The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Tsubasa Sumisora was formerly a CD store employee before getting hired by Gandara Music, a major recording label, to be the A&R for male idol group B-PROJECT. (An A&R oversees the artistic development of singers and songwriters, acting as a liaison with the recording label.) Since B-PROJECT consists of a five-man group, a duo, and a trio, Tsubasa quickly finds herself overwhelmed by having to deal with so many beautiful guys, especially considering she doesn't know a thing about the music business. But in her first assignment – to oversee a recording by the duo Kitakore – she may prove more useful than anyone thought she could be (including herself!) B-PROJECT is an original anime work and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Saturdays at 1:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
So this is one of several dozen boy-pop-idol shows headed our way in an increasingly fujoshi future. Not gonna lie, this makes me nervous from a Western market perspective, because by and large, American anime fans do not care about boy-idol shows, but their continued success in Japan basically guarantees that we're only going to get more and more for a while. (For a perfect example of this stark contrast, just take a look at STARMYU: dead last in ANN reader interest in last fall's poll, but pulled well above average sales in Japan.) So how do you keep evaluating these somewhat cookie cutter productions?
Well personally, I really like Uta no Prince Sama. I have multiple buttons, keychains, and figurines of Cecil Aijima on my desk, because he is good and strong and he is my husbando. There are absolutely ways to make the benign idol premise exciting, and I think UtaPri is the reigning king of campy entertainment in its genre. At the same time, I completely understand why male idol shows have definitively replaced even sports anime as the most "anime that Japan loves but the Western market does not buy at all" genre. Whereas girl-idol shows like Love Live! have a smaller-than-Japan-but-not-insignificantly-so market share in the west, thanks to their slightly higher production values and ability to appeal to both gender demographics, their boy-idol counterparts don't really hold any appeal for straight guys, but most straight ladies over here seem to prefer their manservice material with more dramatic bite than the happy-go-lucky "follow your dreams" flavor that UtaPri and its imitators offer up.
Long story short: we're totally fine with girl-driven sugary artifice, but not boy-driven sugary artifice. So the most pertinent question to ask is probably "Does B-PROJECT have any bite?"
The answer is NOPE, not even a nibble. In fact, I'd venture to say that B-PROJECT almost has no soul, much less any bite. The show goes out of its way to tell us that nondescript ponytail girl has no credentials to make her a suitable A&R (she doesn't know what the job title means and doesn't even know the most basic information about how studio recording works). Still, she somehow has just the right je ne sais quoi for two out of these ten boys to already fall in love with her, before we really know anything about either of them. The show's underlying marketing is also shamelessly unsubtle compared to its peers, using the studio recording plotline as an excuse to play the single they're selling around six or seven times before using it as the credits song. One handsome boy ends the whole rote scenario by declaring "Let's listen to it one more time!" Geez.
The nicest thing B-PROJECT has going for it is decent (but still sub-UtaPri) production values in a genre that can quickly turn into barely animated mush, but unless you're one of the five male-idol-anime diehards in the western world, this transparent sparkly commercial is just another idle shrug.
We may not have a new season of UtaPri this summer, but don't despair – B-PROJECT is here to fill your hip-wiggling boy band needs. This knock-off, which is actually a bit better than UtaPri in some ways, opens with the obligatory big group song and dance number: ten color-coded pretty boys in fancy outfits singing a sugary pop song. They're a large unit made up of three smaller ones, and judging by this first episode, we should have the chance to get to know each of the guys at least a little bit. The base plot actually requires it, as the episode, appropriately titled “Boys Meet Girl,” as it follows Tsubasa, a new employee who is to serve as A&R for the ten-guy unit, and who will presumably fascinate each and every one of the boys, as is required by the reverse harem contract.
The first two who get to have Tsubasa to themselves are the two-man unit Kitakore, made up of silver-haired Tomohisa and mulleted Ryuji. Tsubasa was clearly not expected to go straight into a recording studio without any supervisory support, especially since she's just been plucked from a CD store for the job, so having her go with the twosome rather than one of the larger groups is actually a very good idea. Ryuji isn't thrilled that she's there, but Tomohisa is relatively calming, never losing his temper and guiding her without sounding like he's condescending to her. For her part, Tsubasa is thrilled with the recording process, and it's fairly interesting for viewers as well. This is where B-PROJECT surpasses its candy-bright competition, UtaPri: there's some actual insight into the recording industry here. From the way the guys record parts of the song separately to Tsubasa's CD-store honed ear (or more likely her natural brilliance) catching an off note in the harmony, there's more to this than just looking at hot guys singing and dancing. It's clear that there's a lot of work going into the production of this one song, so when Tsubasa, who isn't used to the pace or the tension, falls asleep in the car on the way back, it makes sense. Why she's sitting in the back when on the way to the studio she was riding shotgun isn't explained, except to position her conveniently for Tomohisa to steal a kiss on the cheek while she's unconscious. Boy One has fallen for our heroine; presumably the others won't be far behind.
Despite its knock-off feel and enormous cast of named characters, B-PROJECT looks to be off to a fun start. How developed everyone can be when there are so many of them is a worry, but the dancing looked good and the music is harmless pop fun thus far. It would be nice if maybe all ten guys didn't fall for Tsubasa, but they all look distinct enough that it won't be too hard to tell them apart, so that's a plus. Basically this seems to be the start of a light piece of bishounen fun, and there's nothing wrong with that.
B-PROJECT really had me worried for a while. With ten male idols, their newly hired A&R girl, and a couple of managers all vying for screen time, watching the first few minutes of this episode is not unlike trying to drink from a fire hose. Thankfully, the series has enough sense to quickly send its heroine Tsubasa to a recording studio with one of the group's smaller sub-units. With that initial explosion of sparkles and handsomeness out of the way, the audience actually has a chance to get a feel for the show.
The story's main purpose thus far is to find an excuse to drop a female viewer-insert character into a sea of male idols, and it has to stretch a little to get where it wants to go. We're asked to overlook Tsubasa's apparent lack of qualifications or training for the job she's been hired for, which is a bit much even if the series is willing to own up to it with a handful of jokes. The upside of Tsubasa's rookie status is that it gives the show an opportunity to walk the audience through some of the technical details of the recording process. Idol shows have a habit of just magically making every musical number work straight away, so it's kind of neat to see the characters actually struggle to make a song sound right.
As far as the guys go, it's tough to get a read on how well developed their personalities are from their brief introductions. Even the two singers who work directly with Tsubasa spend as much time singing as they do interacting with other humans. They all seem vaguely charismatic in their own narrowly defined way, but it will take some time to figure out how deep or shallow B-PROJECT is going to get with its cast.
The series at least looks pretty, with some impressive animation on display in the opening dance number. The music is adequate, if not especially catchy. There's really nothing obviously wrong here, and I imagine B-PROJECT will do just fine with its target audience. If it's willing to keep exploring the process of recording and refining the group's songs, then it could also find a niche for itself outside the usual male idol crowd. Let's call it a good-looking “maybe.”
B-PROJECT has a lot of cute boys to get through and not a lot of time to do it. This first episode takes seven minutes just to more or less get through introductions, as new A&R Tsubasa Sumisora is introduced to the three idol groups and ten individual idols that make up the B-PROJECT supergroup. And from there, she's bustled off with the smallest of these groups, as they struggle their way through an uneven song recording.
It's hard for new idol shows to stand out these days. The perils of the song and dance life have been so well-documented across so many anime that you really need to bring either extreme polish or some new variables to the table. B-PROJECT unfortunately doesn't really do either of these; its visual aesthetics are middling (though I did appreciate the traditionally animated dancing in the opening song), and its writing isn't much to write home about either.
The only character we really know anything about so far is our viewpoint character, Tsubasa, and even there, her personality so far is mostly just “overwhelmed.” It seems highly likely that Tsubasa's main role will be to move from idol to idol, letting each boy in turn get an episode in the sun as she helps them through some personal or professional dilemma. But as far as that goes, this first episode doesn't inspire much confidence - the conflict here is “nobody noticed this song has a dissident harmony,” and we ultimately don't learn much of anything about the two idols singing it. They remain ciphers from start to finish, Tomohisa's gentle laugh and Ryuuji's mildly tsundere attitude the only personal markers to go by.
So far, B-PROJECT seems like it'll mostly just be a vehicle for highlighting a variety of vividly designed cute boys. That's a fair enough thing to be, but in the absence of stronger writing, it seems hard to recommend this one to anyone outside its core audience. An easy skip.
B-PROJECT seems entirely like it's an otome game or mobile app game ported into animation form, as it gives the sense of being a reverse-gender version of The [email protected]. In actuality, though, it appears to be an original animation project, so maybe the game is coming later? Either way, it has all of the hallmarks of being a reverse-harem series where the heroine is actually a full-grown (if young) woman.
That doesn't really change much the mechanics of how this is working, though. It still has the basic structure of a female lead surrounded by – and working with – all manner of hot guys with an array of personalities that, at a glance, seem to be just retread of common reverse-harem archetypes. In fact, the only way it really differs from other male idol shows out there is that this time the female lead is (at least ostensibly) a professional rather than a peer. Of course, her being a consummate professional from the start wouldn't give the series a means to delve into the minutiae of hoer the business works, so her starting out ignorant of even basic terminology provides a time-tested way to introduce concepts like an A&R person or how a recording session works to the audience. In that regards the first episode is actually fairly informative, even if it does require an improbable plot twist; after all, why would a newbie – much less someone virtually dragged in off the street – be put in charge of such a complicated affair as B-PROJECT? Hopefully future episodes will reveal more about this, although we do see in this episode that she might have a better ear for the business than she was aware of herself. (And presumably that will eventually tie in to the reasons why she was hired for this job.)
Director Eiji Suganuma (Karneval, Sasemeki Koto) heads an A-1 Pictures team, so the first episode looks good even if the actual animation is nothing special. I could say the same about the instantly-forgettable songs sung by the various idol group iterations. Normally that would cripple a show like this, but the initial character interactions are congenial enough that it may not end up being a problem. This isn't a stand-out series – or even, for that matter, a stand-out version of the concept – but the behind-the-scenes details, combined with Tsubaki learning how to handle her role in it, could be interesting enough to carry the series.
discuss this in the forum (599 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history