Episodes 1-3 – Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task

Ah, idols. The sights. The sounds. The surly teen boy stars who need to be reined in by their classmate and secret part-time manager-in-training. It’s a wild world out there amongst the fickle peaks and valleys of showbiz, and Heroines Run the Show is here to put its own spin on the music industry by exemplifying the fortitude that can be found beneath a pair of bushy eyebrows.

This series is charming right out the gate. In fact, if I wanted you to leave this review with a singular impression of the anime, I’d wrap it up in the word “charming.” The colors are bright, the construction is solid, the comedy is breezy, and the characters—most importantly—are bursting with definition and appeal. Our heroine Hiyori in particular carries the premiere on her shoulders. As a mousey girl from the countryside who matriculates to Tokyo to pursue her track-and-field passions, she can be both a highly relatable bundle of nerves and a headstrong outsider unfraid to go against the grain. While that’s hardly a novel combination, it’s a magnetic one in her case, strengthened by Inori Minase‘s performance and Kaori Ishii‘s distinctive character designs (you may recognize them from the similarly quirky O Maidens in Your Savage Season). More specifically, it’s the power of those eyebrows. I’m not kidding in the slightest. This anime would be a full letter grade worse if Hiyori had naught but thin pencil lines stenciled on her forehead. Thick eyebrows are always the correct choice.

The show’s conceit is offbeat in an enjoyable way as well. Like many idol anime, it explores the inevitable divide that grows between a celebrity’s public and private personae, but Heroines turns that into its main focus. The boys behind the giggle-inducing name LIPxLIP have their share of issues with both themselves and each other. In fact, we meet Yujiro fresh out of police custody before we even find out he’s an idol. He and Aizo constantly bicker with each other, and they each seem miserable anytime they’re off camera and out of their fans’ sight. Again, I can’t say this is breaking new ground, but it feels kinda pleasantly salacious to watch these two teen dreamboats at each other’s throats behind the scenes. It both humanizes them and enhances the humor. Anger, after all, is the essence of comedy.

Despite this mutual hatred, Yujiro and Aizo are determined to remain in their idol outfit, and both have communicated vague reasons for why they refuse to quit. Presumably, later episodes will explore their motivations in greater detail, which should help round out their characters. For now, they’re not much more than two-faced jerks. However, I like jerks. There’s a time and place for conflict-free comfort food, but I’m glad this series embraces the melodrama. To that point, they also contrast Hiyori’s innocent do-gooder attitude in a complementary way. While Heroines is far from cynical, and it’s not like the boys drag Hiyori down to their level, they do draw some fire out of her small frame, which benefits the show overall. And on the opposite side of the coin, she’s started softening the lads’ demeanor as well. It’s adorable.

Keeping in line with the theme of secret faces, Hiyori also has to keep her job a secret from everyone else. The whole situation beggars belief—especially her homeroom teacher’s laissez-faire attitude towards everything—but it’s justified in the service of entertainment. There’s inherent comedy in Hiyori, apparently the only girl in Tokyo who hasn’t heard of LIPxLIP, becoming their ward for nearly all waking hours of the day. And while she doesn’t care about idols, she does care about doing things right. She’s as serious about being a good manager as she is serious about track. That said, I do appreciate the show takes time to mention that Hiyori is also raking in the dough for her time with the boys at school. Overtime work isn’t sustainable (and we’ve already seen some nasty consequences of her overstuffed schedule), but speaking from experience, overtime pay definitely helps.

I should also make note of the series’ origins. Did you know that it’s based on Vocaloid songs? I sure didn’t! The composers of the collective HoneyWorks starting writing pieces in this musical multiverse called Kokuhaku Jikkou Iinkai: Ren’ai Series (translated Confession Executive Committee: Love Series) back in 2011, and since then they’ve spawned full albums, light novels, films, and now this second television anime called Heroines Run the Show. Apparently, most of the main players in this show are based on characters from those songs, but you definitely don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the anime. I mean, I only learned of it while doing research to write this review, and I already liked these first three episodes plenty, so don’t let this additional context intimidate you.

I mostly bring it up because the song series, as described, focuses on romance. The previous TV miniseries based on this franchise, Our love has always been 10 centimeters apart., was a romance too. So far, however, I haven’t gotten that vibe from Heroines Run the Show. It’s a character-based and shoujo-inspired drama/comedy through and through, but the proverbial doki-dokis haven’t entered into the equation. I think that’s been to the story’s benefit too. Hiyori’s combative relationship with the even more combative interactions between Yujiro and Aizo is already a plenty interesting triangle. I’m sure there’s a way the show could develop this into a spicy idol polycule, but I’d be perfectly content to watch Heroines Focus on strengthening their professional and personal bonds in spite of all this prickliness.

Overall, I’d say Heroines Run the Show passes the three-episode test with aplomb. It has enough musical pedigree (and handsome dudes) to appeal to idol devotees, it’s acerbic enough about the industry to draw in skeptics, and its heroine is plucky enough to capture the hearts of most everyone in between. The presentation is confident and appealing, and while this is the first anime helmed by director Noriko Hashimotoshe has a good CV (including Sarazanmai and Given episodes) and a strong showing so far. It’s a bit of an odd duck, Given its origin and concept, but I think Heroines has the potential to be a low-key crowd pleaser with its eclectic blend of shoujo vibes and cantankerous idol boys.

Oh, also there’s a gal supporting character. People still like gals, right? And the eyebrows. I won’t let you forget about the eyebrows.


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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