Whenever a new season is announced, there’s always a rush among writers to cover as many series as possible, in hopes of discovering their next favorite show to cover. One can’t deny the excitement in this flurry of activity as preseason hopes are met, dashed, or exceeded; even those who take the cynical, “Everything this season is going to be terrible,” approach giddily throw themselves in with vigor, possibly with the glimmer of hope that they may be proven wrong.
It was with this same giddiness that I initially watched the first episode of The Idolm@ster, along with the curiosity that arose from this guest post on our blog by 2DT and Yi. The first episode was interesting enough (in particular its presentation, which is the focus of their discussion in the article linked above), but nothing reached out and grabbed me, compelling me to watch more. There were other series that had made a better case for continued viewing, and I wasn’t familiar with the Idolm@ster franchise at all, so it didn’t appear to be anything special.
One sleepless night and seven additional episodes later, I’m happy to have been proven wrong.
Based on a video game where one takes a prospective idol under their wing as her producer, the anime series The Idolm@ster follows the slumping studio 765 Productions, a new producer on staff, and its 13 idol candidates. It’s a series that, by design, invites the viewer to pick a favorite idol out of the 13 (much like they would choose their favorite in order to nurture their career in the game). The cynical part of me thinks that this is a ploy to sell even more merchandise, including the video games themselves, but the part of me that revels in the series admits that I’ve picked Miki Hoshii as my favorite of the group. Therein lies my conflict with The Idolm@ster, and it’s this conflict that makes the series so irresistible to watch.
In spite of the fact that the series is designed very specifically with the database animal in mind, it also manages to work in a few slight jabs at the idol industry while the viewer is compulsively ranking their favorite girls. On the outside of the shabby-looking building that houses the studio, among other things, the “765” on the studio window appears to have been written in duct tape. To the viewers’ and the new producer’s surprise, the girls’ first group job is at a remote county fair. The set-up for the inevitable beach episode is that the studio’s air conditioner breaks and the girls, who don’t have enough jobs to fill their time, end up taking a trip to the beach while the AC gets fixed; amidst the shots of the girls in colorful bathing suits, they ask each other why they don’t have more work. For every ploy by the series to sell more singles, games, and merchandise, there’s a small dig at the industry that’s making the producers of the series rich to begin with. The show also has obviously been given a big budget which, through the first eight episodes, has been put to good use.
It’s easy to tell that with such a popular franchise the production team wanted to put out a product that would not only draw in new viewers, but give little shout-outs to the existing fans as well. What was unexpected were those aforementioned jabs at the industry itself. The Idolm@ster is far from hard-hitting social commentary. Instead it’s the subtlety of shots that the series chooses to take which makes the commentary more insightful (and also occasionally more depressing) in its mundane portrayal of an idol’s life. The truly charming portions of the series are when it peels back the veneer of the girls’ selling points, and allows the audience to watch the characters when they’re technically off-camera. I was expecting to only be given one or two superficial tidbits about each character, in order to help with the choosing of a favorite; however, the characters that the show has chosen to focus on have been surprisingly well developed.
In the end it’s easy to recognize that I’m being manipulated by the series into liking it, but I’m liking it so much that I hardly care. I can’t decide whether it’s one of the most cynical series of the season, or simply the most marketable. Honestly, it’s more than likely a combination of the two. The most important thing to know about The Idolm@ster is that its a series that toes the line between these two extremes, and toes this line so beautifully that one can’t help but be swept up by its charm.
27 responses to “There’s Something About Idolm@ster…”
Are you ready? I am lady.
Hajimeyou! Yareba dekiru, kitto, zettai… atashi number one!
Bikasuishin’s eyeballs must be popping out at all the typical lyrics being pinged in one line. :)
I read the line “Talented beyond belief, lazier than words can describe, and utterly charming” and thought to my self “Ah, here is a Yang Wen-Li fangirl in-potentia.” Despite the snark I often level at this show I find it quite entertaining and yes, charming. The marketing aspect of the show barely fazes me but then, I am a Gundam fanboy so I’ve a certain natural resistance.
(I’m a Makoto fan myself, tomboys rarely fail to charm me)
I’ve never associated Miki with Yang (though I admit it’s not a stretch), because Miki just does whatever she pleases, while Yang mostly just reacts to whatever’s thrown at him.
I started blogging this show on a whim but was very pleasantly surprised that it’s turned out better than I expected. The girls all have their own lives behind the scenes, and it’s great to know each of them.
Also, the Producer is totally not a spineless male character at all! He’s just alright.
Yeah, I too was a bit worried about “Producer” especially since his lines were written out like a video game or gravure video Q&A session in the first episode. He’s not completely spineless; however, I wish he’d be a bit more motivated about the girls’ careers rather than getting to know them better. Fortunately, it looks like he’s been sufficiently threatened by Ritsuko and Ryuuguu Komachi that he’ll start kicking things into high gear. Thanks for commenting!
Hnn…it’s highly possible. Admittedly I haven’t seen Legend of the Galactic Heroes yet. I know it’s something I *should* watch, and I know it’s something that I will probably like (if not love), yet there’s something about starting it that just seems so daunting (mainly due to the length). I’ll keep you posted when I inevitably end up watching it.
Makoto is pretty adorable. I liked her from the very first episode at her look of guilt when she was caught reading *gasp!* a shoujo magazine! Thanks for the comment!
I am enjoying this show much more than I expected to. I like the fact that they’re not sudden overnight successes, and the agency name is taped on to the window, and their first gig is in the arse-end of nowhere.
Episode 8 is I think the episode I’d pick out to show people. The way the story just builds like a small snowball forming an avalanche, and the fight scenes!
Episode eight is a ton of fun. I’m not sure if it represents the rest of the series well; however, since it’s a lot more silly than the seven episodes prior, and everything wraps up just a bit too neatly.
Still, those fight scenes with Makoto was amazing, weren’t they? And so fluidly animated too! I really hope that the series continues to use its budget in different ways. Thanks for the comment! ^ ^
I haven’t watched past episode three. The repelling powers of that androphobe are strong…
Ooh…I can definitely see that. I’m not sure how you felt about the series, Working!, but that was a hurdle for me in watching it (to the point that I nearly dropped it after episode two). Fortunately, in Idolm@ster (according to my recollection), they haven’t touched upon it again. In fact, the character who has supposed androphobia hasn’t had but more than one or two lines total in the five episodes after her series debut.
I’d recommend that you pick it back up again, because I think you would enjoy it. If you don’t, however, thanks for introducing me to the series! ^ ^
As always, thanks for the comment!
I also started this not expecting much, and yet I can’t help but like it, even though I also have the cynical feelings in the back of my head every time a colorful song title pops up on the screen. But at the end of the day, anime is my entertainment, so I just ignore those thoughts and enjoy what I enjoy. :D
That is, by far, the best attitude to have.
I suppose most of my personal surprise comes from the fact that it does dare, even if it’s only in small amounts, to jab at the industry that it’s also flourishing because of. At this point, regardless of whether the series continues it’s subtle commentary, I’m hooked and will definitely watch until the end. ^ ^ Thanks for commenting!
I will be honest and say I was going to originally avoid this series when I saw it on the summer anime list! But I did try the first few episodes and found myself hooked to a few of the characters really fast. I guess its the same with K-On fans usually find that one character they love and follow it forever, with Idolmaster I have seen a remade version where the girls pilot giant robots and yeah its nothing like this…
But the series does show off the other side of being an idol and that might be why I like it, sure they might have 20+ Character CDs when this series finishes…Well I will still watch! And that opening song so addictive…I swear I listened to it on repeat for a while ahaha anyway nice post!
So was I, haha.
I’m a bit odd, in that I watch series like K-ON! (which I love, by the way) because it reminds me how stupid my friends and I were in high school (and how much fun we had, albeit less cutely). I don’t get that same vibe from Idolm@ster but I’m enjoying it just as much!
I bet they’ll have at least 15 (one for each girl along with the OP and ED). Thanks for the comment! ^ ^
I’m enjoying this about as much as I expected to, which is a lot. I never played the game, but got pulled in through this hypnotic video:
Katamari out of nowhere.
Maybe I’m weird in that I don’t have a particular favourite girl. Or maybe they’re all my favourite, a harem end is the best end after all.
That video made me laugh. What was with the cow outfits in the beginning? Also, it’s interesting to note that even in this video, they make the studio look a bit sad and run down.
Katamari…I think that one of their songs (and studio) was featured in a recent version of Katamari? Or maybe it was just the song. I haven’t played that game in so long, but now I really want to play it again, haha. Thanks for the comment! ^ ^
Too bad the video was set on private (to prevent being taken down and whole account destroyed, no doubt).
Wow, and I thought I was the only one who got this sort of depressing reading out of Idolm@ster.
Nope! Now there are at least two of us! (And a few others I’ve talked about it with as well). Thanks for the comment!
I think in the collaboration post I did with 2DT, I ended saying that I would pick this series back up again if there is enough buzz. I didn’t expect to do so, but it looks like I should now. I think it’s especially interesting how the anime itself is starting to feel like an idol for me. The anime came out of nowhere, picked up some momentum, and is now something I can’t ignore and must follow, much like how idols become idols in real life.
The highly commercial aspects you mentioned plays well into this as well. Idols are always selling something: personality, singles, musics, fashion, magazines… etc. The animated version is doing the same. And I’m starting to buy it all.
Excellent post. ^ ^
Your second paragraph pretty much sums up my recent slow buildup and immersion in the series. I may not like all of the songs, but I’m certainly paying attention to them as they come out. I may not have to watch the series right away, but now there’s a heightened awareness when a new episode is released.
Whether you pick it back up or not, I’m happy that you liked my post. I’ll look forward to what you’ll have to say should you decide to watch Idolm@ster again. Thank you! ^ ^
After the first episode I thought the cast is way too large to give a decent characterization of every one of the girls. I decided to follow it anyway simply because of the outstanding animation quality. It may sound funny but I’d watch this just for the visual pleasure not matter what the content of the show. However, the episodes turned imo out to be quite good little stories lately (due to time constraints I’m lagging a bit behind having watched no further than episode 7).
I’ve been wondering about the fact that with iDOLM@STER and Usagi Drop there are two shows airing which basically deal with raising children. I’ve never played the iDOLM@STER game, but I’d guess it can be quite addictive for people who have no chance ever to have a family themselves (i.e. serving as a family substitute). For this reason I imagine the game might be somewhat creepy/ depressing. The anime fortunately is not creepy in any way. Usagi Drop to me seems to be somewhat more on the educational side but being an anime I’d assume that it is watched by a similar audience as iDOLM@STER and somewhat touches the same strings.
Recently I also wondered what it says that there are so many shows of school children spending a lot of time working. Apart from iDOLM@STER I think of course of Working!! but also of HanaIro. All these places are staffed mostly by minors who, one could think, should spend their free time doing homework or enjoying life. I also thought that Japanese pupils have so much homework, cram school etc. that it would be unrealistic to have any side job at all. Being an “idol” may be different from working in a restaurant but the girls at studio 765 seem not to be paid very well for all their time and effort. I only hope producer-san makes a good job and leads them to some at least short-lived fame!
For me, I feel that those may be dangerous strings to be pulling, especially if the audience isn’t emotionally ready to have a child.
You bring up an interesting point with extracurriculars, to which the answer is that they probably get their homework done in between gigs (as you’ll see later on from Ami and Mami). As for enjoying life, that treads a bit on another sticky situation of which I will readily admit that I know little to nothing about, except from hearsay and speaking with a few of my Japanese friends in college. Effectively, they said that, while the time that Americans tend to look back on with nostalgia is high school and college, the time that the Japanese tend to look back on with nostalgia is their very young childhood. This may have something to do with those cram schools, side jobs, etc. that you mention, but as I said, I honestly don’t know that much beyond what they told me.
The girls in Idolm@ster appear to be somewhat enjoying life (and I have no doubt that this is quite purposeful) with each other, although the dread specter of work looms over them constantly, or rather, the dread specter of not being able to find work. The girls at 765 Pro aren’t paid very well (apparent from their surroundings) although that seems to be shifting with the introduction of Ryuugu Komachi (I’ll keep quiet now, since you haven’t seen much of them yet). I’m reminded once again (I said this in 2DT and Yi’s post) of Minako from Sailor Moon, who also wanted to become an idol and found it hard to juggle school, being a sailor soldier, and her dreams. I suppose the uplifting side of it all is that (for the majority of the girls anyway) this seems to be honestly what they want to do with their careers, and therefore is not just a passing side job, like working in a restaurant.
Thanks for commenting!
The jobs situation in anime in general is a little unrealistic. Having a “baito” is rather common for high-schoolers, but middle-schoolers usually do not work, with the important exception of a family-run business, where it comes naturally. The problem is, they cannot be paid for it. In Mahoraba, there’s an riff on that right off the bat when the male lead is surprised to see a 16-year-old landlady, but writes it up for “Tokyo being amazing”. The situation with idols is different and generally involves parents more closely than Idolmaster shows. Come to think of it, who was receiving Jake Lloyd’s salary for the role in Star Wars?
Ah…thanks for bringing this up! It completely makes sense; however, I honestly hadn’t given it much thought probably because Idolm@ster, like most anime, doesn’t feature much of the girls’ parents. (In fact, Chihaya’s mom is the only parent I can remember and her relationship with her daughter is strained at best.) Thinking about it now, I would assume that having your child become a successful idol probably lends itself to all sorts of interesting monetary battles. Thanks for commenting!
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