Having finished all 10 episodes of Back Street Girls: Gokudolls I can confidently say this is one of the most bizarre shows I’ve ever seen. It’s also likely to be one of the most divisively received animes of the year too. The art style is dated and lacking in many scenes. The comedy is a very acquired taste and will most likely make or break the show for you. Every element of this anime is set up to cater for a very specific audience and if you’re not on board after the first episode, Back Street Girls is not the show for you. For everyone else, be prepared for an insane trip into the world of J-Pop, accompanied by slapstick humour and a satirical look at pop culture. In many ways this is the animation equivalent of marmite – you’ll either love it or hate it.
The story begins at breakneck speed and continues at a frantic pace throughout the 10 episodes. 3 disgraced Yakuza gang members are given an ultimatum – be killed or have gender reassignment surgery to become a J-Pop group to finance the Yakuza. Faced with this impossible choice, the 3 men decide to go under the knife and it’s here where the story shifts forward in time, catching up with these girls 3 months later as they work to become a pop sensation. What follows is a bizarre and satirical journey into superstardom as the girls are overworked and struggle to find their new place in this dog-eat-dog world. All of this while grappling creepy fans, their Yakuza boss and the demands of their talent manager.
If this all sounds completely crazy, it is. It’s also part of the charm with the show and Back Street Girls pulls no punches with this in mind. The comedy is generally well worked, although it tends to rely a lot on the girls’ gender for most of the punchlines or big comedic moments. While this alone is fine, across the course of 10 episodes it does run dry around the midway point where the series drags on a little before pulling it back for the finale. Although it’s still unknown whether there will be a second season, the ending is reasonably satisfying, climaxing with a burst of humour rather than tying up all the loose ends or ending on a cliffhanger.
The general art and visual style of this animated series is something that’s again likely to divide opinion. There’s a distinct 90s feel to this and it makes the series feel archaic and older than it perhaps should be. Those who love this style will instantly warm to it but for those who have been spoiled by recent masterpieces like Violet Evergarden, this is likely to be a source of disappointment. The faded edges to most scenes don’t help and large amounts of shouting are accompanied by black action-lines around the faces of characters. Dark clouds under the eyes of the girls and descending speech bubbles with an ellipsis in are further examples of the archaic feel with the artwork.
Still, if there’s one driving force for Back Street Girls it comes from the three main characters – the Gokudolls themselves. Across the course of 10 episodes it’s easy to empathise with these three and seeing the sheer hell they’re put through makes one question whether they would have been better off choosing death. We see the backstory to all three of these men and the dual personalities between the sweet feminine exterior and hardened gangster interior are easily the highlights of the series. Each have their own unique personality too and this spills over to the main narrative which tackles the stress and inner conflict for these girls.
Overall then, Back Street Girls is an anime that’ll be appealing to some and turn off many others. If you don’t take to the humour early on you’re unlikely to enjoy this one and the breakneck pacing is surprisingly slow and sluggish during the middle group of episodes thanks to the over-reliance on the same punchlines and jokes throughout. The satirical look at the J-Pop scene and overall themes of overworking and depression are well implemented but it’s all wrapped up in a tired art style and humour that never quite evolves enough to make it a more enthralling watch.
What we’re left with then is a mildly amusing offering, one which certainly gained a fair few laughs from this reviewer but also lost its charm around the midway point and never fully recovered. If you’re not sold by the first episode skip this one, for everyone else your mileage with this anime will determine how tolerant you are with the same style of humour repeated and the questionable art style. When it comes to originality though, you’re unlikely to find an anime as bizarre and off the wall as this one and for that alone, Back Street Girls at least deserves a look in to see if this is for you.
Verdict - 5/10