If you know anything about me, you know that I LOVE idols. So, when I heard about the anime Music Girls (Ongaku Shoujo), I needed to check it out. Right away, I could tell this anime was going to be… different.
The series is about a girl named Hanako and an unpopular idol group called the Music Girls. Hanako, upon seeing the Music Girls perform live, decides she wants to support the group in any way she can. Although she is great at dancing, Hanako is terrible at singing, so she joins the idol group’s staff. Right away, I liked this concept because it wasn’t expected. I thought she was going to be some fantastic performer who saved the group with her voice but it took a different approach completely. Instead, she supports all of the members of Music Girls behind the scenes.
I also liked how the idol group was unpopular at first. Instead of the group being created from scratch like in Love Live, or being recruited by an agency, like in Idolmaster, the Music Girls had been around for a while and just weren’t getting any momentum. The first two episodes were a little odd – the fact Hanako’s parents just let her join a random idol group on a whim was questionable. Plus, I couldn’t quite tell if the show was trying to be silly, serious, or something else entirely. However, I was looking forward to seeing how the story developed.
UNPREDICTABILITY AND INSTABILITY
Did the anime’s interesting take on idols live up to my expectations? Urm, kind of. If anything, Music Girls maintained its unpredictability throughout the whole season. But this wasn’t always a good thing. I noticed a pattern as the series went on – a string of episodes would be really good, but then the series would hurl a chunk of bad episodes at us. As Tom from AllYourAnime.net explained, “Sometimes episodes flail between a solid storyline that transitions into something only thinly related. This creates hodgepodges of episodes with barely workable through lines for the girl’s emotional development.”
For example, Episode 3 was great in my opinion. In this episode, Hanako is able to help the reclusive Hiyo open up. The episode had both solid animation (which it didn’t have most of the time) and solid character development. We learned about why Hiyo was so withdrawn, and we got a believable resolution to her problem. I was very pleased with that episode.
Then there were episodes like Episode 7. I don’t know WHAT that episode was… The story was all over the place and a giant octopus appeared – yes, I am not kidding. A giant octopus. It was completely unbelievable since there were no other supernatural events leading up to that point. There was also some fan service, which hadn’t been very present before.
The overall focus of that episode was Kotoko and her brother; some trashy magazine sees the two of them together and writes rumors about Kotoko having a boyfriend. The episode also tried to focus on the fact that Kotoko is supposed to be the sisterly figure of the group. She is supposed to help keep everyone sane. But we never really get see how in this episode or in any of the others. Plus, the whole brother scandal thing seemed silly to me. And as a side note, the animation in this episode annoyed me. As Chikorita157 notes in their Episode 7 review, the animation quality dropped. But the animation was great when the girls were in the bath >_>
Overall, I felt that Episode 7 fell emotionally flat. It did get sentimental near the end, but I just wasn’t feeling it. Herein lies my biggest issue with the series. Sometimes it was very touching and serious, but other times it was so bizarre, I wasn’t sure what to think. I actually have a very silly sense of humor. Sometimes I welcomed the absurdity and the seriousness mixed in, like in Episode 6. Miku writes a song about karaage (fried chicken), and in doing so, inspires a veteran songwriter who had become complacent. I couldn’t stop laughing. And as someone who is gender-fluid, I actually liked the message of the episode: that everyone can identify with different genders, despite their own.
Other times, an episode would be solely focused on a solemn matter, like when Urori wanted to quit the group. Hanako consoles her and Urori finally let out all of her frustrations – it was very cathartic, and I felt all of Urori’s emotion.
But the mixture of ridiculousness and heavier topics didn’t always work out. For example, in Episode 10, I liked how the show focused on Kiri’s shyness and sickliness. But the episode took place during a game show, and everything going on was so ludicrous, it was hard to appreciate Kiri tackling her anxiety. I agree with what Anime Q and A wrote in their series overview: “At times it feels like a parody, while other times it feels like a student film… other times it leans into loose comedy, while other times it comes across as sincere slice of life but never does it commit to one wholly.”
The lack of focus was frustrating to me. If you want to do comedy, that’s fine; if you want to do slice of life, that’s fine. If you want to do both, that’s also fine. But PLEASE stick to your decisions and see them through. If it every episode had been like Episode 6 – with its perfect blend of silly and serious – the show would have felt balanced. But… that’s sadly not the case.
HOW WERE THE CHARACTERS?
Although I pay attention to the storylines and music of idol shows, my main focus is always the girls – I mean, whose isn’t? (Speaking of music, I did like the songs in the show, but they played the same ones over and over again.) In my opinion, the Love Live franchise has become such a phenomenon because it has incredibly strong characters. As for Music Girls, it did have some characters that I liked – namely Hiyo, Sasame, and Miku. Sasame is the quirky type, which are almost always my favorite. I really liked her character design and her pet crayfish Var-chan! I also liked Miku because of her quirkiness, and I actually love karaage, so I found her obsession with it hilarious. But Hiyo was my absolute favorite. Her character design reminds me of Renge from Non Non Biyori and her initial awkwardness reminds me of myself.
Incidentally, I felt that the show focused on these three side characters more than the other ones. Therefore, I got to learn a lot more of their personalities. As for main characters, I liked Hanako, although some of her random talents were a little unbelievable, and Urori, even if her actions pissed me off sometimes.
But did I like the characters enough to spend money on their merchandise or in a mobile game (don’t judge me!) the way I do with Love Live? No. Well, maybe I can buy a Hiyo charm or something. But most of the characters and the show as a whole need a lot more work before it gets to the point where fans will be desperate to get their favorite as a UR.
However, even with some good characters, the characterization was uneven. We barely learned anything about the members of HES (Haru, Eri, Sarasa), and I would have likely to have learned more about Roro. If they had cut out some of the unneeded parts (like the giant octopus) and fixed certain plot points, we may have been able to learn more about each of them.
As Music Girls headed toward its end, I was hoping the final episode would be somehow redeem the series as a whole. What we got was… more unpredictability. It was a good and a bad thing. It wasn’t your typical “We put on a great show and now everyone loves us!” scenario. There was an unexpected twist that could have maybe worked, but it was executed in a very weird way. Basically, the power goes out during an important performance, and the crowd starts to get bored. To prevent the audience from leaving, Hanako goes on stage and basically makes a fool out of herself. The Music Girls all get upset at Hanako – and at themselves – for letting her embarrass herself in front of so many people.
Somehow, their fight leads to more than 10,000 people showing up to the performance and their label’s executives, who were threatening to disband the group, decide to let the Music Girls stay together. Like… really? I feel as though the 10,000 fans weren’t legitimate fans – all they wanted to see was the drama. So, in a weird way, drama kept the group together? It just doesn’t sit right with me. Then, after all of her sacrifices to the group, the Music Girls let Hanako become an official member. The final image of the anime is Hanako walking on stage with the group, as they’re about to do another big performance. But… Hanako still can’t sing, so I am not sure how that is going to work?
Overall, watching Music Girls (Ongaku Shoujo) was a very strange experience. It had so much potential to be a truly unique idol anime. But it fell short in so many ways – the story, the animation, and even some of the characters. While I did take away some good memories from this show, I will continue to mourn what it could have really been.
For more reviews like this, check out Rai’s Anime Blog!