You know what I’ve never done? I’ve never tried to do a theme. No real reason, other than I tend to be random, and doing a theme smacks of responsibility a little too much for my taste. Regardless, tackling new things is also something I try to do, so I figured a theme would be fun.
A theme, by the by, is when I keep all my Monday Anime picks within a certain topic, genre or sub-genre. Since I usually only cover about four to five shows a month, it sounded like kind of a cool idea. Granted, I once thought writing an entire novel about the dangers of demonic chickens was a cool idea, so I’m not a good judge of what makes anything cool, or even an idea.
Something my publisher, and her vodka, will no doubt attest to.
Regardless, I’ve decided to do this, for no reason other than it seems like fun. So, for March, we’re going to be doing a theme. We’ll see how April goes when we get there, and if I still feel like I need some direction and focus in my life, or if I’ve forgotten all about that and just gone back to doing whatever.
For March, the theme is going to be Behind The Scenes, and I’ll be talking about animes that are about making anime and manga. There aren’t very many, so it ended up being kind of easy to do, which I admit, was another reason it seemed like a cool idea. It required very little commitment from me.
It also lets me flat out tell you what shows I’ll be covering for the entire month, so that’ll be interesting as well. For Behind The Scenes March, the shows I’m going to review are this weeks Animation Runner Kuromi, Seiyu’s Life, Bakuman, and Shirobako. Each of them focuses on an aspect of the industry we all love, from making anime, to voice acting, to manga creation, with Shirobako touching on all of the above.
They are also, to the last, pretty good shows, which was a nice surprise for me. This whole thing would have fallen apart pretty fast if one of them was terrible. Then I would have had to actually think of something, which I try not to do. It always ends with demonic chickens, after all.
Or zombies. Sometimes lesbians. Sometimes zombies, lesbians and demonic chickens all at once. My head is a strange place.
Let’s start with Animation Runner Kuromi, one of the very first animes to actually tackle the behind the scenes of making an anime.
Kuromi is a two episode OVA series, released in 2001, with part two coming 2004, from Yumeta Company. As of 2009, Yumeta merged with Hal Film Maker, and became TYO Animations, so if you haven’t heard of them, that’s probably why.
Not that TYO is exactly a big name, either. Probably their biggest production ever was Terra Formers: Revenge in 2016. Or rather, of the list of past productions, which only goes back to 2011, I’m not familiar with anything they’ve done. Either way, Animation Runner Kuromi isn’t a show you’ve likely heard of, any more than the production studio behind it was.
Which is kind of a shame.
Kuromi revolves around Mikiko “Kuromi” Oguro, a life long fan of the fictional anime series Luis Monde III, which bears a striking resemblance to Lupin The III in pretty much every possible way that won’t infringe on a copyright. Her love of the show leads her to getting a job in the anime industry, and on her first day with Studio Petit, she finds herself thrust into the job of Production Desk Manager after the previous one succumbs to his chronic ulcers.
Petit, as the name suggests, is a tiny studio, with only four animators and one director working for them, on a single show called Time Journeys, the second episode of which is already behind schedule. With the responsibility for making sure the episode is ready on time, Kuromi has to use every dirty trick at her disposal to get the animators back on track, and the show sent off on time, or it’ll be her that faces the wrath of the studio owner.
What follows has been described by pretty much everyone in the anime industry, and even Western animation, as one of the most accurate depictions of the behind the scenes ever put to film. While Kuromi is definitely a comedy, and even a parody of the animation business, the actual work you see being done is how it all is actually done.
As are the tricks and shortcuts Kuromi frequently employs to not just get the animators working, but to make the deadlines she faces. Even the sense of burnout everyone she meets is suffering from has been hailed as extremely accurate and realistic.
By the second episode, when a shady producer is brought in, the show tackles the frequent disconnect between the animation staff and production staff on the issue of quality over speed. As we all know, animation quality can sometimes vary from one episode to another on a show, and Kuromi points the finger of blame for this straight at the production staff, who are often more concerned with making the deadlines than with producing a quality product.
Of course, it’s a lot more complex than that, as we’ll see with Shirobako, but Kuromi is only two episodes, so we’ll forgive them for being a bit blunt.
One thing Kuromi does do is really give you a sense of just how frantic things are behind every anime you have ever watched. The animators are often overworked, the production desk has to juggle them and the higher ups at the studio, and the studio heads are more concerned with the bottom line than with anything, creating a permanently dysfunctional workplace. Since Kuromi herself falls right in the middle, it’s no wonder her predecessor had to rush to the hospital with bleeding ulcers, as her job is to keep literally everyone happy.
Add to that the studio suddenly getting three shows to animate, and the studio head refusing to hire more animators, and that crushing responsibility becomes all but impossible to manage. As does the work load on the animators, making that dysfunction nightmarish.
Yes, the ugly truth behind the anime industry is that it is a soul crushing slog through impossible demands. Kinda makes you feel a little more generous to even the worst of shows, doesn’t it?
Of course, Kuromi is about more than just letting anime fans know how hard the job really is, it’s also about saying how worthwhile it all is. Kuromi is, above all else, an admission on the part of animators, directors, producers, and even studio owners, that for all the seemingly insurmountable odds, making anime is the best thing any of them have ever decided to do with their lives.
In terms of animation, Kuromi isn’t anything to get excited about. It looks and feels more like a classic Western cartoon, such as Tom & Jerry, or Bugs Bunny, with the barely there backgrounds, and over exaggerated character designs. Yet, despite that, it somehow works for Kuromi, and adds a layer of adorable to the whole thing. It also gives it a more universal feel, as this is more than just an anime, but an open letter of appreciation to animators all over the world. So, in that sense, the animation design choices make a lot of sense.
Kuromi was directed by Akitaro Daichi, who was also the director on Fruits Basket, and much of the same sensibilities present there can be seen here. His heavy reliance on the exaggerated, especially with things that are emotionally charged, is present in Kuromi just as it was in Fruits Basket. So, too, is that sense of knowing just how to frame a scene, and present it with the heart of the scene jumping out and slapping you in the face.
Akitaro Daichi is not a man to deal in subtly.
The music is… there. It feels very generic, as if I’ve heard it somewhere before, and odds are, I have. I can’t find a listing of who handled the music, and for the most part, it leans towards the heavily repetitive. Still, it does always fit the mood, so whoever put it together at least knew to do that much.
Kuromi was also given an English Dub by Central Park Media, through their US Manga Corps distribution service, a pretty well known name to anyone who has been an active fan of anime for over ten years. US Manga Corps brought in a butt ton of anime, after all, and for a long time, was one of the most well known anime distributors around, until Central Park Media went bankrupt in 2009.
Now, both episodes can be found, in English, on Youtube, so there’s no reason for anyone not to check it out and get their first taste of what it’s like working in the anime industry. Which, by the way, is kind alike taking a summer stroll through hell. Painful, but worth it in the end.
Next week: Seiyu’s Life.