The Summer 2020 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Lapis Re:LiGHTs ?
What is this?
Tiara is setting out on her new life whether her older sister wants her to or not. Taking a coach from Bristol, she comes to Flora Girls' Academy with dreams of not only joining her old friend Rosetta, but also of entering the prestigious witch school. Much to her surprise, she's admitted almost instantly by not-at-all-suspicious headmistress Chloe, whose one directive is that Tiara join Rosetta's “group.” That's fine by Tiara, and she's thrilled to meet fellow group mates Lynette, Ashley, and Lavie. But there's more going on than meets the eye, and Tiara learns the alarming truth about her admittance: all four members of her group are failing, and if they don't pass this semester, all of them will be expelled as a group – including their newest member.
How was the first episode?
My understanding going into Lapis Re:LiGHTs was that I was in for a pretty standard idol drama. This episode offered a great deal more than that, though - while it did indeed contain plenty of the hallmarks of an idol drama, those idol beats were combined with slice of life sketches, magical high school worldbuilding, and plenty of neat visual setpieces. Ultimately, these disparate elements all fitted together into a surprisingly cohesive whole, marking Lapis Re:LiGHTs as the strongest season premiere so far.
One of Lapis' major strengths is fully on display in its very first scene. As the heroine Tiara rides a carriage to her future home, she's accompanied by seven other strangers, all of whom are simultaneously captured in a long, held shot within the carriage. Normally, long group shots like this are rare in animation, because they tend to emphasize the inherent stillness of limited animation - however, Lapis' animators seem to instead take a shot like this as an opportunity to demonstrate all manner of character acting fragments. As the carriage's occupants all shift and react in response to each other, it becomes abundantly clear that Lapis is a production which cares about character acting, and appreciates the subtle visual interplay of human interactions.
Lapis doesn't keep up that level of animation flourish all episode long, but it supplements its character acting with a wide array of beautiful backgrounds, making terrific use of its central academy and quasi- renaissance city. The show's visual strengths culminate in Tiara singing a lovely song on the roof of the academy, as the bright city lights welcome her to her new home. Both the nervous excitement of visiting a beautiful new place, and also the cozy warmth of settling in with trusted friends, are consistently evoked purely through Lapis' excellent visual execution.
Along with its strong art and sound design, Lapis also features the most confident writing of any premiere so far. Our introduction to Tiara and her world is accomplished gracefully, with none of the clumsy exposition that frequently bogs down anime premieres. Instead, the precise nature of her identity and history with other characters is treated as a mystery to be resolved through the course of her journeys, while in the meantime, her first day at school is livened through the introduction of half a dozen unique, intriguing magical classes. Lapis' worldbuilding is confident and intriguing, but it's never the focus - instead, Tiara's own feelings serve as the guiding thread in this novel world. On the whole, Lapis offers a strong premiere for any fans of idol shows, club dramas, or more laid- back fantasy stories. There are certainly things I took issue with - I felt this episode's pacing was a tad too slow, the narrative template is still quite familiar in spite of the worldbuilding embellishments, and the animation isn't totally consistent throughout. But those are fairly minor quibbles, and if you're a fan of any of its genres, Lapis is probably worth a look.
Though it wasn't initially apparent to me, it didn't take long until I realized that Lapis Re:LiGHTs was basically a gussied up idol anime. This isn't inherently a bad thing, mind; I may not count idol anime as my most favorite of dramas, but I've had some fun with shows like 22/7 and Wake Up, Girls! It's more a matter of formula, and even though Lapis Re:LiGHTs doesn't feature a gaggle of girls getting a pop band together in modern day Japan, it just has the feel of an idol anime, mixed with the “slice-of-life” high school shenanigans we've also seen how ever many times at this point. Plus, you know, there's magic and stuff.
My issues with Lapis Re:LiGHTs come down to my personal exhaustion with what the show is aiming for, rather the execution of the show itself. Like a lot of these shows, Tiara's introduction to Flora Girls' Academy basically boils down to a walking tour, both for her and the audience. It's a chance to introduce the audience to the general magical biz going on in this here fantasy world, but more importantly, this premiere (and the whole show, really), is about showing off the real product: The girls. It isn't skeevy or laden with fanservice, thank God, but Lapis Re:LiGHTs satisfies the most important aspect of an idol anime in that it is all about delivering a cast of likable teenage cartoon characters with just enough difference in personality and hairstyle so you can tell them apart (and start figuring out which ones you're willing to cough up the money to buy the merch for). Tiara is the plucky heroine, Rosetta is the childhood friend, Ashley seems sporty, Lavie goes “Whoosh”. All the voice actresses can sing, too, as the OP makes sure to flaunt halfway through the episode, and Tiara gets another musical number of her own too. The songs are well done, the girls all seem to be nice enough, and I'm sure there's a surprisingly addictive mobile game out there with the girls' little chibi sprites just waiting to be gacha'd.
I don't want to sound cynical, but the slick commercial sugary sweetness of this premiere is exactly what turned me off of it. For many millions of viewers all over the world though, that corporate sheen is a symbol of dependable, entertaining comfort-food, and that's totally okay. To Lapis Re:LiGHTs' credit, it puts a skosh more effort into establishing some light drama and stakes for the girls to work through than I might have expected, what with Tiara's family drama and the fact that all the other girls apparently really suck at school. I could totally see this turning out to be a perfectly commendable season of Cute Witches Doing Cute Things. I'm just at the point where, if I'm going to have to watch a twelve-episode long commercial for a multimedia pop-music/anime/light-novel franchise extravaganza, I would want it to have a little more bite than this.
As the anime branch of a new mixed media franchise, this series does not provide a lot of information up front about what it's going to be. Advertising clips promote it as an elaborate idol series, but the setting quickly shows that this is not modern day but instead some fantasy world, where magical beasts are a reality and magic-using girls are referred to (without prejudice) as witches. A montage of scenes as protagonist Tiara is shown around the almost ridiculously-lavish school by dark-haired Rosetta suggests that this might be a magic school series, and indeed, scenes where girls practice hovering on disks or using magic to target-shoot seem to support that. The soft nature of the art style and the characterizations and behaviors of the girls also give a strong Cute Girls Do Cute Things vibe. Previous anime titles have shown that the latter can easily combine with one of the other two, but series are rarely amalgamations of all three.
Yet that's exactly what the series seems to be doing, and I'd bet that everything was designed with appealing to as many different audiences as possible in mind. One plus in the series' favor is that it is already firmly-establishing some religious and magical principles. The first episode also lays the groundwork for potential future conflict by suggesting that Tiara is some kind of VIP, and that one of the higher-ranked students seems to recognize that and is mightily put off by it. And yeah, I don't trust that suspiciously young-looking headmistress, either. She's definitely up to something, though whether she is setting Tiara up for failure or using her as a tool to salvage Rosetta's group remains to be seen; I am inclined, for now, to believe the latter.
Whatever issue the series may have, the technical merits aren't one of them. This is a remarkably smooth and involved animation job, with a lot more small, background details being animated than normal. The art design by long-time veteran Takashi Miyano (he has art design credits dating back to the '70s) also achieve high marks, though the school design is not much out of line with hyper-elegant schools seen in other series. Character designs, contrarily, are about as standard as can be found for idol or CGDCT series, though even ordinary citizens are also designed well.
I am giving this one only middling marks because I am very concerned about how the series is going to pull off the anachronistic cultural elements it advertises and because absolutely nothing feels fresh about the bevy of girls introduced so far. I'm not expecting much from this one but I am also not ruling out checking out more.
I try to go into each new season as blind as possible, so starting this episode I had only the vague impression from Lapis Re:LiGHTs' key art that it was some kind of cute anime girl vehicle where they all went to a school. I was rather surprised when we opened up in a fantasy setting, with heroine Tiara traveling to magic school, background chatter about magical beasts, and even vaguely foreboding paintings of magical girls on the school's walls. I'm always a sucker for a good Witch School story, so my interest was piqued. Could this be a surprise of the season?
Then after about 10 minutes of our heroine touring the modal areas of the school, each populated with a half dozen or so barely distinct anime girls, it hit me: no, this isn't a cool new magic school adventure, it's a mobile game advertisement. Specifically it looks like one of those narrative-lite girl collector games where the appeal is mostly about finding your favorite girl and grinding minigames to get her new outfits and accessories. Outside of introducing the roughly 30 characters and their 1 (if that) character trait, the rest of the premiere wound up being nothing but exposition as Tiara stumbled into every new tutorial point before finally introducing the hook: she's been assigned to a student group of misfits and failures on the verge of expulsion, and will presumably have to inspire the heck out of them to follow their dreams, whatever those are.
Lapis Re:LiGHTs is the type of show that's difficult to rate because it's not necessarily bad at anything, but it's totally unremarkable. The characters designs are all bog standard, with the only noticeable foible being the dangling jewels on Tiara's...tiara, which confused me for a while, but otherwise you could drop these girls in the background of Love Live! or Aikatsu! and nobody would notice the difference. The animation is spare but serviceable, with the environments looking identical to any other number of magic high schools. It's sort of interesting the girls ride magical floating podiums rather than brooms, but that's there for all of 5 seconds and probably just advertising a mini-game you can play for style points in the eventual mobile game. The characters are all stock archetypes who play their roles perfectly fine, but are so inoffensive and sanded down that most of their interactions slough off your brain once the credits roll. I guess they're unusually up front about Tiara's childhood friend having an obvious crush on her, but I've seen enough of these shows to know that'll never go past subtext.
Overall there's just not much to go on here. If you're hard up for some cute girl gacha energy and have already used up your stamina points in Love Live! All Stars or Revue Starlight for the day, maybe give this one a look. Otherwise, spare your phone battery.
Although Lapis Re:LiGHTs is billed as a “magical idol” show, this first episode is much more like a magic high school story. That's not entirely bad, largely because it grounds the storyline in something very concrete before branching out into off-beat territory, and the episode does a pretty good job of setting the school part up overall. The most striking thing in terms of prepping this to become an idol show is the way that magic functions: the magic users whistle in order to cast. The more complex spell pieces, this implies, are in their heads; the sound is merely the trigger that unleashes it upon the world. That small piece of information, that magic and sound are inextricably entwined, is a good base for the rest of the series to build upon, as is the other little tidbit we get about Tiara's older sister Eliza “making her feel better” by singing to her when she was sick. Tiara doesn't appear to make the connection between singing and healing, but it's definitely implied, meaning that this could be about “healing idols” in a different way than we usually see.
It's definitely a good thing that these little hints are seeded into the episode, because otherwise it could feel a bit overwhelming. The sheer size of the cast is a major warning bell; names are dropped in the background of Tiara's tour of campus is a signal that their owners will be significant, and there's a huge array of girls in the opening theme. Mostly we just focus on the main five, Tiara, Rosetta, Lavie, Ashley, and Lynette, but it's clear that they're going to have a lot of competition going forward. And that it will be competition seems like a given. Rosetta explains to a visibly shocked Tiara that there are three tiers of students at Flora – Noir, Rouge, and Lapis. (Why not Bleu? Would that be too easy?) Lapis is the lowest rank, and as such they have fewer perks and privileges than those above them. This isn't hugely different from any other magic high school story (remember Gakuen Alice?), but it does look harsh, and Tiara's first encounter with Noir girls does not go well. That's not just because of her Lapis ranking, either; apparently there's something about her (obviously royal and/or wealthy) family that Yue doesn't like, pointing to yet another obstacle she'll have to face.
First, of course, she'll have to make sure that she and her group don't get expelled. Chloe's reason for putting Tiara with them may simply be that, like Yue, she knows Tiara's family and has an issue with them, but it seems more likely that she's hoping Tiara will lift them up. There's also the possibility that she's forming some sort of destined team – that brief, dark shot we get of a painting of five magical girls has to be significant. That gives this very pretty show some things worth watching for, and while I think the whistling could get annoying very quickly, it may be worth putting up with to see where this goes. It has promise, even if “Tiara-chan” is localized as “Titi.”
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