What’s it about? Kiyose Akira spends his spare time singing on a streaming site as “KIKUNOYU.” For him, it’s a hobby: that is until sMiLEA Production scouts him to be trained as a budding talent. From there, Akira becomes one of three in the new group Protostar and starts his rise to new, musical heights!
I regret to inform you that my expectations of male idol anime have been set rather high this season due to TECHNOROID OVERMIND. I really had to temper my expectations going into UniteUp! due to the unexpected direction that premiere took. After all, you can’t insert robotic murder into every anime.
However, I knew from the first second UniteUp! started that maybe, I’d found my white whale: a male idol anime that I could wholeheartedly vibe with again. The music drew me in, the animation charmed me: but was that enough for me to recommend this?
Let’s find out.
Episode 1 kicks it off with a music and dance sequence that actually looks really good: the models are very dynamic, and because of the use of cell shading, having a real complexity of movement and look like they’re 2.5D. It’s enough to get a new viewer hype to whatever quirk will be thrown our way with this new iteration of idol boys.
And what’s the quirk? It’s actually just a very realistic instance of scouting a male talent via streaming. It’s very grounded, and for that, I actually appreciate what this premiere is trying to do. It sets the tone for a really good origin story for protagonist Kiyose Akira, said scouted male talent.
And that’s really what this premiere is: Akira’s beginnings as a singer and an idol with promise, but no polish–at least not yet. He’s still got a long way to go, but also…that’s just enough of a hook to get viewers who aren’t even interested in idols invested.
I’m going to try and limit my gushing to just a matter of small paragraphs but y’all? UniteUp! is really, genuinely good. There’s so much body diversity, so much character diversity, and the show looks nice. It’s not just about Akira becoming an idol: it’s about his life around music, about his family’s bath business, about his friend Kacchan using the name of Akira’s family’s business–Kikunoyu–as his performance name. It’s genuinely the most normal an idol series has been, in my experience, for a long time, with the quirk being everyday life versus androids or a sentient wall.
That, paired with the absolutely stunning animation, makes for a really solid premiere that paints a picture of who Akira is: a young man with a very normal life living above a family business. Rather than being surrounded by classic beauties, Akira is surrounded by a variety of bodies and ages, none of whom are idols. His life is like my own, like any viewer’s life: pleasantly mundane and utterly relatable.
That said, shoutout to Akira’s mother being overjoyed that her son’s fame is gonna bring in the big yennies to the bathhouse: it’s funny, it’s a running joke, and I hope his momma gets loads of screentime as Akira’s fame continues to shine a light on Kikunoyu.
I can’t even pretend: I really liked UniteUp! a lot. There’s a lot of vitality to this premiere, and that’s not just because the show looks good. There’s a lot of thought into the origin story of our lead, and a lot of skillful pacing that actually builds up Akira saying yes to becoming an idol. It’s not something immediate: rather, CloverWorks paces things, lets the story marinate, and only then kickstarts Akira’s future as an idol. There’s a lot of pathos between Akira and Kacchan that help that too: their friendship is easily one of the best aspects of this premiere.
Part of why I continue to go so hard for idols is for shows like this: shows that understand how to bring heart to stories about music and making music. Premieres that understand that it’s not enough to just throw a character into being an idol: we, the viewer, need to understand why, need to connect with them so that when we stan, we stan with our whole hearts.
UniteUp! honestly feels like that show.
I genuinely think that this might be one of the strongest premieres yet: it’s engaging and. If you’re not into idols, or even have 0.00001% interest in them, consider giving this a try: I think it’s one of the best examples of what a lovingly crafted idol anime can be, and an excellent example of what it might become in a season.