“What do I want to do in the future?” This is the question that Aoi Miyamori asks herself over and over again throughout all twenty-four episodes of Shirobako. It’s a question that I imagine most of us relate to, and it’s one of the many reasons why, after several years, Shirobako continues to resonate so heavily with me.
Shirobako follows Aoi and her four high school friends as they start their careers in the animation industry, each with their own trials and tribulations. As Aoi works hard to make Musashino Animation’s latest project a success, she and her friends encounter many others in the industry with their own dreams and concerns about the future. Through her interactions with each of these individuals, Aoi continues to advance both in her career and as an adult as she searches for her own dreams to pursue.
I was in high school when Shirobako first aired, and I immediately identified with Aoi’s love of anime and her desire to work in a field that would bring her closer to the medium she and her friends enjoyed so much. At the time, I had just started writing on this blog a few months prior, but even then I saw writing as a way to feel closer to the shows that I enjoyed. My excitement towards blogging about anime was similar to Aoi and her friends’ passion when they made their own short anime in high school.
I had just recently fallen in love with anime (despite a long history of growing up with shows such as Pokemon), and I wanted to engage with the medium beyond just being a mere passive viewer. After watching a particularly moving episode, I would feel a strange sense that I wasn’t able to express my feelings properly without doing something more. This was the initial reason why I began to write for AniTAY: it finally provided me with a creative outlet to express my passion for the shows I was enjoying so much. It was my way of participating in and contributing to the fandom.
Aoi’s love affair with anime is a long one, and it is not without its own bumps in the road. Ever since seeing the anime “Andes Chucky” as a child, Aoi grew up hoping to help create something that would resonate with others as that show did with her. Despite having this vague goal, she often struggles to see exactly how she should pursue it. After a brief tenure as a student studying economics at a junior college, she decides to just go for it and applies to be a production assistant. Even after obtaining a job in the anime industry, she wonders if she isn’t just running forward with no destination in mind, and worries that her current role might not be taking her in the right direction. She’s not even sure if she’s truly suited for her job, and harbors severe anxiety when she tries to think of her future. What should she strive for? What is the best path for her to pursue?
Aoi’s ever-evolving concerns are what make her such an important character to me. As a high schooler, my concerns mirrored Aoi’s anxieties: what path should I aim for? What is the best career for me to pursue? I was passionate about my hobbies and anime in particular, but I wasn’t sure where I should channel that energy. Much like how Aoi dabbled in economics at junior college, I didn’t have the confidence to attempt to study what I really wanted to when I first started university. It took me a while to find the right path for myself, and I didn’t fully commit to Japanese studies until I had attended university for a couple of semesters. I had to overcome my fear of the unknown and just go for it, even though I wasn’t sure what career I would ultimately pursue. It wasn’t an easy decision, and it took me many months to finally reach what now seems like the obvious choice (hindsight is 20/20!).
Aoi is fortunate to have friends and coworkers who believe in and support her in times of trouble, but she is hardly the only character in Shirobako to have these types of concerns. Her friend Shizuka, despite having graduated from a prestigious school for voice actors, struggles to find even bit parts in anime. From Shizuka’s perspective, Aoi is already successful and doing great work. Aoi, for her own part, envies Shizuka for having a specific goal in mind that she can passionately pursue. Although they worry for each other, both truly believe in their friend’s abilities, and together with their other friends, they build an incredible support network.
I likewise wouldn’t have been able to decide to commit fully to studying Japanese in university if I didn’t have the support of my family, friends, and professors. There are people on this very website who have supported my ambitions in times of uncertainty, even while dealing with their own issues, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thanks to my support network at school, at home, and online, I was able to graduate with a double major in History and Japanese Language and Literature in May. In a few days, I will move to Japan to work as a translator, which, in a way, is a culmination of all my efforts these past several years.
*Mild thematic spoilers for the end of Shirobako in the next paragraph*
When I was in high school, I imagined that by the time I entered the workforce my path forward would be clear, but like all things in life, it’s difficult to know exactly what the future holds. Aoi never magically resolves all of her concerns about her own future. She doesn’t need to. People in the real world don’t magically resolve all their struggles in one climactic moment, and neither does Aoi. But by the end of the series, she finally has the confidence to declare that she is on the right track and to acknowledge that she enjoys working to make the anime that she loves so much.
The upcoming major shift in my life led me last week to rewatch Shirobako, which was already one of my all-time favorite anime. If anything, it hit even harder this time than ever before. A crucial part of the beauty of Shirobako lies in its wonderful optimism. Aoi, her friends, and her coworkers face seemingly insurmountable tasks and daunting existential questions every day, and things frequently fail to work out the way that they would like, but they rise from their failures and take up the challenge again and again. The show’s message is ultimately positive: it’s okay to be unsure of where you will go in life from here. It’s okay to follow your dreams, even if you’re not sure exactly where they will lead you. It’s impossible to know for certain what the future holds anyway, so why not give it your best shot? With some hard work and the support of your friends and family, you can overcome things that might seem impossible right now. Aoi may not know exactly where her career in anime will take her, but she nevertheless resolves to face each day with hope for the future.
Shirobako is a complex story with many moving parts, but Aoi’s story in particular has left a strong impression on me. Her internal struggles and existential concerns have continued to resonate over the years as I pursue my own career in a field I’m passionate about. It’s hard to say where life will take me from here, but just like Aoi, I’m going to face tomorrow with hope for what the future holds. That, and excitement for the upcoming Shirobako sequel film.
*A special thanks to TheMamaLuigi for his help proofreading this!*
I’m Protonstorm, and this is my series about Japanese pop culture, Positive in Japan. I have previously studied in intensive Japanese language programs in Hokkaido, Kyoto and Nagoya, and am moving to Japan to work full-time this August. Follow me on Twitter here for my ocassional fandom thoughts. For more articles on all things Japan, be sure to check out AniTAY, Kotaku’s reader-run anime blog. AniTAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. Click here to check us out.