Reviewby Christopher Farris,
Episodes 1-13 Streaming
It's the seventh season of the Selection Project reality show, and aspiring idols from all over Japan have converged to audition for the formal right to compete. Suzune Miyama hopes to represent northern Kanto, living up to the dream inspired in her by previous show winner, the dearly-departed Akari Amasawa. However, Suzune's struggles with a past heart condition give her even more of an uphill battle to success than the competition already presents, not to mention the collection of other girls all vying for the same honor. The group would like to believe they can all make their dreams come true, but can that hopefulness stand up to the rigors of show business, personal secrets, and reality television?
A crowded field like idol anime means a series needs to have its own particular identity to stand out, and Selection Project's approach seems to be to pitch itself as at least three different kinds of shows. Like the gaggle of aspiring performers in its cast who wish to rise to industry success without necessarily knocking others out of the competition, this means that SelePro's collection of content can come off cluttered. It sometimes feels like it's crowding itself out as it builds up expected idol-show elements while finding space between those to experiment with other, occasionally daring story ideas for this kind of material. It means that, in a genre that often rides success on the back of comfortable consistency, Selection Project can feel jarringly uneven at times. It can make for an anime that's the charming kind of messy to take in, as its tone pitches up and down wildly over the course of its run.
The first episode in the tonal trip that is Selection Project might be its most successful. It uses the story's establishment of its reality-show framework to tell a tale of the under-focused entrants in aspiring showbiz: Those that don't make it. Suzune's stumble during her important audition doesn't resolve with a resounding rally that lets her miraculously make up for the mistake; instead, she unequivocally fails, and has to make the bittersweet trip back home, emotionally breaking down on the way as the episode finishes on that downer. It makes for an arresting first impression for the series, leaving us wondering where SelePro will actually go from here, what the real focus will turn out to be, and how it might be structured.
Of course, the anime doubles back on this swerve almost immediately, dedicating the second episode to the process of northern Kanto's first-place candidate conveniently stepping aside so Suzune can take her place as the main character she actually is in this show. And that kind of narrative choice can make for a frustrating distraction throughout SelePro's entire run. It continuously keeps an eye towards the rigors and demands of the professional idol industry, not so much illustrating the seedier underbelly of the business itself, but rather acknowledging the difficulties and stacked odds that come in actually 'making it'. It results in another attention-grabbing shift ten episodes in, where circumstances conspire to see all the girls removed from the competition of the reality show to reach for musical stardom on their own, as a collaborative group.
Like that first episode's failure fake-out, this portion of the story late in its run is one of SelePro's more interesting indulgences. After all the fabricated flourishes endemic to the fictitious reality show format, it's fascinating to see these characters really knuckle down and start from scratch, putting in hard effort and using what they know about the industry and show business to achieve the packaged dream of idol stardom. As well, the story utilizes the preceding content to build towards a commentary on the nature of competitive spaces in the world of fame like this, as well as illustrating the odd, often blurred connection between following fans and opposite aspiring acts. It's a storyline that could have filled up a show all on its own, but works better in the few episodes it's allotted thanks to how much time was spent getting to know these girls and understanding the nuances of their connections with each other.
So it makes for an odd, but necessary criticism to come to the point that the reality-show storyline that takes up most of Selection Project's runtime is probably the least interesting of its surprisingly manifold components. Now I do recognize that my lack of engagement with this part of the plot may simply be due to my own disconnections with the conventions of reality shows as a genre. And there are some effective moments strewn throughout SelePro's simulated reality-show run, letting the characters bounce off of each other and bring out different sides to one another in ways that really pay off by the time we hit that latter story portion with them on their own. But so much else of this primary stretch of the series seems mired in spacing out developments of cooperation between the characters, or repetitions of mechanics just to let some of these trumped-up dramatics last for more episodes than they might need to. In fact, repetition is an issue Selection Project has all throughout its run. Showing each of the girls, on their own, one at a time going through the motions of heading out for the next phase of their gig, interacting with their families and friends doing so, quickly becomes a favorite trick of the production to fill time in episodes. It's an effective way to introduce and establish these characters for us at the beginning, but as the structure is repeated multiple times, even late in the series where we definitely have a handle on who they are and should be more interested in how they work with each other at the points in their careers they're navigating, it starts to feel more like insecure, aimless fluff.
When it's not bogging itself down with that sort of tonal filler, Selection Project is filling the central character conflict of its reality-show story with some of the wildest plot twists I've encountered in a series like this recently. It's worth noting that some of the askew stylings and framing of the early episodes can lead to the odd, halfway-humorous perception that SelePro is a seemingly-cute series with some crazy dark twist waiting in the wings (many others have already commented on uncomfortable similarities between the show's mascot Sumipanda and Danganronpa's Monokuma). While nothing that extreme takes place, SelePro does see fit to tease the most outrageous potential elements of plot-twist contrivances between main characters Suzune and Rena in a way that will have you going "There's no way that's what they'd actually be doing, right?" before confirming that, yes way, that is in fact what's going on. Admittedly, every anime in this arena need a jarring, audacious development or two to help them stand out. But SelePro arguably already had a firm enough identity thanks to its reality-show gimmick and its distinct meditations on failure and starting over that its narrative is bookended with, and this predisposition to melodrama sadly infects the show's plotting through the end, relying on soap-opera swerves and feel-good final victory miracles instead of the more grounded, earnest emotions that carried it through its most successful episodes.
This is a Doga Kobo production, so it does look as good as you might expect, if hamstrung a bit by the same issues of repetitiveness that plague the story. The musical numbers mostly fall back on using CGI models for the girls in them, with one notable exception for their self-promoted performance late in the series, which only adds layers to the importance of that scene. Otherwise, it's those established computer-generated stylings for the girls and the sub-groups they get sorted into, with the performances for the latter even getting recycled in a fashion during the second-to-last episode. And I hope you like that 'Only One Yell' song, because you're going to be hearing it a lot throughout this show. Where Doga Kobo's talents are best put to use is their usual strengths, representing these characters with distinctive movement and animation that helps the 'reality' of their supposed reality show feel that much more lived-in. You might not remember everyone's names by the end, but you'll definitely remember the body language and personality quirks of some of them.
Selection Project being an anime with some specific ambitions that don't work out perfectly would almost seem to be thematically appropriate. It's a show that leads with the seemingly harsh reality check of 'Not everyone can be a winner', only to build up an earnest storyline wherein everyone works together to win after all. There are points where you get the impression that it might have been tighter if it were shortened by a couple episodes, or if the writing's more outlandish indulgences could have been kept in check to focus on the more simple and realistic, but still emotionally raw elements that work best about it. As an idol curiosity, I think it's worth a look just to see how it does things differently from its brethren. But its all-over-the-place approach to welding its various components together means it doesn't quite recover from its stumbles, falling short of aspirational greatness.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Arresting first episode, Later storyline is similarly ambitious and entertaining for it, Great character animation
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