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Chitose, the cynical heroine of the Girlish Number anime, has become something of my spirit animal. And if she’s a spirit animal, then she’s a honey badger, because Chitose doesn’t give a crap.

Chitose Karasuma (different character from Galaxy Angel‘s Chitose Karasuma) is a brand new voice actress who gets the seriously big advantage of having her friend being her manager. Despite this, Chitose is self-centered and is never satisfied with what she has, even when given the chance to voice a multitude of background characters.

When she is given a main role as she always wished, she refuses to read the source material since she doesn’t care about it–and doesn’t hesitate to tell the producer of the anime that quite bluntly. When the author of the light novels the anime she’s appearing in attempts to be friends with her, she badmouths him to her fellow actress and refuses to add him to her chat buddy list.

But wait! When given the chance to network at staff party, she is thrilled to go… but only because she can eat meat for free.

Although the profession of voice actor was once not even recognized by the public in Japan, it has become a dream job for many Japanese youngsters. From the outside, it looks glamorous: voice anime characters, stand on stage and do events in front of hordes of fans, and become famous worldwide. However, because of the huge burst of young Japanese people wanting to join this industry, it has become a giant game of Musical Chairs with not nearly enough chairs. Voice acting has become a mad battle for supremacy behind the scenes.

It’s a dark place where acting ability isn’t everything–you need anything you can get. President of Mausu Promotion–a famous voice acting agency–Ryosuke Naya writes in voice actor Akio Ōtsuka (Metal Gear Solid‘s Solid Snake)’s book Ōtsuka Akio no Seiyū Juku about having a “special something” being vital to get work.

“Your special something can be anything. Being good at acting, having a cute face, being considerate, having a nice smile… Anything will do. But you have to calmly review the weapons you have in your arsenal, present them, and make us (the managers) see your appeal. Those who can’t do even that will have no fruits for their efforts, even if they try to become a star.”

I’ve personally been a struggling voice actress in Japan for quite a few years. What are your credits, you ask? A net anime that was never made public, a PS Vita game that was never released, etc… If you think being a voice actress in Japan is difficult, think about being a foreigner in the industry.

No matter how much charm you show, no matter how many friends you make, it is still extremely hard to come by roles that won’t be given to a Japanese person instead. We were not born in the country and we will never be able to speak Japanese as well as a Japanese person–despite what other qualities we can bring to the table. Compared to a Japanese person, me and the other foreign girls working as voice actresses will always be at a disadvantage.

That’s why it’s extremely hard for me to sympathize with cute voice actress girls in anime just doing their darndest to make their dreams come true. [Editor’s note: Sarah is a bitter, bitter person.] When I see them struggle, I just kind of shrug. It’s become such an unpleasant thing for me to look at media trying to portray the voice acting industry as some kind of sparkling place where all dreams will come true if you just persevere. They usually don’t show the side that’s not acting: where you have to network, create a persona, and become versed in other things besides voice acting in order to make an impression.

You’d think that I’d get angry, because she takes the rules of the voice acting world, throws them out the window, and then succeeds anyway. Well, no. I actually like her for this precise reason. As I mentioned previously, the “innocent girl reaching for her dreams” formula is so overdone, and honestly makes me feel sick. “Look at this girl. Feel bad for her. Don’t you want to see her make her dreams come true?”

Honestly, not really. Someone who just “tries their best” and is always smiling and innocent is unrealistic and I don’t feel any empathy for that character in the slightest. I dislike the majority of “innocent and cute” characters. Chitose, on the other hand, is more of a real, fleshed-out character. She’s not a moe stereotype. She always has cynical thoughts in her head, is selfish, says what’s on her mind, and loves herself so much that she will check the official website for the anime she’s in over and over, just to see her name on the cast list.

At first glance, you might think, “Wow, what a narccisist.” In the line of entertainment, you have to be a narcissist–because by being one, you know what’s good about yourself and what to present to others. Chitose holds great confidence in herself and that is conveyed to those around her. Is it always a good impression? No, and that sometimes causes trouble for others, and yes, she fails. But wherever she goes, Chitose always leaves an impression.

In one case in the show, Chitose is given a main role because of her looks, though she is tricked into thinking it’s because of her talent. When she gets behind the mic, her acting is wooden and atrocious. The sound director pretends that she’s OK, and that she just needs to do a retake. But in fact, she’s so bad that the staff have no faith in her and are willing to let her bad line-reading into the world, or even worse, consider taking her off the project. Chitose realizes that she’s not doing so hot and because of her confidence in herself, she doesn’t want to give up. She works her ass off to improve her acting up to the level of what the staff expect of her.

And you know what? It’s a lot easier to root on a character who is flawed and strong than a character who is perfect and weak-willed. That non-perfect aspect of Chitose is what draws me to her. I’m not just cheering on a stereotype or a vehicle to sell goods–I’m cheering on a real girl with real worries and a real personality.

When Chitose succeds after stumbling and is accepted by her peers, I feel happy for her. Even though I usually feel envy for those getting to be in the recording booth, for some reason, I don’t feel that way about Chitose. Maybe it’s because while she’s rude, she’s speaking everything we voice actresses really feel behind a mask of smiles, and breaking all the rules of this world of voice acting that need to be broken.

Girlish Number is streaming on Crunchyroll, Viewster, and the Anime Network with English subtitles.

Comments (2)
  1. Not to sound like an ass, but what the hell did you expect, being a foreigner auditioning for Japanese roles? That’s like a foreign actor who has trouble speaking English coming over to the states and whining about not being able to land a role in the industry.

    Set realistic goals, yo. Those who choose to attempt to carve their names into any sort of artistic/creative industry should know it’s going to be difficult, especially overseas. No matter what you think you can bring to the table, your possible boss may be looking for more. And realize that there ARE many more out there who can offer more than you. Even if, by your narcissistic standards, those offerings are small.

    Or you could forever try to be like the immature Chitose who gets lucky and is hired by a sh**ty producer, only to find out she was being taken advantage of by a money hungry moron who preferred cheap and easy “talent” over quality.

    Get your head out of your ass, bitter Sarah. Life sucks. Get over it, be realistic, and stop making boo-hoo excuses.

    Also, I’d be more sympathetic to Chitose if she actually had any growth throughout the anime. Which, so far, she has had none. She’s still just as selfish and idiotic as she was in the first episode. She has yet to learn anything, or appreciate all the work her manager is putting in to keep her relevant. Thought maybe the dumba** would have an epiphany by episode 10 but I guess not.

    She’s one of the most annoying and completely static characters I’ve come across throughout any type of media I’ve ever seen. I figured she would have at least grudgingly accepted that she’s a sh**ty voice actress by now. Maybe I should simply start looking at this show as a parody of all the little people that land big gigs and grow inflated heads, only to quickly disappear into the background as more humble and hardworking people quickly take their spots.

    • Hi there,
      Thank you for the lovely reply!
      In a changing anime market, foreign voice actresses and actors are actually needed more and more in Japan (for foreigner characters, English narration, etc etc). However, the current system is made to cater to Japanese people only. So yeah, it can be difficult, but I always try to be positive. My accent will never be perfect, but there are things that I can help out with that a Japanese person might not be able to do. On the opposite side, there are things Japanese actors and actresses can do that I can’t. Seeing the same cute character with no flaws trying to grasp their dreams despite not much adversity, however, is not something I enjoy watching, which makes the realistic Girlish Number extremely pleasant.
      Now then, moving from myself to Chitose, I would have to disagree on the fact that she doesn’t grow. As I mentioned in the article, she has a point where she records and is terrible. She could have easily just have continued to record, not caring about the quality. I mean, hey, she gets paid either way. But she has a moment of character growth where she realizes: “Hey. I want to be better. I want to improve myself. I want to improve my acting.” The desire to grow in itself is character growth.

      Once again, thank you for the comment! I hope you enjoyed the article.

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