ANIME REVIEW: “Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49” – Animation Scoop

ANIME REVIEW: “Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49”

The Japanese pop music industry is famous–or infamous–for manufacturing pop groups that become the flavor of the month, then quickly fade from view. Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49 (2014) offers a mildly upbeat look at the phenomenon.

Fans’ hearts were shattered 15 years ago when the boy band Shonen Hollywood (“Hollywood Boys”) retired at the height of their fame. The visual and audio clips suggest that group resembled an amalgamation of N Synch, the Jonas Brothers and the Partridge Family. They sang upbeat songs about the joy of touching their audience members, their aspirations, etc., all performed to carefully choreographed dance steps.

Now Tsuyoto, who sort of hides the fact that he was the “god” of the original group, decides to create a second generation of Shonen Hollywood, which is a bit like setting-up a Monkees tribute band. He recruits five high school guys, and begins re-molding them in his own image. Kakeru, the tallest and best-looking member of the quintet doesn’t really sing all that well; Ikuma, a high school dropout, emerges as leader of the group. Daiki is an orphan and the group’s self-proclaimed good luck charm. Shun actually is a musician, although his efforts to write original material go nowhere; Kira is an ex-child actor with a stage mother and fans who would like him to remain the kid he played on a popular TV series.

None of them has a passion for music or the kind of talent that would lead someone to pursue a career as a musician. They talk about becoming “idols” and having fans, not about making music.

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But under the watchful eye of manager Kyouichi, they’re groomed to become a bubblegum pop sensation. They practice dance routines more than they sing, concentrating on synchronization and energy, rather than individuality or self-expression. They’re even given scripts to memorize for the speeches they’ll give to introduce themselves to their fans at concerts. A lot of the episodes show the cast practicing the saccharine songs that were original group’s hits, which make The Archies sound like Guns n Roses.

Some sequences explore the individual bandmembers backstories. At the orphanage, Daiki once met one of the original members of Shonen Hollywood, who encouraged him to follow his dreams. Kakeru’s rude sister keeps interrupting when he’s practicing to tell him how bad he is. Kira would like to forget the catch phrase that was his most famous line on his old show. In moments of self-doubt, the guys encourage and support each other as they bond.

Their ties are strengthened by their appearance on a silly TV game show for some exposure. They stage an impromptu performance on a Tokyo street, and work to unload tickets to their first concert—in the Hollywood Tokyo Theater where original Shonen Hollywood headlined.

But if Kakeru, Ikuma, Daiki, Shun and Kira are racing toward stardom, they’re doing it in second gear. Director Toshimasa Kuroyanagi keeps the pace very slow, with no sense of urgency or drive. He uses a surprising number of static shots of the guys’ trendy sneakers while the dialogue plays in the background.

Shonen Hollywood offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at one of the more curious aspects of the Japanese entertainment industry, but it’s not a particularly compelling one. Still, the series ran for a second season, Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 50 (2015).

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Shonen Hollywood: Holly Stage for 49: Season One
Funimation: $44.98, 2 discs, DVD
In Japanese, with English subtitles.

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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