A Girlish Number Lover

Since Digibro asked so nicely, I will oblige a little. As an aside, this is a good argument for passive aggression. I think if Watarin wasn’t so careful it would have had the same effect.

But first, let’s get this straight. I am writing on my blog some stuff, whatever it is. That doesn’t really have anything to do with Digibro. If he, in his video, can make fun of light novels or anime in ways way worse than I have called out on him, is he really in a position to be defensive about that? I really do not owe him anything; it’s not like I’m interested in curating Digibro’s personal knowledge, nor am I a part of his “community” so to speak. There is no real context besides the usual human decencies I afford to pretty much every rando on the internet, plus I know him for some time so he’s more than just a rando of course. But even to my dearest friends, if they are being defensive about some nonsense they said as a public performance, that they didn’t even realize they didn’t know any better, or that they offended my ears for some reason, it’s not really grounds to call me out for being elitist. A better call would be that I’m making some allegation without backing them up, and that is a problem (I did leave some vague hints! That’s not nothing), but what am I really accusing him of? Making the mistakes he, as he admits, has made in all his videos? It’s not a big deal. We all make these kinds of mistakes, especially those who talk a lot on the internet.

This doesn’t excuse the shitty behavior people who are considered his groupies or fans that commented in my last post, by the means of Digibro’s corresponding blog post. I don’t really care if there are civil discussions happening in his community as he wrote; that should be par for the course. Maybe I should be glad that things are not as bad with that group as with some others? I don’t have a perspective on it. But the toxic elements? Yeah there are clearly a lot of groupthink and mob mentality in those parts of the woods, and while I am disappointed it’s not “ROW ROW FIGHT DA POWAH” commented 2000 times, it’s something I can deal with. At any rate, there’s little to motivate me to answer Digibro’s call for knowledge in this case outside of his courtesy, and a lot of reasons why I should go against it and to just ignore it.

But, the main reason is, Digibro is not interested in the subject matter; he is just interested in being right. He said so himself, he is not a seiota (short for seiyuu otaku). If someone is interested in seiyuu as a fan, I would be glad to share what I know. If someone is interested in seiyuu because he can make better interweb arguments, I am not really interested as a part of helping with that. It’s just not my game, at least in this form. Certainly not after being called out as an elitist, LOL. Yeah, it’s not helpful to Digibro that I am behaving in this way, but it’s actually helpful for me since I have other things to do and deal with than to write a 3000-word response.

If this is actually not true, let me know.

When someone “outside” your art or fandom criticizes (or praises it) a thing deeply related to it, without any knowledge about it, I feel naturally defensive and the end result was a weighting between “If Digibro had not published a video, would it be better?” and just letting it go. I think in this case it doesn’t really matter to me personally, and the kind of high level take on the matter that was Digibro’s review of the show probably wouldn’t really further perpetrate any wrong ideas about the industry or things that really matter, or no more worse than how things already are. It was nonetheless a gut reaction that felt good calling it for what it is. In retrospect, I don’t really have the time or motivation to deal with the aftermath, so it was a foolish move on my part. I guess I’m always up for talking about Girlish Number though. I’m passionate about that, enough to sit through some scratching-on-chalkboards.

The great thing about this wretched system is that it’s far from spotless, so a few more spots is not going to change anything. I’m glad Digibro can be provoked though! That shows that he cares.

And you have to care to get somewhere. I think this is the ultimate thematic lesson in Girlish Number. Which is perfect, because when it comes to Watarin’s (Wataru Watari, henceforth Watarin) cynical passive-aggression, the flipside of it is a willingness to care, and the willingness to continue to care despite the hard feelings. He uses this to some degree in Oregairu after all.

The most common mistake in looking at Girlish Number from what I’ve seen online, is the lack of realization as to which perspective is actually doing the talking. In Shirobako, we have 5 characters representing different aspects of an animation production, at least on the grunt level. This is why the 3DCG stuff, the SFX and sound stuff, and a lot of the (critically important) things that typically get outsourced in anime production, get only a portion of one episode of highlight. We see a lot more from the perspectives of those who are in-house and neck-deep on a day-to-day basis. [Bonus round: Why not from…the director’s point of view? Wouldn’t that actually make the most sense? And there is an answer to this question!] If you watched the supplementary material from Shirobako BDs, the producers of the project basically explained it as much–the people behind PA Works are the drivers behind that story. It’s a story for the whole company, so the narrative reflects this. In Girlish Number, that perspective is just one, and that is Watarin’s, which in some ways is represented by Kuusure’s author, but not always.

Watarin is a true nerd in this sense, that soon after his project with Oregairu he pitched GN to the producers, and after years in incubation it got the green light, and a late-night TV anime was born, in the same sort of way that Watarin has mocked…well not really, but it conforms to the form.

The form of Girlish Number is best described as an another story about actresses in showbiz, except in this case we’re talking about voice actors for late-night, paid-by-committee TV animation/media mix. The story is about cogs in the same White-Box machine, but instead of a positive thing we’re talking about a more negative/comedic take, as each of the characters of interest work through their issues. Each of the main actresses in Kuusure reflect some type of personality and perspective that Watarin feels that could round out the story better. They also reflect common personality types that Watarin feels comfortable enough to lampoon in the seiyuu fandom scenes.

The core conceit in Girlish Number, from the meta, is to show us that the people who are idolized by seiyuu otaku are kind of like these, and these kind of things could very well be true to any given one of the people working in the industry. Yes, your favorite seiyuu could really be a spoiled brat who doesn’t know what’s best for her. Kuzu’s side of the story shows us one of the ways in which seiyuu otaku are used to perpetrate the business. Yes, if you put some cute girls on stage, even (or especially) when they are new, and use that to promote the show, by having them do some idol-y things, it is one way to market an IP. It’s a double dose of satire in the general category of poking at today’s otaku consumerism.

This is why the first seiyuu interview PR material on the original site is a great read if you are into reading the same usual seiyuu interviews that populates the monthly seiyuu rags and online press. It’s appropriately cynical without showing too much teeth. Interviews with Japanese public-facing entities are often “edited” like this, but they wouldn’t need an editor; the average talent’s brain would have had enough practice to filter out the correct answers. It’s just the simple fact that otaku sometimes forget while deluding in their personal fantasies.

And at some level, you gotta wonder about people who are trying to become seiyuu in this manner, in this day and age. I don’t want to spend a couple thousand words explaining the state of how it is being a seiyuu so you’re best off doing your own research here. I guess if you are in Japan you can get books on this in the library or at a bookstore. There is some resources online too, but mostly in the form of seiyuu school solicits.

[As an aside, yes, everything in the 4th paragraph, ironically, is more true than false. Aside from the fact that Digibro would be better off if he went and read those things I told him to look for, and is otherwise hiding his laziness by putting the onus of correcting him on someone else, it’s just something (like most things) we can’t intelligibly talk about unless we’ve studied it a little at least. (In essence, there’s nothing I could do to educate him (aside from my own inability) as he has to be willing to be educated first, and I think Digibro isn’t looking for that kind of an engagement.) The problem is that voice acting talent in Japan is its own insular bubble within the larger entertainment biz, and there’s little English language coverage of them besides as credits to animation/game production. In Japan, there is a fairly large spotlight on seiyuu, but it’s part of the biz, so it’s tightly controlled and doled out, like any entertainment product. In recent years the glut of seiyuu-want-to-bes has meant there are much more people in the business who are willing to speak on it, but again it’s all in Japanese and little coverage in English. It’s not even like we can have an image board for animators, as the appreciate of seiyuu can be quite complicated (also see later, seibuta vs. jitsurokukei), in these cases the talents are controlled by agency, they’re more or less contractors for hire and otherwise normal private people. In the cases where the seiyuu is promoted more like musicians or idols, then they are covered or promoted like such. It’s both good that it’s well-known (at least by headcount; you can just use wikipedia for a lot of good info (and JP side has even more) but bad because it’s insular. It’s hard enough to get westerners to care about animators, let alone the Japanese voiceovers, basically.]

The biggest question that is left unasked or got wrong by most reviews is actually why something like Kuusure exists. Digibro explain it to the extent that it exists and sometimes you have mega hits that could be implied to lift the misses, which is partly true, but just because Kiznaiver sold 900 copies or whatever on volume 1, it doesn’t actually mean it doesn’t make money? Without knowing the details of the various contracts we can’t say for sure. The companies bankrolling the production are the ones who ultimately knows best. The anime actually makes a point on this by rolling Kuusure into a second cour. Shit anime with poor sales sometimes still make money (as far as the people investing in it goes), so it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to always gun for a home run, when you’re not punished equally for making an out. You just want a good average, which sometimes means being just consistently mediocre.

Furthermore, all of this is kind of besides the point. People don’t get fired per se for producing your latest cabbage ball anime as a rule; there are not enough animators to leave them unused, the production managers and desk guys will leave the stressful workplace on their own pace already. Producers might take a hit but the companies involved and the pipelines in place will still have their existing relationships to carry on. The business ramifications of failure (as we see in Shirobako, too) are resolved structurally (and it’s getting to the point where some individual heroics are needed to keep things going). We know that it will takes some really big problems (where heroics can’t solve) to bring a company under, not the usual individual negligence (unless it’s at a high level).

You know you’ve arrived when you realize while Kuzu is trash, he is part of the ecosystem that gives some seiyuu otaku what they want. Without people like him, some bad things won’t happen, but some good things might not happen either. It’s just a little bit nuanced, enough that a cut-and-dry interpretation of Kuzu will show us more about where you stand on things than what Girlish Number has to say about the industry.

However, for the people making Kuusure, or in our actresses’ cases, it becomes somewhat of an existential question. This is the question that Shirobako affirms with that heartwarming answer, but Girlish Number doesn’t really focus on. If you’ve seen The Producer, maybe that offers a closer comparison.

As a garden variety seiyuu otaku in 2017, I’ve run the usual gauntlet. In this case, we spend a good chunk of time to eat up all the social media content, to follow your favorite CVs as they work through each of the live shows, radio shows, events, or even concerts every cour or production they’re a part of. To buy up the necessary goods at the right time. The development of this industry the past 20+ years has meant that there is a product to meet the demand that has been present since those early Hitoshi Doi days. This is one way to bring in money, for a production. I think this day and age the Pony Canyon brand might be at the forefront of exploring this particular vector, by combining their associated anison artists, voice actresses, and tied-up IP, to create a web of media content that they can monetize.

[I think about Rolling Girls in this context when watching Girlish Number actually, LOL.]

Anyways, since they’re not really committing fraud, and I have no clue if any audit happens, the difference between Springtime for Hitler and Kuusure is that Kuzu and friends will continue to do the same things, with the same marketing gimmick (TV anime is marketing, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just silly), just like the real life people Watarin is lampooning. Quiet, shy, and proper light novelists will continue to get the shaft. No, Kyoto Animation is not going to work on your show, your crappy 4-koma/cell phone novel getting an anime is already a dream come true, sensei.

Not to mention I’m sure some people called your writing trash on Youtube.

And that is perfectly acceptable on some level. Girlish Number is about the things late-night otaku media consumer are interested about: seiyuu-driven events, shitposting on SNS, and the latest memes (sometimes involving cabbages). [You know, in a season where Kemono Friends is the top show in Japan you really got to think really hard about all this.] A lot of seiyuu of various vintage try to make it in this market space. A lot of them also fail, because it’s overall a hard business where the pool of employable and qualified acting talent have ballooned, even when the number of anime has also ballooned over the past 15-20 years. In the entertainment biz in general, once men and women age past their primes, their career options diminishes, freeing up opportunity for fresh, younger blood. In voice acting, this is less so the case because looks don’t matter (as much). This is why you have 60-70yos still voicing young men and women at times. Younger talents have the “advantage” of being cheaper to hire, being yet to be well-established means they are more inclined to work for a low price and have more available time for your bottom-feeding tier anime work. Younger voice actresses also tend to look more appealing than older voice actresses, even if in general there isn’t a lot of differences in this regard, so from a marketing point of view sometimes that’s more desirable. (It’s important to remember voice actresses that have staying power also have larger number of established fans.)

The downside to younger voice actors is well detailed in Girlish Number itself, so I won’t belabor those points. The truth is there’s a layer of meta even on top of that, which is best described as jitsurokukei versus seibuta. It’s a dumb topic that I can go on about, but the short of it is that there are people who like seiyuu much like how we like idols or other entertainers. There are then people who appreciate voice acting and seiyuu for their craft. A good example of the former is something like the IDOLM@STER. A good example of the latter is appreciating Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and the very obvious effort put into the show by most notably, Ishida Akira.

Clearly, Girlish Number thinks it doesn’t really matter. Fact is the seiyuu are put in front of microphones and on stages to entertain the audience, so what they do to accomplish that is their art, and how we respond to it is the magic sauce. Yeah, jitsurokukei favorites sometimes get put in skimpy clothes and paraded on BD specials. Sometimes they even dance and sing. And sometimes a person can like crappy voice acting and still turn out to be OK. And that’s NBD, I guess. People can (and probably should) like what they like for the reasons that caused it to happen.

Two more things I want to talk about before I call it a day.

Laziness: I think this is a good topic, because it’s kind of lazy call things lazy without really pinpointing why. Maybe it’s because it’s easy to see Chitose as lazy despite she does put in the time and effort. Which is to say, is Chitose lazy? I think she is lazy in an intellectual sense, kind of like calling someone elitist for not teaching you what you did wrong, hiding behind an excuse. It’s not exactly a good fit. In this case, Chitose knows that to quickly get her ego boosts, she just need to be the lead character and Do The Things. She might not know that it’s good to actually hand in a good performance, so she doesn’t try. It’s not because she isn’t willing to put in the effort–she clearly does the things seiyuu do, which is to go over her scripts in advance, to practice, and all those things. She just doesn’t know she has to level up her game, because her game suck. And the truth is, she’s half right her sucking or not might not even make a difference in the overall sales of Kuusure, or even her twitter follower count. In other words, nobody in Girlish Number I would really call lazy. Probably not even Kuzu (he’s really just the same as Chitose). It almost feels lazy to call them lazy, since it’s kind of a sign that someone doesn’t understand what’s really going on so they just slap some word that feels right.

Insincere, perhaps? I think that’s pretty clear. The scene between her and Momoka was pretty good example of an artifice to another seiyuu “myth” that seiota romanticizes, but in actual practice newbie seiyuu learn the most from watching their seniors work. It’s a bit of an author’s sleight of hand to have Chitose go off like that without some intervention, but it’s not unheard of. What comes with hard nose perseverance and luck can be torpedoed by people taking it too lightly, and not understanding what’s really at stake. Which is to say, Chitose knows it doesn’t matter, so she doesn’t think she needs to be better (until she heard how bad she sounded.) To be fair, in order to get to Chitose’s position in Kuusure, she would have had to pass all the tests and get selected out of thousands who try every year to enter the business and sign with a reputable seiyuu management agency. She is already proven in a way. Which is to say, once the mental lightbulb switches on towards the end as she copes with her existential issues, Chitose can do it as well as anyone, because presumably she had to persevere to get to where she was at the start of the series.

Lastly, Nanami. It’s sort of common to make fun of these kinds of characters. Nanami represents the archetype where the existential question is shrouded by naivete, or as I’ve been calling them, “true believers.” It’s not fair to call them naive, but I don’t have a better word here. I think Watarin was trying to bring both the positive and negative aspects of that attitude into the story, so it’s not too heavy handed. Part of this was through not really pegging Nanami hard, part of it was from Chitose’s new manager. The problem with Nanami is that she’s oblivious to the existential situation, almost like how fans would be, so it becomes difficult to work with someone like her. In the story, Nanami was used to show Chitose that in the face of some degree of sincerity, her phony outlook kind of doesn’t make her feel good about herself, at least. That also indirectly dodges the fact that it not to say they are tactless (they’re not, and Nanami after all is an exaggerated sample for an anime), but it gets weird when your colleague likes the crap you want to forget so long ago, that you botched in your early days. Obviously you can’t really burst that bubble but let things run their course naturally. This is actually something that comes up from seiyuu talking about their work environments, if very rarely.

The truth is, a fair rebuttal to Watarin’s satire is someone who is genuinely sincere. From what I can tell, most people in the industry do so earnestly, too. They work hard and do their best, because of a variety of reasons–they are professionals after all. The system that the likes of Kuzu perpetrates, the system that pays the seiyuu’s bills, the system that invariably they have to suck up to in order to maintain their careers and dreams related to said careers, allows for the occasional Chitose. But reality is likely a much harder mistress than Watarin’s fantasy can ever be, so all we get is just a taste.

In conclusion, I’ll just leave this here. It’s about a different IP, but the same sort of thing applies. Girlish Number is made with a specific audience in mind: Japanese seiota and their scene. It doesn’t mean no one else can enjoy it or criticize it (in fact I am curious how outsiders view it, speaking as a different kind of outsider myself). But on some level, it’ll be very difficult to grasp the full of it unless you have some experience with the matter in question. And I don’t know how to “teach” experience.

6 Responses to “A Girlish Number Lover”

  • Digibro

    I have no disagreements about your read of the show, but your attack on mine is based entirely on false pretense. Firstly, this strange sureness that this show is only about seiota, or that failing to include this particular take on the story diminishes the points that I made. In fact, the only time you seem to even contradict any point I made in my video is in the case of claiming that Chitose is “lazy,” and even then it amounts to a semantic disagreement over that one word. Both of us take a deterministic lens to Chitose–I say myself in my video that she’s trying as hard as she can, and doesn’t even understand that this isn’t hard enough. The only difference is you won’t call that “lazy,” but I will. And while I do agree that she mostly doesn’t even see her own problem, it’s not for lack of it being spelled out to her by others several times. I don’t know where the word “lazy” can even be used if not in a case where a person is told they aren’t doing enough, but still won’t do more. Even if you disagree that lazy can be used here, I still said of her what you did.

    I am not a seiota, but I’m not ignorant to what seiota do, or what it means to follow a seiyuu. I am familiar with their public personas, with the meta surrounding those that the show is playing with. (I have, after all, been reading your blog about this stuff all this time, and I had read those edited interview bits before even seeing the show.) I am not particularly interested in that angle, so I don’t focus on it. I am interested in this other angle of it, which I don’t think is any less true just because there’s another angle it can be looked at from. If anything, I feel like both of our reads just color in the lines between the other person’s. That is to say, what about what you’ve said even contradicts what I’ve said? You could accuse my read of being incomplete, perhaps, on these grounds, but inaccurate? I’m not seeing where we even disagree.

    Honestly, at this point, I don’t know who’s misreading who. Either you misunderstood something about the point I was making, or I’m misunderstanding you now, or you really were just salty that I didn’t think this one angle was the only proper one. But you certainly haven’t convinced me that I misunderstood the show. Finding another thing to say about it isn’t the same thing as being right about it–which isn’t something I think any one person has to do. We’ve both gotten something out of it–something different. The reason I call you an elitist is because you seem to think that the thing you got out of it is somehow more correct, even though the thing that I got out of it is clearly there. It speaks to you as a seiota, it speaks to me as a youtuber (borderline light novel author). I don’t think that there isn’t space in the show for both of these things to exist, even within its intention. It has a lot to say about a lot of things; it is applicable to a lot. It’s not just for seiota, even if it’s also for them. At least, you’ve done nothing to convince me that I somehow didn’t get it. Not all the way? Maybe. It’s one post I’ve written about the show–I can write a hundred more if I learn something else interesting to say about it. Interesting to *me* that is, to talk about in my voice. Your take on the show is good too.

    • omo

      It was never my intent to convince you. In fact I’m not even sure what you really should be doing. I knew it was not likely that you would understand my point of view since you were not in a position to learn, just in a position to defend. And it’s not exactly something I don’t think people have a way to easily understand, let alone an easy way to express the thing they don’t understand.

      However what am I supposed to do? Not call it out? I guess. But I think it was at least sincere and not at all elitist, both of which I think you’re probably more guilty of than I am. There were mistakes in your video that i directly addressed. I don’t think the overall message in your video were wrong, after all it’s your opinion, but you said specific things that were definitely in contrast with what I written above.

  • omo

    It would be a lot more productive if you asked questions. If I attacked you on false pretenses, ask about them instead of saying it.

    > Firstly, this strange sureness that this show is only about seiota, or that failing to include this particular take on the story diminishes the points that I made.

    Because you interpret some things and character interactions differently than how a seiota would. This is why I call it a wrong read, as you made assumptions and came to conclusions differently because of missing background knowledge.

    I think you also misunderstands the issue with Chitose’s laziness–this isn’t about trying hard enough, or being good enough. It’s about being in the right position and having the right attitude. It’s nothing like laziness in the sense that she is spending her time doing some of the things she is suppose to do, but doesn’t realize there are other things she ought to be doing, or not understanding why she is doing those things. Is that laziness? Probably not.

    We can say she is sometimes conceited, but that’s nothing to do with laziness, and everything to do with her attitude towards the job a seiyuu does in a production like Kuusure.

    And yes, I believe you (or anyone) can understand all of this once you acquire the knowledge Digibro. Or else I wouldn’t even bother.

    • Lestat

      You are literally saying that he isn’t right because he interprets it differently than a seiota would. If that isn’t elitist I don’t know what it is.
      You’re implying that a young critic’s take on a piece of art, regardless of whatever the young critic might have to say about the piece, is always wrong because there’s a 50 year old critic with 20 more years of experience somewhere that “knows more” and interprets it differently.

  • omo

    > But you certainly haven’t convinced me that I misunderstood the show.

    Who. gives. a. fuck. about. this? Why take this dumb writing voice

  • prima

    Regardless of the shit-flinging, I learned a lot from both the Digi video and your post here on the larger context Girlish Number played in.

    Thanks, Digi and Omo, you two are both what we can consider “experts” within this larger English anime-sphere. I hope you two would continue taking your educating roles seriously in the future, and maybe put this rivalry bad-taste behind, maybe even collaborate.

    Both of you have something to bring to the table, after all!

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