The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
ACTORS: Songs Connection
How would you rate episode 1 of
ACTORS: Songs Connection ?
What is this?
Saku has just moved back to his old town after ten years. He's not starting from a great place – his older sister Nozomi is hospitalized, and because of that, he's starting high school mid-year. Fortunately his friend from middle school, Hinata, is around to help him get going. Hinata's an enthusiastic member of the school's singing club, and he remembers Saku as an accomplished singer, so naturally he invites him to join the club. But Saku's not in much of the headspace for clubs and singing, and just sort of doesn't answer. He may end up there anyway, however – the club wants to use a song written by two first years at the school Sosuke and Uta, but Sosuke isn't sure he wants to give the permission to use it due to the required vocal range. When he hears Saku singing, though, he knows that they can do it…providing, of course, that Saku joins the singing club. ACTORS: Songs Connection is part of the Vocaloid franchise. It's available streaming on Funimation, Sundays at 11:30 am EST.
How was the first episode?
Part of the ever-expanding Vocaloid franchise, Actors: Song Connection seems to have many of the hallmarks you'd expect: catchy music, cute enough character designs, a weird supernatural element, and a plot that revolves around singing. (It does not, however, have Hatsune Miku.) That this first episode doesn't do a terrific job of blending those elements into something that makes you really eager to catch the second one may at least in part be due to the fact that it's trying so very desperately to get everything lined up while introducing as many cute boys as possible. Like many ensemble shows before it, Actors introduces a staggering amount of named characters throughout the episode, and with the old writing saw being that a named character is an important one, that's kind of overwhelming. Right now Saku, Hinata, Uta, and Sosuke have my vote for “characters you should probably remember,” but I doubt it will remain that easy.
The story itself is relatively basic – Saku's got his Personal Tragedy preventing him from truly enjoying his life and singing his little heart out with his friends (sad singing on a hill above the river doesn't count), Hinata really wants him to join the singing club and sing his little heart out with his friends, and Sosuke won't let the club use his song if there's no Saku to sing it. That there's another plot going on about the white shadows Saku's (dying) sister told him about as a child along with the mysterious white wall that keeps being mentioned feels very superfluous; as Love Live and other shows like it proved, singing can be a perfectly acceptable solo plot, and these filmy white ghosts feel more like a distraction than anything. At the very least they're incongruous with the whole singing club thing, although that may just be the result of this episode only dangling the bare minimum about them.
Because there are so many players, it is hard to develop any feeling for anyone beyond Saku as a character. Even Hinata, who gets the second most time on screen, feels a little hollow right now. Fortunately for us, everyone has their own very special character design so that we can at least sort them into “the orange one,” “the glasses one,” “the one with the headphones,” and “the one who can inexplicably play keyboard with his sleeves over his hands.” As the story progresses, presumably the focus will shift more to cover the core singing club group; if it doesn't this could be a real issue. Luckily there are also plenty of kitty Easter eggs to find within the episode, from actual cats to cat-themed items just scattered around, which is kind of fun, and the rest of the visuals aren't bad. If you're in the mood for cute boys singing, this may fill the boy idol gap in your life, even if it isn't quite as much fun as some of the singing boy shows of the past.
The first episode of this series suffers from the same problem that is going to plague every idol-related show released in the near future: it's coming out after Carole & Tuesday has raised the bar on anime performances to a level so high it's nearly impossible for any normal series to match. Even though the feature song “Cloudy Day” is a respectable number by most other standards, neither it nor seiyū Gakuto Kajiwara's singing effort is anywhere near in the league with what Carole & Tuesday was accomplishing on a regular basis in its first half.
Even judging the series by the more reasonable standards of its peers, ACTORS: Songs Connection doesn't do a lot to stick out. References are made to “white walls” and the possibility of breaking through into other wards, and that's definitely off the beaten path for idol shows, but this information is so vague at this point, and so far pushed into the background of the story, that it has no real impact yet. There's also some weirdness called “white shadows” which may or may not all be in one character's head. Beyond that, we are left with a fairly typical story about a young man with prodigious singing talent and the way he catches the attention of both a former schoolmate and a young composer who hears Satu sing his song better than he could have imagined. The young man has an impending personal tragedy which is doubtless going to complicate matters for him performing or even joining the singing club. Will other various pretty boys help compensate for his ill sister and entice him into the singing club?
I do have to give the first episode some credit for actually coming close to pulling off an emotional pitch, but it stumbles in trying to finish the job. The first episode also suffers from throwing out entirely too many named boys to keep track of and from not explaining the premise of the setting at all. This seems like it should be highly relevant information, but perhaps it's planning a big reveal an episode or two down the road? The problem with that is that it's likely to lose potential viewers – like me – who are going to look at this and see nothing special going on. I will grant that the animation of Satu singing was a step above the norm, as is the artistry in general. Even so, I don't see enough here to recommend this series to anyone who isn't already a bishonen and/or male idol group fan.
Actors clocks in as one of this season's stranger properties, and felt hard to pin down basically from start to finish. Based on the ensemble cast and musical premise, it'd be natural to assume this is a male idol property, or that it's based on yet another mobile game. But in fact, it's actually based on a series of musical CDs, wherein popular voice actors sing Bocaloid songs. Fittingly, this episode's central narrative focuses on new high school student Saku Otonomiya demonstrating his Vocaloid-singing chops, and thereby impressing the heck out of his new classmate Sosuke.
The path towards that narrative punchline is a winding one, though, and this episode feels like it's simultaneously pulling in a variety of different directions. First off, a great deal of this episode is taken up by scattered introductions of all its various characters, as Saku wanders his way through a variety of his new school's social circles. As is often the case for adaptations of “pick your favorite character” mixed media (like this season's Azur Lane), this often results in an unfocused-feeling episode, with the full first half of Actors feeling particularly slow. It feels like an unfortunate fact of these adaptations' meta-textual priorities that they're pretty much always going to be somewhat messy, rambling narratives; their ultimate goal is to highlight all of the actors the audience is here for, while narrative cohesion is significantly more negotiable.
That aside, more unique to Actors is its inclusion of the bizarre “White Wall” concept. Saku's beloved,doomed sister (as I said, this episode goes all over the place) at one point states that this world contains “white shadows,” spectral figures cast by white objects, that protect us from harm. We also consistently see shots of a massive white wall surrounding Saku's town, which only seems visible to Saku and a few other characters. There's clearly a fantasy-mystery thread running through this narrative, but how that will at all tie together with Saku's traditional band narrative is anyone's guess.
All in all, there was a fair amount about this episode that intrigued me, but it all felt a little too unfocused to really keep my attention. I enjoyed the buildup to Saku's first vocal performance, and that sequence itself was quite impressive, but there are at least two other shows taking place here, and I'm not exactly sure I'm interested in either of them. That said, the music and visual execution here were strong enough that if you're seeking a music-centered drama, Actors is probably worth a look.
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