Animeta has a very simple premise: Shirobako was a huge hit, so why not copy it? It's easier to list the differences than all the commonalities: Animeta has a single plucky girl protagonist instead of five; she's strictly an art department type; the story, despite being published in a seinen magazine, follows a shounen model; and the format allows for more in-depth explanations of the production process.
To begin, our Plucky Heroine, Miss Miyuki Sanada, applies for a job at an animation studio despite having zero experience or training. She gets through the first round of the application process by dint of being the heroine. Something, something raw talent. The second round, however, involves a practical exam where she has to draw images that come between two key frames, and this she muffs completely. The review panel takes one look at her art and dismisses her... or they would if it weren't for the maverick director who decided to sit in on a whim. He immediately recognizes that Our Plucky Heroine has what it takes to become a great animator.
Of course in the finest Dumbledore fashion, he doesn't tell her this. Oh no, explaining things straight out would spoil her. Instead he stays silent through the interview, lets her think she's crashed-and-burned, and then quietly has her hired.
But rather than bring her in and train her himself, he gives her over to Ms. Fuji, a domineering taskmistress who's renowned for driving newbies to quit. Mistress Fuji rides even the most talented new-hires hard; for our Plucky But Untalented Heroine, she reserves the full R. Lee Ermey treatment, forcing Miyuki trace and retrace the same picture for days on end until she finally gets it perfect. Of course we in the audience aren't meant to see it that way. We're privy to the Maverick Director's reasoning, which is that while most of Mistress Fuji's students end up quitting the industry in frustration, those who persevere become masters of animation. Which is supposed to make us feel better about watching Miyuki get ground down like a piece of talc under a bulldozer.
This juxtaposes oddly with a bit later in the story where Mistress Fuji explains the brutal economics of being a newbie animator--to wit, if you maintain an exhausting pace for eighteen hours a day, you will just about earn enough not to die in a gutter. This honest assessment of anime labor practices is the starkest contrast between Animeta and Shirobako. Of course, PA Works, which produced Shirobako, is rumored to be one of the more exploitative anime studios, so the fact that they romanticized the industry should be no surprise, but still, points to Animeta for honesty.
But then the implication at the end of the volume is that the Maverick Director has Big Plans for Our Plucky Heroine, and she'll be able to skip over the worst hardships. I understand this may be necessary to keep the story readable. Few people want to slog through a manga about struggling animators sleeping under their desks and filching sugar packs from the convenience store for sustenance.
But dammit, that's what I want!
If you enjoyed Shirobako and like the idea of a workplace dramedy that follows the logic of Hunter x Hunter, this is your thing. The characters are likable as long as they aren't your coworkers, the abusive labor practices make for good drama, and the art is pretty enough to look at even if it doesn't pop. This is a good manga to turn your brain off with and just relax.
-by Sean O'Hara