University student Chitose Karasuma wants to make it big as a voice actress. She has the adorable voice and looks to become one, but she has several things holding her back. She’s selfish, lazy, narcissistic, and impatient…and not that talented either. As her manager, her older brother is struggling just to keep her happy. When her big break finally comes in the form of playing the lead heroine in a light novel adaptation, she’s over-the-moon…except the producers are even more clueless how to run the show than she is. So now Chitose, along with her fellow cast members, find themselves trapped in a never-ending loop of delayed episodes, swimsuit photo shoots, live stage shows and poor ratings…when all they want to do is make some quality programming.
Girlish Number aired with 12 episodes between October and December 2016. Produced by Diomedea (Squid Girl, Kantai Collection, Riddle Story of Devil) and directed by Shota Ibata, Girlish Number is an adaptation of the light novel written by Wataru Watari (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, Qualidea Code). When the otaku public learned that another one of Watari’s works was to be adapted into an anime, they squealed inside. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU had already acquired a cult audience both in Japan and the West, famous for its highly cynical take on high school and the cliques that form there, with the pessimistic outcast Hachiman and the cold-hearted noblesse oblige Yukino forced by their teacher to form a ‘services’ club with the intention of helping their classmates with social problems and to remain neutral. Here in Girlish Number, Watari decides to turn his attention to another place of work that is portrayed as ‘popular’: the anime industry.
Chitose Karasuma has, so far, only made her name as a voice actress who plays minor characters and bit parts in shows, with her more famous colleagues Momoka Sono and Kazuha Shibasaki usually ending up on the center stage. Although she’s happy with her talents (or lack of them, as we soon learn), she knows that the anime industry is twisted and rotten inside, and thus usually ends up blaming others for the fact that she can’t make it big, whether it be her more talented colleagues or her older brother, a former voice actor himself who agrees to be her manager. As we watch Girlish Number, we realise very quickly that Chitose is not a nice person at all, despite her somewhat positive attitude and high confidence, yet we grow to love her. We cheer when she gets big news and get depressed when things go wrong for her. Soon enough, her big break arrives in the form of an adaptation of the light novel Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord, playing the lead heroine Yuna alongside her colleagues Momoka and Kazuha, as well as the more experienced Koko Katakura and youngster Yae Kugayama. However, it isn’t long before things begin to go down the toilet.
In the production area, our attention is quickly turned to the clueless Kuzu-P, who doesn’t seem to care about how good the anime is, so long as there is money to be made, his long-suffering assistant Towada, who ends up having to cover for all of his boss’s frequent mistakes, and Namba, the president of Number One Produce, Chitose’s voice actor agency, who lives just as much a carefree life as Kuzu-P. With others on the team frantically trying to reach deadlines, Chitose and the others soon find themselves having to attend live stage shows, photo shoots, and other things that are, effectively, a waste of time, when they could easily be working on scenes to voice.
This was stylized in Japan as gi(a)rlish number; as both the words ‘girlish’ and ‘garish’ sound almost the same in Japanese, this is a very subtle play on what we see in both the character design and the show they are producing – feminine, yet very flashy and showy. We grow to love Chitose despite her many life faults, and come to realise that her colleagues aren’t that thrilled with where they are either. Kazuha is sick of the roles she ends up playing, and wants to be a real voice actress, playing decent roles. Momoka doesn’t really care about what she does, as she seems to have her parent’s money to fall back on, and with the arrival of Nanami halfway through the show, the entire team is shaken by the thought that they could be replaced at any time and be out of the job.
Sayaka Senbongi comes in to play our main heroine. Having played secondary characters and bit parts in the past, this is her first main role as well, which I suppose can be interpreted as some kind of mirror to the show itself (also interesting is that this is Shota Ibata’s directorial debut as well). I think it was a smart decision not to make an English dub of this, as it would dramatically change the mood of the show, and make it not look and sound as realistic as it is trying to be…if frustrating producers, delayed episodes and poor ratings count as realistic in anime production. The opening theme is “Bloom” and the ending theme is “Ima wa Mijikashi Yumemiyo Otome“, both sung by Sayaka Senbongi, Kaede Hondo, Yui Ishikawa, Eri Suzuki & Saori Onishi. The opening theme for episode 1 is “Ketsui no Dia” by Eri Suzuki and Saori Onishi.
There are all sorts of comedy anime shows, with varying types of humour to suit their target audiences. Girlish Number relies a lot on cynicism, self-parody and black comedy. As we watch the show, we end up being in two minds when it comes to Chitose; we want her to succeed and finish the show with the hopes of bagging more roles in the future, but at the same time, the things that go wrong in production make us smile so much, that we want them to happen. Not to mention the fact that we also end up feeling sorry for the people around Chitose, who are shouted at, spoken down to and insulted – people like her older brother/manager and her fellow voice actors. Not the production team though. While they are likeable character in this show, we actually want things to go wrong for them, as it is so much more entertaining than when they go right.
Girlish Number is a laugh-out-loud show, with characters we both love and hate at the same time. Its script is very cutting and a direct parody of what genuinely does happen in anime productions. Anime journalists and critics both in Japan and the West are usually very quick to hone in on bad news, whether it be delayed episodes, unwell voice actors, animation mistakes, or anything else, and so it’s quite something to see the anime of Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord end up becoming such a hit for the otaku in this show, who also don’t seem to care about anime quality either. This show is dead-set on its own target audience though, so those otaku who flock to the major shounen anime franchises like Full Metal Alchemist, Sword Art Online and My Hero Academia or any nondescript moeblob shows will not find much to laugh at here, and even find themselves uncomfortable at the thought of things not always being so perfect in their favourite anime show.
Having been an otaku for over 20 years, and seen a lot of things in my time, I found an awful lot to laugh at, as I am well aware that the anime industry is far from perfect. I know of one old saying that anime itself is great, and that it’s just the people who are part of it who can be not so much, well I found myself being reminded of that saying a lot here.
Girlish Number is a very cutting take on real-life anime production, and how things can go wrong so quickly (and sometimes do). Its decision to use a relative newcomer to play Chitose is an interesting one, as it effectively makes the show a self-parody. If you love your black humour, then you’ll find a lot to laugh at here.