It's light and silly, but also mind-blowing. I revere it. I'm considering buying the manga.
Who would be the scariest people you could imagine meeting? I'm talking about freaks who'd have you running for the exit. War criminals? Professional gangsters? Or, perhaps, how about hardcore fans? Not just any old fans, mind you, but Japanese idol fans. You have no idea how scary these people are. They buy thirty copies of the same CD, because each copy buys them another couple of seconds at a handshake event. They're always broke because they spend all their money on idol merchandise to support their favourite and who don't have a proper job because those don't give you enough time off to attend idol concerts. They fall in one-sided love with their underage favourites and will overreact at any rumour of (gasp) boyfriends. They have problems with their personalities, weight, dress sense and/or body odour. They'll die virgins. (Asking if they have a date, for instance, will probably be taken as a barbed dig.)
This show stars those people. They're its heroes. This is electrifying... but also charming and funny. You see, the show understands fandom. I don't know idols, but I know fandom and I recognised milder versions of these people. The show knows that they're hopeless cases and social lepers, but it loves them. Watching the show is a warm, happy experience, albeit occasionally a bit excruciating. It's taking us inside a subculture and showing us the ups, down, joys and despairs of the people who live there. They befriend each other. No one else will, after all. They hang out together and talk Hardcore Nerd that would be incomprehensible to norms, while brutally disclaiming any interest in each other's favourites. They're almost like siblings. Observe, for instance, the scene in ep.11 when Eripiyo (our protagonist and an attractive fangirl) is trying to invite herself over to her friends' houses to watch idols on TV together. The guys aren't interested. They don't even register Eripiyo as female.
This is an unhealthy world. In reality, fan obsession with idols has often crossed over into stalking and assault. Similarly, the industry's financial model strikes me as vampire-like in its dependence on fans spending themselves to destruction. Eripiyo gets injured quite often and should take more care of herself.
The show knows all this... and yet it's also aware of the positives. It understands how these weird relationships can also be heartwarming and supportive. The idols know their hardcore fans, or at least they do in the low-level idol group Eripiyo follows. (One of them has a part-time job as a waitress at a maid cafe, for instance.) They're sensitive about things like popularity polls and have status rankings among themselves. Eripiyo is in demented, obsessive love with a minor idol called Maina... and Maina's ranked bottom out of seven in her second-rate idol group. She has no other fans. She's far more aware of Eripiyo than Eripiyo imagines and is in fact emotionally dependent on her.
More precisely, they're in love with each other. They just haven't realised and they never will. It's an hopeless love story where the lovers might as well be living on different planets. That's another brilliant thing about this show. Communication failures can be either the lifeblood or the curse of drama, e.g. bad romantic comedies where you're yelling at the lead couple to talk to each other. Here, though, that's baked into what the show's examining. Eripiyo's a creepy mega-fan and Maina's a celebrity. They can't talk. Neither of them is even remotely capable of it. Eripiyo's self-awareness ping-pongs between NONE SUB-ZERO OH MY GOD and "gyaaaaah, I'm going to freak out my goddess, run away, keep my distance." As for Maina, she's shy by nature and doesn't think she's allowed to make a move anyway. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that the show is, at heart, a study of this Eripiyo-Maina communication failure.
It's quietly dissecting the relationship between idols and fans. For some, its artificiality and enforced distance is why it appeals. It's safe. "If you weren't an idol, I couldn't have said I love you." (That's not unlike the "2D girlfriend" types who are also briefly glimpsed here.)
We have three otaku heroes: Eripiyo, Kumasa and Motoi.
1. Eripiyo's brilliant. I love her and you will too. She's a freak in only intermittent contact with reality. She can say and do things in public that would kill a normal person, then at some unknown point in the future might wonder if this looked creepy. (Maybe. Perhaps.) She's a nutcase, but adorable. (You will, though, have to accept the redoubled improbability of her being both the physical opposite of every otaku stereotype and the object of her obsession's reciprocated love. The latter is... okay, it's the show's premise, but it's also pandering to a disturbing real world fantasy. As for Eripiyo being female and pretty... well, it's obviously designed to attract manga readers and anime viewers, but it also makes Maina's love look less implausible.)
2. Kumasa's actually quite interesting, because he's self-aware. He's a normal, well-balanced human being who can have sensible conversations even with his chosen favourite idol. He gets on quite well with Maina and can talk to her more straightforwardly than Eripiyo ever managed, despite only ever queuing for her as a stand-in when Eripiyo's sick or injured. However, he's also a fat loser who's accepted that he'll never have a girlfriend and he knows exactly what he's doing when he chooses to act like a dork.
You could actually imagine him and Reo getting together, if she went blind. They like each other.
3. Motoi is... oh dear. He's in romantic love with his favourite and he's got a sense of entitlement that quietly embodies that creepy side of the subculture. Ironically, though, he's a less hardcore nerd than Eripiyo and Kumasa and sometimes cringes at them.
Then we have the idols themselves. As the show goes on, we see more of them and their world. It's portrayed fairly accurately, e.g. drawing the microphones, wires and battery packs. Some of them can be bitchy and into one-upmanship. Some of them are trash (e.g. A-ya). It's certainly not all glamour and celebrity. Sometimes they're cringeworthy, e.g. those attempted banter stand-up stage segments. But they're a nice bunch, overall, and they're taking their job seriously.
I also appreciated the non-CGI dancing.
This is an outrageous, funny show that isn't too worried about strict realism. See Eripiyo's bread-flipping for her part-time job, or her speed-writing on that whiteboard after doing in her throat in ep.10. The important thing, though, is the show's take on its subject matter feels honest and deeply knowledgeable. I don't know Japanese idol fandom, but to me it felt true. It understands fan friendships. Even when you're being rude to each other, your shared language creates a social circle even for people who probably couldn't otherwise achieve one. It's warm. It's lovely. Even when Eripiyo's being creepy as hell.
"It's from Eripiyo, so be careful. I checked inside, but couldn't find a wiretap."