Shirobako - A Glimpse Into Production, Animation, and Voice Acting

The reality of working in the anime industry in Japan is far from perfect, as the workload can be immensely cumbersome. 

Japanese animation has become a major global industry that has seen much success outside of Japan. As a consequence of this, there are many people who have become entranced with the idea of going to Japan in order to work in this industry.

Shirobako is a unique series that dives into the inner workings of producing anime. The main focus of Shirobako are its 5 protagonists—Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Shizuka Sakaki, Misa Todo, and Midori—and their journey in pursuing paths within the anime industry. Aoi is a new production assistant that's struggling to manage her tasks and responsibilities, Ema is straining to make ends meet while working as an animator, and Shizuka is a voice-actress who is attempting to find a job in her desired career.

It is through each of their struggles that we see the toils of the characters’ respective fields. 

Production Team

The production team consists of the producers and their assistants. 

The producers are in charge of finding projects for the company, having a lot of weight in the production process, typically overseeing all major decisions.

Production Assistants are usually in charge of making sure everything is coordinated. This includes: scheduling, picking up and distributing keyframes, and being a mediator in the event of any schedule delays or conflicts. 

Shirobako demonstrates this through Aoi's constant struggle of making ends meet, no matter how badly it physically and mentally drains her. The challenges of this position are making sure that work production flow is regulated. However, it’s not that simple.

Below is an example of a production schedule:

Work schedules can become even messier than this.

Animators

An animator is in charge of creating frames. These frames are then used to bring drawings to life via animation. While drawing by hand is a common practice, there are multiple artistic techniques that animators can use.

Ema’s character gives a focus on some of the difficulties animators face, including:

Low Wage - A survey made by the Japan Animation Creators Association of 759 animators has shown that the average animator only makes 1.1 million yen per year. When converting that into US dollars, it is roughly $10,406 per year. 

Long Work Hours - Animators are typically working 10-14 hours a day. This does not even factor in the time needed to fix mistakes or even worse, redrawing from scratch. Depending on the studio you work with and the role you're performing, you'd either work in an office or at home. It's the kind of work that you do out of passion, sitting at a desk, staring at drawings for hours at a time.

Traditional Art—2D vs. Digital Computer Graphic—3D Art - An interesting angle approached by the series is the debate of what will become of traditional art.

Anime first started to use 3DCG for specific things that would be too hard to animate traditionally, like machines or explosions. It was used to improve anime in specific ways, like having a lot of moving background characters that would have been impossibly expensive and time-consuming for hand-drawn animation.

With ever-advancing technology, many companies geared towards 3DCG, as opposed to 2D, which has caused traditional artists to fear for their futures in the animation industry. 

Voice Acting

Ema and Aoi are not the only ones that are facing issues. Shizuka—an aspiring voice actress—struggles to find a role, despite having attended multiple auditions. 

Voice actors are selected through auditions, and the directors select the most qualified to play a character. However, it’s not that easy. 

Auditions can have at least 100 people vying for a specific character. In the case of new voice actors, it's especially grueling if there is a veteran present, as there is a likelihood of them being chosen over the newcomers on the basis of accumulated experience. 

The challenge is making decision that everyone can agree with The selection process can take an entire day if need be.

When there are multiple directors, there are multiple reasons as to why someone should be cast:

Popularity - Ever get into a series because it had some of your favorite voice actors in it? Popularity matters quite a bit, as it allows creators to use well-known names on the show, such as Yukari Tamura or Daisuke Ono, simply because they are known to have large fan-bases. Not only that, but having a new voice actor could possibly damage the success of a show.

Singing - In today’s industry, there are many companies that look for voice actors with great singing ability. This is to produce musical merchandise, such as character songs and drama CDs. This is actually discussed within the series, as one of the directors argue that the priority should be a voice actor's acting, and not their singing ability.

Appearance and Availability - Yes, as vain as it might sound, these factors can play a role in the casting process. If a series becomes popular enough, the voice actors will often be expected to play a part in the promotion of the series.

An example of this was seen in the series Girlish Number.

The protagonist Chitose gets casted for the main heroine role simply for convenience, despite having no voice acting talent. Due to her availability, she had time to attend promotional events.

Persistence

Shirobako demonstrates the inner workings of producing anime, and the importance of the perseverance required to succeed in the production, animation, and voice acting industries.

There are multitude of other key factors that Shirobako explores outside of these three fields. However, the lesson taught by the series is this: while the process can be grueling, painful, and even heartbreaking, success is feasible as long as you persist.