I love Girlish Number. While Shirobako showed the sunny side of working life with passionate people striving their best at the thing they love, Girlish Number delves into the flipside, the underbelly of the ignorant, the arrogant, and the incompetent. Much of these qualities are exemplified in its female protagonist Chitose, a young voice actor whose incompetence is only overshadowed by her gigantic ego. While many see her as a particularly nasty person with the combination of worst possible traits, I see her in a more metaphorical sense whose role is to embody the theme of the entire show, while the secondary characters serve to highlight individual aspects and personalities typical of an industry gone wrong.
More than anything, I see Chitose representing the youthful arrogance of a newcomer, which I count as one of the worst possible traits in any sort of competitive setting – most importantly, in working life. Whether she’s overjoyed by a rush of unwarranted self-importance from a lucky streak or overcome by depression from mostly self-inflicted disasters, she rarely if ever lets go of viewing herself as the flawless protagonist whom the world owes nothing but praise and success. Working life aside, anyone who has played competitive multiplayer games has seen this archetype rear its ugly face countless of times: The newbie who thinks he’s a complete hotshot despite his utterly undeniable incompetence, the one who is quick to lash out at other players and find anything to blame for their lack of success but their own shortcomings. This is what fancy people in white suites call “cognitive bias,” or the Dunning-Kruger effect. You stare this monster in the eye every time a sub-50% winrate shitter slings insults at you as the team is sinking. And worse yet, when you’re the one affected and don’t even realize it until it’s too late – one of the horrible lessons of working life for the fresh young upshot.
For me, photography has been the most important teacher of beating this bias, and it’s one of the fields where its presence is strong and often the deciding factor whether a guy with a camera can be rightfully called a photographer, or just a guy with a camera. As a result, photography circles are notorious for being “elitist,” a term I find very often used by the Chitose-archetypes of circles where they are forced to meet direct criticism. Part of the reason for this is that for the layman who is forced to realize the limits of his cellphone camera by everyday exposure to technically high quality photo- and videography the only apparent reason why a hobbyist photographer’s photos are so beautiful is because the photographer is using expensive equipment. This gives rise to the ultimate photographer insult: “Wow, you’ve got a nice camera, I bet it takes really nice photos.”
A camera is an empty box with a hole in one wall and light-sensitive material plastered on the opposite wall. Generations of development in photography have not changed this fundamental fact a bit. A camera is a tool like a chainsaw is – felling a 300-year old oak is difficult with a $300 Sunday-user’s saw, but a $2000 professional saw is no use if you don’t even know what the fundamentals of felling are, how to properly perform log bucking, and why you’re even felling in the first place. Likewise a $300,000 commercial multi-function timber harvester isn’t a smart way to use money if you don’t even know how or why to drive it, or who to sell the logs to. In the end, regardless of their expense cameras and lenses are just tools which have no value without the talent and drive of their user. A photographer understands the limits of his tools and how to utilize them to create photographs he has envisioned. Then, once he has recognized that his photographic vision lies beyond the ability of his tools, he acquires new equipment, or finds something else that lies within the limits of the tools at hand. A layman settles with what he deems good enough, while a dedicated hobbyist will strive to improve their technique. A layman believes in the capabilities of equipment, while a dedicated hobbyist uses any sort of equipment at hand to best bring out his own capabilities. That’s why people are still producing stunning photographs by such primitive techniques as wet plate collodion process or a simple hole in the wall.
As someone on 4chan once wisely pointed out, “It’s just light, not rocket science.” The underlying theory and technical guidelines behind photography are fairly straightforward and simple, available to anyone capable of googling “Understanding exposure.” It isn’t the kind of occult black magic that only elitists understand. The biggest danger zone of aspiring photo hobbyist comes at the point where they come to understand the technical aspects of photography – how to properly operate a camera by the basic exposure settings (sensitivity, aperture, and exposure time) and having some form of understanding on how to apply these in different situations without the need to rely on camera’s automation. After all, exposure performed by the camera’s automation is just an educated guess by its programming as to what the correct exposure might be, which may or may not fall in line with what the photographer had in mind, and is not always the correct answer. The first steps of a photographer is to free oneself from the constrains of having to rely on a machine’s programmed logic. Being able to expose correctly in daylight conditions without any sort of light meter makes one feel like the newborn Ansel Adams, and that’s where the danger lies. Just by meeting the bare minimum of photography, the technical basics, you’ve elevated yourself above the layman. You’re “in the know” compared to the clueless sheep whipping their pitiful cellphones around, just like a guy landing his first job as a logistics planner at a large corporation, or a hopeful voice actor getting her first main cast role. While in reality, you’ve only been provided with foundation and here’s where the real developing is supposed to start taking place.
That’s why once you end up stumbling upon a place like /p/ or photography boards more serious than Reddit subs, your bloated ego comes quickly under heavy flak. Because simply being able to expose correctly is not what makes your photography worth anyone’s time who cares about the art. You’re just doing what we’ve built machines to be capable of doing since the 60’s. You’re told that your photos are boring, the subject is ambiguous or not present, and the composition is awkward. On 4chan this is boiled down to a specific term: Snapshit. This is where the little Chitose within starts making a racket. “Who are these guys to talk! They wouldn’t know a great photo if it skullfucked their grandmother. I’m outta here.” And you’re off to the world of warm milk and cookies by posting photos of flowers on Facebook, thinking that you’ve done your best and if it isn’t enough then it isn’t your problem (and deep down you know that’s not true).
A greatly misleading thing about photography is that what “normies” see as a great photo is not what other photographers are looking for. Photographers are concerned with composition and presentation of the subject, the meaning of the photo and intrigue it raises. Normies are content with colorful things that are simple to produce by mere technical understanding and some relatively uncomplicated and affordable equipment. A good example would be my most liked photo of all time, a simple shot of the moon.
The reason why this doesn’t raise an eyebrow on actual hobbyist boards is that along with flowers, the moon is one of the easiest subjects around. It moves very slowly, you’re dealing with flat, predictable lighting, and the only thing you need for a successful photo is favorable weather and working up the effort to walk up to the nearest dimly lit field. It’s a shot that can be repeated infinitely with higly predictable results. Because of this, there are huge numbers of decent moon photos around, and therefore you’re not really providing anything novel by shooting it, at least without specialized astrophotographic equipment. Same with star trails, which only require a location with little ambient light, a shutter lock, and a few hours of patience. They are not impressive feats of technical prowess compared to say, shooting street scenes in strong contrast lighting (evening with low sun for instance) on slide film. They are not a display of the photographer’s capability of judging a scene and delivering a pleasing composition – just center on the subject (the moon) or just tip the lens towards the sky (star trails) and press the button. Of course, they can be combined with other elements to deliver highly demanding and novel scenes (star trails above a scene light painted by manual flash use), but by themselves they are little more than a demonstration of the most basic skills in operating a camera. But your aunts and coworkers on Facebook care not about such things, they just see a big ol’ moon magnified by a $50 old tele lens, or a nice colorful flower bokeh taken with a $30 Soviet pancake, and slam that Like-button.
After having my shit pushed in by people who actually take photos themselves, I hit the kind of existential slump that Chitose seems to be on the verge of in episode 10 of Girlish Number. After throwing an initial tantrum aimed at people who ridiculed my work, I went off to post on Facebook where there’s a cheering crowd as long as your photos have pretty bokeh and lots of color. But it felt pointless. I had to start thinking about why I was doing photography in the first place. Was it for the attention? For the likes? Certainly not for money. So what was the point? And eventually I stumbled upon the realm of composition, the meat of things that you’re supposed to build on the foundation of technical understanding. Technical skill alone is not what makes a competent photographer’s work great, but the composition, which brings personality, vision and novelty into the photos. It’s what separates taking a photograph from a simple mechanical exercise of exposure. Becoming aware of composition added a new layer into the act of shooting, looking at the world through the finder as a presentation. What or who is the subject? Which elements are important? What and where are the lines that direct attention, and where do I want them to lead? Which elements are disturbing the scene and how to frame it so that they are left out or otherwise eliminated? Every shot became a mind game, and the importance of the camera shrunk to a tool that was only there to make the composition presentable. The technical rules of exposure became the mechanical settings necessary to achieve the desired result, not the main attraction, and the information provided by the camera a humble assistant to help with judging the scene. Modern prosumer cameras provide lots of information for the photographer to assist in making the act of exposure as seamless as possible. However, if one moves to the realm of medium and large format photography, one finds that the cameras themselves are often very stripped of features and expect the photographer to either have a dedicated meter, or solid enough experience to be able to expose unassisted. That’s what I believe is part of becoming a professional regardless of the field – letting go of the simple satisfaction of being able to perform routine mechanical tasks and using that simply as a basis for building true professional expertise with one’s unique touch that can make the real difference from being just a hairless monkey with a camera, a cubicle, or a microphone.
Come for anime opinions, get some old geezer’s lecture on photography. But if nothing else, take care not to become Chitose, and if you find yourself having become one, get real while you can. It’s all fun and games when you’re just posting snapshits on Indonesian light painting board. In working life, the results can be fatal, and Girlish Number really delivered a chilling reminder.
That’s the big question right there from Gahaha. Either you have the prospects to become someone who is capable of something more than what we are building machines for, or you might as well stop wasting everyone’s time and man the deep frier at a burger joint. I lost my place in the corporate sun for a variety of reasons from pennalism to department in-fighting, but also because I let myself become too much like Chitose: Cocky, arrogant, and taking pride in performing tasks anyone could do with a week of training. Now let me wrap this up with a quote from some blogger I long forgot about: “Next to me at the bar counter was a bunch of consultants loudly peacocking about who had the busiest work calendar. According to my experience, the guy who wasn’t making a scene of it.”
PS. Dad of the year.