Image Source: THEIDOLM@STER.KR.JP‏ on Twitter

The iDOLM@STER is a long-running game and anime franchise from Bandai Namco Games that revolves around the struggles of thirteen idols struggling to become the best singers in the country with the help of their kind, reliable producer. Most of the time, it’s super happy and bouncy. Well, the Korean live-action drama, THE IDOLM@STER.KR, begins with one of its pop idols getting herself killed in a car crash.

Wait, what?

Image Source: THEIDOLM@STER.KR.JP‏ on Twitter

Yes, The iDOLM@STER.KR has dramatic twists and turns like you’d find in any other Korean drama. The story mainly revolves around marathon runner Suji (seen above), the elder twin sister of the late famous idol Suah. Suji leaves behind her running shoes and becomes an idol in order to get her sister’s former producer to tell her what happened that pushed Suah to her death.

Image Source: THEIDOLM@STER.KR.JP‏ on Twitter

The other key member of this story is Youngjoo, a no-nonsense idol in training who has been trying to have her major debut for ages with the other members of her group, but with no luck. She had been at an agency, but unfortunately, it goes under, and the person who takes over gives her the chance to stay and be an idol under one condition: Work with five other new idols, including Suji, who have far less experience than Youngjoo’s group.

The other four new idols were scouted by the agency’s strange new president (who is in love with his cat) because of their unique elements: The short-tempered Jiseul worked as a skilled DJ. The gentle girl Yeeun, who worked at a restaurant, showed her talent singing when celebrating a customer’s birthday. Free-spirited Haseo proved her prowess in rap by performing on the street. And finally, Thailand born-and-raised Mint was chosen because… Well, because she’s rich (and she has professional dance training).

Suji, on the other hand, has little to no dance experience and can’t even keep up with the other new trainees. However, she is raised up on a pedestal by others because of her physical resemblance to her sister. Even when it’s obvious that Youngjoo’s group is far more skilled, Suji and her unit get more attention due to her face. Of course, this makes Youngjoo furious. After all, she and her group have been training for years at idol school to make it to the top. She’s determined to keep moving with just the other four members of her unit.

Their producer, who just happens to be Suah’s former producer (the man who supposedly pushed her to her death), gives Youngjoo a choice: Work as a ten-man idol unit, or split off into two groups of five and participate in different challenges in a sort of “survivor” style reality show to be streamed online. The five girls who get the most points by the end of the reality show will be able to debut. The other five, however, will be dropped from the agency.

From here, the girls split into two groups: the “Debut Team,” made up of Youngjoo and her friends, and the “Rookie Team,” made up of the newbies. While members of Debut seems to have it together with their leader Youngjoo keeping them focused, the Rookies have never met each other—meaning they have to form their bonds from square one. And damn, do they hate each other at first, choosing specifically to target Suji for her lack of skill and the fact that she might have gotten in on her sister’s name alone.

What makes the drama so interesting is seeing the girls slowly learning more about each other as time goes on, not through a series of dramatic events that force them to become friends on the drop of a hat. Each character has some kind of backstory that makes them who they are, and it’s interesting to see that unfold little by little and connect the team together.

While the Rookie team is starting to come together, however, the Debut team is starting to fall apart as Youngjoo becomes more and more anxious and desperate to outdo the newbies. She lashes out at the other members of her team, even going so far as to insult them. While they have the advantage in challenges at the beginning, their hurt friendships might cause them to lose their edge later on.

THE IDOLM@STER.KR seemingly has nothing to do with the original The iDOLM@STER, aside from a few song covers from the anime and games as well as the name of their agency: “825 Production” (a nod to the other three-digit agencies in The iDOLM@STER universe). But it’s not a big deal that it has only a very loose connection to the source material. I’m completely invested in these girls, their struggles, and finding out who will be deemed the “idol master” at the end of this reality show game.

Image Source: THEIDOLM@STER.KR.JP‏ on Twitter

THE IDOLM@STER.KR is streaming with English subtitles exclusively on Amazon’s Prime Video service.

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