In Episode Eval, I take a look at a singular episode from one of the eight series I’m watching this season. At the end of the week these will be collected in the weekly Streaming Anime Round-Up for easier consumption.
With their new theme song written, the Nagarekawa Girls prep for the Local Idol Competition, eagerly anticipating their chance to perform on a national stage. When it turns out that Nagarekawa’s summer festival occurs on the same day as the competition, Nanako and Yukari will have to decide between a chance at their big break or staying true to their roots.
It’s easy to read a synopsis of an anime series and quickly dismiss it because of certain tropes or character types, which run rampant throughout the medium. This face-value rejection is practically necessary with the large number of simulcast series we get in the states these days. Locodol would have easily landed in this category for me; at a glance, it’s more pop-fueled idol worship. Though the first few episodes were dicey–with several attempts to pull in an otaku crowd through blatant, quasi-relevant, fan-service–Locodol became considerably more enjoyable as the friendships evolved and the series carved it’s own niche in the growing idol genre.
Picture a tolerably saccharine narrative–much like the ones seen throughout Locodol–and you’ve got the feel for these last two episodes. Fitting perfectly with the mood the rest of the series has aimed for, these last two episodes have the idol-show tendencies of examining the price and meaning of fame, mashed-up with a slice-of-life aesthetic that luxuriates in the mundane qualities of Nagarekawa itself. Unlike other series about idols, Nanako and Yukari have a small, but tight-knit following, and are only able to perform for a larger crowd in the final episode. Yet, Nanako and Yukari aren’t failures. The two girls struggle with how they are perceived–what it means to be an idol and if they are serving the town of Nagarekawa in the best way–but neither complain about their lack of fame on a national level, even if the bright lights do entice them. With the girls reviewing local restaurants and eradicating a hive of bees from a nearby farm, in one instance, Locodol lands somewhere between an idol show and a series like Working, or Servant x Servant, wherein our heroes are caught up in their “minor-league” roles. Certainly Nanako and Yukari reach a level of success–we see Nanako’s classmates become deep fans of the Nagarekawa girls over the breadth of the series–but our heroines are still small fries once they participate in the local idol competition. Here they “face off” against groups that have garnered more success, notably the Awa Awa girls, local idols that have hit upon national fame within the last year.
Ultimately though, these last two episodes clearly paint the fame which the Awa Awa girls have garnered as illusory, and never as fully realized or as rewarding as the love which they received from their hometown fans. While the Nagarekawa girls do well in the local idol competition, the importance is not given to their rank, but to how quickly they can make it back home in time for Nagarekawa’s summer festival. The series consistently points out how staying true to one’s roots will result in true happiness, and is thus much more rural and mundane in nature than series which focus on the allure of the big stage. In this way, like Gin no Saji and Barakamon, Locodol carries a praise and appreciation for rural and small town life. Though Locodol‘s never as charming or as thoughtful as those two fan favorites, it at least warrants a skim through, if for nothing else than to catch the poignant series wrap-up.
One potential turnoff for Locodol is the characters, which, at face value, have a number of moe qualities. Nanako and Mirai are especially bashful or clumsy–depending on the day–while Yui is very petite and cheerful. However, these qualities are rarely exploited by the writers in the same way that many otaku-geared franchises tend to infantilize their female protagonists. Nanako’s shy nature is charming, and rarely cloying or distasteful. When an issue arises for one of the four heroines, they turn to each other for help or guidance, instead of an outside source. Yukari knows much more about speaking in public than Nanako, for example, so she acts as a guide through the world of a local idol for the amateur. Meanwhile, Nanako is more grounded than Yukari in her social status–Yukari comes from a wealthy family–and is able to help Yukari better understand socializing in a more personal way. Though Nanako’s uncle is a driving force for certain plot points, no male hero steps in to save these girls from themselves. In similar series, a male protagonist exists for the female characters to hang their sorrows or worries upon. This vanilla hero serves the role of constant savior for our downtrodden female characters, making their world seem chaotic and void at the thought of his departure–think Kanon or the even worse, If Her Flag Breaks. Locodol never stoops to this level, and even the Nagarekawa girls’ manager–the figure of authority here–is a woman by the fourth episode. She may have obsessive tendencies towards the girls at first, but she tends to mellow as the series progresses, and her role evolves from a male gaze insert to a motherly figure by the end of the series. Most importantly, Nanako’s growth from a shy girl who can barely handle the requirements of the stage to a young woman ready to accept the responsibilities of a hometown idol–as glib as those goals may be–comes solely from herself, instead of from an external character who “rescues” her.
Locodol is by no means a perfect show–and honestly, with as strong as the summer season was, it doesn’t even crack my top five of the season–but it is a series that’s easy to dismiss because of this character’s clumsiness or that character’s camera-shy tendencies. Like some of the best anime series, Locodol actively bucks the trends of its genres, both the alluring depiction of fame found in series about the idol lifestyle, and the lack of female independence rampant in “cute-girl” anime. It’s good for a lark, and most importantly, for as easily digestible as it might be, Locodol doesn’t feel like a waste of time. That’s high praise, at least among its peers.