Shirobako: A White Box of Expectations

[Cthuko] Shirobako - 02 [720p H264 AAC][A7A70786].mkv_snapshot_21.51_[2014.11.01_20.01.08]I really wasn’t sure what I expected when I picked up Shirobako. When you have names like P.A. Works attached to a name like Mizushima Tsutomu (Girls und Panzer, Another, Squid Girl), it’s really difficult to predict what kind of show it would end up being. Sure, you hear stuff like “Mizushima has a really dim view of the anime industry”, or how Glasslip was a total disaster for P.A. Works, but overall it’s hard to gauge exactly what to expect for an original work.

Nine episodes in, and I’m really glad I picked up this show. Shirobako has been nothing short of amazing.

Shirobako, of course, has that initial appeal of being about the animation industry. Coming from P.A. Works, you’d expect it to be some kind of high school, coming-of-age drama about a club of girls making anime. And for the first 3 minutes of the show, that might have been the case – it starts with five girls in a club room working on their first animation film. To anyone who hasn’t heard anything about the staff of this show, they would probably be surprised at the two-year time skip to when protagonist Miyamori Aoi is working at Musashino Animation. They would probably be overwhelmed at the number of named characters working as stuff at the animation studio; maybe they’d even give up because “this isn’t the ‘cute girls making cute anime’ show I was promised!”

My condolences to the people who expected another coming-of-age drama from P.A. Works.

The first thing that impressed me about Shirobako was its storytelling. The amount of characters thrown at the viewer in the first half was overwhelming – a lot of names and titles show up without much of an explanation about what they even do. The second half unveils the characters’ jobs and relationships without needing a 15-minute infodump: the PAs are responsible for contacting the animators and making sure that they have cuts to submit, and when an animator doesn’t submit a cut on time, it’s the PA’s job to find a new animator to do the old one’s job so that the episode doesn’t get delayed. And Shirobako explains all that without overwhelming the viewer with technical terms.

Shirobako‘s excellent storytelling makes it a good show to learn about the anime industry, but I can just ask people on Twitter about how the anime industry works instead of waiting every week to know more about it. Shirobako is a good show because the staff knows how to weave their experiences into stories that everyone who’s experienced the stress of deadlines, blocks in creativity, and the general stress of the working environment. Shirobako is great because it’s so real.

[Cthuko] Shirobako - 08 [720p H264 AAC][70C74AFA].mkv_snapshot_11.22_[2014.12.06_23.00.14]Sometimes, I think Shirobako is too real. Episode 7 is perhaps the best example of this, with the way Ema gets cornered by deadlines for her cuts. Because of her inexperience and diligence, she corners herself into trying to improve, but can’t help thinking that her work will never match up to those of her seniors. Her job was terrible because she rushed her work, but she won’t get fast enough if she doesn’t learn how to work quickly. For anyone who’s been cornered by deadlines before, it’s an all-too-familiar scene. This is how pros work. You either get there quickly or get crushed by the pressure.

The way Shirobako handles its themes reminds me heavily of Kaleido Star, one of my favorite shows. Both shows give a sense of jaded optimism: even if the professional world tries to crush you with pressure, you still have to go for it because you love what you’re doing, and you’re doing this to survive. I do have a soft spot for these kinds of shows – the kind of show that tells you that you can keep going even if it feels like the entire world has something against you. But so far, Shirobako has handled its message gracefully, and now I can’t help but expect that it’ll hold the same amount of grace for the rest of its two-cours run.

I really wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I picked up Shirobako, but now I don’t regret watching a single second of it. This show started out with characters whose names I could barely remember, but now I’m looking forward to the kind of troubles they’ll face, and the realizations that they’ll make to overcome them. Shirobako has been nothing short of impressive, and I look forward to when the characters finally deliver the eponymous white box of their show’s final episode.

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