Ensemble Stars is a decent anime. The tension it presents between a culture that carefully curates the best idols, weeding out the vast majority, and one that homogenizes the group in order to avoid throwing anyone aside is an interesting one, made better by the show’s clear allusions to market pressure as the ultimate cause of both of these flawed strategies. Furthermore, it presents great characters, by-and-large: as in most gacha games, they can occasionally feel one-note, but those notes almost always hit, and enough time is spent with each boy that by the end, they’re mostly rounded enough to be charming rather than obnoxious.
Except for Trickstar. See, Trickstar is Ensemble Stars’ main group, the center around which the narrative revolves, even as it often details the struggles and activities of other units. Of course, having a central group is not fundamentally a problem. In this show, as in many others, however, Trickstar is boring. The show’s state as an adaptation of a gacha game explains why. Trickstar is the introductory group, and a unit like that needs to be bland enough that it won’t put anyone off. This aim is accomplished–I didn’t dislike them outright, especially at first–but as time goes on, their lack of texture or specificity begins to drag down the show. This is a bigger issue in an anime, whose structure is totally set, than in a gacha game, where other units can be used and stories can be played as you wish.
Now, this is not as big of an issue for most series as it is for Ensemble Stars, a series with particularly good side characters and particularly bland main characters, to a point that’s difficult to match for almost any other show. But, unfortunately, it still crops up in other locations. A majority of unit-based idol anime, barring those like Love Live where the units aren’t meaningfully present in the TV series, present this problem. It’s inevitable that some groups will be preferable to others among individuals, but the intentional designing of main units to create the most generic, soulless idol pop possible without adding any intriguing theme or note does not do favors for these shows. Idolmaster SideM, Idolmaster Cinderella Girls, and Bang Dream(not technically idols but fairly close) are relatively widely-accepted examples of this issue, and to a lesser extent, it even applies to favorites like Aikatsu. While I don’t personally agree, many charge Revue Starlight with this same problem. Even in series where the main group is narratively on-point, such as Aikatsu Friends, this is often true of the music.
Is there a clear solution here? There seems to be, from my perspective. Hypnosis Mic! isn’t something I’ve engaged with, but in taking up such a strong overall aesthetic, I can’t imagine that its main unit is as bland as Trickstar. Increasingly, fairly mundane idol groups are tired to many, and gacha games are picking up on this. Will this ultimately change as much as I’d like? Who knows. But if Knights had been the leads of Ensemble Stars, it would’ve been a better show.
One thought on “The Central Problem with Idol Anime”
I’ve been checking out Hypnosis Mic lately and the thing is…due to the nature of the work as interactive, there isn’t a “main group” per se. There’s a reason they had to tell their stories in 3 separate manga series – the groups do have a distinct sound (for instance, Shinjuku’s group sound is often called “more mature” than the others’, due to the characters’ ages and songs’ subject matter), but the focus is on individual characters and their relationships. For instance, 4 of the original characters (Ramuda, Ichiro, Jakurai and Samatoki) were a group at one point, but then split up due to some history that has yet to be explained.
I think there is an upcoming rhythm game (plus there’s the fairly-new Osaka and Nagoya groups, plus the anime), which might change the entire dynamic of the series, so the future HypMic could have a proper “main unit”, but Idolish7, which fits what you’re looking for as a rhythm game-based idol anime, would have been a better comparison.