20141112_seoulbeats_nomercyWhen another competition show called No Mercy was initially announced, groans could be heard throughout the K-pop fandom. Another one? Haven’t we had enough of these?

Regardless of the skepticism, the show has proven itself to be an entertaining peek into the development of Starship Entertainment‘s next idol group. The show does have the usual fare of reality show staples, but it also holds little back in displaying the multiple facets of the trainees. The focus here isn’t just to pit two teams of preformed groups against each other, but rather on the individuals involved and how their talents could possibly combine into one powerful unit at the end.

For starters, there are twelve trainees total, and no one knows how many members will make the final group. This unknown number adds to the tension of the competition because anything can happen. Perhaps only two will make it. Or maybe it’ll be a quintet. It could even be another super group of ten members. The viewers are left to speculate how many of them will be cut, but one thing is definite: no one is safe.

20141223_seoulbeats_winner_minoThis could not be more evident than in the humorously brutal ranking system introduced at the beginning. The trainees perform for their typical monthly evaluations, but unlike previous ones, they are given numbers according to how well they did. Even though they perform as teams, each person is responsible for standing out enough to gain a high ranking. These rankings change based on their performances for each mission, meaning someone at the bottom has the opportunity to move up and vice versa. This element makes for some enthralling rivalries, as everyone works tirelessly to gain higher rankings. Clearly, there is no mercy when it comes to being number one.

As is the case for most competition shows, there must be back stories given so the audience gains a better sense of the trainees. Most fans are quite aware of the sappy back stories of trainees departing their small hometowns for the big city lights of Seoul in hopes of debuting as idols.

Unfortunately, No Mercy includes a couple of these as well, which is a small sacrifice when one considers at least one family connection to be of high interest. Trainee #Gun (pronounced “Sharp Gun”) is a cousin of Winner‘s Mino, and his family ties do not go unnoticed by the judges who expect his famous bloodline to flow into rapping skills as well.

Another contestant with a surprising history is Shownu, who used to train under JYP Entertainment with members of Got7. In case anyone doubted this connection, he meets up with Got7 after a music show taping for dinner. They reminiscence about their trainee days together, sharing stories of who grew taller and how it surprised everyone at JYP when Shownu was dropped from the label due to his inability to keep up with his practices. The truly awkward moment happened after dinner though, as fans clamored around Got7 for pictures, making Shownu visibly uncomfortable. His embarrassment couldn’t be hidden as he watched his friends bask in their new idol lives while he returned to toiling as a trainee.

20141112_seoulbeats_nomercy_mentorsAs if these two trainees alone weren’t enough to garner interest, there is also the matter of the judges’ panel. The staple judges are K.Will and Sistar‘s Hyolyn, but other notable artists make an appearance as well. We’re talking about Rhymer, San E., Mad Clown, Giriboy, Wheesung, and Soyou here.

The judges are just as entertaining as the trainees, making biting comments that leave even the most confident trainee unsure of his standing at the end of missions. Hyolyn’s sharp-witted observations about the trainees makes for some amusing moments, as does K.Will taking on the role of the no-nonsense main judge.

Some fans may cringe at the harsh dialogue between the judges and trainees, but this is all part of the process to ensure only the best trainees gain a spot in the group. No one likes watching a weak performance, so why coddle trainees when they mess up? Idols face worse comments online, so constructive critiques are probably the gentlest remarks any of them could hope to get.

With only four episodes out, No Mercy has raised the bar in its latest challenge, which pitted trainees against each other in pairs. As if working together wasn’t difficult enough, only one member of each pair would be spared elimination. The prize of a pre-debut featuring track with Starship artists sweetened the pot, making winning this particular mission even more crucial for these young men. It should also be noted that the elimination would be for one rapper and one vocalist. Out of the twelve trainees, only four are rappers. Obviously, this math adds up to a load of extra pressure for the rapper line, but it also equates to major excitement for an audience that craves high stakes in competition shows.

seoulbeats_20131030_winnerOne more selling point of this show has to be the fact that there are no predetermined members yet. In contrast to WIN and Mix & Match, fans don’t have a group to whom they pledge undying loyalty. This means viewers must get to know individuals first. Also, there is no declared leader, so fans can’t latch onto specific members based on that role either. Knowing that nobody is safe makes for exciting viewing as each mission pushes the trainees a step closer towards debut or elimination.

If Starship hopes to maintain any credibility for this show, they probably should hold true to their title and not debut a secondary group of the losing trainees to appease naive fans who don’t understand that competitions are not meant to reward the losers for a reason. The idol industry poses high stakes every day, and a debut does not guarantee a group won’t face disbandment soon afterwards.

This is not meant as a jab towards any groups making their debut this year, but the fact remains that idol life is tough to handle. Pushing for weak-willed trainees who can’t manage to survive the pressures of a competition show is asking for disastrous results in the end. The group that emerges from this show should be one that can withstand the heavy burden of being celebrities while conquering the music charts. If they manage that, they’ll become a group that won’t need any mercy to maintain its popularity.

(Images via Mnet, YG Entertainment, Starship Entertainment)