When I first started watching Idol Memories, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The first episode opens on a group of girls engaged in some sort of combat scenario. I wondered if I had, perhaps, read the anime description incorrectly and had chosen some completely different show.

After the battle was over and it was revealed that the girls were actually taking part in some sort of virtual reality-based exercise. I was impressed to see that something so many people brush off as a “fad” or silliness in the video game world having touched the world of idol anime. The girls of Idol Memories perform solely via virtual reality with the help of helmets and some very sophisticated equipment, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Idol Memories follows two units from the Shiritsu Kanon Gakuen collective who are vying for the top of the idol league. The groups, Star Ring and Shadow, are comprised of three idols apiece–and they couldn’t be more different.

Star Ring features Vivi Lin, Sena Hattori, and Kokona Hayakawa, who all follow a very lighthearted, poppy aesthteic. Shadow features Miku Kajiwara, Yucho La, and Nanami Hoshi. Shadow’s members employ a gothic lolita look with a punk rock twist. The two groups live and work together while working toward their goals. They often clash, but it’s a fun ride to watch them rise through the idol ranks.

What’s more interesting, however, is the fact that their performances are done entirely via virtual reality, as mentioned above. Most idol anime obviously finds the main characters heading out on enormous stages in front of raving crowds, but here, the girls wear special uniforms and helmets to “transform” into their idol identities.

They perform in front of raving crowds, which are presumably fans in the real world, but they go through magical girl-like sequences before they’re audience ready. Then their performances take place in the virtual realm as well. Shows like PriPara dabble in this type of performance setup, but Idol Memories takes it to a whole new level, which definitely changes the idol to crowd dynamic you get with shows like Dream Festival! and others of that ilk.

It takes the whole dual-identity situation that some idols have in series like this one to a whole new level when you consider the girls take on some different characteristics–like Shadow’s Nanami Hoshi losing the glasses and presenting herself to VR audiences with straighter, less disheveled hair.

Beyond virtual reality, Idol Memories shakes things up even further by devoting half of its runtime to live-action segments where the voice actresses for the show chat together, impart Chinese lessons, and provide other random tidbits. While it’s true the show’s runtime is technically fifteen minutes, that’s actually only for the first half of the show. If you stick around, you get to watch the voice actresses playing around, making jokes, and acting silly. It’s rare to get a post-show within a show, and that’s one of Idol Memories’ most interesting aspects beyond its copious nods to virtual reality.

As technology like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and even PlayStation VR improves over the next few years, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see real-life idols communicating with their fans in a similar manner–minus all of the magical girl transformation details, anyway. It’s an interesting direction to take an already-established genre with conventions fans are familiar with, and I surmise we’ll be seeing more of these things in the future as the tech matures. In the meantime, we’ll watch Star Ring and Shadow duke it out each week as we dream of being able to do many of the same things they pull off.

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