Well, here I am again… a glutton for MNET’s punishment. After recapping Road to Kingdom, I decided to give I-LAND a try. Most weeks, these recaps will come out Monday or Tuesday after the episode has aired, because that’s when I have the time to finally watch it.
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON EPISODE ONE
Right from the start we’ve got some philosophical quotes and Art House production. This must be Big Hit!
But seriously, the art direction in this series is no joke. It appeals to my love for sci-fi/fantasy, and the set design is freaking cool. They actually built a building for this series. Not a stage, but an entire freaking building! This is what MNET and BTS money can do, I guess. Everything here looked expensive.
The complex gives me serious Hunger Games-meets-Big Brother vibes, and I am loving the combination. It’s like an oasis and prison all at the same time, which is an interesting way to interpret K-pop as an industry. I don’t think this was intentional, but the imagery certainly was provocative. The forest surrounding the complex gives the whole production a naturalistic bent that feels really new for K-pop.
From what little we saw of the judges this episode, they seem to have decent chemistry, though it always annoys me when it’s a panel of all men. They really need a female perspective as well, though I suppose that will come in time. Rain is a welcome edition, especially with his renewed popularity at the moment. And, it’s cool seeing Bang Si-Hyuk as more than just a name on the credits of songs I love.
As laid out in this episode, time and choice are the two main facets of I-LAND. I like the mental aspect of the series so far — how the participants are the ones seemingly making a lot of the choices. I’m sure this is probably much more scripted then the producers are letting on, but it’s a neat little twist on the generic survival show format.
As with most MNET series, episode one was mostly an “arriving and sitting down” affair. And of course, all the guys were sizing each other up for visuals and (mostly) height. The transforming floor as they entered the complex was a very neat touch, as well as the cool lighting that etches its way under their feet. Seriously, I can’t stress enough how fun the set design was – cheesy as it may be.
The concept of “The Ground” was expected, similar to how Produce X 101 forced trainees who didn’t reach a certain level to start from scratch. But, yet again, the set design and instant mythos made it cooler. Except… there was a point where they were walking to The Ground and I could see cars parked in the background. It looked like a staff parking lot, and totally ruined the illusion for a moment. I mean, you just know this is all shot in some back alley that happens to have a few trees around it.
THE PERFORMANCES & VOTING
But, we can’t just have nice sets, right? This is MNET! People need to have their dreams crushed! (and then have super awkward red light shone upon them for extra visual shaming).
There are twenty-three trainees participating in I-LAND, recruited from global auditions. They’re all frighteningly young and wide-eyed, and there’s definitely potential here.
Unfortunately, MNET’s torture complex only houses twelve people, even though the damn thing is as large as school. Logistics aside, it was up to the guys to make their first choice. They would be voting for the twelve who would “enter I-LAND.” Sounds like a cult to me.
From here, we were treated to short, frustratingly-edited performances, where the trainees attempted to earn their spot among the lucky twelve. I wonder how they decided who would perform as a solo and who would perform as a group. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but unless you were really strong and could clearly stand out, I think it was better to be a solo in this round.
I also found it weird how there was apparently a second part of this audition that involved individual talents, yet we didn’t see any of that until the tail end of the episode. I would’ve liked to have seen individual talents from some of the guys that performed earlier.
Ultimately, these performances were too truncated to make much of a judgement, but here are the trainees that stood out most to me so far, in order of performance:
Sunghoon: nice performer, and I think it’s interesting that he’s a figure skater.
Ni-Ki: good dancer, strong voice
Heeseung: they built him up as a standout, and I definitely got that vibe. Seems like an all-rounder and a near shoe-in for the final group.
K: picked a great song, and quite a good dancer.
EJ: great facial expressions and energy.
Gunwoo: I was drawn to him most among the other performers he was with.
Ta-Ki: This was honestly not a positive standout, and it’s all thanks to a pet peeve of mine. I hate when contestants pull out these random dance moves. Like, “I’m really good at this one specific style of dance that’s *sometimes* used K-pop, so that should be enough to vote me in.” I honestly think that getting votes from every other participant was undeserved in this case.
Jake, Sunwoo & Youngbin: These were the first trainees to arrive, and the ones with the shortest training time. Maybe it was because I love Crown so much, but they just seemed pretty polished for being so young.