Despite all the warnings, hurdles, and ill omens along the way, Kakao‘s curious experiment, the virtual idol reality survival show GIRL’S RE:VERSE, avoided a premature demise, getting its copyright in order and premiering right after the new year. And after trying to watch a few episodes, I’m not sure it was worth it.
On the show’s announcement, I planned on a trial recap of the show, at least for a couple episodes to see how this would all pan out. But it only took 45 minutes for me to decide to choose sanity instead. And after talking with some of my Korean friends about the frustrations with the presentation of the VTuber elements in the show, I concluded that it wouldn’t be really worth my time or yours. Also, I can only take so much of Pengsoo‘s vacant gaze.
GIRL’S RE:VERSE applies a VTuber coat of paint to the dead horse Produce-format idol survival show. There are 30 contestants, all which are active* idols of moderate fame; think more famous than the participants of the The Unit but maybe not quite Queendom level. Each contestant dons a 3D avatar and persona, and their identities are loosely hidden from the audience (and each other?).
There’s judges, online voting, an app, and all that fun stuff that gets built up (and tossed away) every time they spin off another one of these shows. There’s also a large, foreboding, Matrix-like control room in which the production occurs. One that they keep cutting to just when you are perhaps getting a little bit immersed and need to be reminded everyone is literally in VR content jail.
*Sorry, BVNDIT fans.
Supporting the show is emcee Boom, Bada (S.E.S.), AIKI, and … uh, Pengsoo. Boom gets 90% of the talking time, whilst Pengsoo gets around 9.8%. Bada and AIKI share the remaining .2% with a hamster. The show is mostly the girls wondering what magical new world they’re in, why they’re floating in mid-air, how to find their seats, or just generally janking out.
Kakao plays these incidents as major comedic notes, really hammering in the idea that this is all goofy and doesn’t work right. But at the same time, they are asking for a leap of faith, hoping that viewers grow attachments, not necessarily to the idols behind the avatars, but to the world of W itself. Suffice to say, breaking immersion every 10 minutes doesn’t seem the best way to do this.
That said, I did laugh at Seoritae struggling to give the middle finger.
Every episode is an hour plus in length, and for some reason extensively padded for time, and this is coming from someone who watched Queendom in its entirety. A lot of running around. A lot of limb jank jokes. A lot of recap. And not very much meaningful content.
It’s only when contestants start to get eliminated that the show finds anything interesting to say. After the initial hilarity of being dropped into a trash chute labeled ‘OUT!!!’, the show gets to brass tacks and starts Thanos-ing the losers into oblivion. Then we get an “epilogue” that’s about the same length as the episode itself, going into details about the IRL idol, their current feelings and situation, and how they felt about being virtual. These segments almost make it feel like watching the show was worth it, until Pengsoo starts screeching again.
Kakao attempts to excuse the scrubby, meandering production quality with the reasoning that RE:VERSE is pioneering the concept of a VTuber survival show, so of course things aren’t going to be smooth. But this doesn’t quite hold up, as Kakao isn’t even the first Korean studio to launch an effort like this.
Isegye Idol, started in 2021 by streamer Woowakgood, was an audition contest featuring around 200 candidates, and resulted in the eponymous VTuber project group. It was a hugely successful endeavor, with their debut single “RE:WIND” (lol) having over 12 million views on YouTube. RE:VERSE so blatantly lifts from Isegye Idol‘s content that it’s like a slap in the face to a burgeoning subculture, one that they are simultaneously trying to court.
Unlike RE:VERSE, the identities of the VTubers in Isegye Idol are kept secret, which is very, very important to those who follow the scene. By making a little game of revealing the true identities of the girls on RE:VERSE, VTuber obsessives are convinced Kakao doesn’t actually get what the whole appeal is. And they’re not wrong.
So if we throw out the idea of ever winning the hearts of VTuber obsessives, we’re leaning hard the other way, producing content for a roster of mid-tier idols, some before they shuffle off from the industry. But again, there’s better ways to get this stuff, and while seeing someone like Weeekly‘s Jaehee or Rocket Punch‘s Juri explore the VTuber idea, the concept gets old rather quickly. I bet 99% of WJSN‘s Soobin fans would just rather see, uh … Soobin, not some twitchy obfuscation.
Actually Soobin is a horrible example because she is just Soobin no matter how many laser arrays you strap to her butt. But also, Soobin talking about stocks and poop on some tiny interview program is 10x more interesting and 100x more digestible than what slow drip content RE:VERSE provides.
Ultimately, GIRLS RE:VERSE is a show that doesn’t believe in its own alternate reality, and so I as a viewer have no reason to either.
So that’s a wrap from me on GIRLS RE:VERSE. I’ll probably “watch” the rest (it’s acceptable background chatter), but I don’t imagine me saying anything else about it, because it doesn’t matter at all.