SHIROBAKO, the series about five young woman and a production company clearing challenge after challenge to make anime, is my comfort series, occupying a special place in my heart. Somehow, P.A. Works was able to make their large cast feel like a family for the viewer. When it completed its run, I felt I had lost a piece of myself, no longer being able to see the next steps each member of my family would take.
So I should have received news of SHIROBAKO The Movie with joy—and I did, both when I heard of its development and of the limited domestic release by Eleven Arts—until I read the summary for the film and realized that, as in the sequel trilogy for Star Wars, a bright future wasn’t lying in wait for the beloved protagonists. The four years between the final episode and film haven’t been kind to Miyamori and company.
In fact, from the very beginning of the movie, it’s clear that things aren’t going well for Musashino Animation. Miyamori is driving the same white vehicle, but it’s now old and beaten, suddenly dying in the middle of acceleration—an immediate symbol of the company’s dire predicament. Their bottom fell out after a partnership issue led to production stoppage on another series, Time Hippopotamus. Now, four years after the success of Third Aerial Girls Squad, Musashino has only a handful of staff (and even less who are familiar to the viewer) and is subcontracting on the fanservice-laden sequel for that series. Miyamori is discouraged and becoming jaded with her career, while the remaining four animation club girls are also experiencing disappointment in their anime-related jobs.
As with the show, the studio’s challenges reflect similar ones for the girls, which in turn also speak to the audience. The series was subtle in presenting these layers, but the movie is more obvious. Gone is a 22-year-old’s innocence, when obstacles didn’t seem quite so insurmountable and there wasn’t enough experience and wisdom present yet present to defeat the spirit of youth, replaced by a weighty feeling of being simply a part of an unjust machine that dashes one’s dreams.
And in pressing this theme, SHIROBAKO The Movie hits all the rights notes about the malaise of one’s mid-twenties (and even older, as demonstrated by the rest of the cast), and how we can and should respond. Miyamori is 26 in the film, and I was just a year older when my own productivity was declining at work. Despite being told by my superiors that I was doing a great job, I knew that I wasn’t. I was rapidly burning out. Thankfully, God led me to a new opportunity that energized my entire career, and similarly, Miyamori sees a light, a possible way, carved both by words from colleagues and mentors (mentorship is another strong theme in both the series and movie) and by an opportunity given to Musashino, or faulted to it, to create a feature film. How appropriate (and very much like SHIROBAKO) that the movie sequel for an anime series about making anime series is about making an anime film!
But this is SHIROBAKO, and that’s to be expected. We also know that it won’t be a simple road to make things right, and that to succeed, the family will need to find a way to push, support, criticize, and rescue one another again and again and again.
And so, the second half of SHIROBAKO The Movie moves along a journey toward the final destination of completing the film; it, like the series, is wide and involving, including dozens of characters in substantial roles (highlights in the movie are plentiful, and include seeing Ogasawara at her least lolita, Yamada’s hilarious rise and fall as a name director, and irritable Endo’s sweet side) and the five main girls each finding completions to mini-stories; personal and deep as it focuses on Miyamori’s arc; and directly speaking to the audience, particularly through the words that inform and fill the movie being created, Air amphibious assault ship SIVA—that life is a struggle, but to create a “vision of a new world,” you must fight.
That piece of wisdom not only reverberates among Miyamori and the rest of characters, but into theaters halls as well. We all are struggling in various ways, not only those in their twenties but across all ages and experiences, and perhaps in these past couple of years more than ever. Reaching its climax during one of two major pieces in the movie (the other being a musical number about making anime that serves as a sort of inspiring lead in to the challenges ahead for the characters), this rousing film about hope, community, and yes, struggle, may be just what many of us need to see. I know it’s what I needed, an encouragement to move forward when everything seems to be pulling me down.
And if this is it for the SHIROBAKO franchise, then the film is an exceptional way to end. In the twin spirit of eye-opening reality and authentic optimism, SHIROBAKO The Movie helps us to remember that though the road is long and hard, this life is full of hope, beauty, and a future.
So lift up that donut, and take off.