Shelf Life Girlish Number
by Paul Jensen,
Well, I've now watched all of Laid-Back Camp, I've enjoyed it, and I still have no interest whatsoever in sleeping in a tent in the middle of nowhere. After all these years, I've finally found something that even a happy cast of moe anime girls can't sell me on. I'm placing the blame on real-world experience here; I've gone camping and I know I don't enjoy it. However, Girls und Panzer seems like a perfectly good idea to me. Welcome to Shelf Life.
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Shelf Life Reviews
Voice acting for anime is an awesome and glamorous job to have, right? Well, according to Girlish Number, maybe not so much. Here's my take on this sharp-tongued comedy.
The heroine of this story is Chitose Karasuma, a rookie voice actress whose career has consisted of little more than a few minor parts and background roles. Despite her bad attitude and relative lack of acting talent, Chitose is cast as the main heroine in an upcoming series. She's convinced that this is her big break, but it soon becomes obvious that something's not right. The show's budget is a mess, the production is hopelessly behind schedule, the animation looks terrible, and the producers are too busy setting up promotional events to stop the train wreck they've created. With her career in jeopardy, Chitose needs to rally her fellow actresses to save the show, assuming she can find the motivation to actually do something about it.
Girlish Number is based on a light novel by the same author who created My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, and it shares that title's cynical outlook and biting wit. The first half in particular takes some pretty hard shots at the anime industry, featuring producers who care more about sales than quality and voice actors who couldn't care less as long as they keep getting more work. It's not exactly uplifting stuff, but the writing has enough nuance and humor to keep the story entertaining. Rather than coming across as bitter or self-righteous, Girlish Number always feels like it's in on its own joke. Its ability to walk that line is due in part to the perspective that Chitose brings as the protagonist; she's smart enough to notice all the things going wrong around her, yet she's unwilling to even acknowledge her own flaws much less fix them. That impish overconfidence lends her a twisted kind of charisma, and she makes for a fun main character as long as you can embrace her personality. For what it's worth, she reminds me a little of Bender from Futurama, albeit in the form of a pink-haired anime girl.
Of course, it helps that Chitose's voice isn't the only one we hear. The rest of the main characters have plenty of their own flaws, but their perspectives are varied enough to balance things out. This works out best for Momoka and Kazuha, a pair of veteran actresses who've been cast in the same series as Chitose. Momoka has the jaded, “that's just how it goes” mindset of someone who grew up in the voice acting business, while Kazuha rails against shallow writing and bland acting as someone with dreams of landing more prestigious roles. The two of them are essentially polar opposites, and Girlish Number uses that contrast to form an unlikely bond between them. My main gripe with the character development in this show is that there's never enough time for it; while Chitose, Momoka, and Kazuha are given room to grow, most of the other characters are compressed into effective but limited roles. Had Girlish Number been a two-cour series instead of a one-and-done affair, it might have been able to do more with its supporting cast.
As the story plays out, Girlish Number's take on the anime industry becomes a little less snarky and a little more thoughtful. Individual episodes offer some insights into the little things that can derail a production or a person's career. A careless decision early in the process can leave a studio struggling to recover all season long, and a halfhearted performance at a promotional event can turn fans against you in a hurry. We also get the other side of the story at times, especially once the characters start working together to save the show. A heartfelt comment from a fan can encourage the production staff to up their game, and sometimes the fear of being forgotten can be exactly the motivation a voice actress needs. Of course, even at its most positive, Girlish Number still maintains its trademark attitude; Chitose's obligatory inspirational speech near the end of the series is warped and self-serving in all the right ways.
While the story doesn't really lend itself to mind-blowing action scenes, the visuals in Girlish Number are strong in an important area: facial expressions and body language. Since the characters don't always mean exactly what they say, being able to pick up those non-verbal cues is a big deal. On a less important but still enjoyable note, those facial expressions also aid the show's comedy by providing some great reaction shots. This Blu-Ray release from Sentai Filmworks includes a trailer for the show-within-the show, along with the usual basic extras. I'm honestly surprised that there's no English dub on offer, as this seems like the kind of series that a good dub crew could really have fun with.
Girlish Number is a somewhat acquired taste, especially if you prefer your anime-about-anime to have a more upbeat perspective. With that caveat out of the way, this show can be an absolute riot as long as you're willing to meet it on its own terms. It has enough wit to back up its combative tone, and it can be a surprisingly cathartic experience if you've been in the fandom long enough to have suffered through a few crappy light novel adaptations. In a medium that tends to gloss over its own bad habits, it can be refreshing to see that rose-tinted optimism get lovingly skewered from time to time.
That wraps things up for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember to send your anime collection photos to [email protected] if you'd like to see them featured in our Shelf Obsessed section!
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