Out of curiosity, I've been thinking a lot about how anime are made, but it is fairly hard to get insights into the practices of this particular industry. And then, Shirobako came around.
An anime about the creation process of an anime - or some kind of meta-animation or animeception - that is not only a daring approach to new age infotainment, but also an excellent opportunity for the creators to put in their passion associated with this kind of work, and to tell a realistic tale on the hardships that newbies in this industry are likely to encounter.
Shirobako managed to rank very high in my list due to the fact that it is done with an astonishing amount of perfection, especially in terms of storytelling. This show is not about documentation, it actually has a decent, even exciting story in which the factual elements of anime-making are embedded. The first anime I was reminded of was Bakuman, doing practically the same with manga but on a more entertaining and less informative level. Shirobako, on the other hand, provides for an almost perfect balance between entertainment and information. A bunch of girls decide to follow their dreams to become a part of the anime industry, which is an excellent premise for the fact that the transition between school/university and work life is described in particular. It is especially this transition with its associated culture shock that is hard to outline on an emotional level. In actuality, it is not unusual to get rejected by companies although you were educated well, and just like that, dreams get shattered. The pressure that is inherent to these situations is portrayed by Shirobako in a marvelous manner.
Shirobako minds details. This becomes apparent even in the way the anime-making process is illustrated with all its facets, from storyboard creation over key/3D animation to post-processing and voice acting. In addition, as the heroine serves as production assistant, various aspects of management and leadership are also subject of interest. This all leads to a very realistic picture of what (harsh) business and work life is about in general. As someone who doesn't know anything or very little about the creation of anime, you will feel enriched by the level of detail that comes with the explanations, although this might lead to a noticeable issue as well. I found myself overloaded with information during the first episodes, which led to the assumption of mine that Shirobako will turn out a mediocre show. This relativised mostly after I had gotten used to the setting and the pace. Shirobako would have done well choosing a more progressive approach than a linear one regarding the amount of information conveyed. This, however, is criticism on a very high level.
In terms of characters, Shirobako is one of the few anime that does very well with the side cast, which convinces especially through personality variety. The female main characters are very similar to each other: the typical inexperienced and naive yet dreamful and highly motivated graduates entering the job market. Although this made it easy for Shirobako to refrain from elements to enhance character depth, I don't consider this a problem for it being a necessary mean to equally approach the various parts of the anime industry from the same viewpoint at the same time. This also helps the viewer to relate to the characters in general and to reduce the already high degree of complexity. The side characters, on the other hand, apart from those that serve the comedic aspect, are well conceptualized to act realistically and provide a credible personality. This shows that the producers of Shirobako approached the entire thing holistically and honestly, which implies a great deal of passion that must have been put into it.
The soundtrack fits the show well and the OP/ED songs underline the basically happy and energetic atmosphere of the anime. Same can be said for the seiyuu. Where Shirobako really stands out is the level of detail that is presented in the images, for example in the backgrounds of the production companies' office that represents the main setting. I am honestly very impressed by how the arts support the realistic feeling that was intended to come about with Shirobako. This is what I, at least, expect from a masterpiece. Another big plus comes with the various versions of the second ending animation, similar to what Angel Beats! did, which adds to the perceived amount of effort that was exerted towards Shirobako becoming a remarkable anime.
I raise my hat to Shirobako. If you want to learn something about how anime are made, or if you like shoujo/josei series and mostly realistic work-related anime, I implore you to give this show a chance. I assume that Shirobako appeals to a broad audience, however, be aware of the fact that you might get bombarded with information early on, which might dampen your enjoyment in early stages of the anime. I can suggest, keep it up, it's worth it.
(A quantified evaluation can be found on my page.)