Overall Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
A contest is held to determine new/top idol performer. However, the contest’s brightest star dies suddenly. Three years later, a new round of the contest is being held. This time around it includes the dark-haired, serious-minded younger sister of the dead idol, who is getting into performing herself to see what her sister saw on stage, since her sister’s success had distanced the two before the star’s death. Also involved is a more brightly outgoing, enthusiastic shorter-haired girl, who was inspired to endure through childhood poor health by the dead idol and has an unusual connection to her. They form the dramatic center of a new idol group, and the connection that the second featured girl has to the dead idol becomes a plot point midway through the series but doesn’t ultimately define it.
This basic premise could apply to two different anime series in 2021, both of which are connected to broader multimedia projects. Despite some gimmickry of its own, Selection Project is the more mundane of the two, as unlike the earlier Idoly Pride, it has no inherently supernatural component to it. Because it came along second, it also inescapably comes off as more than a bit of a copycat, and the differences between the two series are not enough to fully shake that impression. While this series about equals its predecessor in terms of production values and is at least in the ballpark on musical quality, it is also distinctly the weaker of the two on the storytelling front. That’s not to say that Selection Project is bad – it’s actually a solid production overall as idol series go – and it does have its moments, but its final episode is distinctly lacking by comparison to Idoly Pride’s powerhouse finish and it never achieves the full emotional resonance that made Idoly Pride so wonderful.
The main problem is that the characters in Selection Project are simply not as compelling. Akari, the dead idol, comes across as a run-of-the-mill ideal idol, to the extent that only her look gives her any credibility as a major star. Contrarily, Mana (Pride’s equivalent) shines so radiantly that the credibility of her popularity and dominance is never in question, and she establishes a much stronger emotional connection with the audience by being featured through most of the first episode and then later as a ghost. Her death feels tragic and can hit audiences who didn’t know it is coming hared, while Akari’s death was just something that happened. Selection Project does better with developing its two central girls and the relationship between the two, and the two series are about equal in that regard. However, all of Project’s other characters suffer as a result. They are just one-note characters mostly defined by a singular gimmick stressed ad nauseum (one likes to eat, another is a fitness junkie, another is a motherly type, etc.), and none of them get more than a surface exploration. The one note in their favor is that they do interact smoothly and form convincing subgroups.
The story does have some strong points. The sequence of events involving why Suzune doesn’t want to wear a swimsuit in one of the rounds, and the way the other girls (who should be her rivals) ultimately unite around her over it, is a convincing exercise in group bonding. That also sets up well later circumstances where the girls strike out on their own for a while after they all fall out of the contest; in fact, the series may be at its strongest in showing their struggles to go independent and the way those around them and their fans from the contest feel about it. However, the series also overplays Suzune’s health scares, resulting in one of the least convincing “we need to get to the venue at the last minute” situations I’ve ever seen in a series like this; basically, the series just ignores that the timing and physical circumstances cannot possibly work.
At least the series does fully come through on other merits. All the girls look sharp and distinct both in base form and in most of the outfits that they use and the CG used in performances is better than normal. The songs are also perfectly pleasant, and while they may lack impact, they can be catchy; the opening theme “Glorious Days” (which is also the featured performance song in the last episode) has been stuck in my head for the past couple of weeks, and closer “One Yell” is a memorable number, too.
Basically, this is a series worth checking out if you’re into idol shows to begin with. If you’re not, go with Idoly Pride instead.