Back in 2021 when I started my curious journey into the world of tokusatsu and live-action children’s programming, I didn’t know what to expect. I started with Bittomo x Senshi Kirameki Powers due to the villianess’s casting, and I’ve swirled into the fandom slightly. I’m now aware that Takashi Miike has been at the forefront of the Girls x Heroine (Senshi) franchise that’s been going since 2017. The Girls x Heroine series being focused on young girls entertainment combining magical girls, friendship, dancing, singing and being your own hero. The franchise taking a very sharp turn in 2022, with the introduction of RizSta.
RizSta: Top of Artists!, technically being part of the Girls x Heroine franchise but also a departure from it. It’s still directed by Takashi Miike. It’s still produced by TV Tokyo. There are still cameo appearances from Girls x Heroine actresses as has become the standard for franchise and tokusatsu in general. So RizSta has all the elements of previous installments with two major changes. The first is Girls x Heroine is dropped from the title, and that there are two male group members for the unit.
While I didn’t see too much pushback from the audience, a few twitter users lamented it being an end of an era. A few news articles mentioning the declining viewership of TV, especially Sunday morning programming, among children in Japan. There were some grumblings of repetitive plots/concepts. The international audience seemed pretty chill with it, a few male identifying fans even expressing delight at this change. However, the biggest point of concern was that RizSta halved the time of Bittomo x Senshi Kirameki Powers had on air in the last fourth of it’s production, something that was unprecedented in the franchise. It was speculated this was done to ‘return the franchise’ to it’s original April through March run times, but I’m not so sure. Ultimately, RizSta replacing Bittomo on air with the 30 minute time slot. And now with the rather abrupt ending on December 25th 2022, at a mere 38 episodes, with a recap series/special in the works for January. All previous entries to the Girls x Heroine franchise having on average 50 episodes or more. The major exception being Police x Heroine LovePatrina! which was shortened due to the Corona virus pandemic affecting filming.
All this is to prime you reader’s that RizSta’s existence is very… odd on a production, behind the scenes, and fandom way. Which led to a very stunted, even for children’s programming, even for tokusatsu, experiance. One that’s unique enough for me to write about.
So what is RizSta: Top of Artists! even about? Let’s dive in.
Hoshigami Ryuji (Iwaya Shogo) a legendary top artist, created the entertainment stage called – “RizSta Stage”. The performances, dance battles and more can be distributed around the world. The viewers using their RizSta Lights to send Voltage (cheer energy) directly to the artist to help determine the winner of a battle, or simply applaud them for their performance. The newest era of live entertainment has begun! This stage is only available to those who are given the RizSta bracelet, can stand on stage. Ryuji creates a dance academy where new RizSta’s are trained. Miu (Uemura Ririka), Rion (Mori Akari), and Shota (Ogushi Sakutaro) with their own mottos regarding dance are accepted. They must hone their skills in dance, and more to overcome the challenges of being a top artist.
I’m fully taking into context that RizSta is a children’s program, at least it was suppose to be. In retrospect of the series, I think they were trying to aim for a slightly older demographic and kinda failed in that regard. The concept of the story plus it’s execution leans way more into the tween demographic then kids. However, the airing time and product pushing swings firmly into the children’s programming realm.
The main cast are all first time actresses and actors, whose acting was so-so. They were all on-par with each other and meshed well enough where the core performances looked good. But being fully honest, there’s not a ton of emotional depth to pull from here. The sets are familiar setting, reused at ad nauseam for continuity’s sake. The special effects, costuming, transformation sequences were on par if not a step up from prior entries as technology for such things continues to improve. I knew before the show even started that the pacing was going to be wonky the entire time and it was. But holy cow was the plot too vague, and the goal too open to interpretation of being completed even for a kids program.
Previous entries had a set ‘villian’ with hurtles and objectives that needed to be achieved before the final battle for the protagonists to resolve their full conflict. Both Miracle Tunes! and Bittomo had parallel worlds destroyed by an evil doer, whose next target was the ‘real’ world. So the characters had companion character to assist, and help them build up towards the final showdown to save the world. RizSta bucked this trend, since there was no magic, just technology. The real world rarely has a crackling, cloaked in black villain trying to sabotage children so they moved to an antagonist – Tsukishiro Taiga (Urakawa Shohei), who directed Anonyomous and then Disa-Star to battle the RizSta’s.
The thing is… unlike previous series these antagonists didn’t have any character development, another departure from previous entries. Aside from one member, Anonymous are just that – faceless performers at Taiga’s beck and will to battle RizSta. Disa-Star being an upgrade with more difficult performances, faces to the performers, but again – no real ill will or beef with RizSta other then Taiga told them to be, and promised them a performance if they did. Their victory was a small step back for RizSta, but the victories of the RizSta barely mattered outside of plot progression. The dance battles felt very hollow, even for kid’s programming since the reason they were battling was for… personal development? That’s a hard concept for kids around age five to maybe ten to comprehend without more clear cut and obvious metaphors.
It’s clear to me even as someone new to the genre that RizSta was not fully developed as a concept, and most likely was forced to start earlier then planned. That is my personal speculation, since all the toys, live events, collaborations and promotional goods seemed to have been released consistently and to a decent reception. At least from what I saw in person (major toy stores having them in stock), and the twitter updates of collaboration goods/speciality cafes/live event/online event participation. For whatever reason, I feel that someone higher-up really needed RizSta to launch when it did, but the actual show itself wasn’t actually ready for that.
Since story-wise, on a technical level, everything was there for RizSta to be a decent production. The characters from motivations to dynamics were all set up, the plot progressions and overall story-line was there. It’s clear it was meant to be a hybrid of a super sentai with idol/performance unit troupes as the core premise. The mixed results of ‘finding’ the groupmates, interpersonal dynamics, battles, superficial were all there. It’s unfortunate that it was super condensed down, and most likely a lot of elements and arc ultimately cut to fit the adjusted starting and ending time.
Believe it or not, RizSta is not all underwhelming. It’s clear that the Rizsta main cast, had really good chemistry between the members. Pretty cheesy in the aimed at kids way, but it worked and got the point across. It’s clear that the girls have good chemistry as members of Lucky2, and as characters which was pleasent to see. Girls supporting girls is so important to see good representation in the media. It’s clear that the boys had a pretty tried and true dynamic between the two of them, and played off the girls really well too. It’s also nice to see that they were all just friends – no stupid romance mashed in for drama or something.
It’s nice that the adult characters, while a little misguided at times in their actions, were active in the series. They really did their best to be mentors to the kids, rather then friends and stepped up as the adults in the situation when called to. It was really nice to see that change. Ryuji and Rion being siblings and all was pretty believable as well. Their dynamic was a little funky to me – Rion is chasing after Ryuji wheras Ryuji never fully comments on this choice. It’s still a lot of fun. The rivals, to enemies, to former friends, and eventual conclusion of Taiga and Ryuji was so much fun. It’s clear that Shohei who played Taiga, had a lot of fun being overdramatic with his role without getting too dark. And having Ryuji played by Iwaya Shogo to work off up for their characters dynamic was a smart touch – when dancing you can tell they were having the most fun.
While it is the standard for this franchise, the dances had a fine line of being both interesting and repetitive. It was nice that each member of Rizsta had their own solo that showcased their dance speciality. I wish the music had been vetted a little bit more as some of the English lyrics were simply… not appropriate for the actresses (most were 14-15 during filming) to be dancing to. Do I think any kid or parent watching caught this aside from me? Probably not, but it did make me uncomfortable. The group choreography, which has several numbers to various songs was solid choices and worked well. The stand outs for choreography was Disa-Star though. I think they were the only unit that was allowed to do improvisations on set. It’s nice to know that the series still leaned into costuming as well. The Rizstas clearly had stage costumes, verses their casual clothes, same with anyone else appearing the RizSta Stage. It’s a nice touch that can’t be over stated.
So, I actually watched the above video a few times now, and comparing it with tweets and things it’s come to my attention that RizSta: Top of Artists is in fact the final installment of the Girls x Heroine project.
At least for now.
Based on the wording of the video, the RizSta girls do not have a new installment to pass the baton to, therefore they’re the final installment as of writing. However, there is phrasing to suggest that this is a brief suspension of the project and that at some point it might return. It’s truly too soon to say if this is a long or a short break. I’m thinking that with the mixed results RizSta had, and the overall decline in viewership of TV programs that the production team is going to take some serious time to reconfigure before pitching another installment.
I’m still no expert, but I’m admittedly deeper in the franchise then I thought – RizSta: Top of Artists was certainly a unique ending a six year program. It’s really hard to gauge how well this series did or not. The comments on the above video from the Japanese fans were positive and hopeful. A lot hoping it’s truly temporary, some hoping for re-broadcasts of older installments, others assuming the franchise is closing the book so to speak. The international fans seemed pretty gracious about the previous installments, but rather opinionated about RizSta itself.
While I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for an announcement this year. I am curious if there will be further installment later down the line. I guess only time will tell.
Live action magical girl show franchise?! This sounds so intriguing! And now it’s morphed into an idol show. Okay! I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this before, but I’m certainly going to look this up. Thank you for broadening my Japanese entertainment horizons!
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Girls x Heroine is a great franchise! It’s not for everyone, but if it got your curious for sure try and find it!! You’re most welcome!