Our long journey is finally near its end.
More than any other show I watched this year, Shirobako was about the journey. It opens with a group of five high school girls (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) all vowing to go into anime production and to one-day work together on an anime project. It’s a simple story but Shirobako succeeds because of how effective it is at capturing the little ups and downs of the journey to that goal. It shows us the day to day mess of deadlines, difficult creators, deadbeat animation contractors and the general workplace nonsense that makes anime production (or any job) a grind. But despite showing us all the messy, less than pleasant aspects of putting together an anime, Shirobako never gives up its sense of hope. The show never lets its characters forget why they do what they do and even in their darkest moments there’s still a reason to keep fighting and working your way to the light at the end of the tunnel.
But sometimes that light can be hard to see and for no character was this truer than aspiring voice actress Sakaki Shizuka. Throughout the show as all of her friends were working their way up the bottom rungs of their respective careers Zuka always seemed a step behind. As Aoi moves on to the production desk, Ema gets character design work, Misa moves from model car 3DCG into anime CG and Midori gets tutored by a professional scenario writer, Zuka couldn’t seem to catch a break. She was perpetually stuck in her bar job, sadly watching and putting on a strong face for her friends. Even when her audition for the production her friends were working on went well she didn’t quite make the cut for the part of Catherine. As she saw actresses years younger than her becoming household names within the industry while she was entering her prime years with no named roles on her resume it seemed like maybe things would never work out for poor Zuka-chan.
As I said, Shirobako tells us never to give up hope and even Shizuka wasn’t an exception to this rule. Thanks to a last-minute change to the script, a new part for the younger sister of Catherine was added and the staff of Third Aerial Girls needed a new actress who sounded similar to Catherine to play the part. This was the moment we had all been waiting for. This was when all the struggles finally were made worth it. This was when all the careful character work that had been done leading up to this point paid off. This was when all the fear and angst we had built up wondering if Shizuka, this tough luck girl we had fallen in love with alongside the rest of the cast, would ever get her chance to` shine was finally released. When Shizuka walked through that door and Aoi saw her face we began to feel that release coming. As she delivered her lines, finally being able to do the work she loved, we began to break down further. And when she finished the scene by declaring that she was finally a step closer to her dream it was almost too much. Then, she turned and flashed that smile. One that belied the twenty-three episodes of suffering we’d just been through but also represented a hope for the future. That’s when we finally lost it. The beautiful story of hope finding a place in a cruel and difficult world had finally reached its peak and in that moment we were all Miyamori Aoi.