Shirobako, Part One – Review

Aw hell yeah I’m reviewing Shirobako. I’ve talked about Shirobako repeatedly and at length, but that’s no reason not to spend more time repping the best show of 2015. Shirobako remains just as compelling on my third watch, and it’s actually even more satisfying to see the initial circumstances and relationships of the characters before they evolve over time. Shirobako is funny and propulsive and endearing and heartbreaking, a show that’s surprisingly moving for how easy it is to watch. Considering what huge successes both Shirobako and Girls und Panzer turned out to be, I really hope Mizushima has many more originals coming down the line.

You can check out my full review over at ANN, or the notes for the five episodes I watched before switching to full marathon mode below!


Episode 1

The characters stressing about following through on their high-school dreams… and then there they are, living out their dreams, which aren’t just dreams, but instead just jobs

“Donuts are all season, all mighty, all okay!”

Stressing about whether they’ll get the work done in time, but also reveling in the work they’ve done so far. A preview of everything to come

And a direct cut from their shiny high school dreams to Aoi in her car, listening to radio personalities talking about how the anime bubble will burst

“The good times last but a moment…”

The “G.I. Staff” guy, Production IG

Ahaha, Aoi singing along with theme song as they drift around curves. God this show is good

They meet Segawa, the animation director for the fourth episode

Aoi gets back and she’s the only one there. A brief wondering if everyone else has gone home, but then of course, they’re all in the meeting room to watch the premier

Checking in with the online rankings. Infinite little real-life details that bring the series to life, both in terms of the dramatic moments and the “worldbuilding”

Taro’s already fucked something up

The kind of the show where lines get devoted to managing the expired items in the fridge

Taro didn’t flag an issue with the key animation for the third episode

The show throws you into the full studio, but everyone is given immediate personalities and motivations, so it all feels grounded very well

Segawa “draws so logically. It lacks flair”

They translate Myamori as “Meow-mori,” which is a decision

Aoi gets scolded elsewhere for letting the director of animation for episode four be taken off her project to help with episode three. It’s always a set of long compromises

“With a TV series, if you mess up one episode, the rest follow with it like a domino effect”

Aoi checking her care package from home, seeing she’s out of her favorite food, and just sitting there. The life experience

“I’d like to stay to watch the dubbing, but episode four is waiting” Working too hard to enjoy your work

And Segawa has collapsed

Episode 2

“I still remember the feeling of excitement that made my heart dance as a child. No doubts or insecurities, with overflowing hope… I felt like I could be anything I wanted to be.” These OP lyrics, jeez

“Treasure that one scene, I want to commit it to memory”

The flashback to Chucky in the snow as Aoi sees Segawa. We frame our world in terms of the media we loved

“It’ll be fine, I’ll handle this somehow.”

The animation is limited, but the character expressions are wonderful

The backgrounds are also fairly flat, but that’s expected for such a grounded show – they’re still full of great details that bring the studio to life, and the show is also propped up by little creative visual digressions all over the place

Plus, perhaps most importantly, the show’s composition is absolutely bulletproof – in spite of starring dozens of characters, the drama in each episode is wholly coherent and engaging, things flow very well, and everyone seems like an individual. It is a show that is remarkably easy to just sit down and enjoy – one of those shows you could just watch through for hours. A show that has bite, heart, brains, and a high entertainment factor – what more could you ask for?

Trying to keep in touch. Getting together once a month with friends

We see the old animator leave the studio. Sometimes it’s the job itself that saves these people

One of the big appeals of the show is how many fun details of the industry it delves into. The more you’re invested, the more you get out of it

An offhand line about cotton candy demonstrates the process of revising performances

“I don’t think Arupin crying is supposed to be this kind of cute”

“I think she’ll be more appealing to girls than guys”

The director’s feelings on the character evolving as he watches the eighth episode, prompting a redraw of the scene’s key animation

The animation director is understandably upset

And so they have an emergency meeting to discuss who the characters actually are

Aoi starts off as far too willing to go along with what other members of the production want, which does lead to some great anime moments, but threatens the production itself

The show has a great sense of humor. Making this character argument about the director’s divorce

They reunite over talking about Arupin’s softer side

“Over-symbolic facial expressions get boring, no matter how pretty they are!”

This ridiculous fantasy sequence. and the great melodramatic music

There’s just the right amount of weirdness to this cast

Episode 3

And the key animator sets to work, creating a better Arupin face

Ema sneaks a look at her work. Silly face as she knocks over the trash

The director having literal nightmares about recap episodes

Aoi makes laying out all the steps of the process fun

Lots of great faces

Aoi being taught to keep whipping her coworkers into shape by Yano

And also learning to manage her stress and not think about everything at once

Aoi losing her head early on

The show just keeps storming forward, but also makes a set of clear narrative hurdles to give the viewer focus. It’s a wonder of composition

And the scene transitions are also incredibly smooth

Everyone pushing each other forward

“What a weird job. What weird people!”

“Who taught you to be so shrewd?!?” This cast is so damn likable

More scenes largely carried by the fantastic pacing of the scene transitions. And Aoi faces, of course

That constant tense reaction – whenever anyone calls your name, it’s always bad news

“When you do your job, episode 4 will be done”

Poor Honda

And the office manager takes care of it in minutes. They’re all in it together!

Yano spells it out – “anime isn’t something you make singlehandedly”

A good mix of music, even if it’s simple. Electronic and piano tracks

Oh man, the Arupin cut is so good. A great reward for the trial

Episode 4

Zuka practicing on the train

The stress of her first production, losing her composure. Lots of shots designed to emphasize her panic, stick us in her head. It all rushes past

“Are you eating right?” as she microwaves her dinner

The group gets together and gets drunk

The outdoor shots allow the backgrounds to stretch a bit, though they’re still pretty restrained. But you see something of the style in shows like Eccentric Family

“It’s fun to draw, but there are all sorts of complications when it’s a job”

“To be stressing about work means you’re actually working”

Aw, asking Zuka about her work, trying to prep her up

Aoi doesn’t know what she wants

The little detail of Ema buying lunch at half-price

Aoi drunkenly sings the Andes Chucky theme as she walks home

Taro gets the director of animation for episode 8 to quit, because he’s Taro

Episode 5

And Honda traps the director in the storage cage

Taro hides his massive problems to “keep Honda from worrying”

Taro managed to create a show-demolishing argument out of nothing

The argument over 2D versus 3D

“The age of hand-drawn special effects is over”

“I feel like a criminal.” “In a way, you are”

The animation director heads home to see his wife there, who reminds him they can’t really afford to go out for coffee

The director talking about his big dreams from eleven years ago

The 2D animation head brings one of his students to meet “Kitano,” this world’s version of Itano. But even he is working in 3D now

“I wonder what the future holds for anime?”

And thinking on that makes Aoi consider her own future

“Both Endo and I have to make a living off our artwork for the next 30 years”

And Endo really does take a look at the CG effects

Now episode 9 is done in hand-drawn animation

2 thoughts on “Shirobako, Part One – Review

  1. “Best show of 2015” is certainly a stretch, unless you’re really into the idea of watching two cours of an anime studio patting itself on the back for making lame anime. I have to admit that I was disappointed in how shallow the show was. They really glossed over the darker side of the industry, so the whole thing almost felt like toothless marketing propaganda to me.

  2. While I know it wasn’t ‘your kind of thing,’ I’d say Prison School was also a huge success. I feel like I can look forward to any show with Mizushima at the helm, original or adaptation, at this point.

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