You know, Girlish Number really is good – but damn, is it depressing as Hell.
I wonder sometimes if Girlish Number isn’t a little too good at what it does. I never thought I would say this about a show satirizing the decline of the anime industry, but there are actually times when I wish it would pull its punches just a little bit. Clearly this show is in no way intended as a response to Shirobako (the LN existed before that original series ever aired) but the deeper we wade into it, the more the parallels between the two narratives become apparent. If that series is the Santa Claus of anime about anime, Girlish Number is definitely the Krampus.
No, you know me – in the end, I wouldn’t want G;N to change, because anime so desperately needs something as unsparing as this series even if not that many people watch it – much more than it needed the predictably far more popular Shirobako, truth be told. I liked the heart of that show, but my biggest problem with it – which I said at the time – is that it’s material like that which allows people to feel good about something they really shouldn’t feel good about. What anime fans don’t need is to have their hands patted and be told that our problems really aren’t that bad, and if we just face them with genki resolve it’ll all be fine – they need to be slapped in the face with a spiked club and told “If things don’t change, this medium we love is toast”. Hello, Girlish Number.
That said, I do like the fact that G;N doesn’t ignore the fact that the crew and passengers on this sinking ship are, in fact, people. Chitose may be an egotistical and shallow brat, but she still has feelings and wants to be a success. The “author” of “Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord” may be a talentless hack who’s contributing to the decline of anime with the crap he writes, but it’s still his – it mans something to him. No matter how shitty series like this one are, to the people who work on them they’re still a lot of toil and sweat – and to a few of them, even a source of pride. And the people who rip them apart through the safe anonymity of the internet have no conception of the fact that it’s people they’re ripping to shreds, not just abstractions. And that’s really what this episode was trying to say.
So where’s the upside to all this – the thread of hope that Girlish Number wants us to cling to? Honestly, I don’t see it yet. This story is pretty much a boulevard of broken dreams, and that apparently includes Goujou – seemingly, he was a failed seiyuu that Chitose has somehow taken it upon herself to redeem. Then there’s the director of “Millennium Princess”, who’s so overworked he’s adapted the strategy of using a looping “Hmmm” sound on his phone to hide the fact that he’s sleeping from his production assistant. The author hates the anime so much he’s deluded himself into believing it doesn’t exist (and to see it, who can blame him?). And worst of all is the irredeemable Kuzu-P – the one member of the food chain who’s so revolting I can’t bring myself to feel an ounce of sympathy for him.
What I think we’re seeing here, really, is the way working on a soulless project sucks the soul out of those who work on it. I can only imagine that Director-san once cared about his art, but now this is just a job to him (and it’s to his credit that he retains a certain integrity towards it). This is what happens when art becomes simply a product – the collective pride and ambition of everyone involved erodes away. Everyone fixates on the sliver of the project that concerns them. Chitose is happy because her OP single is selling well – the fact that the anime itself is the subject of near-universal derision until that derision is directed at her.
This is all culminates in the Comiket event for the ticket holders who bought the first Blu-ray volume. A few dozen people show up, and while Koto and Yae make a real effort to act happy to be there, Chitose goes through the motions – and then is aghast when the fans call her out for it in the comments on the live stream. Shit flows downhill, and it finds everyone – this broken, hollow production process taints everyone it touches sooner or later. This it seems, is the future of anime – if indeed it has one – and it’s debatable whether it’s a future worth fighting for. Girlish Number is very adept at forcing us to look at the spectacle – so far, it hasn’t given us a reason to suspect we can avoid it.