Tuesday, June 11, 2019

BanG Dream! (2 seasons)

SUMMARY: When she was a child, Kasumi Toyama felt a heart-pounding thrill every time she gazed at the stars, and she's been looking without success for something that could inspire the same feeling ever since. One day, she comes across a star-shaped guitar in a rundown pawnshop and, for the first time, discovers the thrill she's been searching for. Kasumi becomes determined to form an all-girl band, and her search leads her to four like-minded souls: Saaya, Arisa, Rimi, and Tae. Does this band have what it takes to make their dreams of stardom come true? (summary taken from Crunchyroll)

Of all the anime I've seen so far, there are only a handful that take top spot in my book simply because they've made a dramatic impact on me. In the retelling of my anime journey, I used the phrase "seared into my consciousness."  

BanG Dream is one of those.

It's really a simple story of five girls who form a band and dream of making it big. Fairly run-of-the-mill, if you think about it.

Now for something to sear itself into my consciousness takes a lot. That something has to be absolutely mind-blowing to leave an indelible mark. One for the ages.

But a music anime? About a girl band? And a simple run-of-the-mill story at that?

Am I blowing it out of proportion?

Truthfully, I didn't expect it from this show. Not when I started watching. But by the end of the first episode, I was hooked in and it went downhill from there.

The show excels in its portrayal not just of the friendship between these five girls but also in their quest for stardom. All thanks to Kasumi Toyoma.

An endearing idealist and optimistic dreamer, Kasumi is our primary story driver and it's with her that we make the connection. At least, I made the connection. Her desire to find the "star beat" and to share it with her band mates and with others is at once innocent and inspiring and it resonated with me. That feeling of reaching for a goal, no matter how lofty, despite the odds, gave me goosebumps.

She is the epitome of the oft-quoted adage: "Follow your bliss."

Because that's precisely what she does. And along the way, she draws in the other girls who become her band mates...and her friends. She empowers shy Rimi-rin, captivates level-headed Saaya and stolid Tae, and embraces contrary Arisa.

Two of my favorite moments between the characters:

In Episode 1.3, Rimi has just told Kasumi she doesn't want to join the band and runs off to her classroom. Kasumi comes looking for her and when Rimi hears her name called out, she hides behind the window curtains.

Kasumi walks into the classroom and easily spots Rimi whose legs are sticking out from beneath the curtains.

Kasumi calls out "Rimi-rin, found you!" and proceeds to hug her--through the curtains.

A sweet, touching display both in Rimi's attempt at hiding and in Kasumi's hug.

In Episode 1.6, as the girls are prepping for their school festival, Tae, Arisa, and Saaya are sitting at a stair landing, discussing Arisa's idea for their band name. Kasumi and Rimi show up with armfuls of supplies. Kasumi sees the trio and, in her excitement, bolts up the stairs to join them. As she does so, she drops supplies in her wake.

Rimi looks on in horror and Arisa and Saaya frantically rush to pick up the fallen items. Tae, on the other hand, with a beatific smile on her face, starts to sing the Japanese children's song "Donguri Korokoro" about an acorn that tumbles down a hill into a pond, no doubt in reference to the tumbling items from Kasumi's supply run, and probably also to highlight Kasumi's childish enthusiasm at meeting up with her friends. 

Like the curtain hiding and hug, another charming interaction between the characters.

And beyond just charming interactions, three sequences had me in tears: Kasumi's appeal to Saaya to join them in episode 7, Saaya reading the song lyrics in episode 8, and Saaya at the festival, also in episode 8.

I'll let you experience that.

Season One was a solid underdog story that hit all the right emotional notes and didn't waste its narrative pace.

Season Two, on the other hand, while a welcome addition, diluted Poppin' Party's "next chapter" to a degree.

I can see the reasoning, though: the BanG Dream game on which this show is based features several girl bands so why not showcase the greater BanG Dream world in this season?

Why not?

Because I felt it lost focus. 

What could've been a wonderful second season exploring Poppin' Party getting to their next level is instead lost amid stories of the other bands in the franchise. Don't get me wrong; that "next level" story is still there, sprinkled amid the first half and occupying the latter half of the season. But much of the season was "wasted" narrative and the story suffers a bit because of it.

Had they instead created side stories or spin-offs in the manner of Love Live! (one featuring μ's, the other, Aqours) they could've told more solidly focused stories of the other bands. As it was, Poppin' Party's story felt slightly diminished.

I'll say it here: I really wasn't too interested in the other bands. Maybe Glitter*Green to some degree since their guitarist and vocalist is Rimi's older sister, Yuri, and bassist Rii is a hoot with her plush demon Debeko; but we only see them in Season 1. And while the more hardcore, goth-like My Chemical Romance/Evanesence stylings of Roselia seems to appeal to a lot of folks, it didn't do anything for me. 

Out of Season 2, the character that drew me in was Rokka. Starting out first as a diehard Poppin'Party fan, she is eventually embraced by Kasumi and the others as a kindred spirit and becomes a kind of proverbial "Sixth man." The recap of her story underscored by the song "Kirakira datoka yume datoka Sing Girls" in episode 2.3 is heartwarming.

That said, the series overall was wonderful. The story may have been run-of-the-mill but the tale of Poppin'Party's rise through trials and triumphs spoke to my inner performer and the relationship and interactions between the characters was endearing, touching, and heartfelt.

All of this combined to sear a spot in my consciousness.

And I know the searing is true because I've gone through five re-watches and each time, the goosebumps return.

And so do the tears.

Poppin'Party--and BanG Dream--has stolen my heart.

And that's fine by me.

Genre: Drama, Comedy
Length: TV series, 2 Seasons, 26 episodes
Version Viewed: Digital streaming on Crunchyroll (also available on HIDIVE)
Review Status: Full season (26/26)

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