Girlish Number – 06

My goodness, it just keeps getting more depressing…

girlish-number-06-1I give in – it’s got a category.  I’ve been skeptical, but Girlish Number may just be the most interesting (thought not the best) series of the season.  That’s in part due to how interesting the fan reactions to it are and will continue to be, but not only because of that – this series is a genuinely good one on its own terms.  We haven’t seen a series so unsparingly turn the camera around in a long time, but in the process it’s also proved to be a mirror for the audience (and told us a lot about it).

girlish-number-06-2The funny thing is, to me Girlish Number could hardly be more transparent in its condemnation of the industrial dumbing-down of anime.  Yet the audience is so much in denial that it seems many folks watching G;N still don’t want to see it that way.  There’s a widely-held view that “Millennium Princess X Kowloon Overlord” isn’t the problem – that it’s probably a great LN that just got screwed over by those naughty studio types.  This, mind you, is despite the fact that numerous times characters up and down the food chain have flatly stated that “Millennium Princess” sucks.

girlish-number-06-3I didn’t write this series, but the author’s point seems pretty clear to me.  Anime’s got problems, and they aren’t isolated or simple.  G;N isn’t a story of a poor, naive author having his masterpiece tainted by a bad adaptation.  It’s the story of an industry that’s rotten to the core – one that’s stopped looking for interesting material to adapt (or create), which in-turn has caused the talent in it to become cynical and fatalistic.  And if it doesn’t do something to change that soon, its creative demise is only going to accelerate.  Change has to come from the top-down, from the bottom-up, from everywhere.  Everybody (including the fans) are part of the problem.

girlish-number-06-4Thank goodness Girlish Number exists, because somebody has to rub anime viewers’ noses in this reality.  But what saves it from being preachy or insufferably bleak is that there are genuinely relatable characters here, people trying to do their best being ground in the gears of this dehumanizing monstrosity.  I said early on that one of my issues with G;N was that there were no characters to genuinely root for, but to its credit I think that sale has been made.  This episode, for example, did an admirable job of giving us a deeper look at the other girls in the seiyuu cast, all of whom have their own story to tell.  And even Chitose – insufferable as she is – is now more a subject of sympathy than anything else.  She’s in way, way over her head.

girlish-number-06-5Momoka (I can’t help but think of Han Megumi a bit with her) has been the most likeable of the girls from the start, and she’s still probably the best character.  She’s fully aware that her name has opened doors for her, and she resents that without being obnoxious about it.  Fact is Momoka does have talent, and a good head on her shoulders.  Her dilemma now is whether or not to accept an unearned role in a “Purepara” update – a franchise her mother famously starred in.  Shibasaki, meanwhile, is showing the cracks from the strain of carrying all that haughtiness and righteous scorn – cracks revealing themselves as a surprising fondness for alcohol (which causes her Yamagata accent to slip out).  And Koto reveals her worry that the door on her career as a seiyuu was closing – “too old” at 26.  As for Yae, she’s still the cipher of the group, but there are hints she has a cutthroat side hidden under her kawaii dojokko exterior.

girlish-number-06-6The crucible that brings this to the surface is Kuzu-P’s last ditch effort at salvaging the production, spending the last of the budget on a trip to Okinawa and pressuring the girls into doing gravure shots for the BD extras.  This is degrading and disgusting – and as such, classic Kuzu-P.  The girls take some comfort in the shared nature of their humiliation, and the opportunity to at least get drunk and trash a hotel room at the production committee’s expense.  The saddest thing about all this for me is how even good guys like Gojou-kun are pressured to go along, and how resigned the girls (including Momoka, who knows the industry better than any of them) are to this reality.  The truth is that with each passing year, guys like Kuzu-P run the industry more and more, and as long as they do shows like G;N will be closer to a reality than a fantasy.

girlish-number-06-7Unfortunately for Chitose, inside the world of Girlish Number it seems that things are only going to get worse.  The second cour of “Millennium Princess” is only going ahead because it was agreed to in advance, and even Kuzu-P has decided to flee the sinking ship.  And the fact that Chitose isn’t a good actress is hardly incidental, given that she has nothing else (like family connections or a winning personality – or even a resume) to get her roles.  Depraved as it is, this is her field of dreams – and as pathetic as that may be, it’s still kind of heartbreaking to see it chew her up and spit her out.  But apart from that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

 

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9 comments

  1. F

    Oddly enough, I’ve found this episode of Girlish Number the most entertaining so far despite the bleakness and hopelessness of the situation it portrays. It had the kind of atmosphere similar to the scene where the girls got drunk, like alcohol, it provided some upbeat tones of mentality all the while the depressing reality lurks in the shadows of the hazy memories. Looks like it will be the next episode when the hangover of the whole gimmick that was Kuusure kicks in and it won’t be a pleasant sight, especially for Chitose.

    As for the progression of character development, it was nice to see that there are sparks of depth considering the other girls since it helps making the wiever more sympathetic towards their personal situation and elevating the series above the faceless drama of the decaying anime industry – not that it isn’t captivating as it is, but intertwined with the individual stories of the people behind it, the show gets more suggestive and articulate. For example, I’m looking towards to getting more screentime of the manager of Momoka, since not only was she a great comic relief this time, but among others like Gojou-kun, or Towada she seems to be one of the few (or not that few)who are the real victims of the downfall of the industry.

  2. You know all of us, no matter our situation, are just trying to get by. I like that about G;N – it portrays that side of life very well. All of these people are just cogs in a dehumanizing machine. You can be a completely despicable turd like Kuzu-P who tries to use the dysfunction to feather his own nest, or you can try and survive without completely losing who you are (which is what most people do).

  3. I was wondering if this series will ever get around to discussing how fan service is killing anime. Some studios insert fan service into their anime and then censor it out with white spots, black spots, or have clever objects that hide the fan service. They do this hoping to drive DVD sales when the DVDs come out. Other series are just nothing but fan service around a very thin plot that holds the series together.

  4. D

    While censored fan service to drive DVD sales is somewhat annoying, I doubt it’s killing anime.

    The censored-with-steam fan service shows that air on light night TV were there in the 80s and 90s and 00s in the form of fan-service heavy OAVs. The general decline of the OAV market has seen this content move to late night TV, with the censored series vs. uncensored DVD release a replacement for direct OAV sale. The quality of material seems about the same – the only distinction is that full-length fan service manga or light novels are now being adapted, whereas 20 years ago or 15 years ago you would only get 1-4 part OAVs in most cases.

    I think the main problems in the anime industry are not ones of quality of work or fan service or even things like gravure idol stunts (I remember some quality shows in 1990s getting the female cast into swimsuits in Bali or Okinawa…). Plenty of creativity still exists, plenty of dreck still exists, and the same was true years ago. People look back with rose colored glasses and remember the good shows, not terrible trash that also filled every season (and the landfill piles of garbage OAVs produced during the 90s). The big problems aren’t creativity or quality – on average, I think the last seven years have seen a higher average of decent shows – but rather structural issues relating to distribution, financing, low pay, and audience age. And thus while the critique in Grlish number is certainly genuine, I think that – with changes in detail adjusted for period – it would have been equally valid a decade or two decades ago. The anime industry has always had problems. It has serious problems now, but honestly, the problems that Grlish number point out are actually fairly universal ones that can be aimed at just about every TV and movie industry: You could make the same story about Hollywood today or Hollywood 20 years ago or Hollywood 40 years ago and you’d only need to change a few details…

  5. Nice review !I am glad the series is full steam ahead with more bad news . I could not agrre with you more anime fans need to wake up / let alone the industry / but that what Japan is . We are a secondary market !

    One thing we all have an anime we like for one reason or another that may be deemed avg or bad But that’s more the exception than the rule for myself!

    Oh the LN industry took a
    hit ” they are not civilians ” I was ROFL

    Yes what a nice job of the characters they did especially Momoka who is the rising star but not happy about how it’s getting done. Thank goodness she has pride in her craftsman.She gets offered a lead role in the top anime without an audition ( I am sure this happens now and then ) but more because her mom was in the previous ones and in the new one . I loved the reference Pure Para ( whatever it was ) to PriPara

    Now some of my own thoughts

    1 How Kuzu is not fired is beyond me / that’s like stealing / so he gets rewarded with a better anime

    2 I do give credit to Gojo and the MGRS of Shibasaki / Momoka for letting the girls wear their choice of swimwear and having final say on content.

    3 Towada who if he was in charge probally would made the anime decent . Now He gets a chance to save the sinking ship / which I really dont mind / there have been a lot Season 1 animes that were bad overlooked but come out string with tweaks and or staff changes , We will see

    4 I am a bit confused at the end ( Preview ) where Shibasaki says Chi will never be in the next cour or there after . This was added by GOJO looking at new applications for what anime Cour 2 or Kuzu’s new project ??

    5 This is still high on my top anime AJIN can be touched so far and Poco is neck and neck with this!

  6. For me Udon no Kuni and Fune wa Amu are still in the top tier for me – but gotta admit that this series is really good stuff.

    Painful? Yes. Bleak and unsparing? Yes. But it IS good.

    Material like this is really hard to successfully pull off for me to enjoy it (others ay have different takes), but I really do think the studio is doing a good job thus far.

    Hopefully the second half will continue to keep up the pace.

  7. Do you think if Japanese working culture is exacerbating the situation in the anime industry? For example, difficulty in saying no to colleagues / superiors or working insanely long hours because it is a sacred duty to the company.

  8. I do believe there’s an element of that, yes. It certainly doesn’t help.

  9. D

    As Enzo says, it’s probably the case. But it’s not something unique to Japan either – you get similar issues with insane hours (and underpay) in the western computer games industry (for example).

    At a distance, it does look like Japanese fandom itself is somewhat dysfunctional (e.g., the value given to what seem like endless cookie-cutter light novels or idol raising shows of seemingly identical plot – which reached a rather hilarious climax a few seasons ago with two nearly-identical shows airing at once). But then again, they aren’t the only shows airing, and compared to, say, American comic book fandom, well, what can one say?

    Aging populations are probably the biggest issue.

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