The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
What is this?
Five years after a mystifying disaster decimates cities across the globe, Seria Morino receives an invitation from a mysterious woman to join Alice in Theater, a small stage troupe that takes it upon themselves to brighten the world through their performances using 3D hologram technology. As Seria settles in, she begins to uncover unexpected truths about herself and the world around her…
Gekidol is an original work and streams on Funimation at 7:30 a.m. EST on Tuesdays. Note that Funimation posted the first episode of Gekidol on Monday with a special edit that included Alice in Deadly School. The reviews below will reflect that.
How was the first episode?
Shows like Gekidol, like most idol and idol-adjacent anime I've seen, seem determined to make me feel like a hypocrite, because normally I'd be the first person to tell you that I absolutely adore stories about putting on a show. I was a card-carrying member of the Nerdy Theater Kids Club for many years, and I maintain a strong love for the art of live theatrical productions, both musical and dramatic. So why, then, am I left so cold by anime that feature a bunch of perky and perpetually optimistic cartoon popstars trying to put on a concert, or, in Gekidol's case, actual plays and musicals?
Well, for one, it goes without saying that a good portion of the magic comes from watching real people put together the unwieldy and often chaotic moving parts of a live production. There's none of the tension that comes from a dozen (or more) different people all flailing about in the general direction of success, wondering whether or not they'll be able to pull it off. The better idol anime at least know to inject some of this tension into the narrative, but no amount of scripted technical mishaps or inter-personal conflicts can replicate the real thing. Also, in Gekidol's productions, the troupes are bolstered by the sci-fi technology of “Super Material Theater”, which are basically insanely detailed holograms that can create any number of fantastical, immaculately projected backdrops for the precocious young actors to emote against. I'm all for making creative use of different technologies to spice up a show, but it's hard for me to buy into the spectacle that so bedazzles our heroine, Seria, because it all feels so removed from reality.
Also, for some reason, a bunch of cities from all over the world have been mysteriously ripped straight out of the Earth. And one of the girls in the Alice in Theater Troupe is some kind of cyborg or something? There's another thing that makes me sound two-faced — I'm always looking for stories that find interesting ways to meld genres and tones that seem like they shouldn't match, but my main thought when Gekidol finished the first half of its double-length episode was “Man, I would have liked that a lot more if it was just about a bunch of normal girls trying to produce an actual play.” Plus, the show makes the mistake of trying to show off the skills of its conspicuously inexperienced heroine when she can “perfectly imitate” the performance she saw before, with all of the girls cooing over her “incredible” acting. Seria's acting is not particularly impressive, which made me cringe a little, though maybe it's all a part of the spooky robot future conspiracy that may or may not be going on? I don't know, man.
The second half of the episode is a glimpse at one of Alice in Theater's supposedly well-received plays, a strange mix of hacky stand-up comedy and zombie melodrama called Alice in Deadly School. It's kind of dumb, and I'm not sure if we're supposed to think this play is actually good, or if it being wooden and not-terribly-funny is the point. Also, why not fully commit to presenting it as a play? I get that they can do whatever with their magic holograms, but all of the cross-cutting, zoom-ins, and other filmic touches completely ruin the idea that this is something you'd actually see the girls perform. Now, if you want a mix of Japanese showbiz hijinks and zombie carnage that is legitimately awesome, go watch the movie One Cut of the Dead. You're welcome in advance.
I have a tendency to view new media through a comparative lens, meaning I notice elements that are familiar to me from other stories I've experienced before. It can be useful at times, making it easier to identify when something feels fresh and new versus when it's kind of stale and unoriginal. It can also make it hard to judge something entirely on its own merits, and for that, I apologize to Gekidol.
There are two main series that Gekidol's first episode reminds me of: School-Live! and Revue Starlight. The comparison to School-Live! is not, in fact, because of the zombie connection to Alice in Deadly School, the special episode appended to the end of this one. Rather, it's the sense that under the cover of everyday life, there's something strange going on. Given, Gekidol shows more of its hand, explicitly showing the huge crater where a decent chunk of Tokyo used to be and having a teacher spout off some scientific-sounding nonsense about magnetic fields and auroras stymying reconstruction efforts. Still, there's a not-yet-explained sense of mystery around Seria, hinting perhaps at a connection to the mysterious disaster.
The Alice In (Allicin? Garlic?) theater troupe, on the other hand, makes me think of Revue Starlight. It seems like a perfectly normal performing arts group, but there's also something weird going on there, with a shadowy man watching them perform from several monitors and talking of how Seria could revolutionize them.
However, in both cases, Gekidol is seriously lacking compared to its predecessors. It possesses neither the creeping, subtle sense of wrongness that School-Live! used to draw viewers in at the start, nor the off-the-wall weirdness of Revue Starlight's premiere. Most of the episode is actually quite dull, honestly, competently animated but mostly going through the motions. I had no interest in Seria or her blushing friendship with her classmate Higuchi. How has life changed since the disaster? Has it changed at all? Besides a couple shots of the cratered city and its runied remains, everything feels awfully normal.
But then Garlic Deadly School started, and it didn't take long until I started to miss the too-mundane, vaguely sci-fi antics of the actual episode. I would be hard-pressed to tell you what happened, other than just a bunch of platitudes about friendship and occasional zombie fights. I just wanted to be finished with it. There was almost something interesting about how at the start, the character acting felt like a school play and shifted toward something more naturalistic, but I'm not convinced there was a real purpose to it that will go anywhere.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Gekidol will still be the most interesting of the eight (!!!!) idol anime premiering this season, but I admit that's damning with faint praise.
Though Gekidol will normally stream on Tuesdays, Funimation offered a special presentation on Monday that also included the related OVA Alice in Deadly School. The latter, which is first mentioned in the epilogue of the main series' episode, is apparently going to be the performance number that the Alice in Theater idol troupe is going to perform next, but it is presented as if it is its own series. And it's a zombie apocalypse scenario. In other words, an idol acting troupe is going to be performing a rather bloody zombie apocalypse scenario show.
That is hardly the only thing that is off-kilter about this original anime series, to the point that this is probably going to be the most distinct of all of the many idol shows airing this season. Taken purely at face value, this seems like just another “girl aspires to become an idol” show, with the twist this time being that performances are as much acting as singing and enhanced with a 3D hologram system called TMS (short for Theatrical Material System). In other words, this is a more high-tech version of what was done in Sakura Wars.
However, that's only on the surface. The set-up involves an event five years earlier called the Global Synchronic Urb Disappearance, which, among other things, turned Ikebukuro into a giant hole in the ground, twisted surrounding structures, petrified nearby birds, and leaving an Aurora Borealis-like phenomenon around the hole. (This is only shown in brief snippets or in the background, so considerable attention is required to catch all of these details.) What this may or may not have to do with the TMS is unclear at this point, but the episode strongly suggests that protagonist Seria may have lost a sister to that event. Also, there's a robot girl – or at least one which has robotic eyes, anyway – and seeing those eyes causes the protagonist to faint, so something is going on there, too. Seria also has the interesting characteristic that she can perfectly mimic performances she's seen, but reading from a script is another story. One cast member who uses a crutch is also a little unusual.
Then there's Alice in Deadly School, which never goes into details about what has happened or how since it's all about the diverse variety of girls who get trapped at their school when fellow students go zombie on them. This is supposedly the troupe's all-time most popular performance number? Even though it's haphazard in construction and tone, it makes for interesting viewing on its own. But will there just be the one episode or is this a miniseries on its own?
The technical merits on both parts are good, with Alice in Deadly School looking even better than the base series. Even aside from that, enough weird stuff is going on here that I might actually watch more.
To quote a wise man, never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing. That's the lesson that kept repeating in my head through the double-length “Episode 0” of Gekidol. Though calling it double-length is slightly off, since only the first half of this premiere will actually get followed up on, the second half being a presentation of one of the in-universe plays performed by the central theater troupe of the first half. It makes for an awkward, lopsided introduction that would almost certainly have been better served by just committing to setting up our protagonist and her goals instead of working double-duty.
As-is though, the actual first episode of Gekidol feels a little too half-baked. It has the right ingredients for a coming-of-age story about a girl finding her calling in stage acting, with the interesting twist that this is a future sci-fi version of stagecraft involving holograms. There's also some foreboding hints at a darker secret behind our heroine's motivation, and the background details of a recent technological disaster in the world could be intriguing. But none of that really gets enough focus across the frankly sparse episode, and combined with the unimpressive character designs and dull color palette, nothing really leaves an impression outside of mild curiosity.
Meanwhile the second half, a dramatized rendition of the theater troupe's “Alice in Deadly School” play, feels like it totally jumped the gun by releasing so early. This is usually something that would be included as an OVA or extra episode after the show's aired, especially since much of the appeal is presumably seeing the ensemble cast playing different roles from their real-life personalities. It doesn't help that a decade of being inundated with zombie media makes this whole exercise feel really tired as it skips through every genre cliché in the book. The production also seems to be stretching itself to make this segment work, as multiple backgrounds are just filtered location photographs that the camera rests on for far too long in order to avoid actually animating the characters.
Otherwise Gekidol is a premiere that doesn't do much outwardly wrong, but just lacks an oomph or impact to keep me coming back. If the imagery of cutesy anime girls fighting off zombified cutesy anime girls isn't totally played out for you, then maybe the Alice in Deadly School segment is worth checking out, but that potential curiosity is all it really has going for it.
Rating: (2 for Alice in Deadly School)
Gekidol tries to sweeten its debut with a special addition: Alice in Deadly School is the play that the theater troupe in the main show is considering reviving; its first performance was the most popular piece that Alice in Theater ever put on. Sadly, after watching it, that doesn't say much for Alice in Theater's choice in drama, because it felt like a dull version of School-Live!. I do appreciate that those who choose to go on to watch more Gekidol will have a good idea of what the piece that the troupe will be putting on is; I just wish it was something that actually merited the hushed awe that the girls exhibited when its title was mentioned.
Because of Alice in Deadly School, Gekidol has a double-length runtime, at least for twenty-four hours. With only the first episode of the main show, I can't say with certainty that you'll be fine if you just watch the Gekidol portion, but that's my inclination. And even without the zombie-filled school shenanigans of Alice, Gekidol offers plenty of odd tonal shifts entirely on its own. The story takes place in some sort of post-disaster world. It's not quite an apocalypse, because only bits and pieces of Tokyo (and possibly the world) are missing, but it's still enough that people find it moderately inconvenient. Despite this, theater has reached a new high with the implementation of the Theatrical Material System, which seems to be some sort of holographic enhancement to live theater performances to make them feel more like the movies. (I am guessing here, since it isn't ever fully explained.) This has also added a little extra prestige to the acting business, something that our main protagonist, schoolgirl Seria, wants to get in on. Luckily for her, she has amazing powers of memorization and imitation, so if she can get someone to feed her her lines (reading is an issue and brings out her anxiety), she stands to be the rising new star of the popular Alice in Theater troupe.
But wait! She's also living on her own because her grandmother Eloise is in France, but she may have had a younger sister who died when whatever happened happened, possibly along with her parents. And also! Her school friend Higuchi, who wants to be called Mako now, may also have theatrical ambitions that she hasn't been able to fulfill for reasons. And that would be terrible because it looks like Alice in Theater may have an android of some variety who either acts or stands in for missing actors or something, but it may have its own emotions because it smiles at Seria who then has a flashback about her maybe-dead-sister and then faints, but everyone still totally wants her in the troupe because of her powers of memorization and imitation!
Obviously Gekidol may be trying to do too many things at once. That's not to say that it won't be able to pull them off, although the plot point of the director creepily watching the girls from some sort of surveillance center seems like it could foretell yet another vaguely science-fiction direction for the story to head in. I can't say I'm all that interested in watching more, but at least the main show is more interesting than Alice in Deadly School, although if I'm honest, the piece of both that stands out the most is how “Alice in” has become shorthand for “weird stuff happens” in anime.
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