The Summer 2022 Preview Guide
Phantom of the Idol
How would you rate episode 1 of
Phantom of the Idol ?
Community score: 3.2
What is this?
Yuuya, one half of the boy pop duo ZINGS, may be the laziest performer in the Japanese music industry. His partner is out there giving 110% every night (and, thankfully, he's quite popular), but Yuuya's half-assed, sloppy dancing, and his frankly hostile attitude toward the audience, has the fans hating him and his agent looking for any excuse to cut him loose. The career of a pop idol just isn't the path of easy leisure and adulation Yuuya expected…
After a particularly lifeless concert appearance, Yuuya meets a girl backstage. She's dressed to the nines in a colorful outfit, she's full of vim and vigor, and all she wants from life is to perform. There's just one problem: She's been dead for a year. This is the ghost of Asahi Mogami, the beloved singer whose time on the stage was tragically cut short, unless… If ghosts are real, is spirit possession really that much of a stretch?
How was the first episode?
I'm the kind of guy who generally prefers idol anime when there's some kind of twist to the usual routine, like when the idols are all magical girls, or a bunch of zombies, or when they're embroiled in a vaguely supernatural mystery-slash-battle-royale. Phantom of the Idol isn't quite as ambitious as all that, but I really dig its central conceit, where the ghost of a dead pop idol starts possessing the body of Niyodo, the completely aloof and terminally lazy half of the boy band duo known as ZINGS. It means that the show is equal parts idol anime and wacky sitcom, which is a much more appealing prospect to me than what the more straightforward entries in the idol genre usually offer.
The key to the “sitcom” half of the series' formula is solid comedic timing that is rooted in a likeable cast, and I'd say that Phantom of the Idol is off to a strong start so far. Sure, the characters are fairly stock archetypes so far, and if you ask too many questions about how a lazy bum like Niyoda could ever have garnered fans to lose in the first place, the premise kind of falls apart. Still, this premiere has a decently charming air about it, and I can see a future where Niyoda, Asahi, and Yoshino all come into their own and develop some solid comedic chemistry. It's also genuinely entertaining to hear Fumiya Imai tackle playing both the regular and possessed versions of Niyodo.
The major downside of Phantom of the Idol is, unfortunately, the “idol” part of the equation. I'm no genre buff, so it may not mean anything for me to say that the one example of musical showmanship that we got to see from ZINGS was pretty underwhelming. That said, I suspect even diehard J-Pop fans would be bored by the show's lackluster visuals and staging. The motion-captured dance routine is…fine, I suppose, but it's set against the cheapest looking background imaginable, and there's no pizazz to it, no oomph. Granted, that might change as ZINGS (presumably) achieves greater success thanks to Asahi's intervention, but it's not a great first impression, either way.
I highly doubt that Phantom of the Idol is going to knock anyone's socks off, and it's pop-start bona fides are questionable at best, but I had a decent time with this first outing, nevertheless. So long as you keep your expectations in check, it might be worth your time to check it out.
As the movie says, “Life is pain… anyone who says differently is selling something.” That sure seems true here: Asahi loved being an idol, but she's dead, and Yuya only became an idol for the pay and may as well be dead for all the life he puts into his performances. If this sounds like the recipe for a comedy of bizarre misunderstandings and ghostly possessions, you're absolutely right – Phantom of the Idol takes the dead idol subgenre to new and strange places while playing with some truly weird gap moe.
The latter is arguably one of the best parts of the episode and the source manga; male idol Yuya Niyodo's utter disdain for his profession has made him both the despair of his manager and something of a legend with his fans. One half of the duo ZINGS, Yuya stands in sharp, amusing contrast to his partner Kazuki, who is everything a male idol should be: cute, perky, and enthusiastic. Yuya, on the other hand, does things like forget the lyrics to his own song and hold the microphone out to the audience. The contradiction between the two guys isn't working for their manager, but since Kazuki refuses to go solo, well, there's a sense that her frustrated rage has no where to go. (She threatens to fire him, but I'm not sure that she can.) But wait, there's more gap moe! Because when Yuya is inexplicably able to see the ghost of a perky girl idol named Asahi who died a year ago, they learn that she can take over his body and do his performances…so now he's gone from expressionless monolith to hyper-perky and super cute, tossing out “bang” hand gestures with abandon and short-circuiting the fans' brains. It's layering contradiction atop contradiction for ZINGS' audiences, and for us there's something just really entertaining about how chill Yuya turns out to be about letting some random girl ghost take over his body once he figures out how he can use it to his advantage.
There is, of course, something a little sad about the whole situation when seen from Asahi's point of view, but this is largely kept in the background of the episode. While I could see it coming into play later, right now it's all about how nicely things work out for the two of them, to say nothing of how confused everyone else is. The art has translated very nicely from the manga, and the candy-bright colors on Asahi work really well to emphasize her personality and devotion to the idol lifestyle. The CG dancing, while better than some, still feels a little uncanny, though, in ways I can't quite pin down. In any event, this is worth checking out, and for added fun, see if you can spot the sticker on the wall that says “Austin of Texas,” which I found unreasonably funny on top of everything else.
The hardest shows to write about are the ones that are neither good or bad in any particular way, and that's definitely where this first episode of Phantom lands. This was a perfectly inoffensive way to spend 20 minutes, but there just isn't much here. It almost feels like a spec script rather than a finished episode, because outside of establishing the premise of a ghost idol girl possessing a reluctant male idol, nothing really happens and there's no sense of personality to any of it. You could easily have just watched the trailer for this show and gotten the entire gist without missing much.
Mostly that comes down to our leads just not having any chemistry or rounded personalities. Despite 80% of this episode being the two of them sitting in an empty hallway and talking to each other, all I could tell you about Niyodo or Asahi is that the former is only interested in money without working a 9-5 and the latter is a ghost who just loves being an idol. Any dialogue they share is just constantly retreading those basic traits without expanding on them or giving them more texture, or even just being funny. The ending narration insists that Niyodo is a “dirtbag” because he's in it for the money rather than the love of Idolatry, but he's not actually that much of a jerk. He's lazy and unmotivated, but that mostly means he's boring to follow, and if he had been more of a jerk there might have been some actual energy to this premiere.
I also couldn't tell you why the show holds idol-dom in such sanctity outside of generic lines about how they shine on stage. You certainly wouldn't be able to tell from the central dance number in this episode, which is a barebones sequence of two awkward CG models dancing against a plain background that goes on far longer than it needed to. I've never been a huge fan of the kind of music most idol anime are made to sell, but the best idol shows can at least craft exciting or unique performances. This just isn't gonna cut it, and combined with the less than gripping character dynamics, there's just nothing to this. The most interesting scene was the after-credits bit with some of Niyodo's fans chatting about his performance at a bar afterwards, because at least those three ladies had some personality to them. But that's nowhere near enough to make this worth following for me.
As Yuuya and his partner danced around the stage in Phantom of the Idol, one in a suit and one in sweats and both with big fluffy collars, I found myself thinking to myself, “Good lord they must be sweltering in those outfits.” Maybe it's because I'm staying with my parents in LA and it's 90 degrees out and their air conditioning is broken (oh god it's so hot please send help), but the thought of all that fabric covering skin was downright distracting to me. But then again, maybe if Phantom of the Idol had been more engaging overall, I wouldn't have been so distracted.
As I watched, nothing about the episode quite slid into place. The plot beats felt off-tempo, plodding along without any sense of urgency or emphasis. No dynamic camerawork, approximately three sets, and lifeless character acting made the episode's 24 minutes a dull affair. That might also be because Yuuya is such a wet rag of a protagonist that I just couldn't connect to him. He's not just lazy, but utterly apathetic to everything around him, when I was hoping for a character more akin to Chitose from Girlish Number. It's really hard to believe that anyone would be so thick-headed as to believe being an idol is an easy gig, when they're all obviously out there performing their butts off. Asahi, meanwhile, is at the opposite end of the spectrum, and their odd-couple dynamic is extremely predictable. It does come together somewhat at the end, once Asahi and Yuya reach the agreement we all knew they would, with the promise of maybe something different up ahead. And hey, my compliments to Fumiya Imai for doing double duty as Yuya and Asahi in Yuya's body.
But then again, there was that dancing. The CG idol anime use for their musical sequences has come a long way in the past decade or so, and Phantom of the Idol rockets right back to the early 10s'. It's stiff and plasticky, and Yuya and his partner do about three moves in their ugly, poorly-fitting outfits that look like someone basted airplane neck pillows onto their street clothes. The background is an empty stage with a few lights. The cheapness in their costumes and staging could stem from them being a low-level group… but then again, they had filled a decent-sized performance space, so maybe not? The episode is full of contradictions that make me think maybe the production team didn't put in the effort to think things through.
Finally, whose idea was it to end the episode with nearly three minutes of Yuya's three fans sitting in an izakaya, rehashing his performance? I just want to talk.
There's nothing outright incompetent in Phantom of the Idol. The setup—i.e., a ghost of a female idol wants to return to the stage again and does so by possessing an unmotivated male idol—is rife with comedic possibilities. The main characters are distinct and play off of each other well enough. The animation is likewise decent—perhaps even a bit beyond that when it comes to the dancing scenes. And the boy band music, while not exactly chart-topping, isn't painful to the ears or anything. But just because this premiere does nothing wrong, that doesn't mean that it does anything exceptionally well either. Phantom of the Idol's first episode is just a painfully average supernatural comedy.
That said, I can tell you the moment when I knew I wouldn't be watching a second episode of Phantom of the Idol: at the end of the episode, when the narrator tells us that Niyodo's motivations for teaming up with Asahi make him a trash person. Now don't get me wrong, Niyodo is a money-motivated slacker who only became an idol because he thought he could thrive based on his looks alone. However, I don't think that makes him a trash person. I mean, who doesn't want to get paid a ton for doing an easy job?
Yet the narrator implies that Niyodo is taking advantage of Asashi and exploiting her dream for his personal gain. This isn't really the case. Sure, she gets to do the thing she loves—to sing in front of an audience—and he gets the monetary compensation for her singing. But it's not like it's free money. In fact, the price he pays is staggeringly high. He is literally giving her everything he has; by letting her control his body, he is giving her two hours of his limited lifespan each time he steps on stage (maybe more if he lets her have the wheel during things like practice time and photoshoots). During that time, he is a prisoner in his own body, unable to move or speak no matter what she does.
When bad things happen to bad people, it's easy to laugh at their misfortune because we can see it as a form of karmic justice. When bad things happen to good people, the same situation becomes a tragedy. So, while I can tell that Phantom of the Idol is written to be the former, I can't help but see it as the latter. And since I don't see things the same way as the narrator—i.e., the literal voice of the author—I don't think I'd enjoy the show much going forward.
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