The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
THE [email protected] Side M
How would you rate episode 0 of
[email protected] SideM ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Idolmaster has returned! After the phenomenal first series and reasonable followup Cinderella Girls, it's finally the boys of the Idolmaster universe's time to shine. And judging by this first plus-sized episode, this is going to be another excellent season of idol shenanigans.
I'd count the original Idolmaster as easily the best idol series I've seen. That show's mix of creative episodic conflicts, engaging characters, excellent music, and phenomenal direction and animation made it feel almost like an impromptu animation expo-style revue. Its sequel Cinderella Girls traded in some of the original's wackiness for a more focused narrative, and lost a little of its animation luster. But even a slightly less gorgeous Idolmaster is still one of the most beautiful shows in the business, and Side M seems to be holding steady on that front. This episode is blessed with dynamic direction, strong character acting, snappy visual comedy, and consistently expressive animation. We even get a standout dance sequence, with the final performance mixing well-disguised CG and Idolmaster's signature traditional animation to offer a terrific animated performance.
Beyond its aesthetic credentials, this episode is also both engaging dramatically on its own terms and full of fun callbacks for longtime Idolmaster fans. This “episode zero” centers on Jupiter, 765 Production's old rivals from the original Idolmaster. Having abandoned their old agency and its villainous president, we pick up a year later, as they're struggling to host shows and raise their profile without any agency backing. Jupiter stars Touma, Hokuto, and Shouta have an inherently charming rapport, and their conflicts throughout this episode feel firmly grounded in the difficult realities of self-promotion. The vagueness and naivety of their nebulous “we'll try our best and shine even harder” goals is smartly contrasted against practical issues like managing venue space and negotiating with composers, giving this episode a dash of realism that helps it stand out from its predecessors.
Of course, Idolmaster is also renowned for its consistent whimsical comedy, and the pursuit of Jupiter by 315 Productions' gung-ho president offers plenty of that. The president's absurd persona helps keep things light, with some snappy cuts elevating classic farcical gags throughout. Though director Miyuki Kuroki has mostly been an animation star so far (another Imas tradition), she proves herself a director equally well-suited to atmospheric drama, melodramatic stage appearances, and visually-driven levity. If the show can maintain this level of execution, it's going to be a very fun ride.
Overall, Side M's first episode is a confident return for a top-shelf franchise. This episode is a strong mix of Idolmaster staples and new ideas, and I'm already excited to meet the rest of the cast. It is good to have Idolmaster back.
For the record, I have almost no experience with The [email protected] whatsoever, so I came to Side M as a complete newbie. Clocking in at over thirty-four minutes, I initially assumed that this “Episode 0” might function as some kind of series recap, but this seems to be a more standalone production. Based on my cursory research, there are references to idol groups and production studios from other entries in the series here, but otherwise the story of the musical trio Jupiter stands as its own thing, and the episode's extra runtime is all about diving into the group's journey from big label superstars to struggling independent artists.
While I'm usually all for taking extra time to focus on character development, I have to be honest and say that this episode felt interminably dull, and the extra dozen minutes didn't help at all. The show looks pretty enough, but the script and characters ring completely hollow. Touma's temper and Shouta's laziness are the only defining characteristics of their otherwise milquetoast personalities, and I couldn't even tell you what Hokuto does. Outside of some almost-entertaining back-and-forth exchanges with 315 Productions' Saitou, our three protagonists never develop beyond being generally handsome and stereotypically hardworking. I get that idol shows are all about promoting likable and marketable heartthrobs, but there's nothing that separates Jupiter from the other hundreds of “dedicated and passionate teenagers” crowding the genre. Saitou has a bit more snark to him than expected from the lead producer character, which only makes the decision to constantly hide his face all the more bizarre. If you're going to give the man a defined personality and a distinct physical profile, what's the point in going so far out of the way to hide his eyes?
All of this would be tolerable if the “pop” half of the “pop-idol show” stood out, but unfortunately Jupiter fails to impress here too. The audience gets three musical numbers of varying length in this premiere, and none of them are particularly good, with the leaden song production being weighed down even further by Jupiter's surprisingly weak vocals. The boys don't sound grating or off-key, but there's absolutely no power or energy behind their singing. As the cast fills out with even more pretty idols, the performances might also improve, but this first impression leaves a lot to be desired. There's no shortage of idol shows out there to enjoy, and we've still got a couple left to premiere in this season alone, so [email protected] Side M has a lot of improving to do before it become must-watch material.
The Idol [email protected] Side M begins with an “episode 0” that clocks in at a whopping thirty-four minutes. If you're wondering, that is at least ten minutes too long. It isn't that the show doesn't deserve time to introduce its protagonists and their unusual situation – the idol group Jupiter has decided to try going it alone after leaving a verbally abusive producer – but we simply didn't need three songs and quite so much background on how the boys decided to join up with Saitou the Faceless Wonder at his new 315 Productions. It also doesn't help that only one member of Jupiter, the trigger-tempered Touma, is particularly interesting – Shouta is pretty much just “the bouncy cute one” while Hokuto is “the smart one.” Touma, on the other hand, has a keen sense of his group's worth and won't stand for them to be treated as commodities. It's a statement of how much he cares that the other two are willing to go along with him when he decides to leave their former producer.
Honestly, that's the most interesting part of the story, and I'd have been much more interested in watching a series about idols who try to self-produce while relying on their connections from a former job than in the fledgling 315 Pro agency, especially since, given that this is based on one of the [email protected] mobile games, there's likely to be a large number of aspiring male singers in the show. Since only one of the three introduced so far is interesting at all, that may not be a good sign.
On the plus side, the choreography isn't terrible and the songs are catchy, albeit pretty bland. The boys are all terribly earnest, which is relatively endearing, and the Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck arguments that Touma and Saitou have are kind of fun though predictable. I'm unreasonably annoyed by the fact that we never see Saitou's full face (although impressed by the lengths to which the episode goes to keep it obscured), and the fact that Hokuto can't seem to refer to women as women – they're alternatively “kittens” or “little angels” when he talks about them – really grinds my gears. I'm also concerned that the rest of the show will be presented in first person for a faceless assistant meant to stand in for the viewers. That's a personal issue, but it creeps me out, and I don't find the gimmick to be particularly effective outside of video games. That's something that a second episode will reveal, but given the general imbalance between storytelling and just strutting the boys around on-screen, it's not an answer I'm all that interested in pursuing.
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