It's the kind of mental that gets put on a gold-plated pedestal and worshipped for generations by Seekers After Mental. Its heroines can be skull-shatteringly stupid, but it also has flashes of quite interesting commentary on social issues. Its villains are right, but it could also be called valid (unwitting?) commentary on the state of political debate today and our deteriorating respect for facts and truth.
It's about Idol Dietwomen.
IDOL = pretty teenager who sings and dances. Usually manufactured celebrities, with their private lives micro-managed (e.g. not allowed boyfriends). Intellect not a job requirement and might even be seen as a drawback by some people. (One of the charges laid against one of this show's Idol Dietwomen is, literally, that she's too stupid to be capable of reading newspapers.) See also: vapid, waste of oxygen.
DIET = legislative assembly, containing democratically elected representatives who run the Japanese government. The equivalent of an UK member of parliament, a US congressman, etc.
IDOL DIETWOMAN = an idol who's also in the Japanese Diet! She got elected, so she votes on parliamentary bills! She discusses policy! She... uh, holds live concerts where she'll sing and dance! Oh, and her singing appears to be a superpower that can brainwash your political opponents into becoming your love-bomb fanboys, although this only works for low-level baddies in the early episodes rather than the big boys in the second half.
This is batshit crazy. Obviously. At least the show's not pretending to be set in the real world, but even so it's nuts in every possible way. We're supposed to be cheering for the girls because they're pretty teenagers who are nice and want everyone to smile. Similarly we're expected to disagree when the boo-hiss baddies argue that running a country is difficult and that the idols aren't doing their jobs properly. (I agree with this.) That said, though, there's quite an intriguing range of reasons to agree with both sides of the argument in this anime.
THE SHOW'S WRONG BECAUSE...
1. The girls clearly have a superficial approach to their elected offices. They're full of enthusiasm and energy, mind you. They tear around the place trying to do good. Can't argue with that. They're also pretty and popular, which is a plus if you're trying to build popular engagement with politics. However they're almost entirely untroubled by facts, informed opinions or any interest in either. There's a cool bit in ep.8 when the baddies organise a TV take-down that picks apart the girls' efforts in the early episodes and demonstrates some unintended consequences of their actions. I was delighted. Intelligent analysis! A detailed dissection of glib throwaway solutions by girls who'll have swanned off by the closing credits!
The girls get depressed and upset by this, but I was cheering for the baddies. Whether or not the hostile points might have been exaggerated, the girls should have been able to answer them. THEY SHOULD HAVE KNOWN. If someone starts telling lies about what happened, you should be able to correct them. More specifically, they should have been watching the effects of their earlier actions to see how things turned out! Unintended consequences happen, after all. If you're being paid by the country to sit in parliament, you have a responsibility to be well-informed, especially about things that directly relate to you and your decisions.
So they haven't done that. Now the accusations have been made, though, surely they'll follow up on them? If someone says you did bad when you were trying to do good, surely you'd want to go back and try to sort things out? Verify the accusations! Do something about them!
The girls don't do that either. Instead they fight back by organising a live concert. That's their sole tactic for the rest of the show. No, really. When the villains make valid points that need answering, the girls brush it off as biased reporting and a sign that the enemy's getting worried, although admittedly the Rougai Party is indeed capable of fighting dirty and making juvenile points alongside its good ones.
2. It's capable of being reactionary and dim. "Global economy, my arse. Globalisation, my arse. We're just letting the world powers push us around." Thank you, Mr Trump, we'll let you know.
3. The show doesn't seem interested in politics and economics. That's ostensibly its subject matter, but it'll run like crazy away from the actual political process. Elections? Referendums? They happen off-screen and we jump straight to the results. Similarly the Bad Thing in ep.7 is a stadium that would be a waste of money, but the arguments against it are so weak and one-sided that you'll want to step into the show and present the villains' points yourself. Similarly there's no recognition of the fact that asking a construction company not to take a huge government contract would create conflicts of interest. We're not meant to be thinking such thoughts, mind you. It's Shizuka Onimaru's dad and he's not a bad man, even if he is narrow-minded and silly. (He thinks Shizuka's job as an Idol Dietwoman is pointless ephemera, which is reasonable if you're talking about idols but a bit harsh if you're talking about being a Diet Member.)
4. Eventually, at last, Natsuki does eventually go off and see how a few things turned out. She's been wallowing in depression for about 10000000000 episodes while we begged her to follow up those charges. She does so... and it turns out that the problems solved themselves after all, with no need for Natsuki to intervene at all. Those unintended consequences just melted away. The only thing our heroine does is see people's smiles. You could argue that this is its own message (the solution to problems is just ordinary people doing stuff), but the show's never truly challenged its heroine.
THE SHOW'S RIGHT BECAUSE...
1. Every so often one of its episodes will be quietly built around exploring and refuting a common bad argument. Ep.5 takes apart "a woman's place is in the home" (done all the better for letting the baddie argue it surprisingly well), while ep.6 tackles the common naysayer argument of "no precedent". The early problem-solving episodes actually have some quite nice creative solutions to local problems. We even get an interesting historical angle on the Japanese Diet building.
2. There's something to be said for making a TV show today about politicians who don't talk about the facts and think "policy debate" means "let's hold an idol concert!" I'd struggle even to call that parody. Japan really does occasionally put celebrities in the Diet (comedians, sportsmen, former pop singers, etc.), while the West's done as much and worse. Meaningful debate of issues is actively avoided. This show is trying to be cute and fluffy with lovable kind-hearted schoolgirls... but that just makes them scarier if you think about it. We're meant to be on their side! They're the protagonists! If you take all this seriously as an (unintentional?) commentary on the age we live in, it's terrifying.
3. It also has some worthwhile non-political material. Shizuka is cold and bad at working with other people, which makes her fail pretty hard and could be argued to make her part of the show's message. If this show is saying anything (which is admittedly debatable), then I think it's trying to demonstrate that a lot can be done by ordinary people being nice and working together.
This is a very silly show. Idols singing on stage emit a magical "hearts and flowers" aura that turns the air psychedelic and can cure baddies of their badness. I'll say that again. You can defeat thugs and villains by singing at them. The cat island of ep.3 is laugh-out-loud absurd, with its cat-worshipping population on a cat-shaped island who for no explicable reason chose to elect a malicious cat-hating Diet representative. Seriously, you could show this episode at parties to bring the house down. One episode has chatty ghosts. There's also a surprisingly weak climactic song (i.e. the theme song), with the "yay yay" being a bit insipid.
Naturally I enjoyed it greatly.
"Today's competition will be three rounds of idol bungee-jumping!"