by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 12 of
It took me a surprisingly long time to get started on this review of 22/7's final episode, and not because I was so overwhelmed with emotion and opinions that I didn't know how to begin, but because I wasn't entirely sure I had anything to say that wouldn't just be me repeating old points again. The finale, simply titled “22/7”, concluded the series in pretty much the exact way anyone would have suspected, with very little in the way of surprise or ambition to be found. If the rest of this recap feels overly focused on criticisms or breakdowns of the series' half-measures, its only because what the show does right are the same things its always done right. The animation and direction are mostly spot on, the music is good, the editing is solid, and so on. 22/7 has rarely faltered in its aesthetics, and that definitely deserves to be commended. Fans of the group that wanted their girls to get a well-produced series that made them look as shiny and sweet as possible will likely walk away from the show feeling satisfied.
There's one other thing I really liked: The scene with all of the girls breaking down The Wall. The ultimate sort-of-reveal about the true nature of the The Wall ultimately fell pretty flat — behind The Wall is a control room with some chairs, computers, and a bunch of creepy photographs of all of the girls taped up on the wall — and The Wall's cryptic explanations of its multi-phase master plan ultimately didn't mean much of anything, but there was a palpable sense of catharsis when Miu led the charge in thwacking The Wall with a chair, prompting everyone else to join in. Miu's character arc was too stunted for its own good, wrapping up early enough to basically be forgotten about by the time she became relevant again, but the vocal performance and the animation sell the girl's pent up anger over what she and her friends have been put through, and her desire for everyone to be reunited again.
Ultimately, this reunion leads us to the closest thing to a theme 22/7 can be said to have. Despite its scheming, we ultimately learn that The Wall's true plan was to give the girls a no-questions asked out from the idol industry, all while still ensuring they could reunite and put on their anniversary show if they decided to do so of their own free wills. The message here is fairly obvious: That doing idol work can be powerful and meaningful for the fans and spectators, but the idols themselves must have the will and the passion to do it for themselves, too. Miu only ever thought of idols as the products that were being sold and flaunted by the music industry, but as with any fulfilling career, she has learned that genuine bonds and surprising new skills can be forged from hard work and dedication to a craft (even if the craft itself is a means to an end).
This is a perfectly fine artistic statement upon which to build a story, but I have to come back around to the ways that 22/7 fails to communicate some of the basic story points that would really sell the message. Namely, this was an idol show that barely ever focused on what it actually means to be an idol, and for folks like me who don't live and breathe every aspect of the idol industry as a homegrown superfan, that stuff goes a long way towards making a show about a musical group interesting in the first place. The flashbacks showed how each of the members of 22/7 came to need some aspect of the career as individuals, but we barely saw them engage with the career itself. I would have loved more than mere glimpses of the girls practicing their choreography, learning their parts, and so on, but even more than all of that, I needed to see more of their struggle. Nearly everything that 22/7 accomplished was done quickly, easily, and with minimal conflict. They put on some shows, gained a feverishly loyal fanbase, and even managed to abruptly break up and then reunite without losing their audience. The girls never fought or bonded over the work they spent so much time together doing; for goodness sake, the biggest arguments we ever saw happened over mundane issues that could be solved within minutes.
This, I think, is why The Wall ultimately hurt the show more than it helped. As a synecdoche for the precarious whims of the entire industry of idol groups, it works, and it is easy to see the potential in turning the faceless machine of a thousand grinding capitalist gears into, well, a literal faceless machine. As a plot device, though, The Wall robs 22/7 of any dramatic impact it might have otherwise had. All of the girls' problems are specifically engineered by The Wall, and by The Wall are they solved. Sure, we got the token stamp of agency when the girls all decided to become an idol group again even when The Wall refused, but it feels less impactful in the grand scheme of things when you consider that we are still dealing with a frighteningly omnipresent entity of some kind that has been stalking our heroines since they were children. It knew they would come back, because it would never have chosen them to be in the group, or manipulated their emotions and circumstances for so long, if it wasn't at least mostly certain of what the outcome would be. After all, all eight of the girls in 22/7 have had nothing but positive and life affirming experiences in a career that allows them to live a fairly extraordinary lifestyle? Why on earth would they not want more of that?”
So when we get to the group's climactic performance of their song “Difficult”, which we've heard every week in the opening, the victory rings hollow. The only thing 22/7 had to do to get this fanatical crowd of fans to come see them perform on a glamorous stage was wait out a handful of weeks living like normal teenagers again. Their happy ending was all-but predetermined. For a series that was handcrafted to appeal to people who were already invested in 22/7, this only makes sense. The goal wasn't to provide a thrilling narrative about the ups-and-downs of amateur idols tossed into the deep end of a glamorous but all-consuming profession, but to give each member of the group a moderately interesting backstory to chew on in between single releases and new uploads on YouTube. In that sense, 22/7 was a success, given that it was rarely ever anything less that moderately entertaining. That won't keep me wondering about what could have been, though.
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: “Difficult” is hardly a new tune, but it is nice to have the full translated lyrics to enjoy, including the spoken word inserts. As predicted, it's a depressing song about how hard it is simply to exist every day.
• There's a nice bit of visual rhyming in the cut where we see Miu from Nicole's perspective, complete with Nicole's bangs popping into the POV shot.
• There's one more piece of 22/7 anime media to wait for, an OVA that will introduce the other three members of the group to the series, who we see in the post-credits stinger. I believe their names are Mikami, Yuki, and Tsubomi. With any luck, Funimation will have the rights to stream it here in the US.
• If I had to give the series an overall grade at this point, it would likely also be a B-. I had fun, for the most part, and I certainly know more about the different performers' personas than I did before. I still think I enjoy the real-life antics of Sally Amaki more than anything we saw in this series, but kudos to all of the girls in the group for their hard work in brining each of the characters to life.
22/7 is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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