Revenge is cute – anime critique: Shirobako

Shirobako_Promotional_PosterTitle: Shirobako
Format: tv anime
Genre: slice of life, satire, comedy, drama
Series Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Studio: Warner Entertainment Japan P.A.Works
Series length: 24
Original Airing dates: October 9, 2014 – March 26, 2015
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

The story follows a group of five best friends, Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Misa Todo, and Midori Imai, who all go into the anime industry after their experiences in the animation club of their high school. The series depicts the daily troubles and hardships the five experience in their respective jobs, as well as their efforts to overcome them, largely focusing on Aoi and her fellow staff at animation studio Musashino Animation as they work on two anime television series.


Critique:

Whoever wrote & created this series was doing three things:

1: show a fanciful yet realistic depiction of what goes into creating anime by showing the drama, tension & creative issues behind the scenes of an animation studio.

2: pack in as many references to their favourite series, creators, directors & artists as they could by altering their names & general depictions but still letting the audience know who & what they are talking about.

& 3: getting revenge on people by depicting various characters as incompetent idiots or selfish, lazy or generally scumbags. Truly, the people behind this series are taking the opportunity to put the boot into as many people as they feel fucked them over during the careers -from uncooperative authors to over-confident but useless P.A.s, artists who can’t meet deadlines & directors too wrapped up in themselves to be able to finish anything.

All three points are references heavily throughout the series & that just makes it an utter joy to watch -especially the depictions of people as feckless to get revenge on someone. Brilliant!

I truly adored this series, knowing nothing about it when I started watching it.

Like so many comedy-dramas, it’s about people finding their goals in life & working towards their dreams but unlike so many other series out there, Skirobako focusses not on teenagers overcoming the struggles of adolescence into maturity but rather on the daily struggles of young women -either at university or have graduated from it- as they try to realise what they want from life & deal with whatever obstacles may get in their way.
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Like so many protagonists in such series, Miyamori Aoi is indecisive about what she really wants to do with her life. Her love of anime lead her, along with most of her friends from her high school anime society, into a job in the animation industry but she’s unsure if she has the ability or passion to move beyond being a simple Production Assistant. This lack of confidence extends over to her 4 friends as well; with Ema questioning whether she has the talent for drawing animation; if Misa should stick with a secure job in 3D graphic design or take risk with an unsecure job; Midori wandering what it takes to be a writer; & Zuka fretting over if she should continue trying to be a voice actress after so many failed auditions.

The questions of confidence & ability extend into the extremely extensive supporting cast. With many characters questioning if they have the talent to be working in the animation industry whilst others, like the exceedingly & purposely annoying Takanashi, being over confident in their utter lack of ability or understand. Yet Takanashi, despite all his many many many annoying (many) traits, has a dream that he wants to achieve & sticks to his guns no matter how useless he is.

The recurring themes of confidence, talent & ability -whether natural or practised- is a constant within anime & manga. This is often depicted that those who have a natural talent for something as being inherently superior because they don’t have to work at anything, where in reality it is always the opposite. With those working hard to get better often being more talented than those for whom it comes naturally because they often get bored with the lack of challenge.

Upon the surface, Shirobako seems to fall into the former camp of praising the naturally talented but in fact the series goes on to show that those whom people proclaim to be “geniuses” or naturally talented in fact worked, struggled & fretted over their own abilities & talents to reach where they are. The use of the term -& characters whom embody- genius is used in the show to demonstrate how people can be dismissive of others &/or themselves for not fitting moulds that they don’t understand. More so if someone outside of the specific field judges everyone by the standards of whom they consider a genius yet are entirely ignorant of what goes into achieving any success in that field.
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Which is, in turn, another major conceit of the series. That is: exploring (almost) every facet of creating anime.

The series delves into the many roles & jobs that goes into making a TV anime series, even down to the most obscure & seemingly perfunctory ones. That is because, in the creator’s mind, every role in the series is important. Which the director Kinoshita keeps saying to every member of the production team; that they specifically are the most important part of the series they are creating. & to show the importance of pretty much every job in the animation industry, they feature an exceptionally large cast of characters; many of whom make a single appearance & then aren’t seen again until the final episode. Which is actually fine, because they exist to explain what their actual jobs are or to make references to past techniques, productions or figures involved in animation.

Complimenting this job are Aoi’s two imaginary figures -her goth loli doll Mimuji and her bear Roro (Lolo)- who act as Aoi’s subconscious. They’re function is to work through the dilemma or stress that Aoi has or explain to the audience the various tasks that Aoi is doing. The flashback to how they came about as figments of Aoi’s imagination is very cute, basically involving her older sister using them to talk to Aoi whenever she felt stressed or depressed.

In fact, the turns of imagination are some of the best parts, such as when Kinoshita envisions himself flying or enacting parts of one the two series he directs. Better yet is when the series forgets reality entirely & throws in one of the best Ryu from Street Fighter references that has ever been!
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The arc of the series encompasses Aoi’s life as she works at an animation studio, Musashino Animation, that is trying to regain it’s former glory after a string of failures. Likewise, the overweight & emotionally immature Kinoshita is trying to regain confidence after his last anime series Boing Boing Paradise (a reference to hypersexualised fan service mega-breasted anime like Eiken) but is constantly reminded of his failures & falls into slumps of laziness & depression. Similarly, most staff or external workers for the company all have their own issues that they are trying to overcome in order not to lose face. Or, like Takanashi, are completely lazy, over-confident or shirking their work to do other things.

It's not fan service if it's mocking fan service.
It’s not fan service if it’s mocking fan service.

The series begins with a perfect tribute to Initial D, as Aoi races to beat a rival animation studio PA from recruiting a freelance animator Segawa Misato. This is important because Musashino Animation are trying to regain their reputation with a new original anime, Exodus (a reference to Magical Girl idol anime stuff) & goes into details the struggles with writing, getting people onside & the daily grind of animation production; all whilst Aoi & her 4 friends try to figure out what they want to do.

The 2nd arc is Musashino Animation, having gotten kudos for their work on Exodus, managing to score the rights to adapt a highly sort after manga, The Third Girls Aerial Squad. This shows Aoi being promoted to the head of the Production Desk (basically, running all the day to day operations & managing the other Production Assistants as well as liaising with & recruiting other freelance workers). This arc goes into more depth of the politics involved when dealing with other creators, publishers & sponsors -all of whom want to control or add their own little bits or do what they want because it will make their companies look better. It really shows the struggle with trying to please everyone but stay true to your own artistic vision. Couple with individual characters personal struggles.
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The characters are truly what makes it work, even with such an extensive cast. They all have their distinct visual styles & personalities as well as little quirks.

This is very much a moé series with touches of hypersexualisation. Yet these are not for fan service but rather referencing how fan service is used. A few of the female characters are really sexy but they are not sexualised. They are not lingered upon or ogled by the camera. Their beauty is there as part of the moé experience. All of the characters are designed to be cute or interesting in some way; each with their own visual signature or clothing style but are dressed differently episode to episode -for the most part that is.

Over all, the quality of the animation is superb. With vibrant colours, clear lines & very well rendered action. It even throws back to more classic styles of animation when they flash back to a past series such as Anders Chucky (kinda like Kimba the White Lion or other similar cute animal series from the 70’s). It even through complete Gundam & Neon Genesis Evangelion reference in for good measure, even using their animation styles for the posters & back ground clips playing on things. A lot of love has gone into the designs & animation, making sure you know who is who & what is going on -even as they mix in the meta-series that they are working on (both with their own unique styles). The series even goes into detail about how CGI is used in modern anime series & how this can cause conflict with those who wish to be more traditional.
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In the end, this is a series with so very few faults. I utterly adored it. Finding it clever, touching & exceedingly funny. There are so many references & great moments buried within it that it bears watching again & again if you can. I do wish that I could talk about it more, but that would just spoil all the little things that you’ll pick up in it. Some characters are designed to really piss you off (Takanashi primarily but there are others too) but once you realise this was someone getting their revenge on people who had pissed them off, it makes the series all the more greater!

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