This blog post is like a 200-level course and requires you to be familiar with Girlish Number episodes 1-4. And seiyuu/anime biz. Spoilers, in other words.
In a gap analysis, you’re trying to figure out what you’re missing by, essentially, showing your work and planning things out on paper for either a concept or an existing process. For example, you can ask the question “How do I attend Animelo Summer Live 2017” and the gap analysis would be how you may need a passport to go to Japan, and a flight reservation might require you to fill out information from said passport, all before you actually do the deed.
It answers questions like, how did people like Taketatsu Ayana get popular? As a sign of popularity, Taketatsu got the job as a spokesperson for Yoshinoya, the gyudon chain. It’s arguably one of the most successful Japanese brands, at least in the 90s. How did a young seiyuu/music act get this far? I’m just using Ayachi as an example for no particular reason besides that she is famous somewhat, but an outsider to seiyuu idol scene might not quite understand how she came to be.
For the astute, observant, or simply the experienced, the seiyuu-idol industry is basically built on the drive of fans purchasing various goods attached to these otaku celebrities. It’s complicated because ultimately from the seiyuu or their agencies point of view, they are performers and artists who are hired to do something. It’s like any other actor or actress, where they are really more paid for their attachment and work on a movie or a TV show, not because buying Game of Thrones on Blu-ray sends some portion of the proceeds to Emilia Clarke, but HBO paid some production company to do a show, and the company decided to cast Clarke for a certain price. (And yes some actors do get paid in royalties but that’s not the point here.) If Clarke was selling, say, her own brand of perfume, she would be making money directly from her fame. It’s doubly complex in anime, where a production committee adopts, say, a manga or light novel, mainly because the money that go into production is disjointed from the people who make the animation, which is possibly also different than who end up getting something out of the work. The production companies and people working on the show (like the seiyuu) are paid on the basis of this contractual work (in most TV anime cases). The publishers sell and license IP based on the anime, and make money through those channels (including the original work–which is to say TV anime often is just a super-commercial for the work it adopts). Fans, however, do not follow that money chain really.
This is where Girlish Number, to me, seems like a gap analysis. Before all of that has to happen, some voice talents have to get popular. This usually happens, in any situation or country or circumstances, because they are a part of some important or seminal work, and they seek the popularity. There is a management aspect to it. There needs be the right producers. There needs be the willing but also unwitting talent. It’s really about writing a business case.
As fans, we see the stuff marketed to us, and the stuff we enjoy. It might be songs on CDs, it might be gravure photos. It might be concerts. It might be variety shows or radio stuff. it could be a new way to engage your favorite seasonal TV anime. It might be a fanclub or some fandom aspect that we enjoy. It’s usually a combination of some of these things. But how do we get here from there? What is even “there” at the origin of it? What’s the raw ingredient, the unique value proposition?
Let’s use a practice exercise. Say if you have a cow, how do you turn it into a business? The unique value proposition of a cow will depend on what you are trying to do. Say you use the cow for milk and the business is about selling milk (revenue) to a cheese factory (problem/customer/channel). You will need to spend money (cost) to keep the cow (key partner/solution) alive and probably healthy enough and fed enough to continue to produce milk. There are various costs attached to milking and processing the milk, and delivering the milk to your customer. There will also be additional cost to make sure you can have the manpower to run the business, and HR overheads.
Imagine if you can use the same upkeep you pay for a milk cow and double duty the cow’s unique value, such as using the cow to breed baby cows so you can produce calves on the side. You can then sell the calves as another “product” to other farmers (new business). There will be some additional cost to raising newborn calves and to tend to the cow who is giving birth, but you already have all that infrastructure set up to support 1 cow. Odds are it takes very little more to support a couple babies, versus the derived value from it. In essence, this exercise is a long way to say the seiyuu idol industry is about milking something?
Instead of a cow now you have a seiyuu who has voiced a bunch of anime. She may not be the prettiest girl in Japanese entertainment but with sufficient augmentation she can look pretty good. Not that anyone would know–seiyuu only show us their voices. An enterprising producer can then increase the seiyuu’s value prop by saying, “hey, let’s do a gravure.” And even before that, seiyuu who do anime (especially anime that are popular with young people) will have some hardcore fans–seiyuu do not show their faces in anime (most of the time), but they do show their names–who have identified the actresses and enjoy their performances. Given the demographic of a lot of these anime, a gravure magazine seems like a very logical side product. And we’re talking about very classy photos, with interview and columns about the (public-facing aspect of) seiyuu trade, so it’s not some universally-pandering product.
That was like, 20 years ago or more. During this time we have increased the value proposition of the female (and male, too) seiyuu by adding all these things to it. “Sore ga seiyuu” is what I say when I find out each new thing these voice talents end up doing, because sometimes it can be head-scratching. Like, how this season, you can have seiyuu play a game of butt-bumping to promote Keijo? And it’s only allowed because all those things raises those entertainers’ profiles?
But following this value proposition is how seiota like us can say “It’s about time Nunu did a solo debut” a year ago. And it’s always important to keep an eye on the “dairy farmer” in the equation, to go back to the cow illustration, since the talent agency and the record label and the publishers all have similar but different stakes. Where things overlap (such as the added face time demonstrated in Girlish Number E4) you won’t get much resistance (besides possibly some purist ethical stuff). Where they don’t, it’s just bullying (see: the author).
Girlish Number, really, is the head-first dive into this value proposition about the modern day idol-seiyuu. Chii-sama is a nobody but she immediately grasps this multi-faceted value proposition because she enjoys the celebrity status. However underneath fame and fortune, at least in the seiyuu world, is luck and hard work. In that sense Chii-sama has already achieved half of the equation by being lucky (as the protagonist of this story). The rest would be about how we can loop back to the original value proposition–or how Chii-sama can (re)gain her cow-ness.
Which is also to say, Girlish Number takes a rather cynical and unfortunate example. If things were like this from the beginning, this industry would not have blossomed like it does today. (The fact that there is now a bunch of guys in suits investing in a business project about seiyuu fandom is the road sign that this fandom is dead.) Rather, the producers are really the main guys at fault, and what comes of it are just various parties trying to make the best of it. This including all the fans who just suffered through a yashigani anime and are looking for the silver lining (even if it’s in the face of a newbie seiyuu).
Note 1: This note includes the whole paragarpah, and is the “cow-ness” I refer to in the body text accompanying note 2.
Note 2: See above note. Also the true significance as to why she is a newbie matters. It’s probably over the head of most people but this is the crux of the matter, and Girlish Number makes a push at this. It isn’t even because Chiisama sucks. It’s less so because she didn’t get the value proposition. It’s mostly because that value isn’t there yet for a newcomer.