The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
Dropout Idol Fruit Tart
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dropout Idol Fruit Tart ?
What is this?
First-year high school student Ino Sakura heads to Tokyo to pursue becoming an idol. She teams up with fellow Nezumi Dorm residents — unpopular former child actor Roko, musician Hayu, and model Nina — to form the new idol unit Fruit Tart. These dropout idols get back on their feet and enter the world of show business to prevent their dorm from being demolished.
How was the first episode?
Multiple times during the premiere of Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, I said to myself, “Well that was a pleasant watch… wait, it's only been [number] minutes?” It is so inoffensive-yet-bland, trope-driven, and harmlessly nice, there was nothing for my brain to latch on to, making it the intellectual equivalent of watching paint dry, with the time dilation and everything.
Sakura Ino is moving to Tokyo from the deep countryside of Okayama to become an idol after signing with a mid-tier label, Rat Productions. She's a charming and sweet high school girl, exactly the right kind of girl to have a promising future as an idol, so naturally they move her into Mouse House, a dorm housing their most unmarketable clients that they have plans to demolish. Why? So that she can join the cast of the new five-minute variety show to raise enough money to save their home from being demolished.
I have so many questions. Like, are all employee housing under similar duress, or are the residents of each house responsible for earning enough to pay for room and board for their respective places? Wouldn't they gain weight like crazy if they ate curry for every meal? Where are these girls' parents? If they're that unmarketable, why not just cut them? Does their manager/house mother get that much pull?
While the girls aren't totally stock, they lack enough complexity to be remotely compelling. You have Sakura, who is nice and also a dead ringer for Laid Back Camp's Nadeshiko; former child star Roko, whose personality is “salty about still being seen as a child”; model Nina, whose personality is “boobs”; and musician Hayu, whose personality is “making snarky comments in the background." Other than Sakura, they're not super into the whole idol thing at first, but of course by the end of the episode, after a day spent wholesomely handing out fliers, they realize that working hard and trying their best may be nice after all! It's the same old pap dressed up in very slightly different clothes than usual.
There were a few small touches I liked, especially the representation of suburban Tokyo. It shows a side to the city not a lot of people who don't live there see, which is very different from the high-rises that make up the city center. Their little tokusatsu song was pretty cute. There weren't really any parts I disliked. Mostly, it just made me feel nothing.
When the opening credits kicked in around eight minutes into Dropout Idol Fruit Tart's premiere, I was a little shocked to realize that I hadn't finished the full episode yet. Generally speaking, Dropout Idol is my platonic ideal idol anime sitcom, what with its emphasis on the shenanigans of a scrappy group of up-and-comers that are just too stupid to succeed, but too earnest to fail. Compared to the generic “We're going to be idols because idols are magical and perfect and good” routine, I much prefer the whole setup of these four girls being thrown headfirst into the idol business mostly so their whack-a- doo manager Hoho doesn't lose their base of operations, the so-called “Mouse House”. It's a simple set of stakes for a goofy comedy, but for whatever reason, I'm more able to buy into idol shtick when the preternaturally talented teenagers are also framed as weird underdogs.
Dropout Idol lays on its cutesy extra-ness a bit thick in this premiere, though, which probably accounts for why its first eight minutes felt nearly three times as long. We start with the painfully cliché opener of naïve country-girl Ino introducing herself and her lifetime love of idols with some voice-over narration, and then we get a clunkily-written scene where Roko lectures Hayu and Nina about their own personalities; Roko is a little gremlin that is sick of getting cast for kiddie roles, Nina is an introverted model, and Hayu is a musician that doesn't like to cooperate, I guess. Then, immediately after that, Ino arrives at the Mouse House, Hoho busts out her camera, and the show proceeds to introduce every character, along with their personality traits, again. After the credits, we get even more sitcom bantering, all of which basically amounts to the show continuing to explain its girls' very simple roles and personalities, just in case anyone forgot. The story picks up a good bit when the newly-formed Fruit Tarts have to go on their first busking mission as a group, and while I genuinely cannot tell their music apart from any of the dozens of pop idol numbers I've heard the last few seasons, it wasn't painful to watch or listen to, which is also a plus.
Dropout Idol actually looks pretty darned good, all things considered, with plenty of colorful and fluid animation to catch the attention of any viewers that aren't down with the inconsistent comedy. It's also trying a little too hard to be quirky and noticeable, though; I wasn't a huge fan of the hazed-out eye- circle-things that are randomly used on background characters and for gag reactions, for one. I also could do with less reliance on shiny single-color backgrounds, and whatever those dots are that keep cropping up in the corners of the frame. Still, if Dropout Idol Fruit Tart could take a chill pill or three, I could see myself getting a kick out of it every now and again. I wouldn't call this the must-see idol anime of the season, but so far as dumb comedies go, you could do far worse. It's a thousand times better than Maesetsu!, that's for sure.
Dropout Idol Fruit Tart seems to exist somewhere between a parody of idol shows of the WUG variety and a plain old comedy that relies on humiliating one of the main characters and calling it funny. Following perky idol wannabe Sakura as she embarks on her career in the shiny big city of Tokyo, things are quickly jettisoned back to earth when she realizes that not all of Tokyo is uniformly urban and that the agency she's been picked up by, the unappealingly named Rat Productions, is in some financial trouble thanks to all of the unpopular entertainers they represent, and Sakura's job is to become one quarter of an idol group whose existence is strictly tasked with making enough money to run the dorm she'll live in.
This is where the humor works for me – Sakura has clearly wandered into the story from some brighter, more sparkling world where being cute and sweet and smiling at old ladies rockets you to stardom, and she's ready to give! it! her! best! and become the absolute bestest idol ever. (She kind of has to have that type of optimism to sign with an agency called Rat Productions, though.) Unfortunately for her, her idol group partners are a washed up child actress named Roko who is still trying to shake a popular broccoli commercial that branded her “Broko,” a musician who doesn't play well with others named Hayu, and a shy model named Nina who is basically a walking “joke” about how uncomfortable her large breasts make her. None of them want to be idols, but if it's idol or die, they'll try it. If they have to. They guess.
Nina is where the episode takes a turn for the decidedly unamusing. Everyone is very well aware that she's uncomfortable with her body (a bigger issue for a model than the given “introvert”), so the unwelcome touching, which results in her shirt popping open during filming, is the sort of deliberately mean “humor” that trades on the heroine being humiliated and calling it funny. If Nina didn't mind, that would be an entirely different story, but she clearly does mind, and for that to not only happen to her in public, but then for the girls' manager Hoho to include it in the episode and air it on television is a betrayal of Nina's trust and a belittling of her legitimate body issues. Becoming an entertainer or model does not negate her right to her own body and how it is, or is not, displayed. That the entire ending theme consists of cheesecake shots of the girls does not give me much hope that this will change over the course of the show.
It is a shame that the episode goes in this direction, because as a straight-up parody, with starry-eyed Sakura teamed up with three much more cynical colleagues, it could have been a lot of fun. But between the mean humor and questionable boob physics (which I admit is a pet peeve; they're not filled with air, people!), all the catchy songs about Mouse Rangers can't make me want to watch another episode.
I kinda feel bad for new idol anime trying to get off the ground. Used to be you got 4 to 10 cute girls, put 'em in frilly outfits, had 'em sing and dance about their dreams, and then just watched the money pour in from blu-ray and CD sales. Nowadays unless your name's Love Live! or [email protected] the only way you're getting your foot in the door is to have some kind of gimmick. Your half-dozen or so girls can't just be everyday performers, they've gotta also be at magic school, or be undead, or follow the orders of an eldritch being constructed from occult and arcane engineering that literally steers their lives into Idoldom against their will. Or in the case of Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, they've got to be a bunch of no name third stringers from a C-tier talent agency taking pity jobs to make rent and farm instagram content.
That probably sounds more cynical than it really ends up being, but that's the hook Dropout chooses to run with, and in the first episode that comes to mixed results. There are some nominal jabs at the realities of being a performer in the modern day, like the highest-rated segment of the cast's variety show being the few seconds where one girl's boobs pop out, or budgeting your food around how much cheap curry you can stand to eat for every meal. It's far from a scathing indictment of show business – the cast are mostly just embarrassed about being D-listers, and that's the joke – but it's at least a little willing to be honest about how much of the images of idoldom and fame is built around a facade. Granted, that isn't new material, since Zombie Land Saga had its crew of undead idols doing restaurant ads and guerrilla concerts a good 2 years before now, but it's decidedly less of a total fantasy compared to the idyllic world of School Idols.
Unfortunately, that comparison isn't all positive. Love Live! may be a highly manufactured and polished fantasy with virtually no connection to the real world, but it's also a relentlessly funny sitcom and that's a battlefield Dropout just cannot compete in. It has a few decent gags, and the overall pace of this premiere keeps thing snappy, but by the midway point it becomes clear that every character has one joke to work with, and none of them are particularly compelling after you've heard them a dozen times. Roko's sensitive about her height, haha. Nina has big boobs, haha. Ino's surprised by how un-glamorous the Tokyo suburbs are, haha. Hayu...has a guitar, I guess, they didn't really have a gimmick for her. These are all good for a couple of punchlines, but it becomes apparent that's all the ammo the show has to work with right now, and it doesn't really do anything to keep it fresh. It's not absolutely dire, but I don't have any confidence they can carry an entire season with just these shticks.
The show does at least look nice, though. The character designs, and particularly their coordinated idol outfits, all have a bright and shiny appeal to them, though I find Roko's hair-balls a little distracting. The animation is solid throughout, flipping to chibi deformation whenever it makes for a good gag, and the timing is strong enough to get me to chuckle at even some of the weaker jokes. There's even a pretty good looking dance sequence in the latter half, though it's pretty short. In general this seems like a solid, if modest, production, and is all the more impressive considering COVID delays meant this show was being made right alongside the new Higurashi anime, which director Keiichiro Kawaguchi is also helming this season. Overall though, this feels like a show made of half measures. It's not cynical enough to really take any swipes at its subject matter, but not clever or witty enough to compete in a season with a new Love Live! series storming the gates. I don't see myself coming back for another helping, let alone dessert.
I may not end up following this series, but I found its first episode to be far more entertaining than I expected. At the very least, it reenergizes me after the drudgery that was yesterday's Maesetsu! Opening Act.
While this first episode looks and feels more stereotypical than the one for Maesetsu! in many ways, it also shows that sometimes sticking to more minor variations of formulaic elements is the best way to go. This is an idol series in its own way, but the twist is that it focuses on the rejects at the outermost fringe of the idol industry: a model who's too shy, a musician with no following, and a former child star who's been unsuccessful at growing up (in more ways than one). Add to that a newcomer who has more the proper attitude than talent and a female manager who's a mix of gung-ho and desperate and you have a quick and easy formula for all kinds of fun character interactions. That is already starting to show by the end of the first episode, and the fifth girl featured in the opener and closer has not even been introduced yet.
Arguably the most important factor that the episode has in its favor is that it is effectively funny; I even laughed out loud at one or two points. None of the jokes are anything spectacular or inventive, so the success here is more about presentation and timing, especially the last one; the episode rarely lingers on jokes, instead firing them off and then moving on. Just as importantly, the episode conveys just the right sense of energy needed to make the concept work. It keeps the enthusiasm rolling without straying into annoying levels of hyperactivity and does not overplay any of the quirks of the central quartet. Surprisingly, the episode even delivers a slightly poignant moment near the end.
Although the artistic effort in general is unimpressive, it does excel at one thing: the design of the idol uniforms. Rather than having matching ones, each girl gets her own signature color and a fruit-themed pattern on her jacket, including strawberry (for red), orange or tangerine (for yellow), blueberry (blue), and I think peach (pink). These jackets are sharp, and they allow for the girls to do a sentai-themed song performance that may be simpler in production value than seasonal heavy-hitters like Hypnosis Mic or Love Live! but is at least as catchy and entertaining, as its spirit fits the series perfectly. Sadly, the animation on this is limited, though the closer does have fun by showing chibi versions of all of the girls performing in mouse suits. While fanservice is not a focus of the series, a little is present, though more in the closer than in the episode content.
This series is not going to blow anyone away, but I still recommend trying it out.
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