Shirobako and the Journey of a Lifetime

This post is the ninth of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!

Spoilers for Shirobako up to around episode 16 (“Table Flip”); this post also only covers plot developments up to that point in the anime and may be updated in the future if necessary to better cover the whole series.

In some form or another, every one of us is on a great journey known as “life”. Every 24 hours we take another step, and some days we take a few more than that. These paths we walk can be shared, or parallel to others – or trail off in completely different directions. But we are all united by the fact that we are all voyagers together in life, and can bond and connect in those moments.

The characters in Shirobako are no exception to this: the Kaminoyama High School girls and the staff at Musashino each have their own dreams and aspirations that they strive for and work to achieve. Their journeys, much like ours, vary wildly: Rinko stands further along the same path that Yumi is currently walking down; Yūichirō and Ryōsuke travel parallel to one another in the realms of 3D and 2D animation; and Aoi and Shizuka’s journeys are just one combo of many with very few similarities. But even though the paths these characters walk may have nothing in common, they all share experiences and ideas and occasionally practical goals both short- and long-term.

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Similar to how New Game resonated with my experiences as a new hire in the workplaceShirobako‘s stories and characters are something I understand on an emotional level as someone currently trying to figure out their trajectory in life. Aoi, Ema, and Shizuka weren’t just born the same year as me (in episode 12, Aoi comments that a show from 1995 aired when she was 2, same as my age at the time), but are within only a couple years (or perhaps even months) of my age in the present day. Their experiences don’t match quite 1:1 with my own – I don’t have as concrete a goal for the future as the animation club members do, and of course I’m not involved in the anime production industry. But for myself and likely many other college students, recent grads, and new workers in their 20s, there’s something to be found and understood in each one of their journeys, experiences, and struggles, particularly in the lives of the 5 main characters.

Ema lives out her passion working daily as a key animator for Musashino Animation, and relishes the opportunity to work with other fantastic animators around her. But she struggles with balancing the quality of her work with meeting increasingly close deadlines and developing her own style. Her concerns about balance affect not only affect the quality of her cuts, but also the time required to complete them. As she continues to struggle, Yumi steps in and helps Ema see that in moments of stress, it helps to take a step back to refocus. She teaches Ema about how prior completed work guided her to a better understanding of speed-quality balance as well as helping her develop her own style. It’s advice Ema takes to heart, and it’s something anyone who’s worked in a design-related field can appreciate as well.

Misa chooses a different path than Ema and begins working her way towards a career in 3D animation, joining a computer graphics company. She knows she’s on the right path, but her job feels emotionless and cold, and she feels uninspired and drained through her endless days drawing car wheels. Even though the experience will help bolster her future career, Misa can’t help but to question whether she’ll lose her heart for animation by staying with her company, even if the alternative of leaving could potentially lock her out of a job through the “damaged goods” label (having only worked for 6 months with her company). Ultimately, Misa chooses to pursue a new opportunity and finds work with another computer graphics company, but the uncertainty behind either of her choices reflect the pressure of many young grads, where the passion for a subject, major, or skill simply doesn’t mesh well with the actual experience in their daily worklife.

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Midori follows a more “traditional” route and pursues continuing her studies at university. Her dream is to work as a script and story writer, but it’s not something she knows how to achieve from where she is. But her love of learning leads her to help out Aoi’s work for Musashino, and ultimately guides her towards joining the company as a setting instructor. It’s not a common experience, but her passion and talent for learning and research helps lead Midori closer to her goal, providing her with a new way to achieve her dream with talents she hadn’t yet tapped into.

Shizuka remains the only one of the animation club yet to achieve anything in her pursuit of voice work. Her auditions and walla work haven’t always gone well due to nerves, but her acting skills are well-regarded by many who have heard her perform well. Despite her setbacks, Shizuka takes encouragement and advice she receives to heart, using it as motivation to keep moving forward. She continues to work hard at her current job, accepting practical opportunities outside of voice acting along the way to further hone her skills and become more comfortable in real-life settings. She stands furthest from her goal with the most obstacles in front of her, and no one would blame her from stepping away and pursuing something else – and yet she chooses to press onward, believing in that her abilities will ultimately provide her the opportunity that she so desires.

And finally, Aoi works as a production assistant, and later production manager, for Musashino Animation. She’s thankful for the job she has in the animation industry, but she often feels burdened by the workload and isn’t quite sure what her own personal goal is, even as she works towards the shared goal of making an anime together with the animation club. Her journey is the main one we follow as she gains more understanding of the production industry as a whole, but we also watch as she grows ever more comfortable within her role in production. Not every one of us seeking a goal will find one, or be able to move closer towards a newfound goal, but Aoi helps us see how sometimes it’s ok for us to stay where we’re at and grow in the role we already have.

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Each path walked by the 5 animation club members is different from the others, but they’re only part of the picture that Shirobako provides of the journey of life. Yumi learns from Rinko to take whatever steps necessary to better understand what her character designs need, and she responds through adjusting her own personal style as a mindset change, just as Rinko did in the past. Yūichirō and Ryōsuke argue over 3D vs 2D when production issues come up, but ultimately bond through their shared love of the “Idepon” mecha anime, which helps them see how the other’s medium can teach and inform their own work. And in a wonderful segment from episode 12, Sugie realizes through his experience guiding the other animators that hosting and teaching a workshop on animation craftmanship is his own new goal to strive for, one that he immediately begins taking steps towards making a reality.

Despite all the variety in each character’s growth, the different ways they learn and struggle and aspire to reach their own personal goals, Shirobako shows us that these strivings are something that we all share, that unite us together. Our journeys are different and our destinations may vary wildly, but those experiences help us to understand and care for others in our lives, as we see in Shirobako over and over between so many characters. Every person we meet is on one path of many, and every person we know has their own hopes and dreams. Shirobako shows us that no matter the destination, nor the path we take to get there, nor the lessons we learn for ourselves and from others, this life is something we are all united in as we journey through the good and bad times together.

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