What’s it about? First-year high-schooler Suzumi Hiyori has moved from her tiny hometown to Tokyo in order to chase her dream of becoming a national track star. Her family’s budget is tight between paying for the tuition and supporting her younger siblings, so Hiyori sets out to get a job to pay her living expenses. She’s finally able to find the perfect gig—flexible hours, ¥1500 an hour—as a manager-in-training for teen idol duo LIPxLIP. Hiyori might not be a fan of idols, but she definitely knows these two—because she sits next to them in class, and their personalities are absolutely rancid.
A shoujo-esque coming-of-age series? Idols with art nouveau aesthetics? And its production has more than a ham sandwich to its name? Is it my birthday?
Heroines Run the World isn’t technically a shoujo series, because it’s an anime original (or rather, it’s based on a Vocaloid song? Whatever, gift horse) and thus doesn’t have the more rigid—and increasingly outdated—marketing genre attached. But it sure feels like the best kind of throwback high school shoujo, with its bright colors, comedic chibified asides, interpersonal focus, and plucky average-looking-by-anime-standards heroine. I felt myself smiling in the opening minutes when the show snuck in references to Leyendecker and Mucha, and by the end credits it had become a full ear-to-ear grin.
Hiyori is a lovable protagonist right off the bat. While voice acting juggernaut Minase Inori has pitched her voice higher than I might’ve expected for the role—more Takeya Yuki in School-Live! than Tamaki Mari—Hiyori still feels like an actual teenager than an Anime Girl. Part of that is down to the smartly grounded direction from relative newcomer Hashimoto Noriko, who’s making her debut as series director but whose episode direction bona fides include the likes of given, SARAZANMAI, and March Comes in Like a Lion. Working alongside this talented newbie is series composer Narita Yoshimi, a PreCure veteran who’s also worked on multiple idol series. Between them is a honed focus on quiet, mundane details and a willingness to let scenes breathe so that emotions can sink in.
What especially tickled me is that while Hiyori’s job description seems like it will entail being a glorified babysitter for her classmates, she also befriends several girls right off the bat and has an entire life going outside of her new job as idol manager. Which is a relief, because right now her two charges suck. Yujiro had initially planned to debut as a solo act before being saddled with a partner, while Aizo seemingly carries a huge chip on his shoulder about only being able to debut if hitched to a larger star. The two snipe passive-aggressively at one another and outright threaten Hiyori to keep her mouth shut after she accidentally witnesses Yujiro getting in some legal trouble.
While I’m sure that both of them will turn out to be secretly deep and become kinder as they progress toward maybe-possible-love-interests, I still breathed a huge sigh of relief when Hiyori asserted herself right away during one of their fights. She’s intimidated into silence by them at some points, but this doesn’t appear to be a series where our heroine acts as a resilient emotional punching bag until the male leads decide (without apologizing) to stop being such assholes.
There’s not much in the way of idol trappings outside of the opening credits and a tiny, deliberately cheesy advert, but the art deco-inspired aesthetic and sparing use of those flashier elements have done a great job of making me genuinely excited to see the on-stage segments rather than shrugging at them as a matter of course. Between the great lead and smart direction, this is shaping up to be the surprise gem of the season.