“Lina. She can’t act. She can’t sing. She can’t dance. A triple threat.”
-Cosmo Brown, Singin’ in the Rain
In 1952, the movie musical Singin’ in the Rain posed an interesting question: what would happen if a wildly successful and beautiful leading lady possessed a voice that would send audience members running in the opposite direction of the silver screen?
Set in 1927, Singin’ in the Rain takes place during the rise of sound in film and Warner Bros’. The Jazz Singer. It follows a movie studio making the painful process of milking their two most bankable silent film stars — Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) — in the brave new world of “talkies.” This premise is played for laughs, with Lina’s blithe ignorance stealing the show. Don Lockwood is Gene Kelly so naturally he adapts, able to sing well enough and dance spectacularly, but Lina has a shrill, screeching timbre that reaches dog whistle frequencies. Naturally, she believes that she’s brilliant at all things. Her gorgeous face and fanbase are not moneymakers that the studio wants to lose, so they secretly enlist talented newbie, and Don’s love interest, Kathy Selden, to dub over Lina’s voice lines and songs. Hilarity ensues.
While Singin’ in the Rain isn’t nearly as incisive of Hollywood as a film like All About Eve, its premise has more depth than a hearty chuckle at Lina’s expense. Lina is pretty, and her face makes the fictitious Monumental Pictures a tremendous amount of money, to the point where she is a household name. Her egotistical personality is cultivated by the studio catering to her directly because she is so beautiful. The lack of acting ability can be dealt with, so long as nothing damages her moneymaking face, and her voice wasn’t a problem until she was actually required to speak and sing.
We don’t yet know if Chitose Karasuma’s dancing is anything special, but Girlish Number has already made it clear that she has no natural voice acting talent, and also isn’t particularly good at singing. She’s at least, by Singin’ in the Rain‘s standards, a double threat.
Much like Lina Lamont, Girlish Number‘s Chitose was cast in a leading role for her appearance. Producer Kuzu-P happened upon her at an after party — she had a bit part in a videogame — thought she was cute, and chose her as the heroine in the anime adaptation of light novel series Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord. He has no vision for the anime that he is producing, but he certainly has visions of selling his cute trio of rookies as idols at various promotional events. Along for the ride are veteran voice actresses Momoka Sono and Kazuha Shibasaki.
The anime is continuously plagued with setbacks and Kuzu-P’s unwillingness to make any decision concerning actual production. Rightfully roasted and ripped apart by fans of the light novel and the sakuga set on social media, the first episode of Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord is predictably a disaster.
Chitose’s co-stars Yae Kugayama and Koto Katakura are disappointed and angry after the first episode airs, but Chitose giggles joyfully to herself in a corner as she scans her social media feed. Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord might be a bomb, but it’s still skyrocketing her popularity.
Unlike Lina, Chitose is an unknown landing her big break rather than a studio headliner with a well-established career but both characters share a commonality in exactly what their higher-ups see in them: the perfect look. Chitose shares Lina’s more egotistical qualities, which are made uglier by the fact that she’s done nothing to earn the admiration of those around her, and refuses to treat her co-stars with the respect due to those in their position or seniority. She also experiences a rare moment of clarity that Lina’s character lacks — Chitose realizes that she’s awful at voice acting, inspiring her to actually work at her craft. Although she refines the voice of her onscreen character, Girlish Number takes care to reiterate that even Chitose’s improved performance isn’t exceptional. The question Girlish Number asks us is whether Chitose’s actual talent, or lack thereof, even matters.
Chitose’s future, should her popularity continue to grow, is shown in the characters of Momoka and Kazuha. The two veteran voice actresses present two primary avenues that Chitose can travel: the self-aware and professional Momoka, or the self-loathing artist Kazuha.
Kazuha prides herself on her craft, and only recognizes or acknowledges Chitose’s existence once Chitose decides to put a bit more effort into voice acting. Although she realizes that the industry is not favorable, Kazuha wishes to be taken seriously as an artist and suffers because few value her actual acting talent. The daughter of a famous actress and well-known director, Momoka was taught the industry from a very early age and approaches her career pragmatically. She accepts that she’s a marketable entity and considers every live appearance or advertising session as part of being a professional. Chitose has shown little interest in anything but the popularity becoming a voice actress brings, so Kazuha acts more like her foil and Momoka the path before her. This makes Kazuha a fairly tragic character, as she watches Chitose earn fame and fortune despite the fact that Chitose has next to no talent or care.
There is no Kathy Selden waiting in the wings to cover for Chitose. As the production of Millennium Princess x Kowloon Overlord continues circle the drain, it will be increasingly up to Chitose and her co-stars to carry the show through Kuzu-P’s live events and marketing. The series’ fourth and most recent episode ends with Kuzu-P and his buddy President Namba laughing over drinks that they’ve found the winning formula. Their plans are solely focused on Chitose and company. The anime that they’re producing never even comes up in conversation.
Singin’ in the Rain ended on an optimistic, albeit cheesy, note — talent, in the form of Kathy, won out in the end and sang “You Are My Lucky Star” as the credits rolled. Girlish Number trends more and more cynical with each passing episode. For now, it doesn’t matter how good, or how bad, Chitose Kurusama is at her actual job. She’s cute, and that sells.