The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Re:Stage! Dream Days
How would you rate episode 1 of
Re:Stage! Dream Days ?
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How was the first episode?
The premiere of Re:Stage! Dream Days! is what you might call an aggressively inoffensive episode, giving us the kind of mobile-game idol anime that ticks all of the boxes you'd want it to without making much of a fuss of itself. This first chapter introduces us to Mana, the new kid in town who makes fast friends with the Lyrical Tradition Dance Club Members, Mizuha and Sayu, only for the latter to discover that Mana has an uncomfortable past performing at the club's dream venue: The Prism Stage. That's about all we get in this one as far as setup and character development: Mana is nice but burdened by her past, Sayu is nice and wants to support Mana, and Mizuha is nice and…the more outgoing of the three, I guess?
This isn't exactly a cast brimming with personality, is what I'm getting at, which is the biggest knock against this premiere as a whole; well, that, and its absolutely unremarkable presentation. While I appreciated the lack of obtrusive CG models in the brief dance number we get in this episode, the art-style and character designs didn't speak to me whatsoever. The girls seemed to have slightly disproportionate head sizes that made their characters feel vaguely off-putting to me, and there's nothing special at all about the direction, background art, use of color, etc. While I'm not what you would call an idol anime aficionado, I've always had a healthy appreciation for the series that round out their casts well and know how to put on a show – qualities that equally rough-around-the-edges series like Wake Up, Girls! have utilized to far more effect.
To be honest, my middling rating for this episode might be a little generous on my part – the season feels so lacking for low-key music anime that Re:Stage felt refreshing in spite of itself. There's really not much here to work up any amount of excitement, though; even the music felt more forgettable than usual. I would image you'd need to be a hardcore fan of the games or the idol genre itself to add this one to your Must Watch list of the summer.
The idol genre is a pretty crowded field, and so expansive in its styles that you could easily break the genre down into a variety of discreet and highly distinct subgenres. ReStage doesn't necessarily reinvent the form, but it combines an understanding of dramatic fundamentals with a willingness to buck genre convention, as well as a strong central cast. From its altogether reasonable animation to its satisfyingly character-centric focus, ReStage offers our first strong idol-centric contender of the summer season.
One of this premiere's greatest strengths is its ability to split the difference between traditional idol drama and more atmosphere-focused slice of life material. For the first half of this episode, I wasn't entirely sure it was an idol drama at all; early scenes' focus on Mana Shikimiya's integration into her new school felt fully slice of life in their appeal, and the club dynamic between her, Lyrical Traditional Dance Club president Mizuha, and third clubmate Sayu is endearing right from the start. ReStage's confidence in slice of life fundamentals also lent its ultimate shift towards idol drama a uniquely grounded platform - Mizuha's club actually felt like a believably ramshackle enthusiast group, and Sayu's dreams of dancing on stage felt genuinely ambitious, given her current club's humble circumstances.
That sense of believable amateurishness carried through into this episode's performance segment, which was both reasonably animated and endearingly low tech. The animation wasn't exactly beautiful, but the fluidity and synchronization of movement made it easy to see how Mana was actually a natural, and how both performers reacted positively to having a partner on their wavelength. Mana's ultimate reluctance to join their club then smartly paid off the show's earlier slice of life character building, as all three leads revealed new sides of themselves in the leadup to Mana joining the club.
ReStage's production values aren't the best - this episode's major performance felt a bit stiff in a manner more reflective of jerky animation than amateur dancers, and the background art is mediocre on the whole. But the character designs are cute and expressive, the show's sense of humor is charming, and the narrative consistently struck a clever balance of slice of life and idol drama appeal, with each of its two modes elevating the other. If you're looking for an idol show this season, ReStage seems like a fine choice.
If ever a show had a harmless opening episode, this would be it. But it's just so good-natured that it's hard to find fault with that – the perky, upbeat music, the kind of lame choreography, the candy-bright colors…Re:Stage just wants so hard to please you that it's sort of like the golden retriever of anime. There's definitely something to be said for that.
What can't be said, unfortunately, is that it distinguishes itself from many similar shows from past seasons. The basic plot, that there's a club at an all-girls school devoted to eventually becoming idols, a girl with a difficult past with idols, and of course a prestigious idol competition, shows every sign that it will work just as well here as it has in other similarly-themed series. This one also makes some nice, albeit small, distinctions that I quite like: the club in question is “Lyrical Dance” not something like “Idol Studies,” which in my snobby dancer mind makes it sound more legitimate, Mana's older sister is already a successful idol, which implies that she probably did or said something to Mana to create her issues (or their parents did), and Sayu has been clearly been working hard at what she wants to be her craft – this wasn't some spur-of-the-moment decision for her. That she's good at it is also nice; there's no “talented amateur” feel to her actions.
Mana does fall into that trope, and I do admit to some eye-rolling when she was instantly perfectly in sync with Sayu during her trial run in the club. But again, her sister likely is the reason, and I have to wonder if Mana wasn't supposed to be part of Aone's group in the first place, which would also go a long way towards explaining why she feels so strongly that he can't be an idol now, as well as why she's apparently moved far away from home and family for school. There's a sense that there's some real backstory there that is going to need to be overcome, probably at a critical moment, but even if it takes ten episodes to really show up, just knowing that Mana's more than a wide-eyed first-year feels like a good move.
I don't love the choreography or the animation used for it; both feel a little plain for the “wow factor” the episode seems to be going for. I'm also concerned that Mizuha is going to be intensely annoying, but she's a character type I rarely like anyway. While this certainly isn't on my must-watch list right now, it is something I feel like I'd go back to on a bad day, and there's nothing wrong with that kind of show.
I am not a fan of idol shows in general, so it's very doubtful that I will watch any more of this one. Even so, I have to think that fans of the genre are going to find this episode to be a very promising start.
Honestly, it's hard for me to put my finger on exactly what makes this start better – or perhaps I should say more appealing? – than the opening episode for other series of its type. Almost nothing feels fresh about the basic premise; this just looks to be a standard tale about a girl who has talent but reluctance gradually being convinced to work at becoming part of an idol group. Nothing much sticks out about the cast, either; we have the timid girl, the passionately enthusiastic girl (who, in a slight variation, also doubles as the practical one), and the airhead. One of the other girls who appears in the advertising art as being one of the eventual group members also has a very brief appearance which suggests that she's going to be the delinquent, but it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment. The club that is going to be used as the base for the idol group is also in danger of being closed down due to a shortage of members. The one minor twist here is that the protagonist is the younger sister of an established idol, but I'm pretty sure that gimmick has been done before as well.
So why does this one work when so many others are quickly forgettable? Good direction I suppose, which is a little surprising given that director Shin Katagai is probably best-known for directorial work on the sports series Eyeshield 21 and the supernatural tale Neo Angelique Abyss. Yet here he shows a very keen sense about how exactly to put the elements together and get the best benefit out of each. The comic elements are rather funny and presented in such a way that you have to be paying attention to details to catch them all, such as the gym over-crowded with club activities. The impromptu dance performance in the club room is effective and appealing and the chemistry already starting to form is legitimate. Even the passion that Sayu shows towards her goals and performance feels a little less contrived than normal. The visuals aren't anything special, though I do have to give the series credit for fully-animating the dance and without resorting to CG.
The clincher for me was the songs. The performance number in the middle may have been a generic idol song, but it was catchy and had a good beat. The opening song by Stella Maris, which looks at first like the opener but is actually just a demonstration number, is a solid rock-styled number featuring a different idol trio as Dark Angels. Even the closer, which sounds like it features the full eventually-featured idol group KiRaRe, is above average. These aren't just performance numbers pretending to be idol songs, like we too often get in these series; I could see any of them easily standing as a single.
Basically, if you're normally averse to idol shows then I can't see this one winning you over, but it has enough potential charm that it's absolutely worth checking out if you even have a tolerance for them.
All right, I'll admit it, this show is kind of cute. It's not terribly fresh or exciting, mind you, but it has that natural charm of a genre series that's putting in a genuine effort instead of just going through the motions. A lot of that is down to what this episode doesn't do, in the sense that it doesn't bombard the audience with too many character introductions, nor does it get caught up in the trap of trying to cram in a big performance scene at the end of the episode. Instead, it just quietly goes about the business of introducing a couple of protagonists and developing some chemistry between them. In a genre where far too many new shows rush to build up a multimedia brand as quickly as possible, it's nice to see a premiere that focuses on telling a story.
In amongst the standard-issue framework of “let's save the club/school/universe by becoming idols,” there are a couple sparks of creativity in this episode. I like the early misdirection of the fake opening sequence, which is comically interrupted by the much more low-key pacing of the “real” series. It's not even a total bait-and-switch, as the false opener features the idol group led by Mana's older sister, and that circles back around to be a key part of her backstory. Mana's clearly harboring some reservations about following in her sister's footsteps, and I'm curious to see what the cause of that hesitation ends up being. Sayu's ambition to win the big competition and go pro is a little less intriguing, if only because there's no real mystery to it, but she strikes a decent balance between enthusiasm and level-headedness.
Aside from the somewhat underwhelming club president, this episode stops short of introducing a bunch of supporting characters, and that decision pays off. Without a lengthy roll call to get through, we're able to spend more time with Mana and Sayu, who develop a nice rapport by the end. The series also starts small as far as performances go, limiting things to an impromptu song and dance in the club room. I'll take this over an arena packed with roaring fans, as it lets the audience follow the group from square one instead of immediately telling us how talented and famous they are.
The animation here isn't going to blow anyone's mind, and the music is neither awesome nor awful, so a lot is riding on Re:Stage's ability to keep the character train rolling. If it can stick to this “humble beginnings” approach and make it work, it could be a viable option for idol fans in search of something new to watch. It may not have the spectacle needed to win over anyone new to the genre, but sometimes being pleasant and competent is good enough.
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