Revisiting Dropped Anime 1: Shirobako

Erika, Aoi, Jun and Ema
Where I last left off on Shirobako. Exodus was leaving the screens forever.

It’s time for a new feature on this blog, and I have decided that I will go back periodically and revisit anime that I have dropped. I have no idea if there’s any interest in all of this, but I figure what the hell, I need to write something, correct? The inaugural entry for this feature is Shirobako.

How it was Selected

This idea started around a pair of Twitter polls to winnow the field down from 4. After Hibike! Euphonium and Kill La Kill were trounced in the opening poll, but no series managed over 50%, that meant a runoff. Ultimately Shirobako easily beat Girls und Panzer to make it to this post. After a few weeks of deciding on what would pair best with this watch I finally got around to watching this. Admittedly, the weird donut flavored beers would make an interesting story along with consuming maple bacon donuts while watching a couple episodes, but that’s not what this post is for after all.

Why Was It Dropped

Shirobako was initially dropped after 13 episodes in its 2 cour run right around the turn of the year in 2015. I think at the time I wasn’t particularly interested in where the story was going and thought it would go quietly. Instead it took off in this niche fandom where it can hardly be ignored in the parts of internet conversation I find myself involved in. Did it manage to live up to the hype on revisiting it 18 months later?

What I Thought

Shizuka, Ema, Aoi, Misa and Midori with the ship from their high school project
Real, or Delusion. Rather Completely Ignored.

First of all, anyone hoping this would be a series about the struggles of making an anime would be disappointed. I think that’s what I was hoping for all along. Instead, it felt like a fairly standard plot checklist for a shonen or sports anime that lasted multiple seasons was grafted onto plots related to creating anime.

Let’s start by looking at the characters. The prospective voice actress Sakaki Shizuka is supposed to be the conduit for this. She has to work as a waitress and other odd jobs between auditions hoping for the big break while those who were new to the industry rocket to stardom. Toudou Misa has a stable job at the beginning but is intellectually stifled working in 3D animation for a proper industrial company. Yasuhara Ema was working as a key animator which is near the bottom of the totem pole financially so she needs to work in order to eat. These are the characters that are most easy to relate to in my opinion. The other 2 characters of the main quintet are Imai Midori and chief protagonist Miyamori Aoi. The former feels like an afterthought, while the latter has problems which I will come to later. Needless to say, they have their own struggles with work, but they don’t feel like an important part of them is dying inside if they fail.

Aoi with Mimuji and Roro
And I thought my work made me delusional

The character development for each of these characters is easily diagrammed like below:

Aoi

  • Part 1
    • Stresses Out
    • Part of successful effort to finish Exodus!
  • Part 2
    • Stresses Out to the Point of Delusion
    • Learns How to Manage Underlings

Midori

  • Part 1
    • Goes to school
    • Does little of consequence
  • Part 2
    • Apprentices Under Writer at Musani
    • Still does little of consequence

Ema

  • Part 1
    • Learns how to work properly while paying bills
    • Develops relationships with colleagues
  • Part 2
    • Becomes willing to take on interesting projects
    • Clearly becomes model employee by training new key animators

Misa

  • Part 1
    • Can make amazing CG Tires
    • That’s all she does at work, literally
  • Part 2
    • Gets new job
    • Finds fulfillment from working on new anime

Shizuka

  • Part 1
    • Doesn’t Get Any Parts
    • Friends Feel Sorry For Her
  • Part 2
    • The Dream Is Nearly Dead When It Is So Close
    • Fluke Lucky Break

Basically when it comes to characters in this show Ema is the best girl. It might be pointed out that the minor characters might be where this show shines. In production assistant Yano Erika and key animator Segawa Misato I felt there were fully fleshed out characters that were comforting and able to transition between multiple roles. As for everyone else, it felt like they fell into one of two buckets. The first were characters that were clearly modeled after real life individuals in the anime industry. I’m not that much of an insider, so I’m not going to pass judgement on how well these characters portrayed the originals.

Yano Erika
I hated her until I realized she was the most level-headed person in the show.

The rest of the cast felt like single individual ideas. Director Kinoshita Seiichi is a nervous wreck and can be seen as a reason for stress put on the rest of the cast since the ideas originate from him. The duo of Hiraoka Daisuke and Takanashi Tarou on the production desk are there to illustrate the different forms incompetence can take. The former’s experience straight out of school leading him to directly half-assing his way through life was a little ridiculous if you ask me. Tarou is just a way to make viewers sympathize about Aoi to be honest.

As far as the production of Shirobako is concerned, it’s something that series director Mizushima Tsutomu definitely poured himself into. I think he generally approaches anime as a form of entertainment first while allowing each show he puts his fingerprints on to be his own. Witch Craft Works and Prison School are among my favorites of his works in this regard, although it can be clearly seen in works like Another and The Legend of Koizumi. I think with this, he set out to make a work that was just a fun look at how anime is constructed by making an anime in an anime setting with anime characters and it becomes more like that the further in the series goes. It’s not really meant to be deconstructed, but enjoyed. There’s nothing wrong with this approach at all.

The cast of Andes Chucky
This is really just an anime with little meaning that can be extracted. -Andes Chucky

Admittedly, this makes one of the things I would have liked to have seen addressed sort of irrelevant. Aoi has a stuffed doll and a teddy bear, named Mimuji and Roro respectively, that come to life in many scenes. At times they are just there to serve as a way of explaining some industry terminology, but at other times they seem to be more of a delusion to Aoi as she talks to herself. I think there were many delusional moments throughout such as the quintet enjoying a meal on a nice night then seeing the characters in the anime they made in high school out the window and collectively acknowledging them. It’s moments like those that have me in a sort of internal conflict. Is it something that can be analyzed further at a character level or is it Mizushima just metaphorically saying “this is just an anime about anime”?

I guess what this comes down to is that I really wanted an entirely different show that what was delivered here. I think I wanted a series that at least brought the prospect of career failure into the equation, but that might have been far too hard to finance into anything more than a net anime let alone a 24 episode TV series. It would be pretty hard for people who have devoted their lives to making something to question the way things are done. The closest it got was the parody voice actress casting decisions which had political guy, music guy and physical appearance guy all fighting losing arguments over their choices. Actually what we got is a show that was designed to cater to a large audience with bits that would interest hardcore anime fans along with those who wouldn’t go out of their way to watch anything that was not acted by real people in front of a camera.

So in conclusion, while Shirobako did not particularly appeal to me because it wasn’t the series I expected, the fact is that it is the type of series that fans have been dying for. It’s an anime series that seeks mass appeal while not throwing away the aspects that make it representative of anime. Therefore, I’m glad that it was made and fans of the series should be too.

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