I-Chu was one of many idol anime that was released in Winter 2021. Produced by Lay-duce, known for their in-between work on last fall’s Hypnosis Mic -Division Rap Battle- Rhyme Anima and their production of Magi: Adventure of Sinbad, I-Chu is an adaptation of the Japanese mobile game of the same name. Originally released in June 2015, the game has about one million active players to date, which was enough to warrant an updated version of the game entitled I-Chu Etoile Stage. I-Chu the anime follows the latter game, not the original.
As a devout idol fan, I went into I-Chu with an open mind. I had high hopes that finally, I’d get to watch an all-male (well, save for the unnamed Producer, who’s basically a set piece in the show) idol anime that would hook me. I didn’t have the same expectations as say, Zombie Land Saga, but I was ready for a good, musical time with what appears to be too many boys to count. I’m… not sure what I got, but I can say that this wasn’t my favorite watch.
One of the immediate perks of I-Chu is the simple fact that there are SO. MANY. IDOLS. There’s literally an idol for every personal preference one can imagine; I’m talking about samurai idols, artistic idols, “internationally flavored” idols, twin trickster idols, femboy idols, jazzy rock-boy idols, and vampiric chūnibyou idols with backup singer servants. The list goes on and on and on because honestly, the show never seems to stop introducing units. Yet that’s part of the fun of the show: there’s something here for every kind of idol fan, especially if male music groups are your thing.
This element, on its own, isn’t enough to carry the show, or even make it stand out from its male-idol predecessors like IDOLiSH7, let alone the more innovative entries like Zombie Land Saga. It’s not even enough to make the show endearing as a genre staple, even though there’s a lot of things that should make this show the perfect, charming, low-stakes idol show of 2021. Even the music, which naturally plays a big part in the show, fails to excite, with most of the snippets and songs sounding incredibly generic. Idol music can sound generic, but I firmly believe they can be executed or performed in an engaging manner. None of the songs in I-Chu did that, and they certainly never reached earworm levels of listenability.
There are a lot of foibles over I-Chu‘s twelve-episode run, both in terms of writing flubs that fall flat and plot elements that just aren’t interesting. The worst offender is how incredibly one-note each IChu is written; while there’s some development, each boy gets pigeonholed into a singular, glaring trait to fit the theme of their unit and make them “stand out” from one another. This is, of course, a direct consequence I-Chu‘s large and diverse cast, and there is simply not enough space to provide character development for most of them. Honestly, I can only remember a scant few names from the show because most of the characters just failed to have any impact.
The one character – and unit – I remember quite well is Kokoro Hanabusa and POP’N STAR. You see, POP’N STAR initially appears to be a trio of young women in the intro, when in actuality, they’re young men who present female. The idols decision to dress in feminine clothing isn’t elaborated beyond its uniqueness and the singers themselves state they identify as male. They’re a remarkable standout in a show full of quirky boys. However, there’s a dollop of mild transphobia about Kokoro not being a girl – it’s mostly “shock value” exclamations that die down pretty quickly – and while it doesn’t make up the sum total of interactions with Kokoro and the rest of his unit, it still felt exhausting in an anime made in 2021. Thankfully, I-Chu doesn’t linger on this; in fact, in episode 7, the boys of Fire Fenyx congratulate Kokoro on successfully making a unit. It’s actually a rather sweet moment in a show that could have made Kokoro’s presentation into a gross, running joke.
Most of the time, the show is just functional, though it most noticeably suffers when it gives itself over to antics that go nowhere and add nothing to the central plot of “sell 3,000 CDs” that takes up most of the show’s run. Those antics often come off as strange, especially when you consider that most of the cast in I-Chu are adults. Given how childish they act, the revelation that most of the boys are either pushing twenty or are in their early twenties honestly came as a shock to me, and made me wonder why it didn’t capitalize on the uniqueness of a non-high school idol anime.
In a way, that example is the story of I-Chu’s missteps. All of the ingredients to make I-Chu good are there – the large variety of boys, a solid school setting, wacky adults and backstory tidbits, and even themed music and units – but none of those ingredients mix together to make a good show. In fact, I-Chu comes off as an amalgam of every male-idol media in existence. In comparison to Idoly Pride, a much more serious, thoughtful idol series that debuted in the same season, the experience of watching I-Chu just feels like eating cotton candy: it’s got no substance, has very little flavor other than sugar, and ultimately isn’t as satisfying as you think, especially as an older viewer.
That being said, I did end my watch feeling deeply grateful that I-Chu exists. While the show definitely isn’t for me, I know that there are fans of the mobile game who were thrilled to see some of their favorite units brought to life with genuinely nice animation. I’m sure there are some who were excited at the thought of getting new content, and having even more engagement with their favorite members. While I ultimately had very tepid feelings towards most of the boys (I’ll admit to really liking POP’N STAR’s Hanabusa Kokoro), I still think the fact that I-Chu exists in anime form is in itself something worth appreciating.
Ultimately, I-Chu has the potential to be more than the sum of its parts, but failed to capitalize on it and ended up largely forgettable as a result. Unlike HYPNOSIS MIC or Ensemble Stars!, I-Chu lacks that final spark to make it genuinely engaging or distinctive. Instead, it’s often a slog of a watch despite its solid animation, which is a shame given how rare all-male idol anime are compared to their all-female counterparts.