What’s it about? Three screw-up yakuza are forced to transition in order to perform as female idols and make money for their boss.
For a while now, Netflix has had an irritating habit of branding anime that they have exclusive streaming rights to as “Netflix Originals,” even if their sole involvement with the series is as distributors. I’ve always found that a little bit insulting, the cherry on top of the company’s tendency to throw money around without actually trying to engage with anime fandom or how it operates.
But as I watched the powder-pink title card that heralded the beginning of Back Street Girls, proudly proclaiming ownership of this massive turd, it felt beautifully and poetically right. Oh, Netflix. Picturing the face of the acquisitions team as they realized they’d paid their usual exorbitant sum of money not for another DEVILMAN crybaby or Aggretsuko or even Kakegurui but a poorly paced, fugly wreck that would embarrass itself on JibJab circa 2004… well, that mental image really got me through this, the longest 23 minutes of my life.
But let us flay this one step at a time.
There is, of course, the inherently awful premise of forced transition, which diminishes how incredibly difficult it can be for trans people seeking surgery to get medical clearance and funding. It also plays merrily on the dogwhistling idea that treating trans people with an ounce of dignity has turned into some kind of mad slippery slope where anyone can be forced to have gender confirmation surgery because THiS Is THE FUTURE LIbERAlS WANT.
Then there’s the reasoning that I assume was behind the original premise: it’s seen as more permissible to do cruel and awful things to a male character than a female one. Ergo, if the female idols are “””really””” men, then it’s fine to slap them around and push them to the breaking point for laughs—both making it acceptable to watch violence against women (because they’re “really men” you see, because that hasn’t been used as an excuse for violence against trans women or anything) and choking out the possibility for a female perspective on the toxic side of the idol industry. This one is just a magical cornucopia.
First, the implicit suggestion that trans women are still men, even if they transition: sit the fuck down with your “buh it’s just respecting their gender because they think of themselves as men!”, Johnny, I’ll have none of that nonsense today. This premiere mines dozens of alleged jokes from matching feminine faces speaking with deep voices, or of masculine faces with long hair and dresses, and how HILARIOUS that supposed disjunction is. The transphobia is less in the air and more settling in your lungs like argon gas.
Then there’s the supposed saving grace of the premise, that it might serve as a punchy critique of the idol industry. But in watching the premiere, I was struck with nothing so much as a sense of cowardice. Yes, having the idiot yakuza ostensibly means the show can throw out zingers like “IDOLS DON’T POOP” (a common gag that Dirty Pair Flash did better literal decades ago, for the record), but the agonizing slapstick absurdity of it saps it of any actual weight.
IDOLS ARE LIKE THE MOB, DO YOU GET IT, it screamed at me for the dozenth time, its eyes gurning from the motionless two-dollar paper cutouts on screen. And then it went into another stage performance shot almost entirely in stills, that I might better contemplate the choices that had lead me here.
Moreover, having men as the idol characters means the show doesn’t actually have to engage with female characters, trans or cis. Yes, Idol Industry Bad, but we wouldn’t want to have any women on-screen doing unseemly things like sitting with their legs spread or smoking. No, no, those are MANLY behaviors. Can you believe how awful it would be if something like this happened to a man? It simply boggles the mind.
It’s downright laughable in comparison to Asobi Asobase, a show that excelled in letting its young female protagonists be gross, weird shitlords; or Pop Team Epic’s exemplary punk idol sketch “The Documentary.” Even Zombie Land Saga, a show that’s very gentle in its critiques of the industry, at least has the courage to include an aggressive lady delinquent and the decency to treat its trans girl with respect.
The show did wring a laugh from me one (1) time, when the yakuza dolts and their image consultant ended up talking at cross-purposes about “confessing” to someone they admired—which turned out to be a murder confession their previous mentor had taken the rap for. But again, there’s no damn reason that joke wouldn’t have worked with female characters. Nothing about the show demands the shambling, transphobic homunculi who consume its screentime.
But then, I wouldn’t wish a good premise like “interesting female characters tear down a toxic industry” on a show so stagnantly produced, clunkily timed, and agonizingly paced. I’m sure this will get a few views from dipshits looking to “trigger the libs,” but they’ll only be hurting themselves. So I kind of hope they have at it.