Shōnen Hollywood - Holly Stage for 49
Episode 9

by Nick Creamer,

Shun finally got his own moment in the spotlight this week, as Shounen Hollywood pulled out its fifth and presumably final character-focused episode. This one stuck to the standard structure (the group is introduced to some new challenge, this challenge highlights the personal issues of one of the protagonists, their issues are ultimately resolved by a former member of Shounen Hollywood), but the issues Shun faced were compelling and well-articulated, making this week's episode one of the best so far.

Up until now, Shun has largely seen Shounen Hollywood as an embarrassing stepping stone. He considers himself a “serious musician,” and this episode directly attacked that fantasy, by forcing the group to participate in a variety of silly, humiliating game show activities. Even nine episodes in, this is still pretty much the only work they can get, and even this work has nothing to do with either their talent or passion. As the camera crew of their first job remark “for being such handsome young men, they sure are entertaining. Plus they'll do anything for cheap.” Shounen Hollywood never forgets that entertainment is far more business than art, far more labor than inspiration.

As the episode progresses, Shun finds himself falling further and further away from his fellow idols - though they seem to enjoy their silly TV appearances for what they are, work like this is contradictory to everything he believes he's in showbiz for. Fed up with the demeaning labor of game shows, he eventually submits himself into a singing/songwriting competition, likely assuming that will be the gateway to the glamorous, “honorable” entertainment work he desires. But when he's in front of the judging panel, it turns out even they are only interested in commodifying him, emphasizing his looks over any musical ability he may possess. His dream is convenient, but his dream is a lie.

Ultimately, Shun is brought back to Shounen Hollywood by the intervention of former idol Kou, whose message fits in perfectly with the show's cynical-yet-earnest worldview. He agrees that the work Shun is forced to do is humiliating, and his answer is “so what?” He challenges Shun's defense of “all I want to do is sing,” rightly pointing out that if Shun only wanted to follow his art, he'd be doing it on the street if he had to. Shun's in this business because he wants to be famous, wants to be seen as “cool,” and if that's the case, he needs to be honest about it, and work for what he wants. Kou finishes by demonstrating his own embarrassing, ridiculous “signature phrase” from his idol days - a maneuver nobody could actually make “cool,” but which he feels no shame in showing off anyway. The only thing that can actually make you seem confident and cool is commitment to your work - entertainment may be a business, but that just means you have to embrace that, and work hard in whatever you're forced to do.

On the visual side, this episode was fairly bland overall (as Shounen Hollywood tends to be) but had some great single shots throughout. Shun staring at his muddied hands, the slowly tapping back faucet he's forced to wash himself with, his moment of self-reflection on the train - all of these are on-the-nose bits of visual storytelling, but they're used well, and don't draw undue attention to themselves. The key here is the writing and message, and both were on point this week. The show may seem cynical, but its bluntness is ultimately a service both to its characters and audience. It pops holes in soap-bubble dreams in order to champion honest engagement with your world.

Rating: B+

Shōnen Hollywood - Holly Stage for 49 is currently streaming on Funimation.

Nick writes about anime, storytelling, and the meaning of life at Wrong Every Time.

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