I just want to leave this 2014 survey here to anchor the opinion I am about to express.
It’s rare that I can take something I watched in the year before and say “this is the best thing this year” at the end of the year. I am not really a futurist but I am casually familiar with the general concept that has been passed around the past few years, the ones that curious dudes might ask a figure like deGrasse Tyson (or whoever is popular at the time), about what is to come. “An anime about making anime that is actually remarkably good”? I think that was something long due.
Shirobako, to be fair, is not the kind of show that will engage everybody like, say, Parasyte or even Oremonogatari. But it’s the kind of show that at least, deserves critical acclaims. Especially from the people who comes to the show mostly from story/plot/character/theme perspectives. Also, I think the way people rated this show in the aggregate speaks a lot about online anime opinion echo chambers in general.
When people talk about how the people who make a ruckus online but don’t show up in stores, this is the sort of things it reminds me. People wanted mainstream narratives or mature characters (outside of a school context etc) or a non-harem thing, but it has been repeatedly shown that it is not what makes money in a very convincing sort of way. We want our SAOs, collectively speaking. Angsty teenage ninjas will always have a place in the industry’s wallet (and when set to Linkin Park, a place in AMV competitions). The sorts of shows we rep usually speak more about us than the shows themselves, because the anime industry isn’t a crapshoot. It is formulaic. Creators in general know what works, and continues to subsist via providing what the people want. This is, too, a lesson you can take away from watching Shirobako.
It’s important to always preface any Shirobako worshipping with the clear understanding that what was depicted in the anime is an idealized situation, in some sense. We have always make space for Kurobako, or the dark reality of what it means, sometimes, to work in that industry and in that context of being a contractor or employee in that capacity. It is what I think to myself after learning about Turning Girls earlier this year after reading about what Trigger did to produce it. (Oddly enough I don’t think about it when I watch Ninja Slayer…) That kickstarter to fund a dorm for animators. The lifestyle of these animators or people who worked in the front lines, at least from the real life accounts, can be something really scary. I think it’s all just baggage for talk though. What stops animators are just the hours and low average pay.
Did you know there are more scientists alive today than there were scientists ever? I think we have long gone past the point possible where more anime is created in a sliding 5-year window than there was anime that was created up to the start. That had to be around 2002-2006 or so if it had to ever happen. I could dazzle you with the math*, but there are not enough animators to create so much work within a short period of time. If we average 60 TV series a season, that’s about 240 IP a season, not counting the annual theatrical output, net shows, the LWAs of the world, what have you. We’ve been at this for over a decade, guys. Ten years ago was when the industry got asymptotic.
Which is to say, ultimately, the people like me who enjoy (or not enjoy) Shirobako are just people watching some anime. The industry belongs to creators and producers. What we say and do will only matter as much as the impact of these things. Because these things are made by human beings not so different than you or I. The human element behind anime is beyond the armchair quarterbacking practice on this blog, and I love it when we bring the artist back in the art.
[*] Ball park: ANN Encyclopedia has 3286 TV series in the DB (checked on 12/1/2015 5:35 PM Eastern). Assuming this is complete, and assuming an average 240 IP a year, we’re approaching that point with a 7-year window and would have captured it well within the 2006 line with a 5-year window. There’s some fudging because if we discount ongoing series we’ll have a lower count on average. I tried using MAL’s DB but I can’t get it to give me data in a non-worthless manner. If we expand beyond TV anime it’s going to be more difficult because we won’t know where to draw the line between art projects and real commercial things, or how to treat movies in a franchise. ANN tags it at 7537 but that’s probably much less complete than the TV anime count.