Lapis Re:LiGHTs

3 months ago 58

This Summer 2020 series is the anime branch of a multimedia project that will eventually include a smartphone game and a manga. Based on the way it ends, and the way it painstakingly introduces about two dozen named girls (even at the expense of straying from its central group), this series will probably prove to be the prologue for the game. Hence this is the right place to engage with the franchise, and it should serve as a good promotion for the game.

As a standalone series it's a bit of an oddity, as it combines three genres that may pair up but almost never triple up: idol series, magic school series, and Cute Girls Do Cute Things series. Surprisingly, the latter two compose the bulk of the series, with the idol component getting only scattered attention prior to the final episode. For much of the series, Tiara meets and commiserates with the group of friends which she joins and occasionally interacts with others, all while participating in common downtime activities like studying, going to restaurants, and so forth. Occasionally the focus will shift to one or more of the other five groups so that each girl can show off her distinctive look and defining cutesy idiosyncrasies. Regardless of which girls are focused on in each episode, fluffy behavior abounds. Even the magical beasts they sometimes encounter tend to be more adorable than threatening, and a ghost who pops up at one point is ultimately just another cute girl (who doesn't realize she's a ghost and thinks her signature magic is to walk through solid objects). While there are even cutesier series out there, this one is high up on the scale.

All of the girls are at the school training to be witches, which is both a respected profession in this setting and one with very broad power applications. Learning to use magic to fight is certainly one option, but learning how to apply magic to sports or fly around on hover disks are also common activities. Students are tiered into three levels – Noir, Rouge, and Lapis – based on academics, though the only impact this is ever shown to have on daily activities is that the higher-ranking groups get first dining and bath privileges. In fact, the series remains frustratingly vague on any details about how the school works, what goes on in it, or how witches function in society. The world-building may be thematically consistent, but it is also very lax.

Surprisingly, the idol component is neither the primary focus of the school nor the girls' activities; in fact, I do not recall the girls ever being referred to as idols, though their Orchestras clearly invoke that impression. Performing an Orchestra is an optional activity for groups, though also the most efficient way to score points, and serves a dual purpose of gathering mana to fuel the city's magical lights and defenses. Each of the six featured groups gets their own individual Orchestra before they all return to stages for one massive show spanning almost half of the final episode, but again, these are more highlights than focal points. Also, unlike traditional idol series, almost no emphasis is placed here on practice and preparation for these shows. Viewers hear mention of the girls preparing (and the slickly-coordinated shows certainly require diligent prep work!), but we see none of it.

The series does have somewhat of a plotline, though it is thin and typically functions to link other components together rather than guide the story. Most of it involves Tiara's real identity, which should not be hard to guess given her name, her trademark accessory, and the way two characters who recognize her act towards her. The writing at least attempts to make more of this by providing two layers to her truth – revealing who her revered sister is does not automatically reveal her full identity in this case – and implying that a lot of Tiara's experience at the school was orchestrated to lead her to a certain result. Dealing with the consequences of that in relation to the threatened expulsion provides one of the main crises of the story, while a late threat from a horde of magical beasts (and the way the Orchestras play into defending Mamkestell) provides the other. None of this gets too heavy, but it does serve to set up the problem at the end that the girls will no doubt spend the game questing to fix.

The highlight of the series' non-Orchestra visuals is unquestionably the character designs, which cover just about every common design archetype that might be seen in idol series, but the sumptuous design of the school and a palace some characters visit also make impressions. Regular animation is also better than normal, though there are occasional quality lapses. Though the content is mostly clean and innocent, with even bath scenes being relatively tame, mild doses of sex appeal can be seen here and there. The orchestrated supporting music complements all of the energy and cutesiness and generally serves the series' tone very well, while opener “Watashi-tachi no Startrail” features all of the groups singing in chorus and closer “Planetarium” by LiGHTs is a pleasant but also wholly forgettable number.

The Orchestras are, of course, where the real glitz is. Ambitious and highly varied (but also still very standard) choreography and costuming are executed by some of the best CG to date for an idol show, and the presence of magic allows for all kinds of visual effects that might normally be attempted with holograms or lasers in an actual stage show. The songs are not in the same league as Carole & Tuesday fare, but they are catchy and peppy enough and come in sufficient variety that the “all hands on deck” performance in the final episode does not feel repetitive. If you're into Japanese idols at all, the first half of the final episode is worth checking out even if you don't watch the whole series.

In all, Lapis Re:LiGHTs is entertaining enough on its own, and should play best to CGDCT or idol series fans who prefer the lightest side of that genre. However, even its finely-tuned performances and unusual blending of elements is not enough to make the series memorable. (Just keeping the big roster of girls' names straight is difficult enough.) Make a highlight reel of the featured performances and the rest is largely forgettable.

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