“Nah – I’m the main character!”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Eh? Am I not?”
That exchange came at the very end of this week’s episode of Girlish Number – over the final frames of the preview, in fact. But I found it especially interesting in light of last week’s post, where I noted that “More and more I’m beginning to see Momoka as the main character of Girlish Number.” Clearly this is a series that’s sharp as a tack, and knows exactly what it’s doing in every sense. There’s a method to everything here, and it goes deeper than simply being a deconstruction of the modern anime industry.
It’s interesting that Chitose was effectively absent from this episode, but symbolically that absence speaks even more loudly about where this show is headed. Chitose is important, because she’s a victim of the industry – a self-made one to some extent, yes, but all she can really do is be swept along by what’s happening around her. Kazuha and Momoka have the ability to be observers, a perspective that Chitose lacks. That applies especially to Momoka, who literally grew up in the business and has seen it change dramatically over a span of several years.
Theoretically this trip was about Kazuha – about smoothing things over with her family. But it was about a lot of other things too, and in truth it was pretty obvious that even with Kuzu’s disastrous meddling, Kazuha’s parents weren’t really going to try and force her to quit and return home. There’s a larger theme of the decline of rural Japan due to the flight of the young to Tokyo, and a reflection on the grass always being greener. But Momoka has quite cleverly made this about herself, too, by using the trip as a pretext to avoid her “Purepapa” meeting and effectively tank the role.
In short – it’s complicated. Just like life, and the problems facing anime in 2016. This was the most positive episode of Girlish Number on the whole, certainly, because it left behind the stink of the production process and focused on some universal family issues. But it was still pretty bittersweet. Kazuha is clearly the problem here, not her parents. When Towada produces a copy of “Millennium Princess” for Kazuha’s Dad to watch (Momoka has brought the LN), her reaction is “Couldn’t you have brought something better?” In fact, Otou-san has less of a problem with the work his daughter is doing than with the fact that she’s so ready to bad-mouth it.
Therein lies the rub to all this. No matter how bad this “template anime” (to use Kazuha’s elegant phrase) is, no matter how much she (and others like her) long to do something better, in the end anime is a job. If someone doesn’t want to be part of it – which is entirely understandable – then they’ve chosen the wrong career. There’s no right or wrong answer here – by God, artists should strive to be creatively ambitious and want to do work they’re proud of. But as anime is structured in 2016, it’s impossible for most of the artists involved in it to do that most of the time. Anime in 2016 (and by the early looks of it, even more in 2017) is mostly “Millennium Princess and Kowloon Overlord”.
Someone like Momoka has a little advantage, of course – she has people who can pull strings for her when the occasional good role comes along. But even she’s still a part of this, not apart from it. Momoka wants what Kazuha has – an idyllic place to return to, parents who worry about her as a girl and not a professional. Kazuha wants what Momoka has – parents who respect her independence, a few strings pulled here and there, a life in Tokyo. But that’s just human nature – and Momoka is smart enough to realize this before Kazuha does. Yes, she went to Yamagata in part to ditch her meeting – but she also did it to get a taste of the life she longed for, and to help her friend (and she does consider Kazuha her friend, of that I’m certain) realize that she has it better than she thinks she does.
I think one of the messages Girlish Number is sending is that whatever its flaws, this is the only anime industry we have. So what does someone who wants to live their life based on principle do in a business that requires constant compromise and lowering of standards? They can bear with it or they can bail, and again I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. For those that choose to stay this is their job, their life – and no matter how degradingly vapid it sometimes gets, they have to make the best of it. I suspect both Momoka and Kazuha have made that choice, and – sorry Chitose – this series is really the story of what that choice means.