This column features spoilers for the entirety of SHIROBAKO. Don’t read until you’ve seen the whole series! Or you can if you’re just dangerous.
Going into last October, I had no clue that SHIROBAKO would become one of my favorite shows of the past two seasons, and possibly, one of my favorite shows ever. It goes beyond typical clichés, tropes, ideas, and characterizations. I believe in the last Seasonal Anime Checkup podcast, I equated SHIROBAKO to a sitcom like The Office or Parks and Recreation where it’s more about characters in a working environment. This makes SHIROBAKO more appealing to older viewers like myself, but can easily be seen by anyone and understood of age, gender, race, etc.
The first episode makes the viewer think that this is going to be a typical high school anime where you follow the lives of the five main characters. You see Aoi, Ema, Midori, Misa, and Shizuka go through the trials and tribulations of making their own anime with zero experience. They screen the anime they make during their cultural festival, and this ends with them making a promise to remake this anime later on when they are out of high school. Fast forward two and a half years later, and all of the girls have been split apart and finding their own mark in their lives.
From this moment onwards you see that this isn’t a typical anime. It’s not a group of high school kids coming together to save the world or whatever high school kids do. It’s not something like K-ON where it’s a group of girls and their quirky adventures in high school. You get real world issues, interpersonal relationships in the workplace, and how people react to the stresses of a job. Now, that right there would be enough to set apart from everything else, but SHIROBAKO has been the most consistent show that I have seen in quite some time. There is great character progression, thrilling and gripping stories about making anime, and it has an immense amount of heart.
Each of the five main characters has their own overarching story that intertwines with one another and the numerous side characters. Aoi goes from being a production assistant at Musashino Animation in the first half of the series, and then in the second half she becomes the head of the production desk. This brings about a multitude of new problems for her including having to schedule out the entirety of the production, hiring, training, and dealing with the new assistants, and gaining more confidence in herself and her job. She is also dealing with the fact of why she is in the anime business. It’s a question she struggles with up until the finale. She has all relatable problems that anyone can look at and think I have had to deal with that too. Her entire story is phenomenal and is also one of the reasons why this show is so great.
As far as the other girls, Ema deals with becoming a better key animator at Musashino Animation in the first half to using her skills in the second half to get even better and also mentors the shy Ai. She also gets mentored by the veteran Sugie who sits next to her and this helps her gain the confidence to become an animation supervisor for the final episode. Midori is not seen much in the first half of the series, but becomes more prevalent in the second half when she is brought into Musashino Animation for research. She wants to be a writer once she completes college and while she is there for research, gets mentored by Maitake in order to help her with writing and ends up getting a piece included in the finale episode of Third Aerial Girls.
Misa is a 3D animator who struggles with her current job in the first half of the series and then is able to parlay the skills she learned in that job to help out with Third Aerial Girls. The job she had originally was a well-paying job, but she could not deal with the monotonous nature of the job and feeling like she could not go anywhere towards her dream of anime. She gets a new job in the second half and ends up getting to use her 3D animation skills to help with the planes in Third Aerial Girls at Musashino Animation.
Shizuka’s arc is probably the saddest out of all of the girls. She is an aspiring voice actress who is trying her hardest to break into the anime industry, while also holding a waitress job. You see her go to numerous auditions and unfortunately fail at each one. She even goes to the audition for Third Aerial Girls and is a finalist for one of the parts, but is eventually shot down for being inexperienced. As a viewer, we get to see how she handles the constant rejection and despair she feels. Shizuka does get a job working as a child’s live action mascot by helping fill in when someone was gone. One of the most emotionally charged scenes in the entire show happens in the penultimate episode. After the director of the anime of Third Aerial Girls and the creator of the manga finally meet up and figure out the finale episode, a new character is created specifically for that episode. Since Musashino needs to find a new voice actress quickly, they look at the character that Shizuka auditioned for initially since the new character is that character’s little sister. It then cuts to the voice recording sessions and you see Shizuka behind the mic voicing the scenes for this character. Aoi is also there since she is the production desk and after Shizuka records her lines, Aoi breaks down and cries. Hell, I’m getting emotional writing about that scene, because it also made me shed tears like Aoi. It is the emotional punches like this that SHIROBAKO delivers that helps keep viewers entrenched week after week.
The finale of SHIROBAKO sees the struggle with getting the final episode of Third Aerial Girls to air. The show ends with a companywide party for everyone who had worked on Third Aerial Girls and Aoi giving an amazing motivational speech. Then finally, all five of the main girls get together and talk about finally being able to remake the anime in high school they created, with the characters of that anime appearing in the sky to wave at the girls. After everything you’ve seen each of the girls go through, it is such a happy ending to witness and I had a huge smile on my face though the last five minutes of the finale. Sure, it could be clichéd to say that everything wraps up happily and neatly, but the way this show wraps up everything makes it so that you do not care about clichés. It’s more about being wrapped up in the happiness SHIROBAKO gives you. Also, the fact that the OVAs for SHIROBAKO are the pilot episodes for the anime they make in the show is the best idea for OVAs that I’ve seen in some time.
It is almost strange to think that a show about making anime could be a cultural touchstone in the world of anime. SHIROBAKO might in fact be one of the most important shows to have come out in years. I haven’t been watching anime for long since my resurgence into the medium, but in the 2 years since I started watching again, there has not been a show like this or anything close to it. You see the stories of five empowered women make their mark in an industry that can chew you up and spit you up. This is of course not including the twenty or so side-characters you see nearly every week that are fantastic. SHIROBAKO is a show that everyone should see. Regardless if you like this sort of anime or even anime itself, all eyes should be on SHIROBAKO. P.A. Works have created a masterpiece that will stand the test of time for years to come. Hopefully, with Sentai Filmworks having licensed the show for North America, every reader here picks up the releases from them to support and experience this show. SHIROBAKO is the best anime of the past two seasons, this year, and maybe, it’s my favorite anime I’ve ever seen.