SHIROBAKO is an anime produced by P.A. Works and directed by Tsutomu Mizushima. The series aired on Japanese television from October 9, 2014-March 26, 2015. As of this writing, Sentai Filmworks holds the North American distribution license for SHIROBAKO.
SHIROBAKO starts out with five friends in a high school animation club producing an animation to screen at their school cultural fair. Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa, and Midori swear that they’ll eventually reunite in Tokyo and make another anime together. The story then jumps ahead in time two-and-a-half years, where Aoi is working as a production assistant at Musashino Animation, a company that’s in the process of working on an anime titled, Exodus. Ema is also at Musashino Animation; she’s just getting her foot in the door as an animator. Shizuka is a newbie voice actress at Akaoni Production, Misa is working at a computer graphics studio, and Midori is a university student.
The first half of the series places a strong focus on Aoi and Ema as they’re just starting out in the industry, and we get to see all the issues that go on behind the scenes during the production of an anime. Shizuka is also seen trying to break into anime voice acting, but she doesn’t have confidence and gets nervous at her auditions. Misa is dissatisfied with her job, because she’s always given the same thing to do over and over, and she has no interest in what the company is giving her.
After completing Exodus in the first half of the series, Musashino Animation begins working on an anime adaptation of the Third Aerial Girls Squad manga during the second half of the series. Aoi finds herself being promoted from production assistant to production desk, so she learns a new job and how to handle all the stress that comes with it. It doesn’t help that Aoi realizes that she isn’t quite sure what her dream is even though her friends all have goals and aspirations. Ema is given more responsibility in her work, Midori is brought in to help with research for Third Aerial Girls Squad, and Misa works for a new computer graphics company that’s brought in to help with the anime. Shizuka has gained more confidence in her voice acting, but she’s still having a hard time getting her foot in the door.
When I first heard about SHIROBAKO prior to the start of the Fall 2014 season, the idea of an anime about producing anime appealed to me. But I admit that the “cute” designs for the protagonists had me a little worried that the series would end up being too cutesy. I decided to give SHIROBAKO a chance, and I’m glad that I did.
During the early episodes, I saw so much potential and promise in the story. I found myself hoping that the potential I saw would continue, and I can say with a lot of certainty that the series was continually strong for its 24-episode run. The main characters were well developed and were continually relatable throughout the series.
One of the most memorable moments came near the end of Episode 23 when Aoi realizes that she and her friends have gotten one step closer to achieving the goal they set for themselves back in high school. I nearly shed a tear during that scene. Aoi’s speech at the wrap party for Third Aerial Girls Squad also ranks high as a memorable scene.
My least favorite aspect of SHIROBAKO was a character named Ai Kunogi who was so shy that she had a hard time saying anything. While I understand wanting to add a shy character to the series, I think the way Ai was portrayed was really “over the top” to the point that I found it annoying rather than cute. For a while, a new production assistant named Hiroaka ticked me off with his attitude, but after learning some backstory for him, I understood why he acted that way. Right at the end, he started becoming a more enjoyable character.
After watching all the series, I can say that I’m very happy with how SHIROBAKO concluded. While it would be nice to see more episodes of this series, the story ended on a high note and leaves the door wide open for fanfiction writers to come up with their own stories for how Aoi and the others continue following their dream.