Review for Girlish Number Collection
I had just posted my first review for Shirobako, commenting on just how rare a show it is, an anime about the anime industry, when there was a thump on the doormat, and the latest consignment of check discs from MVM arrived. The first of those shows set for release this summer, is this, Girlish Number, and it’s a show about the anime industry... Sometimes I feel that I should just keep my mouth shut. Girlish Number however focuses on the arcane craft of the anime voice artist, those actors who give voice to the characters, bring them to vivid life, although for the Japanese anime voice artist, work entails more than just spending time in a booth being intimate with a microphone... much more.
Chitose Karasuma is an aspiring voice actress, with a cynical outlook. Certainly, she’s not one to play the usual games of ingratiation and politics to get ahead in the industry, and you certainly couldn’t imagine anyone other than her older brother being her manager. He’s the one who has to speak truth to her whenever she expects an easy ride to fame and fortune. Only it looks like she’s going to get that easy ride. The actress who to this point has only had bit parts catches the eye of a producer, and gets a starring role in an upcoming anime. She’s got a steep learning curve ahead of her, with lesson one being that not everything that glitters in this industry is gold.
12 episodes of Girlish Number are presented across 2 DVDs from MVM.
1. Runaway Chitose and a Rotten Industry
2. Arrogant Chitose and an Unvoiced Scream
3. Wicked Chitose and an Expanding Royal Road
4. Popular Chitose and her Delightful Friends
5. Enviable Chitose and Hollow Worth
6. Beachside Chitose and the No-Go Budget
7. Onlooker Chitose and Parents’ Day
8. Sleepyhead Chitose and a Feisty Travel Mood
9. Flustered Chitose and the Fresh-Faced Rookie
10. Two-Faced Chitose and Despairing Kuzu
11. An Uncertain Chitose and a Determined Gojo
12. Chitose Karasuma and...
Girlish Number gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic NTSC transfer on this disc, and it looks as if Madman Entertainment have taken Sentai’s Blu-rays and used those to master these DVDs, certainly judging by the aesthetic qualities of the burnt in subtitles. Yes, subtitles burnt into the print are part of the image on this disc, a practice that should have ended with VHS. The image is adequate, it’s soft, lacking in detail and doesn’t scale up all that well, while the colours are muted and lack the vibrancy that you’d expect even from a DVD transfer. It’s a typical comedy show, with pleasant character designs, a decent world design, and animation that doesn’t really do anything spectacular to impress, just does enough to tell the story.
It seems as if Madman have really forgotten how to make anime DVDs in the last few years, and if you’re yet to get on the Blu-ray bandwagon, then these Girlish Number discs ought to convince you to make the change. Note that Girlish Number is a Blu-ray only release in the US, they’ve only been authored on DVD for the UK and Australian market, so this is as good as it’s going to get in SD. Frankly, the 480p streams on Crunchyroll look better than these DVDs, so it really is time to go Blu.
The sole audio track on Girlish Number is a DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese track with subtitles burnt into the image. It looks as if Madman just scanned the Sentai Blu-ray and downsized it to DVD, so the font is of comparable quality. However, the loss of colour fidelity and fine detail in the process means that text overlay captions tend to be lost against the background and can be hard to read. The dialogue subtitles in their Sentai yellow are legible though. This being a primarily dramatic piece, it’s not heavy with the action, and remains front loaded throughout for the dialogue. The subtitles are accurately timed, but there is the odd typo.
These discs authored by Madman boot to static menus, where the episodes are listed by number, not title. They’ve also stripped the episodes of the translated credit reels.
Disc 2 has the extra features comprising 11 textless openings, 2 textless closings, a preview for the anime within an anime, Millennium Princess, and trailers for Love Live! Sunshine!!, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K., Three Leaves, Three Colours, and Seiyu’s Life (another anime about the anime industry), as well as a promo for the Madman Anime Festival.
Girlish Number is a great complement to Shirobako. If Shirobako is about the best of the anime industry, the earnest and occasionally conflicting desires to make great anime, Girlish Number is a delightfully pessimistic look at the industry, a business where the quality of the product is of lesser concern than the need to shift that product and make the numbers. In some respects it is the worst of the industry, one that exploits its stars and its creators, and is probably as unreal as Shirobako, only in the opposite direction. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
In the blurb, the main character Chitose is described as “self-absorbed, inattentive, selfish, and lazy”, and gets even worse appellations in the story, bad-mannered and rude being two of them. From my perspective she looks like a normal, well-adjusted human being, until you remember what the industry requires of their voice actresses. Not only must they be pitch-perfect when recording for their characters, but they have to maintain an appearance for their fans, be perky and on the ball, do all the promotion, and effectively have no private life whatsoever. When it comes to interacting with other actors, with producers and directors, with studio execs, they have to stick to the etiquette script, and they have to be prepared to be worked to death. You can see the results of the all-or-nothing work ethic regarding those in the industry in the Anime News Network headlines, a constant litany of burnout, illness, breakdown, and at the worst, premature death.
From my perspective, protagonist Chitose Karasuma really only has one flaw, she wants it all on a plate, she wants success without putting the effort in. Her laxity in her acting work is worthy of criticism, her laxity in other respects is less so. She doesn’t toe the etiquette line, she can be snarky, and she can have days where her perkiness levels drop below 10, and she can forget her position in the social hierarchy of ‘senpai’ and ‘kouhai’. For most of the other characters in the show, ghasts can be flabbered at this behaviour, but looking at it from a Western viewpoint, you might wonder what all the fuss is about.
After all, it is her unique temperament that gets her noticed by a producer at the start of the show, a voice actress who to this point has only had bit parts, suddenly gets parachuted into a major leading role, with the idea that the gimmick will get more eyes on the TV screen, will shift more copies. Chitose thinks her talent has finally been recognised, and she’s soon strutting and preening in front of the other cast members, two more newbies, and two veterans. It’s only when she’s kept behind after each recording session to do retakes that it begins to sink in that her acting actually sucks.
To make matters worse, the producers who cast her as a gimmick really don’t know what they are doing with the anime, having quickly alienated the light novel author whose work they adapt, failing to put the time and money in to make a decent show, but instead searching for more gimmicks to sell the series, cooking the books, setting up stage events and even swimsuit shoots. It isn’t just Chitose who has issues to get over. Of the two other newbies, Yae Kugayama is a young girl with confidence issues, while for Koto Katakura, after years of trying to break the industry, this is probably her first and last chance at doing so. Of the two veterans, Momoka Sono has issues with her famous family to resolve, while Kazuha Shibasaki has become jaded and aloof. The thing is that with the show rapidly going downhill, all of their careers, established or otherwise are on the line, and they’ll have to resolve their personal issues and come together to make things work.
Girlish Number shows the worst side of the creative industry, all about the bottom line and finding the easy road to fame. Chitose Karasuma is on that road, or so she thinks, until she sees how bumpy and aimless it really is. It takes a while but she eventually stops counting her Twitter followers and CD single sales, and discovers her work ethic instead. What I like about Girlish Number is that she maintains her wry personality, and refuses to conform throughout.
There was a time when comparing a good DVD scaled up to the Blu-ray of the same show was a matter of the finest detail. Not anymore, as visually this DVD presentation is really quite disappointing. It’s good enough to watch, but little else. I do recommend this show as offering something a little different from the normal anime genres, but it’s only worth getting the Blu-ray of Girlish Number.