Nanabun no Nijyuuni

Title:Nanabun no Nijyuuni
Keywords: , , , , ,
Notables: Animation - A1 Pictures
Miu Takigawa is about the last person one would think should become an idol. Cynical and reserved, she trusts only her sickly mother and little sister. Yet for some reason she gets a letter from an outfit known as GI Productions inviting her to join a new idol group that is being formed. Despite being deeply suspicious and distrustful, she goes to an agreed meeting at a zoo where she meets seven other candidates plus a representative of the firm. The greatest surprise of all is how the eight were chosen for this job.

12 episodes + a special
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It all seems too good to be true: you are offered a pathway to fame and fortune, there's no need to audition, and a breathtaking facility has been constructed to serve you and your fellow performers. How could it possibly be true? The twist is that you were selected not by experts of the entertainment industry but by some bizarre oracle (known only as 'The Wall') which even the GIP people don't fully understand. That was what made me sit up and take interest in a show for which it had previously been hard to suspend disbelief. As strange as the explanation is, it makes far more sense than the fantastic stroke of good luck which had been the only explanation up until then. Something weird is going on here and I wanted to find out what. I wished some sort of concrete example of the supposedly irresistible power which this Wall possesses had been shown to us, but perhaps that would happen in episode two. It seemed like things might get a good deal creepier, with these girls being led into some sort of trap and exploited or something like that, and I sort of wondered why the other girls weren't depicted as being more naive and foolishly trusting than they were. But nothing terrible lies in store for them, these girls simply work for a talent agency which is led by an inexplicable machine. Miu is a true underdog, rather than a go-getter sort of person as many anime heroes are, so we can sympathize with and root for her. The question was whether this show would be more about a dream coming true or figuring out what is behind this Wall thing. I hoped it would be the latter, since that was what was making this show unique among idol themed ones.

Early on, this show was not disappointing me, though I wished the reasons for Miu's change of heart in episode two were made more clear. Also, what happens to people who disobey the Wall's 'absolute' orders? One would think that that would be a question someone would ask. Nevertheless, an interesting story moves forward, what with Miu being given even greater responsibility in a job she never felt qualified for to begin with. The Wall seems to have taken an interest in her. Also, I noticed that the background art is very detailed and realistic. In episode three the 22/7 group makes their first performance, which almost ends in disaster but is salvaged largely by Miu. It was pretty easy to guess what was going to happen, but it was handled well and was moving nevertheless. Maybe The Wall knew something when it chose her to lead. At this point Nanabun had definitely taken its place as one of my favorite shows of the season.

Then things changed. Episode four was largely about the background of Miu's blond friend. I hoped this wasn't a trend--I would much rather that we had remained focused on Miu and the mystery of The Wall than get to know minor characters better. But as it turns out, it was a trend; typically each member gets a signature episode which better introduces them. It's not a complete waste of time--the main plot also moves forward at least a little in each of these, and the girls' backgrounds aren't completely boring. But every minute spent on them is a minute not spent on Miu and the Wall. It turns out that Miu isn't the definitive main character--it could almost be argued that each girl plays as large a part as she does. An 'all for one and one for all' approach. But if a good chunk of seven episodes was consumed in this manner, I feared there wouldn't be much time left to make sense of The Wall, and I feared little or no attempt would be made to do so. Maybe it would be left unexplained and just be used as an excuse for these girls getting an otherwise impossible shot at stardom--basically, a complete cop-out. I felt that the mystery behind The Wall was far more intriguing than the backgrounds of yet another set of Idols ever could be, and I would rather we got to know Miu in depth than know seven other characters in a shallow way. This seemed like a major mistake to me which diverted this show from a much more intriguing course it might have taken.

At the end of episode nine we get a surprise which perks the show up again. The Wall delivers another command, and this is about the last one anybody would have expected. It jerks the rug out from under us and leaves us wondering where things can possibly go from here. I was encouraged because the implication was that maybe we would get some sort of explanation of The Wall after all. In episode ten we snap out of the each-girl-gets-a-background-episode mode (which was good news), and instead deal with the collective trauma they are feeling after learning that the Wall has decreed that 22/7 should be disbanded. The entire episode is spent on this, yet it doesn't provoke all that much curiosity among the girls about what exactly the Wall is or why it had issued this particular order. Also, it doesn't occur to anyone that maybe the girls could find a new backer and continue to perform. They are reminded that the Wall's orders are absolute, but nobody has ever dared to disobey one, and it could be argued that they don't work for it anymore anyway. Viewers should be advised that a short but often important scene appears in each episode after the closing credits. In episode 11 we unfortunately get another background story, then the girls spontaneously decide to return to the now mothballed GIP facility and the Wall for a little reunion, and get a surprise. At this point I had little idea how this series might wrap up in a satisfying manner in one more episode but was still highly curious. Suffice to say that what happens leaves us feeling good on one level and a little disappointed on another one. It makes some sense, and this show was unusual after all, so I don't regret watching. Perhaps the lesson (from both this show and numerous other ones) is that in the end, anime about Idols will always be about the Idols themselves, not about the curious circumstances which led them to fame. Don't hope for much intrigue or mystery, because that's not what you will get.

In Fall 2020 a Nanabun special was released. Basically, the girls are surprised to learn that the Wall has decided (without consulting them) that a ninth, tenth and eleventh member should be added to 22/7. But that's about as far as things go; the special is pretty much about making friends with these newcomers. There is some friction, but it's nothing serious and the problems one of the 22/7 members had wasn't explained very well and didn't make a whole lot of sense. Unless there's a second season on the way, I didn't see what the point of this special was, and was left disappointed. In general, Nanabun no Nijyuuni strikes me as a premise which promised a lot but delivered relatively little.

Last updated Tuesday, October 20 2020. Created Tuesday, January 21 2020.

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