It means well and it does try hard at times, but this show cannot escape its fate to be pandering and derivative.
What They Say:
Episode 5 – Yohane Descends
Yoshiko is trying to suppress her alter ego, Yohane, but it’s harder than expected. She then comes across the School Idol Club whose members are trying to raise their ranking.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I came into this episode with very low expectations. Of all the characters teased at the start, the one I was least looking forward to seeing more of was Yoshiko Tsushima. No, that’s not quite right. I have little animus towards Yoshiko Tsushima. Yohane, on the other hand, the chuunibyou alter ego of Yoshiko who made her appearance in the opening episode, made my eyes roll backward into my head.
Yoshiko has entered high school still in the grip of chuunibyou, the “middle schooler delusion” sickness. At times, it feels like the people who create otaku entertainment have themselves never left such a state as reflected in their work. With the move to high school, however, Yoshiko has begun to return to reality and recognize that her little fantasy is not going to be conducive to her making friends and preparing for the eventual transition to the adult world. It has to stop.
Where Aqours comes in is that Hanamaru, who knew Yoshiko from kindergarten, is asked by Yoshiko to help “monitor” her in class to avoid her chuuni outbursts. It fails in spectacular fashion. But, as Chika is desperate to increase the group’s ranking online, she feels that they need a hook and decides to gamble on Yohane, the fallen angel persona, with the whole aesthetic attached, to create interest. So we see the now six (with Yohane attached) members of Aqours in goth-loli attire and spouting nonsense about being little demons in the service of the fallen angel Yohane (Yoshiko’s chuuni persona). It works to get them temporary attention (though their skimpy outfits and Ruby’s incredible cuteness may well have done more than anything else to boost their ranking).
Here, the episode makes its one and only semi-serious point, as Dia calls the girls into the student council office and reads them the riot act (she’s exasperated by her younger sister being forced to dress in a skimpy outfit and spout inane stage banter about being a little demon), but follows up with an important lesson: looking at their online ranking now, it has fallen quite a bit from the initial boost and continues to go downward. Publicity stunts will only have a short-term effect. If you want to raise your ranking for real, you must do something much more real.
This brief bit of sanity and deeper thought impressed me, to the point that I was starting to think that this episode was not so bad. But that was before the ending. What happened is something I have seen before and shaken my head in disbelief at every time I see it: a person who suffers from chuunibyou but wants to grow up and put it aside is told by everyone else that it’s okay. After Dia’s little apoplectic fit, the group is slightly demoralized and Yoshiko decides to give up being a school idol and the fallen angel Yohane. But right when she’s about to come to grips with reality and mature as a person, Chika and the group come along and ask her to continue being a school idol as Yohane. They tell her it’s okay to be delusional and they’ll put up with her quirks. “µ’s got popular by being themselves, so just be yourself and we’ll accept you.” It sounds like a nice line, doesn’t it?
But…why does anime keep doing this? Telling people that being delusional is okay? Because, it isn’t. It really isn’t. Delusions, especially self-delusions and the magical thinking that accompanies it often result in very negative outcomes in the real world, both for the person and the people around them. This is a “positive” message that anime really has to stop saying. It’s pandering, which we still find all too much of in this show.
There are also more boxes checked on the giant clipboard list of µ’s traits. The most notable being the revelation that Hanamaru lives in a temple (cue up the miko outfits to be seen at a later date), similar to Nozomi. When you add in that Hanamaru is bad with technology…is this really how the writers have tried to create personalities for the girls? By just checking boxes from the previous nine girls and then throwing in random quirks that play to common anime/manga stereotypes? Personalities created through MadLibs?
While the stories of the other group members are turning out to be more interesting than that of Chika (a clone of Honoka), You (a cypher…seriously, what do we know of her?) and Rika (now defined as the “afraid of Chika’s dog” character), the show continues to prove itself to be beholden to fan fetishes and the avoidance of anything that might even push against, let alone challenge, the worldview of its viewers. I’m not asking for a thought-provoking piece of deep social commentary and analysis of life in a small town far away from the great urban centers of Japan and the ennui that often ensues there. Nor do I want a satire or critique of the whole (slightly sick once you learn about it more) idol industry of Japan. But, could they at least give out a message that it’s okay to let go of childhood delusions and that doing so does not mean giving up on childhood dreams? They’re not the same thing.
Yoshiko enters high school still suffering from the delusion that she is Yohane, a fallen angel. But Yoshiko wants to break out of her fantasy and asks Hanamaru, her old childhood friend, to help. Instead of doing so, however, Chika decides to take advantage of the Yohane persona to get quick recognition and interest in Aqours, which is suffering from being too “plain” in a world that is now deluged with school idols (in the original, µ’s had on to deal with perhaps a thousand rivals; now there appear to be over 5000 school idol groups in the rankings). The stunt works…but only for a brief while, as Dia drives home to the group. But instead of growing up and putting aside her delusion, Yoshiko is encouraged by Chika to continue being a chuunibyou sufferer and making use of her persona as part of Aqours.
Streamed By: FUNimation
Apple iMac with 12GB RAM, Mac OS 10.11 El Capitan.