What They Say:
After making an animated film together in high school, Aoi and her friends Shizuka, Ema, Misa, and Midori made a promise to each other: to all get jobs in the anime industry and someday work together again.
Two years later, Aoi is learning that working as a production assistant at a small animation studio is far more demanding than she ever imagined, and Shizuka’s aspiring career as a voice actor involves more time waiting tables than recording.
Meanwhile, Ema’s slowly making a name for herself as a key animator, Misa’s moved from 2D to 3D and now works in computer graphics, and screenwriting hopeful Midori is lagging furthest behind, still looking for her first big break. But are they ready to give up on their dreams just yet? No way! Because while anime may come from inspiration, in the end it’s the ones who’re willing to put in the perspiration that make their dreams real in Shirobako!
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as its only mix, which is encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. I really wish this show had a dub simply because the range of actors and characters involved combined with such different than normal story material would have been fun to have had. The show is one that has its moments of good action in a sense, mostly coming from the driving sequences, but the bulk of it is very much dialogue driven. It’s not a mix that will stand out, even when we get the Exodus animation scenes shown off, but it works the soundstage well for the dialogue in general. While not a rich mix we do get one that’s well put together and enjoyable, especially when there are multiple characters on screen at a time and the conversation moves about them in a very good way.
Originally airing in 2014 and 2015, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twelve episodes of the first half of it are in this collection and are kept to one disc due to it being a monolingual release. Animated by PA Works, the quality is definitely here from start to finish in something that’s richly detailed, beautifully colored, and has some great blending of CG when needed. There’s a labor of love element to this series to be sure and it really does shine through with the look of it. The backgrounds are fantastic, the changes in character costuming is a big plus for me, and the detail and variety in the designs is just as strong. All of this comes through beautifully in the transfer with great colors and wonderful representation of detail, making it a fully engaging experience. With the fully realized world that we get here, it’s important to have a strong transfer and this one pays it off.
The packaging for this release brings us a standard sized Blu-ray cast the holds the single Blu-ray disc. The front cover goes for the familiar promotional image that features the sizable cast that works at the studio all together with a range of emotions and a few little cute bits mixed in to make it very active and busy without feeling like it’s too much. Doing it against the light blue and white graph paper just adds a nice touch to it. The only thing I don’t care for and haven’t since the show first came out is the logo as it’s something that just doesn’t feel like it fits well. The back cover works some decent angles to bring in a good range of images and a look at the studio itself so it’s busy but not excessively show while showing off a lot of what’s inside. The tagline works well, going more for a serious and earnest approach, while the summary of the premise captures the show pretty well while not giving away too much of it. The bottom uses the blue graph paper design, a bit darker, to break down the production credits and the technical grid, both of which look good and covers everything in a clean and easy to read fashio. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is about as I expected as the main static image that dominate gies us a look at the main production staff side of the studio with all that’s associated with it, giving it a detailed and busy feeling while also letting the characters come across well with their personalities for the few that we get here. The navigation along the left is decent with a big yellow block that has the episodes by number and title with blues, greens, and reds used for it. It doesn’t feel like it has a strong thematic approach to it like we get with a lot of other Sentai menus and that leaves it feeling a bit weaker in the design department. It’s solidly functional though which is what really counts.
The only extras included with this set are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When the folks at PA Works dig into an original series it’s usually worth paying attention to. While not everything works, there’s a passion behind their projects that will connect with a lot of people that enjoy them and that’s definitely important. Original projects in a sense show the soul of a studio with what they want to do much in the same way the projects they buy into for adaptations do. Shirobako is one that goes a step further in that it’s all about the anime industry itself, or at least the production of anime in this first half of it while also delving into how hard of an industry it is to survive in if you have dreams. We don’t get shows like this often, though one-off episodes in other series sometimes delves into it, and the biggest one in a sense for me over the years is still Otaku no Video.
The show revolves around five friends from high school several years after finishing that and college as well. In high school they put together a pretty good anime project for their final festival, each of them with their strengths that built a whole. But their lives afterwards went in different yet similar directions as they ended up in different areas of the industry where some are struggling and others are closer but still nowhere near where they need to be. Primarily, the focus is on Aoi Miyamori as she ended up going to college for economics but found herself trying to pursue her dream of being in the industry afterward. She works as a production assistant at studio Musashino, a mid-range studio that’s bringing out their new original work Exodus. Aoi is certainly in that learning phase of her job to be sure, but she’s been doing it for a while and has some skills that make her fairly well suited to it. A lot of it is just the kind of growth that comes from experience and connections.
Through Aoi’s eyes we get to see the work going on with the production at the start of the series just as the first episode airs and the comments and reviews come in. It’s a rough schedule to produce anime with so many moving parts and through Aoi we get to see a wide range of these stories as they move through the various stages. Since there are the overall producers and directors while also having various members focusing on specific episodes for production as the assistants, we get to see this range of characters interact with each other while working towards this larger goal. That it digs into the various aspects of it all across this set works very well and it’s definitely engaging to watch if you want to see how the sausage is made that is anime. It’s not one that focuses heavily on areas such as voice acting for instance, or in the extensive pre-production side for the show in the first half here with Exodus, but going through it and exploring the cast within their work environment is spot on.
Having been familiar with anime production for a good number of years, I definitely found Shirobako to be a lot of fun to watch as it gets to really take the time to dig into a lot of aspects of it. The cast is pretty much realistic when you get down to it, though the director, Kinoshita, is perhaps a bit exaggerated in some ways but with that kind of kernel of truth about it that allows it to work. The director is the only character that really bothered me in the show since he stood out from the rest as the more childish member of the group, but there are some decent explanations to why he is like he is based on past history. That said, what we get here with him, the storyboards for the final episode, and the big changes made to it, that all kind of drove me nuts with what it did. Part of it is that the Exodus show material itself never really connected for me so the changes just felt more ridiculous and that the whole thing went on as it did for as long as it did and put the project in such dire straits made me want someone with real authority stepping in. But such is how things operate sometimes.
The series does work another angle much better across it in that Aoi keeps up with her friends in a good irregular way that comes from the way life changes because of work. With each of them going in different directions but mostly within the industry, the catching up they do is fun since they’re all adults and are able to drink and hang out a bit when time allows. There’s some nice nostalgie towards their high school project and it is a motivator for them to want to be something more with their career goals, but it’s not made into some kind of golden object that’s held above all else. It’s allowed to exist without being the sum of all things while also being a binding piece that exists between them. It’s a cherished memory but one that doesn’t completely control them.
The course of this half of the show works us through the Exodus series and it’s definitely a positive that we essentially get a three month journey to follow these characters on through ups and downs. It’s mostly kept to professional side stories and very little into the personal and it also does one huge thing that’s a plus for me in that it avoids doing anything with interoffice relationships. There’s no relationship material at all here when you get down to it and that’s wholly refreshing since it could be a huge distraction and diversion from what the show wants to be about. This also helps to keep Aoi and her friends from spending their time talking about significant others or people they’re interested in and instead has them talking about their jobs, their career choices, and where they want to go with it all. That’s a huge plus considering how badly the show could be derailed by delving into such things in a high pressure job like this.
Shirobako earned a lot of raves when it aired and rightly so as there’s a lot to love about it as it shows how anime is made. With a lot of names changed to “protect the innocent”, there’s a level of fun in connecting what’s in the show with the real world companies and personalities. This half of the season does a whole lot of good things and very little that’s problematic, making for a thoroughly engaging experience throughout. For those new to animation and how production goes you’ll find yourself learning a lot. For those that are far more familiar with it, you’ll definitely enjoy seeing it all brought to life so well and, for the most part, so honestly. The end result is an engaging show that has some rich characters and situations that should essentially be required viewing for every anime fan to understand what goes into all of this.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 9th, 2016
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.