The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide BanG Dream!
Jan 23rd 2017
How would you rate episode 1 of
BanG Dream! ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Almost every season brings us a new show about a group of people working to become idols, but the “forming a band” narrative is far less popular. Even when we get shows about bands, they're not necessarily meaningfully “music shows” - while I love K-ON!, approaching it as a show specifically about music would lead to disappointment. For me personally, that's a real shame; not only do I personally relate to band stories more, but I also just find rock music significantly more appealing than idol songs. So I was already had my eye on this season's BanG Dream!, which seems solidly dedicated to a rock band narrative.
So far, the show has been a relatively charming but mostly routine ride. This first episode introduces us to our protagonist Kasumi, who's looking to find the “star beat” she once saw now that she's entered high school. Kasumi possesses a believable kind of energy that sometimes verges onto high-maintenance, and I appreciate that this episode agreed her enthusiasm can be kind of overbearing. Around her, the show is also setting up a reasonable cast of potential friends and bandmates - there's her first friend Saya, along with three girls who so far seem to exemplify “timid,” “stately,” and “permanently scornful.”
Narrative-wise, everything that happens in this episode is pretty mundane - reasonably articulated but not particularly thrilling setup. On the aesthetic front, the show possesses relatively attractive character designs, a nice sense of lighting, and fairly bland background art. There's some stiffness to the character animation, and from what I've seen of the trailers, the actual performance scenes are going to rely on lackluster CG. The music here fares better, even though we haven't really gotten into much rock music yet. The background music is a solid mix of acoustic guitar and classical instrumentation, keeping the energy up even as Kasumi is wandering around chasing after star-stickers.
Overall, BanG Dream! offers a successful but not particularly inspiring first episode. Its characters are likable enough and the show looks fine, but there's no real hook yet in terms of writing or execution. It'll likely take until more of the band is established to see if the group has a friendship dynamic worth sticking around for.
BanG Dream! is not a series predicated on doing anything excitingly different. It is, instead a simple, ordinary tale about a hyper girl who is searching for something to get passionate about beyond teasing her younger sister, and its first episode suggests that the passion she discovers for music will lead her to form an all-girl pop/rock band.
Sound familiar? Yeah, there's definite shades of K-ON! here, right down to the (thankfully milder) moe overtones of the character designs, though this one has a different feel; it's nowhere near as relaxed and casual so far. Thanks for that, for better or worse, go to Kasumi, who seems to have no mode beyond full-bore Energy Burst Mode. While I found her somewhat charming (or at least the most tolerable of the characters of her type who have appeared so far this season), I could easily see how her endless barrage of enthusiasm could grate on the nerves after a while. Still, that irrepressible energy at least gives some indication for how she's going to draw the other girls shown in the opener (which is used as the closer for this episode) into the band that she will eventually form. And so far we've gotten at least some inkling about what most of their personalities are.
The light, agreeable tone set by the musical score goes a long way towards keeping the series grounded, and some pretty good production values are also a definite plus. The flow of the content is also smoother and more involving than some of its competitors. Even the performance number at the end, while hardly at an ENOZ level, still has some respectable animation, a good song, and a suitable amount of energy. Not quite sure what to make of the performers' choice of costumes, though, and this vaguely starry effect in the eyes of many of the girls is, well, weird.
I generally don't watch these kinds of shows – I never made it more than a few episodes into K-ON!, for instance – so perhaps I haven't seen enough of them to be cynical about this one. Based solely on its own merits, I found it to be mildly entertaining and put together well enough that I didn't feel like I'd wasted my time watching. The big problem this series is going to face is that it doesn't stand out enough to crawl out from its late start and gain the attention it needs.
It's a good thing I'm writing up my impressions of BanG Dream! immediately after watching the first episode, as I can tell you now that I'll be hard-pressed to remember much about it in a day or two. It doesn't seem like a particularly bad show, and it certainly makes a better first impression than some of this season's other idol-themed offerings. It just doesn't seem to have any distinguishing features beyond the fact that the main characters will be playing the usual range of rock band instruments instead of just singing. It's like a Love Live! unit broke into the K-On club room and stole all the guitars, except the end result is less impressive than either of those series.
The writing is generally halfway decent, apart from main heroine Kasumi's frequent “I don't know how social interactions work” moments. She's a ditzy protagonist to rival even the most airheaded titans of the genre, so naturally she's immediately teamed up with some more levelheaded girls. It's the same pairing of a dreamer and a realist that you'll find at the core of most idol franchises, and I can see some chemistry developing later in the season as long as BanG Dream! gets its character development right. The occasional attempts at humor in this episode are unlikely to elicit a huge amount of laughter, but at least they're harmlessly bland instead of painfully or offensively awful.
Honestly, that approach seems to lie at the heart of every part of the show. The production values are good enough to stay off any “worst of the season” lists, the music is all right, and the character designs are just distinctive enough to make it obvious who's who. That's all well and good, but it also gives off the impression that there's not a whole lot of creative passion behind the project. There's an almost mechanical, “people will buy it as long as we don't screw anything up” vibe here that saps the energy out of the whole thing.
BanG Dream! is an idol series with the good fortune to air in a season without any A-list genre rivals. If you're desperately searching for a new group of cute girls to cheer for, it looks harmless enough to pass half an hour a week. Honestly, though, I suspect that most genre fans have seen too many genuinely good shows to be impressed by a mediocre effort like this. Unless Kasumi and friends suddenly decide to play death metal instead of pop rock, I think I'll sit this one out.
Another new anime premiere, another failed attempt to disguise a twenty-minute commercial as a story with characters who serve a purpose other than to sell you things. Sorry, I'll turn down the cynicism a scoshe, but there's just not much else to say about BanG Dream! Some anime are successful at turning an obligatory franchise tie-in product into a story that's entertaining in its own right (insert reference to Rage of Bahamut Genesis here), but most of them are not. Despite passable production values and a lack of any gallingly bad writing, BanG Dream! is just another yawn-inducing advertisement slipped in between shows that might have some genuine emotional sincerity to offer you.
The only thing distinguishing this synergistic effort from all the others is the one thing that I thought Minami Kamakura Biking Anime or Idol Incidents had in the bag already. The lead heroines of all these shows are so overwhelmingly perky and empty-brained that their characterization seems almost spiteful. One anime after another this season kept topping themselves in attempts to create a new Honoka or Chika, each more painful than the last. Either in an overdone effort to imitate the pure heroines of other light music anime or in a slapdash effort to imitate that trend with a little too much corporate pessimism snuck in around the edges, Kasumi is just about the dopiest and most transparent attempt at a (literally) starry-eyed protagonist you can imagine. She doesn't seem to understand basic social conventions of any kind, doesn't have the common sense that God gave a baby hedgehog, and yet immediately charms everyone around her into (I assume) joining her j-pop band and rising to national stardom.
While little more than mediocre on the surface, there's a complete hollowness to BanG Dream!'s tone and content that place it firmly in the bin alongside all the other "cute girls following their dreams (of selling you freemium games and spin-off comics)" shows this season. Since it's premiering this late into a season that's already entering its fourth week of ongoing episodes, it's hard to recommend this to anybody.
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