Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task
by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task ?
Community score: 3.7
If you had told me ten weeks ago that the penultimate episode of Heroines Run the Show would end in a bloody punchout, I'd have been mighty incredulous. Yet here we are. Given the incredibly knotted circumstances, it feels like the most appropriate note to go out on too. This is a very strange installment that's all over the place in terms of tone and temperament. It fits the messiness of the subject matter, but the degree of melodrama feels incongruous with the relatively easygoing nature of the anime so far.
The big Chizuru twist doesn't exactly come out of nowhere. Last week telegraphed pretty heavily that she took the “incriminating” photos, and more eagle-eyed viewers probably could have picked up on the similarities between her and the flashy LIPxLIP superfan we've seen featured at their events. This might also be common knowledge in the HoneyWorks Cinematic Universe, in which case there may be audience members who have been expecting this confrontation from day one. Regardless, this is still quite the big web of betrayal to drop on us this late into the show, but I'm more concerned about the treatment than about the timing.
Basically, there are two important threads in this episode: the revelation/exploration of Chizuru's obsession, and Hiyori's attempts to understand and ameliorate the situation. I'll start with the latter, because it's more congruous with what we've seen from Heroines so far. Chizuru did an objectively heinous thing to Hiyori, breaching the trust of a good friend, and Hiyori has every right to sever that friendship at the very least. That's probably the smartest thing to do, if I'm being honest. Hiyori, however, wouldn't do that. She's hurt, but she's also empathetic—to a fault, arguably. That's just who she is, though, and we have plenty of evidence of that. It's part of what makes her such a likable protagonist, but I can also understand how this pisses Chizuru off even more. Human beings are irrational creatures, so sometimes you dislike an objectively good person, and every facet of their goodness only reinforces how much you dislike them.
Like Fruits Basket does with Tohru, I appreciate that Heroines takes the time to show that Hiyori's niceness isn't a result of her being a doormat. Being that nice takes a concerted effort, and Hiyori can't do it alone. She has Juri's help, she listens to Mona's advice, and the boys also watch her back. These, in addition to her own conviction, are the support pillars that keep her from collapsing. She lends Chizuru the benefit of the doubt not because it is easy, but because it is hard.
The fundamental disconnect in this episode arises because the writing and framing don't give Chizuru the same benefit of the doubt that Hiyori does. Once we're given access to her inner thoughts and private life, Chizuru looks and acts exclusively like a creepy stalker. She's drawn at low angles with flushed cheeks, wide eyes, and heavy breathing. She sighs dreamily at pictures pinned to her locker. She scribbles out Hiyori's face with a violent flourish of permanent marker. While I've celebrated Heroines embrace of clichés before, these are so shallow as to make the whole thing feel parodic. Maybe that's the intent, and it's the series' way of keeping this twist from being too much of a downer, but it doesn't mesh at all with Hiyori's more measured perspective.
You could call me a hypocrite here too, because last week I was clamoring for the show to acknowledge the presence of toxic fans. This is true! I'm glad to see the writing push back harder against Hiyori's naivete, and Chizuru's actions should be condemned. But it's all surface-level. Certain scenes would have had Chizuru twirling her mustache if she possessed one. Fandom troubles do not arise solely from bad people becoming bad fans. There are systemic issues at play, both inside and outside the idol industry, that contribute to these obsessive tendencies and destructive behaviors, and this episode doesn't engage with them at all. I'll grant that doing so would put a lot of last-minute meat on Heroines' soon-to-be-cleared plate, but the alternative is this half-cooked villain arc demonizing a single girl.
And now I'll contradict myself again and say that I loved the climax. If you're going to embrace melodrama, you might as well go all the way and stir up a fistfight. Hiyori says bullshit! Chizuru calls her a cocky little twerp. Juri's egging them on, hooting and hollering in the background. It has the chaotic energy of an actual high school hallway brouhaha, and I feel like we so rarely get that in anime—and especially not between two teen girls. There's no crying and no slapping; it's just hormonally fueled rage and throwing hands. It's cathartic! Even though she's the one who gets clocked, Hiyori proves she's willing to beat up her friend if that's what it takes to save their relationship. That's good stuff.
I fully expect Hiyori and Chizuru to reconcile in the finale, and if that comes with Chizuru receiving more three-dimensional treatment as a character, I'll probably forgive some of this episode's extremes. As it stands, however, the uncharacteristically cynical tone of this week's entry puts it at odds with the rest of the show. That's neither all bad nor all good. It just leaves a weird taste in my mouth, and with only one more week to go, I don't know if Heroines will have enough time to wash that out.
Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Steve is a world-renowned golf expert and commentator, but if you just want to read his thoughts on anime and good eyebrows, then there's always Twitter. Otherwise, catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.
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