Haruka TomatsuHaruki IshiyaRikiya KoyamaAyahi Takagaki
Idoly Pride
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2021: I
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2021
Director: Yu Kinome
Writer: Tatsuya Takahashi
Actor: Ayahi Takagaki, Haruka Tomatsu, Haruki Ishiya, Kanata Aikawa, Kanon Takao, Koharu Miyazawa, Kokona Natsume, Mai Kanno, Mirai Tachibana, Moeko Yuki, Moka Hinata, Nao Sasaki, Rikiya Koyama, Sayaka Kanda, Sora Amamiya, Yukina Shuto
Keywords: anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 12 episodes
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=22923
Website category: Anime 2021
Review date: 25 November 2022
idoly  pride
It's an idol anime, with no apologies for that. It stars a bunch of new idols, training under their manager to compete in the rather weird Venus Program system under which idol concerts are head-to-head contests, judged by an AI. (Frankly, I never believed in that. Will the world of idols ever be run and judged by an AI like that? I don't believe it, but with a bit of effort I managed to suspend my disbelief enough to watch the episodes.)
Also, I just did some googling and said "HOLY FUCKING SHIT". Genuinely shocked. No way I'm deleting these episodes now.
What makes this show different and gives it emotional strength is the fact that... ah, hang on. This show can't be discussed without giving SPOILERS for the opening episode, so...
Okay, that'll do. Its main character is dead. Her name's Mana, she's the best idol in the show and she dies unexpectedly in ep.1, before she can compete in the Venus Grand Prix final. She hangs around as a ghost, mind you, appearing only to the manager Makino with whom she'd always been in love. (I don't think he'd ever realised. He still hasn't now, although of course it's too late.)
He's still got a job to do, though, which means training up the next generation of idols. Surprisingly, one of those is Mana's little sister, Kotono, who hadn't been very nice about Mana's job in the past and now never smiles. Ever. Her face might break if she tried. Meanwhile, her best friend Sakura can do an eerie Mana impersonation despite never having shown any interest in becoming an idol. She auditions alongside Kotono because "her heart guides me" and gets in too.
On one level, this is a straightforward idol show. They train, sing, dance and deal with their emotional issues. However, obviously, the most important of those is bereavement, guilt and a possibly misplaced sense of duty on Mana's behalf, while the cast's emotional journeys will include learning to accept, let go of the past and grow up as themselves.
This wasn't the strongest anime of 2021, or even probably of the Winter 2021 season. It's quite good, though, and it has a respectable amount of depth. It's an idol show that you could recommend to people who don't watch idol shows, unless they were actually allergic to the genre.
But then there's the "holy shit".
This show aired in Jan-Mar 2021. On 18 December 2021, Mana's voice actress (Sayaka Kanda) died at the age of 35 after falling from a hotel window. It seems likely that she committed suicide. The Idoly Pride multimedia project didn't recast her role, saying that her performance "brought the character to life" and is "irreplaceable".
In other words, when I watched this, I was watching the ghost of a dead character played by a dead actress. I have no idea how the finale would have hit me if I'd known that. (I wouldn't call it a downer ending, but it includes a final farewell and sadness is definitely among its emotional layers.) But bloody hell. That aside, though, this is a good show. It can be charming. Hayasaka Mei made me laugh. Makino makes good decisions and comes across as one of the better managers I've seen in an idol anime. It's about grief and healing. It can surprise you. It's a long, long way from the fluff you'd probably expect from its genre.