What’s it about? Fifteen-year-old Sakura Ino moves to Tokyo to pursue her dream of becoming a pop idol… but when she gets there, it’s not quite what she expected. She finds herself in the Mouse House, a dormitory of washed-up child stars, unpopular models, and failed musicians. With the production company threatening to kick them all out and demolish the building, these misfits are forced to form an idol group in order to try and save their home.
Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, like the sweet treat in its name, is bright and sugary, but probably does not contain much nutritional value… and in fact might make you feel a bit off if you consume too much of it too quickly.
I experienced a weird feeling of dissonance watching this premiere, which I think was unintentional. Ino signs up with her new manager under the pretense of being trained as a professional idol, only to be bamboozled when she arrives. It’s not glamor that awaits her, as it seems she was promised, but a dingy dormitory house in the not-so-fashionable outskirts.
Ino was recruited by said manager as the final step in a scheme to save the Mouse House—in other words, our plucky heroine’s dream has kind of been co-opted by the production company. This is, of course, played as a gag and the quirky setup for the adventures ahead, but I sort of just felt bad for her.
“We have to win a music contest/get famous/earn our own money to stop our beloved place from shutting down!” is a genre unto itself (maybe it’s just the fact that the dorm is called the Mouse House, but it’s making me think of Disney Channel movies). However, I feel like when I’ve seen this sort of underdog story before, it’s had a different angle and context. The dropout idols don’t want to save Mouse House because they love it or because it holds special memories, they need to save it because they’re going to be left homeless and without a base for their careers otherwise.
Two of them are actively against the idea, but are essentially forced into it. Again, the show plays this off as a joke, with the girls yelling at their manager for being self-motivated and complaining comically that they don’t want to be “clowns.”
The tone overall is light-hearted, and they’re happy to lean into it by the end of the episode, with an enthusiastic musical number to boot. But there’s an oddly cynical undercurrent to this whole enterprise. They’re being forced to perform so they can keep a roof over their heads.
As with any series about pop idols, the question arises: is this going to critique or explore the harrowing reality of the industry in any way, or is it going to buy into the fantasy? Dropout Idol doesn’t seem to have a serious bone in its body, even when dealing with ostensibly serious things, so I can foresee that it’s going to lean more towards the latter option.
And look, on one level that’s fine. If you want to switch your brain off for twenty-three minutes at a time and watch some candy-colored teenagers goofily try to follow their dreams, Dropout Idol could be for you. It seems sweet in places, the impromptu song in front of the supermarket that served as their first “gig” is fun, and I’d be genuinely interested in seeing how the different friendship dynamics in the group unfold as things go ahead.
But there are a lot of things that grate on the experience. The characters’ lack of agency is continually played for laughs, including a scene where the manager applauds Nina—a shy former model—for accidentally popping her shirt buttons open and revealing her cleavage, as it got the group’s first video high ratings. Nina is mortified by this, but the camera and the comedy framing pays this no heed.
The fanservice (particularly the ending credits) is of that particularly icky kind where it swings between “look how adorable these girls are!” and “look how sexy these girls are!” Nina has thus far been primarily characterized by her large bust and her embarrassment about it. There are jokes about how Roko, the former child star, ought to play up her childlike appearance to appeal to prospective fans. There’s a fleeting, but still irritating, joke about Ino being “too chubby” for the industry, which I can only assume will spiral into more casual body-shaming for laughs in future episodes.
Maybe I’m the one being cynical and overthinking it, but the whole time I was watching the antics between these cute-girl characters play out, a voice in my head was asking, distressed, are these kids okay??
Dropout Idol could just be a typical silly, fluffy, fan service-y series, and we could just leave it at that. But the way the characters’ lack of agency is repeatedly brushed over and played as a joke soured the fruit tart for me.