From the creative mind behind My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU comes a new anime about the Japanese voice acting industry through the lens of industry newbie Chitose Karasuma.
Chitose Karasuma is a new girl on the Japanese voice acting scene, and has thus far only had minor mob roles in various anime. This hasn't stopped her from being extremely confident and proud of her abilities as a voice actress. It isn't her fault she hasn't become a star yet; it's obviously the fault of her manager and this rotten industry! Fortunately, things suddenly take a positive turn for Chitose when producer Kuzu recruits her as the role in the main heroine of a new anime adaptation of a light novel series. Working with the rest of the anime production's cast, including famed voice actresses Momoka Sono and Kazuha Shibasaki as well as other new actresses Yae Kugayama and Koto Katakura, Chitose feels poised to become a star. However, there are quite a few production issues with the anime, and Chitose's work has quite a bit of room for improvement. Can she overcome these problems when she won't take responsibility for any of them?
How Was It?
Every once and a while, I begin an anime season with a vague feeling of fatigue towards the medium. This fall season was one of those times, so when I first watched episode one of Girlish Number, it would not be an understatement to say that the series energized me. Girlish Number's initial draw for me was the energy with which it portrayed its characters and setting. Within the first episode, there was a certain vibrancy in the show's image of the anime voice acting industry and in the introduction of the protagonist, Chitose Karasuma. Even the most well-developed stories and settings can't possibly divulge all of their nuance within the opening moments, but when a series manages to balance introduction with the allusion to this nuance, I become extremely enthused about the project. Chitose's cockiness and interactions with her fellow voice actors/actresses managed to make the first episode interesting while also making it clear that the characters had quite a bit of depth behind them. In this way, Girlish Number really nailed its initial entry.
If I had to describe Girlish Number through a comparison to other series, I would say that it is a bit like a hybrid of Shirobako, a slice-of-life style series about new employees in the anime industry, and My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, a romantic comedy turned drama about a high school loner and his relationship with his peers. The Shirobako element of the story comes from the focus on the Japanese anime voice acting industry from the perspective of a new voice actress. The My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU element comes from the use of developing character drama that Wataru Watari, who penned both SNAFU and Girlish Number, is fond of exploring. To put it simply, Girlish Number is a character drama about anime voice actresses. Thus, there are two main areas of focus that the show's writing attempts to succeed at: dramatic character development, and the setting of the anime industry that the drama takes place in.
At initial introduction, Chitose is a very charismatic and narcissistic character, and this isn't an impression that the show sets out to change. I always enjoy characters with varying degrees of humorous attitudes, and Chitose has this in more ways than one. Unlike a lot of similarly styled characters, however, Chitose is placed in a position where her flaws cause her significant problems. Chitose's laziness and unmerited blase attitude towards her job are hindering her career, but her enthusiastically self-centered behavior covers up the problem. To a certain extent, especially in an industry such as voice acting, charisma and confidence can cover for other personality flaws. Girlish Number makes it clear from the beginning that this behavior is going to cause repercussions later, and this foreshadowing makes watching Chitose all the more entertaining. What pleased me particularly about the way Chitose evolved as a character through these problems was that she grew as a character without upending the charming aspects of her personality. In a lot of movies and shows about characters who have to correct their behavior, the story often has the character make a realization and change significantly in their mannerisms. While Chitose goes through a similar arc of development in Girlish Number, she remains decidedly the same personable character that drew me into the anime in the first place in the end.
Chitose is clearly the protagonist and poster-girl of Girlish Number, but what makes her work is the cast of supporting characters. Her brother/manager/general supporter Gojo has a very strongly developed relationship with his sister that includes both the surface entertainment of quality back-and-forth dialogue and the more deep connection between siblings. Gojo went through similar trials when he was Chitose's age, and despite his slightly cold exterior it is blatantly obvious that he cares about and supports his sister. This support comes both from the familial aspect and agent-to-actress relationship they have. In many ways, Gojo is a highlight of Girlish Number despite not being the lead character, and the story benefits greatly from his inclusion. What really makes the supporting cast of Girlish Number appealing though is the way the entire group meshes together while standing out individually. The anime Chitose is picked to star in features five heroines (although she plays the main role), and the other four are a mix of new and experienced voice actresses. To say that each character gets their chance to shine would feel like an understatement to me. "Getting a chance" almost seems to imply that they are merely in the background when they aren't in the limelight, which isn't true. Characters like Momoka Sono, a young but highly prolific voice actress who treats her job very professionally, not only are fleshed out and progress as characters throughout the series but also entertain in their regular day-to-day interactions with the rest of the cast.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the main areas Girlish Number needed to succeed in to work for me was the setting of the anime industry that the story's drama takes place in. Fortunately, the anime voice acting industry managed to serve as a well-utilized setting for the series. Much like Shirobako, Girlish Number's conflict centers around producing anime and explores the industry at decent length. However, the way in which Girlish Number goes about doing this is very different. While the world of Girlish Number isn't all that cynical, a lot of the characters are fairly jaded about the voice acting industry. Chitose and company are to a certain degree fighting the industry to find their place in it, and this relationship between the professional setting and the cast is very effective. For starters, there really isn't an antagonist in the series. There are issues whose causes could be attributed to individuals, but as a whole the conflict is about individual character growth more than a single enemy to unite against. Even Kuzu, the bumbling producer for the anime they are producing who causes quite a few problems, is fighting with his own internal issues and isn't the enemy per se.
Much of the comedy in Girlish Number stems not just from character interactions with each other but also from character reactions to different aspects of the voice acting industry. A common complaint of Chitose's is that the industry is "rotten". Ironically, the area of the industry most heavily lampooned by Wataru Watari, himself a light novel author, is the role of authors of the anime source material. Not only are the authors often portrayed as hilariously pathetic, but Chitose and her fellow voice actresses will often criticize their contributions to the project, from writing "bad" source material to getting too involved in areas of the anime production that they don't understand. While this is just one small aspect of the voice acting industry in Girlish Number, I think it greatly represents why the series' portrayal of the industry works so well: it's amusing, complex, and plays a solid part in compelling dialogue and interactions between characters.
Girlish Number's attention to detail extends beyond just the nuance of its characters and portrayal of the voice acting industry. Much of the character design and voice acting work is exemplary. Animation studio Diomedea isn't exactly known for high quality animation, but they really did a solid job with Girlish Number. The character designs are vibrant and detailed, and aspects such as the many facial expressions of Chitose have become internet favorites. The vocal work of the cast is excellent as well. 2016 was Sayaka Senbongi's (Mumei in Kabaneri) breakout year, and her performance as Chitose is emotive and amusing at the perfect moments. Much of the charming aspects of the series that begin in the writing are continued in the character design/animation and the voice work and together these all create a very well-rounded production.
Overall, Girlish Number effectively integrates the anime voice acting industry with its character-driven drama story lines to create an entertaining experience. There was quite a bit in the series for me to love, from the vibrant opening chapters and animation to the later dramatic developments and progression of the cast, especially Chitose. Girlish Number isn't necessarily some ground-breaking entry in the medium, but it is an exemplary addition. If you're looking for an amusing drama series, it's easy for me to offer up Girlish Number as a short but sweet recommendation.