Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49
Sub.DVD - Season One
Kakeru isn't sure what he wants to do with his life, so when a strange man offers him a chance to become an idol, he hesitantly accepts. But Kakeru doesn't really know what an idol does either, and as he begins practicing with four new companions, his conflicted feelings only grow. Their director doesn't sugar-coat things for him - the life of an idol is tough and thankless, a path of constant performance that ends the moment you stop smiling for the crowds. Is there still something to this pursuit, or is Kakeru just being lead down one more wrong road? All he knows for sure is the path ahead is long and difficult to tread.
Shonen Hollywood is reflective of two major emergent trends in anime: shows about idols and shows about attractive young men aimed at a largely female audience. Given that, it'd be easy for many fans to dismiss the show as “not their thing,” particularly in the idol-averse western fandom. That's a shame, though. Shonen Hollywood isn't just a fine example of its genre - it's a sharp and worthwhile show by any metric, illustrating a more grounded approach to idol stardom while offering pointed commentary along the way. It's far from a perfect show, but it's well worth a second look.
Though they differ in a wide variety of ways, most idol shows are united by an underlying optimism and idealism. The real-life struggles of the idol industry might be hinted at, but the ephemeral nature of stardom and the inherent artifice of idol personas are rarely the focus. By contrast, Shonen Hollywood's back cover proudly declares “Youth is fleeting. Fame is forever,” and the show only gets more cynical from there. The show doesn't exactly dip into Perfect Blue territory, but it never lets the audience forget the reality of what its stars are trying to accomplish.
Early on, bright-eyed potential idol Tommy fervently declares that “idols can only live in the world of dreams and sparkles.” Even this line has a meaner edge (it's said in response to the question “how come we never learned how our predecessors broke up?”), but it's reflective of his place as the one cast member who truly believes in the power of idols. The central viewpoint character Kakeru is far more conflicted, often feeling like he's going down the wrong path (to which the director responds “assume that nothing lies before you except mistaken paths”). The other three members of Shonen Hollywood all have their own less-than-ideal motivations: redheaded Shun simply wants a shortcut to fame as a rock star, child star Kira often feels like a vehicle for his parents' ambitions, and center Makki is a near-delinquent looking for a new home.
These stories spool out over a series of character-focused episodes, interspersed between the various trials of their lessons and daily lives. There's little glamour in their pursuit - the only performance they actually put on in this series is a play about airline stewards, and most of the time they're simply toiling for an unseen future. Tommy's enthusiasm is often used just to underline the brevity of any given youthful moment, while the passions of characters like Shun run into the hard rocks of reality again and again. When he goes in for a true musical audition, he learns that he was only valued for his pretty face; when he spurns the demeaning publicity work of variety shows, he's only proving his own lack of dedication to any performative future.
The show fortunately isn't all sobering reflections on the fleeting and artificial nature of fame. The dialogue and character work are altogether excellent, as the cast quickly becomes a group of flawed but very human individuals it's easy to root for. The incidental conversations between the leads are generally very strong, and the show is littered with poignant moments of personal reflection; the characters walking home or grabbing a meal or staring at the TV, thinking back over the trials they've overcome. The overall meditative pacing really works in the show's favor, creating a consistent air of realism and drawing the audience closer to the characters. Occasional narrative highlights offer some rewarding surprises - I was particularly impressed by that air steward play, for example, which worked as a clear metaphor for the whole cast's real-life struggles.
The show's aesthetics are unfortunately much less strong than its writing. There's an awkward stiffness to the character designs; they feel more fit for static posters than animation and often seem ungainly in motion. The direction and visual composition move between competent and excellent, but the characters always feel slightly out of place in their world, and the animation isn't much to speak of. If you're looking for idol performance highlights, you won't find them here.
The music is also pretty lousy. I appreciated that the ending credits were accompanied by a running series of character songs, but the actual in-show music is uninspired to the point of being actively bad. It sounds like elevator music, really - soft jazz more appropriate to a chain cafe than an adolescent drama, full of tepid sax and plonking keys. It's not the worst match for the low-key tone of the material, but it's simply bad music. Funimation's packaging is also quite sparse; nothing is included except the textless opening song, and there's no dub.
Still, for all its aesthetic weaknesses, Shonen Hollywood is a very worthwhile show. The intelligence and broad perspective of its writing really sets it apart in its genre; its characters feel like utterly believable people, and its approach to the industry mixes stern reproach with a kind of earned celebration. Shonen Hollywood admits the artifice, and through doing so actually lends a kind of dignity to the trials of its characters. They're not wild-eyed dreamers playing themselves and doing their best - they're performers, they have work to do, and they're going to get it done. It's nice to see characters like that earn their dreams.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : C-
+ Offers a uniquely sharp take on the path to idol stardom, character writing and dialogue are excellent
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