Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
IDOLiSH7 Second Beat!
Things are really beginning to take off for IDOLiSH7 – their recognition is growing, they're getting offers to open or perform alongside big names like TRIGGER and Re:Vale, and even their own dedicated talk show is in the works. It's all perfectly timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the Zero Arena venue, but not everything is coming up roses. Riku's health leads to him needing to take a break from the grueling center position and someone claiming to be the missing idol Zero is making threats against the three groups planning to perform at the anniversary concert – and Re:Vale, who is covering a Zero song, is getting most of the ire. With developments in Tamaki's hunt for his missing sister Aya looming as well, is there any way that IDOLiSH7 can continue their ascent?
Every genre and subgenre has its day in the sun, but idol shows' may have never truly gone behind a cloud, whether the idols are male, female, or a mix of both. There are, however, degrees of success, and while it may be tempting to look at the bits and pieces of a show that have grown stale or feel overused, it's rarely an actual good measure of its quality. That's the danger IDOLiSH7 has been courting since its first season, and even as this second one leans into some very hoary tropes, it still manages to rise above the sum of its parts to be one of the better, if not best, male idol shows around.
This is something that is apparent since the first season: this show isn't featuring characters who are strictly tropes and types, but instead fleshed-out characters who happen to slot into some familiar patterns. Yes, the candy-bright color-coding is all-too familiar, and yes, we can say that there are specific players like “the perky one,” “the foreign blond one,” and “the sickly one,” but the writing isn't content to simply leave things at that. Everyone's got their own personality and personal issues that emerge over the course of the story. Nagi is perhaps one of the best examples of this simply because he's so loud most of the time; with his (kind of atrocious) accent and proud otaku tendencies, not to mention his penchant for cheesy romantic lines, it would be easy to just write him off as the annoying one. But when push comes to shove, Nagi is able to rise to the occasion in a way no one else can. In the case of The Second Beat, that means stepping up and using political skills that none of the other guys or Tsumugi realized that he had. Nagi singlehandedly solves a sticky PR situation that could easily have tanked IDOLiSH7's rise, and proves capable of a professionalism that virtually all of his other scenes make seem impossible. While we don't know why he's so good at this, that feels more like another piece of character development that the story will get to later rather than a plot hole, because what's important in the moment is that Nagi can, much like Iori, transfer his skills when he needs to support the people he cares about.
We see something similar when Iori steps up to offer to be temporary center when Riku's health mandates that he slow down a bit. Previously he's functioned more behind-the-scenes, helping Tsumugi with managerial tasks, which wouldn't suggest that he has any interest in being front and center during performances. (Remember, he only joined because he wanted to help his brother Mitsuki.) In some ways this does make him the perfect person to fill in because he's not a spotlight-seeker and will hand the role back to Riku when he can, but in terms of developing his character, it's another moment that shows what he's capable of beyond the initial impression he gives off. (That he's one of the few characters who seems on the verge of confessing that he has a crush on Tsumugi may also be a piece of this.) Tamaki feels like the one character who stays in his trope lane, but he's also the member with the most desperate backstory, something that forms one of the season's biggest gut-punches towards the final episodes.
Interestingly enough, Second Beat has more in the way of an actual, active villain than the first season did. In part this is because of the position Zero occupies in the popular consciousness of the story's world, so the announcement that Re:Vale plans to cover one of his songs producing backlash makes sense. But the bad guy also ties into both Riku's and Tamaki's pasts and family situation as we learn more about where Aya is and why Tenn felt he had to leave his family to be adopted. Rather than a mustache-twirling monster, the villain is simply unscrupulous and blinded by his glorious visions of his past, and he may not even be fully aware of how he emotionally manipulates people to get what he wants. Tenn, stricken by Riku's apparent rejection of him (which happens twice in this season), may have started to understand what's been going on, and that's worth noting because for the first time it puts him in the more vulnerable position Riku has been in. In Tenn's mind, he was the one who rejected Riku with the end goal of saving him; to be suddenly told by Riku that he isn't needed or wanted is therefore a strong slap in the face. If it isn't brainwashing, it's certainly self-delusion, and Tenn may be working towards an understanding of how the lies he told himself and started to believe may have cost him more than he imagined.
While the increased air time for Re:Vale and TRIGGER definitely ups the character count by a lot, the series still does a good job of keeping everyone separate and easy to tell apart. Largely this is because not all characters get equal time in the story: Momo, Sogo, Riku, and Tenn feel like the “main characters” of this season based on the storylines. Everyone is consistently present and playing a role, but those four form the focus of what's happening. At times this allows for some very good surprises, such as the one at the end of episode fourteen, but even without that it's a smooth way to keep the large cast from overwhelming the audience. All three groups do get what feels like equal song time, which is important in an idol show, with the eponymous group singing the opening theme and Re:Vale providing the ending. All of the songs are catchy in a fun, pop way, and choreography has definitely improved from the first season, especially for IDOLiSH7 themselves. Costumes also look a bit easier to move in while still retaining the fussy ornate quality that tends to come with boy idol shows.
Despite being in a saturated genre and saddled with the dual difficulties of being based on a game and featuring a ton of seemingly tropetastic characters, IDOLiSH7 Second Beat! is the kind of totally engrossing show that it's easy to get hooked on. The plot isn't overly ambitious, time is taken to develop the characters as people, and it still features the sparkly veneer required by its genre. With this season's villain and his role in shaping the people around our main cast, as well as more of the game already ready for adaptation, this is a franchise that manages to overcome its roots and issues and to tell a good story. Even if shows with a cast of beautiful young men singing and dancing aren't usually your thing, the second season of IDOLiSH7 proves that it's still a series worth giving a try.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Characters rise above their tropes, plot development keeps the focus narrow but important. Catchy songs, dancing has improved in both choreography and animation.
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