Girlish Number is the anime featuring an ass of a voice actress whose almost toxic personality reveals the truth of the industry. But it isn’t just in the plot or the story where the series goes for realism. The casting is also a strategic stroke of genius.
Voice actors in Japan have ranks. A rank determines whether a voice actor will get royalties, how much they’re paid, and subsequently–thanks to the abundance of actors in the industry–how much work they’ll get. Rank is determined not by the amount of work an actor has had or the kind of roles, but by how long they’ve been working. And all voice actors adhere to this seniority rank system.
When voice actors start out at an agency, they are initially ranked as junior voice actors. Junior voice actors are paid the least and do not receive royalties. Obviously, such actors are highly desired as they are cheap and many anime series are tight on budget.
After a set period of time–usually a year or two, depending on their performance during that time–junior voice actors are either upgraded to standard voice actors, must remain junior voice actors until the next assessment, or are let go from the agency. As standard voice actors, pay is determined by the agency and they can receive royalties.
When this happens, a voice actor’s desirability drops dramatically. Once they become standard voice actors, work has a tendency to dry up almost immediately unless an actor has successfully established a reputation during their time as a junior. Many fledgling actors will jump from agency to agency as signing to a new agency will reset the clock and allow them to get cheap but abundant work.
The rules vary from agency to agency–some agencies have an extra rank between junior and standard–but every agency will have periodic assessments where it will be determined if an actor can ask for more, remain the same, or be let go from an agency.
Voice actors who have a long steady stream of work and an established reputation can eventually be upgraded in status to “Free” status, which means they can call the shots on how much they get paid. Only veterans who have been in the industry for decades achieve this status–and even then it’s a case by case situation.
Obviously, some actors can circumvent the entire system by becoming free agents or helming their own agencies. However, even in these cases, there are still guidelines within the voice actors’ guild that must be adhered to, and unless they’re already a highly sought-after talent, the likelihood they’ll be selected over someone from an agency that already has standing in the industry is slim at best.
Girlish Number utilizes the voice actor ranking into the anime into its casting. The five protagonists, all upcoming or established stars in the series, are all voiced by relatively new voice actresses as you can see below.
— ガーリッシュ ナンバー (@gn_staff) October 30, 2016
Voice of: Chitose Karasuma
Present VA career: 3 years
Voice of: Yae Kugayama
Present VA career: 1 year
Voice of: Koto Katakura
Present VA career: 9 years
Voice of: Momoka Sono
Present VA career: 3 years
Voice of: Kazuha Shibasaki
Present VA career: 4 years
While the main characters in an anime about making it big in the voice actor world are played by actresses with single digit voice acting careers, the producer of the new anime the girls star in, a fairly successful, big-talking buffoon, is played by a mid-ranged veteran voice actor.
Voice of: Kuzu Producer
Present VA career: 21 years
Meanwhile, the president of the protagonist’s voice actor agency is played by a huge veteran voice actor who also happens to be the president of his own voice actor agency in real life.
Voice of: President Namba
Present VA career: 43 years
In this way, Girlish Number adds another layer of reality to its world. While often series will cast the latest popular voice actors in leading roles with veterans playing supporting characters, I have no doubt in my mind that Girlish Number’s casting was completely intentional. Simply knowing the choices of casting makes me enjoy the series even more.