The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide MARGINAL #4 the Animation
How would you rate episode 1 of
MARGINAL #4 the Animation ?
What is this?
Pythagoras Productions, the producers behind the hit pop duo Lagrange Point, have just launched their newest act at the Universe Festa: Marginal #4! Composed of four seventeen-year-old boys, twins R and L Nomura, Atom Kirihara, and Rui Aiba, the group is an instant success. Despite the fact that Rui once belonged to another group, the boys are close-knit and excited about their debut. But once the thrill of getting to perform an encore and ride in a fancy car is over, they're just a bunch of high school boys trying to cope with their new fame. In order to avoid being badgered by every club at school to add their cache to the team, the boys decide to form their own club. But despite being friends and idols together, finding something they can agree on may be harder than it looks. MARGINAL #4 the Animation is based on the music of Rejet and Idea Factory's Marginal#4 idol unit and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Thursdays at 11:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
Having at least one boy-band series in a given season is virtually a requirement these days, and for the Winter 2017 season this is that entry. Generally this subgenre of idol shows is one of my least favorite anime genres, as I detest the character design style which prevails in them and find the common character archetypes to be especially obnoxious, and unfortunately both of those flaws prevail here. However, two things save this series from being thoroughly awful: it looks like it's going to concentrate more on the school side of things than the actual idol business, and it's actually rather funny.
The former of those two factors is important because there is so little room for doing anything fresh within this subgenre. However, focusing on school life, which is more commonly an afterthought unless the school is the idol business, would be a fresher twist, and there's plenty of room for entertainment value there. The series successfully manages to play up the antics as the trio of R, L, and Atom (don't get me started on the names, although naming twins for two letters hard to distinguish in Japanese is an inspired twist) try to come up with a legitimate club so that they'll have a place to relax and goof off and even manages to do a slightly less typical take on the classic aggressive club recruiting. The latter of those two factors is important because I normally find the attempts at humor in such series to fall completely flat, but this one actually got me to laugh a couple of times. The best joke is probably the fake-out on the new transfer student, but Atom's preferred beverage (Korean BBQ sauce flavored???) also has its moment a few other jokes land more mildly but can still at least produce chuckles, especially the fanciful visions of Rui's elite school.
The big performance number at the beginning merited a big “enh” from me, though. Nothing about the song or its dance routine was at all interesting; this is a common problem for me when it comes to idol songs of any group type, though. I honestly found the catchy closer to be a lot stronger number. The artistry and animation outside of the performance number are a definite step better than the norm for such fare.
Actually this is probably a little better series than what I'm grading it, but I just can't muster any enthusiasm for it at all. What it manages in funny content just isn't enough, and nothing here will likely convince anyone not normally enamored with this genre to watch.
And so at last, this season's entry in the flourishing male idol genre arrives. This time we've got a four member group, composed of two twins, the fiery redhead, and the cool blue-haired leader. And on top of that, these guys aren't amateurs - they've already made their debut, and are now forced to deal with the perils of fame even at their high school.
The fact that this group have already debuted is probably the most interesting thing about Marginal #4. Shows like this often adopt a very similar narrative model of struggling to break through, but the issues facing actual working idols are less often discussed. Hints of blue-haired Rui having a history with another unit, and frank commentary on their strengths and weaknesses by their idol superiors, presented some appealing quirks in the usual genre format.
Unfortunately, most of this episode didn't focus on those potentially interesting topics. Instead, a good half of this episode was dedicated to Atom (the redhead) and the twins deciding to make a school club, and then arguing about what their school club would be about. Combining an idol show with a school club show makes sense marketing-wise, but it seems like the least interesting direction you could take either of those genres. And nothing about Marginal #4's writing really convinced me they were going anywhere interesting with it - the show's jokes are too slow and mild to snap, its characters too archetypal to invest in, and its story too routine to get hooked by.
Marginal #4 also isn't much to look at, featuring generic character designs, limited animation, and mostly functional background art. Overall, this is a passable genre entry, but probably a skip unless you're desperate for a new idol show.
I suppose the season wouldn't be complete without a male idol series, and you could do worse than Marginal #4 if that's your genre of choice. This episode features more high school hijinks than showbiz drama, but I think that might actually be a good thing. It feels like previous groups of fictional idols have already used up every conceivable plot point related to writing and performing music, so I can see the appeal of going in a different direction.
Another argument in favor of going the “after-school teatime with guys” route is that Marginal #4 seems kind of underwhelming when it tries to do a full song and dance routine. The big concert at the beginning of this episode features unremarkable choreography and thoroughly average animation, and the song itself is merely OK. It's followed up by a press conference full of dull, canned questions and answers, which leads into a generic rivalry between the main guys and a more experienced idol unit. By the time the series dumped the characters in a stretched convertible and sent them home, I was about ready to call it quits.
Thankfully, things pick up after that. Atom, R, and L (yes, those really are their names) go back to their normal high school as if it's a day like any other. They're inevitably mobbed by their classmates, half of whom want autographs from female singers while the rest want the guys to join one club or another. This brings up the idea of starting a new club, which leads to all kinds of goofy banter regarding what the club should do. Some of this stuff is reasonably generic, but there are a few nuggets of genuine humor to be found and even the standard-issue stuff is at least mildly amusing.
I don't see Marginal #4 having much appeal beyond existing fans of the genre, but it does enough things right that it should work as disposable entertainment for that core audience. If the writing was a little bit stronger or the production values were a little bit higher, I could see myself giving it a more concrete recommendation. As it is, however, it's just all right.
I'll give MARGINAL #4 this much: it is trying to do something different with the standard boy idol show. Rather than focus on what happens onstage and prepping for it, this first episode decides to spend most of its time and energy on the boys' daily school lives. Three of the four, twins R and L Nomura and Atom Kirihara, all attend the same boys' school, and after their concert debut, they're not quite prepared for the excitement of their fellow classmates. Naturally Rui transfers in from his fancy school by the end of the episode. Now the stage is set for high school hijinks mixed with distinctly feminine choreography and decent enough singing. You know, like almost every other idol show, just with more school. And who doesn't love watching boys go to high school?
To be totally fair, there are some fun moments in the episode. The twins' ideas of what Rui's fancier school must be like, and his intellect, are pretty entertaining, and Atom's favorite “JuJu Juice” sounds like something a group of ten-year-olds turned loose in a kitchen with a blender might come up with. The boys themselves are charmingly unpretentious, as if they don't quite grasp what this whole “idol” thing is going to mean for their lives, and there is something a little funny about seeing them mobbed by a group of boys rather than girls. There are also plenty of homoerotic undertones if you care to find them, particularly between Atom and Rui, and a shoujo manga joke towards the end of the episode makes them clear for those who don't see them earlier.
There's definitely a rivalry with their senior group, the two-man unit Lagrange Point made up of nineteen-year-olds Kira and Shy, but that feels like fodder for much later in the series, largely because this episode is more interested in the guys at school. There's definitely an overabundance of stars, hearts, and lips used during scene changes (in any other show I'd call them parodic elements, but I think they're serious here), and I'm hoping that the series won't succeed in making “star hands” an actual thing. Overall this is kind of cute and kind of fun, but mostly feels like more of the same. It tries, but if you aren't wedded to the boy idol genre, this isn't likely to be your thing.
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