by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 6 of
It's Reika Sato's turn at bat in 22/7's game of round-robin flashback episodes, and the end result is “Between the Even and Odd Numbers”, an episode that is trying to say something about the difficulties of idol life, but to frustratingly uncertain ends. There's a lot going on here about the way the industry commodifies and exploits the bodies of young women, but it's all trapped within the confines of a too-simple story that seems content to stick within the status quo of genre expectations. It's also a swimsuit episode, since The Wall's bevy of new orders dictate that the girls are to head out to a beach photo shoot. I suppose we can at least be thankful that anyone that felt 22/7 has been lacking in fanservice will be happy with this week's outing. To the show's credit, it stays fairly tasteful with all of the cheesecake – outside of some of the girls' corny in-jokes about each other's boobs, there's nothing here that I would say is distracting or out of place for the series' more reserved tone.
The other big order of the week is the declaration that Reika Sato will be made the group's official leader, and this makes sense to most everyone but Reika. She is, after all, the studious one in the group, and her flashbacks reveal that she has always put her studies and ambitions before personal matters like high-school romance and such. The tragic turn of her story comes from how her mother died in child-birth, leaving her to be the de-facto responsible one, as her well-meaning father is a bit helpless without her. Honestly, the pathos in Reika's flashbacks is lacking, partially because I think Miyako's story from last week covered similar ground to better effect, and also because the story fails to do what all of these character-focused episodes have been working towards, which is to make Reika a likeable and interesting character.
The way the flashbacks fail to meaningfully tie in to the beach photo shoot story is a big factor in why they don't work for me. The central conflict is that Reika is uncomfortable wearing such a revealing bathing suit and participating in a modeling section that is so explicitly geared toward sexualizing her and her friends. This is a very understandable concern for a teenager like her, and the show almost gets at saying something meaningful about the toxic pressures that come from an industry that rakes in obscene amounts of money by putting not-quite-grown women in front of the camera so they can use their sexuality to attract an army of fans, specifically men. However, the execution of the storyline falls totally flat, as it boils down to Reika sitting alone in the tour bus the whole episode, while a bunch of the girls come in ones and two to try and convince her to do the shoot anyways.
That's the biggest issue I have with the episode, actually: Reika's reservations are framed as being almost entirely selfish and self-centered, and all the girls' advice basically boils down to “It's a part of the job, deal with it, and if you won't take sexy photos for these photographers, you'll be dooming the whole group to failure, since what The Wall says, goes.” Even Miu and Sakura don't offer any contrary or challenging perspectives in that regard, with Miu explaining that all of her own concerns about being an idol were more or less solved when she just did it and realized she liked it after all. I really don't like how 22/7 is so quick to dismiss Reika's legitimate desire to not expose herself and be sexualized as the troublesome hang-ups of someone who isn't willing to be a team player. Not only does “Between the Even and Odd Numbers” undo some of the show's previous work in creating a psychologically nuanced portrayal of the girls' ambitions toward stardom (or lack thereof), it also makes for boring television.
The episode's title is a reference to how Reika eventually does decide to do the photo shoot by rolling Akane's lucky dice charm (which she keeps tucked between her boobs, naturally). After that, the girls finish the shoot, and Reika becomes the leader the Wall always knew she could be, or something. So what we have is the story of a girl whose mother died in childbirth, which lead to her trying maybe a little too hard to be dignified and adult so she could honor her mom's memory, only to finally have her breakthrough after brooding in a bus for hours and eventually getting lectured by all of her friends about taking one for the team and showing off her swimsuit body. This is about as low-stakes a plot as you could possibly come up with for the show, and it certainly doesn't transform Reika's image in the way that Miu and Miyako's stories did. We're halfway through 22/7's roster, so hopefully the next four girls will have better material to work with.
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: Another new character episode brings another new character song for Reika, though I think it might be my least favorite of the bunch. The ED's visuals feel awfully voyeuristic for one, given the subject matter of the episode, but the song itself just isn't very catchy, at least to my ears. Better luck next time, 22/7.
• Being for The Benefit of Mr. Wall: Even though I'm generally grumpy about the show's unwillingness to use The Wall as anything other than the most convenient of plot devices so far, I would be lying if I said I didn't at least find it a little cute that the girls take his little stuffed animal with them to the beach. In a more sinister twist, the post credits scene has all of the girls randomly passing out on the floor of headquarters, right in front of Mr. Wall, except for Jun. Anyone want to guess who the next episode is going to focus on?
• I don't really know what 22/7 is doing with Miu anymore, nor is it clear whether all of her very flirtatious interactions with some of the other girls will ever go anywhere beyond teasing subtext. That said, Sakura get's really excited to hug up on Miu and complement her looks when they're all doing the swimsuit photo op. I'm just sayin'.
22/7 is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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