My favourite anime this season is probably Girlish Number, Watari Wataru‘s wonderfully crafted drama about a group of voice actresses and the struggles of the world around them have this realistic blend of cynicism and excitement for the industry in a way few stories manage to portray. But what grabbed me the most was the lead character, Karasuma Chitose, played by Senbongi Sayaka (Chronicles of the Going Home Club, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress).
Chitose is a rookie voice actress just about to land her first big role as a main character in an upcoming light novel adaptation. As the story progresses, we follow her rise to minor success and then face an eventual fall, all at the cost of her own arrogance and stubbornness. I wanted to further analyze the mindset of Chitose, as I found her behaviour unmistakably realistic and understandable, despite it often being rude or wrong. If you’ve not watched Girlish Number then here’s your spoiler warning, because I’ll be giving up every detail there is.
When we first meet Chitose in the first episode we also meet her manager, Gojou. Gojou is a former voice actor and Chitose’s older brother, having taken the job as manager at the agency he was once acting for after stepping down. Chitose will often make fun of her older brother for being a “failed” actor who gave up on his dreams, often with Gojou hitting her back with a jab at Chitose’s expense as well. It’s general sibling bickering, or at least it starts like that, and it’s rather enjoyable.
What seemingly appear to be Chitose’s biggest flaws at first is her laziness and disinterest in the less glamorous parts of her profession. She doesn’t like practicing, she doesn’t like reading source material and she most certainly doesn’t like having to wait for her big chance at fame. The show itself doesn’t hold back at calling out her behaviour as childish and having characters reiterate that she needs to change her viewpoint should she ever want to succeed.
But with a stroke of blind luck she’s picked out as one of the girls to form the new actress/idol unit Girlish Number, getting her first main character role as part of the same deal. With this, Chitose figures her ways have paid off and she’s now on the road to success. This is also where our first big internal conflict for Chitose arrives.
Chitose has a good voice and she’s a pretty decent singer, but despite her profession she suffers a lot when it comes to acting. Her methods have had her get through smaller parts, but once she lands a big role people notice her lack of being able to deliver lines contextually to the scene. Chitose believes her acting is great, of course, she believes everything she does is near perfect and at first she’s never really told differently.
With her ego inflated from the lack of criticism of her work, Gojou eventually can’t take it and points out that her acting is not only bad, but she’s not even listening to those trying to help her improve without putting her down. The voice director(s) give her dozens of takes, yet she doesn’t actually listen to what they’re asking of her. Naturally Chitose doesn’t believe him at first, but start to notice the reactions around her and decides to ask one of her co-workers, Sonou Momoka, for help.
Momoka end up convincing Chitose to change her method of acting, asking her to borrow deliveries from other media and to truly find her character in order to deliver her lines better. Chitose goes home and begins to do actual studying and ends up delivering a much better, if still rather dull and normal, performance for it. After this, things seem to be back to normal. Chitose is still arrogant and self-centered, but at least she’s a better actress than before. This character development however, more than anything, is a red herring.
While Chitose did improve, she didn’t change. And as the story continues, that becomes the larger theme for her character. The next conflict comes from Chitose having to deal with the general audience hearing her perform. With early episodes retaining her bad acting and the internet generally being full of people who can’t wait to shit on something they don’t like, Chitose faces the idea that the world actually hates her.
She talks to Goujo about it, who assures her that she can’t just listen to everyone on the internet. But this is where the first important aspect of Chitose’s inability to change comes into play. Gojou suggest she’ll read what surveys have said about her so that she can improve, clearly trying to motivate her to do better. Chitose refuses as she doesn’t want to hear more criticism, because the way she sees it, she’s being punished for nothing.
“Why am I the only one getting bashed?” she asks, “I didn’t even do anything!”
That right there is a big key to Chitose’s character. Yes, she’s rude and self-centered, but she doesn’t ever do anything to hurt anyone. Throughout the show Chitose does countless of mistakes and bad judgment calls. She continues being lazy and self-serving, but the one who suffers for it every time is Chitose herself. Her friends and co-workers keep moving up, getting bigger jobs and gaining more success, but Chitose stands still.
Eventually, even her own brother is ready to move past her. Her agency picks up a new actress, Sakuragaoka Nanami, who also happens to be a fan of Chitose. Nanami is assigned to Gojou and Chitose gets informed that she’ll begin transitioning to a new manager. Gojou first protests and manages to convince the chief to let him manage both for the transition phase, but the damage Chitose have caused is already done.
Despite her constant bickering with her brother, Chitose looks up to Gojou a lot. She owns his work as an actor and she’s constantly turning to him for advice when she realizes her flaws. Gojou does his best to encourage Chitose and push her forward, but he knows in the end that unless she changes she’ll remain where she is. He’s fallen out of the industry once and he knows that will happen to Chitose as well if she doesn’t face reality.
In the latest episode, episode ten, the agency chief lays it out for Gojou. They’ve waited long enough for Chitose, it’s time to move on. Nanami will be given a major promotion by the agency and unless Chitose manages to step up on her own she’ll fade out. During rehearsal Gojou approaches Chitose’s lack of effort one last time, telling her that everyone else has moved past her and that she’s the only one staying still. This echoes what he previously thought of Chitose’s reaction to her online criticism. It’s not that she have done something bad, it’s that she hasn’t done anything at all.
The episode continues with Chitose’s birthday, held the same day as a promotional stage event where they’ll all be performing. At the end of the event, Nanami’s CD debut is announced without Chitose having been told. After the event Chitose gets a moment of happiness as her friends celebrate her birthday, throughout the entire scene we see Gojou stand in the background with a dark and tired look on his face. We eventually learn that he had bought Chitose a birthday present, but he never gives it to her.
The party ends and both Chitose and Nanami face a crowd of fans on the way out, Nanami cheerfully greeting them and Chitose mustering up a greeting despite having her mind in other places. The crowd starts talking about how cold Chitose is and that it’s time to stop caring about her and it’s made clear that Chitose hear every word about it. Nanami is oblivious to what’s going on with Chitose, viewing her as a succesful role-model, but for the first time Chitose expresses doubt in her success.
The rest of the episode dwells on Chitose’s realization of her position, we see her questioning just what she is and finally see her breaking down at home. Once again she’s listening to Gojou’s old work, maintaining that he’s about as bad as she is at acting. She looks up old interviews with her brother while he was still an actor and begin to listen to him talk about becoming the person you want to be, to change for the better.
Chitose stops listening, stating that if she could change she wouldn’t be the person she was now. The idea of changing is a lie to her, it has no meaning. Finally she asks just why Gojou stopped being an actor. Alright, it took me a long time but here’s where I want to talk about Chitose’s reasons for being the way she is and just how she put herself on a path of self-destruction.
As I mentioned before, Chitose looks up to her brother more than she’ll admit. She looks to his advice and listens to his recordings on multiple occasions, even taking solace in it when she’s feeling depressed and left behind. This is why Chitose can’t admit to faults, because if she did, she think she would end up the same way as Gojou did and lose her career. She acts in extreme arrogance about her work because it’s how she wants it to be perceived.
She can’t fail, because that would do a disservice to Gojou, she needs to be perfect. This becomes even clearer when you consider her final words in episode ten. She doesn’t believe that someone like her can change, she realizes she’s on a path of destruction, but if Gojou couldn’t change despite being the one to talk about it, how can she possibly do so? She views Gojou’s time as an actor as the same as hers, a period of them lying to themselves about how great everything is in hopes that it’ll turn out that way.
Chitose isn’t a bad person, she easily tries to make friends with her co-workers like Momoka and Yae and she never acts in hatred or even envy when one of them succeed where she doesn’t. Any harsh words she have goes exclusively to Gojou, because she treats him like a brother first and manager second. Gojou on the other hand, treats Chitose as his subject first and sister second. This is what causes them both to not realize what the other person is doing.
Gojou think Chitose is just being lazy and unable to actually care for her work, meanwhile Chitose think Gojou doesn’t respect her or realizes that she’s trying to follow in his footsteps. It’s speculation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Chitose only became an actress because Gojou failed to stay an actor. In the end, Chitose doesn’t even know why Gojou isn’t an actor any more, she doesn’t know about that part of his life because Gojou never opens up about it.
So she’s faced with a situation where she needs to walk tall and succeed without knowing what struggles await her before they’ve already overcome her. As a result, Chitose hurts her own reputation, career and in the end even her relationship with her brother. The people around her are fine, they’re moving on and succeeding without her. She didn’t do anything to anyone, except to herself.
Chitose knows the position she’s in, she knows she got herself into the that position too. What she doesn’t know is how to deal with it. She’s at a crossroads where she either gives up on her ambitions like Gojou did or she changes who she is. But she doesn’t believe in change, because if that was a choice then why did she turn out miserable and why did Gojou stop acting? The realistic outcome to Chitose is her ultimate failure.
Everyone around Chitose have tried to offer their hand to help her but she’s rarely accepted it, the exception being Momoka’s advice on acting. It’s not because she ignores those around her, but it’s because she feels she needs to succeed on her own. Her positive arrogance is a mask she wears to come off as confident and succesful, but her pride is real and she can’t take being hurt or appearing weak.
No one around Chitose really understands why she is the way she is, not even Chitose fully understands it. She questions her very nature and doesn’t know what to do the moment she breaks down. She’s not damaging to others, only herself, with every mistake or bad decision quickly bouncing back to knock her down. She put herself on a path of destruction and couldn’t accept that she needed help. And that right there is a very realistic depiction of how many people fall to depression.
Girlish Number is a fairly subdued and subtle show. In a more traditional story you would have had Chitose’s actions ruin things for those around her and have their eventual lashing out at her be what causes Chitose’s self-reflection. But instead Chitose doesn’t fall to her lowest point because it’s something she deserves, but instead just a natural destination. There’s no revenge being acted out at Chitose or a need to put her down for justice to be served. It’s just simple yet destructive behaviour reflecting back on herself.
At her core, Chitose is a girl who just wants to show her brother that she can do what he aspired to do. She doesn’t genuinely believe she’s perfect, she just can’t let anyone see her as anything less than the happy succesful person she wants so badly to be. When everything falls down for her, she doesn’t know what to do because as far as she can tell she never did anything wrong.
Chitose wants her brother to be proud of her and to see his dream fulfilled. Having seemingly lost her chance at that, she doesn’t even know what her own purpose is. When episode eleven closes out Chitose feels worthless, left behind and unsure of everything around her. Because she never did anything, so why is this happening to her?
And that is why I think Karasuma Chitose is the most interesting and well-written character this season of anime. I wanted to write this before the final episodes release, to see if my speculation proves true after people have had a chance to read it. I hope this have given you a new perspective on Chitose and the narrative of the show.
Thank you for reading and let me know your thoughts on the series and its characters!
Girlish Number is a TBS production by studio Diomedea.
It’s been licensed for western distribution by Sentai Filmworks.
It’s currently streaming on Crunchyroll in North American territories.