“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.