Original Run: April 4, 2020 - June 20, 2020 Number of Episodes: 12 Genre: Action, Mecha, Music, Science Fiction
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Listeners. Reader discretion is advised.***
Working in a junkyard, Echo Rec (voiced by Ayumu Murase) has a thousand different dreams but believes that that sort of life isn’t meant for a person like him. One day, he finds a girl (voiced by Rie Takahashi) unconscious under a pile of rubble.
When the girl awakes, Echo sees that she is a Player, a person with the power to fight mysterious monsters known as the Earless. Echo is excited that such a person has entered his life, but the girl has no memories of who she is.
Echo tells of the many different accomplishments other Players have done, and the girl decides that she should travel on a fame-seeking journey herself. However, she refuses to go alone and leave Echo, who has endlessly fantasized about just such a thing, behind.
Begrudgingly, Echo agrees to join. Thus, he and the girl, who Echo names Mu, start on an incredible adventure.
I am never against going negative. However, sometimes doing so stings a bit more than others.
Let me make this clear: Listeners wasn’t a good show; it wasn’t a good show for many reasons. We’ll go down that rabbit hole later. Still, part of me believes this series was a pet project for someone. Coming from a guy who has spent the past five years writing anime reviews voluntarily, I have sympathy.
If I can make one assumption, Listeners came from the mind of a music fan. Not only that, but this series was also a tribute to rock and roll, and I can’t think of a situation where that wouldn’t get my attention. Throughout the show’s run, it is impossible to miss the never-ending nods to rock culture and history.
For a few examples: Echo Rec was named after the popular echo machine Binson Echorec. Mu was, of course, named after the musical cord Mu. The name Jimi Stonefree came from Jimi Hendrix’s 1966 song “Stone Free.” The list can go on and on.
Additionally, Listeners was incredibly well-animated; there was production value in this show. Beautiful uses of color, swift and smooth movements, decently implemented CGI, loud and impactful fight scenes, no one can say this series wasn’t a spectacle. Plus – and this would make sense since this was a rock fantasy – the music was pretty damn good.
What I am getting at is, if you were to describe the idea of this series to me, I would be on board. Had someone been trying to sell me this show, I would have thought of an anime attempt at something in the ballpark of The Who’s 1975 film Tommy, a rock operetta that used music to tell a flashy fantasy story. And that would have been a mistake.
Listeners had a misguided priority. This show wanted to shove in references to rock music, but it didn’t want to use rock music. Or tell a compelling story. Or have interesting characters. Or be any fun.
I’m not sure how many times I have had to say this, but animation doesn’t make an anime good. Animation has and will always be the secondary sparkle that can give a story an extra layer of flash. When it is the only thing a series has, though, it’s like beautifully gift wrapping an empty box. You don’t even need to see what’s inside; just by holding it, you know what you have is hollow.
Let’s start with this show’s characters. Many of them were unremarkable. A few were irritating. Then there was a handful that was both. For instance, main characters Echo Reck and Mu. One of them, Echo, was a naïve wimp who wanted to do a thousand different things but didn’t believe he could do anything. The other, Mu, was a bossy, socially inept, pushy brat who was always quick to fight before taking two seconds to listen to what people said.
Echo and Mu began there journey together for reasons. What reasons were those? I don’t remember. Mainly, I do not recall them saying they needed to go on some epic adventure to save the world from an invasion(?) of monstrous(?) demons(?) who wanted to end humanity(?). That’s what they ended up doing, but how they got there is a mystery to me.
That leads us to this show’s story. It’s funny. As I am thinking about it, I am falling asleep again. Listeners was so incredibly dull. There was nothing worth remembering about this series. Not to mention, it was unoriginal. Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
Two kids go off on a personal journey. They come across a clue from the past, throwing doubt on an event that everyone says happened a certain way. As the kids continue, they learn how one of them is connected to said event. Filler episode, filler episode, here comes the final battle. It turns out, the real enemy is misunderstanding, and only love and trust can win the day. I need to stop because my eyes can’t stay open any longer.
So, in one respect, Listeners was a decent idea that was poorly executed. However, in another, more frustrating respect, Listeners was an idea that was also never fully formed. Like I said, this series was more focused on references than the actual thing it was referencing.
Yes, The Beatles, The Who, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Oasis, My Bloody Valentine, these are groups and artists who existed. Names of amps, names of guitars, musical cords, yes, these are all aspects of rock and roll. By merely listing all those things, according to Listeners, this review is now a musical celebration of rock.
A city in this show was called the Wall, a reference to the 1979 Pink Floyd album. Pink Floyd is one of my favorite bands of all time, so when we got to this part of the series, I thought maybe we were going to get some Pink Floyd-esque music. No, we got a city with an actual wall. Oh, and the Wall was also a giant fighting robot move, one that was used in an episode called “Hello Goodbye” (The Beatles).
This was the problem with Listeners. It seemed to think that if something was rock, it meant that it was the same as everything else that was rock. No, that’s not how this works. The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour and Pink Floyd’s The Wall are both rock albums, yes, but they are, by no means, not the same thing. They have completely different tones, styles, and meaning. Using a Beatles song or a Pink Floyd song or something that sounds like them to convey a specific atmosphere is what I hoped this show was going to be. But to have them in a story, in name only, takes away the entire reason to do a series like this.
In Listeners’ case, if we’re not going to use music to tell a tale, but rather make allusions to music while portraying a lackluster narrative with no-thrill characters, then it feels like someone didn’t think things through.
While writing this review, I have seen this series be raked through the mud by others. I think the level of pure hate being given is, mostly, unfair. At the end of the day, though, this wasn’t a good series. So, there’s not much for me to defend.
Although this show had great animation and a decent original soundtrack, any semblance of substance was missing. The story was hollow, the characters were bland, and the thing that could have made this series worth something was ignored.
Thus, Listeners can be skipped.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Listeners? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.