by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
The penultimate episode of 22/7 is here, and with it we have the long-awaited Nicole episode that was teased in the mid-credits sequence last week. This is normally where I'd ask, “Was it worth the wait?”, but I think it's time we settle in to the conclusion that there probably isn't much about 22/7 that was worth the wait. This isn't because the show itself is bad, really, but because it's clear now more than ever that there wasn't anything to “wait” for to begin with. This show was never about the mystery of The Wall, or some emotionally engrossing narrative concerning an idol group's rise to stardom. As I guessed it might be even as I sat in amazement of its first handful of episodes, 22/7 has only ever been interested in serving as an exceptionally pretty commercial for an idol group that is already famous and successful. Aside from its first three episodes, which introduced Miu and explored her personal hang-ups, 22/7 has mostly consisted of a series of character-centric flashback stories that give every fan a chance to learn a little bit more about their favorite member(s) of the group, with only the thinnest pretense of a cohesive plot there to tie it all together.
So, in the sense that “Chasing Our Dream” adds to the grand narrative tapestry of the show, there isn't much to write home about. The whole of the show's story thus far has been “The girls met, then they did idol stuff for a while, then they broke up…all on account of some mysterious, seemingly omnipotent Wall.” We've only got one more episode left after this, so the only possible narrative beat that could be resolved here is “Do the girls get back together?”, and of course they do, because what kind of show did you think this was. The present day scenes, which follow in the series tradition of only tangentially relating to the flashback that takes up most of the episode, are one hundred percent candy-coated schmaltz. We see every one of the 22/7 girls meet back up in their powered-down former base of operations, and one by one they take turns spelling out the emotional attachments they've made by being a part of the group, which we kind-of got to see play out over the season's run. Then they collapse into tears and piles of hugs because they just love each other so much, et cetera, et cetera.
I really don't want to be down on the reunion stuff, since the show does its damndest to sell the pathos of the moment. I just don't feel that the climax is particularly earned. 22/7's biggest narrative hook has been its flashback structure, but it has also proven to be the weak link that has held the series back from being genuinely great. For all the girls' talk of how close and like family they've become, we've spent far more time with the girls alone than we have with them as a team. So when this incredibly charged emotional peak, it's a classic case of 22/7 telling us what we should be feeling, instead of reaching that point organically. Don't get me wrong – I'm happy that the team looks to be getting their happy ending, but it's a conceptual reaction on my part, not the deeply-felt gut punch of empathy I think the show was going for.
More effective was Nicole's flashback, even though it relies on a particular kind of anime trope that I rarely connect with on a personal level. As we learned last week, Nicole actually knew Miu before the formation of 22/7; they met in grade school, and as you probably predicted, Miu had a profound influence on how Nicole became the headstrong and confident young woman she is today. To make a long story short: Nicole was a socially awkward and withdrawn child, to the point where her school bullies jokingly nominated her to be the witch in a class stage production. Bonding with Miu over their innate love of music and pleasing people with their art, Nicole finds herself getting into the role, but the bullies just use the performance as an opportunity to dunk on Nicole further. Miu, being a fiercely protective friend at heart, straight up attacks the bully on stage to avenge Nicole. This gets Miu kicked out of school, and Nicole never sees her again until the Wall comes around, but in the intervening years, Nicole was inspired to shed her fears and take on the persona of the driven idol-in-the-making.
As a completely isolated story, Nicole's flashback is really darned cute, excellently animated and directed, and one of the more satisfying flashbacks 22/7 has delivered thus far. That being said, it is once again the connective tissue of the present-day story that drags it down. Despite being presented as the series' perspective character, Miu has been given virtually nothing to do since her story ended in Episode 3, so it's a shame that the show once again has to straightforwardly tell us what kind of person she is in this one flashback, instead of revealing her innately protective and proactive nature across the breadth of the story. Also, I generally don't like the setup where two childhood friends meet again after years apart, only for one of them to have forgotten the completely life-changing bonding moment they shared. It's a contrived and played-out cliché in all but the best of circumstances, and given 22/7's track record, I don't know if its even going to pay off. There've been very many undertones of queer romance between Miu and the other girls, especially Sakura and Nicole, but despite the age-old soap opera trappings, I'm fairly certain Miu isn't going to end up with anyone by the time the credits roll next week. That isn't an inherently bad thing in and of itself, but if 22/7 has been waffling on whether or not there's anything romantic going on in its story for eleven weeks now, and I'd have appreciate some more commitment by now.
I feel like I've spent most of 22/7's run ruminating on the show it could have been, rather than the show it ended up being. Normally, this is one of the things I try the hardest to avoid as a critic, but 22/7 has done little to inspire the imagination otherwise, and I don't think it is unfair to call out the first three episodes as being a bit of a bait-and-switch. We were presented with an intriguing mystery in the very existence of the Wall, and a compelling protagonist in Miu, but neither the Wall's true nature nor Miu's character development have been the true focus of 22/7. Instead, the show has been content to take what I assume are the contents of each member's wiki bio, animate them in loving detail, and tie them together with the most predictable clichés of the idol-anime genre. As recipes for success go, this isn't a bad one, but I'm disappointed that it ended up being so blandly unambitious.
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: It took longer than expected, but Nicole finally got her personalized ED, and it's…fine? Well, the music is fine, but I really liked the visuals. They felt appropriate to the soundtrack and the character all at one once, which is a balance not every one of the girls' EDs have managed to strike.
• Being for the Benefit of Mr. Wall: I'm sure I'll have a full run-down of answered and unanswered questions about The Wall next week, but yeah, it's just as mysterious and all-knowing as ever. It also talks in the post-credits scene, which I admit was pretty cool to see, even if the implications are more confounding than anything. Was he speaking with the stuffed doll? If not, has the wall been able to talk this whole time? Why is it only speaking up now? Why does nobody in this universe seem at all concerned that this glowing, sentient Wall Thing knows everything about everyone who works for it, and manipulates them all like puppets to satisfy its whims? There's a version of 22/7 that could have been almost a horror-story or dark morality play, and while I don't know if that would have made for a better anime, it almost certainly would have been more interesting.
• One of the girls complains about Sakura's “annoying English”, which is funny, because she's spoken English maybe four times the entire series. Sakura also brings up her impending return to America – remember when that dramatic plot point seemed like it was going to be a big deal?
• Unless next week throws us a curveball, poor Goda never got the flashback episode he so clearly deserves. This dude has put up with just as much Wall drama as the girls, and he hasn't even got a life-affirming group of cute friends out of it – he was just unemployed for a few months.
22/7 is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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