Reviewby Kim Morrissy,
The film's story is set four years after the events of the original Shirobako anime. Aoi Miyamori keeps busy dealing with the ordinary troubles in her daily work at Musashino Animation. After a morning meeting, Watanabe talks to Aoi and puts her in charge of a new theatrical anime project for the studio. The project has unexpected problems, and Aoi is unsure if the company can proceed with a theatrical anime with its current state of affairs. While dealing with that anxiety, Aoi meets a new colleague named Kaede Miyai (voiced by Ayane Sakura). She and the MusAni team work together to complete the project.
The Shirobako movie is the unexpected sequel to P.A. Works' beloved TV anime about creating anime. The original show had one of the most perfect, cathartic endings you'll ever see in a TV anime, and although fans have been clamoring for more for years, the story never really needed a continuation. And indeed, this film feels more like a throwback than a sequel, despite chronologically taking place four years after the ending of the original anime.
The film begins with a brief recap of the events of the second half of the TV anime, which is ironic because many of the dramatic beats of the film itself also end up retreading ground from that arc. Musani is tasked with making an original film, but corporate meddling gets in the way of artistic integrity, and our scrappy team struggle to balance their limited resources with creating what they truly want to create. One of the climactic moments from the film is almost identical to that iconic scene from the TV show's second-last episode where the director storms the publishing company. It's still a good moment in context, but the film never escapes the feeling that we've seen this all before.
Most of the new material is in the "getting the band back together" story that occupies the first act of the film. It turns out that things haven't been entirely rosy for Musani since the end of the TV series; the president has stepped down and many of the former staffers have moved on to different gigs. Some people have moved on to higher places, while others, like our main heroine Miyamori, feel like they've been stuck in the same place without progressing. It's all very true to life in a way, and it's depicted with the gentle humor from the series that we've come to know and love.
The film makes a point of showing absolutely everybody who had a role to play in the original series, even if they have nothing to do in this film. Even the manga artist and editor of The Third Aerial Girls Squad get a brief cameo here. Only a small handful of characters get their chance to shine in this film, but I've always liked how Shirobako is more of an ensemble story anyway; it reinforces how making anime is such a team effort. That said, I appreciated the spotlight this film casts into the personal lives of side characters like Endou, the action animator, since it's not often that we get to see animators existing outside of their work, even in real life.
Once the team has been assembled and the work begins on their next project, the actual ins and outs of production take a back seat. Any realism that this series had when depicting the grueling workflow of anime production gets thrown out the window in favor of pursuing a fairy tale ending. I don't mind the lack of realism because I always understood Shirobako to be an exaggerated workplace dramedy rather than a documentary of the anime industry, but from a narrative perspective, I don't feel like it's satisfying for the characters to achieve their goals so easily, especially when the overall arc treads such similar ground to the second cour of the original series. No matter how good the story is in concept, the payoff and catharsis are significantly undercut the second time around.
One thing that is worth highlighting, though, is that when this film wants to convey that Musani's staff have gone above and beyond for the quality of their project, it truly does succeed in a way that the second half of the TV anime was never able to accomplish due to its own production limitations. The extended action set piece depicted in the film truly is a master work, filled with gorgeous, inventive designs, numerous moving parts at all times, and some stunning character animation. It reminded me a lot of the visual imaginings depicted in Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, a rare thing for Shirobako, which was always more about the mundane aspects of maintaining an anime studio rather than the creative process itself.
In the end, though, it's the little things that will make this film worthwhile for a Shirobako fan. The quips and jokes, the small, relatable moments between the meetings and crunch time. Seeing theses familiar faces come together to do what they do best still puts a smile on my face. There are some great character-related things that I won't spoil, but they're the first reason I'll recommend this film. Maybe this sequel wasn't necessary in the scheme of things, but it's still a labor of love through and through. It was nice to spend a film with Miyamori and her friends, just one more time.
Overall : B
Story : B
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Fun to revisit the characters after four years, the humor and appealing concepts remain intact, some great animated moments
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