“I look around at us and you know what I see? Losers. I mean like, folks who have lost stuff. And we have, man, we have, all of us. Homes, and our families, normal lives. And you think life takes more than it gives, but not today. Today, it’s giving us something. It is giving us a chance.” –Peter Quill, Guardians of The Galaxy
Aspiring idol Ino Sakura accepts a contract to work with Mouse Productions and moves to Koganei, a bedroom community in Tokyo. On her first day, she meets manager Hoho Kajino and her new teammates, former actor Roko Sekino, former model Nina Maehara and former musician Hayu Nukui at their dormitory, Mouse House. Here, Ino learns that Mouse House is scheduled for demolitions owing to the fact that Roko, Nina and Hayu can’t seem to find any work. Bringing her naïveté and spirits to the table, Ino promises to do her best, and Hoho thus brands the girls as the Fruit Tarts. Although their lack of fame makes it difficult, Ino is more than willing to do things like handing out supermarket fliers. With her natural ability to open up to others, Ino helps raise community interest in Fruit Tart and raises the others along with her. Over time, Fruit Tart perform at their first concert, a sideshow for the much better-known and more successful Cream Anmitsu (comprised of Roko’s younger sister, Chiko, and twins Nua and Rua Nakamachi), acquire an up-and-coming performer, Hemo Midori, who was originally set to join Cream Anmitsu. As the girls get to know one another better, they also practise to improve their singing, participate in the variety show that Hoho is shooting to raise interest in Fruit Tart, accept classmate Tone Honmachi’s offer to help out with merchandise and marketting, and work their hardest to produce original music for their debut album. During a concert, Fruit Tart manages to sell off all of their CDs to meet their quota. However, this is not sufficient to turn things around, and so, Hoho enrolls them in a national idol competition. The sincerity of their efforts draw the attention of both Oto Kogane, the young acting president of Cat Productions, and Hayu’s mother: it turns out that Fruit Tart’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, and Cat Productions is willing to put on a collaboration with Mouse Productions. Further to this, Hayu’s mother reveals that Hayu and her father do not get along owing to Hayu’s desires to work in entertainment; if Hayu could reconcile with her father, then they would consider sponsoring Fruit Tart. During the collaboration, Ino, Roko, Hayu, Nina and Hemo perform alongside Chiko, Nua and Rua – the concert is a success, and Fruit Tart manages to make the preliminaries for the national competition. Encouraged, Ino promises to do her best with Mouse House from here on out. This is Dropout Idol Fruit Tart (Ochikobore Fruit Tart), a Manga Time Kirara adaptation that aired during the autumn 2020 season – during this time, I was busy with doing my first-ever attempt at doing two simultaneous episodic talks for GochiUsa BLOOM and Strike Witches: Road To Berlin, with the inevitable result that other series from that season fell to the back of my mind.
Having now had a chance to Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, it becomes clear that this series is one that stands of its own merits in typical Manga Time Kirara fashion. Despite a setup optimised towards humour, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart ultimately speaks to the idea of how being true to oneself and acting with sincerity will allow people to find their own way even where it seems that all hope is lost. When Ino joins Mouse House, she meets a group of washouts whose careers appear to have hit a dead end. However, where Roko, Nina and Hayu see failure, Ino sees friendship. Despite being the newcomer, the outside, Ino does her best to make the most of things – their first public appearance, at a local supermarket near the train station, proves successful because Ino is able to interact with the local community and liven things up considerably. This initially helps Fruit Tart to sort out their problem with finances, as the neighbours are all too happy to donate food to them, but later on, as Fruit Tart become more involved, locals begin supporting them in their performances, too; they appear at local concerts to cheer on Ino and the others, as well as pick up merchandise. Fruit Tart’s successes are aided by Tone, whose family runs an okonomiyaki shop. While her interest in Fruit Tart, and Ino in particular, is initially something that is met with a cool reception, once Ino and the others accept her, Tone proves to be an asset, putting forth a sincere effort to see Fruit Tart succeed: it turns out she’s a major fan of idols, and this knowledge makes her valuable in helping Fruit Tart to drive sales and increase their visibility. Again, cultivating a more hands-on approach and gaining the locals’ support is something that ends up giving Fruit Tart the stepping stone they need to begin building up a fanbase and reputation as a competent group of idols. Although their singing and dancing needs to be on point, and Chiko’s advice about engaging the audience is sound, idols also need to have a unique identifying characteristic. Being well-connected to Koganei’s community is ultimately what sets Fruit Tart apart from much more popular and successful idol units, and in the end, gives each of Ino, Roko, Nina, Hayu and Hemo a chance to show the remainder of Japan what they’ve got.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Unsurprisingly, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart is right up my alley; for one, the manga is written by Sō Hamayumiba, who had previously written Hanayamata (another series I greatly enjoyed). Unlike Hanayamata, discussions surrounding Dropout Idol Fruit Tart was limited, so I had no previous expectations entering (and as such, this series did not qualify for the Terrible Anime Challenge). Right out of the gates, viewers are introduced to Ino, whose appearance is similar to Yuru Camp△‘s Nadeshiko Kagamihama, and Endro!‘s Yūsha. I couldn’t help but wonder if this design choice is deliberate; Ino actually does resemble Nadeshiko and Yūsha in personality as well as appearance. Conversely, Hoho brings to mind Locodol‘s Saori Nishifukai, who similarly enjoys taking pictures of those she manages and may operate in a dubious manner, but manages to come through when it counts.
- Dropout Idol Fruit Tart has Ino and the others beginning with entry-level work, such as handing out fliers at the local supermarket. Unlike other unit seen in different series, Hoho has already created the outfits for the girls, and moreover, everyone appears to have some competence in their roles: out of the gates, Nina, Hayu, Roko and even Ino manage to put on a satisfactory impromptu performance. Because of how Dropout Idol Fruit Tart is structured, the characters’ skill is presented as being secondary to the various challenges they face: for one, Mouse House is scheduled for demolitions, contingent on the girls’ successes (or lack thereof).
- Although Ino is a newcomer, she manages to fit right in with the others; everyone has a unique hang-up that might impact their abilities to be a good idol. Roko hasn’t grown an inch since her time as a child actress and appear to be typecast as a child, while Hayu isn’t a particularly good singer or musician. Despite her stature, Nina is very shy and embarrassed by the fact she’s stacked. Ino herself feels nature’s call every time she gets nervous. Traits like these are oftentimes exaggerated in Manga Time Kirara works to remind viewers that all of the characters are unique in their own way, but for many viewers, these traits are sufficiently exaggerated so that the characters become implausible.
- However, I would counter-argue that in a work of fiction, especially in a comedy, having colourful characters is preferable to having characters that are indistinguishable from one another. Here, Ino and Hayu part ways with Nina and Roko, as they attend different schools. Initially, the girls worry that as idols, they’d be recognised, but to their great disappointment, no one at their respective schools appear to know who they are. Things become even more amusing later on when it turns out Nua and Rua attend the same school as Nina and Roko do.
- Prior to their first performance, Riri Higashi, producer for Cream Anmitsu, introduces to Ino and the others a new member. Riri and Hoho have known one another since childhood, but Hoho had found herself outdone by Riri at every turn. Riri herself seems blissfully unaware of this and continues to treat Hoho kindly, but this only serves to incense Hoho further. However, adding another new idol to Fruit Tart does end up being the catalyst for pushing the group further: Hemo is a third-year middle school student with a shy disposition, and she’s voiced by Kyōka Moriya, a relatively new voice actress. Initially, Hemo’s voice brought to mind Kokona from Yama no Susume, but Kokona is voiced by Yui Ogura.
- Ino is voiced by Hiyori Nitta (Hime Wazumi of High School Fleet), while Haruka Shiraishi plays Hayu (Action Heroine Cheer Fruits‘ Kanon Shimura and Kaie Tanya of 86 EIGHTY-SIX). Meanwhile, Reina Kondō voices Nina (Slow Start‘s very own Hana Ichinose). On the day of their concert, Fruit Tart changes into their performance dresses and deal with the fact that they’ve got special underwear for the concert; this was something I’d seen in Wake Up, Girls!, during the unit’s first performance at a quiet park by evening, and from what I gather, it’s done as a way of drawing viewers’ attention.
- In the end, Fruit Tart’s first concert is a success; their audience exceeds expectations, and opens up the girls’ eyes to what music can do: when done properly, music evokes a very specific feeling and conveys thoughts that the composer or singer intended to share. There is no objective measure of what makes music poor, but for me, “bad” music is repetitive, shallow and fails to evoke an emotion, or creates an image of “I don’t care” in my mind’s eye. This is why indie pop and alternative pop do not appeal to me: while critics often praise these songs for being edgy, they simply don’t appeal to me because I do not relate to them (parties or nightclubs aren’t exactly my preferred haunt).
- With this in mind, different people may find these genres enjoyable, and that’s completely fine (if, perchance, there was such a thing as “objectively bad” music, market forces would select against them, and we’d never get to hear it). Back in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, Hemo is fully on board with joining Fruit Tart after seeing their performance, but out of the gates, Hemo proves to be very clingy and manages to find herself in Ino’s bed the first morning she’s at Mouse House. Worrying that Ino is some kind of deviant, Roko and Hayu tie Ino up until Hemo explains what’s happened. I’m quite fond of Hemo’s character; despite being quite innocent and earnest about her idol duties, she’s always seen with heart-shaped pupils and begins to develop a massive crush on Ino.
- Beyond their typical idol duties, of singing, dancing and appearing on variety programmes, Hoho attempts to push Fruit Tart into other fields in order to try and increase the unit’s visibility, as well as drive up sales through sex appeal; conventional fanservice is present in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, and usually, it’s Nina or Ino who provide most of the moments owing to their figures. Hayu and Roko end up envious of the others as a result, and this is occasionally used to drive some of the comedy within Dropout Idol Fruit Tart. Individual reception to these sorts of things will vary, although I personally found that in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, it wasn’t so distracting as to interrupt things. If and when I’m asked, Ino is my favourite of the characters; although not the most well-endowed, she’s said to have nice legs as a result of her rural background (although unlike SSSS.Gridman, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart doesn’t emphasise this in a visual manner), and like Nina, Ino becomes downtrodden whenever this is mentioned.
- At school, Ino encounters unexpected trouble when she finds love letters in her locker. Although one would suspect Hemo of being responsible, it turns out that Ino’s classmate, Tone, is responsible. Tone is the daughter of an okonomiyaki joint owner, and as such, has a wide range of skills. She’s also very fond of idols, including both the novice Fruit Tart and veteran Cream Anmitsu. One day, Tone decides to try and tail Ino, but it turns out Hemo had the same idea, and as a result, they burn one another. Although it creates a moment of embarrassment for both, Ino takes things in stride and welcomes Tone into their group as an assistant of sorts.
- Tone resembles both Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s Naoko Naruse and K-On!‘s Ritsu Tainaka in appearance, playing a similar role in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart as Naorko had in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: both Tone and Naoko do not directly participate in their respective friend’s activities (pottery and idol duties), but lend their support from behind the scenes. Despite not contributing directly, both Tone and Naoko end up playing a nontrivial role in helping Ino and Himeno to continue when the going gets tough. To folks unfamiliar with all but Manga Time Kirara’s best-known works, like K-On! and Yuru Camp△, one would imagine that Nadeshiko is hugging Ritsu here in this frame.
- Hoho ends up being one of the more interesting characters in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart – at age twenty-five, she’s counted as a bit of a failure who’s stuck in her career progression and lacks any major accomplishments to her name. Further to this, she’s immature and often seeks out outrageous solutions for Mouse House’s problems, leading situations to worsen. However, behind a brash personality is someone who genuinely cares for her charges. Although Hoho is usually seen either wearing a business suit when working, or a baggy t-shirt while off hours, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart implies that Hoho’s figure isn’t so bad, either: Roko has a fondness for what she calls “fluffiness”, and here finds Hoho’s assets a suitable stand-in for Nina’s.
- Hoho is voiced by Yōko Hikasa, who is best known as K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama but has played in other roles, including Hōki Shinonono of Infinite Stratos and Kaede Saitō of Yama no Susume. As an aside here, I’ve chosen a page quote from Guardians of the Galaxy to parallel the situation in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart – in a way, the residents of Mouse House are losers in that they’ve lost something, but like Peter Quill and his rag-tag bunch of misfits, they’ve been given a chance to do something bigger to better their situation. Indeed, this is how Ino describes Fruit Tart: everyone’s a “dropout” in some way, but together, they’ve come together and have done something that they could not have achieved alone. Having lived through times where my life was similar to Mouse House’s situation, I completely empathised with the characters, contributing to my rooting for Fruit Tart’s success.
- Roko’s younger sister, Chiko, upstages her in every way: she’s part of a much more successful and prominent idol unit, has the better figure and cuts a more impressive presence. However, Chiko is very fond of Roko and sees her outbursts as adorable. As a child actress, Roko had been quite well known for appearing in commercials promoting broccoli, but since she’d not seen any physical development since, she became very sensitive about her height and refused to be typecast, leading her to quit her previous position to try and make it on her own merits. Her distinct hairstyle gives her a mouse-like appearance, being deliberately chosen to increase her presence. Admittedly, Roko’s tantrums are adorable, and it was interesting to see the roles reversed – in the absence of any context, Roko is the younger sister.
- Soft-spoken and shy, Hemo feels like a completely different person where Ino is concerned: unusually for a Manga Time Kirara series, Hemo’s infatuation with Ino is such that she’s openly expressed a desire to get her stockings mixed up with Ino’s in the wash, and takes on a yandere-like tone whenever anyone challenges Ino. Here, she accompanies the others to an undergarments store to get Hayu some “lucky” underwear ahead of a recording session, and in a cruel bit of irony for Hayu, she and Hemo end up with the same set, right down to the colours.
- We’re now two thirds of the way through the Family Day Long Weekend, and at this time last year, I had finished writing about K-On! Come With Me!! after the ten year anniversary. Such a post would not be possible this year, since I’ve been spending almost every waking moment gearing up for the move. Yesterday, I spent the day assembling the last of the new furniture ahead of moving date; a new shelf and three-piece coffee table set was completed over the course of the day, and we’d sat down for my second A & W Burger this month. The Teen Burgers are as delicious as I recall; I’d enjoyed my burger while watching Forged in Fire, and in the afternoon, we finished off a desk drawer.
- The weather in the past little while had been mild with above seasonal temperatures, but a snowstorm has swept into the area and the thermometer plummeted to -18°C (0°F), transforming roads into death traps. However, because the local office supply depot had the ergonomic task chair I’d been wanting to buy since December, it was necessary to head out into the forbiddingly cold day. Because I spend so much time at a desk, I determined it would be wise to get a better chair: the one I ended up going with appears to be a good balance between cost and comfort, and after taking delivery of the chair, I picked up dinner from my favourite Cantonese joint nearby: Chinese broccoli with seafood, sweet and sour pork chops on a bed of fresh peaches, a clay-pot fired dish of tofu, seafood and chicken known as 一品窩, and deep fried oysters with three kinds of mushrooms proved to be just the thing for warding off the cold of a winter’s night.
- Back in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, on recording day, after a disastrous first take, the girls regroup and allow themselves to relax before doing a second take. Jitters prior to an important moment are normal, and here in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, it shows how everyone has their own ways of coping with stressful moments. Ultimately, this second take also is unusable, since everyone is a bit out of it. However, not all is lost, and with everyone feeling a bit more confident, I would imagine that their next take was successful, since boxes of CDs arrive at Mouse House shortly after.
- After Fruit Tart successfully records their first album, it turns out Hoho had produced three thousand copies, and in order to convince Rat Productions that they can hack it, must move all three thousand CDs at their next event. Although the girls aren’t confident that they can pull it off, having Tone’s assistance proves to be immeasurably helpful: seeing Tone’s constant support and energy parallels the viewer’s own wish to see Fruit Tart succeed, and on the topic of music, I will note here that Dropout Idol Fruit Tart‘s incidental music is composed by MONACA, who had previously worked on the soundtrack for Hanayamata.
- What particularly stood out to me in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart was the occasional moments where the characters became rendered as heads on coloured sticks. By abstracting out their bodies entirely, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart is able to direct all focus to the characters’ facial expressions as they react to something. Such moments are both adorable and instructive, shifting the viewer’s attention to the characters’ dialogue. Because Feel produced Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, one can immediately eliminate budget constraints as the reason for why animations were simplified in this way – Feel had previously produced Locodol, OreGairu‘s second and third seasons, Yosuga no Sora and YU-NO, all of which were superb anime from an art and animation perspectives. As such, the dramatic shifts in art style is deliberate, meant to convey a certain mood in a moment (usually, surprise or befuddlement).
- There are a few moments where Cream Anmitsu’s uniforms are crudely animated, and given Feel’s repertoire, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was done deliberately – Fruit Tart’s uniforms are always well-rendered and well-animated, so it was always fun to watch the girls moving around in uniform. Here, it’s the day of a larger performance, and in conjunction with their musical number, Tone’s also appeared to help move merchandise. Thanks to her previous experience and her innate ability to really sell idols, she is able to persuade visitors to purchase merchandise, although sales numbers begin to slow down by the afternoon, just prior to the live performance.
- When Hemo becomes a nervous prior to their first major performance, Ino gives her a pep-talk to bring her spirits up. This is ultimately Ino’s greatest asset – she is able to rally those around her and make them feel at home, whether they are fellow idols or members of the audience. Nadeshiko has a similar talent for brightening up the days of those around her, as well as for, as Rin puts it, making anything look especially tasty.
- It was especially rewarding to see Fruit Tart on stage; while they might be a small idol unit of limited recognition and success, their performances are every bit as sincere and fun to watch as that of a more structured and organised unit. Seeing Fruit Tart getting less recognition brings to mind a curious real-world parallel: Dropout Idol Fruit Tart was originally scheduled to air during the summer of 2020. However, owing to the ongoing global health crisis, the release was pushed back to autumn 2020, during which Dropout Idol Fruit Tart went against GochiUsa BLOOM. Although nowhere nearly as well-established as GochiUsa, whose charm lay in presenting a mature and thoughtful story of how chance meetings improve lives, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart does nonetheless stand of its own merits.
- Had Dropout Idol Fruit Tart aired during the summer of 2020, I would’ve watched and written about the series without question – a glance at the blog archives finds that during this time, I was primarily focused on Houkago Teibou Nisshi and OreGairu‘s third season. The former had actually seen production delays during the spring and was pushed back to the summer. Here, Roko asks Chiko about how the latter engages her audience during a performance, and Chiko notes that everyone will have their own way of going about doing things, but generally, interacting with the audience as one would a friend is a good way of driving up excitement. Ino later attempts this during their second performance, and while nowhere nearly as polished as someone like Chiko, her sincerity wins the audience over.
- Oto Kogane is the acting president of the larger and more successful Cat Productions. Upon seeing the unusual way Fruit Tart is performing, she takes an interest to them and even personally purchases the remaining unsold merchandise, allowing Mouse House to live to fight another day. However, even with this success, Rat Productions is dissatisfied with their TV ratings, and Hoho is hauled in along with the entire team to discuss their future. However, Oto’s intervention changes things for them; she’s keenly watched them from afar, curious in their unusual way of doing things.
- Mouse House is shown as being a well-kept and tidy residence; if there is a lack of funds here, it is not shown in the environment. However, the girls’ ability to produce curry batches lasting months at a time, and frequent worries about provisions, as well as Hoho ultimately skimping on celebrations, speaks volumes to the financial condition at Mouse House. After their successful concert, Hoho ends up buying everyone beef bowls from the nearby convenience store, but Dropout Idol Fruit Tart indicates the girls were (understandably) displeased, so on their next variety show, they visit Tone’s okonomiyaki shop. Although likely a common food in Japan, okonomiyaki is quite special to foreigners like myself, and at Tone’s place, viewers get to witness a divide in how each of Ino, Hemo, Nina, Roko and Hayu like their okonomiyaki. In the end, things are resolved, and Fruit Tart gifts Tone an autographed copy of their album as thanks for all she’s done for them.
- In Dropout Idol Fruit Tart‘s final act, Hayu’s background is revealed, and when her mother appears to act as a sponsor for the Fruit Tart, it turns out Hayu had come from a background of privilege, but ran away from home after her parents disagreed with her desire to pursue a career in music. Hayu’s mother ends up seeing her perform and comes around, but has not yet gained her father’s approval, forcing her to donate privately. However, Hoho quickly works out that if Hayu’s relationship with her father can be repaired, Mouse House may no longer have to worry about finances. The outcome of this story is not covered, but it is something I would be able to follow in the manga, which is still ongoing.
- At the same time, Fruit Tart sign up for a national idol competition and participate in a collaborative project in a mobile game featuring idols. Although it sounds like the classic gatcha game (which I imagine most would be wise to), several people, including Hoho, Tone and even Hemo, get sucked in, trying to max out the Fruit Tarts’ performance and for Hemo, collecting a legendary roll of Ino. Towards its ending, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart greatly accelerates things – thanks to their previous efforts, things begin picking up for the unit. When they are slated to do a joint concert with Cream Anmitsu, Fruit Tart accept, and on the day of the event, the entirety of Koganei appears to show up and root Fruit Tart on.
- Whereas other idol anime show how different units form rivalries with one another, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, like Locodol, shows how friendships can form between different units even if there is a healthy sense of competition. In the end, I was impressed with how Fruit Tart could keep up with Cream Anmitsu in their latest performance, showing how far they’ve come since Ino had joined them. Fruit Tart is plainly a unit that has the basics down and is ready to up their game with a bit of luck and support in their corner.
- In the end, Fruit Tart’s collaboration with Cream Anmitsu was a great success, and they move into the next round of the national idol competition. With the fundamentals present, it is clear that Fruit Tart is ready to handle what comes their way next, even if the path forward is going to be a little bumpy. It’s a satisfactory ending to Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, and overall, I have no qualms issuing this series a B+ (3.3 of 4.0, or 8 of 10) – during its short run, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart presented a story that led me to root for its characters, bringing to life the journey that Ino takes with Roko, Hayu, Nina and Hemo on their way to making their place together in the world of idols. While nothing remarkable or revolutionary, there is sincerity and heart in this story, making it a series that I had fun going through.
Dropout Idol Fruit Tart represents the convergence of several genres, combining the light-hearted and oftentimes, adorable comedy that is present in all Manga Time Kirara works with the idea of local idols promoting local specialties, as Locodol and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits did. Unlike much larger idol franchises like Idolm@ster and Love Live, which deal with what the journey at the top looks like, or the rough-and-tumble portrayal of gaining a foothold in a brutal industry, as Wake Up, Girls! had portrayed, these smaller idol series serve to remind viewers that even if they are not commercial successes as much larger, more organised and disciplined units are, groups like Fruit Tart still have their charm precisely because they’re small and connected to one’s neighbours. These sentiments, of supporting local efforts and local businesses, is becoming especially prevalent because it fosters a strong sense of community, of giving back and raising up people around oneself. Supporting local efforts increases resilience, demonstrates commitment to one’s place of residence and even promotes sustainability. Altogether, this really serves to foster a sense of community: both Locodol and Action Heroine Cheer Fruits had accomplished this, and here in Dropout Idol Fruit Tart, it becomes clear that Ino and Fruit Tart have successfully done the same. Although Ino had come upon a group of losers, of people who’d lost things like opportunity, recognition and enjoyment of their chosen role, her sincerity and honesty brings new hope to each of Nina, Roko and Hayu, as well as encouraging people like Hemo and Tone to step their game up and work towards a shared goal. Ino starts things off by connecting Fruit Tart to the community, and in doing so, brightens their days enough so the community gives back. This synergy is what transforms a group of losers, into a unit armed with a newfound determination to give their work their best effort; in this way, Dropout Idol Fruit Tart proved to be a superbly enjoyable series, and while it never forgets its roots as a Manga Time Kirara series, it also manages to celebrate community in the process, reminding viewers that people are stronger together.