Shirobako’s insider look at the animation industry, specifically the inner working of the animation studios, earned it widespread acclaim. It was a rare look at something most know little about, and combined with its delightful characters was an absolute joy to watch. Sure, it wasn’t shy about showing the difficulties you have to go through to complete a series, but it was still ultimately a love letter to the medium rooted in optimism and idealism.
In stomps Gi(a)rlish Number and laughs from the bottom of its cold, jaded, heart. It casts a cynical eye on the industry from the seiyuu’s perspective and does nothing to hide its sardonic attitude. Mockery of trashy, generic light novels, troubled production, garbage producers, the bullshit voice actresses are put through in the name of promotion, and more besides are commonplace and from no angle is the industry framed in a positive light.
The damning approach to the industry is certainly refreshing and makes for great comedy, but should be considered the setting and a tonal backdrop; it’s not the focus, although it contextualises and informs the rest of the show. After all, none of the story would have occurred were it not for producers casting voice actresses without a thought based on appearances and presumed marketability without even hearing a single audition! And the low-key venom injected into so many words would feel very out of place in an environment where everyone felt great about what they were doing and cared deeply about the end product.
Gi(a)rlish Number is first and foremost a character comedy in the “everybody’s an awful person” way. It’s pretty entertaining! On the more extreme end you’ve got Kuzu, the garbage producer that only creates more work for everybody and whom everyone hates, and the CEO who enables and encourages his terrible attitude. Looking at the core cast, Momoka clearly doesn’t consider the others as friends per se but isn’t unwilling to let them think of themselves as such, Kazuha is cold and has no patience for pleasant formalities (and openly despises everything that isn’t voice-acting she’s obliged to do), and Yae is strongly implied to have a mean and manipulative streak (even if it never really shows). Even the characters you want to side with – such as Kuzu’s assistant, Towada – aren’t exactly shy about how they truly feel about some of the others, so don’t escape the show’s black hole of negativity.
And then of course you’ve got Chitose. Dear, sweet, garbage Chitose. Chitose, the arrogant, self-aggrandising, self-obsessed, narcissistic, petty, obnoxious newbie who lands her leading role purely through luck and immediately lets it go to her head despite, frankly, sucking. Not that she sees any of this, lacking self-awareness entirely. That she gets along famously with Kuzu should say it all!
You’d think someone who clearly doesn’t value friendship that doesn’t elevate herself would be absolutely unbearable to watch (I mean, she’s so mean to Yae despite being in the same class in acting school!), but Gi(a)rlish Number does a lot to make her presence hugely entertaining. For a start, she carries herself with such charisma and confidence – even if it’s completely unfounded – that it’s hard not to be drawn in. And she uses that to power through everything, leaving her a rock of self-assured stability amidst a sea of self-doubts from her peers and a mess of a production. It ties into how completely out of sync with reality she is, because why would you be nervous when everybody loves you? And that disconnect is a source of great comedy – her oblivious low-key nastiness, her stupid conflicts with her brother and her brash intrusiveness all give fun little jokes, but mostly result in everyone dunking on her or her bullshit catching up to her.
Which is the crux of it: the show takes great pains to make sure she doesn’t get away with her attitude, that her ego does get deflated, and that there are consequences to her words or actions. In other words, her unpleasantness is balanced by the world pushing back, with hilarity ensuing.
And it eventually leads to surprisingly real and powerful growth and development on her part. You can only be self-assured for so long when the reality is that you suck, a lot, before you realise as much. And when Chitose’s self-confidence gives way to self-doubt and insecurity (or when those underlying feelings finally bubble to the surface), it does so in a big way. She becomes crushingly aware of her own shortcomings compared to her coworkers, ending up depressed and listless, just about ready to give up on her dream. It’s relatable, I can say that much for sure.
Despite being shown to be unpleasant, she’s never truly unsympathetic and unlikeable, which means that her arc is rewarding – instead of trying to make us like a terrible character, we get to see a person learn hard lessons and becoming mindful and considerate as a result. She becomes a hard worker and a lot more humble out of her own desire to be better, and even after making the jump she’s still not perfect – it’s the mark of a growing, grounded character. Her improvements feel deserved and within reason; it’s not as if the universe is suddenly handing her a great life on a silver platter for having made a small improvement, erasing all her past bullshit in the process. It’s handled about as well as you could hope.
The overtly cynical take on the anime industry made for a great change of pace, with some scenes that had me crying laughing – especially when the target for most attacks were light novels and their adaptations. There clearly wasn’t that much material in that premise alone however, so the move to a character-focused comedy and then a character drama that was underscored by that initial premise felt necessary to prevent losing steam. And it did a decent job, all things considered! It’s rare for anime to have “everybody’s trash” as its comedic core and not get caught up in mean-spiritedness, so that’s a solid accomplishment right there. That said, nothing else about it is really exceptional – it does what it aims to do well enough, but never strives for anything greater. Gi(a)rlish Number (and no, I don’t know what that ‘(a)’ is doing there) is a solid series, perfect if you’re looking for something like Shirobako but with a bit more edge to it.