The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
22/7 is part of a multi-media project. It's available streaming on Funimation, Saturdays at 10:30 am EST.
How was the first episode?
This is another series whose first episode is getting a middle-of-the-road rating for me because I'm not quite sure what to make of it at this point. At times it shows signs of being just another typical idol- group-in-the-making series, but at other times it uses a weightier tone that would be more expected from a heavier drama series and at still other times it's just plain weird. The opener and closer both clearly indicate that things will eventually end in full idol group mode, but how straight the path to getting there will be remains to be seen.
The “typical” aspect appears in the personalities that the girls show off as they gather at the zoo. Except perhaps for Miu, a more stereotypical gathering of prospective idols is hard to imagine. Like with most idol shows, they each get a brief period to show off that they have a personality, which just makes the whole scene feel forced. The heavier drama comes in with the look at Miu, who may be the lead protagonist or may just be the feature character of this episode; hard to say at this point. She is shown on stage performing at the center of the others in the opener, but at this point she is so gloomy and withdrawn that how she got chosen for this is hard to imagine; presumably it has something to do with her keyboard and her sister's comment about song writing. Whatever is the case, she's got some oppressive baggage and a bad opinion of adults which is probably connected to the baggage, so how she's going to turn things around is a potential point of interest. And then the “weird” comes from the whole order-granting mystical wall thing, as well as the hyper-elaborate facility under the zoo. Hard to imagine at this point why all of that is deemed necessary, as it looks more expensive than anything that the group could earn via performing, or what the significance of 22/7 in the name is. (Read as a fraction, it's an old approximation for π, so maybe that has something to do with it?)
The girls all look nice enough, I guess, but not in a way sufficient to stand out, and if the opener is any indication then expect to see some CG and motion-capture elements down the line. (This is a multimedia project, so each of the performers is an actual person under an alternate name.) The thing that most caught my eye visually was a neat gimmick in one of Miu's lamenting scenes where the shadow pattern from a handrail looked exactly liked a keyboard; definitely can't have been a coincidence. What we've heard of the music so far doesn't impress at all. One interesting note: the 12/24/16 date brought up a couple of times in the series is important because that's the real-life idol group's official founding date.
In general, this title is going to suffer (as all idol titles will for a while) for coming out after Carole & Tuesday. We'll see down the road if it can do anything to make up for that disadvantage.
I noticed something was different about 22/7 from its very first moments, as soon as I heard heroine Miu Takigawa speak. Miu is voiced by Nagomi Saijō, a newcomer to anime voice acting, and you can hear it in her performance - in contrast with anime's regularly heightened, over-exaggerated vocal affectations, Miu sounds sullen and unvarnished and deeply human. Her authentic, captivating performance serves as a neat microcosm of 22/7's overall strengths; this may be an idol drama, but it's also a story about human beings.
Miu isn't your usual idol anime heroine: she's resentful, fatigued, and deeply depressed. She's bitter at the world adults have created, and she has every reason to be - though she loves her mother and little sister, her mother's infirmity means she must serve as the house's income, as well as its cook and caretaker. And so she spends her days going through repetitive but necessary motions, cursing this society that promised everything but provided nothing.
Early scenes of Miu sleepwalking through her listless days are elevated through acute sound design, gusts of breath and tinkling chimes clearly conveying the sense of cold winter days. Evocative, isolating layouts and sharp lighting complete the picture of youthful unhappiness, while Miu's incredibly expressive face captures her every shift in mood. The beauty and expressiveness of these character designs, as well as the telltale volume of their hair, made me immediately look up their designer - it turns out Miu herself was designed by character design legend Yukiko Horiguchi (one of Naoko Yamada's frequent collaborators), and the show's other characters do a fine job of matching Horiguchi's distinctive blueprint.
The scenes conveying Miu's unhappy domestic life landed with more emotional impact than any other premiere this season. Watching her argue with her boss about losing her seasonal job, or lash out at her sister for reminding her of her own abandoned dreams, struck with an impact that only the most carefully observed dramas can match. Miu's bitterness towards the entertainment industry feels righteously earned, and the strange monolith guiding her and seven other girls towards stardom promises a narrative rich in both fantastical hooks and thematic bite. I'm eager to explore more of 22/7's strange world, and even more excited simply to watch Miu grow as a character, and challenge the forces that have placed her in such convincing, heartbreaking circumstances.
This wasn't a flawless debut; in particular, the personalities of Miu's fellow idols felt far more archetype-friendly than her own, making for an awkward contrast with her own three dimensional characterization. But given this episode was tasked with conveying the tenor of Miu's life, introducing its convoluted fantasy conceit, and debuting eight heroines all at once, I can forgive it for some characterization shorthand when it comes to the secondary cast. All in all, 22/7 offered a premiere whose strengths utterly overshadowed its weaknesses, full of sharp dialogue and beautifully articulated character moments. I can't wait to see where Miu's journey takes her.
I almost kicked myself about halfway through 22/7's premiere, because the group's name and voices sounded so familiar to me, and it took me about that long to realize why: I'm a fan of Sally Amaki, the bi-lingual performer and internet personality who plays Sakura Fujima in all of the group's multi-media projects. I knew that the 22/7 girls were all set to debut in their own anime soon; I had just completely blanked on the connection. Thankfully, my connection to Amaki's social media content and YouTube videos weren't needed to get me on board with this show, because 22/7 comes out of the gate as one of more interesting idol anime debuts I've seen in a while.
It doesn't go as far into Ikuhara-inspired surrealism as Revue Starlight or anything, but there's a notable veneer of melancholy and self-reflexivity in this episode, from the moment we meet Miu, our ostensible protagonist, to the final reveal of the mysterious entity that has drawn her and the rest of the girls to form the titular idol group. It may be a case of the show trying to have its cake and eat it too, but I really appreciated Miu's outsider persective on the idol industry, and how the show doesn't shy away from the seedier aspects of the profession. Miu is already preoccupied with the false faces people put on to get through the day, and even the girls' first meeting makes it clear how much they've already put into crafting their personas. Ayaka, for example, is prepared to use sex appeal to wow any of the potential judges recruiting from the organization that has gathered them all there to recruit potential idols, while Miyako has been practicing some catchphrases to go with her goofy out-of-towner shtick. Later, when Miu reluctantly joins up with the group in spite of her reservations, she makes it clear that she has little love for the idea of turning herself into a product for consumers to ogle at. Sure, this is still a series meant to market a real idol group and make money using the same questionable avenues as every other idol group before them has, but a little bit of self-awareness can go a long way; the smooth direction and slick production elevate the material even further.
What really helps is that all of the members of the group seem set to make for a good ensemble, so far. The voice acting, especially from Saijo Nagomi as Miu, is very idiosyncratic sounding. I'm not well-versed enough in Japanese to know if it is “amateurish” or just “different”, but I appreciated that the girls didn't all have to sound exactly like every vocal archetype that anime fans have come to know so well. Time will tell if 22/7 will do anything substantial with its supernatural elements and its moody tone, but the fact that the show is trying to stand out from the seasonal pack just a little bit is a very good sign. I liked this episode a lot, and I'll be sticking around for at least a few more episodes to see where things go.
If there's one thing that would send me running for the hills, it's a shady guy telling me that I've been chosen for idol stardom (alongside seven other girls) by a mysterious glowing wall. It nearly does that for Miu, the ostensible main girl of the idol show 22/7 and apparently the only one with a sense of self- preservation. That it stems more from her innate distrust of adults (and Goda certainly looks like an adult worthy of that) than any idea that “ominous prescient walls are probably bad” is a bit disappointing, as is her eventual return to said wall, but it does set this up as something darker than your average girl idol show.
In fact, 22/7 may go slightly overboard with that symbolism – having the secret idol-producing facility underneath the zoo feels like someone trying a bit hard to come up with something that says “captivity” without actually using a jail. That zoos can also be used as teaching and conservation facilities could be equally ominous, but the idea of “enclosure” is largely what I'm getting out of the underground idol shop, especially when the girls' waiting room looks like someplace an evil villainess should be hanging out in a scanty red dress with her pet leopards or something. It also is the room that houses The Wall, which seems to imply the sort of constant surveillance that zoo animals may feel, or at least that Big Brother most certainly will be watching.
Perhaps I'm overanalyzing here, and 22/7 is simply going to be about the kindly efforts of an otherworldly entity helping girls with low self-esteem or great/thwarted ambitions to shine. Maybe Miu is just a moody teenage girl and Goda isn't a secret government agent. I hope not, though, because the darker tone of the show sets it apart from its rainbow-infused brethren, and this is the most intrigued by a girl idol show I've been in years. I also like the use of colors and the juxtaposition between Miu and the other girls, who are all much more typical protagonists for this sort of show – perky, a little dim, and determined to become stars. Miu makes it clear she's only doing this because she has no other choice (is that The Wall's doing?), so it would be too bad if she got her head turned by stardom.
Where this goes in its next episode is likely to determine its overall appeal. If it retains its edge, it could be an interesting idol-based mystery. If it doesn't it may just fall back down into the pool of other similar shows, distinguished only by its love of close-ups on Miu's face and the weirdness of the whole Wall thing. But this episode is worth at least checking out.
discuss this in the forum (258 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history