[Review] Marginal #4 – episode 1

After a group of four 17-year-old idols debuts successfully, the members have to adjust to life as normal high schoolers by day, performers by night.

This was an unexpected pleasure, a great example of aiming to do something simple and doing it well.

The four idols sit in a convertible car, Nomura R in front holding a bunch of flowers with Nomura L next to him, Rui in the backseat watching Atom, also in the backseat and cheering enthusiastically.. Nomura R is looking at the flowers in his hands and smiling. Subtitle: "I feel like a princess."

The first 10 minutes or so are fairly basic idol show fare, starting with their debut performance. It goes well and they introduce themselves somewhat haphazardly to the press. We learn that the leader is Nomura R, a gamer at heart. His younger twin, Nomura L, is also in the group, and seems to be more confident than his brother. Red-haired Atom is all enthusiasm and swagger, while thoughtful, blue-haired Rui has been in an idol unit before, something only journalists are keen to discuss now.

More experienced idols watch and critique their performances behind the scenes. Rui is a notch above everyone else and R is so far an insufficient leader, but the fans were pleased. They are raw talent, well practised but a long way from polished. This stage of development will be familiar to anyone who has followed Japanese idol groups for any length of time; it takes a lot of shared performances to make an Arashi, and established groups all have awkward debut interviews floating around online.

A boy in school uniform stands confidently, hands on hips and a basketball under one arm, facing Atom, L and R in school. Subtitle: "But don't worry, I'm not suspicious. I'm from the basketball club."

Once the idol bit is done, it drops into an extended manzai routine between the three group members, suddenly no longer an idol show but a high school comedy. If you don’t enjoy people saying ridiculous things then being smacked down, or over-enthusiastic club captains chasing coveted people around the school to recruit them, this may not be for you. For my part, I laughed out loud at some of these absurdities.

Most of my exposure to Japanese idols has been in their appearance on quiz and variety shows when I lived in Japan, plus YouTubing some of my favourites afterwards. These groups work together for so long, so closely, and are so used to being on camera that they’ve perfected off-the-cuff manzai style interaction of the type you see in this show. For it to be replicated by fictional idols is a smart move. This style of comedy won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but I bet it’ll please fans in Japan.

Atom swaggers into school talking to Nomura R and Nomura L walking behind him. Subtitle: "You know how that happens in shojo manga?"

The other thing that will please fans of male idol shows are the clear fujoshi entry points. Subtext and meaningful exchanges are layered in early on and distributed evenly through the show. Marginal #4 knows exactly what it is, who it is for and how to appeal to its intended audience. Ultimately, it’s still an idol show so these pairings won’t cross any lines in the text; it’s just ensuring there is plenty of fodder for fanfiction, fanart and general fan enthusiasm around pairings within the group.

I’ve not really watched past the first episode or two of idol shows before, but I plan to keep watching this one. I lived in Japan during the height of Johnny’s before AKB48 really rebalanced the Japanese celebrity scene back towards female idol groups, meaning you could rely on finding Johnny’s idols on most prime time shows I watched. I love live action Japanese TV, I love the manzai dynamic and I enjoyed this far more than I was expecting too. I might drop it in weeks to come, but for now it’s harmless fluff that made me laugh.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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