During Anime Expo 2019 this past weekend, I arrived at the premiere of Utano Prince-sama Maji LOVE Kingdom with no idea what I was about to witness. Earlier that day I saw the name Miyano Mamoru on the schedule guide, and I knew I needed to make time to attend his panels because of the sheer amount of celebrity power contained within that man. Sitting down in a large and packed panel room with 800 others, I began my experience, oblivious to the hidden fervor within the crowd.
My quick disclaimer: up to this point I had never seen a single episode of Utano Prince-sama (Uta-Pri) since its anime adaptation began in 2011, much less been aware of its existence entirely. I had zero expectations going in besides knowing that it was a popular idol show, and failed to anticipate the amount of energy unleashed by the crowd. This energy from the crowd enormously contributed to my overall enjoyment of Maji LOVE Kingdom, and the production made it clear that this film is meant to be judged on its merits as a live performance.
The premise of the movie is a joint concert between the three male idol groups of the Uta-Pri series ST★RISH (STARISH), HE★VENS (HEAVENS), and QUARTET NIGHT, bringing a grand total of 18 different characters and various superstar voices in this ensemble. The movie is divided into several acts which feature the individual groups. In addition to this, some segments feature crossovers between the three groups and thematic performances based on each of the characters’ personalities. I obviously do not know the anime events of Uta-Pri, but I would assume based on the crowd reaction that the characters have enough history as rivals or friends. The movie reminds the audience of this history by having 3 separate scenes where each of the 18 cast members reminisce on stage about all their trials and tribulations. Often, these scenes would be accompanied by basically the exact same line said about seventeen times with enough minor synonym changes to make them technically different lines. Normally I would have found it frustrating to hear the phrase “Let my swirling torrent of passion create the serenade that will alight the beacon of your heart! Watch my love take flight!” over fifty times, but I was too enthralled by my newfound appreciation of the male form to notice. While this might come off as nitpicking the film, it’s worth noting that the plot is completely nonexistent, and the series of sentimental downtime just serves to pad time and does not add substance to the film. Whether or not you are familiar with the plot of Uta-Pri, Maji LOVE Kingdom only provides each character one or two lines to vaguely reference their respective arcs from the anime before moving onto the next idol.
Now that the minor negativity is out of my system, let me explain how the serenades tenderly alighted the passion of my mind. From the moment the lights went out, the crowd’s energy was unbelievably hyped. I’ve been to enough panels and convention settings for the last few years, and I can honestly say that this room had the most energy I have ever seen at an anime convention. Nothing really comes close except for maybe last year’s premiere of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 5 at Anime Expo, but Uta-Pri’s crowd probably could have powered a monster city with their screams. Every single time a character would say or do literally anything (even when the film initially teases the characters’ first appearances), the audience answered with thunderous, uproarious applause. In fact, many of the elements in the film are structured with frequent call-and-response moments, and that elevated the atmosphere every time a chorus of 800-something voices shouted back. This audience engagement was so fundamental to the film that it dawned on me that I was not actually watching a film at all, but rather was experiencing something completely different.
Despite the film’s title Utano Prince-sama Maji LOVE Kingdom: The Movie, it would be inaccurate to label it as such. If it were up to me I would have definitely dropped “The Movie” from the title, because it would be much clearer to advertise it as an “animated live performance.” From a meta standpoint, the enjoyment of this performance is directly amplified by the number of people that you watch the film with. The film clearly wants and encourages you as the audience to be comfortable with going wild like you would at a live performance. As a side note, I am definitely interested with how the film was received in Japan and what the audience energy looked like in comparison to Uta-Pri’s international audience.
While I don’t want to spoil the performances and surprises, I need to gush about the visuals. Everything is rendered in full 3D CG and it is gorgeous. The energy from the songs combined with the fluidity of the visuals gave me a reason to join the crowd in losing my mind while watching this film. When combined with the complicated choreography, these elements result in some truly unique sequences. Despite certain choices in animation for other series, A-1 Pictures know their Uta-Pri audience well enough to truly make them go wild. The visual sequences ranged from a larger variety of themes: starting from soft and wholesome before escalating to turbulent, passionate, edgy, sexy, and sexy edgy. These themed routines incorporate trope-like fan service, but does it in a way that is so over the top that it borders between parody and sheer brilliance. Like for one sequence, a few characters have a segment where they literally skate around the stage on Heelies until they jump onto hoverboards that ‘woosh’ them around the stadium. Keep in mind that they are singing the entire time, and they literally have not stopped singing throughout the entire movie. (Except for those three ungodly long nostalgia segments that denied the audience and me from seeing our sizzling prince beefcakes sizzle some more). After the premiere, Miyano Mamoru said it best: “My favorite part was when they go woOooOoOooOOsh”, making hoverboard movements with his flailing arms. Needless to say, the visuals and music production work that went into this is some of the best in the anime industry. .
For my closing thoughts and as someone who hasn’t seen any Uta-Pri, I was thoroughly impressed by this production and the crowd definitely made the animated live performance concept work. The fact that the production team managed to create nearly ninety minutes of sequences to implant the thought “OOH BIG SEXY” into my head for that period of time both impressed and offended me. I would highly recommend watching this film in any theater setting, because the social element really adds to the viewing experience. You really would be missing out, just like watching Dunkirk on your phone and then complaining that the plot was nonexistent. For the best experience, I recommend starting with a core group of maybe five friends and then slowly build up your watch party until you reach a few hundred people. Finally, because this film begins and ends on a train, I am obligated by Diyo to give Utano☆Princesama Maji LOVE Kingdom a 10/10.