The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide Idol Incidents
How would you rate episode 1 of
Idol Incidents ?
What is this?
Japan is a land in political turmoil, suffering from all manner of problems at home and abroad. At a time like this, the people need idols! The Heroine Party promises to bring idol dietwomen to the people, politicians who will sing and dance the nation to a happier future. Natsuki Hoshina is one such prospective politician, blessed with a can-do attitude and a powerful voice. But can Natsuki's passion really be enough to navigate the perils of a career in politics? And is singing and dancing truly the way to bring prosperity to the people? Idol Incidents is part of a mixed-media franchise and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Sundays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
I don't have much of a tolerance for series about idols and/or idol groups (with rare exceptions, like Key the Metal Idol), so the first episode of such a series has to really blow me away to get me to even consider watching more of it. This one doesn't do it. That's not necessarily because it's bad; in fact, there are some elements of what it was doing that I actually liked. It just offers very little to entice in anyone who isn't already enamored with idol shows.
First the positives. Although Natsuki is a bit over-the top as “cheery charming girl,” her attitude is nonetheless infectious. The notion that there is a Heroine Party which elects teen idols to the Japanese Diet (their equivalent of the U.S.'s Congress) is also faintly amusing in an utterly ridiculous sense, but the prologue of the episode makes it clear that nothing in the series should be taken too seriously. Certainly that's true of Sachie, the woman leading the Heroine Party, who is a delight with the way she masks her slyly manipulative nature by being a seeming ditz. That the series shouldn't be taken seriously also explains the whole “idol aura” business.
Beyond those elements, though, the first episode falls apart. The training sequences, which are typically the bread and butter of idol series, are handled much too abruptly and with as little animation as possible, resulting in the pace of the episode in its second half seeming quite forced. Shizuka Onimaru, the second idol to show up, also manages to be a fantastically unappealing character, and it's not just her attitude; the severe set of her face steals away much of her necessary cute factor, and her hang-up connected to her backstory is, frankly, pretty lame. The performance number towards the end of the episode, though a decent song and jacked up by CG animation, strains to be convincingly dazzling (I have long found this to be a common failing of idol shows, though, so it's not a problem limited to this series) and the artistry and animation in general just fail to impress.
I feel that there could actually be a concept with potential somewhere in here, as mixing idol singers with politics doesn't seem all that fantastical given that we've had former actors and pro wrestlers become governors, U.S. Senators, and (in the first case) even President. However, so far this series doesn't seem capable of pulling it off.
Where do I even start, except that I hated almost everything about this episode except for the song and dance number, because gosh darnit, I love idols. But the mere premise of this show fills me with a quiet rage, and a seething disdain for everyone in it. I agree that Corrupt Politicians Are Bad, but somehow I don't think idols are the answer, especially ones who don't know basics about the government, or even how to give a two-sentence speech. If you ask me, the Heroine Party is going to be the downfall of Japan, not the Rougai Party. I'm pro-smiles and pro-genki, but I don't think it makes for very good policy. And what does it say about the folks who voted for a teenaged government official based on a single concert? Would I actually want my Best Girl signing off on legislature? Did they abolish the age requirement for Japanese politics? This is what humanity has become, folks. Our faith in government is so terrible, and we're so damned cynical about our elected officials, that we're choosing teenage girls who wear rice ball hair ties to speak on our behalf, whose sole qualifications are being able to run to the top of a hill. At least Natsuki's platform is Flowers, Hearts, and Love or whatever, which is better than the opposite. Maybe she'll propose some good food policies to help rice farmers, once she figures out how to spell policy.
But the real crime behind Idol Incidents is that this show really scrapes the bottom of the idea barrel. It's truly a "My Waifu for President" meme come to life, borne not from a desire to elicit any kind of social or political commentary, but solely from the open-ended answer to the question, "So uh… what else can we put idols in?" It's a big shrug emoji with pigtails, created to make money in a landfill of soulless marketing pitches. The big challenge will be how the story moves forward from here, now that they've birthed this golem. Will the girls do a dance number during their next parliamentary meeting? Will the next Prime Minister be a bear mascot? Will they restore Japan's faith in national politics through dance numbers? Isn't that actually even more sinister?
As a side note, during one of the show's dumb gags where a throng of creepy dudes get excited when Natsuki yells, "Make a woman out of me!" I was suddenly struck with the realization of how unfair that double standard is. A man can be made a man through career milestones, while a woman is implicitly made a woman through penile intercourse. Yeah, I'm not sure idols are going to be able to fix that facet of society.
I love idol shows dearly. But Idol Incidents just makes me angry. It takes two things that I enjoy—idols and politics—and mashes them up into an unholy chimera of idiocy and empty consumerism.
I didn't realize that the idol genre was so starved for novelty that it needed to combine pop music with national politics, but here we are. Idol Incidents sells itself on the idea of fighting political corruption with song and dance, or at least that's the theory. In practice, this episode seems strangely intent on tiptoeing around its own premise whenever possible. Ditzy heroine Natsuki is supposedly singing her way into a spot in the national Diet, but there's very little here to differentiate this story from the beginning of any other idol series.
That weird avoidance of any political commentary or satire may be partly due to the show not having much to say. The message here is limited to “corruption bad, optimism good,” and it's not even particularly good at conveying that simple theme. It what I assume is an attempt to be as apolitical and inoffensive as possible, this episode coughs up a script that fails to make any real use of its core gimmick. Even the gentle humor of an “earnest country bumpkin defeats scheming career politician” story is mostly missing in action, making me wonder why anyone bothered with this odd premise in the first place.
On the off chance you're just here for a seasonal dose of idol anime, be aware that Idol Incidents comes up short in that department as well. The character designs aren't particularly appealing, and the animation in the dance sequences is underwhelming at best. Character development is fairly minimal, with none of the three girls introduced in this episode making a positive impression. The final nail in the coffin is the music, which sounds like a weak imitation of the genre's heavy hitters. If this is the best idol series we're going to get this season, you're probably better off rewatching an old favorite.
Idol Incidents is briefly intriguing in a morbid way; it's not often that we get to see a production so obviously at war with itself. The premise has the potential to fuel an interesting discussion of showmanship and entertainment in politics, but it'd take a small miracle for this show to pull that off. Skip it and move along.
Disasters-on-arrival like Idol Incidents are hard to sit through. This isn't the fun kind of disaster, where you're wondering to yourself how in the world this got made and what the production process must have been like struggling to get it to the finish line. No, this is the kind of disaster where you know exactly where it comes from and how it was probably produced, but only sadness lies in either direction.
Right off the bat, Idol Incidents suffers from some of the ugliest character designs I've seen in an idol show, which are by their nature meant to sell you on an immediately inviting plastic happiness. Unfortunately, thanks to its slightly sickly color palette, too-thin lines and too-sharp edges on faces and bodies that all look just a little bit off, Idol Incidents looks more like a fictional idol show that would be inside a more cynical anime like Welcome to the NHK or Girlish Number for a gag about how insidious these products can feel at their worst. The animation is okay at least, not really good enough to compete in an overcrowded idol market (there's some worse-than-usual CG dancing near the end), but not abnormally bad either. But putting its cringey aesthetic choices to the side, Idol Incidents' real crippling problem lies in its painfully atrocious writing.
This anime is based on the potentially hilarious premise of pop idols taking over all of Japan's political parties in the Diet, eventually competing to become the prime minister. I say potentially, because far from embracing this idea, Idol Incidents barely acknowledges the loaded possibilities behind its concept, as if it's embarrassed by its own existence, opting instead to fall back on tired moe stereotypes and idol anime cliches through a plot held together with silly string. (The franchise was supposed to be launched with a mobile game that has gotten delayed into oblivion for years, making this anime feel even more awkward by proxy.) The protagonist is so empty-headedly genki that the show almost seems spiteful of her, giving her an overdone nervous lisp as her only distinguishing characteristic and sneaking in several mean-spirited jokes about her bubble-brained stupidity. The yin to her yang is a paint-by-numbers "can't get along with others" brooding idol who needs to learn the power of teamwork to unlock her true potential as an artist.
None of these cliches would be insurmountable in a more sincere idol show, but there's a weird veneer of phoned-in slime over Idol Incidents that just makes it feel cynically hollow and unpleasant to watch. Poorly directed, poorly edited, and hard on the eyes, this seems like a corporate product that nobody wanted to work on. If you saw the premise and were hoping for some modicum of political commentary or humor, don't bother, because Idol Incidents can't even be bothered to indulge its potential on that level at all. This is just another attempted cashgrab in an oversaturated market, and despite its overwhelmingly chipper surface flavor, I came away from it feeling surprisingly dispirited.
Idol Incidents is a very silly show. From the Macross series onwards, idols have had a long history of wielding remarkable military power in anime, but “idols who actually run for office and represent the people” is still a pretty absurd twist on the formula. What are an idol's policy positions? All our protagonist Natsuki tells us here is that she's going to do her best and bring smiles to everyone. Are smiles associated with tax cuts, or a greater social security net? Do shining hearts prefer a lax immigration policy? Is the power of love going to replace military funding?
While I dearly hope Idol Incidents will try and answer questions like those, it seems more likely the show's going to be a superficial “we succeed with the power of heart and friendship” story with some random politics-focused embellishments. And as far as that show goes, Idol Incidents still manages to have an inherently amusing and fast-paced premiere. Idol Incidents seems to understand it's a ridiculous show, and the moments where it leans into that are generally its best. Seeing Natsuki prove her political acumen by running up a steep hill, or watching her get kicked onto a stage by her handlers, reflects the lunacy of this scenario in a very amusing way.
That said, it doesn't seem like Idol Incidents is entirely in on its own joke. Natsuki's trainer and co-idol Shizuka Onimura ends up getting a small arc told entirely within this episode's second half, a conflict the show frames as actual drama the audience is somehow supposed to be invested in. Idol Incidents is charming for its goofiness, but its characters are all superficial, and there's a lot of material here that assumes this story is working effectively in a dramatic sense. The show constructs some effective jokes, but it's also asking the audience to invest in a story that's silly on its face and routine in its execution. If Idol Incidents embraces the sillier implications of its premise, it could be a pretty charming comedy. If it tries to tell a standard new idol drama, it'll probably fall flat on its face.
Alright, there are a few things you should know about Idol Incidents. I feel like this stuff is pretty important, and it would've helped me understand what I was seeing a little better before I dove in.
First, even though it seems like a show with a premise like this absolutely MUST be political satire of SOME kind, it isn't. Not even a little bit, really, aside from some broad strokes that help set up the premise. You'd think it would be impossible to avoid political commentary with a story like that, but somehow they managed to avoid taking that risk. I was actually kind of impressed.
Not because the show is good, mind you – I thought the script was pretty bad and seemed nearly as empty-headed as its heroine, the direction was pedestrian and the character designs were weirdly unattractive. But there's something to be said for finding new genres to cram idols into, and this is an attempt at cramming idols into the “election comedy” genre. We don't see too many examples of movies like this anymore, where a long-suffering, pleasantly cynical campaign manager finds an unlikely candidate to run against tall odds – but it is a genre, and now there's a show where someone crammed a bunch of idols into it.
Mostly it's pretty unsuccessful, I think – they go through the usual first act of any given election comedy, but then the main character is paired up with her idol, and once that happens we're in full-on Idol Anime mode, complete with sudden shift to celshaded, sore-thumb CG song performances. The political drama hooks are still there, and I'm sure they'll rely on them plenty in the coming episodes, but so far this thing is very awkwardly constructed from about 70% standard idol anime, 30% apolitical political comedy and it doesn't do either of those things particularly well.
I'm not saying I wanted something politically commentative, or that this show would be better if it were, but it feels like aside from the “hey, what about a political comedy with idols” idea this is mostly just a flameout. And that's the other thing you should know - this is part of a multimedia project whose commercial and promotional center was supposed to be a mobile game scheduled for release in 2014 that just straight-up never came out, and presently has a very different synopsis from what this show is giving us. I don't know what happened with you, Idol Incidents, but you don't seem like a finished idea.
And here I thought I couldn't like current politics any less. The premise of Idol Incident, that a new political party known as the “Heroine Party” is fronting teenage girls as Idol Dietwomen to boost morale, may simply be suffering from how thoroughly sick of politics I currently am, but is also feels particularly silly. That an elder statesman, who chokes on a sweet and dies, is to be replaced by one of those typically (but adorably) dim anime girls with a bright smile, a decent singing voice, and not much else going for her strains credulity that this first episode does nothing to counter.
The main issue is that apart from a brief voiceover in the beginning, we really don't know what has led to this state of affairs. While perky idol shows are not required to contain vast amounts of explanation, this is still feeling a bit thin for plot. On one hand, it is nice not to be subjected to an info dump, and the basic introduction of the Heroine Party and its chief rival, the Rougai Party, is handled organically. From, there, however, things feel like an excuse to create a new venue for cute girls singing. Heroine Natsuki's only apparent recommendations are her perkiness, the fact that her hometown loves her, and her ability to run up a really steep hill. It reminds me of the misconception about “running for president” I had when I was little: I thought it was an actual footrace, and whoever got to the White House first got to be president. As Natsuki's bumbling on the campaign trail seems to prove, it's an idea that hasn't really improved since I was six.
Of course, all of my grumbling isn't addressing the main question: despite its issues, is Idol Incident fun to watch? It does have some cute costumes and perky music, and seeing her entire hometown back Natsuki is heartwarming. There's also a nice theme of friendship overcoming odds in the budding relationship between Natsuki and established idol Shizuka. But for the most part, this is all eclipsed by how annoying Natsuki herself is, lackluster choreography for the dancing, and a plot that only skims over Natsuki getting into office and attendant world building in favor of rushing ahead. That her open-mouthed, toothy grin also looks somehow off and the incessant visual reminders that she's from a rice-producing village don't help. This may improve now that it's gotten its protagonist where it wants her, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is going to be a lot of cute girls singing their way through politics while evil older men scheme against them – and I've had my fill of politics for one year.
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