Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Episodes 1-17 Streaming
Tsumugi Takanashi has just come to work for her father's talent agency, and her first job is to become the manager for a new male idol group he's putting together. Tsumugi's determined to do her best but quickly finds herself overwhelmed; fortunately, the guys are more than willing to do what they can to help out. The group quickly finds its rival in the popular trio TRIGGER, whose lead member is the twin brother of the new group's center, Riku. Each of the boys has a very different personal reason for being part of this new endeavor, and IDOLiSH7 and Tsumugi must work to balance those goals with the increasing demands of the idol music industry around them.
If you've ever felt your credulity strained to the breaking point by idol shows like B-Project or Uta no Prince-sama but haven't given up on the genre yet, you owe it to yourself to check out IDOLiSH 7. While it certainly isn't free of all of the more bizarre tropes tales of newly minted idols are prone to, it does its best to work with them in order to create a more grounded, plausible story and to create characters who are more than just their signature colors. Yes, it's still gimmicky, but there's some real meat to this show that ultimately makes it one of the most interesting entries into its field.
The story, based on the game of the same name, follows the seven young men who have been scouted by Tsugumi Takanashi's father to form a new idol group. At first it seems as if we'll be placed in Tsugumi's shoes for the entirety of the show (and in fact she's the player character in the game), but while she is important, she's also very clearly a side character. The boys interact with each other and people outside the agency much more than they end up doing with Tsugumi, and while there are hints made towards two of the guys having crushes on her (Yamato and Iori), if there can be said to be anything close to a romantic interest, it would likely be Gaku from their rival group TRIGGER. Therefore instead of focusing on how this group of hot guys is magically drawn to the ordinary woman in their midst, the story becomes about those guys overcoming their issues and forming a successful idol group.
To this end, some of the characters feel more developed than others. Riku, whose older twin brother Tenn, left their home to be adopted without an explanation and now fronts TRIGGER, is the most obviously conflicted; he wants to sing and become an idol, yes, but he also really wants answers from Tenn and to prove that Tenn was wrong to leave him behind. Similarly, Tamaki is trying to get his face out there in order to find his younger sister, who was adopted by a different family member when they were little. Even though this sounds similar, that's only on the surface; Riku is committed to IDOLiSH 7 from the get-go and is going to go through with it even if he never really reaches Tenn, whereas Tamaki is willing to fly off at a moment's notice if he thinks something different will help him find his sister, IDOLiSH 7 be damned. These motivations naturally make both Riku and Tamaki stand out a bit more than Mitsuki, who just wants to be an idol, and Yamato and his “why not?” attitude.
If any character ends up standing out, however, it would have to be Nagi, if only because he makes a remarkable shift over the course of the series from “incredibly irritating” to one of the best characters in the show. Nagi is the inevitable blonde foreigner, obsessed with anime and with a terrible accent and a habit of using random English words in his speech even though he's from Northern Europe. At first it seems like he's going to be the most rote character of them all as he smarms his way around the ladies and makes grandiose proclamations and gestures. By about halfway through, however, we come to realize that his atrocious speech patterns and flaky attitude are largely a front, hiding someone who really does have a good knowledge of people's hearts. He may never truly become the glue that binds them together, but he is at least the rubber band that keeps pulling them back to center. This makes me wonder if his accent isn't deliberately played up to be as annoying as possible, because it does an excellent job of throwing viewers off, therefore making his character development much more impressive.
As a whole, the series does a good job with making almost everyone feel like a believable person with human issues. TRIGGER is much more clearly a “rival” than a “bad guy,” which is an important distinction, especially since there is a much more sinister figure willing to do whatever they can to stymie IDOLiSH 7's successes. (Their smear campaign in tabloids and social media is impressive with its precision targeting of each member's weakness.) More important, however, is that those successes are not overnight, and the group has some significant setbacks that they themselves cause before they begin to garner positive attention. Tsumugi is an inexperienced manager working with people who haven never been in show business before; pitfalls galore await them and for every one they dodge, they fall into another. That said, the series doesn't let us wallow in despair for too long: the boys always have a fan or two cheering them on, and part of the joy of it is watching that number grow to the point where in the final episodes when Riku mentions performing to an empty stadium, we hear a voice from the audience call out, “I was there!” is rewarding for both performers and viewers alike.
The art for this series is based on original designs by Arina Tanemura, which don't come through quite as distinctively as you might think. They are still attractive and fairly distinct as far as telling characters apart goes, which is important with such a large cast. Performance costumes are still much frillier than many Western viewers would expect, but the choreography is more tailored to masculine bodies than we often see, not requiring them to shake something they don't have. (And while we're talking about choreography, can we take a moment to remember that one really excited air traffic control guy in the opening theme?) Most of the dancing is still done in CGI, but enough strides have been made that it isn't as jarring as it could be.
IDOLiSH 7 could have benefitted from being at least twenty episodes instead of the odd seventeen, because the last two episodes really do feel rushed. Enough things are left hanging that a second season seems possible; hopefully it will have better pacing than this got towards the end. With measurably less second-hand embarrassment than the genre usually entails and a much more grounded storyline wherein the idols have to actually work hard for success instead of relying on Pretty Plot Magic, IDOLiSH 7 is among the best of the boy idol shows. It still wallows in some of the trappings of its genre, but it's a good viewing experience overall with songs you may find yourself humming long after the show is done.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ More grounded storyline, distinct characters, catchy music
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