Shirobako: The Movie premiered in US theaters on August 10.
Shirobako: The Movie is essentially a longer, glossier version of its predecessor. It’s beautifully animated and it’s an absolute sight to behold – the very first thing you notice. But it will also give you a serious case of deja vu. Since the anime ended very nicely, this cinematic adaptation, which takes place four years after the end of the series, feels more like a reunion tour or a strange victory lap. Most, if not all, story beats are very similar, even identical, to the show, which will no doubt be a good fit for hardcore fans, but may not seem worthwhile to those curious about whether there has been any real character progression over the spent four years in the universe.
In fact, the new story cannot even begin without referencing the old. The entire introduction of the film is devoted to summarizing the second half of the series, which somewhat dulls the novelty of this adventure. Heroine Aoi Miyamori still toils as a production assistant at Musashino Animation, and when new president Shun Watanabe (Masaya Matsukaze) asks her to lead a new theater project, she is reluctant. The company is a bit confused and it’s unclear if it can handle such a large production. Aoi must endure the trials and tribulations of her daily life in Musashino as she teams up with newcomer Kaede Miyai (Ayane Sakura) to achieve MusAni’s seemingly insurmountable goal.
As Aoi and the rest of MusAni cling to their new project, a sci-fi action-adventure called Aerial Assault Ship SIVA, they’re working from scratch, trying to find the most efficient and cost-effective way to move forward while quiet. . coming to terms with the cancellation of their previous series, Time Hippopotamus. It seems unheard of, too raw, especially since that series was unceremoniously canceled. But it just might.
Aoi’s confidence that repurposing older elements is contagious, and it’s a joy to watch personalities we’ve seen all over Shirobako come together for a new venture. It’s still familiar ground revisiting, but it’s still nice to catch up on faces we’ve seen once or twice before. It’s a reunion clearly aimed at fans who remember every detail of Shirobako’s cast, and while that means the movie is chock-full of cameos, it’s nice that no one was left out of the spotlight.
Like the series, Shirobako: The Movie shines in both the moments of workplace drama and camaraderie among MusAni’s employees. Watching everyone work together, even when they feel like they’re at their wits’ end to make something special, has sparked something in me. It’s satisfying in an obvious Shirobako way. And seeing the early CG designs, workshops, and brainstorming in which Aoi leads the team makes you feel like you’ve done something much more productive than just watching anime.
As usual, some of the best moments come from time spent outside of the entire production roller coaster. In particular, we get to see Ryosuke Endo (Shinobu Matsumoto)’s interactions with his impossibly sweet wife Mayumi (Chinami Hashimoto) as he comes out of his shell after the devastation of losing Time Hippo. Their relationship is so tender as Mayumi does everything she can to comfort her lover and help him rediscover his passion for the industry.
It’s satisfying in an obvious Shirobako way.
Likewise, it’s entertaining to watch Aoi struggle with her personal decisions and growth when she has to look deep within herself. That’s where Mimsy and Lolo, a pirate-like doll and white bear who serve as Aoi’s explanatory inner voices, come out. It’s always a treat to see them return, even if they’re a little hard on our favorite member of the Donut Five. When things get serious and MusAni seems unable to (re)create their new feature, they tend to provide some much-needed comedic relief.
Unfortunately, these small interactions don’t make for a fully immersive movie. What initially seemed like insurmountable opportunities for the anime studio is quickly defeated, and Aoi re-emerges as the protagonist who can solve any mystery – but she seems to stay right where she is. It feels like you try new things, succeed, and then never progress.
In this, Shirobako: The Movie is a comfortable return to a world of working day in and day out in a rapidly changing industry that likes to tread familiar water. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but after four years in the anime business, it looks like we’re seeing a studio and employees a little more advanced than this. Still, it’s a fun romp for anyone eager to see their favorite characters return. It’s a better option than re-watching the series again, as it does provide new elements to explore, but it doesn’t add anything bad.