All of you know that in the world of anime most all of the big sellers have a lot of action and some elements of fantasy or science fiction. After all the giant robot and magical girl genres show no signs of slowing down as publishers do their best to get a piece of the pie. It's very rare when a truly different and unique series comes out that doesn't shove any of these concepts down our throats.
Shows like Boys Be… and Yugo the Negotiator are realistic in drama and emotion to the point that they carry a surreal tone for an animated series. In 2001 Madhouse, the production company behind Trigun and the upcoming Death Not, released a show called Chance Pop Sessions which proved to be unique to say the least. This thirteen episode series tells the tale of three teenage girls who dream about making the big time by becoming pop superstars. As you'd imagine that road is wrought with heartache and failure, but such is the price to pay on the road to stardom.
The three girls that share the spotlight are Akari, Nozomi, and Yuki. In my opinion the main character in the show is Akari who is a singer in her church's choir. She has a deep love for music and longs for nothing else than to sing for a living. When a pair of tickets is given to her to go see her favorite singer Reika perform she naturally jumps at the chance. After the concert she meets Nozomi at a fan questionnaire box.
Nozomi may be a spoiled little rich girl who hasn't worked a day in her life, but she certainly knows what she loves. Her family's butler, Jeeves (original name isn't it?) knows what she loves to and is willing to do anything to see that she stays happy, even if it means busting the skulls of some security guards so she can give Reika some roses. Before the concert the well-to-do pair accidentally hit Yuki with their car, which prompted some issues about class and socialism.
Yuki is the type of girl that has always had to work for everything she ever had. Therefore she finds herself working Reika's concerts for both money and the chance to see a free show. She's strong-headed and determined to make it has a singer, so naturally she is very interested when she hears about a school affiliated with Akiba Kisaragi who is Reika's manager.
Through each of their own devices the girls find themselves attending class together and doing their hardest to see their ultimate goal come true. Through thick and thin the girls become friends and start to see their dreams happen. Thanks to their schooling the trio eventually gets their chance to sing in front of an audience, though is it everything that they ever wished it would be?
A lot happens to these girls over the course of the series that changes their professional and personal lives forever. Questions about the validity of their family ties are raised and old friends depart in unexpected (and tragic) ways. Seeing the girls go through their struggles really evokes emotion in ways that few anime can. There is a certain personal touch to each scene that really drives home the feeling that the director intended them to. With a set up like this you can expect an emotional rollercoaster, especially when unseen events are thrown at you left and right. There is an underlying mystery here as well so the series goes well beyond simple character development and dream fulfillment.
Because of the way the show is set up and the fact that it is focused almost as much on music as it is on its characters, you can expect a lot of songs. Every episode has more than its fair share of tunes to listen to. From pop to classical and even some Christian songs, there is quite the range on the soundtrack for the series. The funny thing is even on the English language track the songs are presented in Japanese. It was a little odd at first but given the fact that if the English cast had to sing the songs over again, it no doubt would have been less than desirable.
I really got into Chance Pop Sessions. I thought the story, though simple, was really intriguing and that the characters were well developed. Everything felt realistic almost, with the sense that this show was a made for TV drama of some sort. My only gripe with it is that the story progresses very slowly, which is a little strange for a short series. Things go by in melancholy fashion at times and then overly perky at others but both attitudes fit the mood of the scenes they appear.
Whether or not you'll get into the show is really up to your personal preferences. If you have an open mind when it comes to anime and don't mind experiencing something that doesn't have ninjas and giant robots then you won't be disappointed. The tale does feel like it stretches itself a little too thin at time, though for the most part it stays strong the entire way through. A slow set up period only means that the final episodes come bitterly soon.
Originally produced in 2001 Chance Pop Sessions is presented on DVD with a 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio and looks decent for what it is. There was a little bit of grain in parts and the show had a very soft appearance, but I have a feeling that was due more to the style of the artwork instead of a byproduct of this transfer. The artwork is very fluid for the most part and the design fits the unique nature of the show. Everything seems to be deliberately wider than what you'd usually see in anime. This changes the dynamics of facial expressions and such, plus gives the show its own look. The color palette is also a little less vibrant than most anime giving the show a slight watercolor tone.
There are two language tracks to pick from on the ADV thinpak for this show: Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround. Instinctively you'd want to go for the English track because of the featured surround sound, but I actually found the dubbing to be underwhelming. Some of the acting was either too stiff or over the top for my liking and the fact that the songs were left in Japanese made things seem a little strange. Going with the Japanese and subtitles would be the way to go if you ask me, but all around the technical quality is roughly what you'd expect, though a little more subdued thanks to all of the dialogue.
As is the case with most ADV collections the only supplemental material on this release is a batch of previews.
Heartbreaking, inspirational, and clever are probably the best ways to describe Chance Pop Sessions. For a series with only thirteen episodes it makes an impression that you'll take with you long after you've finished watching it. The pacing may be slower than other anime and some parts may be a little boring but it's a series filled with some real emotion and well developed characters. Definitely check it out if you're looking for something different.