“Maybe it’s arrogant to talk of supporting Acchan, but I succeeded 0048’s captain, Takahashi Minami. So I decided that I had to change. I had to be strong enough to support Acchan. That’s what I thought.”
-Minami “Takamina” Takahashi the 5th, AKB0048 Episode 20
Succession as portrayed in AKB0048 has always been a fascinating concept and focal point within the series. The idea is this: girl joins AKB0048 as an understudy, girl attends harsh vocal, dance, and combat training, girl’s “essence” will eventually resonate enough with one of the original AKB0048 members, mystical jellyfish blobs called kirara choose which original member the understudy will succeed, girl becomes a successor until she graduates (or ascends to that great stage in the sky with Atsuko “Acchan” Maeda the 13th). Understanding the process is simple, understanding exactly what makes one ready for succession and how they actually succeed, that’s something far more muddied and difficult to grasp.
Tomomi “Tomochin” Itano the 11th easily provides the most straightforward, and identifiably creepy, example of succession that the series examines. In a bizarre take on the Fujiwara clan’s dominance of Heian-era Japan, the women of the Itano family are selectively bred to look exactly like the original Tomomi Itano of AKB0048, ensuring that their family will always have one daughter in the group. Additionally, they have 48 Tomochin Scrolls with rules that the successor must adhere to. At one point, Tomochin the 11th expresses the desire to know what it’s like to not be “a Tomochin” as she’s been training to be one from birth. Tomochin’s example is one of a girl who has had little choice in becoming the AKB0048 successor that she did, making her later statement that she “likes Tomochin” hard to watch.
Next, AKB0048 presents us with the conflict between understudy Kanata Shinonome of the 75th generation and current successor Takamina the Fifth. Kanata immediately benefits the most from the arrival of AKB0048’s 77th generation, as it allows her natural leadership qualities to surface. This leads her to outshine the current successor to Minami Takahashi, Takamina the Fifth, until it is Kanata that the mystical kirara deem more worthy of the Takamina name. Takamina the Fifth undergoes an angst-ridden confidence crisis where she struggles with her desire as AKB0048’s captain to nurture the understudies and her personal desire to be a successor. It all wraps up rather neatly, albeit with Takamina the Fifth feeling horrible about herself, and she retains her position as a successor while Kanata remains blissfully unaware.
“Hypothetically speaking, what if you were already qualified to be a successor? What would you do? If you could become Takahashi Minami the Sixth, what would you do? What if your skills and your soul were ready for succession long ago, but you couldn’t advance because of me?”
-Takamina the Fifth to Kanata Shinonome, AKB0048 Episode 20
This is revisited in Episode 20, on the eve of Mimori’s impending succession, when Takamina the Fifth asks Kanata the above questions. Unable to answer, Kanata says that both the name of Takahashi Minami the position and Takamina the Fifth the person hold a special place in her heart. Bringing the series back to this previous conflict shows how Takamina is still unable to move past it, due to her own character and role as a leader, and how Kanata is still the living embodiment of the qualities that Takahashi Minami supposedly espoused. Placed in the same episode as the initial quote regarding her own succession, one sees that Takamina the Fifth actively worked on those specific qualities of Takahashi Minami following her ascension to that position. What pieces of Takamina the Fifth are part of her own personality, and what ones she assumed once becoming “a Takamina” are purposefully muddy and unclear. Kanata is far more her own person than Takamina the Fifth has been shown to be, leaving an invested audience unsure as to whether they should root for Kanata to become a successor after all.
“Everyone’s unique in their own way, but I think it’s good to try all kinds of things. 00 is a weird place. Working so hard to become someone who isn’t yourself.”
– Sayaka Akimoto the 10th to Mimori Kishida, AKB0048 Episode Five
These ideas come to a head when Mimori Kishida becomes the next understudy to undergo the process of succession. First, she runs a fever as, in their manager Tsubasa’s words, her body attempts to reject or resonate with the soul attempting to enter it (much like a virus). Then comes a cleansing ritual, followed by the cutting of her hair. When presented on stage as the new Mariko Shinoda the 8th, the understudies ooh and ah in appreciation to the crowing of 76th generation Megu: “See, I told you she’d change.”
Megu has already been through the struggle that Kanata, and the current understudies as well as the audience, is about to go through. Her closest friend, Youko Asamiya, succeeded before her and become Sae Miyazawa the 10th. Through Megu, the series has already shown the resentment and strain that becoming a successor can put on a friendship. This creates the backdrop, along with Sensei-Sensei’s ominous chanting of “Sadistic,” for the newly-crowned Mariko to drag her friend Kanata onstage and issue her the challenge of becoming a successor by Christmas. Kanta acquiesces, saying that it’s an unreasonable demand, but she wants to keep their promise and shine alongside Mimori/Mariko. This leads everyone to laugh amongst themselves at how capricious the new Mariko is, as are all who succeed Mariko Shinoda according to her song “Ue Kara Mariko/Mariko From Above.” It’s all a bit ominous, especially with how surprised initially the understudies were at the fact that Mimori was chosen as Mariko specifically.
Most importantly, the series had ensured that not only is she her family’s Mimori, Kanata’s Mimori, and the AKB0048 75th generation’s Mimori, but she’s the audience’s Mimori. Our Mimori. Although we, like her fans within the scope of the series, are happy to see her succeed, something about the whole business is also extremely off-putting. Prior to her succession we knew and loved the character of Mimori Kishida. The rebranding of her person as Mariko Shinoda the 8th sours the joy that the audience is supposed to feel at her achieving her dream. How one actually becomes a successor is less of a mystery than ever, but the battle between one’s love for a character and watching them become further entrenched in the AKB0048 brand is as confusing as ever.
Shinmaru over at The Cart Driver wrote an excellent review of the first season.
Schneider over at Continuing World has some great AKB0048 editorials.
I wrote this post, comparing my personal favorite Kawamori creation to AKB0048.
6 responses to “Mariko From Above: The Birth of an AKB0048 Successor”
And yet in comparison, the next level in ascencion is the Centre Nova phenomenon, which for some reason has been noted as a quantified, reproducible event, rather than a mystical ritual based on the resonance of souls past and present. There’s a strange contrast between the two processes that seem to try to undermine each other from an ontological standpoint, which lessens the allure or mystique of both, yet still at the same time manage to fascinate me beyond words. Gotta keep watching, I guess.
I love that you brought this up because A: I hadn’t thought to compare these two phenomena (succession and the Center Nova) and B: it adds another level to the whole Lynn Minmay model of looking at idol culture (which Shinmaru touched upon in his article).
Honestly, once one has watched any of the original Macross or has seen Do You Remember Love? it becomes increasingly difficult not to compare Kawamori’s original depiction of an idol to everything that follows. Shin said it best when he states that Minmay is bratty and selfish but also empathetic. One wants her to succeed and there is a clear delineation between her actual personality as a person and her idol persona. In the end, she’s shown to be a very lonely individual. The quantifiable, reproducible, as you say, science experiment of an event: the Center Nova, is the one that requires the idol to basically forgo displaying any sort of emotion to others and be completely alone. As Mikako, Acchan, and Yuuko all echo, in order to stand in the center at “position zero” one needs to be prepared to take all of the criticism, all of the conflict, and all of the very literal firepower that is leveled in your direction.
It’s interesting that the more mystical aspect of being an AKB0048 member, succession, (a friend compared it to the choosing of a new pope) involves taking on a persona, where the scientific Center Nova phenomenon involves the idol completely isolating themselves from others. Episode Five of AKB0048 shows all of the successors saying that they love being in 00 because being with their friends makes it all worth it. The Center Nova position would seem to tell an opposing viewpoint: that friends are things to be protected by you and in order to ascend to that position one must distance themselves from the rest of the members.
ANYWAY. I really love this show. ^ ^ Thanks for pointing this out and I’ll definitely be looking out for this in future episodes.
That pretty much sums up a lot of what’s so great about this show. Tons of anime / books / movies talk about “being yourself” and being “true to yourself”, yada yada yada. Usually these are just nebulous weasel words devoid of any meaning. How can you not be yourself? That’s ridiculous. But in AKB0048, where the entire cast is actively trying to be someone they’re not (and where this is seen as a good thing) it’s actually an interesting question. There’s this tension between the whole “be the best you can be” mentality and the idea of being yourself, and AKB0048 exposes this.
“Nebulous weasel words,” hehehe. ^ ^
In addition to your comment, I’d like to point out the fact that, while those in the show see becoming another person as a good thing –– or a desirable position of achievement –– the series does a great job of framing it to the viewer as a thing that is at its least awkward and at its most ridiculously creepy and perverse (as successors lose their actual personalities in favor of their 00 successor ones). As you point out, when becoming “the best you can be” requires you to become another person the idea takes on a whole different identity (pun intended).
Thanks for the comment. I can’t wait to see what the series has in store for us in it’s last few episodes.
My ego is so puffed up right now.
I keep wondering how Kawamori is being allowed to go in these directions. Once you get past the cheeriness, the series is being quite blatant about what pop stars have to give up to achieve fame. Or any famous person, really. All the audience sees is the person performing. If they see anything that strikes against their preconceived notion of that performer’s identity, then the audience gets mad. That suspension of disbelief needs constant reinforcement.
Also, I watch AKB0048 with a friend of mine, and we are both constantly weirded out by the Tomomi clan. How frightening!
Also also, Kanata must really like Takamina — or must really be in denial — if she hasn’t totally caught on to what was communicated to her, haha.
As it should be. I loved your article. ^ ^
The Tomomi clan is something that I had always remembered as being super-creepy, but didn’t fully recognize until I had to watch it again for this post. I had completely forgotten about the Tomomi scrolls…that’s just messed up. It’s especially sad when the current Tomomi thinks, briefly, of what it would be like to be someone other than Tomomi while Yuuka and Orine look on.
I think Kanata is really in denial/a bit lost in terms of what she’s doing. The series had already painted her as being a bit thrown off by Mimori getting elected in the general elections. She also is definitely the type to believe the best of Takamina no matter what, to the point of refusing to believe anything bad of her. On the flip side, did you (or anyone else reading this comment) find that entire scene especially depressing for Takamina? She’s looking to Kanata for validation/anger because she can’t find it in her own heart to believe in her decision/wants someone else to be angry at her out of her own guilt.