“At Musashino Animation, where there’s one Aoi Miyamori and sixteen departments, there’s only enough time for Aoi Miyamori to make it to a department. She can’t be in two departments at once. This FEBruary, it’s time to AOI down your Miyamoris…in Shirobako: THE MOVIE.” –Unreleased Shirobako trailer
Four years after their successful delivery of The Third Girls Aerial Squad, Musashino Animation (MusAni from here on out for brevity) had fallen upon tough times after their latest project, Time Hippopotamus, was cancelled, and instead, are working on smaller projects to keep the lights on. Aoi Miyamori does her best as production manager, while her former colleagues have left MusAni for other companies. After meeting up with her friends one evening for drinks, Aoi wishes to one day work together with everyone again, feeling unhappy that while everyone’s moved on in their careers, their original dream appears to be more distant than ever. She later learns that line producer and current president Shun Watanabe has accepted a a new film project, Aerial Amphibious Assault Ship SIVA (SIVA for brevity), which was advertised to première in February 2020, but ran into production problems and was shelved. With only ten months left before the première date, the time-frames are tight, but Aoi accepts, knowing that it would be a project that could get MusaAni back on their feet. She later runs into former production assistants Tarō Takanashi and Daisuke Hiraoka while out running an errand, and when stopping at former president Masato Marukawa’s curry shop, is overwhelmed by emotion, recalling that Masato’s curry tastes exactly as it did when they’d worked together. While walking home, Aoi decides she’s going to do her absolute best with this movie project. She meets with producer Kōtarō Katsuragi, who had submitted SIVA to a production studio called GPU. However, as they’ve made no progress, Kōtarō’s decided to hedge his bets on MusAni. He introduces Aoi to Kaede Miyai, a producer from Western Entertainment: they’ve agreed to collaborate with MusaAni to complete work on SIVA. Reinvigorated, Aoi sets about gathering the old crew, some of which have similarly fallen on hard times, but all of which are more than willing to lend a hand to Aoi. She manages to persuade director Seiichi Kinoshita to snap out of his depression and return to produce something he’s proud of. Others, such as key animators Yumi Iguchi and Rinko Ogasawara, are happy to help out despite their own workloads. Even animation supervisor Ryōsuke Endō returns, optimistic that he can work on something to turn his life around. With the old team back together, SIVA begins taking shape. When Shizuka Sakaki auditions for a role in SIVA, encouraged by her supervisor, she manages to land a leading role. One day, Aoi runs into former senior key animator Shigeru Sugie, who asks Aoi and her friends to help with an animation class. While the children are unruly, the five manage to turn things around and excite the children, who greatly enjoy the class. The five recall their own love for animation and resolve to double their efforts in SIVA. As production draws to a close, a few impediments present themselves. Director Masashi Yamada is falsely accused of being involved in a scandal, but is able to clear this up. Meanwhile, GPU’s president threatens legal action against MusAni for having taken up the project in violation of their exclusivity contract, but together with Kaede, Aoi finds that GPU had actually breached their original contract by failing to deliver, forcing GPU to relinquish their rights to SIVA. With only a few weeks left before the première, director Seiichi finds the ending to be lacking in impact, but this time, commits to fixing things with the staff. SIVA releases to critical acclaim, and Aoi later briefs her team on The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s third season.
During its original run, Shirobako covered various aspects of anime production, from the conceptualisation to storyboarding, asset creation, voice acting and editing, all the while striking a balance between bringing a creator’s vision to life and creating a story that could stand of its own merits. Shirobako: The Movie, on the other hand, deals in the notion of copyright and licensing, as well as the importance of getting all of the right contracts signed and notorised, as well as ensuring that one is cleared to begin work on a project. Time Hippopotamus had been an instance of MusAni being a ways into production when the plug got pulled. Because the license belonged to this company, it was impossible to continue production without the proper permissions, and the end result was that MusAni had done little more than burn precious resources on a project that it could not recover from financially. Similarly, the final major obstacle in the film deals with the transfer of rights to production from another studio to MusAni: the director of GPU had not explicitly authorised Kōtarō to find another studio who had the capacity to produce a movie. Intellectual property and its handling becomes a central piece of Shirobako: The Movie: because rights to works of fiction can be very lucrative if a given works is popular, there are provisions in place to ensure that these intellectual properties are respected. However, these same systems can also be shackles, threatening entire projects. When the original studio was not able to deliver their results, Kōtarō seeks out Aoi for help, creating a very sticky situation where things could’ve ended quite poorly for MusAni. It was only carelessness from GPU’s part, that a critical document had not been read in full, and with a bit of fortune on Aoi’s end, she’s able to prove that the exclusivity agreement was null and void precisely because the original contract required that deliverables be handed over in a timely fashion. With no deliverable to show, the contract is not binding. MusAni thus dodges a bullet here, although this element in Shirobako: The Movie was meant to show that navigating copyright and licensing laws can be a tricky field as well. In this way, Shirobako: The Movie covers new territory during its run, while simultaneously revisiting familiar aspects of anime production. This time around, the returning staff are at the top of their game, determined to produce a film of excellent standards.
While it’s been four years since the events of the original Shirobako in Shirobako: The Movie, for us viewers overseas, closer to six years have passed. Watching Shirobako: The Movie was therefore a trip down memory lane, bringing back recollections of the things that the original TV series had excelled in during its run. The film returns with messages of perseverance, teamwork and doing something properly: Aoi is determined to see SIVA to the end, and demonstrates her talents for management by connecting with old staff, as well as motivating everyone to do their best, as well. With the entire former team together again, their familiarity with one another and skill-set allows them to work on the SIVA project in earnest, at a much more efficient pace than they had previously. Aoi’s own experience also allows her to find a solution to the matter of copyright, as well as helping director Masashi to escape a nasty bit of accusations designed to bring his reputation down. Despite falling into a depression when MusAni lost most of its staff, Aoi remains committed to doing her best in every situation, stepping out of her comfort zone to see things through to the end. Similarly, when director Seiichi expresses discontent with SIVA‘s ending despite having kept quiet about it earlier, Aoi is able to demonstrate to him that the team cares as much as he does. Despite only a few days remaining to launch, MusAni thus buckles down and remakes the ending, producing something that Seiichi is confident the audience will enjoy. Of the characters in Shirobako, Aoi embodies the core tenants of success, striving to make her dreams possible even when it looks as though all hope is lost. The end result of her actions is a successful launch, and the ending to Shirobako: The Movie was as satisfying as it gets, with MusAni being given the responsibility of producing The Third Girls Aerial Squad, a successful series that demonstrates the world’s faith in MusAni. During its run, it was encouraging to see that notions of hard work, effort and persistence to the end is what brings about hope, and a better shot at pursuing one’s ambitions, even when one’s path forward isn’t clear.
I need a goddamned Aoi Miyamori!
From a narrative perspective, Shirobako: The Movie treads on familiar ground to indicate to viewers that themes don’t necessarily change with the passage of time, and that things like effort, responsibility and integrity are universal. This is how the movie is able to present a compelling story despite running through the same learnings that Aoi had made in the original Shirobako. While the story is an experience viewers won’t find surprising, what sets Shirobako: The Movie apart from its predecessor is the actual artistic merit and animation quality. Shirobako: The Movie possesses slightly improved backgrounds and artwork compared to Shirobako‘s TV series, but where it truly shines is the animation and variety of styles during its run; of note is the sequence where Aoi regains her motivation, and in her mind, performs a musical that sees her revisit Andes Chucky, Exodus and The Third Girls Aerial Squad, along a host of other series, including Jiggly Jiggly Heaven. Shirobako: The Movie seamlessly transitions between these moments, demonstrating a technical prowess that brings to life Aoi’s rich imagination. Similarly, when Aoi and her friends teach children animation, disinterest and apathy soon turns to genuine excitement as Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa and Midori bring their own skills to enchant their students, who are thrilled to have brought their own work to life. In the aftermath of this event, Ema is reminded that she took up key animation because she had a love for drawing and shakes off discouragement to ensure she’s able to perform. One of the joys about Shirobako had always been seeing how P.A. Works brought to life the anime that MusAni and Aoi work on: by Shirobako: The Movie, their craft has allowed them to create genuine interest in these fictional works. SIVA looks like a fantastic movie, and MusaAni’s efforts to set the climax right really shines through in the end. Switching between different styles creates a visually varied film that serves as a welcome addition to Shirobako and bringing to life MusAni’s works, creating a stronger connection between viewers and the projects Aoi contributes to, in turn strengthening the series’ themes.
Screenshots and Commentary
- With this review on Shirobako: The Movie, I do believe I’ve broken into uncharted waters with the internet’s first full-scale review on the film, which released last year on February 29 and opens with a delightful skit summarising the events that had taken place in Shirobako. The film runs for a total of 120 minutes and was an absolute blast to watch the entire way, so I’ll open with my final verdict and score – for doing something that only the best works do, for engaging for the full duration and for bringing back everything that made the TV series so enjoyable, and then scaling this up for the silver screen, Shirobako: The Movie takes a well-deserved A+ (4.0 of 4.0, 10 of 10) and is something I have no qualms recommending to people.
- The film proper opens with Aoi sleeping in the office, exhausted after a long day’s worth of work. How disheveled Aoi is speaks volumes about her commitment to her work, but at the same time, it also appears that Aoi is working for the sake of working now; she lacks the same enthusiasm and spirit that she’d demonstrated in leading the MusAni team during Shirobako‘s second half. Similarly, the office appears to be in a dishevelled state, although the place is also cloaked in darkness on account of the lateness of the hour. Visual cues suggest that MusAni of 2019 (when the movie is set) is a very different place than the one we remember from 2015.
- Aoi initially hesitates to check out the release of MusAni’s latest episode for The Third Girls Aerial Squad‘s second season, and once the footage starts rolling, it appears to be for good reason. This anime appears to have fallen very far from the tree, resembling World Witches Take Off! more than a combination of Sky Girls, Strike Witches and Warlords of Sigrdrifa, which is what the original anime reminded me of. The skeleton staff at MusAni watching this episode’s airing was similarly disappointing in size, standing in contrast with how in the old day, the entire office would show up for these airings.
- One aspect of Shirobako I don’t think I spoke too much about was the growing friendship between Ema and Ai. Four years after the events of Shirobako, the two are roommates now, and Ai’s able to speak more cohesively – I remember that she was unable to complete even individual words, but with Ema, she’s able to be quite articulate. Here, she worries about Ema not eating properly; the latter is so engrossed with her work that she forgot to eat her lunch earlier.
- Further hinting at how Aoi feels, a glance at her apartment shows it to be quite messy and dishevelled inside. She becomes uncomfortable with mention of hanging out with her family, and it was about here that I began seeing a bit of Aoi in myself. It struck me that Aoi’s career is not going quite as well as she would’ve liked. However, for those closest to her, she puts on a brave face and does her best to smile. This is something that I completely get – I’ve been where Aoi is, and I understand what it feels like to live in a world where every day is uncertain.
- Because Aoi dearly loves the work she does at MusAni, she struggles to face her friends on their outing at a local pub the group has become fond of, worried that she’s fallen the furthest behind in her career goals of everyone. Before entering, she forces her face into a smile. While it is disheartening to see Aoi like this, I also take heart knowing that Aoi’s still resolute in her dream – the disappointment and frustration she sees in her day-to-day work shows that she cares very much about doing a good job, and this is something to be commended. In a completely unrelated aside, Aoi is voiced by Juri Kimura, whom I know best as GochiUsa‘s Rin Mate, a pushy but kind-hearted editor not unlike Aoi.
- Admittedly, this particular outing brought to mind the time I attended a raclette party shortly before I accepted a job offer for my previous company – while I’d initially been hesitant to share that I was with a failing start-up, hearing my friends’ stories led me to open up a little, and they assured me that while they had struggles of their own, that evening was purely to unwind and swap bad stories. I thus ate and laughed with everyone, my worries forgotten that cold November evening. I’ve since gone through that cycle a second time, and while it has been rough, the silver lining is that I’ve accrued more iOS experience over the past two years. I am therefore very grateful to have worked for my previous post because of the learnings I got out of it; during my time here, I learnt to build my own UIs, and at present, I am able to build pixel-perfect UIs from mockups designers hand me, as well as put together UIs of my own when no designs are available.
- Upon spotting Shizuka, the pub’s owners switch the channel to a programme where Shizuka is seen speaking with a young voice actress. While Shizuka is not an iconic voice actress and works on live-action programmes, she’s not lost sight of her goals and believes that expanding her repertoire would be valuable. Prior to entering my last role, I’d been more of a mid-end developer, building out data models and business layers in an app, but as Shizuka found, taking on new roles has been very helpful: at present, I’m completely at home with RESTful APIs, JSON serialisation and CocoaPods, amongst others. My experiences, within the context of Shirobako, suggest that Shizuka will do fine and reach her dreams as long as she’s willing to learn and be open to new experiences, which she’s clearly willing to do.
- As the evening draws to a close, a sickly version of the Seven Lucky Gods passes by, visually denoting that the five friends’ dream appear as distant as it’s ever been. While returning home by train, Aoi and Ema share a conversation: Aoi mentions that MusAni has been quiet for some time, suggesting that the workload and the corresponding revenue has been reduced. In light of this, she notes that it was better that Ema ended up becoming a freelance keyframe animator like Misato Segawa. Leaving one company for another is always tricky, especially when one loves what they do, but Ema appears to have landed on her feet, and indicates that she’d be happy to work with MusAni again should the opportunity present itself.
- When Aoi arrives at work the next morning for their team meeting, the interior of MusAni’s office is thrown into sharp relief: the scuffled wallpaper, accumulation of boxes and generally beat-up quality of the surroundings is a far cry from the offices I remember back when Aoi first started. It was here, beyond any doubt, that MusAni was in dire straights: the smaller staff count and an office that has clearly seen better days leaves no doubt in the viewer’s mind where MusAni is now. Aoi’s reservation and poor spirits earlier are mirrored in her surroundings now; the movie had done a solid job of slowly building viewers up with what had happened so it doesn’t come as a shock.
- On this rainy day, Shun brings Aoi out for a private conversation; the grim weather accentuates MusAni’s current state. Like other works I’ve greatly enjoyed, Shirobako: The Movie makes use of weather and visual metaphors to tell stories in ways that dialogue and body language cannot. I often rely on weather and lighting to help me with identifying what the significance of different scenes are because writers utilise weather to create a very specific mood, and generally speaking, weather is chosen to line up with how the characters are feeling. Consequently, when the weather is contrary to expectations, I pay even closer attention to understand what the intentions are. The choice of weather in Shirobako: The Movie reminded me a great deal of Les Stroud’s Baffin Island episode in Survivorman: during his fourth day in the arctic tundra, difficult conditions created a sort of darkness that made it seem especially melancholy, and his remarks here capture perfectly what a lack of hope looks like.
- I couldn’t help but smile upon seeing Yutaka Honda running his own cake shop. Formerly a production manager like Aoi, he eventually left to pursue his dreams after Exodus was completed, but periodically returned to drop off sweets and encourage the team. Yutaka represents someone who ends up finding his own path and pursuing it in earnest; as a pastry chef, he is a happy and energetic individual: by the events of the movie, he’s regained his former weight as a result of trying every new creation to ensure its taste is satisfactory. After placing their orders, Shun and Aoi sit down to discuss MusAni’s future, and Shun opens with the question that people would dread hearing: has Aoi considered quitting MusAni in light of their current situation? This conversation confirms all of the visual signs that had been presented earlier, as Aoi affirms that MusAni is in a difficult spot.
- As luck would have it, Stroud would turn his situation around when a Narwal forced Arctic Char close to his camp, allowing him to capture four fish and secure a sizeable supply of food for the remainder of his episode. Survivorman has shown how situations can turn around in a heartbeat, and while skill and preparation are essential, sometimes, a little luck can help. In Shirobako: The Movie, the turning point is when Shun reveals that MusAni has the opportunity to produce a movie. Suddenly, the grey skies and rain give way to a warm sunlight that illuminates the shop’s interior. Aoi doesn’t react to the offer on-screen, but the shift in weather speaks volumes about how Aoi feels: she’s seen wearing a look of utmost determination in the next scenes, which flash briefly over to what Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa are working as a bit of foreshadowing. It becomes clear that this film project is what MusAni needs, even if the deadline is a tricky one.
- The next day, Aoi runs into Tarō while fuelling up the company car, which has become quite ragged and beaten-up over the past four years. It turns out he’s looking for a ride and while some time has passed, Tarō retains all of his energy and enthusiasm. Along the way, Tarō spots Daisuke and has Aoi drive him, as well. While I remember Daisuke for being quite confrontational and getting on poorly with Tarō, in the past four years, the two have developed a bit of an interesting friendship, and Daisuke feels a lot more relaxed now than he did four years earlier. It turns out the two are on their way to pitching ideas, and they thank Aoi for the ride before heading off.
- Before Daisuke leaves, he provides some words of encouragement to Aoi, encouraging her to fight for her dreams in a world where things only come to those who prove they want it more. In Shirobako: The Movie, the famous “Miyamori Faces”, as I called them back in the day, don’t really make a comeback: during Shirobako‘s original run, Aoi was seen with a range of hilarious facial expressions resulting from shock, frustration and overwork. I imagine that these stopped being a part of the show because Aoi’s matured since then, and the things that would terrify her back then are now merely another problem to deal with.
- Hearing Daisuke offer words of support for MusAni, however, does prompt Aoi to think back to that day when it was announced that they’d be halting all work on Time Hippopotamus. It turned out that because the company who’d contracted MusAni to produce Time Hippopotamus was undergoing restructuring, and as a result, the new company president determined that the Time Hippopotamus series wasn’t likely to justify the cost of producing it. Because this company held the rights to the characters and concept, it was impossible to finish the project and have a different company air the product.
- While making a delivery to Masato’s curry shop, Aoi decides to have some curry, as well; the familiar taste brings tears to her eyes, as she remembers all of the times the MusAni team had spent together, hashing out projects and enjoying the curry Masato had made. Olfactory memory is something I’ve made mention of in previous posts, with tastes and smells being able to evoke very strong memories in our mind. For Masato, the flavour his curry had was also deeply engraved in his mind, associated with the times he’d spent with MusAni: after he resigned and opened his curry shop, he tried everything he could to create a new flavour, one that wouldn’t remind him of these memories. That Aoi feels it still tastes as it once did now suggests that Masato has found his way and accepted what’s happened, acknowledging that there were good memories alongside the bad.
- Because Masato had been president of MusAni at the time, he felt that the responsibility was his to bear and resigned: MusAni had accepted the contract and diverted all of their resources into production before anything was even signed. As a result, MusAni had begun work before even receiving payment, and so, when the project was cancelled, the resources that were spent could not be so easily recouped. This is why work never begins on something until a written contract can be produced and signed. With this being said, I do occasionally spend some free time conceptualising on projects so if they are to go ahead, I can hit the ground running. While getting some air, Aoi runs into Seiichi, who attempts to stoically take the blow, but was impacted by the news as everyone else had.
- While Time Hippopotamus proved to be MusAni’s breaking point and sent the company in a downward spiral, Aoi also felt that for that project, everyone had been at the top of their game, finishing episodes three months ahead of their scheduled deadline. In spite of what happened, the team at MusAni had demonstrated they were capable of moving heaven and earth to accomplish their goals, and while circumstances been against them that day, Aoi promises to right the ship and turn things around. Promise of working on SIVA has her pumped up and ready to go, and Masato’s words encourage her: he reminds Aoi that her motivation for making anime, to reach the hearts and minds of those who watch it, will doubtlessly inspire others to follow in her footsteps.
- Thus, as Aoi heads home for the night, she begins singing a song to lift her spirits and encourage herself. In her mind’s eye, Mimuji and Roro join her, along with characters from Andes Chucky, Exodus, The Third Girls Aerial Squadron and Jiggly Jiggly Heaven soon join her, putting on a performance worthy of any musical. It was here that Shirobako: The Movie really proved itself as being worthy of a movie: the challenge that all anime movies based on a TV series face is scaling things up for the silver screen experience. At the heart of Shirobako: The Movie is the fact that this is a movie about making a movie, but to really make the experience unique, Shirobako: The Movie has gone the extra mile to produce a musical number that really speaks to Aoi’s optimism.
- The actual musical presentation was impressive because it combined different art styles together and seamlessly brought them to life. Aoi’s song, beginning as a minimal set of lyrics, eventually develops into a full-fledged musical number, mirroring how life is often a game of momentum. When things don’t swing in one’s favour, finding the motivation and courage to get started can be tricky, but with a bit of momentum, the impossible suddenly appears possible. With SIVA now a reality for MusAni, Aoi promises to do her best, taking a meeting with Western Entertainment’s Kōtarō Katsuragi, a producer who had worked extensively with MusAni in the past.
- It turns out that Kōtarō had been working on SIVA, but after another production studio, GPU, absolutely failed to deliver even after two years, GPU’s president had decided to leave Kōtarō to deal with the mess, suggesting that they might be able to work faster if Kōtarō could convince his higher-ups to send them a little more money. Kōtarō attributes his passion for the project to Aoi, and expresses his hope that MusAni will be able to pull things off. To this end, Kōtarō leaves the competent Kaede Miyai with Aoi. Kōtarō and Shun send Aoi and Kaede on their way so they can iron out remaining details to the arrangements.
- While the odds are stacked against Aoi and MusAni right from the start (MusAni is short on staff and only has ten months to complete a movie that would normally take two years), it appears that Western Entertainment is quite ready to foot the bill. Kaede notes that Aoi basically has free reign in picking her staff, leaving Aoi free to choose a crew she’s comfortable working with. Since Kaede was brought in to sort out the problems the previous production assistant had left behind, and the project is finally moving forwards, it stands to reason that Kaede is competent in her work. To get to know one another better, Aoi accepts a dinner invitation from Kaede, and the two promptly get smashed at what appears to be half the pubs around town.
- I rather miss not being able to a local pub with mates for a burger and wings – a part of the joys of eating out is the ambience and energy of a restaurant. Having said this, take-out means eating delicious food from the comfort of home, and tonight, I enjoyed dinner from a local Cantonese restaurant: this restaurant is one of the best in the city, with food that gives the top Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong a run for their money: using fresh Canadian ingredients and adding a novel spin on classics, their food is unparalleled, and dinner at this restaurant is always something I enjoy. Even with takeout, the quality is apparent; we had deep-fried crispy chicken, sweet and sour pork, satay prawn and vermicelli casserole, snow pea with abalone and mushroom sauce and seafood yi mein to round things out.
- Aoi and Kaede immediately bond over shared work experiences and grievances – with the alcohol talking, both complain vociferously about various aspects of their jobs and industries. I’m impressed with how Aoi manages to keep up with Kaede throughout the evening and still manages to sleep it off for the next morning. This is a feat I can’t pull off; after one drink, I’m struggling to stay awake, and two is enough to give me the emperor of all headaches. For this reason, I don’t really drink, especially not to drown my sorrows. The problem for me is that my sorrows have learnt to swim, and alcohol simply leaves me feeling worse later down the line. Conversely, I have no qualms about a small glass of champagne during celebrations.
- SIVA admittedly feels like Space Battleship Yamato in concept, with a Phantom Thief Lapin twist to it and a name that simultaneously reminds me of both the SHIVA-class nuclear missiles from Halo, as well as Skyfall‘s very own Raoul Silva. I’d been watching this with a friend, and he’d remarked that the choice of name for a space-faring vessel is deliberate: vessels of special significance are often given cool names: USS Enterprise from Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars‘ Millennium Falcon, the Endurance from Interstellar and Halo 4‘s UNSC Infinity come to mind. This makes sense; I highly doubt that something like “UNSC Miporin” would strike a sense of awe into viewers.
- The aspect of Aoi’s character that I liked most is how pushy she can be without overstepping: when she attempts to recruit Seiichi back to MusAni, Seiichi is reluctant, fearing yet another failure. In the four years since, he appears to be inactive, and it takes some pressuring to get him to accept his old position as a director. Aoi ends up chasing him out the front door, and he collides with Yutaka, after which Aoi notes that she’s inspired by Masato’s words. Seiichi eventually relents, promising to pick up his work again on the condition that Aoi persuades screenwriter Shimeji Maitake to also join the project.
- It turns out that asking Shimeji to come on board took no effort: like Aoi and the others, he hadn’t been happy with how everyone’s efforts with Time Hippopotamus were so callously discarded, and sees this as a chance to both redeem himself, as well as MusAni’s reputation. With Shimeji on board, Seiichi is happy to report for duty. However, his old tendencies soon begin manifesting, and there are points where he is confined to a caged room in order to force him to focus on storyboarding. Old habits die hard, and there are several points where Seiichi attempts to escape, just like in the days of old.
- Aoi finds Yumi at an art gallery, and while she’s up to her eyeballs in work with her current company, she’s more than happy to lend Aoi a hand; after the Time Hippopotamus failure, she ended up leaving MusAni to pursue other opportunities, but it is clear that she and many of the staff only left for practical reasons. That Aoi is able to gather everyone up with little resistance speaks to their respect for her and the company – while poor working relationships are a common reason in why people move between jobs, that so many of MusAni’s former staff still have fond memories of working here continue to suggest that the Time Hippopotamus incident was a one-off, but catastrophic enough as to put the company on the verge of collapse. That Aoi’s helped to keep things alive after all this time is a reminder of her own skill as a production manager.
- During the events of Shirobako, Rinko had always stood out from the other characters for her distinct preference for Gothic Lolita fashion; it turns out she adopted this style because it reminded her of a character she was inspired by. When Aoi encounters her on a run, Rinko is embarrassed and asks for a moment to change into her usual outfit before speaking with her. Like Yumi, Rinko has no qualms about lending her skills and time towards MusAni’s project. One of the biggest challenges about watching Shirobako was the fact that the series had such a large cast: beyond Aoi and her friends, there are forty characters at MusAni alone.
- Shirobako: The Movie, on the other hand, only has a handful of central characters, although even then, there are enough people such that the film continues on in the style of its predecessor and names the characters, along with their roles, for the viewers’ benefit. I certainly found this useful, and it helps that some of the characters have uniquely identify traits that make them much easier to remember. Seiichi, Kōtarō, Erika, Tarō and Ryōsuke are some of the easiest characters to remember for their distinct personalities, for instance. With the old MusAni team starting to take shape again, work can finally begin on SIVA itself.
- When Shizuka learns that Aoi and MusAni are producing SIVA, she decides to audition for a role in the movie, and here, speaks with her friend and mentor, Mari Tateo, a veteran voice actress who is in the same company as Shizuka. With Mari’s encouragement, Shizuka decides to at least give things a shot and attempt to land a secondary role in SIVA. However, when the directors are interested to have her voice a central character, they find themselves impressed with Shizuka’s range and decide to cast her in the larger role. For Shizuka, the wait is a bit of an excruciating one, since she long desires to do the things that she sets her sights on.
- On Aoi’s request, Misato heads off to try and get Ryōsuke on board – the directors and staff have decided that his exceptional ability to design ships would be valuable for SIVA. Misato finds Ryōsuke at an arcade and delivers a verbal beatdown, wondering what he’s done with his life since he left MusAni. Things escalate into an argument, and Misato is ultimately unsuccessful in convincing him to return. The two are technically rivals, striving to improve their own craft as to keep up with the other, and while Misato’s continued to work as a freelance key animator, it appears that Ryōsuke’s been unable to pick himself up after the Time Hippopotamus incident. That he retains his passion and energy, however, suggests that he’s willing to do what it takes to right himself.
- While Misato was unsuccessful, a conversation with 3D director Yuichiro Shimoyanagi causes Ryōsuke to pause and reconsider – despite the two working in different fields, and Ryōsuke’s distaste for CG, the pair get along very well. Yuichiro is able to convince Ryōsuke to consider returning to his old post at MusAni: realising that there’s a chance to pull himself out of a slump, Ryōsuke ends up accepting. The two visit an aquarium, where Yuichiro is watching how aquatic life moves in water to gain a better sense of how to capture their movements in an animated fashion.
- Ryōsuke’s wife, Mayumi, unconditionally supports him, and even after he quits his job with MusAni, she takes on a cashier job at the local supermarket to help make ends meet, believing in Ryōsuke’s potential and that he will return to his old self. As such, when he brings news of his return to MusAni to her, she decides that a celebration is in order – while rough around the edges, Ryōsuke demonstrates that the love the two share are mutual. He passes her his freshly-opened beer after she chips her nail opening hers. People like Mayumi, who are totally supportive of their partner’s dreams, must be rare, and it shows that the two’s feelings are genuine, since Mayumi has been willing to endure the bad along with celebrating the good.
- One aspect about Shirobako: The Movie that has not been discussed is the soundtrack, which is composed by Shirō Hamaguchi, best known for his work on the Girls und Panzer and Ah! My Goddess soundtracks. Influence from the former is immediately noticeable in Hamaguchi’s music for Shirobako, which has the same spirited marches as Girls und Panzer does, and therefore, is well-suited for the energy that Shirobako strives to convey. While Hamaguchi excels with creating marches, his incidental music for more contemplative or calm moments are just as enjoyable as the more energetic pieces. On the topic of Girls und Panzer, it is not lost on me that Das Finale‘s third installment had released two days earlier. The gap between the second part’s première was eight months and twelve days, and the first part required a much more reasonable three months and sixteen day wait.
- Assuming we use an average to estimate six months and four days, it means that part three will be available to overseas viewers in late September or early October. My original estimates put the theatrical screening of Girls und Panzer: Das Finale‘s third part in December 2020 and using the three month gap between the first part’s première and home release, the BD was supposed to come out this month. While the ongoing global health crisis might’ve pushed production back, one hopes that they take a route that sees the BDs available as soon as possible; readers have my word that I will be covering Das Finale to completion, whatever it takes. Back in Shirobako: The Movie, Shigeru makes an appearance. An animator of legendary skill, he continues to assist MusAni even now, and also runs workshops on the side to pass knowledge on to the community. He invites Aoi and her friends to help out with a class he’s running for children.
- With the whole team back in play, Shirobako: The Movie returns to the style and pacing the TV series presented as MusAni works towards producing an entire movie. The usual impediments show up, with Shimeji struggling to best determine how to bring everything together in SIVA‘s conclusion. Rather than let the problem manifest, Seiichi suggests that a late meeting could still prove valuable, and Aoi sets up a meeting, bringing everyone in to help out. Although the meeting isn’t particularly fruitful, Shimeji will come to work out something for SIVA with help from Midori, whose words help him determine how to best handle SIVA‘s conclusion as the two throw a baseball around and catch some fresh air. The point of this scene was really to give a glimpse into MusAni’s process and show while that the road to SIVA isn’t a smooth one, the combined efforts from the team will allow them to find success, and that sometimes, taking a step back is what one needs.
- Things quickly escalate when director Masashi is accused of being involved in a scandal. MusAni’s team is shocked: having worked with him for years and knowing the sort of person he is, they suspect that something is off. In the immediate aftermath, Aoi remarks that if Masashi is unable to do a live-streaming event, then he might be able to use this time and help the SIVA project out. MusAni is understandably nervous, since in this day and age, such accusations can have devastating consequences on one’s career regardless of whether or not said accusations had any basis in truth. This is one of the worst excesses of social media, and I’ve long held that while people must be held accountable for their decisions, the court of public opinion should have absolutely no say in the matter whatsoever: the public, by and large, are uninformed and lack the qualifications needed to make fair and accurate assessments that should be left to professionals in a court of law.
- Despite improving in the four years since Shirobako‘s original run, Ema’s key frames end up feeling too stiff; despite capturing the artistic style of the originals, they lack fluidity. Ema begins to question her abilities again. I understand that setbacks are very much a part of life, and have been guilty of this mode of thinking myself: there are days where I wonder if I’m even a passable iOS developer who could code a path out of a paper bag. The key here is to focus on the task at hand and not let the setbacks get the better of one. Besides to Aoi, I’ve always had a soft spot for Ema’s character because she illustrates the doubt that exists in all of us, and in spite of this, finds the courage to continue anyways. That she worries about the trade-offs between quality and speed even now shows she remains passionate and willing to improve.
- When Masashi shows up at MusAni’s office one day, it turns out he’s come to seek help from the team, claiming that the scandal he was involved in was a setup. Within a few moments, the truth is out: during a celebration with another company he’s working with, Masashi had his photo taken, but this photo was later altered to remove any context. On Tsubaki and Sara’s suggestion, Masashi releases an official statement to his website surrounding the event, explaining what really happened, and when his website times out, it suggests that people are at least reading things. This bit of drama passes shortly after, allowing Masashi to focus on SIVA: Aoi manages to get in touch with Tarō and Daisuke to help with production.
- Assertive, confident but also kind, Erika Yano played a major role in Shirobako, mentoring Aoi wherever she could. She left MusAni to look after her father, and by Shirobako: The Movie, it appears that her father’s health has stablised, allowing Erika to return full time. Despite the time that’s passed, she’s clearly lost none of her edge: with four months left to launch, she returns to MusAni and her first act is to set Seiichi straight when he experiences a writer’s block. Erika’s unique way of dealing with Seiichi pays off, and his storyboards are finished with time to spare, allowing the team to push on ahead. Erika notes that they need one more unit director, and heads off to speak with Hiroshi Iketani, who does decent work, but more often than not, attempts to shirk his duties.
- The day that Aoi and her friends are to help at an animation workshop arrives, and while their students, young children, initially prove to be quite a handful, even hostile, towards the idea that animation could be fun, things turn around with Misa’s help: she quickly realises that Aoi’s introduction to animation is a little too dry, and with children, a more hands-on approach is what’s needed. She’s able to motivate the children by challenging them to out-do one another in making something cool, and soon has enough frames to make something. Two young girls take an interest in Misa’s scanning of the frames and decide to help out despite being disinterested in things earlier.
- Boredom soon turns to excitement when the children’s drawings are brought to life. With Shizuka’s voice acting skills, the children finally feel connected to their creation, and break out into song, another musical that adds a great deal of life to their experience. The complete turnaround here acts as a visceral indicator of how things can change in a heartbeat so as long as one has the skill and passion for what they do, being a scaled-down reminder for Aoi and her friends as to what can await individuals who make an honest effort to do their best. The engagement level in this class shows that the event was a complete success, and in the aftermath, Shigeru has some words of wisdom for Aoi and her friends.
- At the heart of all artwork is conveying joy, and being able to work with children is a constant reminder of this. Each of Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa gain something from the experience, and in particular, Ema is able to find her footing again. Their conversation is set under a warm sunset, with red and orange hues giving the scene a very welcoming feel. Prevously, I’d felt that Shirobako‘s background artwork felt a little flat and uninspired, especially when compared to what was shown in Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari, which looked on par with anything from KyoAni or Makoto Shinkai in quality. Looking back, I believe the background art is deliberately simplified in Shirobako, since the emphasis is on the characters and their work, but for Shirobako: The Movie, P.A. Works has gone the extra mile in creating rich, vivid backgrounds. The film looks amazing in this regard, and this is one of the things that Shirobako: The Movie does to scale the series up for the silver screen.
- Shigeru’s words to the girls bring to mind my own reasons for volunteering as a science fair judge, during which I get to assess what youth are doing these days for science. Earlier this month, I did virtual judging for both a prestigious private academy and the city-wide science fair. Projects were largely impressive, and with the former, I had a chance to speak with students in a Google Hangouts call to gauge their understanding of their work. Seeing brilliant, young minds with a passion for science is always uplifting, and I am always pleasantly surprised with what youth are capable of with the right encouragement. This is uplifting and reminds me to also continue with my own work with the same level of vigour. For Aoi, Midori, Misa, Shizuka and especially Ema, they are motivated to put in that final effort to make SIVA a success.
- With time passing in the blink of an eye, the whole of MusAni’s staff begin seeing the finish line and express joy that things have come together smoothly. When the last recording session is over, however, Kōtarō receives a message that threatens to send the entire project the way of Time Hippopotamus again. He decides not to share this with everyone for now and deals with it himself, speaking with GPU’s president. When the president reveals that GPU technically owns the rights to Silva, Kōtarō blows at least three fuses. He makes such a commotion that he is escorted off GPU premises and prohibited from returning.
- Once he’s had a chance to cool down, Kōtarō acknowledges that what GPU is claiming is true. Shun notes that this is a delicate situation and that acting rashly will only reflect poorly on MusAni, as well as resulting in legal trouble. Kōtarō says that he has people working on things to see what can be done. Copyright can be a nasty process when not handled properly, preventing intellectual property from being utilised when abused or creating trouble for those whose aims are fair use. The existence of copyright laws, however, is necessary, as it protects those who create, and one of the challenges in this area is ensuring that copyright laws succeed in protecting creators, while at the same time, not being abused to punish people arbitrarily.
- For Aoi, this news is probably the lowest point for her in the whole of Shirobako: The Movie: as snow begins falling under a grey sky, she collapses in the middle of the crosswalk, utterly defeated. In this moment, even more so than when Aoi had began tearing up at Masato’s curry shop, I really felt the feelings that were being conveyed to viewers: a chill stole through me, and I found myself wondering if Aoi needed a hug here to regroup. While cheerful and optimistic for the most part, a series of setbacks had left Aoi vulnerable to her circumstances. However, the night is always darkest before the dawn, and while the SIVA project appears to be in jeopardy, the fact is that Kōtarō’s company does have a legal team with which to look over things.
- Aoi looks a bit like Miho here, again bringing to mind the Girls und Panzer connection that Shirobako has. In the darkest of moments, Mimuji and Roro appear to lift Aoi’s spirits, asking her why she’s a producer at all. Aoi answers that beyond the technical elements, it’s about delivering a finished product. The rationale is that as long as Aoi fulfils her duties completely, she can look back without regrets. She subsequently returns to the office and runs into Yuka, who has a special assignment for her. Since Kōtarō isn’t allowed to return to GPU, Yuka sends Aoi. It turns out that the legal team at Western Entertainment did find something, and Aoi is briefed on this. She meets up with Kaede, who is here to support Western Entertainment on Kōtarō’s behalf.
- Shirobako: The Movie excels in its over-the-top portrayals of what certain actions feels like, and while Kaede and Aoi are simply walking through the front doors of GPU’s offices, it does feel like they’re squaring off against an entire army, ninjutsu-style. The two don kimono and set off with fire in their hearts, determined to sort things out with GPU. While the president of GPU is uncooperative and cites the contract as being absolute, Aoi and Kaede have identified a clause that forces GPU to relinquish their rights to the project owing to the fact their other studio completely failed to deliver anything as agreed upon.
- This was a bold moment, even for Aoi: I imagine that the Aoi of four years earlier would’ve been willing to go to such lengths for her work, and while perhaps a little dramatic, her undressing to reveal a tattoo (likely a temporary one) of a SIVA character serves to indicate the lengths Aoi will go to ensure that her projects are finished to a satisfactory extent, whatever it takes. It typifies Shirobako‘s ability for conveying the gravity of a situation through theatrics, and Shirobako: The Movie follows in its predecessor’s footsteps. Thanks to the clause within the original document, and in conjunction with the fact that GPU’s president never signed the contract, there is enough here now for Western Entertainment and MusAni to take GPU to court. I imagine that GPU’s president subsequently stands down, lest he face a costly legal battle that he is likely to lose.
- With the dubbing now complete, SIVA appears ready for release. Some of the staff head back to the MusAni offices to celebrate, or otherwise begin making their way home. Having been so enraptured by the work, everyone’s ignored the catered lunch that was provided, and Seiichi remarks that the meal was a bit of a special one, consisting of grilled eel on rice. Eel is a Hamamatsu specialty, and as seen in Yuru Camp△, can be quite pricey. In the aftermath of the first screening, a melancholy sets in: while the team had doubtlessly achieved an impressive feat, picking up and finishing a movie in ten months where it normally takes two years, even sorting out a copyright claim issue, things don’t quite feel as exciting they when MusAni conquered their deadlines in the TV series: something still feels like it’s missing.
- After Aoi learns that Seiichi was feeling unhappy about the abruptness of SIVA‘s ending, she pressures him into following his heart so he has no regrets. When she brings up the matter with the other staff on the project, they agree about how SIVA‘s ending feels rushed, and moreover, consent to change it. The end result is a film that Seiichi is proud of, and this brings Shirobako: The Movie to a close, with Aoi and her friends preparing to experience SIVA anew in the theatre. The payoff in Shirobako: The Movie is immense, and Aoi has certainly earned her ending, which came about as a consequence of hard work and perseverance. However, not everyone thinks this way: an old nemesis from Anime News Network asserted that “realism that this series had when depicting the grueling workflow of anime production gets thrown out the window in favor of pursuing a fairy tale ending” on the grounds that “it’s [not] satisfying for the characters to achieve their goals so easily”.
- This is a disingenuous argument, to say the least: Anime News Network’s reviewer evidently missed the fact that Shirobako: The Movie is set four years after the original series, and in this four years, the characters have only had time to hone their craft further. Aoi is more than capable of running the show now than she was in Shirobako, and those who gather to work on SIVA, were already skilled in their areas. Coupled with the fact that everyone has an idea of how their teammates work, they’re able to work more efficiently together, as they had during Time Hippopotamus‘ production. Moreover, assets left over from Time Hippopotamus were reused, further cutting down production time. From a logical standpoint, there is nothing remotely “fairy tale” about the ending: the sum of hard work and skill is what allows MusAni to make its deadline. It is a recurring trend that Anime News Network’s writers struggle with understanding narrative choices in anime, especially where hard work and the corresponding payoffs are concerned: while this may seem like a novel concept for Anime News Network, the reality is that hardworking, skilled and competent people have pulled off what appears to be miracles before. The Mars rover Perseverance is one example of such a feat.
- To suggest the happy ending was undeserved would be akin to saying that Frodo should have failed in his quest at Mount Doom, and that forces should not have resulted in Gollum plummeting into the lava below. Had this happened, J.R.R. Tolkien would’ve undermined the themes he’d striven to convey in The Lord of The Rings. Tolkien later stated that Ilúvatar himself intervened, causing Gollum to trip: Frodo had exceeded all expectations and took the Ring thus far. After such a journey, Frodo was completely spent, so another power took over to finish things. Frodo had certainly deserved all of the honour because he’d completely given himself to the task, and to deprive him now would simply be unfair. Similarly, in Shirobako: The Movie, foisting a “realistic” ending on viewers would undermine the film’s themes entirely and absolutely defeat the purpose of having a film: in both The Lord of The Rings and Shirobako: The Movie, the individual characters took things as far as they could together and overcome numerous obstacles, which made the ending satisfying.
- To put things in perspective, four years ago, I struggled to get push notifications working, put a working credit card checkout system together using the Stripe SDK and hadn’t any idea how Autolayout worked. Four years is a lot of time to improve, and at present, I’m quite comfortable with putting an entire iOS app together: push notifications, checkout and autolayout are old friends now. This is why I not only accept, but expect, MusAni to succeed in their endeavours. We are dealing with professionals with both drive and pride, so it only makes sense for them to come together and work hard for their success. Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa and Shizuka have certainly earned their chance to enjoy SIVA with their signature doughnuts in hand.
- Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa close the film a lot happier than they did entering, and I was all smiles throughout this entire movie. It speaks volumes to how well emotions are conveyed: when Aoi began tearing up in frustration or smiling in success, I felt those emotions as clear as day. Any movie that can hit those notes right and keep me engaged to this level has definitely done a good job. This is why I have no qualms giving Shirobako: The Movie an A+ and counting it a masterpiece: the movie has taken everything from the TV series and scaled it up successfully for the film, with the end result being something that Shirobako fans will definitely enjoy, and something that folks who’ve never seen before will still find entertaining. With this in mind, I do not recommend this film to the latter: having that additional context and background will greatly augment one’s experience of Shirobako: The Movie.
- To visually indicate Aoi’s mindset at the film’s end, when she steps out into the night this time around, the Seven Lucky Gods‘ pirate ship soar into the skies, signifying that Aoi’s lifted herself out of her slump and is ready to take on new challenges. When it comes to anime movies, my primary expectation going in is to see if the film is able to scale up the things that the series did well and apply it to the silver screen: I cut slack for anime movies of a TV series because they already have an established premise and setting, so for things like K-On! The Movie, Girls und Panzer: Der Film and High School Fleet: The Movie, I enter knowing that aspects of the TV series will be revisited, and this never impacts my assessment of a work.
- Shirobako: The Movie has a somewhat open ending: in the aftermath of their success, Aoi prepares to lead her team on The Third Girls’ Aerial Squad‘s third season, suggesting that success from SIVA had allowed MusAni to retain some staff and take on larger projects again. No one knows how the future will turn out for Aoi and MusAni, but the accumulated experience means that Aoi is better prepared to deal with the future. If Shirobako ends here, it will have been a very decisive and satisfying conclusion to the series. However, the ending doesn’t shut out the possibility of Shirobako getting another continuation; in the event of such a continuation, I’d be more than happy to give that a go.
P.A. Works is not known for doing sequels, so to have them revisit and continue Shirobako was a bit of a surprise. The finished product is as much of a film version of the TV series as it is a chance for P.A. Works to strut their stuff; the highlights in this movie are in the technical elements, allowing P.A. works to really bring thoughts and emotions to life through animation. If Shirobako: The Movie had been intended to bring some of that joy to us viewers, the film has definitely succeeded in this area. Altogether, Shirobako: The Movie was a superbly enjoyable watch from both a story and technical piece, making use of sight and sound to really immerse viewers in this movie about creating a movie. The messages of effort and persistence in the pursuit of one’s dreams remain as relevant now as they did six years earlier, and seeing this aspect of Shirobako: The Movie was a reminder of my own career choice: the reason why I’m in iOS is simply because I believe that whatever skills I possess should be put to use in a way to benefit people, and since apps are ubiquitous, it means that I can lend my skill set towards making someone’s day a little easier, helping them to get what they came for with a given app. When Shirobako ran in 2014 and 2015, I’d not yet decided on my career choice. By now, having had almost five full years of iOS Development in Swift and CocoaTouch under my belt, returning to see where Aoi, Ema, Midori, Shizuka and Misa are now, and their remarks about their own career advancement, allowed me to appreciate Shirobako from a new perspective. The questions that they each face in their careers, namely, what they enjoy about it and why they each wish to continue, is a question I find that viewers with careers will find particularly worthwhile to consider. Shirobako shows that Aoi enjoys her line of work because producing anime and delivering a high-quality products to thousands of viewers, and being able to bring the pictures in someone’s mind’s eye to life is immensely rewarding. Shirobako provides a rock-solid reason for why Aoi is able to put on a smile every morning and go to work, and it does much to keep her taking the next step forwards even when that next step isn’t clear. Exiting Shirobako: The Movie, the future of MusAni is uncertain, but with a new project to take on, one hopes that hard work here could help the company to build its reputation back up and allow Aoi to continue pursuing her dream of one day bringing anime to life together with her best friends.