Shirobako The Movie is a love letter to the animation industry. The plot is set four years in the future, after the events of the 2015 anime series Shirobako. Eleven Arts licensed the movie which is going to premiere in North American theaters on August 10, 2021. We were given the opportunity to watch it in advance and we will share with you all you need to know about this much-anticipated sequel.
Shirobako The Movie Trailer
Shirobako The Movie Synopsis
Four years in the future, Mushani Animation is in a tough spot. The animation industry is going through a slump, and to top that off, MusAni has gone through really difficult times. We see in several flashbacks that MusAni was well into producing “Time Hippopotamus” when disaster hit. The project got shut down from above since they didn’t manage to get the rights to release it. By the year the movie is set, 2019, MusAni’s reputation has suffered a blow, with little work trickling in and several of the beloved characters we met in the series having moved on to other positions within the industry or even to another sector.
Head of Production Aoi is still working tirelessly for MusAni, but she struggles to admit even to her family that she is not satisfied anymore with the job she has shed blood, sweat, and tears for. It is revealed that the Third Aerial Girls Squad series the studio produced in the past, is still being released but has turned into a mediocre at best, ecchi-oriented anime, nothing like the original version.
Ex-president Hamasaki now runs a curry restaurant full-time. He understands Aoi’s struggle and offers kind words that motivate her to keep doing her best. Producer Watanabe meets with Aoi and brings to the table that MusAni should work on an original movie project, Aerial Assault Ship SIVA. The project was announced a couple of years ago by another company, GPU, but they purposefully neglected to work on it, while spewing cheap excuses. The team decides to take a risk while already in a dire situation hoping that this can be the next hit that will put their company back into the game. So, MusAni takes on this neglected project and promises to deliver a fresh sci-fi anime movie.
Aoi meets Miyai, an experienced assistant producer. After the initial formalities, they both end up drinking together, where one of the funniest scenes of the movie ensues, with the two production professionals bonding over all the difficult stuff they have to deal with in their job. It’s funny to see them turn from soft-spoken professionals to angry production comrades, reminding us of Aggretsuko.
After announcing to the studio that their next big project is SIVA, Aoi starts making the rounds to persuade former MusAni collaborators to join them. This all feels like a way to redeem themselves for the failure of Time Hippo, and they agree to incorporate elements from that never-released film. The first person Aoi goes to is, of course, ex-MusAni director Kinoshita, who, now depressed and divorced, does not want to hear anything about working on SIVA. With the help of Mont Blancs and other delicious sweets, along with production professional-turned-pastry chef Honda’s help, Aoi manages to secure Kinoshita’s participation. We meet again several beloved characters like Maitake the writer, or Rinko the gothic lolita key animator, who also get on board, as well the original team of Aoi’s friends, Midori, Shizuka, Misa, and Ema, who gradually join the project in different roles.
While Aoi is the connecting link in Shirobako The Movie, this is an ensemble anime that moves between different characters and introduces their hardships and hopes. This is how we end up seeing, for example, Shizuka’s doubts and struggles to get back to voice acting, after having a secure but less satisfying job as a presenter for a voice acting show. We also get a glimpse into Endo’s life, a CGI professional who is invited to design the mecha for SIVA, but who has gotten disheartened and depressed after Time Hippo’s failure, and is persuaded by his former colleagues and wife to get back to work.
As the mood and the pace pick up, we witness arguments, and conversations about hotly debated issues in the animation industry, such as the use of CGI, or how scandals can make or break a series’ popularity, in the case of Director Yamada accused of being part of a—fake—sex scandal.
The pace accelerates, with the original team working tirelessly, and the director locked in his storyboard cell, struggling to finish his work. The production team motivates him in unorthodox ways—putting emotional pressure on him, plastering pictures of his favorite pet Sera around, and enticing him with dessert and fried chicken.
An important scene is when the girls help at the children’s animation workshop and see another perspective. This is how they reconnect with the child within and realize that animation is about instinct first, technique second. This is also how the animator of the group, Ema, finds her mojo again since this experience reminds her why she got into this field in the first place; to bring joy and wonder.
When we see again the rival company’s bigshots out for golf, reading the news about MusAni’s SIVA, we know things are going to get tough soon. Angry and jealous that this project is now out of their hands, they claim that SIVA is just on hold, despite them having clearly abandoned it. They would rather take all the credit and make MusAni subcontractors instead of producers, or halt the project.
The doll and teddy bear representing Aoi’s inner monologue cheer her up, reminding her that “The most important thing to a producer is completing the work, and to have people watch it”. Then in a fight scene in the style of Lady Snowblood—a Japanese Edo-drama—production ladies Aoi and Miyai face opposition inside the offices of GPU, reaching the final boss. They confront him head-on about his bad practices and show him that he didn’t act in good faith and with responsibility. They also produce proof from the—unsigned—contract, that if GPU fails to comply, then the company that holds the rights can call the contract null. The matter is settled in triumph!
Just a few weeks before the deadline, the MusAni director realizes that he would like a longer climax in SIVA’s finale but hesitates to bring it up. The studio agrees with him, though, and they all give it their best, delivering a spectacular ending!
In a truly inspirational way, SIVA, and Shirobako The Movie, show that people like us, with flaws and vices, who love their job and work really hard, manage to create animation for all of us to enjoy. Shirobako The Movie concludes with the promise of another challenging project coming up for MusAni. We wish the team all the best for their future!
Delightfully Meta: Animators Making Animation About Animation
Like other self-referential titles, such as Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!, Shirobako The Movie is a meta-anime, an anime about the art of making anime. A story of struggle, passion, and nerves of steel, Shirobako The Movie truthfully depicts the highs and lows of anime making in modern-day Japan. In an even more meta way, SIVA, the movie Musashino Animation produces, talks about the lives of anime professionals, even though it is a sci-fi story with mainly anthropomorphic characters. The realism, though, is there. The new ending, highlighting the sacrifice of the main characters in order to achieve freedom from a universe of extreme suppression, is another way to show the struggle of MusAni to remove the shackles of failure, unfair competition, and big money.
In a delightfully meta scene, the red-head voice actress of the original cast, Shizuka Sakaki, voices the female lead in SIVA, Arte. There, we see her reading the piece “let’s struggle but keep moving forward!”. The passionate delivery of this speech shows us that SIVA, through the eyes of the MusAni team, is also about the movie industry, the unfair rules, the shady politics, and the sacrifices people make daily to follow their passion.
Shirobako The Movie deserves praise for showing the dark side of making anime. Like many jobs, animation is a competitive industry, where animators, producers, and directors give their 100% with little security. After director Kinoshita’s failure to complete Time Hippo, we see him home alone, piles of clothes and trash around him, his life falling apart. Creative work can be highly satisfying but also soul-crushing because it feels so personal. After a failure, it can be difficult to get back on your feet.
Also, we do see the compromises animation professionals have to make when they find themselves without work. It is not about admitting defeat, but rather being realistic, especially in the case of MusAni’s ex-president, who gives up on his role and opens a curry restaurant, but still acts as a kind mentor to Aoi.
The hard side of life is also in the details. There is the scriptwriter and his wristband, showing us his injury from hours of typing away. There is also the precarious success that does not guarantee new work coming in, threatened by forces that are not in direct control of the production team, such as scandals in the case of Yamada.
Jumping through hoops and playing broken telephone with bigger companies and the higher-ups is a frustrating aspect that we don’t get to see as an audience, or that studios are often working, believing everything is going to turn out ok, putting trust in good faith. However, we see now in MusAni’s case that hell can break loose and lead an animation project to failure, even though deadlines were met and everyone worked hard, in the case of Time Hippo.
Ladies Tough as Nails
The promo poster shows Aoi waving the revolutionary flag, akin to the famous French revolution painting “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix. Women make up a big part of the animation industry workforce. Although underrepresented in director positions, women are successful animators, producers, voice actresses, and designers, to name a few roles. Aoi has evolved into a tough young woman who doesn’t miss a chance when she sees it. She balances tact and kindness with a sharp eye for opportunity.
But, Aoi is not the only female character that inspires us in Shirobako. In fact, the female cast is strong, down-to-earth, and determined, often being the voice of reason in the anime production process. Ami, the animator, is sensitive to criticism, making her a realistic character with flaws, and many of us can relate to her self-doubt and her desire to deliver good work. Shirobako The Movie humanizes even further its characters, serving a live-action level of realness.
Fast-Paced Office Slice of Life
Does it exist, a fast-paced slice of life anime? In the case of Shirobako The Movie, yes, it does!
We do get the charm of the original series, with a more sober and melancholic tone, the cameos of famous animation producers (like the stand-in of Hideaki Anno), anime references for die-hard otaku, and the soft character designs with cute female leads. The softness, nostalgia, and relatability make up a slice of life anime, but Shirobako The Movie does not stop there.
This is also a fast-paced office anime movie, taking us step by step through the process of creating a new animation project. However, even though it goes into great detail, we never got bored watching Aoi and her peers, because it all feels like an action-filled adventure. If you are familiar with the large cast, then you will be delighted to see everyone again. It might take some time for a new watcher to understand the production process and each character’s role, so watching the original series first would help enjoy the movie more.
This is it! The realest slice of life anime title there is…! We thoroughly enjoyed Shirobako The Movie, premiering in North American theaters on August 10. If you love slice of life, office comedies, or dramas (depends on your perspective!), and are intrigued by self-referential anime that show the ins and outs of the industry, then Shirobako The Movie will excite and teach you all you haven’t realized that goes into your favorite form of entertainment. Its fast pace and large cast might be a challenge for people new to the franchise, but we do encourage you to start with the series and then watch the movie as a great sequel to our favorite imaginary animation studio’s trajectory.
Are you going to watch Shirobako The Movie? What are you most excited about? Let us know in the comments below and thanks for reading.