Spoiler Note: This series review is free of major spoilers, but you should still take care if you have a serious spoiler allergy
Since its release in August 2015, the smartphone game Idolish7 has continued to increase in popularity and recently surpassed 2.5 million downloads. Although it doesn’t quite reach fellow male idol smartphone game Ensemble Stars! in terms of downloads (which recently hit 3 million), the Idolish7 anime adaptation has caused an explosion in the series’ popularity overseas and I can’t tell you just how happy it makes me. Although I’ve been aware of the series since it was first released, I didn’t actually download it until late 2016 and have been an avid fan ever since. The game’s great reputation comes not just from its intuitive rhythm game system, catchy tracks and popular male voice cast- but from its long and well-developed story. The premise is quite simple and typical of the genre (a group of young idol wannabes work hard to try and reach their dream of becoming successful idols), but unlike many series in the male idol genre, we get to delve deeply into the characters, their personalities and character development. We also see the darker sides to the idol industry and human nature in general (especially in the later parts of the story). The story of Idolish7 is split into 3 parts, each of them longer than the previous one, and the anime covers Part 1. The game has 12 main characters, but 2 of the characters (Momo and Yuki from re:vale) aren’t formally introduced until Part 2 (but you may have noticed hints to them in the anime series). Being a fan of the franchise, I was a little apprehensive as to the anime adaptation, not just because I was worried they would not adapt the original work well, but because I knew the anime would be the first contact many overseas anime fans would have to this wonderful franchise. Male idol anime have a history of getting a bad reputation overseas, so my worry is surely understandable.
So, as an existing fan, what did I think of the series? Thankfully, it was very enjoyable and a great adaptation. I was additionally very excited to see positive reviews pouring in from around the world! This series is strong both as an adaptation and as a stand alone anime. Idolish7 both embraces the tropes of the idol genre and breaks them. This is one (
fangirl’s) viewer’s series review of the TV anime Idolish7! This review is free of major spoilers, but there may be the inevitable tiny spoiler of two, so please be cautious.
Bright and Youthful, The ViSUALS of Idolish7
The first thing I want to talk about it the character designs. The original character designs for the game were created by Arina Tanemura. You may know her for such manga as Kamikaze Kaito Jeanne and Full Moon wo Sagishite. We even get to experience some of her wonderful illustrations of MEZZO” at the end of Episode 12. As is common in the idol genre, each character’s visual design is based on their theme color, which is usually expressed in their hair or eyes. The designs are not groundbreaking, but unique enough to not be easily mixed up with characters of other franchises.
Now, Tanemura’s designs are great, but she is a manga artist, and that means that somebody else needs to adapt those designs to be suitable for animation. The members of IDOLiSH7 and TRIGGER (and of course re:vale) have been adapted for animation by multiple different companies for their music videos. We have the cute versions in the Memories Melodies video by Bones, slightly more mature-looking guys in the Nanairo Realize video by MAPPA and more. Each of the designs have their own charm and uniqueness to them. For the TROYCA anime adaptation, the boys are quite similar to their game designs but with a slightly brighter and more polished look to them. Animator Kazumi Fukagawa, who adapted the designs for the games and works as an illustrator for the series, worked as the character designer for the anime series.
The visuals in the anime in general are very brightly colored, perfectly fitting the atmosphere of the series. Unfortunately the animation quality hit a slump in the later episodes, but it was certainly worth waiting for the final episodes as the animation quality picked up. I also can’t mention the visuals without talking about the CGI! Yes, it is a little jarring as there is a gap between the CGI performance scenes and hand-drawn animation, but as far as CGI goes it isn’t that bad. It seems there has been a lot of improvement over the last few years in making CGI animation that mimics 2D. I don’t think the live scenes from this anime are going to age all that well, but that’s only because I have high hopes of the CGI techniques being perfected in the future!
The anime opening was entirely CGI, so there wasn’t as much of a jarring effect. The CGI (only for the opening) was produced by Kamikaze Douga, whose music video for Restart Pointer was extremely popular with fans.
More than Just Activating Moe Senses- The STORY of Idolish7
The story of Idolish7 covers the rise-to-fame of a young idol group with a teenaged manager. We see them overcome difficulties, make peace with their rivals and see their hard work pay off. It isn’t all that different to other idol anime, or even sports anime! Of course, each character has been carefully crafted to set off particular moe senses, but rather than talk about that here I suggest you look at my character introductions to IDOLiSH7 and TRIGGER (beware the latter article will contain some spoilers). However, there are some scenes that really stand out. Without spoiling, I want to say the scene involving Tamaki’s reunion at the TV studio was something that not only stood out in the original game story, but was adapted so well that it was uncomfortable to watch. We see the effects of stress and overwork (in particular Sogo and his uncle), the corruption in the entertainment industry and one character even leaves his family for ‘reasons’. Along with difficult storylines comes character development. A lot of it in fact. Every character gets some development in one way or another, some more than others. However, it is very understandable if you feel the development is lacking, or that the story doesn’t feel conclusive. I felt that too. However, that isn’t because it’s a poor story or adaptation. It’s because the story isn’t complete. The characters still have a lot of growing up to do, both in IDOLiSH7 and TRIGGER. In fact, a lot of the final scenes were specifically building up to Part 2, with glimpses of a certain sister and adoptive father, Tenn’s words to Riku on the stage and such. So, as a standalone series it may feel like there were too many unanswered questions, but please understand that this is on purpose and instead you should be crying out for a season 2!
Poppy, Cute and So Damn Catchy – The MUSiC of Idolish7
A lot of the tracks from this anime are taken straight from the game and appear at the same point of the story. IDOLiSH7 tend to go for the more youthful, pure and poppy sound, whereas TRIGGER have a more mature, sexy side and a wider list of genres in their repertoire. MEZZO”, on the other hand, specialize in romantic ballads that perfectly show of the lovely vocal skills of Atsushi Abe and (even more so) KENN. I’ve always liked TRIGGER songs the most, but I find IDOLiSH7 songs tend to stick in my head the more I listen to them. This is no exception for the original songs from the anime. I didn’t think much of ‘Wish Voyage’ the first time I heard it, but now that I’ve heard it hundreds of times (not even exaggerating), I find it extremely catchy. On the other hand, the TRIGGER ending ‘Heavenly Visitor’ was love at first listen! There were many original songs for the anime and they have come full circle and of course been added to the game. I actually think we were quite spoiled getting not only so many original songs, but also the i7 rearrangement of MEZZO”’s ‘Miss You’. All in all it was great.
On the OST side, we got a soundtrack by Tatsuya Kato. He is most famous for creating the Free! and Food Wars! soundtracks and will also be providing the background music for 2019’s Ensemble Stars! anime. We had a typical anime idol sound, with lots of strings and plinky plonky music for the emotional scenes. However, the fun dance music gave this series a fresh approach to background tracks and it was a delight to listen to. In fact, back when I saw the first scene of the anime back in August 2017, the background music was what stood out the most too me. I HIGHLY recommend checking out the OST if you can, and some tracks I especially love are ‘Let’s Shoot’, ‘Story of RAiNBOW’ and ‘hope of SEVEN’. I of course love ‘Seven Ways’, which is a rearrangement of the game’s main theme! The soundtrack is called ‘Story of Rainbow’ and I am listening to it as I type this.(๑╹ω╹๑ )
Hardworking, Good-Natured and Very Adorkable – The FEMALE LEAD of Idolish7
I want to take a moment to talk about the Tsumugi Takanashi, the female lead of Idolish7. Like most otome games, the female lead did not have a voice in the smartphone game, although she does have a sprite and appears in some of the story’s CGs. Most female leads of otome games tend to have quite bland personalities (mostly so the player/viewer can project themselves onto the character), but they are generally all sweet and fit the stereotypes of ‘an ideal Japanese lady’. I would definitely say that Tsumugi is an ideal lady, but her personality was well-defined in the game. At just 18 years old, she is working day and night to make IDOLiSH7 successful, but never resorts to unethical methods. She is GOOD at what she does, and provides a lot of comfort and support to the members of the group. Although there may have been hints at some of the boys starting to see her as a member of the opposite sex, she is very clear in that she is “married to the job”. In fact, the only very obvious crush we see in this series (looking you, soba guy), makes a lot of sense when you learn the history of their parents. I liked game Tsumugi but I adored anime Tsumugi. Satomi Sato’s voice acting gave Tsumugi that cute level of adorkableness that made her stand out as her own character. Although she rightly takes to the backstage to let the boys of IDOLiSH7 and TRIGGER shine in this anime, she is an important character in this story in bringing everybody together. Her name ‘Tsumugi’ has that very meaning, as it can mean ‘to assemble’, especially in the case of spinning a tale or spinning weaving together a story. Also, I watched her reaction to Nagi kissing her hand about 10 times.
“Shaking Your Heart” – Or More Like Shaking Up the Idol Genre
First up I think it’s important to note that the Idolish7 was always well-suited to be adapted into anime as it already had a well-developed story. To explain more clearly, let’s take the defining anime of genre, Uta no Prince-sama, as an example. UtaPri was originally a series of romance games, and the player would choose one character at a time and play their story. It would be impossible to adapt all the stories into anime as the characters don’t interact all that much, instead interacting with the player. That’s why the anime adaptation has an almost completely original story and focuses more on having self-contained episodes. This proved popular, but the style was replicated by many other idol anime. I can’t speak much for female idol anime as I haven’t seen any (I’m so sorry), but this is certainly the first male idol anime to have a well-grounded storyline that can be enjoyed by anybody. It is still full of fanservice (by ‘fanservice’ I don’t necessarily mean naked guys, I mean things added in to excited the fans! For example, adapting unvoiced stories, animating some popular cards from in-game, etc) and it’s easy to think of the idols in this series as real idols, but the development we see from them is what really makes it special.
I recommend Idolish7 to fans of the genre as well as anime-watchers who have been disappointed by idol anime before. Even if idols isn’t really your things, it’s still worth checking out the first couple episodes and, even more importantly, guys should definitely check it out! As the anime isn’t made solely for the purpose of tantalizing the ladies, it can still be enjoyed by guys. I am hoping for a second season. You all need to meet re:vale, guys.
- Easy-on-the-eyes characters with their own unique charm points and plenty of character development
- A fresh OST
- A well-grounded story that mixes drama and fun
- Plenty of fanservice
- A slump in the quality of animation
- A jarring effect between the CG and 2D animation (although not as bad as some past anime)
- May feel like certain characters didn’t get enough development (although this would be solved with a new series :p :p :p)