Guest Colloquium: The Idolm@ster Episode 1

a guest post by: 2-DT and Yi

2DT:  Idols in Japan are tautologies of fame.  Sure, sometimes they sing and dance, or do seiyuu work (Apparently Nakagawa Shouko’s star ascended through the sheer digital weight of her obsessive blogging–  not a bad feat, that).  But in the end, we mustn’t forget that they’re famous because they’re famous.  They’re propelled mostly by personality, and by the dreams that those personalities sell.  I’m talking about some very lonely dreams, of course.

So the first episode of The Idolm@ster is surprisingly entertaining, but more than that it’s just very intriguing, because it takes such pains to imitate features of real idol culture.  Mainly, what I’m referring to is the invisible non-presence of the cameraman, and the silent interview process where the girls will be asked questions on-screen that they react to, but which we don’t hear.

Yi: The silent interview process is certainly the most outstanding aspect of the first episode. After all, it is rare to see this documentary style in anime. When 2DT mentioned that this is actually a common presentation in idol culture, I was eager to see it in play in a gravure DVD. After a half-hour of giggles and teasing, voila, there it is; the silent interview appears in the very last chapter. The signs from Idolm@ster are all there. The idol responds casually, though somewhat awkwardly, to seemingly no one but a mere subtitle visible only to us. She answers a series of questions that seem to have been pulled straight from a dating website:

“Introduce yourself.”

“How would you describe your own personality?”

“What kind of boys do you like?”

The questions continue with her thoughts on marriage, future goals and aspirations, her charm points… etc. It almost feels like a one-sided speed dating event, except with a more casual (though perhaps forced) atmosphere. And maybe that is precisely the point.

2DT: “Speed dating” is an appropriate choice of words.  :)  If you look at the history of Japanese idols, they’ve never lasted very long, and in the beginning they weren’t even especially beautiful (compared to today’s standards, at least).  So instead, the idol industry put a premium on fan devotion, the feeling among lonely males that they “know” the object of their affection.  Questions like these are meant to cultivate love.

Or, to put it in more mercenary terms:   The producers of this anime have approximately twenty-three minutes to make you want to watch more of The Idolm@ster, and in the absence of action and intrigue, their weapon of choice is fan club wars.  And it works so very well; some places already have character rankings, similar to what I remember seeing from fans of Infinite Stratos last season.

Now there’s a thought–   if this is a harem, then fame is the wishy-washy MC.

Yi: Even with the potential for fan club wars, I found the first episode extremely boring. Perhaps I was biased by having first watched a real-life gravure idol speak her obviously scripted answers, but I cannot shake the feeling that Idolm@ster girls’ lines are similarly carefully edited, and they themselves are results of manufactured personalities. (Yes, I know. This is anime; it has to be fictional.) Luckily, the first episode is not nearly as painful to sit through as the gravure movie.

Still, it felt like some lowbrow MTV “reality” show. And, much like the “stars” of those shows, none of the Idolm@ster girls made a lasting impression. How could they, when each gets only a few minutes worth of screen time, not even remotely close to the desired 15-minutes of fame? That scene when all the girls rushed at the camera at the end of the episode is especially telling.

2DT: Aww, so I take it that means you won’t be watching more?  I admit at this point I’m not drawn to anyone in particular (except the female manager…  I am so easy), but something about their struggle is appealing.  The Idolm@ster is still on my radar for now.

Yi: Probably no… for now. But if The Idolm@ster somehow generates enough buzz, I will pick it up again just so that I can indulge in “celebrity gossip.”

Note: 2DT and Yi are friends of ours who were kind enough to discuss the first episode of The Idolm@ster with each other and write a colloquium for our blog.  They are both established and prolific bloggers in their own right (2DT over at 2-D Teleidoscope and Yi over at Listless Ink). We encourage you to read both of their blogs.  In addition, if you and another writer, friend, partner, etc. have a lot to say about an anime series, or just themes in a specific episode, we encourage you to contact either one or both of us to discuss future guest colloquia. 

Thank you, and many thanks again to both Yi and 2DT for this excellent post!

-ajthefourth and vucub caquix


Filed under Colloquia, Episodics, First Impressions, Guest Writer, Idolm@ster

43 responses to “Guest Colloquium: The Idolm@ster Episode 1

  1. and they themselves are results of manufactured personalities.

    Here’s what I find striking in the notion that this is fiction: why does it have to play out like reality? In reality, the fan would likely never know the true struggles of the idol, resisting this facade, but with Idolmaster, there seems to be potential to break the mold. I’m not particularly inclined towards the series, but seeing both sides of the idols, true and false, would provide the viewer with the most satisfaction in my opinion. Because what may be true outside behind the scenes of the idol world as portrayed by this series, may provide some commentary on the real idol industry… but I’m doubtful. So perhaps the characters are cast in that same illusion we see in reality, but it could change; Humpty Dumpty could come off his wall. ^ ^

    Note: I probably won’t watch this, but if I did, it would most likely be for the meta-aspects (VA).

    • 2DT

      I think even the struggles of idols can be manufactured, these days. It’s another way to generate sympathy (and sales), and it taps so well into the “I knew her before she became really famous” elitism that geeks love so much. ;)

      • Ubiquitial

        But will geeks want to know the “people” under the makeup?

        Besides, you can’t manufacture bonafide “struggles of idols” without some Prostitution 5.

      • It’s a point, but I think more precisely I meant struggles with the industry itself, rather than “my f@ther was a womanizer and even womanized me” issues. Seems risky to fabricate struggles that would shine a poor light on the company/industry itself, though I’m not one to say whether becoming the villain would generate positive economic force. (Another likely scenario is that idols are under contract which disallows them to express negative opinions about such things)

        Struggles of the now.

        • Yi

          As I see it, even their struggles will be severely edited. I remember a while back that there was a huge sex scandal leak involving K-Pop idols, where an entertainment agency forces its trainees to service various people for “sponsor expenses.” I have no doubt things like this still happens and in Japan as well, although I’m sure not all idols face this.

          In any case, true struggles like these facing some young idols trying to break into the highly competitive entertainment business are unlikely to ever grace the screens of a show that supposedly gives us the behind the scenes.

          So what are we really getting with this? The behind-the-scenes still just part of the script.

          • Yep, hence my doubt, but for VA and franchise fans it’s easy to see the attraction. Although, even ani-nouto who has played/followed various Im@s news and releases makes the case pretty clear. So it’s tough for me to be interested when I’m not a fan of the franchise, and TBH I’d probably rather take my chances with Xenoglossia.

            Not to say there’s anything wrong with fanservice, but it needs an extra element of interest; Softenni has sport, Momoiro has the historical backdrop, and Im@s has… idol industry, yea (not interested, although probably a fair look at the culture).

  2. Whoa! Awesome guest post Yi and 2DT interesting to see more random tag reviews like this.

    Yeah I am getting some serious harem vibes from this of course the first episode is from the interview point of view, we don’t see that often. Well unless you are into those visual novel games, then you probably wont anything new from that perspective.

    Guess this series is going to give us a peek into the life of an Idol! Lots of girls damn this VA cast must be hugeeeee.

    • 2DT

      Inspiration struck, and who are we to resist a muse? ;) Thanks for reading!

      I actually wonder how much “Producer-san” will be a viewer stand-in like other harem MCs, versus just being our lens into the world like he was here. Apparently giving him a face was a huge move away from the game.

  3. I think that the “manufactured personalities” aspect of the show is precisely what makes it so interesting. These are anime characters; by definition, their personalities have to be manufactured. Yet, the documentary format represents a reverse attempt to replicate the fakeness of the idol industry through an inherently manufactured medium. It’s very intriguing, and the end result seems more “real” than watching a gravure idol talk about her life, most likely because it shows “off-camera” moments of the girls frolicking around within the studio.

    Idolm@s is an intriguing take on the idol industry— since the chance of being friends and interacting with Haruka or Chihaya is 0, that creates different incentives in the minds of fans. When you talk about real world idols like AKB48, everyone understands that there’s a non-zero chance that you may actually get to know an idol on a non-superficial level, and their behavior changes accordingly. The difference is subtle but important.

    • 2DT

      Those are two very interesting angles… Impossibility and disconnection from “for-really-real” reality ironically foster a greater sense of realism. Or maybe “intimacy” is a better word for it.

      I’m reminded of when I met a middle-aged salaryman in a standing bar, and he showed me a photo of a beautiful girl on his phone. I said, “Wow, is that your wife?” He laughed and said no, it was a pop idol. Then he touched his chest and said in English, “In my heart, my wife.” I hear ya, old man. ;)

      • Ubiquitial

        >Those are two very interesting angles… Impossibility and disconnection from “for-really-real” reality ironically foster a greater sense of realism. Or maybe “intimacy” is a better word for it.

        I thought of that, then realized the show was called “The Idol@ster.”

        Can anything with an “at” symbol in its name be that deep? I hope so. But I doubt so.

        • Dude, you commented on Omo’s post. Was that deep enough?

          But the real answer is, it is as deep as we want to make it. Look at the analysis of Charlotte in Infinite flippin’ Stratos of all things. To be a good trampoline for imagination, an anime needs not to be deep by itself, it only needs to provide us the tools and materials with which to work.

    • Yi

      “because it shows “off-camera” moments of the girls frolicking around within the studio.”
      What I found most interesting for me is that even these moments seem scripted, hence the comparison to “reality” TV shows. You know that moment when you’re watching a reality show, and there’s some drama going down, and you think, “this has to be fake.” I get that vibe often with some of the characters. Perhaps it’s part of their being self-conscious around a camera and thus self-editing their personalities, or maybe I’m just too harsh, but yea…

      It does feel more real than that gravure video though.

  4. I think it’s funny how you both were fascinated enough to write a cool post without being that into the episode. Personally I was fascinated along with absolutely adoring the ep all-around. I think if Schneider keeps up his weekly rankings, that’ll be all the blogging I need for it, too, lol.

    • 2DT

      Glad you liked it. :)

      I’m willing to give this first episode a break, since it’s an introduction that’s so unlike what I imagine the rest of the show will be. But I’m very into Ritsuko-san the junior producer, and I hope the rest of Japan is too.

  5. Pingback: Colloquium: The Idolm@ster Episode 1 (feat. Yi of Listless Ink) « 2-D Teleidoscope

  6. Awesome…
    But I think this show will improve more if each of the characters get an up-close and personal point-of-view that states why they wanted to become an idol.

    What I like about The IdolM@ster is that they gave each character a chance to state why they wanted to shine.

    I guess 25 episodes would be sufficient if they plan on using it efficiently.

    • 2DT

      Oh yes, that’s right! This show is two cours long! My my, whatever will they do with the time?

      Well, like you say, probably special character-centric episodes. You will get your wish. :)

    • Yi

      I wonder how they’ll do it from here on out. A focused episode or two for each character? If that’s the case, I can imagine by the end of 25 episodes, those whose chances to shine were in the earlier part of the show would soon be forgotten.

  7. they themselves are results of manufactured personalities

    Surely that’s the point? I won’t claim to be an expert on Idol subculture, but I always imagined the reason people are drawn to them is because they don’t actually display ‘real’ human complexities. Just like the interest generated over artificial anime characters, Idols represent ‘ideals’, with simple to grasp personality routines that fans can easily understand, and aren’t intimidated by. There are no nasty surprises, from having, say, double standards over an issue, or difficult to gage reactions etc; all traits, faults and natural human hypocrisies of a particular idol are glossed over until they become simple quirks, badges that the fandom can identify and choose to support/avoid.

    If I’m wrong on this let correct me, but it’s always been my assumption that idol interest is due to the need for ‘intimacy’ and ‘closeness’ without the harsh realities that a genuine relationship brings.

    Now there’s a thought– if this is a harem, then fame is the wishy-washy MC

    The depressing part of that comment is that fame is only achieved through fan support, hence all the Idols sucking up, sorry, I mean acting normally in front the camera. If there’s any wishy washy MC, it’s us, the viewer. They’ve cut out the middleman and tried to appeal straight to us directly. The sad truth is that not only is that although the audience is treated as generic as the girls themselves, we seem content enough to follow the routine (if the rankings are anything to go by at least).

    At any rate I didn’t make it through the whole ep and probably won’t continue, but at least the direction was more thought provoking than the cast! :)

    • Ubiquitial

      In other words, all fiction is a Mary Sue. Yay humanity! Still, this show can go in a very interesting direction; let’s wait and see.

    • 2DT

      Hmmm, very nice observation. Perhaps to put a finer point on it: Because idols don’t display “real human complexities” so much as iconic charm points, it’s so much easier to impress upon them what you would want in a girl, and so fall in love with an image you’ve made in your head. It’s a bit like what Scott McCloud says about the cartoon and its ability to inspire empathy– or what people often say about Rei Ayanami and the people who like her.

    • Yi

      “Surely that’s the point? I won’t claim to be an expert on Idol subculture, but I always imagined the reason people are drawn to them is because they don’t actually display ‘real’ human complexities.”

      Agreed. The point of idols are to create this ideal girl for fans to love. At the same time though, part of creating this ideal girl necessarily means to avoid making her seem “fake.” The industry doesn’t quite want to burst that bubble that what they’re giving us isn’t the real deal. And hence the attempts at various fan interactions and “behind-the-scenes” things, which are ironically, also part of the package. It takes a certain finesse for idols to be in just the right spot between being the dream girl and being too unreal.

  8. Wow, I’m flattered by the mention!

    From what I heard, the director is a huge fan of the games, and it really shows. I’ve never seen so many introductions pulled off so well in the span of one episode.

  9. I suppose I am sort of fascinated by the idea of writers trying to make their dialogue sound painfully scripted. I don’t know if this series provides a good example or not, but there is a lot of room for creativity by the right people.

    • 2DT

      Well, not like it hasn’t been done before. Recall The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episode 0, “The Adventures of Mikuru Asahina.” :)

  10. Ubiquitial

    4 comments in a row. My, my.

    2DT and Yi are a lethal combo. One likes to focus on the nuances and trivialities of a show, the other likes looking at the big picture (almost as much as she loves yuri.) Both are excellent at analysis, and this is an excellent post.

  11. I find it interesting that there is close to no discussion about professionals struggling to establish their careers. The show itself is certainly filled with fluff, as one would imagine from an idol-themed series, but it actually does show them going out on photo shoots, and practicing dance routines. From this first episode I can’t say quite how this show will continue, but most people (judging from comments here) seem to believe this is all about a fake romance with the characters. Is this attitude based on experience with the IdolM@ster game?

    • 2DT

      From what I hear about the game, we should be getting both: The hard work as well as the budding love for one’s digital protégée. :) We just won’t be getting the dark side, in all likelihood, unless they introduce a new villain idol somewhere.

  12. Hnnn… I don’t have much to add to what’s already been said, except to say that watching this episode was the first representation of idol culture that I’ve seen since Sailor Moon: Sailorstars (which should give everyone a hint as to how often I pay attention to idol culture). In that, we saw Minako struggling with her duty as a sailor soldier vs. her burning passion for becoming an idol. Throughout the season, as she works with “true” idols, The Three Lights, she realizes how much hard work has to be put in and it renews her passion. Her story arc ends with her putting her potential idol career “on hold” while she fights Galaxia, but they put a positive spin on it; Minko says that she can become an idol anytime.

    Although I have to agree with Yi’s assessment of the episode as dull, with every girl getting a minimum amount of screen time, and usually while reciting forced answers, I feel that the series is a lot more cynical because of it. You don’t have time to get to know any of the girls, and perhaps that’s a bit of the point. I highly doubt that The Idolm@ster will end up being a riveting, gritty, inside look at idol culture; however, it definitely doesn’t seem as positive as Minako’s story was, despite the fact that Minako delayed her idol career while these girls are living it daily. I don’t think that I’m going to continue watching, but thanks to you both for introducing this episode to me, and for posting it here!

    • 2DT

      Ah, but Minako can’t wait forever. There’s a premium on youth, after all.

      I suspect there may be a sex divide in opinions of this show. ;) I’m not rooting for any one girl just yet, but I do find it enjoyable, is the thing.

      I know I speak for both myself and Yi when I say this was a blast. Thanks for letting us put it up here!

    • Yi

      “with every girl getting a minimum amount of screen time, and usually while reciting forced answers, I feel that the series is a lot more cynical because of it.”
      Oh great point. There is a sense that this anime is simply going through the motions. Give us a variety of girls, give the girls set personalities, and hope some of them stick with anime watchers. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, the anime seems to be doing what idol industry is doing today. Well, at least there is little pretense that the girls are anything more than a formula of charm points. Maybe later episodes will pick up, but I’m not going to bother, I think.

      Anyway, no thank you for allowing 2DT and me to have such a wonderful time. It’s rare that I enjoyed writing a post as much as this, so thank you. ^ ^

  13. MarigoldRan

    Guys are idiots.

  14. Pingback: Guest Colloquium: The Idolm@ster Episode 1 (2DT and Yi at The Untold Story of Altair & Vega) | Listless Ink

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