Kanade Amamiya is an athletic high schooler at a loose end since he quit soccer
for completely avoidable and ridiculous reasons. Scouted by an idol agency, he initially has no interest until interacting with boyband members in training (with conveniently contrasting hair colours and aesthetics) brings out his competitive side. If he joins the agency, he will have to work hard with the other rookies towards a performance at DREAM FESTIVAL!, an event where the agency decides which of them will form groups and debut as idols. If he doesn’t join, he gets to carry on his part time job of handing out balloons to small children for no apparent charge. This is a difficult decision which he ponders for most of the episode.
DREAM FESTIVAL! is actually “DREA-FES!!!!!!” in Japanese, the first of this season’s anime with a questionable enthusiasm for exclamation marks and a reminder of why localisation matters. However, it gets a chuckle rather than an eyeroll from me, as the title sums up this show so well: enthusiastic, colourful, and pretty obviously silly. I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting to.
This male idol show knows exactly what it is, and is completely comfortable marketing its charms to tween girls and BL fans. Like Aikatsu, Bandai’s previous idol project, DREAM FESTIVAL! comes with a card gimmick, but it is much more grounded. When the girls in Aikatsu join their idol school it feels completely otherwordly and unreal, while the hard work and hierarchy of the agency in DREAM FESTIVAL! feels real enough that it is likely based on real male idol agency Johnny’s.
And, like Johnny’s, DREAM FESTIVAL! knows how to commercialise the intimacy of its idols. One of the idols is clearly telegraphed as Kanade’s rival/potential lover, and the show delights in having them focus on each other when together, apart, in the shower… The doujinshi practically write themselves. It helps that the only women around so far are parents or faceless fans in the crowd; it’s a straightforward fujoshi cash grab, except most fujoshi will probably be looking for something more sophisticated than the male version of Aikatsu.
The only red flag is the agency’s manager, himself a renowned idol who introduces himself to Kanade by dragging him into a car then manipulating circumstances so they can meet again after Kanade says he has no interest in becoming an idol. DREAM FESTIVAL! plays it for comic value, but his consent and agency are repeatedly glossed over or ignored throughout the episode. The main character of Aikatsu is a middle school girl, and it would be pretty awful to watch this episode with her in Kanade’s place.
That all said, DREAM FESTIVAL! is nothing original or complicated but I had fun watching it and will check out the second episode.