The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Idoly Pride ?
What is this?
After a successful audition, high school student Kotono Nagase and her best friend move into a dorm with eight other aspiring idols. They quickly realize it takes more than cute choreography and cute outfits to reach the top—it will take blood, sweat, and tears to advance in the idol-ranking VENUS program, where the top spot is held by superstar Mana Nagase…who happens to be Kotono's older sister.
How was the first episode?
Is it bad that I kind of wish this weren't an idol show?
I'm serious. Yes, I know it's in the title, but really the idol-centric parts of this premiere are easily the weakest. The outfits are generically color-coded and identical to any dozen other idol series. The performances are a montage of stills to suggest the illusion of characters dancing and singing on stage without actually animating it. The whole AI ranking system for idols is such a sidelined idea it stops mattering 2 minutes after it's introduced. On both a narrative and emotional level, the “Idol” part of Idoly Pride is secondary at best, and the thought of it becoming the main narrative moving forward bodes poorly based on this first episode.
The actual central story here, a budding romance between a fledgling idol and the dude she goads into being her producer because she has an obvious crush on him, is actually a pretty solid little short film. It's nothing amazing, but if you're in the mood for pleasant, kind of schmaltzy material, it's not a bad watch. And the twist at the end, when Mana predictably has a tragic death only to return to haunt her Not-Boyfriend as a ghost, is a neat little wrinkle that could make for some really fun interactions. Heck, the way they just roll with the whole ghost thing and slide right back into being friends in the closing minutes is the best part of the whole premiere, and I was genuinely bummed when I remembered this was ultimately a show about a dozen or so girls becoming idols and not a sitcom about dating your ghost roommate.
But the cold open all but assures this'll turn into a more typical idol series. We've got 10 girls to develop and sell merch for, and that's going to take up a LOT of time, doubtlessly leaving little focus on the parts of this premiere I actually liked. Ah, well.
Okay, Idoly Pride, you got me. I thought for sure I knew where you were going, and you surprised me. That doesn't mean I'm going to keep watching, but you know what? Credit where credit is due.
The show opens with a line-up of idols going through their names one-by-one matched with a close-up of their faces. Their manager, Makino, stands apart, and thinks, “Mana,” which was most certainly not one of the names listed seconds earlier. Clearly, Mana was someone important to him until she exploded or something. Cue flashback to him and Mana in high school.
What follows is a "meteoric rise to fame only to be cut down in her prime" story that could not be more standard. Oh she was so beloved! So much potential! Was about to give a performance that could make or break her career! She was so clearly in love with her manager, who used to sit next to her in class but became so much more to her and her to him! It's all very shiny and pretty, colored and framed in such a way that put me in mind of a cut-rate Kyoto Animation.
But then, Makino goes back to their classroom where they first met, as so many characters in tragic love stories do. And he sees her apparition, as so many characters in tragic love stories also do. But then, it turns out she's actually there, which is not what usually happens in tragic love stories, and I burst out laughing in surprised delight. Everything had been so by-the-numbers up to that something so unexpected brought me sincere joy.
Not that I'm interested in seeing where this goes. That one lone twist saved the episode for me, but now that it's happened, I don't really care about ghost Mana watching over her former manager building an idol group around her best friend and little sister, or what have you. Plus, the idol system in this show is built around an algorithm and I, like most people of my political persuasion, am deeply suspicious of tech-driven solutions to human bias. If a program was created by humans, then it carries human bias.
I'd say I recommend just the first episode of Idoly Pride… but I guess now that you know the twist from reading this, there's not much point, is there?
Maybe it's because some other premieres have left such a sour taste in my mouth recently, but there was something about Idoly Pride that I ended up warming to by the end of its first episode. There's nothing about it that is exceptionally unique or interesting, save for its central gimmick, but I got the impression that it was kind-of, sort-of trying just a little bit to stand out from the crowded landscape of treacly idol shows. Maybe that's just me damning the show with faint praise, and those of you that are as fed up with the bland idol shenanigans as I usually am can consider the extra star that I added to this review as a kind of “Bless Your Heart” handicap. It's the James Beckett Prize for Being Completely Inoffensive Junk Food When Things Could Be So Much Worse™.
Though we begin with one of my least favorite genre tropes — the “stare-directly-at-the-camera-so-we-can-see-your-face” idol roll call — we don't actually spend much time with the ten girls that our hero Makino has formed into a seemingly successful performance troupe. Rather, the majority of the episode is dedicated to the flashback that shows the beginning of our hero Makino's time working in the idol biz with his friend and classmate, Mana. Though the episode takes its time building up to the final reveal, eventually we learn that—
What's that? You guessed that she dies tragically in a traffic accident only seconds into the episode? Oh, well, me too, and yeah, it's a bit of a chore to sit through the flashback when the outcome isn't even trying to be surprising, especially when the foreshadowing is getting laid on so thick. And the art isn't anything to write home about, even though it is trying so gosh-danged hard to look impressive and cinematic, what with its filmic color filters and widescreen ratio. The beats are obvious, the characters are all familiar archetypes, there's way too much slide-show filler going on, and yet…
I dunno, I just thought it was still kind of cute, I guess? Maybe it's the whole angle where Mana comes back as a spunky ghost to help Makino continue building on the dream they started together? That's a neat twist on the idol formula, and one that is sure to wring plenty of tears out of its audience by the time the story is done. The not-dead idols also seem cute enough; perfectly acceptable heroines for a genre anime like this. I can't promise that Idoly Pride will be worth sticking around for, and I really don't want to oversell it as anything other than a functional time-killer, but when the end-credits rolled, I wasn't mad that I had watched it. And that has to count for something, right?
Boy, I can see opinions being very mixed on this one, even among genre fans.
At its core, this looks like it is eventually going to be a traditional idol show, with a young male producer gathering the girls and training and preparing them to be idols. However, that's not how the first episode plays out beyond the opening scene. It instead spends its time establishing the producer-to-be from his high school days five years earlier and his encounters with the girl Mana Nagase, a brilliantly promising idol who happens to sit by him in class and likes him enough to insist on him working part-time for the production company she gets recruited by. (She also implies that she draws some of her strength from having the protagonist watch her while she performs, which is a further indication that she is sweet on him.) Mana has a personality and talent tailor-made to be a top-level success as an idol. . . and then she dies from an accident right before what should have been her crowning performance.
That something like this was going to happen had been so obvious that I don't consider it a spoiler. The producer speaks about her in the opening scene as if prepping the idols for performance was to honor her memory, and not going with her in the car like he normally does was just as sure a death flag as it starting to rain right after she left. The much bigger, more unique (for the genre), and I daresay more divisive twist is that she pops up again as a ghost years later, anohana-style. Exactly how or why this happens isn't elaborated on in this episode, and may never be. Like in anohana, she can also apparently not be seen by anyone but the protagonist, which raises the question of whether she is a real ghost or just a construct in his head.
I don't normally care for idol shows, but I am actually somewhat curious to see how this more somber foundation plays out. I am also curious about what effect Mana's presence as a ghost will have on the proceedings. By going with the ghost gimmick, the story waters down the potential impact of the producer prepping the idols in honor of Mana's memory, as well as eliminating the sense of loss over the absence of Mana's dynamic personality. However, having her around to coach the producer and make comments could also be fun. Despite a pretty good look and strong character designs, the visuals so far are limited by more restricted animation, with the only performance animation being in the closer, so that's also a little concerning.
I want to see at least one more episode before I decide whether this series is deserving of more attention or not, so I am giving it a middle-of-the-road placeholder rating for now.
Finally, a show with too many girls to balance out this seasons' shows about too many boys. Although in all fairness, Idoly Pride introduces its slew of girls and then spends the episode focusing on only one of them, Mana. And even more technically speaking, Mana is mentioned, not shown, in that opening scene. That's because, in a totally-not-shocking turn of events based on maybe the fifth line of real dialogue (not a listing of names), Mana is dead.
Oh, you thought that meant that she was out of the show? Surprise! She's still very much present; it's just that only Makino, the classmate she probably had a crush on and whom she manipulated into becoming her manager, can see her. And to be honest, that's kind of my favorite part of the episode. Even though I was basically waiting for her to die for most of it based on his early dialogue, I admit that I still found it kind of sad when she did, because the two of them genuinely seemed to like each other. Plus now Makino was stuck at a job I didn't think he was especially keen on without his reason for being there. So when two years after her death Mana suddenly began haunting him, there is a certain sweetness that helped to make up for the rest.
And what is the rest? Probably a fairly by-the-numbers girl idol show. Now that Makino doesn't have Mana to manage, he's interviewing a number of “junior” idols, although to what end we don't yet know. (Okay, we totally know, but let's pretend.) In part he seems to be doing this because he has Mana's ghost with him, which could also mean that he's trying to get an idol from their agency, Hoshimi Productions, to win the top idol honor that Mana was going for before her death in (what else?) a traffic accident. This competition is judged not by people, but by an AI called the Venus Program, which aims to keep all idols on a level playing field rather than just going by who has the most and loudest fans, so that winners are actually the ones with the most skill and talent. And now Makino, with some help from beyond the veil, is going to train up the best darn group of idols ever in Mana's memory.
It might turn out to be very sweet and a little cute. The episode certainly wasn't as horrible as I was afraid it would be based on the name. But it also doesn't have much beyond the ghost going for it, so if you're not already an idol show fan, this may not be worth your time.
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