by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
“Dreaming Robot” is a fascinating artifact for 22/7 not so much for what does as an episode, but rather in the way it represents everything the show does well and does poorly in a single package. Akane gets the spotlight this week as the titular “robot”, a name the girls use as a way to rib their friend for her cold and calculated dedication to punctuality, practicality, and objectivity. Nicole remarks early in the episode that such a girl must have some kind of “noble” reason for becoming an idol, and the requisite flashbacks that 22/7 provides gives us that reason, which turns out to be underwhelming and surprisingly nuanced all at once.
To make a long story short, Akane got lost in the woods as a child, and it took her parents and a team of rescuers three days to find her. This is certainly not the backstory I expected for Akane, but it makes a certain amount of sense from a writer's point of view. Young Akane is a rambunctious and bold girl with big dreams – to be an artist, an idol, and an astronaut, for starters – and her father gamely encourages her independent sprit and knack for breaking the rules. Her mother is more of a hardass, so when the family takes a trip to the mountains and Akane's mother makes it very clear that she is not to run off on her own, it is of little surprise when Akane immediately goes off on her own, falls down a hill, and spends three days starving in an abandoned shack before her mother finds her. To go from as lively a spirit as she was as a kid to the intensely withdrawn young woman she is now, Akane would have needed something fairly traumatic to happen to her, and a near-death experience like this one fits the ticket, even if it does feel ripped straight from the pages of an after-school special script.
What works better than this larger incident of trauma is the quiet, personal damage that is done in the aftermath, as we and Akane watch as her parent's growing tension corrodes their relationship beyond repair, and they end up separating. This is what really caused Akane's drastic shift in personality, and this makes a lot more sense, because she's come to internalize the idea that her mistakes directly lead to the breakup of her family. Given how mismatched her mother and father seemed, it would be ridiculous to say that Akane's disappearance was the sole catalyst of the divorce, but a kid isn't going to have the distance and perspective required to see that. While this flashback isn't anywhere near as much of a gut punch as last week's episode, the art and direction are as excellent as ever, which really helped me feel for Akane's plight.
Unfortunately, the present-day material jut doesn't work as well, and it isn't for lack of effort. With The Wall decreeing that the girls put on a show for 3,000 people, this is the first proper musical performance we've gotten since episode 3, and 22/7 goes all out in making it an entertaining one. The CG isn't quite as smooth and expressive as I'd hoped it would be, but the lighting, choreography, and music all come together to make for a genuinely fun show (I could have done without the incessant chanting of the crowd, though). Akane even gets a moment of emotional catharsis as the fans roar in appreciation, and we see a glimpse of the bright and expressive girl that still lives somewhere underneath Akane's carefully cultivated persona.
Once again, though, 22/7 suffers from a lack of conflict for the group as a whole, which makes it hard to connect to the “idol” part of this idol dramedy. We haven't seen the girls in the recording booth, or watched them put together the impressive background visuals for their concerts, or practice their choreography, or do any of the dirty work that comes with being musical artists. Sure, we had Jun's manic montage from last week, and Reika's episode hammered home the importance of all the girls work and so on, but all of that feels very superficial when the audience knows that there is this omniscient entity with seemingly boundless coffers setting everything up for them. 22/7 has become quite the successful operation, yet it all feels so easy.The same goes for Akane's character development, which boils down to her letting go of the “robot girl” mentality ever so slightly. Why did this performance, of all things, help her break out of her shell like this? Why not their first show, or one of the performances they've presumably been giving in between episodes? I feel like the answer must be simply because it was Akane's turn for a character-focused story, and that is too neat and tidy for my liking. We've only a couple more backstories left to uncover before all of 22/7 has been given their due, and who knows what will happen then. Perhaps the show will give some credence to the mystery of The Wall, or maybe Miu's journey will take center stage again. It could also just be that 22/7 is a low-stakes slice-of-life story that has only been pretending towards its loftier ambitions all along, and while that wouldn't make it the worst anime of the season, it sure would be a disappointment.
Odds and Ends
• What's the Score?: The song the girls perform this week, “Rikaisha”, is a surprisingly dark number about isolation, anxiety, and desperately looking for someone to connect to; it's a decent enough track. Akane's ED had some very slick visuals, though the heavy emphasis on auto-tune and electronic layering was another instance of the show being a little too on-the-nose (It's because she's like a robot! Get it!?).
• Being for The Benefit of Mr. Wall: Other than ordering the big solo concert, The Wall is barely present this week, which has been the case for most of the series, come to think of it. Man, I'm already having to prepare myself for the possibility that we might get to the end of the show and not learn a single meaningful thing about The Wall.
• In other news, the post-credits scene shows us that Miu is moving out of her place to live with the rest of the girls, who have all made similar arrangements (or at least, that is how it is presented). This feels like a fairly big development to be relegated to an after-credits stinger without any context. Did The Wall already order this, and I just completely missed it?
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