees working towards the different components of an anime. Shirobako‘s capacity to incorporate all of these elements towards an anime about making anime ultimately crafts a world that is very human, even if it is fictional, and becomes something that manages to both tell a fulfilling story and serve as something that a large number of viewers can relate to.

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