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The Winter 2022 Preview Guide

How would you rate episode 1 of
CUE! ?
Community score: 3.1

What is this?

The brand-new voice actor office "AiRBLUE" has no track record or experience. Aspiring voice actors with rich individuality are signed on to the office. They do their best to achieve their dreams, but it's a tough world out there. No matter how much they practice, not everyone will pass the audition.

CUE! is based on Liber Entertainment's voice actress-training smartphone game of the same name. The anime streams on Crunchyroll on Fridays.

How was the first episode?

James Beckett

There was a moment maybe, I don't know, six or seven girls into CUE!'s massively overstuffed roll call sequence where my eyes started to glaze over completely, and it took every ounce of effort that I had to even partially keep track of the who's and what's of the story. By the time this scene is done, we learn that there are fifteen named characters in CUE!—and that's only if we count the voice actresses themselves— and you don't need to do a Wikipedia check to immediately recognize that each of them is merely a fashionable cog buried within the cynical corporate machine of the mobile-game industrial complex.

It's a shame, too, because I love the idea of getting more behind-the-scenes sagas produced by artists within the industry, but Shirobako this ain't. If you copy-and-pasted the plot summaries of any one of the more generic idol anime from the past few years, all you'd have to do to describe CUE! is perform a find and replace to swap “idol" with “aspiring voice actress".

The show tries to capture some of the magic of the performing arts when all of the girls get their first voice acting lesson and perform Hamlet, but the whole scene ends up feeling corny rather than inspiring. I'd honestly have preferred a flashy CGI dance sequence, or something along those lines. CUE! presents itself as a somewhat cynical precision strike of focus-tested commercialism aimed at a very specific demographic. The least it could do is throw in a little pizazz to keep things interesting.

Nicholas Dupree

I am terrible with names. Couldn't tell you exactly why, but something in my brain's wiring just does not properly store people's names on the first go, be it in real life or fiction. It's to the point where I make cheat sheets with characters' faces and names when I review something here. So I'm not exaggerating when I say the opening half of CUE! felt like a cruel prank being played on me specifically. There are just too many girls in this premiere, to the point where every new group shot in the OP would add more, and I genuinely wondered if they were pulling a “Too Many Cooks” style joke where eventually the entire show would devolve into a horrific parade of procedurally generated anime girls, skin and hair sloughing off their half-finished bodies. Instead, they just shuffled 15 barely distinguishable girls into a small office space and expected me to remember who any of them are, which is almost as terrifying.

Jokes aside, the sheer size of this cast really is what kills any interest this premiere might have generated. Large casts are nothing new for this type of idol-adjacent series, but it's important to pace out introductions so your characters don't congeal into an indistinguishable gestalt that subsumes everything else. Here, it takes half the episode just to get all of these girls in a room together, forget actually giving them personalities or conversations outside of the barest, broadest strokes. And they even double-up on gimmick characters, like having two different gothic lolita girls who always stand next to each other. There's no time or screen space to actually let anyone breathe or establish their character, and it sucks all the life out of what could be an interesting premise.

Though if I'm honest, I'm not too impressed with how this show's handling the topic of voice acting so far. I wasn't a fan of 2015's Seiyu's Life!, but that show did a great job of detailing the nitty-gritty of being a professional voice actor at work. Here, all of our characters are total newbies assigned to a brand new agency, and all the voice acting practice they get around to is reading a scene from Hamlet. They try to emphasize how different characters portray the text in special ways, but because we have 8 readings to get through most only get a line or two on-screen. The real nail in the coffin, though, is the final reading with our presumed main girl. The show tries to sell it as a surprising, unique interpretation of the material, but I couldn't tell you the actual reasons why. And that kind of gives away the problem: for a show about voice acting, the actual voice acting on display here is bog-standard.

There's really no coming back from that. It's the one gimmick to set this show apart from an idol show, and it can't even do that in a noteworthy or interesting way. So you have a premiere that's stuffed with characters but devoid of actual character, and thin on anything interesting going on. This is set to be a 2-cour series, so maybe it'll be able to flesh out all these girls with that much time, but for right now it's an easy pass.

Richard Eisenbeis

From the start, CUE! could have gone only one of two ways. It could have been either a realistic, grounded look at the joys and pains of being an entry-level voice actor in Japan, or simply cute girls doing cute things in a voice acting company. Unfortunately, it decides to steer towards the latter.

This is a shame because the opening scene of our heroine Haruna doing a voiceover for a Nadia - The Secret of Blue Water-esque anime is rather fantastic. While the 80s-inspired visuals are fun in their own right, it really is the voice acting that kills it—though not in the way you'd expect. What makes the voice acting in this scene so great is the fact that, well, it's not actually very good. Haruna's voice doesn't match the character design and she doesn't have the emotional range and expression required for a leading role—which is exactly what you'd expect from a rookie voice actor still finding her footing. It takes an incredible amount of skill to give a performance that is noticeably lacking—even to the average anime fan's ear—yet is not so bad that we think she is hopeless.

Depressingly, it's almost all downhill from there. With its staggeringly large cast of sixteen rookies plus their managers and trainers, this feels like an idol anime more than anything else. Each girl in the cast is tailored to represent a different trope. We have the edgy girl, the dunce, the fashionista, the tomboy, the bookworm, and all manners of stereotypes in between, rather than anything resembling a real person you might actually find in the voice acting profession.

Between having to have Hamlet explained to me and many of the girls' inability to do their job on even the most basic level, I found very little to enjoy in the back half of the episode. The exception to this, however, is getting to see the Hamlet and Ophelia scene twice. With different actors and different visuals based on those actors' performances, it really drives home the point that a difference in voice can completely alter both your perception of a character and of the entire scene itself. Honestly, if the whole episode had been nothing but the various girls acting their hearts out doing different interpretations of the same scene, this might have been one of my favorites of the season. However, as it stands now, I can't see myself coming back for a second episode.

Rebecca Silverman

I have two words for you: Yuri. Hamlet. In what is one of the more memorable scenes of this otherwise not terribly enthralling CGCT show (although I'll remind you that this really isn't my favorite genre), aspiring voice actresses are thrown in at the deep end when their agency, on their first day, asks them to read from Act 1 Scene III of Hamlet – you know, the one with the “To Be or Not to Be” soliloquy. While this is both cruel (many of the girls haven't read it before) and leads to a variety of truly terribly Hamlets and Ophelias, it also gives us the ostensible main heroines performing the scene as if both characters are women. And you know what? Even having never thought about it before, I'd absolutely watch a lesbian variant of the play.

That, however, is emblematic of the issue with this episode: the in-show stories are more interesting than the main one. The episode opens with scenes of Haruna (one of the main girls) practicing her voice acting by dubbing a fantasy anime, and it's far more intriguing than watching Haruna, Maika, and the slew of other named characters show up at their new agency. On the plus side, the very nature of the show and its plot about aspiring voice actors means that we'll see more of the in-show stories. On the downside, we have to get through the rest of the show to get to them. If you're a fan of shows positively packed with cute girls with various quirks, that may not be an issue for you. As of right now, there's not a good sense of how much actual industry information is going to be present, and that could be the make-or- break for some viewers, too, because if it gets into the nitty-gritty of voice acting, it could offset the slower elements.

I do have to give CUE! credit for not just color-coding the girls. There's been an effort to make most of them look like regular people, and those who deliberately don't are clearly putting on a performance or projecting a curated image. The in-world shows also seem fairly believable as far as anime productions you might actually see, and that may indicate that this is going to be more grounded than the first episode indicates. In any event, if you like CGCT shows, this could be worth checking out, because this, more than most of the other shows thus far, really feels like an introduction.

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