Uta no Prince-sama
Number of Episodes: 13
Production Company: A-1 Pictures
Brief Overview: Nanami Haruka attends a special music school to fulfill her dream of becoming a songwriter, but realizes soon enough that competition is fierce. Her teachers are former singers and idols and Haruka gets grouped together in class with three male aspiring idols. If that weren't bad enough, she's not allowed to date any of them!
Episode Summary: On her way to take the entrance exam for Saotome Academy, Haruka is waylaid by a lost child and is late to the exam site. Though the guards don't want to allow her inside, an appeal from some current students allows them to make an exception. Later that Spring, Haruka becomes a student of the academy, the premiere training school for pop idols and their song composers alike. Haruka is quick to make friends, and marvels at the school's various surprises.
Haruka's goal as a composer is to write songs for Hayato, her favorite idol. Hayato is known more as a comedian, but one of his songs helped to comfort Haruka when she was in an unsettling spot in her life. As she's unpacking the rest of her things, a cat comes in the window and steals her handkerchief. When she follows it outside, she sees someone who looks exactly like Hayato, but is it?
Thoughts: I often grumble about how offensive anime series that are aimed at a male audience can be. Not only is the fact that many series seem to gauge their own appeal in how many times the female characters appear nude frustrating to me as a female fan, but the assumption that male fans are a singularly-perverse group that enjoys misogyny and other unsavory subject matter is insulting to the many (I'm sure they're enough to be a majority) male fans who are probably sick of being pigeonholed as sex-starved perverts. Though the number of anime series aimed specifically at female anime fans is arguably lower than that of those aimed at male fans, many of these series suffer from a similar problem, reducing male characters to eye-candy and defining the female fans as unrepentant oglers who are content to trade substance for the chance to watch pretty boys sparkle. Uta no Prince-sama is frothy, throwaway entertainment that's attempting to bank on what its producers assume female anime fans want to see (whether they're correct or not). While there is a fanbase for these types of games and anime (and I wouldn't purposely say anything to discourage people who enjoy the fandom for all its strengths and weaknesses), the fact that much (if not the outright majority) of anime that's aimed specifically at female fans is of the fantasy/romance/reverse-harem (or Yaoi harem) variety is a bit discouraging and certainly frustrating.
Much of this episode was so over-the-top and flamboyant that I was sure it was going to have more of a parody element to it. The male characters make their appearances in the right place at exactly the right time without batting an eye, the school headmaster is an ex-idol (voiced by Wakamoto Norio, of all people - his vocal eccentricities make for an amusing coupling with the visuals) with a habit of appearing in a flashy manner, and Haruka's homeroom teacher is an idol who made a name for himself cross-dressing as a beautiful woman (and does so to teach class). As an examination of how pop culture tends to focus on both the inhumanly-attractive and the unrepentantly-strange individuals in show business, this episode is spot-on and rather amusing. If I didn't already know better I might propose that its level of apparent self-awareness was purposeful.
There are some very problematic bits of the narrative, though, that give an even stronger indication that this is nothing but wish-fulfillment fantasy of the least-thoughtful kind. One thing I find kind of disappointing in many shoujo series is the fact that, even when the female lead is driven to accomplish something, it's not something that's inspired entirely by her own passion to do well, but something that has roots in what a male character has said or done to inspire or motivate her. One series that springs to mind is Skip Beat! which, while very amusing in its own way, features a female lead whose ultimate goal comes as a result of having been scorned by a thoughtless guy. In this case, Haruka starts off on the road to writing music for other members of the music industry, something which takes a lot of talent and a good ear for what will be popular with a broad audience. The goal itself is a noble pursuit and would make for an interesting anime series on its own, but unfortunately it's a goal which seems to be prompted not by Haruka's sense of self-motivation, but her desire to appeal to a male idol (one who has only peripherally influenced her life and who she doesn't know personally). I don't begrudge the romantic elements of these series, but there's really a big difference between being driven to succeed and finding romance along the way and being driven to succeed to obtain the love of a man.
The only real choice provided to the heroine in this circumstance is which of the beautiful male characters she'll want to date, and this show appears to provide the same sort of selection one would expect from any of its similarly-constructed brethren. It's not really worth it to go into much detail about the character types - they're the same boyish, dark-and-mysterious or suave characters that show up in any other man-moe series - but the point is that this series and others like it reduce its cast to sellable stereotypes in much the same manner that so many series aimed at male anime fans do to their female cast, and the practice impresses me about as much here.
Despite what some may think, I don't believe that harem or reverse-harem series are destined to be mediocre. That doesn't change the fact that the genres are inherently problematic in both the assumptions they make about their target demographic and the opposite sex of that demographic. This show demonstrates little value in its own merits, only becoming watchable as a delivery method for snarky NicoNico video comments. I'd love to see a shoujo series be more celebratory of the main character's own ambitions; this is not that series and I fear I'll be waiting a long time.
- Nobody gets naked this episode.
- The female lead's goals are presented as a result of her desire to appeal to a man rather than as her own pure ambition.
- The simplification of the male characters into moe archetypes is tiresome.
Recommended? Check out an episode for the comments, but don't expect any sort of serious entertainment. This show bills itself for a very specific audience, but doesn't do much to respect that audience.