Episode 9 – Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task

Congratulations to all audience members who had “a visual allusion to one of Francisco Goya’s Black Paintings” on their Heroines Run the Show bingo cards. You can fill in that square now. While this episode may be lacking compared to the cosmic family drama of a Titan chowing down on one of his offspring, “Scandal” follows through on its title and delivers an intense set of developments for Hiyori and her two idol rewards.

Title aside, it was easy to tell this week’s installment wouldn’t end pretty after it began so brightly. Hiyori’s return to competitive track is successful, Aizo and Yujiro are using all the vim and vigor they’ve got to qualify for the Countdown Live, they have a toothachingly saccharine commercial spot spreading their idol miens all over the city, and the three of them have never gotten along so well. It’s a comprehensive reversal of their rocky start together, and it’s full of cute moments—I mean, look at that phone call after the race; the boys are unequivocally tsundere now. As for my favorite Hiyori moment, it has to be when she gets called out for unconsciously slipping into mom mode in front of Juri and Chizuru. For most intents and purposes, that is Her job, and if we wanted to, we could get into all the ways women in the workforce have to accommodate for and straight-up baby the men who work above, below, and with them. But in this specific instance, it’s pretty adorable, and at least Hiyori’s getting paid to have mom feelings.

The logistics of Hiyori’s job, however, rears their ugly head in the episode’s second half. When things are going well, it’s easy to ignore all of the obvious risks and flaws of having a classmate be the top-secret manager-in-training for a pair of rising teen heartthrobs. When things are going poorly, not so much. It’s a dumb idea that wouldn’t fly for a minute in reality, so it’s slightly frustrating for it to become the fulcrum on which real problems like stalking and harassment are now pivotal. It’s a fundamentally shaky foundation. On the other hand, though, the series’ conceit has worked well for me so far, and I really like the camaraderie Hiyori and the boys have fostered, so I think it has enough leeway to sustain this dramatic turn. It might not be ideal, but it does benefit from a universal truth about harassment campaigns: once enough of a crowd gets whipped up, it rarely matters what incited them in the first place.

Hiyori’s personality also makes this debacle even more heartbreaking to watch. She’s the main victim of the bullying and rumormongering, but she blames herself for wrapping Aizo and Yujiro up in this mess. While everyone from the audience down to her friends knows she shouldn’t naturally feel guilty, we also know she’s a very empathetic person, so it fits that she’d internalize this in such a way. It’s a good quality that gets turned against her, through no fault of her own.

The upshot is that we get to see Hiyori’s friends stand up for her in whatever small or large ways they can. Juri, following in the steps of a long line of shoujo heroine ancestors, swipes the scandalous photos right off the bulletin board and gives them a good crumple. The boys also show some backbone and try their smiley public-relations-mode best to deflect the accusations against Hiyori, but there’s not much they can do without spilling the beans about Hiyori’s job. And frankly, I don’t think it would even help at this point. The narrative has already gotten away from them, and while Yujiro and Aizo might be able to temporarily pacify a classroom, they can’t hold back the surge online.

This is where, as a Responsible Critic, I would have to remind people about the perils of parasocial relationships in the modern age, but I’ll save my didacticism for next week. I want to see where this arc goes first, and how they resolve it. Also, I’ve seen plenty of people try to tell others to be normal online for once in their lives, and that exercise is about as useful as pissing into a hurricane. And it’s worth noting the sheer mundanity of these paparazzi photos; Hiyori’s literally just smiling and high fiving the lads. Their destructive power all comes down to the narrative and how it propagates throughout the school’s social networks and the internet’s fan cultures. It’s a mercy that Hiyori doesn’t have to shoulder this alone, and that she has support from people who at least sorta know what they’re doing. Which is to say, thank the lord the managers advise her not to post through it. Never post through it.

Ultimately, my feelings on this dramatic turn will hinge on the resolution we see in the future—celebrity culture and harassment campaigns are two extremely thorny issues that evoke many recent, raw stories about real people, so Heroines has its work cut out for it. But as a setup episode, “Scandal” quickens the pace and raises the stakes in satisfyingly dramatic ways, constructing the crucible that will test the strength of the bonds these characters have forged over the course of the season so far. As powerful as they are, have these eyebrows met their match? I like to think not.

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Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Steve is a world-renowned golf expert and commentator, but if you just want to read his thoughts on anime and good eyebrows, then there’s always Twitter. Otherwise, catch him chatting about trash and treasure alike on This Week in Anime.

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