Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 50
Sub.DVD - Season Two
Shonen Hollywood are back, but with their first performance behind them, things are only getting more complicated. The boys are professionals now - singing, dancing, and generally presenting themselves as idols is a job, and in addition to fighting for new fans, the members of Shonen Hollywood also have to deal with their own personal misgivings and the general threat of complacency dragging them down. Fortunately, they've got a dedicated president who's committed to making sure things keep moving at Hollywood Tokyo. Everything ends, but in the land of idols, at least dreams can last forever.
Shonen Hollywood has always been an unusual idol show. Some entries in the genre do dabble in the ugliness hidden behind the industry's glamor, but many of the show's most popular entries focus on a significantly idealized version of showbiz. Love Live sidesteps the issue entirely by presenting itself as a high school sitcom, and Idolmaster tempers its legitimately biting moments with lots of upbeat vignettes and an ultimate can-do spirit.
Shonen Hollywood isn't much like that. Its stars are petty and insecure and not even necessarily dedicated to their profession, and their route to fame is always uncertain. The show's first season only reached their debut performance in its literal final seconds; in this second season, performances are barely highlighted, and have become an everyday occurrence even before the first episode starts. The show has some romantic notions, but they're generally focused more on overall life goals and the ephemeral nature of success than the beauty of idol dreams. Characters complain about misleading magazine interviews, and are reminded to not let fans see them going to the bathroom.
“An idol show, but gritty” isn't any more inherently interesting than the other kind - but as in the first season, Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 50 succeeds through the humanity of its characters, the acuity of its perspective, and the overall grounded reality of its world.
Most of Holly Stage for 50 proceeds as a series of episodic narratives, where conflicts afflicting one or all of the Shonen Hollywood stars offer room for reflection on the idol life and life in general. In the first episode, an illness keeps Makki off the stage for three nights, and his return reveals how easily an assumed life can slip away. Shun frets over giving up his dreams of playing guitar, and Tommy stars in an afternoon detective drama. The future of Shonen Hollywood is threatened, and their forward-thinking dreams are debated and fought for and put to the test.
As with the first season, the principle element elevating these conflicts is how real all the characters seem. While the group's president can get endearingly over-the-top in his skewering of idol pretensions (a characteristic line: “depending on the time and the situation breathing down the idol's neck, they can become gods or sacrifices”), the rest of the cast are just teenagers holding down an afterschool job, all of them with differing feelings about their work and coworkers. Shonen Hollywood is full of incidental conversations that exist mostly just to add texture to their feelings and relationships, and the bonds between the various idols are diverse and understated.
Shonen Hollywood's episodic conflicts often end with the characters learning a lesson in some way, but those lessons never change the fundamental complexity of their characters. It's emphasized several times that the main characters are coworkers, but not necessarily friends - and as the show proceeds, we see that Kakeru and Makki are basically the only two who ever talk outside of work. Kira likes to riff on Makki's unprofessional nature, and Tommy's generally sunny demeanor can turn to bitterness when Kira gets too cynical about their work. The cast possess a chemistry that isn't just expressed in positive relationships; there are rivalries and grudges and friendships here, but the ways they rise above those feelings demonstrate their consistent expression of idol power.
“Idol power” is definitely an ambiguous idea in this show, one whose value is complicated both by overt dialogue and structural choices. The show's first season emphasized how its stars should enjoy their current days of work and play, because success as a performer is always fading. This season carries that thread to a variety of logical ends, like when Tommy's mentor urges him to parlay his current career into more stable acting work before the ride ends. But equally important this season is the harsh professional disconnect between the characters' always-smiling on-stage selves and their backstage mess of troubles and anxieties. The show doesn't condemn the “artificiality” of their personas - in fact, it ultimately celebrates how consistently they rise above their personal feelings to be the reliable performers they are. The show's steady acknowledgment of how difficult it is to constantly perform a perfect self ends up underlining how worthy and hard-working its characters are.
Like with the first season, Shonen Hollywood's consistent character writing and ambiguous themes are occasionally garnished with one-off concept episodes. The season's second episode uses the necessity of character introductions to frame an episode from the perspective of Cat, the theater's live-in horned owl. Later on, Tommy's performance on that detective drama gets its own dedicated episode, as the rest of the idols watch and comment and try to figure out what's going on. And the show's final episode is wholly dedicated to the team's Christmas performance, a fully-animated festival that offers a warm sendoff to the show's stars.
That Christmas performance is unfortunately more or less the only thing in this season that's actually animated. In a less welcome reprise of the first season, Shonen Hollywood's visual execution continues to range from bad to middling throughout Holly Stage for 50. There's an inherent stiffness to the cast's perhaps overly detailed designs, and the characters are often caught in somewhat inhuman expressions for too-long held frames. There's virtually no character acting to speak of outside of that last episode, and the direction is largely just functional as well. Shonen Hollywood is still very far from a pretty show.
The music is fortunately more impressive. Not only does this season feature a wide variety of in-show songs, but every single episode concludes with a different ending song pulled from their repertoire. The show's non-idol soundtrack is a bit more mundane, but the wealth of idol tunes more than makes up for it.
Funimation's season two release is as minimal as the first - no dub, no special features, just the episodes and a textless opening song on two DVDs. But none of that is particularly surprising; Shonen Hollywood is an unusual show in a somewhat less-traveled genre, a production that, like its stars, may never hit the big time. That's a shame, though - Shonen Hollywood is a very compelling anime, and if you're looking for an idol show with strong characters or a semi-cynical bite, I definitely recommend it.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : A-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Continues to offer a compellingly sharp take on idol trials, character writing and episodic narratives remain strong
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