by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Having been foiled so many times by getting my hopes up about an anime's ambitions, I often find myself asking: “How much will I like this show if it ends up taking the safe path, or if it fumbles before it reaches the finish line?” I'm the kind of fan who gets very excited by big ideas and interesting risks, even when the execution is messy, which means I'm usually more disappointed when a series chooses to be safely bland rather than unevenly daring. For every Made in Abyss or Planet With., there are a dozen Kokkokus or Steins;Gate 0s. In the case of 22/7, I was initially drawn in by its moody atmosphere, its willingness to ask tough questions of Miu's choice to accept the life of an idol, and the mystery presented by The Wall and its plans. What “Hello New World” gives is a story that has echoes of those initial promises, even as it provides some more comfortable and familiar genre satisfaction on top of it all. It asks, “How good can 22/7 be as a slightly offbeat but mostly straightforward idol anime?”
Based on this episode alone, at least, the answer seems to be “Pretty good!”, which has me feeling a lot less nervous about the rest of the season going forward. The crux of the story is rooted in The Wall's orders for the week: The girls will be giving their first concert, and with only a little time to prepare, they have to put in a lot of work to see it through. As an added bit of tension, last week's ending told us that Miu's mother is going to find out about her new life whether Miu likes it or not, which keeps the “Let's put on a show” plot rooted in Miu's personal journey. We get practice montages, a lot of Miu's conflicted internal monologue, and plenty of banter between the group. The highlight of the pre-show material is a well-done confrontation between Miu and Nicole, where the latter tells the former that her lack of confidence is what will bring both her and the group down, though she leaves Miu with a cute bobby pin for putting up her hair. That exchange, along with the cute scene where Nicole and the other girls give The Wall a stuffed cat analogue to make it less intimidating, goes a long way towards humanizing Nicole, who might otherwise have remained the surly diva for much longer before reaching her inevitable softening. 22/7 remains committed to taking its characters and their emotions very seriously, which is its number one secret weapon, I think.
The same can be said for the girls' first concert, which is surprisingly light on spectacle, as it instead remains laser focused on Miu's experience of the event, and the complicated emotions that come with it. This could possibly be the production team being creative with limited resources, what with the CG models being used strictly for quick cuts and wide shots, but I don't think that's the case. 22/7 exists as both a live and a digital act, and their 3D music videos on YouTube are all well-done for what they are. The production values for this episode remain as polished as ever too, which has me convinced that the 22/7 anime could have put on one hell of a 22/7 idol concert, if it really wanted to.
This has me reading the concert being so subdued and Miu-focused as a deliberate artistic choice, and it works incredibly well. While not as naturally stage-inclined as Nicole, Miu is obviously talented enough to put on a show with the rest of her colleagues, and yet for a very long time 22/7 resists delivering the crowd-pleasing climax of having Miu find herself on stage. She's inside her own head, too focused on not screwing up, especially when she sees her mom in the crowd. It gets to the point where the ringing drone of anxiety and her own internal monologue drown out the actual music. She's also terrible at stage banter, coming across as awkward and almost impossible to hear when the other girls are making jokes and playing up the crowd. I've performed on the stage many times, and I absolutely related to this expression of Miu's perspective, where the choreography, lyrics, and stage lights become obstacles to overcome, and nothing more.
Of course, we do eventually get that crowd-pleasing moment. A part of me thinks that it feels a bit early to have Miu embracing her new profession so much, and that her anxieties over her mother finding out could have been clearer. Another part of me, though, was simply happy to see Miu opening up and letting her natural talents shine above the manufactured ones. It's been clear since episode one that Miu gave up musicianship for some reason, and while I hope that plot thread doesn't get abandoned after 22/7 mostly-successful first concert, it makes sense for Miu to shed her insecurities and really wow the crowd once she gets her fingers on the piano's keyboard. It makes you suspect that the Wall orchestrated the second-rate concert venue specifically so that Miu would have to jump in and save the day when the sound-system blew out. Factor in how it also arranged the invitation for Miu's mother, and it is beginning to feel like The Wall is meant to be taken as a genuinely benevolent presence, and one specifically focused on Miu's growth, at leas for now.
This is where I begin to question how the show plans continue from here without losing all of the edge it brought with its premiere. The Wall is still a mystery, but it will be a much less engaging one if all it does it help the girls of 22/7 in a variety of mysterious but pleasant ways. Likewise, if the rest of Miu's character arc is a straightforward upward trajectory of “Shy girl comes out of her shell thanks to being forced into the life of a pop singer”, well, no matter how much I like Miu as a protagonist, such an uncomplicated story would still feel awfully cheap. 22/7 hasn't shown its full hand one way or the other, and “Hello New World” is at least a sign that a safe 22/7 could still be entertaining. I just hope the show has more risks in store for us, yet.
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: A couple of great tunes this week, including a new ED for Miu, plus some familiar tracks for any prior 22/7 fans. The main song performed at the concert is "Boku wa Sonzai Shiteinakatta", an apropos song given Miu's own struggles with self-confidence. We also get to hear "Shampoo no Nioi ga Shita", which is a sweet song about a girl reflecting on the love she feels for a female classmate (and there's basically no way to interpret the song as anything but romantic, which is always good).
• Speaking of girls loving girls, the show really isn't holding back with Sakura's affection for Miu, is it? I though Sakura's bombastic love confession to Miu last week might have been one of those ambiguous displays of affection that shows like to use to tease fans without committing to anything, but Sakura flashes Miu a very flirtatious wink during the concert this week, and the end scene teases that Sakura has something “she wants to say” to Miu. The next episode is also called “The Promised Flower”, which isn't exactly subtle…
• Being for The Benefit of Mr. Wall: The Wall falls a more on the side of benevolent caretaker this week, helping Miu grow and bond with the rest of the girls. Odds of villainy a have been reduced to 40% I also find it charming that the girls are so blandly curious about this thing that now controls their lives. Is it magic? An artificial intelligence? Or is there just some guy living in a broom-closet behind the gold façade, earning a pittance of a commission every time he prints out a fancy card?
22/7 is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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