Winter 2020 Week 3 Roundup: 22/7’s first performance is a hit

Weekly Roundups are comprehensive posts where I cover some of the biggest events in the seasonal anime I’m watching.

22/7 Episode 1 Review

The third episode is quite a classic in anime circles – and that was before Madoka Magica’s rather infamous perspective focused intently on something many audiences missed. At this point for most series the opening exposition is done, the characters are in place, and it’s time to finish the introductory arc and setup the rest of the series. And in Winter 2020, I’ve been most impressed with 22/7’s offering.

Miu Takigawa’s depression isn’t given a free pass in Episode 3, ‘Hello New World’, as the group find out they have just a month to prepare for their first live. Now, I know what you’re thinking, because my gut went straight there too: isn’t it a bit soon to go into their first live? Consider my shock, then, that practice and training isn’t an upcoming arc, but a montage to be handled during the first half of this episode. Because of this, the episode began to feel a little bloated, not particularly engaging with the natural difficulties that these newbie idols face other than a brief ‘almost tsundere’ moment where Nicole demands Miu clip her bangs out of her face (because she’s really cute underneath). Is 22/7 missing opportunities for development?

While these are no doubt fears for the series going forward, the episode would much rather rush to its stage and deliver the hook scene. I’m all okay with this, but again, some of the setup is a little lacking.

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The underground facility’s board of producers discuss briefly in a meeting how dire the upcoming show’s concert hall is, with their gorilla of a producer, Gouda, explaining there is no other choice. Calling the audience limit of 200 a problem is rather ambitious for a new group’s debut, but the real issue is the unreliable sound system. Still, this episode’s opening exposition’s lightning pacing means we breeze through that, and the girls are running on stage before they know it – though taking note of the backstage piano on the way. Yep, we all know what’s going to happen, but that doesn’t take away any of its power.

The group get further than I expected, delivering one song with decent success. The show’s choreography is smooth in CGI sequences, but the CGI itself is not up to snuff with many stronger anime. During the comic skit section between songs, Miu breaks, for she spotted her mother and lost her sense of confidence. Her monologue is so tragic, deeply dwelling on the thoughts not to do with her own ability but her future. And, as she struggles to get into the next song, the music system breaks. As we all knew it would, really.

We know there’s a piano. We know Miu was a top musician sometime before the series began and her depression began to take hold of her and strangle her ambition. So we know that Miu is going to be taking the reins behind the piano. But the series is wiser than you might think in these moments; she is not coerced into going backstage and playing the piano; the group don’t push the piano out to give her the spotlight; she does not instantly decide to do something so bold. It’s realising how much this performance means to Sakura, the one girl who has always been kind to her, that Miu shoots off and begins to play the next section of the song.

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A-1 Pictures’ idol series are a bit renowned for tearjerker performances after the impressive ‘Promise’ performance in the original iDOLM@STER. But that sequence featured Chihaya’s grievances and moving on – I think Miu’s story is much more relatable and no less hearty. As Miu begins to play, she pushes her hair out of her eyes using the weirdly cute clip Nicole gave her, and as Gouda puts a camera on her and projects it behind the rest of the performing group. What’s really important here is that big grin. Miu hasn’t smiled so genuinely since the series began, and it’s so healing to see.

Yes, 22/7 got exceptionally cheesy here, with a rather obvious pathway built-up, but the strength of its finale more than made up for it. 22/7 is smart to not let that high go to waste building into the credits, but shows Miu backstage texting her mother who is oddly critical in a charming mother/daughter rapport – but she emphasises in a text that shakes Miu’s core how happy she was to see her behind the piano. I was too, mum. Things are looking up-and-up for the group.

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