The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Music Girls ?
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How was the first episode?
While it's probably a simple coincidence instead of a deliberate piece of self-deprecating humor, I find it amusing that Music Girls is a C-list idol anime about a C-list idol group. I'm a little disappointed that the series doesn't lean into that angle; a self-aware genre parody would have been more entertaining than another low-rent attempt at riding the idol bandwagon. While it's not reprehensibly bad, this episode falls well short of distinguishing itself from the crowd.
The core cast is pretty large, even by this genre's standards, so most of the girls of Music Girls are left with a miniscule amount of screen time. This means that they barely get a chance to show off their particular personality gimmicks, so the weight of this episode falls on main heroine Hanako. She leans heavily into the “ditzy but talented” niche, to the point where she initially seems to have idols confused with some kind of movie monster. I wouldn't go so far as to call her actively annoying, but some of her observations about how lovely and beautiful the other girls are end up sounding artificial instead of earnest. At least the revelation that she's a terrible singer makes for a modest comedic highlight in a sea of otherwise weak jokes.
The show's meager production values make for a visually underwhelming concert scene, and this combined with forgettable music makes it hard to recommend Music Girls if you're into this genre for the songs and dance numbers. The story feels overly familiar, going with the “unpopular idol group tries to make it big” route without adding anything new to the formula. I'd place it somewhere between Love Live Sunshine and the lighter side of Wake Up Girls in terms of tone, but this episode doesn't feature strong enough writing to keep up with either of those titles. It might have been onto something with a wittier or grittier take on the difficulties of show business, but so far the girls' lack of fans has only been used as a soft punchline.
Music Girls is, in a word, bland. A couple of amusing moments just aren't enough to sell the story, and a new series needs to come out with visual and musical guns blazing if it's going to hold a candle to the more established franchises. The next episode preview suggests that the series will spend the next week or two integrating Hanako into the group, but unless that process involves some kind of unexpected twist, I don't think I'll care enough to keep watching. Even if you're a hardcore idol anime fan, you're probably better off playing the smartphone rhythm game for your favorite series.
I love stories about music, musicians, and taking an act out on the road, but anime idol shows have always felt like a bit too much, like being forced to eat an overly sweet cake over and over again. In moderation these kinds of series can serve as fun and harmless entertainment, but I usually get a little tired out by all of the excessive pandering and saccharine stories after an episode or two.
For about 9/10 of its runtime, Music Girls' premiere delivers all of the things I tend to dislike about the genre. We have an overly large cast of characters who are all gratingly nice and enthusiastic and can only be told apart by their hair-styles and maybe one broad quirk that stands in for a personality. Our main character, Hanako, is the doe-eyed new kid in town who just so happens to be a preternaturally skilled dancer that memorizes choreography perfectly after seeing it only once. All of the dialogue is about how the idols need to do their best, and be the best idols they can be, and struggle through the hardship of idol life with the power of friendship ,etc. etc. When you consider the fact that even the central dance number is barely animated, and features fairly forgettable music, I was prepared to write Music Girls' off completely after this premiere, since it hadn't shown a single quality that other shows have done much better before it.
Then we get the main “twist” of the episode, which is really just the mildly funny punchline that all of the episode's clichés have been building up toward: Hanako can't sing. Her mother seems deeply embarrassed by this, and the rest of the Music Girls all have appropriately deadpan reactions as well. As a single joke, it's nowhere near funny enough to justify how bland and lifeless the preceding 21 minutes feel in comparison, but it does set up Music Girls to be potentially more interesting than this first episode lets on. Now that Hanako's talent has a very clear and glaring blind spot, her entry into the world of music idols actually has some stakes and challenge to it. Will we see how the other girls help or hinder Hanako's success? Will we get to watch as she practices and grows as a singer and performer? Will the other members of the group have the chance to feel like proper characters as Hanako's personal story develops?
I can't recommend an otherwise bad episode based purely on the hypothetical questions Music Girls may or may not answer down the line, but this single joke at the end of the premiere at least gives me some questions to ask ,which is more than I thought it would deliver. I can't say I'm interested in following up on Music Girls any time soon, but I am curious to see if this series taps in to any of its latent potential, or if it will simply disappear into the quagmire of mediocre idol anime that have come before it.
Maybe I'm getting old and cranky, but I found myself gritting my teeth through most of Music Girls' first episode. That's not necessarily because of the overplayed idol genre, although at first blush this doesn't seem to be doing much that's new with the somewhat tired formula. It's more that I found every single character to be incredibly annoying, from oh-so-cute Roro with her quirky superstitions to Hanako who is a combination of overly talented and TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) to whatever that one with the glasses' name is, because she's just irritating in general. They feel more like a collection of tropes than a cast of characters, and while there's an excellent chance that that might change going forward, it does not make for compelling viewing material in a first episode.
The real potential here feels like it comes from the last-second reveal: that although Hanako has an amazing memory for lyrics and choreography, as well as the physical ability to dance as soon as she sees the steps, she can't sing to save her life. That means that there's a real possibility of Hanako not joining Music Girls as a group member, but as support staff – prompting on lyrics and fine-tuning group choreography would be right up her alley. That might be an interesting show to watch, especially since she seems to have some experience in that arena as the child of at least one musical parent. It would also be a good way to channel her enthusiasm, because if there's one thing she has, that's absolutely it.
In the meantime, though, Hanako's just obnoxiously naïve. Her confusing kaiju with idols is somewhat amusing (while being utterly baffling), and her quick turnaround to suddenly loving real idols feels a bit forced. This is also true of the character designs, which are trying to give each girl a look that fits with her quirk but just feels a bit too by the book – Hanako's weird hairstyle screams her personality, while Uori's fancy hairclips proclaim her the leader even before she opens her mouth. There has been an effort to give everyone a slightly different height and figure, but those seem to fluctuate scene-by-scene, and their stage costumes look cheap. That last, granted, may be on purpose, because Music Girls are admitted C-list idols.
The idol genre probably hasn't outlived its welcome, but this doesn't feel like its best effort. Things really may pick up from here now that we know that Hanako is not going to be the savior of Music Girls, at least not in the way they were hoping, but unless the characters become people rather than color-coded tropes, I'm not holding out a lot of hope.
The last idol show that I actually watched more than a couple of episodes of was probably AKB0048, so it takes something quite a bit beyond the norm to entice me to get involved in one. Although this one starts out looking every bit like an utterly stereotypical example of the genre, the jaw-dropping twist at the end of it almost might be enough to entice me back to see just how the series plays out from here.
The twist – and it's a massive one for the genre – is that the girl whom the episode has spent the bulk of its time establishing as a potential idol prodigy actually can't sing worth a damn. Hanako has such a talent for choreography that she can almost instantly grasp and duplicate complex dance moves and recognize not only when someone's arm is out of alignment in a pose but also the way to fix it. Hints dropped right before she performed suggest that such talent is in her blood, too; perhaps her mother was an idol back in the day since she seems to know the Music Girls' producer? That's what makes her singing off-key all the more dumbfounding (although apparently her mother knew about it); kudos go to her seiyuu, Seria Fukagawa, for making it sound so convincing.
So where will the story go with this? The closer for this episode will presumably prove to be the series' regular opener, and if that is the case then it was wise to put it at the end of this episode. It strongly suggests that Hanako is going to wind up being an assistant to the group rather than one of its performers, as it shows her dressed differently than the rest of the girls and working as a gofer. That would be a novel approach, and it's not at all reasonable that her presence could make the group better just from a support role; she's already shown a capable eye for spotting and correcting flaws in the girls' routines, after all. The series will have to shine in that regard, as the rest of the girls seems like an entirely standard collection of designs, quirks, and personality types, their outfits are typical idol fare, and nothing about the performance piece they do was anything out of the ordinary, either. While the episode does resort to synchronized CG modeling in a couple of places, not all of the dance animation is like that.
Will this series actually continue to do something a little different or cop out in the end and correct Hanako's tone-deafness? That's the most intriguing question about the series right now. It isn't quite enough that I can recommend this to people who aren't already idol series fans, but if it sticks to its guns then it could be worth checking out later.
The idol genre is pretty much saturated at this point, meaning it takes some real effort for new idol anime to stand out from the pack. Some do this through their aesthetic excellence, like Idolmaster, while others polish their comedy, drama, or even action sensibilities to give themselves some other hook. Music Girls' approach seems to be a little different; it's not the best-looking show and its hooks are pretty standard, but through its steady introduction of novel, clever, or endearing tiny choices, it manages to pull off a reasonably satisfying first episode all the same.
The show certainly doesn't put its best foot forward. Music Girls' first few scenes drag terribly, and its initial sense of humor is defined by a perkiness that I mostly found grating, as we meet our heroine Hanako and she's introduced to the Music Girls idol group. But even as the in-scene jokes are failing, this segment is still setting up a combination of unusually grounded and quietly funny situations, like the fact that the titular Music Girls are a C-list group resigned to performing in airport terminals, or the episode's persistent running joke of our heroine Hanako's beleaguered parents. You could sum up this episode's plot as “local girl gets lost in airport and accidentally becomes an idol,” and the fact that Music Girls seems to appreciate the humor in that gives me great confidence regarding its overall tonal sensibilities.
There's more to appreciate here than a cheerfully winking tone, though. Though the show's animation is far from fluid, and its expression work leaves much to be desired, it still pulls off several traditionally animated performances. This focus on traditionally animated dance even extends beyond the stage itself, making things like Hanako's natural gift for dancing clear even without the other characters addressing it. Though some of the Music Girls seemed defined by standard archetypes or character gimmicks, their banter and relief after their performance felt natural, and I appreciated how Hanako's integration into their group was predicated more on genuine career-related discussion than “I have a big dream” thematic vagueness. I also appreciated how Hanako's parents seem like they'll be genuine characters in this drama, as idol shows often have a tendency to segment their characters' lives into entirely idol-related activities, and the final punchline of Hanako's lopsided talents was delivered perfectly.
On the whole, there's no one big sell I can use to recommend Music Girls, but this episode was largely entertaining, often quite funny, and sprinkled with enough smart or unique minor choices that I feel relatively confident this story is actually going somewhere. Music Girls probably won't convert anyone without some fondness for idol shows, but if you're a fan of the genre, this scrappy show is probably worth a look.
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