For a show about color-coded pretty boy idols, IDOLiSH7 has been consistently fairly dark. That’s something that has been building with each successive season, and by the time we hit The Third Beat, themes of greed, family trauma, and unchecked hubris have escalated to the point where things are looking fairly bleak for our numerous protagonists. Season one introduced the rift between twins Riku and Tenn, season two revealed Kujo as some sort of idol-producing supervillain who breaks up families in the service of his goals, and now in season three, things move into grim family and industry secrets, with the stakes rising as everything begins to come together.
Interestingly enough, one of the themes that get touched on is that show business legacy families lead to corruption and pain. Certainly we’ve seen some of that before with TRIGGER member Gaku and his fraught relationship with his father, the head of TRIGGER’s production company. But things are taken a few steps further this time as we learn about Yamato’s family, something he has gone to great lengths to keep secret from his friends. It turns out that he’s the illegitimate son of a famous actor, who had to be kept secret from the media because his father’s public image was that of a loving, perfect family man. Thus the person he sought to get revenge on by becoming an idol in the first place was his father, whom he feels a great deal of resentment towards. But more than that, Yamato’s dad also ran an informal union of sorts known as the Chiba Salon, which basically attempted to provide information to entertainers so that they would be on more solid ground with the people who hired them. The Chiba Salon operated almost as an underground group, and there’s an implication that producers, directors, and other powerful people resented the measure of security and information that it provided. Although the group no longer exists in the story’s present, its shadow informs the actions of the season’s main villain, Ryo Tsukumo.
It takes some time for things to build up to the point where we fully realize what Ryo is up to, and that makes this season a combination of “deliberately misleading” and “kind of ominous.” After a first episode that introduces Ryo and the idea of the Chiba Salon, gears shift to Yamato’s past and the early days of Re:Vale, whose original incarnation was very likely ended by an accident engineered by Kujo, who wanted Yuki for his project. (If Kujo’s actions with Aya and Tenn didn’t give you a full idea of the depths to which he’s willing to sink, the fact that he apparently would rather Yuki be dead than not working with him does the job nicely.) All of this does work in service of the major events in the final three episodes of the cour, although the hints are better seen in hindsight. The fact that both Yuki and Yamato were tied to the Chiba Salon is significant, but Kujo’s callous actions are also major factors in how Ryo formulates his plans; he’s using those whose careers were either flat-out ruined or stalled by Kujo’s selfish machinations as weapons against our three main groups of idols. It’s also vastly important that we realize how Momo of Re:Vale figures into everything; as the single friendliest and most outgoing cast member, Momo’s sweet naivete allows Ryo an opening to exploit. Whether he truly believes what he claims to Momo is up in the air – I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to lie about thinking that Momo has started a new version of the Chiba Salon if it furthered his own goals.
In part this is what makes Ryo such a good villain. He does verge on the cartoonishly evil, with his fox face and snakey grin, but the fact that he’s so very committed to being an ass and is thoroughly enjoying playing with his victims excuses that to a degree. He’s not necessarily trying to take out IDOLiSH7, TRIGGER, and Re:Vale because he needs to in order for his own band of angry young men to rise; he’s doing it because he’s having fun. That’s far scarier than Kujo’s motives and makes him something of a wild card, willing to do whatever he can for the sheer joy of it. There’s an excellent chance that he’s simply using the four members of ZOOL because it’s easy to take advantage of their rage and because it will create the most chaos – and the manner of ZOOL’s debut after the credits of episode thirteen seems to support that idea, because even in this series, causing a major blackout for a promotional appearance seems like a step too far for sanity.
That Ryo has no compunctions about using and wounding people is also a major factor in the way that things play out. His pseudo-friendship with Momo allows him an in with the main cast, something that the trusting Momo doesn’t fully realize until it’s too late. By that point, Ryo has his fingers on several major possibilities for creating scandal – Momo’s replacement of Banri with Re:Vale, Yamato’s true identity and Mizuki’s insecurities for IDOLiSH7, and Gaku’s feelings for Tsumugi for TRIGGER – and to make matters worse, he’s one hundred percent willing to fabricate a scandal for Ryunosuke with the show’s only female idol. We should probably be relieved that he is as yet unaware of Nagi’s probable noble status, something that started to come clear during the press conference in season two and is reinforced when a “friend” of Nagi’s shows up concerned about security – and to ominously tell Nagi that his time is almost up.
After a second season and most of a third without a major role to play, it is nice to see that Tsumugi gets a little more to do towards the end of these thirteen episodes. While she’s not the most interesting character, she is still important as the person who initially formed IDOLiSH7, and we do get a reminder of how difficult her job is made by her gender when the Gaku scandal starts to break. After Gaku explains what’s going on, an obviously upset Tsumugi whispers that she wishes that she had been born a man, because her job would be so much easier. Rather than appearing flattered or pleased that Gaku likes her, Tsumugi is shaken, because having an idol fall in love with her stands to jeopardize her career – and the fact that Riku reacts the way he does to Gaku’s admission may be making Tsumugi worry that Gaku’s not the only one who has unprofessional feelings for her. While this is arguably background noise to the building ZOOL plot, it’s still an important element of the story, because it stands to create tension, if not outright friction, between Tsumugi, IDOLiSH7, and TRIGGER as she strives to be professional and they struggle with any romantic feelings they may have.
Things are looking grim as this cour wraps up. TRIGGER’s dealing with dual romantic scandals, IDOLiSH7 is threatened by one of them and the looming threat of Nagi’s true identity, and ZOOL is clearly out for blood while Ryo laughs maniacally in the background. The second half of the season is all set to be much darker when it starts as all of the pieces Ryo spent this half laying on the board are now in place. TRIGGER’s ending theme suddenly feels like it makes a lot more sense as things begin to fall apart around them – and whether or not they can all hold it together is anyone’s guess.