The genre of idol anime is usually defined by catchy songs and stereotypical but fun personalities, and bright colors. With the exception of a few excellent titles like Zombieland Saga, character development in idol anime is generally superficial, following familiar formulas such as people chasing their musical dreams, or performing for the love of fans. Idolish7 is one of the rare idol series that goes beyond the superficial to tell a character-focused drama that actually feels grounded, while also retaining the fun and positive tone of a typical idol series.
Idolish7 follow the story of the newly formed male idol group Idolish7 and its seven members’ journey into Japan’s cutthroat idol industry. Each member has his own personal reasons for becoming an idol: some are tragic, while others are more aspirational. As the narrative progresses and more backstories are revealed, we get a better understanding of each characters’ personalities and motivations.
While Idolish7 looks like a typical idol series on the surface with lots of glitter and silly fun, it's far more than that. Despite the lack of female characters (which is one of its weaknesses), this is not a reverse-harem anime -- romance is mostly a subplot used to enhance the narrative. At the center of Idolish7 is its well-rounded cast of characters and their very emotional, even melodramatic personal stories.
Though to call Idolish7 melodramatic can even be an understatement, there are so many instances of soap opera-ish plots that involve missing siblings, missing partners, missing legendary idols, and intense conflicts with families, teammates, other celebrities, and other talent agencies etc. The series is never bashful about its complete embrace of overly dramatic elements, which makes the drama even more engaging to watch.
For example, one of the Idolish7 members, Yotsuba Tamaki, became an idol so his missing sister can know where he is and find him. Yotsuba and his sister grew up at an orphanage because their father was an abuser who was partially responsible for their mother’s death. He agreed to be on a TV program that promised to find his long-lost sister, but the program surprised him with his father instead. Tamaki completely loses his temper and hits his father, so the entire group has to stop him and apologize for his actions.
While the whole situation of a TV program tricking Tamaki plays out melodramatically, the actual issue of domestic abuse is incredibly serious. Idolish7 takes the problem seriously by showing the anxiety and the pain such a situation can cause. Tamaki’s reaction is perfectly understandable, especially given his blunt personality. But the series also doesn’t forget to show how Tamaki’s lack of professionalism has caused his teammates a lot of trouble and even potentially jeopardizes their future in the industry. The combination of intense personal drama and realistic stakes heightens the emotional impact of Idolish7 to a level not many idol anime reach.
Another aspect that Idolish7 does exceptionally well is at showing actual character growth. The aforementioned Tamaki incident ultimately resulted in him learning to control his emotions and be more considerate of other people’s feelings, and his growth never feels forced or unrealistic. The other characters undergo similar growth, often through positive modes of communication like opening up about their problems and confronting their own shortcomings, whether it's a lack of confidence, jealousy, or something even more personal. There are still screaming matches and monologuing to add spice to the drama, but the way problems are resolved is often refreshingly mature, even educational at points.
Idolish7 achieves more nuanced storytelling by portraying its characters like real people rather than just caricatures. This is why their reactions to strange or improbable situations can still feel grounded and relatable. It is easy to understand where each character is coming from because their actions are driven by well-established traits, not just by what the plot requires them to do.
Even the antagonists are given the care and attention they deserve. The entire first part of Season 3 (which just concluded) is dedicated to introducing the rival idol group Zool. Even though their backstories are not yet revealed, it is already clear their reasons for targeting the protagonists are personal, and they are not just being evil backstabbers for fun. The subtle tension building throughout the season makes Zool’s official introduction at the end of Episode 13 one of the most anticipated moments of the season, and it does not disappoint.
The business angle of Idolish7 is another aspect that sets it apart. The marketing strategies shown in the last episode alone -- such as the pop-up style live performance and the use of QR codes on posters to promote song downloads -- are clever tactics that real-life artists also use. The incorporation of other serious business topics such as the manipulation of gossip and scandal, social media trends, the supportive and the toxic fan cultures, even unionization all add to a great sense of immersion.
According to Japan’s Oricon ranking which measures media sales, Idolish7 is one of Japan’s most popular media franchises. Its albums and singles often top the charts on their week of release. Upon hearing the songs, it is easy to understand why -- most of them are incredibly catchy while the lyrics are sometimes related to the plot or characters’ emotions.
Though the animation is not groundbreaking by any stretch, the choreography and animation shows enough care from the anime staff; for example, more recent performance sequences even take a page from Idolish7’s live concerts, trying to recreate the voice actors’ movements and expressions in the animation.
All in all, Idolish7 is a truly exceptional series that even people who do not care for idol anime can enjoy. At its core, it is a serious character drama that takes place in a very competitive business setting. The stakes are surprisingly high and the struggles are outrageously intense, and there are some great songs to boot. So before the second part of Season 3 returns in 2022, now is the perfect time get on the emotional roller-coaster that is Idolish7.