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by Ken Iikura-Gross,


Anime Film Review

trapezium Anime Film Review
Based on the 2018 novel of the same name by former Nogizaka46 member Kazumi Takayama, trapezium follows Yu Higashi, a high school girl who dreams of becoming an idol no matter what. She plans to achieve this by gathering three other girls from her fictional peninsula area of Jyoshu. From the south Ranko “Minami” Katori, the west Kurumi “Nishi” Taiga, and north Yu's elementary school classmate Mika “Kita” Kamei. However, as Yu's dreams come to fruition her friendship is tested. Does Yu follow her dreams and sacrifice her friends, or does she give up her dreams for her friends?

trapezium is a strange movie, to say the least. On the surface, it's a rather simple movie that explores youth, their dreams, and the lengths they'll go to achieve those dreams. It's a coming-of-age story wrapped in the veneer of the idol industry. This plays to the strengths of the original author, Kazumi Takayama, a former member of the idol group Nogizaka46. However, rather than focus on an uplifting story, the narrative has an interesting dynamic where an unlikeable character is foisted into a classical comical tragedy role: she begins as a nobody and is elevated to stardom, only to be brought down. What's more, where other idol-based stories incorporate music or use animation or artistic cues to elevate the story, trapezium presents these aspects in a straightforward manner. This doesn't mean there aren't motifs within the movie; they are just downplayed for the main character, Yu “Higashi” Azuma, and her idol group's story.

It's best to understand trapezium through the life experience of Takayama first. Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1994, she spent most of her youth participating in kendo. It wasn't until she entered high school that she developed an interest in idol groups. During this time, Takayama auditioned for the 9th Generation Morning Musume. Unfortunately for her, she was not accepted. Yet, this drive to become an idol didn't leave her. In 2011, at the age of 17, she auditioned for the 1st Generation Nogizaka46. She was a bit on the older end for girls debuting into the idol industry. Yet, Takayama was able to achieve her dream.

While Takayama's background may not seem all that important to trapezium, we can see how her experiences influenced the story in how the main character, Yu, aspires to become an idol. It also raises the question of what kind of behind-the-scenes behavior Takayama may have witnessed during her idol tenure. Where Takayama went the standard route to become an idol, Yu travels down an unconventional path: making an idol group from scratch using manipulative and underhanded methods.

While making an idol group would generally fall under the responsibilities of a producer, in Yu's mind, if she can gather three other unique and, more importantly, cute girls, she can achieve her goal of becoming an idol. Hence, she plans to become close with three girls, Ranko “Minami” Katori, Kurumi “Nishi” Taiga, and Mika “Kita” Kamei; she has “researched” them and plans to use them as a springboard to enter the idol industry. At first glance, Yu's drive is commendable. The American in me can't help but respect her grit and go-getter attitude. But at the same time, throughout the movie, there is a sense that she is just using her friends.

For instance, the way we're introduced to Yu and Ranko is that Yu is at Ranko's school, scouting her. Rather than genuinely connecting with Ranko, Yu uses information about Ranko to gain her trust and become friends. It's an underhanded play and calls into question from that moment if the two are friends. The same is true with Kurumi, and this distorts our perception of Yu's friendships being transactional rather than genuine.

It becomes much worse when Mika enters the picture as she does volunteer work in her free time. For Mika, her volunteer work isn't performative or done for her ego but rather her attempt to bring joy into the world. Yet, Yu sees this as an opportunity for the four girls to become closer to each other and signal they are good people. The volunteer work is also a tool for Yu to get the four girls on TV. In other words, Yu sees volunteer work as performative and a stepping stone to success. It's not something to done out of the goodness of your heart. In fact, at about this point in the movie, this exact thought ran through my head: It's like the Ferengi Rule of Acquisition 211, “Employees are the rungs in the ladder of success… don't be afraid to step on them.”

In a sense, this is your classical comic tragedy as Yu is essentially a no-one who aspires to become a someone–in this case an idol–but only her hubris can bring her down. Without going into much detail, what drives Yu's downfall is while she loves the spotlight, it's clear Kurumi is uncomfortable with the arrangement and has a nervous breakdown in the back half of the movie. On top of this, the standard “scandal” of dating is brought up, and Yu's response is a cold, almost calculated, “I would have never become friends with you.” Yet, despite Yu's conceitedness, there still is some semblance of friendship between the four girls.

Narratively, Trapezuim is a solid movie. But since it occupies the idol genre of anime, you'd expect music to play a big part in the story. Surprisingly, this isn't the case. There are about three main tracks, which are the movie's theme song, Yu, Ranko, Kurumi, and Mika's debut song, and a song the four write the lyrics to. This gives the movie a different feel from series like PriPara, Aikatsu!, or the Love Live! franchise in that it's playing this aspect of the story relatively straight. Where in the above-mentioned series music is a crucial component of the story, in trapezium it's one small facet of the idol industry. Therefore, rather than emphasizing music and dancing, which a small section of the movie does, a larger portion is set aside for the journey to becoming an idol and the Japanese variety TV industry that uses and metaphorically abuses idols.

But this also doesn't mean the music plays no role within the greater theme of the story. There is a point later in the movie where Yu and company are performing the debut song. However, it's revealed that Yu only needs to sing. This questions how many idol groups in Japan lip-sync at live performances–as if Takayama is calling out the industry. More importantly, though, the song the girls are asked to write plays a pivotal role in showing the audience their feelings about maturing into adulthood and their dreams and aspirations. This culminates in a lovely, albeit contrived, scene with the four girls near the movie's end. The animation and artwork in Trapezuim don't try for anything flashy or abstract; the art and animation make the world feel mundane and lived in. Yes, there are some fantastic scenic shots, but those are mainly used as beautiful backdrops rather than to heighten the story.

However, where the art and animation truly shine are in depictions of stars, particularly the Trapezium Cluster in Orion's belt. This makes perfect sense on two different levels. First, one of the reasons Yu aspires to become an idol is that they shine bright and bring happiness to others. Hence a focus on the Cluster is a constant reminder to us, the audience, this is what Yu is aspiring to become, a shining star. However, in a metaphorical sense, the symbolism is far more interesting.

Considering the trapezium Cluster is part of a nebula, it's no wonder Takayama likened Yu, Ranko, Kurumi, and Mika to it. Think of it in these terms. Nebulae are often called “stellar nurseries” as they are objects where new stars form. But what sort of star will be formed is difficult to determine. In essence, the same is true for the four girls. They are only in high school and are still developing into adults. While Yu has a goal in mind, Ranko, Kurumi, and Mika are in the process of discovering who they are, as if they're little stars in the making. Not necessarily idols but stars in their own stories. Thus, the motif of stars, especially the trapezium Cluster, is integral to the movie.

It's a shame there aren't more songs in the movie, but trapezium isn't so much focused on that aspect of the idol industry. Instead, it's a holistic look. While the songs don't add much to the story, the three we get add to the experience. The beautifully grounded animation by CloverWorks also adds to the movie's feel by presenting the world as mundanely as possible with a little extra when the story calls for it. The motif of stars, though, adds to the movie and makes you think about the story in deeper terms.

As I stated above, trapezium is a strange movie. It has interesting themes and looks at the idol industry differently. This is likely due to Takayama's experience in the industry and her perspectives on an idol's life. While the movie is predictable from the opening moments, sometimes predictable is good. Unfortunately, we are experiencing the story through the perspective of an unlikeable character in Yu and the story becomes a slog to get through.

Overall : B
Story : C
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : B

+ The animation is beautiful, and the artwork of the night sky is amazing. The side characters bring a lot of personality to the story.
An additional scene at the beginning of the film showing the effort Yu has already put into her dream would have helped better contextualize her actions throughout the movie. Even at 100 minutes it felt like a 180-minute movie.

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Production Info:
Director: Masahiro Shinohara
Screenplay: Yūko Kakihara
Unit Director: Takudai Kakuchi
Music: Masaru Yokoyama
Original creator: Kazumi Takayama
Character Design: Rio
Art Director: Seiki Tamura
Chief Animation Director:
3D Director: Katsuaki Miyaji
Sound Director: Jin Aketagawa
Director of Photography: Yoshihiro Sekiya

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trapezium (movie)

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