This is probably obvious, but I love anime. It’s a medium that’s had a major influence on my life, and I’m proud to call it my favorite artistic medium. It’s taught me new things about myself, about the world, and about what I want to do. If it weren’t for anime, I don’t know if I would have decided to seriously work on my writing. Anime is something I have an incredible passion for, and it’s something I love from the bottom of my heart.
I feel a sense of kinship with Shirobako in this regard, because Shirobako truly loves anime as well. Everything about Shirobako is set up to prove that anime is valuable, that anime is something which deserves to exist, and that those who love it are right in caring about it. Shirobako values those who create anime and those who watch it, it values anime made thirty years ago and anime made now. Shirobako wholeheartedly loves the medium, just as much if not more so than I do, and it shows that love in too many ways to count, but I’ll at least attempt to do so.
The central question in Shirobako, posed by our protagonist Aoi, is why people working in the industry work on anime, and what their dream is. The answer is, invariably, because they love anime and want to do the best they can to create good anime. The anime industry isn’t an easy one to work in. Pay is low, hours are awful, and benefits are practically non-existent. It’s well known that the anime industry has awful conditions for its workers, and yet there’s a constant over-abundance of those who want to make it in the industry. Shirobako shows why all of these various people love anime and want to work on it despite the pain with great skill.
There are tons of examples from the show. The shared love of a mecha classic between a 2D animator and a 3D animator leads to them working together more often, with the 2D animator shedding his anti-CG mindset. Kanno’s continued desire to work on anime in spite of making one of the world’s biggest shows and never needing to work again. But a few stand out as particularly poignant and memorable, and they need to be recognized for that.
The first is Ema and Sugie. Ema is an animator, a position in the industry which is even worse off than most. Pay for animators is lower than nearly any other job in the business, to the point that it can be hard to afford to keep doing it. And the show makes this very clear. When Ema struggles with her art and draws bad work, it means wasting hours on work she won’t even be payed for. If she isn’t constantly drawing high-quality work at a high speed she simply won’t be able to afford food, and at a certain point won’t be able to afford rent.
In spite of this, she pushes forward and works to improve her art. Her job is hard and she isn’t properly rewarded for the work she puts in. But the joy she feels when she sees the cuts she animated on screen are worth all of the stress that built up from her job. You could see this as pushing the idea that workers should just do their jobs in spite of awful conditions, but I see it more as advocating for perseverance for your passion in the face of obstacles, even if those obstacles shouldn’t be there.
On the other side of the animator table is Sugie. A veteran who’s been in the industry for decades, he spends most his time drawing for kids’ anime. He couldn’t have made it as far as he did without a love of anime, but understandably he feels a bit out of place in the modern industry. He tries to act as a mentor to Ema, but even with that he only has a small connection to the rest of Musani as a whole.
That all changes when he’s brought on to work on the final episode of Exodus, and that’s when the depth of his love becomes apparent. With all the time he’s had to practice, Sugie is a man of great skill, and he greatly enjoys being able to really interact with the studio as a whole on the project. Following this experience he becomes a sort of mentor to every other animator in the studio. It becomes clear that this entire time he had wanted to be a bigger help in the studio, but only with Aoi’s request was he able to do so. Even a character who started with little presence quickly became a vital key in the anime-making process, a process built on the backs of the medium’s passionate followers.
Sugie is only the first character to embody a lifelong passion for the medium. Masahiro Ookura, is the next, and his story is, if shorter, just as meaningful. A background artist who feels like he’s been replaced by the use of digital backgrounds, he’s a somewhat jaded and cynical old man, but in his heart there’s still nothing he loves more than drawing backgrounds for anime.
Ookura didn’t even intend on working in anime at first. He simply spent his time drifting, wanting to work in an artistic field, and eventually he stumbled his way into the position of background artist. Ookura acts as if he doesn’t truly care much about the medium anymore, but it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t true.
Once Ookura accepts the job of drawing a background for Third Aerial Girls Squad, he puts all of his effort into it. Ookura has no interest in making a half-assed attempt when he accepts a job. He spends time going out of his way to gather reference material before painting the background. And it’s certainly worth it, as the sight of his background alone was enough to move me to tears. Ookura isn’t wrong that his job is being taken by digital backgrounds. Painted backgrounds have been fading for a long time now, and while they still exist they aren’t around in the numbers they used to be.
His displacement hasn’t sapped his love though. It’s made him jaded and distrustful, but he still has that love of anime deep within him. Anime is what he wants to work on, despite his claims to the contrary. Ever since he drew his first background for Andes Chucky back at the original Musani, he’s loved drawing backgrounds, and that’s not something that’s going to change.
Ookura’s work on Andes Chucky brings me to the final veteran I’m going to cover. The president of the modern Musani, Masato Marukawa started as production at the original Musani, and he’s changed relatively little since then. The entire time he’s been devoted to feeding others and keeping those who work on anime happy.
At one point Aoi mentions to Marukawa that old anime was better, because it was made with more artistic vision and by people with more skill who could run things efficiently. Of course, Marukawa quickly makes it clear this wasn’t true. The production of Andes Chucky was a mess, and other shows from the time were no different. Cels were annoying to work on, and the lack of modern technology made things harder, but anime production hasn’t changed much.
In spite of that, Marukawa still loved it. He wouldn’t be president of Musani if he didn’t and his clear love of those who work on it makes it clear his feelings haven’t changed much in the decades he’s worked within the industry. Much like the other veterans, Marukawa has maintained his love for decades without burning out. Not everyone is capable of that, and many will leave the industry. But anime is a strong medium because it has people who love it so much that they’re willing to work on it for so long.
On the totally opposite side of the veterans is Shizuka. A rookie voice actress, she spends most of the series unable to land many roles. And the unfortunate fact is that Shizuka’s situation is better than most would-be voice actors. Most quit the industry almost immediately, because so many who love anime want to make it through voice acting that it becomes a very over-saturated market.
Despite her total inability to get a major role, Shizuka tries to stay positive. She never sinks to the point of giving up, and always tries to be a positive force even for her friends who are accomplishing their goals quicker than her. She works multiple side-jobs and auditions constantly in order to see her dreams fulfilled. She loves anime so much that she’s willing to waste a year or more searching hopelessly for roles.
It’s this pure love of the medium which makes her final break so meaningful. This scene is well known for being emotional, and for good reason. Even thinking about it is enough to make me tear up, because it’s just so powerful a moment. When Shizuka finally is able to get not only a relatively major role, but a role in the same anime all her friends are working on, Aoi breaks drown crying, and I do the same. Her love of anime was enough to bring her this far without giving in to the despair caused by her lack of work. It would have been so much easier for her to give up, but her love of the medium kept her going, and eventually she reached a place from which to move forward.
And now I have to come to our protagonist. Miyamori Aoi, the girl who doesn’t always know why she keeps doing the work herself. It’s certainly no easier for her than it is for anyone else. The work conditions suck for the rest of the industry, but production has to deal with every small issue that comes up, and when you add her often incompetent co-workers to the mix Aoi is forced to juggle a lot of things she shouldn’t need to. At no point does she consider quitting her job, but she is forced to confront the question of why she does it, and to ask herself what her dream really is.
Like all the others though, the answer is simply that she loves anime. Much like we as the viewers see how so many others channel their love of anime into their work, Aoi sees the same as she spends time with the many creators she has to work with. Aoi serves as a perfect viewpoint character in this, as her showcasing the love of others leads her to realize why she loves the medium so much herself.
Of course, we all have different reasons for loving the medium. Aoi fell in love with it due to Andes Chucky. Each viewer likely has a different show that set their standard for anime. For me it was Aria. For others it’s likely Gurren Lagann, or Evangelion, or Naruto, or Sword Art Online. While we all have different reasons for loving anime, our love of it is all valid.
Shirobako presents many people who love anime, and like real people, they all love it for different reasons. They also channel that love in different ways, but none of them are wrong. Shirobako acknowledges everyone who’s truly a fan of anime as valid. It’s a medium that’s touched the hearts of millions, and Shirobako makes it clear that many of the creators had that as their goal the entire time.
Shirobako is a show which fully embraces and encourages a love of all approaches to anime: new and old, 2D and 3D, action and slice-of-life, dark and happy, heady and simple. It encourages those who want to work on anime, and those that merely love watching it. It’s a show that loves anime more than anything, and agreement with that perspective is why I love it.