The Fall 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dream Festival! (ONA) ?
What is this?
Kanade Amamiya is a regular high schooler, whiling hours away at his part-time job ever since he quit the soccer team. But Kanade has something special - a smile and energy that let him go “beyond the ultimate,” and even get him scouted by a famous idol producer. Kanade isn't sure he wants to be an idol, and his new rival Junya Sasaki is quick to tell him that he doesn't have what it takes. After running through a rigorous day of idol exercises, Kanade realizes this just might be the passion he's been looking for - but with an audition already approaching, Kanade will have to work hard to be ready for this shimmering new world. DREAM FESTIVAL is based on a mobile game and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Fridays at 9:00 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
This show!! Is so!!! Excited to exist!!!!! If I could add an animated blue exclamation mark to each of those sentences, I would, because that's what happens every single time a new bit of writing is placed on the screen – Dream Festival is probably the most exclamatory anime I've seen. But you know what Terry Pratchett said about people who use too many exclamation marks in a row…you can't quite trust them to be all there.
That's how I feel about this episode – it's super excited, it tries really hard to be a successful male idol version of its big sister Aikatsu, but it still feels like the latest in a line of UtaPri knock-offs, which, in fact, it is. From its color-coded, attractive cast to its dance moves that in all honesty would work better if girls were performing them, this is fun, but it doesn't quite get beyond that. In fact, it tries a little too hard to reach that point; point-of-entry character Kanade (the red one) is as competitive as a shounen sports hero, and in fact used to be a star soccer player until he forgot his uniform for the final game of his middle school career. I'd call that out for being particularly lame, but given that this show is based on a collectible card trading game, that actually makes a certain amount of in-world sense: if sports operated on the same “dorika” basis, that is, if fans had special cards that could enhance or dress the players, Kanade wouldn't have suffered his humiliating defeat. As for how balloon-selling and soccer playing somehow translated into singing and dancing, well…that's where things started to get a bit stretched thin. Not that I expect narrative brilliance in my hot guys singing shows, but when the next characters introduced (after the handsy manager) were Stoic Guy (blue), Grumpy Guy (yellow), Perky Shota Guy (white), and Easy-Going Guy (green), it seemed clear that Kanade only got the backstory to give him an excuse to get almost kidnapped by the manager.
Speaking of which, there are a lot of homoerotic undertones to this episode. The manager is always touching Kanade, there are a few group shower scenes (each in their own showers, but still), and a weird chemistry between Kanade and Junya (yellow) so that when Junya is in the shower looking down and says Kanade's name, there's just enough implication for fans to get creative. Add to that a fair amount of ab-based fanservice (including Kanade's shirt flipping up to show his stomach a few times, the equivalent of a quick panty-shot), and there's plenty to like if you're looking for a new fujoshi-bait show. Or you could just wait for UtaPri’s fourth season in a few days – it may actually be less gimmicky than this one.
I'll give Dream Festival a fair amount of credit for being honest about its intentions. It's a male idol series with an electronic card game connection, and it's clearly here to help promote a larger franchise. It doesn't seem to have any grand narrative or thematic ambitions beyond providing some by-the-book genre entertainment, and that's all right. There's something to be said for a title that serves up a familiar premise, as long as it does a good job of going through the motions.
The series features a cast of dreamy guys molded into distinct personality archetypes, and it stands to reason that we'll get to know them all over the course of the season. This episode focuses almost exclusively on upbeat protagonist Kanade, and he fills his role quite nicely. He's cheerful and optimistic without being too obnoxious about it, and his reactions to his hasty introduction to the world of idols are pretty entertaining. Kanade also has some good chemistry with his designated rival, the super-serious Junya. Dream Festival displays a solid sense of humor as it sprints through the usual early plot points, with many of the overly familiar story beats presented with a wink and a nod.
That's all well and good, but the trouble with Dream Festival is that it doesn't do much to distinguish itself from the ever-expanding crowd of idol shows. Its technical merits, while generally competent, are unspectacular, and none of the music in this first episode really blew me away. One potential point of interest is the show's approach to visualizing the use of in-game cards, but I imagine it will be somewhat divisive among viewers. Personally, I like the visual of thousands of holographic cards flying up onto the stage and transforming the characters’ outfits. It's about ten miles over the top, but it's the good kind of cheesiness that tends to play well in this genre. On the other hand, I can see it getting annoying in a hurry if it doesn't float your boat.
If you enjoy shows about handsome guys singing and dancing their hearts out in nifty costumes, then Dream Festival should fit the bill for this season. It has a solid grasp of the core mechanics of the genre, and it has the potential to be a fun story as long as it's not taken too seriously. On the other hand, there's nothing about it that feels special or important, and that's a problem in a field this crowded. If it sounds like a good time, give it a shot. If you're not already a fan of the genre, you can skip it entirely and be reasonably certain that you're not missing the next big thing.
Review: I'll be frank: I am about as far away from being the target audience for this series as you can possibly be and still be a hard-core anime fan. Hence it was practically preordained that I wouldn't like this series, so I am evaluating its first episode primarily on the basis of whether or not it has any hope of appealing to anyone who isn't squarely in the target audience. And the answer to that is NO.
Really, I cannot easily imagine a male idol series being more utterly generic, more utterly lacking in imagination, than this one is. Absolutely nothing about it gives even a whiff of originality, whether we're talking about the premise, the progression of the first episode, the character designs, or the personality archetypes already on display. Everything – even down to the shot selections – seems so carefully and precisely planned to endear the series and its characters to its target audience that it rivals the best adaptations of Key visual novels in that regard. Such precision is not necessarily bad; after all, it is what keeps fan service-heavy shows continuing to pop up year after year. (And make no mistake: this is, at least in part, a fan service show aimed at female audiences. Way too many hunky shots in it to deny.) Hence I will not be surprised if the series ends up being pretty successful.
Amongst the litany of problems and things about it that I don't like, the biggest strike against the series for me is that the first episode is just so incredibly bland. It's a bad sign for an anime when I'm looking at the timer, thinking that the episode is finally over, and it's only 16 minutes in. It didn't help that the couple of performance numbers were uninspired drivel, either, or that it includes some of the common personality types that I find most gratingly annoying (see Chizuru). It is also already tweaked to have some BL undertones; even if the series content actually doesn't go in that direction, it is clearly baiting viewers to ship characters together. One thing I don't actually hold against it, though, is the blatant connection to a social media card game. After all, enough other series have proven that this can be done successfully that I do not consider it an automatic negative.
For all of this, I'm still not giving it a minimum score because it does do at least a couple of things right even by me. The overall aesthetics aren't the sharpest and the animation is limited outside of the CG effects and feature dance scene at the end, but despite that, some of the male character designs are actually quite striking. There are also a few little moments here and there which resonated a little, such as the scene where Rival Guy suddenly went from telling the male lead that he can't do it to telling him that he can right before their first stage performance. It wasn't much – and definitely not enough for me to watch more or recommend this to anyone not already hooked on idol series or female-oriented fan service – but at least it shows the first episode to not be total trash.
Regular idol shows have become a fact of life in modern anime, in both male and female varieties. This season kicks off with the newest addition to this flourishing genre, with the polished and tie-in-ready DREAM FESTIVAL. Starring a chipper protagonist and diverse cast of cute boys, it seems like a perfectly respectable genre vehicle.
There's little about DREAM FESTIVAL's premiere that truly sets it apart from other idol shows - in fact, if you're familiar with the more overtly tie-in focused entries in the genre like Aikatsu (a show that shares this series’ script supervisor), this will all seem pretty familiar. Kanade makes for an upbeat and likable lead, he's quickly dragged into the world of idols in training, and soon he learns all about the magic cards called “Dorika” that embody the audience's cheers. Just like Aikatsu, these cards carry the clothes Kanade and his fellow idols will transform into, inevitably leading to a CG dance sequence showing off their new songs and apparel.
If that all seems a little mercenary and tie-in focused, that's because it is. This first episode is very on-the-nose with its electronic card theming, even to the point where the dreams of fans are represented at the end as a starry sky of Dorika. But nearly all anime are ultimately selling something, and Dream Festival succeeds in spite of its awkward commercial leanings through the energy of its execution. The CG sequences are relatively graceful as far as CG goes, and the character designs are very attractive - something the show is happy to take advantage of through sweaty practice stills and shower sequences. The episode moves very quickly from Kanade's initial scouting through his first performance, and there's a light sense of humor that gives the show an engaging personality throughout. And Kanade himself is a very enjoyable character to follow, energetic and headstrong without coming across as too aggressive or proud.
In short, DREAM FESTIVAL is a perky and entirely functional genre piece. Nothing about this episode is likely to wow you, but if you're not put off by the generic electronic music and card-focused gimmicks, it offers a fine template for group idol drama to come. DREAM FESTIVAL is not the best in its genre, but it's a polished take on a very well-worn genre mold.
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