Shirobako is, strangely enough, one of the most original and unique experiences I’ve had with anime over the years of being a fan, despite not offering a complex plot or well-developed characters. What it offers is a really simple but endearing story of people working in an animation studio. Not much more, not much less. It uses its simple setup to tell very effective personal and collective stories and does so in an interesting, realistic, and fresh setting.
And here we are today, with a direct sequel of the original Shirobako at hand. A sequel that didn’t feel needed. After all, the original story was finished. Nonetheless, the announcement was definitely welcomed, and I really felt that it could be a worthy successor of the original series. So, is it a worthy successor? Well, one thing is for certain:
Shirobako Movie should’ve never been a movie. It should’ve been a 2-cour series with a similar structure and pace the original series had. Only that way it would’ve been able to realize its potential to the fullest. The plot is simply too thick, focuses on too many characters and too many ideas to fit into 2 hours worth of screentime. The original series already had a problem with making a case that anyone besides the main few characters has their name worth remembering. With that said, most of them were simple enough to succeed in their purpose – showing how many people it takes to create anime, how hectic and hostile can the studio atmosphere be, and most importantly, why people go out of their way to make anime in the first place.
The movie has these ideas as well, but because every conversation, every idea, and every sign of personal struggle is so obnoxiously rushed, they just don’t come to fruition. Which is a very big shame, because as far as potential goes, I’d say the movie has a core idea that in theory offers a more complete and interesting experience than the original did. At the start of the film, the studio is at their lowest, the original cast of characters scattered, but in the end, they all come together to work on a passion project they always dreamed of. If realized, this could’ve been amazing. But it’s not.
Together with execution problems, the show also has certain plot elements that I thought weren’t good to begin with. For one, I kind of dislike how the movie goes to incredible lengths to make literally everyone from the old studio come and work on this new anime. Most people? Sure, but it’s been several years since the main series. People moved on and started living different lives. I would’ve liked to see some people who just straight up refuse to come back, for whatever reason they may have. I think it would’ve added some sense of realism to the movie, that otherwise just ends up feeling like a utopia of sorts.
There is also a really stupid plot about another animation company who is, for one literally not doing the job they were under contract for, and for two holding the copyright rights to this very same job hostage, so that no one else could do work on it. It feels like the movie honestly could’ve ended 10 minutes in, if the Musashi Animation producer knew one thing about how to handle a situation like this and sue people for not respecting contracts. Something they end up doing anyway, at the end of the movie, after about half a year of in-anime time! Amazing! All in all, it just feels like the movie picks the easiest route of having a clear bad guy on whom all blame can be shifted. Which is something the original series did as well, but here it feels even worse because our heroes are so clearly supposed to be in the driving seat of their arguments with the villain company, but the anime acts like they actually aren’t.
While the fast pace made the plot suffer significantly, the lack of screentime is especially rough for many of Shirobako’s characters. The main series focused on the motivations and lives of many people, but it also had a core main 5 whose old friendship tied many aspects of the show together. In this movie, it’s very much just Aoi being the main character, and we see almost everything through her eyes. Almost all other characters, main or side, appear so little that it doesn’t even feel like they were really there, more like they showed up to make a short cameo appearance. What did Erika do to deserve this?
It’s also important to note that the movie wastes a lot of time on aspects that could’ve easily been cut in favor of putting more time into the actual story, characters, or slowing down the plot a bit sometimes and making the work feel more atmospheric. The movie barely ever takes a breather, and almost always feels like it’s just rapid-firing dialogue in order to quickly get to the next conversation because there’s simply too much to be said.
Its production values feel fine, but not amazing for a movie either. Its animation is very comparable to the main series, the character designs still look as colorful and gorgeous as they always did. The movie has a few nice and funni insert songs, some of them straight-up feel like PA Works are just doing their best Walt Disney impressions.
Long story short, Shirobako Movie is a story of unfulfilled potential, much like what Chikai no Finale is for the Hibike! Euphonium franchise. What could’ve been an interesting twist on the original story, using a very similar structure but introducing new ideas and themes, ended up being something I can’t but be disappointed about.
Yes, it’s fine. But this wasn’t supposed to be fine.
It was supposed to be amazing.