Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Utano☆Princesama Legend Star
The fourth season of the franchise finds the boys of STARISH getting ready for a final showdown with QUARTET NIGHT and HEAVENS for the honor of singing at the Super Star Sports opening. But there's more to this competition than just the show – Shining Saotome and Raging Otori have a score to settle between themselves, and they're going to use their boy bands to do it! Can HEAVENS and STARISH bring themselves to work together on a series of duets?
Another year, another season of the candy-colored singing sensation Uta no Prince-sama, also known as UtaPri. This season, subtitled “Legend Star,” picks right up from the cliffhanger ending of season three, which ended with a three-way tie for the honor of performing at the totally-not-the-Olympics Super Star Sports international competition. STARISH tied with fellow Saotome group QUARTET NIGHT and brash newcomers HEAVENS for the win, and now the judges have decreed that a sing-off will take place to finalize the true winner. So will we spend all season watching the boys of STARISH and Haruka labor over their newest song? Of course not – Haruka's also supposed to write the music for the other two groups, as well as seven new duets for a HEAVENS/STARISH joint project, all of which will keep her busy enough to stay mostly out of the way while the show focuses on the beautiful boys of her ever-expanding harem.
How you feel about this will depend upon how important having a female self-insert character is to your enjoyment of a reverse harem. While I personally do prefer that, Haruka has become more and more of a nonentity over the course of this franchise, from having a legitimate panic disorder and a slight personality to just being the creepy-eyed songwriter that all of the guys fawn over for no apparent reason. Although being an actual character has never been her strong suit, this continued diminishment of her role is somewhat disappointing, if only because it gives each new group of gorgeous guys less and less reason to fall madly in love with her. It also makes the story cornier than it has to be in some cases, such as the two-episode arc about Otoya's tortured past, which has some surprising heft to it. When things take their expected course with Otoya attempting to run from his problems, the show opts to have the rest of STARISH look for him, rather than Haruka. While this is nicely unusual in a show normally themed around heterosexual romance, it also deprived the story of some actual romance between Haruka and one of her suitors, leaving the only real indication of everyone's feelings to the first and last episodes, where everyone takes turns manhandling her. Of course, the player's choice would determine who she ends up with in the games this is based on, so leaving the anime open-ended may encourage more people to purchase those games; on the other hand, the Otoya storyline really feels like a missed opportunity for actual plot development.
Not that the series is entirely devoid of romance – Cecil in particular has a hard time keeping his hands off Haruka, which everyone seems to accept, possibly because he's both foreign and was once her cat. Meanwhile Van, the rakish member of HEAVENS, instantly declares his passion for Haruka and asks her out, much to Ren's distress. This leads to an unusual moment where one of the STARISH guys flat-out admit that he's in love with Haruka, which is certainly off the beaten path for a show that prefers hints to declarations. Haruka's own feelings remain a mystery behind her Mountain Dew yellow eyes, which is beginning to feel like an issue at this point.
Story has never really been a mainstay of the series, with its focus instead being on the songs and temporary escapades of the characters, and this is where Legend Star sets itself apart from its predecessors. Otoya gets his chance at a darker backstory, Masato addresses his family issues, and Natsuki examines his reliance on Satsuki, in episodes that all give the characters more depth. More surprisingly, Shining Saotome, still voiced by the epic Norio Wakamoto, gets some backstory as well, explaining his relationship with his lifelong musical rival Raging Otori and their dueling theories of entertainment. This subplot has the most impact on the main story, with HEAVENS, which counts two of Raging's sons among their number, having to really think about who they want to be going forward. Their duets with STARISH help, but it's really Raging's interactions with them and his son Eiji that makes them stop and ponder. This has an impact on the finale concert and makes the entire duet plot device feel more worth it in terms of story beyond an excuse to sell more CDs.
Not that the music is a bad thing. The sheer number of songs this season is impressive, and the fact that most of them are genuinely fun to listen to equally so. Depending on your vocal preferences, some songs will be more enjoyable than others – Kousuke Toriumi, who plays Cecil, has a nasal quality to his singing that doesn't always work – but there's a lot of good listening here overall. The final performance songs are less impressive than the duets, largely because all three groups feel the need to say their own name repeatedly (STARISH being the biggest offender). Even if you aren't a fan of the franchise but do like j-pop, the soundtrack is worth checking out.
Utano☆Princesama Legend Star isn't the best example of a reverse harem show. It has a few too many contenders for its increasingly less interesting heroine, Haruka's speed at writing music defies belief, and it makes several questionable plot choices. But it's still a fun show and an improvement over season three. The animation has definitely gone downhill in terms of dance sequences since season two, but the rest of it is good enough that no one looks off-puttingly awkward. If you thought about dropping the franchise with this season, check it out before you write it off. It has most of what makes UtaPri so much fun in the first place and enough variation to make it one of the best guilty pleasures in its genre.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ New developments for some of the characters, entertaining and enjoyable music, Norio Wakamoto's Shining Saotome is always awesome
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