[Review] Ensemble Stars – Episode 1

By: Vrai Kaiser July 7, 20190 Comments
The four main characters holding their hands out to the camera, surrounded by bubbles. subtitle: welcome to Yumenosaki Academy!

What’s it about? Anzu is the first student of Yumenosaki Academy’s Production Program, making her the only female student amongst a bunch of handsome idols-in-training—all of them fighting for a chance to shine in the exhibition known as DreamFes. However, the school’s sparkling exterior belies a cutthroat ranking system that privileges only the best of the best.

I was entirely ready to write this premiere off as embodying the worst of the worst traits of a lazy otome game adaptation: it uses a POV camera for several scenes, which is a device I hate all the way down to my bones; the self-insert protagonist Anzu has about a dozen lines, all of which are either colorless or parroting words back to a male character Solid Snake-style; the introductions of each Hot Boy feel like clipped route introductions with no regard for how a TV series flows differently from a mobile game, and the overall production has an unsettling plastic sheen.

All of those things are true, but then the last third of the episode had to go and have a heart on me. I’m not entirely sure it has the brains to go with it, but now I’ve got this big pile of sincerity sitting in my lap and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Very frustrating. Rebooting.

A boy pointing a guitar neck toward the camera. Subtitle: Stop playing around!

Right.

It’s worth noting, as always, that while I’ve grown an appreciation for slantways entries in the genre with unusual gimmicks like Revue Starlight and ZOMBIE LAND SAGA, straightforward idol shows are very much Not For Me.

I’m both uninterested in your standard battle-of-the-bands rise to the top plot and lacking the eye to tell whether it’s hitting common tropes with particular nuance. Did I like that the impromptu idol duel turned into a physical fight that involved the liberal battering of an electric guitar? Yes. Could I tell you the history or lack thereof of male idol battle anime? Not really.

A smug-looking pink haired boy surrounded by a gold introductory frame. on-screen text: Tori Himemiya subtitle: I thought you would try something if I let slip that we were busy during lunch.
I do know that this seems like the kind of little shit I could get behind

It wasn’t until the very last scene that the series plays its best hand: Yumenosaki Academy is really only interested in manufacturing identical, soulless idols, and any students below the very top tier shouldn’t expect to get jack in terms of support or reach.

The show pulls its punches a little bit by throwing in an evil, all-powerful student council to pin this on, but it’s still a shockingly direct criticism of an industry notorious for churning out groups and treating any kids who aren’t money-makers like trash. The final lines of the episode lay down a call for out-and-out revolution.

The four leads crowding around Anzu's hospital bed. subtitle: On this day, their revolution quietly tried to begin.
Are you really going to be about the Sisyphean struggle against the industry, show?
Are you really?

It’s a guts-on-the-table sort of pitch, and I admire it. I’m not, however, sure that the series will be able to fully deliver on that premise while still being bound to both its origins as a mobile game and the aesthetic conventions already established in this first episode. I’d love to be surprised, but for now I’d call this one to check out only if you’re already big into the idol genre. Who knows, though—I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground.

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