There are equal parts irony and uncertainty to the movie BanG Dream! Poppin’ Dream! seemingly unceremoniously being thrown onto Crunchyroll some nine months after its Japanese theatrical release. The three films from the franchise that preceded it in 2021 all netted pay-per-view English streaming releases sooner, though perhaps the acknowledgement that there were four films all released within a year accounts for the BanG Dream! burnout that might inform such a decision. But unlike the mobile game story montage that the Episode of Roselia movies were or the plot-free concert movie of Film Live 2nd Stage, Poppin’ Dream here presumes to be an actual story continuation of the BanG Dream! television anime proper. But in the number-crunching world that determines things for these kinds of franchise films, that doesn’t necessarily mean it earns anything befitting that particular priority, nor does the movie itself stand out in any way that argues for it.
There is a hint of ambition to Poppin’ Dream’s setup, at the beginning. True to the title, the movie takes the tack of exploring what Poppin’ Party‘s goal moving forward from that big Budokan show at the end of Season 3 would be. In many ways, this framing comes off as constructively calling back to BanG Dream!‘s somewhat-infamous first season, hamstrung as that (and Poppin’ Party‘s overall characterization) was by the fact that they never had a major, dramatic goal beyond “Form their band and play some shows”. And so the idea of “Dreams” moving forward is intoned throughout this movie, Kasumi meditating on the idea, quite literally dreaming about it in places, and bringing it up with her band-mates as they and others participate in a charity concert centered around ‘Saving dreams with music’.
The primary issue then is that this movie seems to get as periodically distracted as Poppin’ Party themselves on their way to their destination in Guam in the film’s first half. It’s not just the fluffy detours to beach excursions and barbecues and cute aside plane-trip antics, those are all expected components of this series by now and, honestly, end up being some of the stronger, more enjoyable material amongst all the other missteps that crop up. The more pertinent issue is things like Poppin’ Dream’s insistence on the inclusion of new band Morfonica to the proceedings. And don’t get me wrong, I like Morfonica! But this is clearly a case of Bushiroad wanting to get the new band out for promotional and marketing purposes, as they mostly come off like a bolted-on distraction in a movie that’s theoretically supposed to be centered on the franchise‘s foundational opening act.
It compounds the frustration when it becomes clear what they didn’t do with these bands and the themes of the story they allude to. Beyond all the vague suppositions, Poppin’ Party doesn’t actually come to any meaningful conclusion about their future dream beyond “Yup, we sure can have one!”. One line from a supporting character at the very end (I’m talking, like, post-credits) puts forth the concept that “Bands always give new dreams to everyone”, which could have worked as something the focal group themselves decided on, as well as intersected with Morfonica‘s presence and the fact that, within the broader BanG Dream! story, they’re a ‘new generation’ group directly inspired by Poppin’ Party. But despite having all those components present, the movie never moves to connect them together in any meaningful way, as it meanders through cute skits and entertaining musical performances.
In fact, the efforts it does make at injecting some dramatic complications into the run-up to the big show might make for the biggest misstep of Poppin’ Dream overall. Far from anything that meditates on the seeking out of higher ambition or worthiness of standing on this kind of worldwide stage, the third-act dramatic delay comes as a simple cluster of miscommunication caused by an unfortunately-placed sea cucumber. It’s nothing so much as a contrivance that allows for a little bit of characterization we expect at this point (namely Saya getting to act as the Mom Friend), mostly serves to stretch out the run-time even more conspicuously than Poppin’ Party‘s detours in getting to their hotel. There are courtesies that can be extended to what the writing does with this gap, having RAISE A SUILEN stall during the concert to make time for the missing members’ return in a way that calls back not only a foundational scene from the anime’s first season, but also ‘making up’ for the part in the second season when RAS was indirectly responsible for Poppin’ Party failing to make a show. This movie has ideas about solidly tying itself into the broad scope of the BanG Dream! anime’s narrative, it’s just a pity the writing couldn’t get it there in a way that felt more thematically meaningful.
That’s the biggest aggravation with Poppin’ Dream, that it does have its own best moments, and it feels so close in them. An acoustic performance of ‘On Your New Journey’ halfway through is a standout, calling back to that aforementioned ‘a couple of girls, a guitar, and a dream’ aspect the story was founded on so far back. Apart from its issues with thematics and storytelling, there’s a sense that this movie overall at least understands music, RAISE A SUILEN‘s stalling tactic showing off the power of a performance with presence, or being able to hear in their newest songs just how far Poppin’ Party has come, in terms of skill and sound. The movie even shows some willingness to pull back, in a bit in the final stretch where the show goes dark and silent for a few moments, an extremely effective use of restraint that one might not expect otherwise from an anime like this, and it totally works.
It ultimately begs the question of if this movie actually could have done more with less. The funny little character bits in the run-up to everything are as amusing as ever, carried well by SANZIGEN‘s now-quite-experienced hand at delivering this kind of content with CGI animation. That face-game is characteristically on-point, standing out in segments like a stressed-out plane ride or a scene of the Poppin’ Party girls crowding around a cell phone. Some of the compositing selling the more colorful scenery of Guam sticks out more than I think they intend to, but then a lot of the scenery does look nice overall. And this crew definitely still knows their way around animated concert scenes. Poppin’ Dream’s big-show finish never quite reaches the heights of a dedicated concert movie like Film Live 2nd, but it still shows off well with things like the grandiose construction of the show stage, the transitional lighting of the evening, and the flourishes of the characters as they bang out their tunes.
With those more effective casual efforts, the movie coming off like it also had to reach for denser dramatic and thematic heights feels forced, like they were worried about ringing too close to that infamously insubstantial first season they’re otherwise purposefully calling back to. But even if that were the case, as I outlined earlier, there were more effective ways to make those concepts work beyond the allusions and complications the script does give us which come off more like first-draft placeholders than anything else. Poppin’ Dream’s best moments are just that, moments, and they’re strung together with storytelling that we know the overall franchise has grown beyond and surpassed elsewhere. But the missed opportunities in this one can come off as burnt-out as people following this series might have felt after four movies in the space of a year.