Shirobako – Fantasy and Reality

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One show is done, but the other one soldiers on…

Given that we’ve reached the end of both the cour and and the series within a series, “Exodus” – and that early signs point to the parent show being a sleeper commercial hit – it seemed like a good time to briefly check-in with Shirobako since I’ve been watching it for the entire season. 

First things first – this is a good show.  Not a great one by any stretch, but pretty good – solidly entertaining most of the time, and reasonably well-produced.  But more to the point, it’s an interesting one for what it says about the anime industry and for how it’s being received. My early take on Shirobako was that it was something like a WUG for the anime industry.  And here at the end of the cour, I think that turns out to be pretty accurate.

Certainly, Shirobako is better.  But in terms of form and function, I think the analogy is pretty close. At heart, I think, Shirobako is basically a wish-fulfilment story about a modern anime industry where right and wrong and idealism still have relevance.  Where CGI and traditional animators sing “Kumbayah” over shared favorites.  Where legendary directors kindly give advice to newbie PAs, and washed-up old artists left behind by moefication end up saving the day and being revered. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that in itself.  I wonder, though, if people aren’t mistaking what sort of show this is.

There are really two separate questions at play here – how Shirobako wanted to be perceived, and how it is being perceived.  And if viewers believe the sanitized picture it paints of the industry is in any way realistic, is it doing a disservice – whether it intends to or not? Yes, that was a question I asked about WUG as well.  And I think it’s the most interesting aspect in considering Shirobako. Maybe this show should be taken as a fantasy (which it basically is).  Maybe it can even be seen as a little subversive, agitating for a better industry than the one we have.  But if it’s seen as quasi-realistic, might it not be doing more harm than good?  Surely, anything that helps people continue to be blind to the huge problems threatening anime can’t be good – whether that’s its intention or not.

This season has seen several pretty decent shows that I haven’t blogged regularly – in addition to this one, GBF Try and Tribe Cool Crew spring to mind (and Ronja is finally at the good part of the story now).  It’s just possible I may pick one of them up next season, as bad as it looks – and while Shirobako isn’t the best series of that group in my view, it’s probably the one that most lends itself to discussion.  We’ll see – stay tuned.



  1. t

    I can see where you're coming from but in my opinion complaining about idealistic representation of anime industry in Shirobako is the same as complaining about idealistic representation of school life in seasonal slice of life. Or idealistic representation of relationships in romance. It's not a documentary nor is it trying to pass off as such.

    Besides, THERE IS a lot of idealism and passion involved in anime industry. Otherwise we wouldn't be getting shows like Mushishi, Space Dandy, Ping Pong and many others that weren't produced with profits in mind.

  2. I'll nitpick a bit here – I think all of those shows were produced with profit in mind. Mushishi's first season sold very well, and the Ping Pong mangaka's prior work was very popular. Space Dandy is unusual, but rather than not being produced to make money, I think it was an attempt to make money in a different way. It was brave and innovative more than idealistic.

  3. o

    I actually asked someone who works in the industry (basically doing what Miyamori does) and he said that Shirobako is more or less faithful to how things really work in the industry, albeit shown in a more positive light. I don't really have a problem with that and I agree with true-album on that the show isn't a documentary of real anime production and it shouldn't have to be one either. I do think there is some definite criticism by Mizushima on the state of the industry, what with rushed schedules and overworked animators being a major point in the show, even if he does tend to push a more optimistic view point.

    From what I can tell, rather than believing the picture that Shirobako presents of anime production (which is pretty much all accurate) I've noticed some people actually dismissing it because its "just an anime about making anime" and therefore can't be representative of the real thing, preferring to believe their own preconceptions (such as money being the be all and end all to how polished a show looks, when Shirobako has basically showed that its much more to do with scheduling, time and talent and hasn't even mentioned budget as a problem).

    Honestly, its not the show's fault that people are blind to the problems of animation production, rather its the audience's inability to abandon whatever preconceptions they have and actually believe the issues the show presents. Sure, it might help if the show was a bit more blunt and obvious about it and didn't do the small amount of sugar coating it does, but I think the root of the problem lies with the audience. People like to believe what they've always believed (even if that belief in the first place has little if anything to back it up) and when the facts are laid out they choose to look away and ignore them. The thing about budget I mentioned earlier really shows this.

    That's not to say there aren't people who are actually paying attention and realizing that animation production isn't whatever pretty picture they had in their head before, but its a small minority at best I'd think. Again, Mizushima could be more blunt and make this a really depressing and bleak show but honestly I'm not sure that would help too much either (and its probably not what he wanted to do anyway). Plus, its not like every studio in the industry is experiencing these issues to the same extent, and P.A. works is one of the more humane studios in the business in not working their animators to death and having reasonable schedules (not doing more than a show a season is probably why their shows are almost always at least decent looking).

  4. G

    From my brief exposition to comments from time to time, I don't think there's much danger of people confusing the setting for the story, not more than in any other slice of life show at least. You may catch glimpses of the real thing from these settings, but the stories built on top of them are fantasy, no one would dispute that. Heck, even fantasy stories aren't very "realistic" with regards to their settings, since the main character usually holds some abnormal power and is able to circumvent situations that most people in this world would not be able to.

    Of course, there are those who genuinely believe what the media shows without questioning, otherwise we wouldn't have coined terms such as weeaboo, but it's a minority as far as I can tell.

  5. A

    Pretty sad to see that this is the last blog entry talking about Shirobako. This is a terrific anime with really, REALLY impressive production values, a very endearing cast and a subject which by definition can't let us anime fan indifferent.
    Sure it's not perfect (as usual in a moe show, the girls are all nice and all the idiots are males, though at least not all males are idiots ; also the antics in the last two episodes were a bit much, and the childish director was annoying), but it's extremely interesting when it shows the industry inner working, and it has this special P.A. Works ability to make characters feel totally natural and real. Aoi singing while driving her car, Mirodi making up conversations while in the train, Midori again making an hilarious puntest with Maitake, all these moments seem like ripped out straight from some real person in a real place, and it adds a lot to the atmosphere of the show.

    I find your criticism rather unfair, especially considering you praise Bakuman on aspects which are far better in Shirobako, and you frown at aspects in Shirobako which are actually worse in Bakuman. Feels like a pretty big double-standard here.
    (well granted Bakuman wasn't moe, but it was sexist instead, which kind of cancel out ; and at least Shirobako hadn't the retarded romance).

    Shirobako is basically a love letter from people doing anime about their work, with the affectionate satire thrown in because they love it but aren't blind. I don't really see how there is any doubt at how it wanted to be perceived.

    Anyway, it's for me one of the very best show of the year, and I'm a bit miffed to see it so underblogged, especially considering far inferior shows (which have neither its production value, nor its effortlessly natural characters, nor its informative subject, nor a ton of its qualities) enjoy much more exposition 🙁

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