If you thought the first cour of IDOLiSH7 Third Beat! was dark, hold on to your hats. The drama stirred up by Ryo Tsukumo and his evil ego gets ramped up to a point that nearly qualifies it as a nineteenth-century melodrama, with everything from rumors of contest-rigging to flat-out murder on the table. Yet the story manages, despite these excesses, to remain tense and engaging, and that’s largely due to one very specific point: things didn’t get this intense until the show had firmly established its characters and world, making sure that when the melodrama hit the fan, we viewers were already fully invested. Most of us are hooked by this point in the still-unfolding narrative, making the drama feel “melo” only upon reflection. It was a risk that more than pays off here.
Although i7 still has the series title and is arguably the main cast, the focus in this back half of the season is on TRIGGER. Once i7’s main rival, the group had a carefully orchestrated fall from grace, courtesy of Tsukumo and his new group ZOOL. Tsukumo’s unsubtle goal is to have ZOOL replace both TRIGGER and i7 as the top male idol group, and he’s precisely picked the group’s members to ensure maximum compliance. That means all four of them have massive chips on their shoulders, often with a specific grudge against a member of the other two bands. Tsukumo may be vile, but he’s not stupid, and he appears to be banking on the idea that ZOOL will do whatever he wants them to if he frames his plans just the right way.
More interesting is that once again, Kujo, the man who adopted Tenn and Tamaki’s little sister, remains at the center of all things resentful. One of ZOOL’s members specifically has an issue with him, having been un-adopted unceremoniously when he failed to fulfill Kujo’s Zero dreams. While we’ve had plenty of indications that Kujo wasn’t great to his “kids,” this is the first time we’ve seen his cruelty spelled out in this way. Kujo doesn’t care about the children he adopts; he cares about recreating the glorious world he shared with the now-vanished Zero, and everyone he interacts with is merely a cog in the machine of his ambitions. Including someone he personally wronged (as opposed to Riku and Tamaki, who were tangentially wronged) is significant in that it strips away the last of his veneer, revealing him as the pathetic, unhinged man he truly is. Kujo is living with his eyes looking backward, and while he does see some things clearly, he’s only really interested in recreating past glory. That’s something Tenn is beginning to understand. However, when he tells Riku that their biological parents aren’t his anymore, it’s hard to say if that’s what he really thinks after Kujo’s brainwashing or if he’s trying once again to protect his brother.
The relationship between Tenn and Riku is another exciting component of these episodes. When TRIGGER is forced to go solo, Riku goes out of his way to ensure that IDOLiSH7 helps where they can. He wants the best for his twin, and Tenn’s reactions show how much that means to him, even if he’s unwilling to say as much to Riku’s face. Both brothers feel they need to protect each other from the world – and Tenn wants to save Riku from himself – but it has become so difficult between them because of Kujo’s actions that it’s almost impossible for them to communicate openly and honestly. The interactions between other i7 members highlight this; Tamaki helps Sogo confront his father, and Mitsuki and Nagi’s interactions (specifically in episode thirty) are much more brotherly. It’s worth noting that Tenn’s fellow TRIGGER members also have some difficulty breaking through his prickly shell, which may again come down to the sort of upbringing he had at Kujo’s hands.
The main thrust of this arc is Tsukumo’s attempts to destroy his rivals, with TRIGGER’s tribulations front and center. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not quietly (or at least as quietly as he’s capable of) working to destabilize i7, and he is specifically going after Nagi. The reveal of who Nagi is doesn’t come as a surprise, but how Tsukumo uses his truth is still troubling, especially since it seems to be working, judging by the final episode. Also of concern is Tsukumo’s apparent fondness for Riku; he was also fond of Momo, which led to an attempt to kill him, if not via alcohol poisoning, then by shoving him off a balcony to his death. The positive here is that Yuki is much less passive than people assume, but also that Toma, one of ZOOL’s members, starts to see who Tsukumo really is and to question what he’s doing allying himself with a man like that. The series seems to be setting up for at least a partial ZOOL redemption in the next arc, and as long as Tsukumo isn’t part of that – he’s very much beyond redemption at this point – we should hope that a fourth season will be announced, which is not the case as of this writing.
There is light in the overall darkness of this cour. Re:Vale gets a lot of lighter moments, and TRIGGER attempting to cohabitate is also a lot of fun. The music remains solid (ZOOL’s ending theme is a real earworm), and the CG for the dancing has improved immensely. There’s also an overall theme of why the guys are all idols and what they like about it. While the more cynical among us may roll our eyes, seeing them so invested in their work and what it brings to others is still nice. That reminder is critical, with Tsukumo’s selfish shadow darkening the overall plot. We’ve gone beyond the point where it would be easy to write IDOLiSH7 off as just another perky, candy-colored idol story. It’s a good show with a solid plot and engaging characters, and it’s more than earned the right to have its cheesy moments. If you haven’t been watching, you are missing out.