First Impressions – Girlish Number

girlish-number-01-1First things first – I think we can say that if a series focused on anime production is built around the premise “this industry is seriously messed up”, then it’s off to a pretty good start.  Because, of course, it is – which is a fact that I think most folks knowledgeable about it would acknowledge.  Or at least, most are aware of it deep in their heart of of hearts – even the ones not willing to acknowledge it.

girlish-number-01-2To say that Girlish Number came out of nowhere for me is a bit of an understatement.  It was completely off my radar going into the season (and I mean way off), but by the time I finally found a half-hour to watch it the series had made a remarkable transformation in expectations.  It seems to have caught a lot of people by surprise, and I was being prodded to watch it by a lot of people I wouldn’t necessarily expect to be fans of it based on the premise.  And after watching the premiere I can see why – this is an unexpectedly dark look on the anime industry, at least through one episode.

girlish-number-01-3It should be noted that Girlish Number is based on an LN by Watari Wataru of “Oregairu” fame, which makes sense given its tone.  I found Oregairu the anime better than most LN adaptations but ultimately unable to escape the bonds on LN cliche, which is one of the things I’d worry about with Girlish Number.  The other is this – the only way this series can succeed at doing what it’s trying to do is by committing 100%.  If it starts pulling its punches, trying to go in a more idealistic (some might say myopic) Shirobako direction, it will fail utterly.  Watari seems to be venting his spleen with this series, more or less, so I’m hopeful that won’t happen – he’s clearly got an axe to grind, and it’s one that needs some serious grinding.

girlish-number-01-4Why would a LN writer who’s been very successful in anime form write a series attacking the anime industry generally as a shallow and dysfunctional morass, and LN adaptations specifically as its vapid creative slums?  If ever one seemed to be biting the hand that feeds him (sorry for all the metaphors in this post, but they fit), this would seem to be a case, and of course if the goal of an anime is ultimately to please a disc-buying audience I’d be skeptical that Girlish Number has much of a chance.  LN authors, LN fans, production weasels, seiyuu (“customer-attracting pandas”) – nobody comes off smelling like a rose or looking good here, and that paying audience has not historically been fond of having mirrors thrust in their faces.  But as someone who finds most of Girlish Number’s criticisms on-target, it makes a refreshing change.

girlish-number-01-5I’ll confess to not really liking any of the cast so far.  Heroine Karasuma Chitose is amusing in a snarky way, but not especially idealistic or hard-working.  There are two established seiyuu introduced here – Shibasaki Manoyou is haughty and seemingly arrogant (I expect she’s being set up for a redemption), while Sonou Momoka is genki and calculating, if rather kinder to newcomer Chitose.  Chitose’s older brother Gojou (he runs the seiyuu agency she works at – no doubt thanks to him) is probably the most earnest person in the cast, but a bit of a bore.  The various production committee types really take it on the chin here, but I suspect Watari is writing from experience. so who am I to argue?

girlish-number-01-6There are some quite uncomfortable-funny moments here – the encounter with the LN author, where one of the production committee effectively tries to pimp out Momoka and Chitose, stands out.  And Chitose gets her big break basically because she was the only girl who showed up at the after-party following a seiyuu event (which was pretty uncomfortable to begin with), despite having never displayed any singing talent.  That big break is for an idol anime – basically, an attempt to combine the most craven and vapid segments of the industry, LNs and idols, into one soul-destroying money machine.  There’s obviously huge room for satire there.

girlish-number-01-8I just hope Girlish Number doesn’t sell out – this is a bit of a fine line it’s trying to walk.  Wake up, Girls! really couldn’t do it – it lost its nerve and ended up being mostly an apologetic love letter to the idol industry.  It worked for Shirobako because that series was pretty transparent from the start – it was a romanticized look at anime production from the very beginning.  Having started out in this fashion Girlish Number is pot-committed to being a full-on expose, and if it keeps its nerve there’s endless material for it to mine for creative success.  As for commercial success I would think that’s a lost cause, but that’s not my problem.  Why would anyone make anime that don’t make any money?

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7 comments

  1. A

    Unless they plan on doing an anime original ending or the source material starts pulling its punches really early, this adaptation might not have time to sell out. The LN has only been serialized since March in a monthly magazine and there are only two published volumes available.

  2. F

    I don’t think it’s some sort of scathing look into the bitter machinations of the industry. It’s just a simple satirical comedy that derives its humor from half-truths and multiple layers of meta irony — a style of writing Watari in particular likes to revel in. The fact of the matter is most of the jabs so far were largely shallow which any viewer, Japanese otaku for that matter, could easily surmise and I guess it plays off those pre-conceived cynical notions the audience might have for the industry.

    At the end of the day, Girlish Number is what it taunts. That’s the massive joke of it all really. It’s a multi-media banger whose main selling point regardless of what it might mock in the show are still the girls except this time the gimmick is that the girls populating the show are genre-savvy, snarky, and just barely mean-spirited. Like I said, irony at its finest.

    And I mean that’s perfectly fine. I love me some hilariously two-faced women.

    Personally, I think people give it too much credit for what it really is but hey, who am I to judge?

  3. So glad you finally got around to this! This is another of the series I thought might be a sleeper series this season, and I am very glad CR picked it up for simulcast.

    Like Shirobako and Wake Up Girls (and perhaps Sore ga Seiyuu) I am glad for whatever material like this I have gotten, frankly. It may not be the whole picture or even misleading in some ways, but it was more than existed before, which is a plus.

    The OreGairu series, while insightful, had aspects about it that did not work for me, so I am a little cautious of this series while admittedly enjoying the first ep. It’s hard to pull off satire and irony, but when it is done it is quite effective, and I think the author of the source … franchise? … definitely has the potential to pull it off. Am veeeeeeery curious to see where this one goes.

  4. This 1st episode was very good. Hope it keeps it up.

  5. d

    I’m glad this didn’t end up as cute girls doing cute things in the industry but rather pokes fun at the industry. I think all of us have a basic knowledge that the anime industry have dark sides, and They’re poking at it.

  6. What I fear the most about this show is not that it starts pulling its punches, but instead that it starts flailing aimlessly and going for cheap cynicism/edginess and LN cliche – this IS Oregairu’s author after all; and there’s not just one way to ruin this premise. I seriously doubt Watari’s gonna start sugarcoating it because he can keep the scathing pseudo-wittiness rolling while being mediocre in every other aspect and still be sorta popular (like with Oregairu), and the only thing that could get in his way is if the audience in Japan (which is the one that matters) don’t take to the show.

  7. I don’t see that as a big problem. Frankly this struck me as very different from Oregairu – Oregairu, for all the praise it received, was boring as fuck from episode 1 for me and I dropped it pretty soon, as its ‘cynicism’ was all centred around the MC being an edgy teen. In his case his view, while occasionally making good points, was mostly tinted by pessimism. Here it seems to me the criticism is far more warranted. Also the pacing was brisker and the dialogue wittier for me, so it can at least stay amusing. I wouldn’t want something like this to drag on for, say, multiple seasons, that’s when I would see it “getting old” once it runs out of things to criticise, but I think there’s enough shit to make fun of to warrant a whole cour worth of scating humour.

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