Shirobako and the Lie of Needing a “Dream Career”

This article was originally printed on October 1, 2018 in Area of Effect magazine. It is reprinted here with permission. If you enjoy this article, we recommend you check out the Area of Effect anthology, containing pieces similar to this one and many more writer by a cacophony of wonderful (and nerdy) writers.

Doctor. Teacher. Chemist. Marine biologist. Screenwriter. I explored and pursued many career choices as a teenager and into my twenties. At one point in time, all of these fields seemed magical to me, and one by one, as I learned what the work really entailed, I realized that I wasn’t passionate about any of them. That left me wondering—what was my dream career and why wasn’t I reaching for it?

At the beginning of Shirobako, an anime about making anime, Aoi Miyamori is in the same boat. A production assistant for the fictional Musashino Animation company, she enters the company with a desire to make anime, but doesn’t know exactly how she wants to do that. She’s unsure of her career path and that uncertainty causes her unease.

In one of the later episodes of the series, the Musashino staff are questioned about why they continue to work in the high-stress, low-paying animation industry. Each character gives a response that in one way or another reveals a passion for what they do. But Miyamori, who is asked a similar question several times during the series’ run, doesn’t have an answer. As a production assistant, she runs around the building (and drives all over town) keeping track of dozens of processes for each episode she oversees. It’s a tough job, and one that makes Miyamori wonder if it’s the right fit for her. She feels even more pressure because her four closest friends are all pursuing their passions, and in the same field! Having promised each other during their high school years to make an anime production together one day, each is moving forward in a way to make that happen. One of the friends, Sakaki, is struggling to find work as a voice actress, but persistently moves forward. Though discouraged, she won’t let a few failed auditions prevent her from pursuing her dream.

Miyamori is a hard worker, too, but she doesn’t feel any such passion. Frankly, she’s lucky she was hired by Musashino at all. During a job interview, Miyamori admits that she’ll “do anything,” to which the interview responds that she must not know what she really wants.

When I finally dropped those idealistic career choices, I found myself taking a job where I worked each day at a cubicle. I went from a head in the clouds to a desk in a basement. What a reality check—from dreams like “storm chaser” and “Hollywood actor” to becoming a character in Office Space. Not that there’s anything wrong with working in an office, it just wasn’t something I expected to enjoy.

Eventually, my supervisor promoted me to a position that I found more life-giving, one that offered more responsibility. Miyamori experiences the same when she becomes  an overseer of the production assistants for The Third Girl Aerials Squad, Musashino’s new anime project about female pilots. She only gets a modest bump in pay, but the burden of the role is immense. Miyamori is now responsible for all thirteen episodes instead of just a few, and must also manage the production assistants, some of whom are new and unwilling to work more than the bare minimum, if that.

As The Third Girl Aerials Squad reaches its finale and Shirobako comes to an end, Miyamori revisits a variation of the same question that haunted her throughout the series: what do you want to do? This time, Miyamori doesn’t respond with, “I’ll do anything.” Though she never says she intends to be lead producer or director or in any other specific role, it’s clear that Miyamori has found her niche. She worked through contractors who produced poor quality work, angry animators, and inexperienced staff to develop a strong anime series, and inspired those around her to work as a team. She “landed” the series about air fighter pilots safe and sound. Miyamori isn’t living out a dream, necessarily, nor is her goal as concrete as those of her friends, but she is satisfied just where she is.

I didn’t have a singular moment in my career where I knew I had arrived. But like Miyamori, I found my niche, working in a field I enjoy and being challenged to get better and better at it. My work is not glamourous nor does it feel as if I’m living out my passion, but like Miyamori, I realized this—I don’t need a dream to land in the place where I belong.

Volume one of the SHIROBAKO Blu-Ray can be purchased on Amazon.


3 thoughts on “Shirobako and the Lie of Needing a “Dream Career”

  1. Thanks for this Charles. This topic means a lot to me more than you might expect. What would you do when you absolutely loath the cubicle office desk job, and you do want that anything else, but nothing appears to be obtainable? How can one cope with lowering self-expectation, knowing anything else you can obtain would be a downgrade from the thing you hate doing and potentially might hate it even more?

    1. Being “trapped” at a job is so challenging because of those questions. I encourage you to pray and trust that God will provide. I’ve seen it happen in my own life, even during times when I was struggling in faith and almost always when I had no earthly wisdom regarding where to go in my career, God provided. I can look back and see his fingerprints all over my career, and that connected to everything else in my life as well.

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