SHIROBAKO Episode #01 Anime Review

If you’re curious about the action that takes place behind the scenes of the weekly anime series you watch, here’s a fictional look at the process.

SHIROBAKO Episode #01 Anime Review

“Five Golden Rings!…”

What They Say:
About the Show:
In a school in northeastern Japan, five friends in the animation club, Aoi, Ema, Shizuka, Misa, and Midori swear to complete a new anime called “Shinbutsu Konkou SHICHIFUKUJIN” with some donuts. Since then, day after day, the five spend all of their time on anime production. The awe of going from rough sketches to animation, and the awkward acting in the after recording session… The final product was finished at the cultural fair six months later. After they graduated they still pursued animation and swore on some donuts that they would make another anime together.

About the Episode:
Episode 1: “Exodus to Tomorrow!”

The Review:
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
So, the members of the Kaminoyama High School Animation Club, who all happen to be female, are trying to make an anime. Progress is slow. It’s slower trying to tell the particular girls apart, not that we are bereft of visual clues. There is a mixture of hair styles and hair colors to help us tell them apart, as well as their different interests in the world of animation. They make their anime for the school festival and then it’s time for the three seniors in the club to graduate (time passes very quickly). Before the three seniors go, leaving two younger members behind, they all make a vow (over donuts) to one day make an anime feature together.

SHIROBAKO Episode #01 Anime Review

I wonder if changing a consonant improves the quality of the music at all?

We then flash forward two and a half years, as we follow one of the girls in the club, Aoi Miyamori, who is now working as a production assistant for Musashino Animation. So, it would seem she is following through on her dream of becoming a member of the animation industry in Japan, which also seems to include getting into road races with gofers from other companies (we get a funny face-off against a counterpart from “G.I. Staff,” not the only recognizable name that will be deliberately misspelled to avoid copyright and trademark issues). We also see the staff gather together for the premiere of their new work, Exodus, which airs that night. Miyamori gets back to the office just in time to join the gathering where we are much too hurriedly introduced to the members of the staff. The names of the characters are quickly flashed on screen, but there’s no way one will remember them all this quickly.

Of course, if things just worked flawlessly, there would be no point to the show. So, trouble erupts when the key animator for episode 3 of Exodus flakes out, leaving Musashino Animation, the lead production studio, in a bind. They manage to find a fill in…but it happens to be the Animation Director for episode 4. While she will somehow get the key frames done for episode 3, this means that production work on episode 4 will come to a standstill, which has a domino effect on all later episodes. If anyone ever wondered how “production delays” occurred, this, this is how.

In a nutshell, if you haven’t already figured it out, SHIROBAKO (which translates as “White Box”) is basically Animation Runner Kuromi: The Next Generation. The difference is that this will be a regular weekly series, not just a short pair of OVAs. I’m not sure you really need much more in the way of description or explanation. It would seem that donut-loving Aoi is going to be our focal character in what has so far been a fairly grounded look into the work behind the scenes, as the members of staff may have minor quirks, but are nothing like the full-scale freaks that populated the fictional studio in Kuromi. (Note: In the blink and you miss it introductions to the other staff members of Musashino Animation, you will see a familiar female face. Yes, one of Aoi’s high school clubmates is there too and perhaps she’ll be the focus for a future episode or at least will get more screentime, as she’s largely relegated to the background for the main parts of this episode).

There is something rather refreshing in what is an unoriginal and hardly-path-breaking work: we’ve left high school behind. The characters are all adults, though many of the younger adults hardly act any more mature than fictional high schoolers (a couple of the male production staff members commenting on the…assets of a female animator are hardly different from any number of male high school characters in numerous anime—not that this is necessarily a false portrayal in any way). So far, there’s no melodramatic romance, something that Progressive Animation Works, the studio behind this show, have been mired in for their last few outings (Glasslip, Nagi no Asukara, Red Data Girl). I’m glad someone decided that they needed a change of pace.

That’s because PA Works is a talent-rich studio, capable of providing very impressive visuals. What is interesting here is that the visuals are quite competent, but don’t really stand out in the way their other works have…but it may be that this is deliberate and a function of the setting. This is not an imagined world, nor an exotic location. Therefore, the “scenery porn” that PA Works is well known for is, quite naturally, not going to appear here as much or as obviously, as we see the streets of Tokyo (I am assuming that the name of the fictional studio here, Musashino Animation, might hint that the company is located in Musashino, which has seen anime set there before–Paranoia Agent and Maria Watches Over Us coming quickly to mind). This is the real world, so we’re getting real world settings with a real world color scheme (this is the brightly lit world of anime, but the color palette seems more grounded in “natural” colors, not pastels or unusual shades). Instead of magical landscapes, we get very beautifully presented urban expanses that are grounded in reality. Interiors are brightly lit, but “real,” not heavily stylized or imaginative. An animation production studio office looks much as one would imagine a real one might look, though probably cleaned up and streamlined a bit.

SHIROBAKO Episode #01 Anime Review

The staff of Musashino Animation

Character designs are quite similar to what we have seen in previous PA Works shows, especially in some female types which the studio seems to favor. While clearly anime in style, they are mainly based on the “real world, real people” mold, where many characters have somewhat more realistically proportioned eyes, for example. There are exceptions, of course, such as Aoi and Ema from the original group who reappear in the later present, who have the enlarged eyes (and small mouths) that fit the caricature of anime, while the studio’s other production assistant, Takanashi, has a rather…bold hairstyle compared to the normal haircuts of just about everyone else.

Musically, the show does not stand out much. Fitting with a fly-on-the-wall workplace show, the use of background music is restrained in many situations, including when we are inside the company offices and seeing just run-of-the-mill events. We get it more in scenes where we see Aoi’s private life outside of work, which uses simple mood-inducing themes, or in “action” moments at work where the music is there to help impel the movement forward. Of the main themes, so far we’ve only heard Yoko Ishida’s “Colorful Box,” which was played at the end but might well turn out to be the opening theme. It’s a light, bright tune that fits a light comedy such as this.

And light comedy is what it mainly has going for it so far. This is not a show that is trying for broad laughs, as there has been little if any slapstick on view. We have some workplace drama, but it is so far executed with a light touch (the only hint of darkness being the cliffhanger at the end of the episode, but that could still be resolved in a comedic way next week for all we know). This was not a particularly engrossing piece, but it also did not bore or make me look at the clock. I am curious what it will want to do besides showing us some vignettes from the world on the other side of the camera, animation-style.

In Summary:
After a brief look at her early interest in the animation world, we follow young animation production assistant Aoi Miyamori, who is the multipurpose runner and gofer for Musashino Animation. If you’re interested in how things work behind the scenes at animation companies, this should be somewhat informative. As a light comedy it works fairly well too. At least P.A. Works are no longer wasting their time with meaningless teenage melodramas.

Episode Grade: B

Streamed by: Crunchyroll

Review Equipment:
Apple iMac with 4GB RAM, Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard