The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Selection Project ?
What is this?
It's time for the seventh annual "Selection Project," a national idol reality show that is held every summer. The Selection Project is the top gateway for girls who want to become idols, and the project follows the nine girls who have won regional qualifying rounds. The audience's votes determine which girls win or lose in the "audition battle." Suzune Miyama wishes to be an idol like Akari Amazawa, an idol who got her start through the Selection Project reality show. Suzune had been stricken with illness since she was little, but she listened to Akari's music often in her hospital room. Akari's voice gave Suzune smiles and courage, which encouraged Suzune to want to inspire others in the same way. In her last summer of junior high, Suzune decides to enter the seventh Selection Project to make her dreams come true.
Selection Project is part of an "idol x audition x reality show" multimedia project and streams on Funimation on Fridays.
How was the first episode?
If you're not familiar with my general take on modern idol anime, here's the perspective I usually write these previews from: “Does this show have anything to offer a viewer like me, who is basically indifferent to J-Pop music, and tends to lose patience when the idols in question are treated less like real characters and more like collectable anime figurines that have magically come to life?” While there have been a select few idol anime that have managed to grab my attention and maintain my interest for longer than an episode or two—the recent Zombie Land Saga, for example—I long ago came to terms with the fact that the vast majority of these shows simply aren't for me.
So, how does Selection Project hold up? Well, I'll give it credit for having some lovely animation and direction to back up its musical chops. Doga Kobo clearly knows how to make a pretty and carefully crafted piece of television (and as an added bonus, the more time they spend on shows like Selection Project, the less time they have to crap out those creepy lolicon anime that they got stuck producing for a few years, there). The character designs are appealing, and the premiere actually gives us a few blessed, dialogue-free minutes after the credits, which allows it to introduce Suzune Miyama with some decent cinematic flourishes. I especially liked the sequence that jump cuts between a bunch of the different crosswalks that Suzune as to navigate on her way to The Big Audition for the titular Selection Project contest.
Alas, despite its appealing aesthetics, the core of Selection Project is virtually indistinguishable from the innumerable other idol anime that have come out in the last ten years. My biggest pet peeve is the genre's most constant and annoying trope: A bloated cast of too many girls, all of whom are given a single defining personality trait to differentiate them from their peers. There's the rich brat, the shy girl, the girl with a bunch of siblings, the sporty girl, the chipper blonde who randomly inserts English words into her speech, and so on. Then there's Suzune, who is still recovering from a nasty case of Tragic Anime Disease, and is generally pretty nice, and…yeah, that's about it.
It doesn't help that, to my Philistine ears, all of these girls sound identical to each other when they sing, which is to say that they sound like 99% of all the other pop idols in existence at this point. It makes the whole “singing competition” aspect of Selection Project hard to buy into when every one of the characters is singing the exact same song in the exact same way. Also, it's more than a little weird that this whole contest is being presented as a production of borderline religious reverence for a performer who recently died in a car accident.
Like I said, though, I recognize that these are bugbears that I have with almost every idol anime, and it isn't like Selection Project is trying to appeal to folks like me, anyways. If you like idol shows, though, I think that Selection Project does a decent job of providing its audience what they presumably paid their tickets to see. Probably….maybe? Sure.
Right from the start, this series makes clear exactly what it is: “Singing Competition Reality Show: The Anime.” And honestly, as a concept for an anime, it's not half bad. I mean, a good chunk of Carole & Tuesday was centered around a similar setting and ended up being a complete success thanks to its absolutely amazing song selection and vocal talent. Unfortunately, if this episode is anything to go by, I doubt that Selection Project will fare even half as well.
Beyond explaining the music competition aspect of the show, the first episode spends its time introducing us to the 10 main characters of the series—the nine regional winners and our viewpoint heroine, Suzune. Suzune, who gets the most screen time, is shown to be the survivor of a childhood illness. While she was sick, she dreamed of becoming a singer, and she's been entirely focused on attaining that dream ever since her recovery. Unfortunately, this makes her the typical determined heroine—i.e., as long as she just keeps trying, even if it seems like there is no hope, she will win in the end. In other words, she's basically a stock standard shonen protagonist in an idol anime.
Other than Suzune, each girl gets just enough screen time to identify them as one common stereotype or another—i.e., the sporty one, the rich kid, the glutton, the serious one, the exotic one, etc. Only one of them caught my attention as being more than a trope: Nagisa. While appearing to be the too-innocent-for-this-cruel-world type, everything about her screamed fake to me (and she's not even the one with an acting coach). Nagisa, whether she means to or not, comes off super-manipulative in her few short scenes, convincing even her rivals to sing her praises to make her feel better. It would be fantastic if this turns out to be a form of subtle foreshadowing, but if not, then either there was a mismatch in the writing/directing, or I am just too much of a jaded person for a show like this.
The big problem with this anime is that, for a show about a singing competition, it doesn't handle the musical aspects very well. Instead of introducing us to the singer's stereotype personalities, the show should have focused on their musicality. There would have been much more of an impact if each of the 10 girls had sung the same 15 to 20-second snippet of the song. This would show us their differences vocally—you know, like an actual singing competition. Instead, the episode just turns the song into a pointless ensemble number. This isn't a show about an idol group; it's a battle to find the best singer, so make it a battle!
Honestly, at this point, my greatest hope for the series is that it plays its last-minute twist straight and picks up the competition a year later with a completely new set of girls. However, something tells me that what will happen is that the winner of Suzune's region will drop out and Suzune will be allowed into the competition after all. But either way, I don't see myself coming back to this one next week.
If you want to make an idol series these days, you have got to have a gimmick. Unless you're a new installment in an established franchise, that's the only way you can stick out among the seemingly never-ending deluge of bright-eyed anime girls singing about their dreams. Selection Project has a pretty solid one, at least for this first episode. Rather than a ragtag group of nobodies forming an idol group, we're set to follow nine girls selected from across Japan via a big name reality competition show. And rather than working together to achieve their showbiz success, those girls will all be competing against each other for the ultimate crown. It's what you get from emphasizing the “Idol” part of American Idol, and while much of the show's framework is familiar, that one inversion gives this premiere just enough of an edge to stand out.
The biggest weakness, at least for me, is just that the characters all feel very stock. You of course have a bright-eyed every girl in lead character Suzune, with the added wrinkle that she spent much of her childhood dealing with an unspecified illness that kept her in hospital for years. But everyone else is a very familiar, altogether flat collection of personality traits. You've got the shy one, the one who eats a lot, the athletic tomboy, the rich one, etc. None of them are bad, per se, but introducing a full cast – alongside a handful of other competitors for them to beat this episode – means their introductions are basic and don't do much to leave an impression. The character who actually grabbed my attention most was Akari, the idol who won the very first season of the titular competition, and that was just because I got to hear Saori Hayami sing for a hot second. And considering that character is dead in the show's present-day, well, that doesn't bode well for my long-term interest.
That said, there are a couple of twists in here that do actually have me curious enough to check out a second episode. The fact that Akari is dead is delivered in-universe by the reality show's flamboyant narrator and mascot, in a scene that is either accidentally or intentionally biting towards the entertainment industry's way of handling real-life tragedy. And then, of course, there's how Suzune actually fails to win her block in the competition – likely because of a sudden stumble brought on by her chronic illness. You'd expect something like that to be answered with an optimistic twist, like the viewers admiring her resolve to keep performing afterwards, or the producers giving her a second chance to take the stage, but nope! This premiere ends with our heroine silently heartbroken, failing to hold back her own tears in the desolate and lonesome heat of summer. It's such an out-of-character move for a premiere like this that I was genuinely shocked to see the episode was over without any hint of a positive turn.
There's doubtlessly going to be some way for her to continue – we wouldn't have a show otherwise – but ending your first episode with a stone-cold bummer like that is at least enough to make me curious, and raises the potential ceiling for Selection Project going forward. If it's willing to dig into characters failing or getting hurt, there's room for a genuinely affecting drama here that much of the idol anime-sphere refuses to touch, and I'm hoping that turns out to be the case.
From the moment Selection Project's first episode starts introducing dewy-eyed teenage girls, you know things can only end one of two ways: either Suzune is going to win her regional block, or she's going to lose to the only other girl in her group whose name we know. Since that's more mystery than the other eight regional competitions have – only one girl in each of those has a name – and since it's relatively par for the course for this kind of story, that's not really a deal-breaker, but it may say something about how closely this tale of girl idol hopefuls will stick to the tried-and-true plotlines of its genre.
Like others before it, Selection Project follows a group of aspiring idol singers from all over Japan as they compete to become the next Top Idol. Performers sing on live television and are then ranked by the number of “yells” (which appear to be the in-world equivalent of “likes”) they receive. Seven years ago, a girl named Akari won with her unsubtle song “Only One Yell,” and now, as a tribute to her three years after her death, contestants will perform her hit and see who gets that one yell more than everyone else. That was actually one of the pieces of the episode that I liked the most; after everyone sings (with us only seeing each block's winner, of course), we see the tallies of each girl's yells, and time has been taken to show us that not every regional contest was close – some are, but a few have major disparities between first and second places, which is just a nice detail. It also lets us see how close a call it was between Suzune and Seira, something that will probably be important further down the line.
Also nice is the level of individuality each contestant shows in her appearance. While I could have lived without the throwaway weight joke from snack-loving Nodoka, even the girls who chose similar aesthetics look distinctly themselves; even more interesting is that one of the winners just goes on camera wearing shorts and a T-shirt rather than a fussy, frilly, or obviously costumey outfit. While Suzune is the only character to really get any development, everyone still feels like they could be a person in their own right, and while that's no guarantee that they won't turn into a collection of idol show archetypes later, it seems like a promising start.
I'm a bit leery that Selection Project could take a turn for the emotionally manipulative. It certainly comes close in this episode, with Akari's death, the fact that Suzune spent a lot of time in the nicest hospital I've ever seen as a child, and her collapse onstage. But the final scene of Suzune's walk home where she tries to console herself by singing is still effective, so perhaps these worries are for naught. In any event, this has potential, especially if you're already a fan of the idol genre.
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