Anime Today: Shirobako and the Judeo-Christian Work Ethic

I’ve had an unsteady relationship with Shirobako this season. On one hand, the series provides great insight into the animation process (with a few asterisks, to be sure). It’s also produced quite well, as is normal with most of PA Works’ productions. However, it’s also a bit difficult to follow. Shirobako includes what appears to be a main protagonist, but it jumps around to so many different characters that it is rather difficult to definitively dive into the consciousness of one and truly relate.

Yet despite this, one major theme of the series remains constant: working can be both difficult and rewarding.

shirobako 1b

You might be familiar with the Japanese expectation of work. Whether that is the high educational standards through compulsory education, or salarymen literally working themselves to death, work in Japan is no joke. Shirobako reflects this, and if you’ve been watching and and have been surprised by the long hours, overtime, and all-nighters that characters have pulled, it is no exaggeration. But while overwork is obviously an issue of concern, what exactly is a Christian to do when developing a belief on the nature and importance of work. Should people really be as invested as the animators and other employees in shows like Shirobako? Is working that hard even ethical in the first place? Let’s take a look from a biblical perspective, starting with the foundation of the Judeo-Christian work ethic.

First, is work even a good thing at all (or was it intended to be, anyway)?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Regardless of your opinion of the Genesis account of creation (I don’t personally hold to a literal six-day, young earth creation philosophy, though I can see some merits in it; I tend toward the idea of theistic evolution, but I digress as I don’t really think it matters greatly anyway), the account in general is of great importance even if it is considered a fable, as it establishes the theological foundation of the nature of God and His created order. Genesis 1:31 records the end of God’s “work” of creation, which is then followed by a day of rest, and He calls it good. Additionally, before the entry of sin into the world, in Genesis 2:15, God put Adam to work in Eden. The implication in this story is that work is inherently a good thing by God’s standards, with the only negative being those that came after sin entered the world of man.

Second, should people work their absolute hardest, even if it means getting burnt out?

Short answer: Yes… kind of.

Long answer: Well, there’s a bit more to this answer than just a simple yes. Immediately, I think of Colossians 3:23, which admonishes Christians to work as hard as if they were working directly for God. In that way, followers of Christ ought to do their absolute best in everything they do, since we are here to be good stewards of all that God has given us. Looking back further to what the Jews believed, though, Proverbs is filled, almost to a ridiculous extent, with writings on hard work and its returns. Some of these include Proverbs 12:11, 13:4,  14:23, 20:13, 21:15, and 22:29, though many more exist. However, this must be taken in the context of the third point…

Third, do people deserve a break?

Short answer: Yes, absolutely!

Long answer: In point one, I mentioned that God called his “work” good, but then followed it by a day of rest. Exodus 20:8-11 establish this practice for the Hebrews in the Ten Commandments, prioritizing the concept of resting once a week in order to recharge and dwell on the more important aspects of life (for the Jews, this would be God). This also carries over into the Jewish practice of the Sabbatical Year (every seven years) and the Year of Jubilee(every 49/50 years) in which debt forgiveness was practiced among other concepts stemming from the original Sabbath. Combining this with grace, an integral part of Jewish faith, but particularly emphasized in the New Testament, hard work is put in the context of rest in both time and physical exertion, as well as mental and emotional forgiveness.

So what does all of this mean for someone watching Shirobako?

First and foremost, Shirobako might be simple entertaining television, but it reflects a very difficult and time-consuming production process in the animation world of Japan. This also extends into much of work culture both in Japan and abroad. Obviously, someone who does not profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, nor follows the basic tenants of the Bible, should look to their own sources of moral development for areas such as work ethic. However, for those who do follow the teachings of the Bible, it is rather clear in its expectations for God’s people in the workforce.

Whether you are animating, managing, or doing something else entirely, you should always put your full self into your career (or education, or whatever it is you decide to do). Not only is this what is taught is right, but it also often reaps tangible benefits in your workplace (many characters in Shirobako would attest)! But never should someone compromise something as important as their religious beliefs or family for work. Just as God demanded that the Jews keep the Sabbath holy, so, too, does that represent the necessity for moderation and prioritization of values in our personal lives.

Thanks for reading, and if you’re not watching it already, I highly recommend Shirobako, available on Crunchyroll!

8 thoughts on “Anime Today: Shirobako and the Judeo-Christian Work Ethic

  1. hmm interesting. I’ve been following it as well and i have to say that I’ve been enjoying it. I find it interesting how these characters are all working together towards a common goal, but at the same time they’ve gone there separate ways some not even living in Tokyo anymore. Quite fascinating I think that the last couple episodes have also emphasized the need for a break in their own ways. The most obvious example would be when Ema is shown the quiet place that the animators have to go and take a breather. It was then that they showed the virtue of not only working hard but stepping away for a moment.

    1. Sorry for the late reply!

      Yes, I would agree that it seems to have gotten a bit more focused, particularly in the last couple episodes (I scheduled this article a few episodes ago, so it’s changed a bit since then).

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. Nice post Japes, ill be definitely checking out Shirobako. Ill probably be able to relate because of my work habitats.An the point you made about moderation brought me to Ecclesiastes 3:17, where it basically says there’s a time and place for every thing.

    1. Good verse and thanks for reading! It’s a good show, albeit a bit hectic, if only to get some insight into the technical side of animation production. I didn’t realize how much hand-drawn images are still used in Japanese production because I’m so used to my family’s work in western production!

  3. The lack of focus on a single character seems to be Mizushima’s directorial shtick. In Girls und Panzer, it were five-girl teams that acted as characters, in Shirobako it is an animation studio viewed as a single organism carrying that role.

    1. That makes total sense! I liked Girls und Panzer as well, though my complaint would probably still stand that there were too many characters and too little time. In this case, I love the concept of a more realistic* (notice the asterisk) view of the animation process, and in Girls und Panzer I thought the actual tank battles were just a lot of fun. These points more than make up for anything I disliked.

      Thanks for reading!

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