Here it is, the anime that I will forever compare every new “meta-anime” to, and usually in a way that ends up favouring Shirobako, because that’s how good I think this show is. Sure, Sore ga Seiyuu managed to carve out a nice niche for itself with its focus on voice acting, and Girlish Number does some things sufficiently differently, but I will probably never elevate either of them to the level of Shirobako.
Were it not for Ping Pong the Animation, Shirobako would surely be my favourite anime of the year 2014, and it is my favourite of 2015. The main reason for this was that I thought it did its utmost to make its subject matter – the anime production process – as interesting as possible, while making sure not to make it “too anime”. In comparison, Sore ga Seiyuu had character designs that were hard to take seriously, and Girlish Number is really exaggerated when it comes its portrayal of the anime industry. Ok, I guess Shirobako’s main characters didn’t have the most true-to-real-humans character designs, what with their colourful hairdos and comparatively childlike faces (it’s true that they’re pretty young, but still), but the supporting cast were very enjoyably adult-like, or at least most of them were.
But I think Shirobako’s greatest strength was its small details that didn’t necessarily directly have anything to do with the overarching storyline (i.e. the process of anime production), like Andes Chucky, Rii’s research on airplanes and trains, the random Nicholas Cage name drop, Tarou and Hiraoka bonding over incompetence, etc. I liked the main story a lot, but it was these little moments and flairs that really made me love the show, elevating it from “just great storywriting” to “masterpiece”. And it really is a masterpiece, at least to me.