How is Anime Made in Japan? Learn from SHIROBAKO!

  • ART
  • HOW TO
  • by Zoria Petkoska

    Binge watching anime as if there’s no tomorrow? Many of us do, loving the distinctive aesthetics and storytelling of Japanese anime. But have you ever wondered how much work goes into a single minute of video material? And who is behind your favourite anime?

    We have seen many documentaries and behind the scenes footage of famous movies showing us the insane level of work and dedication. An animated movie requires even more work and manpower!

    One of the best and fastest ways to peek into an animation studio is through watching SHIROBAKO – an anime about making anime.

    Fun fact: Most anime is usually based on a preexisting manga, but Shirobako is a bit more rare as it is an original script anime. Actually, almost as if in reverse, a manga and a novel were made after the anime aired. In addition, an anime film is in the works slated for a 2020 release.


    An ensemble kind of anime, Shirobako follows five best friends – Aoi Miyamori, Ema Yasuhara, Midori Imai, Shizuka Sakaki, and Misa Toudou – with an accent on Miyamori who is building a career as an anime producer. These five friends love all things anime and used to have an animation club back in school. Now, all of them are in Tokyo, giving all their blood, sweat and tears to their dreams of making it in the anime industry.

    Aoi and Ema work together in the prestigious Musashino Animation Studio, Aoi as a production assistant and Ema as an animator. At the same time, Shizuka Sasaki is trying to land a voice acting role while waitressing to get by; Misa Toudou is a dedicated 3D graphics artist; and Midori Imai is still a university student and an aspiring script writer.


    The title Shirobako literally means “a white box” in Japanese and refers to the fact that anime was passed around between production members as VHS tapes in white boxes. Right off the bat they teach us specific industry jargon that is very elusive in meaning, especially as the white boxes are not used anymore.


    As we follow Miyamori Aoi we have an overview of the production process because she interacts with all people involved in an anime: scriptwriters, animators, CGI, director, voice actors and so on.


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    1. Pre-Production and Planning

    As we see in the anime, choosing a story to make an anime out of is an important and arduous process. This entails high responsibility since it is a major decision that will set things in motion and might make or break the anime. At this stage, the core team is decided – screenwriters, directors, TV networks, advertising etc.

    In Shirobako for example we see the problems of pre-production that might arise when a manga is adapted, which is how most of the anime in Japan is made.

    2. Script Writing and Storyboarding

    The script and the storyboards are the meat and bones of an anime and most creative work starts from there. Even when an anime studio has the whole story, like when adapting manga, novels or games, scriptwriters are crucial for writing dialogues and adapting the story for the screen.

    The storyboard artists are just as vital in visualizing the scenes and the action flow in the anime, as Japanese anime is not static, but resembling a film in the way it is shot. Storyboards are visualized by the anime director and are guidelines for subsequent decisions regarding cuts, actor movements, camera movements, special effects, sound effects etc.

    Check out the scene from Shirobako where they talk about what is a director’s role exactly and how it is connected to the whole production team, giving hours and hours of their life to create an anime.

    3. Animation and In-Between Animation

    The word ‘animation’ means bringing something to life and that is exactly what happens in the anime-making process. And it is something akin to MAGIC for the lay person.


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    The animation director and the team hand-draw the frames and simulate the movement using computers and advanced digital animation programs. There has been more and more computer drawings and CGI animation, but the hand-drawn frames are still valued highly in the craft.

    The major animation is called key animation, while in-between animation deals with the background and minor movements to ensure a smooth and natural animation flow.

    4. Filming and Post-Production

    At this stage everything comes together – with filming the whole story comes into life! And anything after that is post-production. The most well-known post-production stage is the sound editing – adding sound effects, music and voice-acting! Voice actors are huge celebrities in Japan and the highest paid among all the jobs in the animation world.


    Shirobako is not only sugar, spice and everything nice, presenting a perfect image of a well-oiled anime machine. It is actually very eye-opening as it doesn’t shy away from problems that plague the anime industry in Japan.

    From in-fighting and clash of egos of directors, writers, showrunners etc, to the most hearbreaking reality of the anime world – that animators are criminally underpaid and can barely feed themselves. Often going hungry while slaving away overtime and developing health problems, animators rarely reap the benefits of the success of the animes they are instrumental in creating. Fans in Japan have been donating money directly to creators and have come up with schemes like crowdsourcing to rent a house where animators can live, but that doesn’t solve the underlying problems in the industry.

    Shirobako also shows the health and stress problems of the whole production crew, the isolation of the freelance animators, the issues of autistic creators and creators dealing with various mental issues. It often shows how the work of some is devalued or how if someone in the production doesn’t understand the roles of the others they can destroy someone’s hard work by requesting a last minute change.

    At the end, the anime’s message is that creating something as big as anime is worth the effort.

    Japanese animation is one of the best and most famous world-wide with an evermore growing fan base. Even in economic crisis in Japan, the entertainment industry of which anime is a big part has shown positive growth, proving that there is a constant demand. Yet, the financial problems that creators face persist. Maybe the light that Shirobako shines on the industry can help in solving the root of the problems.

    If you want to learn how MANGA is made, there’s a manga and an anime about that too! BAKUMAN, a story about a writer/illustrator combo of manga artists trying to make it in the cutthroat manga industry. Written by the same creators of the mega-popular DEATH NOTE, Bakuman is a legend among manga and anime lovers. And what better way to learn about the industry, but by seasoned manga creators who have been through it all?