It's back to a universe in which entertainment is banned this winter, as we check in once again on the girls of AKB0048, and in particular the group's set of understudies as they look to grow and move upwards in their chosen career path.
Indeed, we rejoin these understudies as they take part in and complete another successful understudies concert, which comes with not one but two important announcements to its excitable crowd. Not only will the Centre Nova position be returning after a period of absence in light of the mysterious disappearances of previous girls who have taken up that role, but the concept of a General Election will also be reintroduced for the group's next single, allowing the fans to vote for who they most want to see perform. An exciting but nerve-wracking time for all concerned, in other words.
Any consideration of the impact of these announcements soon needs to be put on the back burner however, as some downtime after the concert is used by DES forces to mount an attack on the girls bath (a cunning plan, I'm sure you'll agree) and kidnap a handful of AKB0048 members, including Chieri. As they're whisked off to the high court for a public trial that is clearly more PR exercise than even-handed attempt at applying justice, it doesn't take the rest of the group long to give chase to perform a daring but spectacular concert-cum-rescue. Was that exactly what the Zodiac Corporation was hoping for, though?
Having dallied with the idea of not watching this second season for a while, this first episode of Next Stage at least reminded me of why I did ultimately choose to watch it - its CG isn't the best but it does serve towards delivering some impressive set pieces when push comes to shove, and as many elements of the show are intriguing as others are downright dumb to produce a story that is at least worth following through to the bitter end. With the Zodiac Corporation and Chieri's presence given a new importance, it feels as if Next Stage could go in some interesting new directions if nothing else, even though it's increasingly hard to take the show's core "entertainment ban" idea seriously.