Shirobako mostly lacks “anime names”. Instead for meaningful names full of foreshadowing, the show opts for a more down-to-earth and realistic take on the issue. Ema does get the kanji for “drawing” in her name, and plenty of the side characters are humorous takes on real-life people, down to their names, but otherwise Shirobako does not try too stand out too much.
Which is not to say there are no tasty parts at all. Our protagonist’s name, Aoi, is currently a very popular girl’s name, duking it out for first place against Yui throughout the last few years.
Miyamori has her name written all in the meaning-neutral hiragana (a popular choice for girl names in general, as the round shapes of hiragana characters are considered very feminine). That need not stop us from guessing, though. People who know a bit of Japanese will point out that one common meaning of aoi is the color blue. But the word actually covers various shades of blue and green, as the two were not considered separate colors in Japanese tradition.
There is a metaphorical meaning to the English green shared by the Japanese aoi. As unripe fruit tends to be green in color, so the young and inexperienced in any field can also be called green. And this is exactly Aoi’s function throughout the first cour of Shirobako – to make mistakes and ask questions, so that we can learn about the studio and what is necessary to make it work. Aoi works as our perspective character exactly because she is inexperienced in the field.
Of course, every novice eventually gains experience and becomes better at their job, like Aoi does. But as we get deeper into the second cour of Shirobako, we learns that the people in the industry can be broadly divided into two categories: those who wake up from their dreams about the industry, and those that never do. If the stories of the veterans presented in the show are any indication, many of the greatest works are crafted by those in the latter category. As we see in the later episodes, Aoi herself is still far from waking up from her own dream. And that enduring innocence is another meaning contained in her name.
Another interesting, and much more light-hearted name choice is Takanashi Tarou. As Anime Diet’s Gendomike puts it, “it’s a shame that we all know a Tarou in every office”. Which is exactly the intention behind this character’s name – Tarou is the stereotypical male name, the Japanese John Smith.
Of course, to complete the cliché, you would normally use a very common last name – preferably Yamada. What we get instead is Takanashi. Maserbeam complains about the overabundance of Takanashi characters in anime when discussing Tarou, and he does have a point. Chuu2koi, Working!, PapaKiki, Black Rock Shooter and other anime titles seem to be in love with this surname, not without reason.
The 小鳥遊 variant of the surname is famous because while it actually exists and is in use in contemporary Japan, it is one of the country’s most unreadable last names. Taka-nashi can be taken to mean “no hawks”, and the surname is written with kanji for “small birds playing around” (completely ignoring traditional readings of the kanji), the logic apparently being that small birds only play around in places with no hawks. This is most likely an odd remnant of the times when the Japanese language was not so much a tool of universal communication as a toy for the noble-born to play around with and use as a barrier between them and the uneducated. At one point, everything could be written in the word puzzle style described above, for art and beauty. (And then nobody could read a text 10 years after it was written, as nobody remembered the author’s witty jokes and puzzles.)
So the last name is weird and cool, and just perfect for your fictional character. Except that in Tarou’s case, while the last name might be pronounced exactly like the “cool” Takanashi, it is instead a variant written with perfectly ordinary and boring characters. This Takanashi is written with the kanji for “tall pear tree” (高梨), and read in a standard way.
I am not sure which joke the writers were aiming for here: “we wish all the Tarous of this world were just fictional characters… but they’re not”, or maybe “this guy wishes he were special… but he’s not”.
Or maybe just both.