What They Say:
After the amazing high note that capped the first season, would it be fair to expect Haruka and her hunky harem of beautiful boy singers to be able to top themselves? What if they had a little more help? Yes, believe it or not, now there are even more gorgeous guys lining up for the attention of the song-mistress!
Fortunately, since she’s moved into the dorms Haruka’s available for even more music making. Only now StArish has some real competition, as the new golden-throated warblers from the Senior Master Course make it their job to show the first six what it really takes to become a J-Pop star. And what about that mysterious seventh member of StArish? He’s back as well in his own catty fashion! But does he plan to take Haruka to fantasyland? Will the boys get kicked to the street if they can’t stay in sync? And will Haruka stay composed and keep composing when the sophomore slump hits her writing?
The audio presentation for this release brings us only the original Japanese language track in stereo using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. While I do want to see as many shows dubbed as possible, shows like this unfortunately hit too small of a market most of the time and are hard to sustain – especially as there are two additional seasons to it. The show does make out very well here with what it has since it’s a mostly dialogue driven piece punctuated by some strong musical performances in both the vocals and instrumentals which allows it to shine with the format used. There’s a real warmth and richness to the musical moments that you find yourself really appreciating the differences between a 2.3mbps audio track and a 192kbps track. Dialogue is generally well done here as it’s mostly just the cast standing around talking with some emotional moments where beyond that it’s just the principal who bounces around the stage with his dialogue. Everything comes across clean and clear and has a strong finished feeling to it that’s free of dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this thirteen episode TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across two discs with nine on the first and four on the second. Animated by A-1 Pictures, it has a really striking look to it overall with what it offers with the detail of the characters and their designs and the fluidity of the animation in the big dance and song numbers. There’s a distinctive look to the character designs and their colors with the eyes, which can be disconcerting at first, but the whole thing is just striking from top to bottom and the transfer captures it beautifully. The content of the show is something that may not be to a lot of general fans liking, but A-1 Pictures put in a top notch effort here and the payoff is definitely strong with what we get as it’s a beautiful looking series.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case where the cover artwork uses the blues heavily that blends nicely into the cover itself. The logo kept along the bottom has a fun little design quality about it while using blues and whites while the text across makes it clear that it’s the second season. The bulk of the cover is given over to the characters whose expressions are bright and full of performance types which really gives it a lot of shine, especially with all the pop designs used. They’re all nicely designed here with some good detail and color definition that makes it stand out while hitting the kind of notes that will attract the target audience. The back cover uses mostly the same colors with a little purple drawn into it to give it a slightly busier feeling. There’s a cute tagline with it and we get the breakdown of what’s included and the extras along the top. The shots from the show round out both sides with a good look to them and we get a decent premise that dominates the center aspect of it while not giving away too much. The production credits cover both sides of the equation well and the technical grid lists all the details accurately and cleanly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The extras for this release are a bit meager but they’re the minimum that I always hope for with the clean opening and closing sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Having enjoyed the first season of the series more than I thought I would, I was certainly glad to have another chance at this cast to see what they could do with a little more time. A lot of the appeal was in the animation quality and character designs – it seems like my J-pop days are long behind me – but I can certainly appreciate it and the path to becoming a star. Giving us a series about high school characters in a special academy designed around the arts, and having them go all the way when it comes to working their abilities and talents like this one did, you can have some pretty top notch animation and styling. But you can also end up with a show where it’s hard to really get into the characters because it’s just so filled to the gills with them and nobody gets a chance to really shine in a big way, especially the lead. Which is what hampered the first season.
With everyone having accomplished a lot in the first season, they’re all coming back to the school now as professionals rather than students, which is certainly a change in a lot of ways, especially for Haruka. It’s also a change for the viewers as we usually don’t get this angle playing out. While Haruka has moved up because of her debut, she’s still at the school to take courses, this time for the Master Course that will help her now that she’s made that debut. And, of course, there are plenty of familiar faces to get reacquainted with now that she’s back. Her coming across everyone, starting with Ittoki after seeing her former roommate, is just a matter of catching up with all the familiar guys and giving them a chance to be who they are in small ways so that we’re reminded of who is who.
And it is a veritable who’s who as we go through all the guys one by one in different settings as they welcome Haruka back into their lives. Some are more outgoing than others, especially Jinguji with his ways, and it’s amusing to see how Haruka reacts to him once again. Being that this is what the show primarily revolves around for the opening here, there’s not a lot of depth to the episode. But it does start to show some of the minor things that the gang will be facing in different ways as it progresses as Haruka has to start grappling with her debut. But that’s all just pushed off for the most part to the next episode as here it’s all about the guys and allowing them their moments to shine. Which is certainly fun.
While Haruka is dealing with her mystery dreams, the rest of the show is still as strangely grounded as it’s always been with the rest of the cast, especially the principal who manages to make me stupidly grin on a regular basis. His interest in Haruka is comical since he wants her to write another song for Starish and she can’t help but to want to comply, giving us a background bit of motivation to factor into the series. This push ends up bringing her to a place where she ends up meeting Cecil, the man from her dreams, and in style. With him singing to her – and in front of all of the other guys as well – it’s a huge formal declaration of war that he may not even realize. He’s so smooth yet blunt that you have to love that he accomplishes more in his first true meeting with her than the other guys did in the entire first season of the series.
What all of this does is to finally get everyone to sit down and talk and they realize just how important he was to Starish coming into existence, something they were completely unaware of. It’s a pretty nice moment since even though there’s a lot of concern over him with how he seems to close to Haruka, they do give him a chance to explain and take everything at face value. Well, except for his professing of love for her, which they refuse to accept. The show does kind of devolve into the usual silliness after that as Cecil has to deal with the variety of men that populates Haruka’s life, but it’s all stuff that does admittedly allow them to grow a bit closer together in a way, especially since Cecil is just kind of over the top. While he’s incredibly smooth when it comes to Haruka, we see some gags that shows he can be just as goofy as everyone else when the time comes.
Where the show goes from here is to basically tell a lot of character stories, but with a bit of a twist. They bring in members from another group to work as their seniors in a way in order to help them take it to the next level. And that’s necessary because the principal introduces the Uta Pri Award, a rare title awarded to new talent, and makes it their goal to achieve it in this semester. Unfortunately, while the principal thinks positively of them and their sphere of influence, the group isn’t really all that well known and they have a lot of work to do in order to achieve said rare title. And that means working together really hard to do it since winning the award means capturing the attention of those on the special committee for it rather than just CD sales or some other financial aspect. Since they’re all aspiring to be idols in different ways with similar goals, the truth comes down to the way that they must shine in order to be noticed. Talent is important, but it’s that something extra that’s hard to define that’s required to make that leap to being and Uta Pri winner.
The character stories are hit or miss depending on which ones you like, but there were a few that I liked. Kurusu a good bit as he continues his acting career, especially when he ends up dealing with an on-set issue alongside Hyuga. Hyuga’s pretty good here as he tries to get Kurusu to realize that he’s a real actor at this point and not a student and has to treat it appropriately. With the stunt part of the gig being the problem, it’s not a surprise to see Kurusu working extra hard to try and master it as he fails repeatedly at making a particular jump. It’s something that takes a bit of time to build towards since there is no quick fix for his problem, though he tries, and it’s not a surprise when a human element comes into play to truly motivate him. But it’s a good one since there’s some emotion behind it and a sense of protecting someone that plays well when it comes to Kurusu. While I’m not a huge fan of the acting thing when portrayed in anime, they do a nice job with it here and work Kurusu and Hyuga’s relationship in a decent way.
Another episode that surprised me is the one that focuses on Jinguji for a bit. The son of wealth who follows his own dream is a natural story to use, but even when he’s gotten closer to the others in the first season he’s still felt aloof, something that this episode helps to minimize. The pressure is on the group at this point as things are starting to really ramp up in terms of competition for the Uta Pri award as another group has been nominated for the award and that means there’s a lot riding on what Starish and those in the group do to raise their image and get things rolling. The group has been doing decently overall as we’ve seen from the people that have been beefing up their experience as seen in the previous episodes, but now things are taking a curious twist as something called the Japan Boys Collection comes into play.
With that being sponsored by the Jinguji Group, that puts him in a bit of a difficult position as the show rolls on and that connection, and his own future leadership of the company becomes something of a minor issue. The son taking over the for the father is a fairly common story point in anime and Jinguji is one of those characters that is the epitome of such stories. He has the looks, presence, money and style to come across as someone raised by wealth but wanting to find his own way – yet still finding himself doing more of what’s expected of him because of those obligations than he might think. His time with Starish is important to him since it keeps him grounded in a different way – but also freer in so many other ways since he’s able to express different things than he could through a normal education.
Naturally, Jinguji is the highlight of the Collection when he appears on the runway and you have to laugh at the way it’s just so over the top and silly, yet tame by some other comparisons. Those from the academy that come with him to watch are certainly surprised by it all, but especially when the lights go out and it sends the whole thing into a tailspin that can threaten the whole Collection. How can you save it? By having him sing , of course, with a little help along the way from Haruka. With a hall filled with young women, it turns into a pretty huge event that gets a small saving grace along the way with some backup music and you get to see some inspired moments that lets Jinguji really shine in a way that shows he has talent beyond what his family expects him to be.
The season works through these kinds of events and gives us a decent bit of time that explores Cecil as well, though I had to admit that even upon a second viewing of the series I simply do not care for the character at all. But as it stands, Uta no Prince Sama’s second season has come together fairly well as it gets towards the end of its run. While I liked the first season, the mix of school and song left me a little cool to it at times. This season has moved them firmly out of the school for the majority of it and we’ve gotten a working group going through their individual growth episodes, which helps to reinforce them as characters themselves. And it allows the fans to completely get behind individual episodes and characters while Haruka continues to serve as the glue that binds it all.
The Starish gang naturally bonds and grows with the realization of how Cecil fits into it and they come together well in the last couple of episodes. Especially when it comes to how Haruka had done a lot for him and the rest realized that he had a very positive impact on her, and vice versa. A lot of it does come down to the way that they do understand that he is important to Haruka, but also that she views them all in a similar light and that they’d do the same for any of each other at this point. So with that dealt with, events shift towards dealing with the Uta Pri Award itself, which has the finalists all getting announced, including HEAVENS’, an almost comical group in some ways with their personalities.
HEAVENS’ certainly makes an impression with the way they show themselves off in front of everyone and the scale of their fanbase. With them being involved, Starish members feel even better about their chances since they know HEAVENS’s has such a reputation to them and they feel they’re on the same level as them. Being that it’s all about the music industry on some level here, there’s a lot of flash and not much substance, especially when the principal gets involved and promotes Starish in a big way. He’s obviously using the members here to achieve his own ends of course, and there’s a reason for it from his own past that’s lightly touched upon, but he’s got a strong push for the seven members in going up against HEAVENS’ manager, someone that he seemingly has a grudge against. And he intends to use Haruka’s songs against him in a big way to get what he wants.
The battle that gets set is pretty obvious, and was so as soon as we got introduced to HEAVENS’ and saw the Otori in the background that’s got the grudge with the principal. With the stakes set where the losing group would have to disband, everyone rallies together well since they know it’ll be the full on debut for Cecil and they have so much riding on it. The group is one that really does come together well and retains a positive atmosphere even after all that’s involved, which is a big part of their appeal. There’s some good fun as we see them prepare themselves mentally for this, but also when the members of the two groups meet outside of the public eye as that’s where the real tension is. With Haruka as the glue of Starish, you can see that they know this and make plenty of comments about her to try and unnerve them, but also just get very into her personal space which raises the rest of the guys’ tension level. HEAVENS’ knows exactly how to change a mood in order to achieve an edge.
Similar in a way to the first season, the big finale here is just that. Big, full of emotion, heart, song and color. There’s a different approach in how the two groups play to their audiences, which ties into what we learn of the two presidents who are using the groups to compete with each other – though Starish’s is doing it to try and teach the other a good lesson, and it works well to show that there can be multiple styles that still reach through to the audience and can move them. It’s a natural growth path for Starish, but I liked more what we saw from the other group in how they were stunned by seeing the kind of more innocent and honest singing and emotion that shined through and deep into the audience. The ending has all the makings of a kind of after school special, but it fits into the mentality of the show where they’re all trying to just grow and become the best of the best and to raise all boats along the way.
I learned long ago not to feel guilty about watching the things I enjoy, but if there’s a title that qualifies as a guilty pleasure, Uta no Prince-sama certainly does. It’s not deep, it’s very superficial in a lot of ways, but it’s making up for that with a lot of heart as it gives is standard character stories that has our cast of singers going at it with all that they can. If there’s a disappointment with this season, it’s that Haruka -already a bit of a cipher – is a minor character overall. But the focus is on the singing boys and they sing their hearts out, work their hearts out and act their hearts out. It’s light, fanciful and full of the kind of good natured view of the world and hard work that you want to believe is true. It’s not a hard look at the world of idols by any stretch, but the fantasy here is fun and engaging enough and done with such great style, design and attention to detail that it’s like a pop concert that you can’t help but to get caught up in. I’m glad I’m part of that wave.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing.
Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 26th, 2014
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.