Reviewby Christopher Farris,
Action Heroine Cheer Fruits
Episodes 1-12 Streaming
The “Action Heroine boom” led to many towns successfully promoting themselves using live-action stage shows starring local heroines. However, the city of Hinano was slow to adopt, and when a popular heroine cancels a performance there, Mikan Kise's little sister is crushed. Seeking to cheer her up any way she can, MIkan teams with Action Heroine enthusiast Ann Akagi to put on their own version of the show, and their efforts catch the eye of Misaki Shirogane, student council president and daughter of the city's governor. Gathering a team of other girls with varied skills, Misaki resolves to develop the show into Hinano's own team of Action Heroines in order to revitalize the city, working together as the production unit Cheer Fruits!
The first episode of Action Heroine Cheer Fruits is immensely successful on its own. The story of Mikan Kise teaming up with Ann Akagi to put on a homemade superhero show to cheer up her little sister captures youthful feelings and heartfelt effort in a genuine way. Its themes are so succinctly communicated that these 24 minutes could stand on their own as a short film. It's a surprisingly strong start to a series that looks unremarkable at first pass. Sadly, the rest of the show never quite reaches those heights, although that earnest feeling continues to be its most effective asset.
The issue with Cheer Fruits is that after its effective premiere, the series can't quite find its own identity. As the cast and story come together over the next couple episodes, it becomes apparent that the elevator pitch for this show was something like “Love Live! but with sentai stage shows”. The resulting series exists in service of this gimmick, as a decent ‘idol show’ that effectively panders to tokusatsu fans. A wide variety of offhand acknowledgements to specific Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series pepper the show, some more oblique than others. It mostly rides those coattails as a framework all the way through, spinning a story of nine distinctive girls coming together to form AN Entertainment unit to promote the dwindling popularity of their town. The team members are introduced and added over several episodes in a very Love-Live-esque manner, and its various crafting and choreography elements would be at home in that series as well.
Unfortunately, Cheer Fruits lacks the defining polish of Love Live!. Its biggest shortcoming is the characters themselves. Akagi and Kise make a strong showing in the debut episode, but after Misaki conscripts them into her plan for a Hinano-official stage show, she becomes team captain and the true central character of the series. This is to the show's detriment, as Mikan's sincerity and Akagi's enthusiasm make for entertaining characteristics the few times they're used again in the show, while Misaki's ongoing efforts and underlying defeatism are much less compelling. The only other character who gets as much focus is her number two Roko, who mostly exists in Misaki's orbit anyway. The Blue siblings Genki and Yuki get their own bits of development over a few episodes, while the remaining members—Kanon, Midorikawa, and Momoi—remain distinctly one-note to the point that you'll be happy the characters' names are all color-coded to help you even remember them.
The show's other problem is its presentation. The first episode looks strong enough, save for some wonky moments of CGI, but afterwards the series settles into a quality below most flashier idol anime. There are a few strong moments of on-stage fight scenes, and the last episode is suitably impressive, but the show is unremarkable beyond that. You'll quickly notice the series' favorite shortcut: montage scenes. Sequences of still shots set to music are a common fixture starting right from the first episode, with several episodes actually having more than one montage. It feels like the show trying to take up time while conserving as many resources as possible, and the blatancy of these scenes makes them less entertaining. This padding factor applies to the story itself as well. It seems like Cheer Fruits just doesn't have enough story to fill its twelve episodes, so when it isn't stalling for time with montages, it's repeating ideas or overarching character beats. However, there are only so many times you can see Akagi and Kanon engage in an over-the-top improvised stage battle or endure yet another flashback to how much Misaki's life sucks before you start checking your watch.
But even with those issues weighing it down, Cheer Fruits is by no means a bad show. For all its major shortcomings, it does many other things right. The superhero stage show angle is unique, and the series sells that element hard. The various parts of an action heroine production are detailed in ways that remain interesting without getting too bogged down in technical details. While things like on-the-fly script rewrites and repurposed special-effects props will definitely tickle more seasoned fans of tokusatsu shows who are familiar with such elements, they're presented in entertaining ways that engage the audience regardless. The parts of the Hina-Nectar stage show that we see have a goofy charm, loaded down with overt clichés and local product placement. The show's consistency in treating these sequences like actual stage productions (complete with audience participation) does them a lot of favors.
While several of the characters do get left behind in terms of development, the ones that do get focus fare well. The series isn't afraid to add unique quirks for some of them, be it Roko's overt train theming (she actually lives in a refurbished train car) or Genki's late-series turn as a hardass, ashtray-chucking director. Speaking of Genki, while she's certainly not the first disabled character to be featured in an anime like this, putting her in what is effectively an idol show makes her inclusion novel. Her back-and-forth feelings of participation and her friends' efforts to include her in the team feel natural within the context of the series, and her disability seems to be portrayed realistically, with her standing and walking with the assistance of a cane at times rather than being entirely confined to her wheelchair. The mid-season storyline dealing with her sister Yuki explaining the trajectory of her idol career is a strong use of both characters and their circumstances. It's a heartfelt highlight that shines by telling a particular story that only this show can.
That heartfelt sincerity is ultimately Cheer Fruits's main boon. Many times during the series' more generic idol-show moments, it still evokes emotion by being genuine. Perhaps it helps that a bunch of girls playing superhero is the sort of thing that needs to feel earnest in order to work. There are times when the basic melodrama of the show threatens to overtake the interesting parts of its story, particularly with regards to Misaki's crises of confidence. While there's a certain irony to a series that spends time affectionately parodying clichés falling into different clichés of its own, this problem still slows Cheer Fruits down more than necessary. As such, the show feels genuine and entertaining enough to work for people who really need an idol show about a sentai team, but there won't be much appeal for viewers who lack that specific interest.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : C
+ Unique concept, strong first episode, some interesting characters, genuinely heartfelt at times
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