Though I was originally asked to write about Aikatsu! through my Patreon, I quickly found myself hooked on the show. Despite the sheer length of the series, I finished the first 50-episode season in less time than I usually take to watch shows half that size. Thus, I want to give an update to my previous post to talk about some of the later developments that I enjoyed.
Aikatsu! follows Hoshimiya Ichigo on her quest to become an idol. She enrolls in Starlight Academy (a school specializing in idols) with her best friend and idol fan, Kiriya Aoi, and over the course of the series they climb the ranks and make many friends. While girls’ shows such as these tend to not work in dramatic narratives, the lack of a very concrete goal leaves the series without any continuing driving force other than the sheer personalities of its characters.
However, with respect to those characters Aikatsu! is immensely entertaining. Though none of them are particularly complex, the way they bounce off of each other and the way that even the most gimmicky characters exhibit a great deal of heart and vibrancy in their personalities helps the show along immensely. When the show is being episodic, it’s still entertaining. When it allows its characters to grow, Aikatsu! is home to a number of memorable moments.
Great New Characters
There are three major changes since my previous post that make the show better overall. The first is the growing of the cast into something rather enormous, and yet Aikatsu! is able to keep it from being unwieldy. Of the later additions, I think Ichinose Kaede and Kitaouji Sakura are fantastic. Kaede is a scene stealer with her constant Engrish (she comes from America after all), ability to make sushi appear out of thin air, and just the way she represents the idea that, at least in the Aikatsu! universe, being an idol in the US is rough business that requires you to be on your A game at all times. For Sakura, I love how her running gag, the fact that she will just break into Kabuki-style talk when discussing important topics, is weaved into moments and then quickly transitioned out of back into normal conversation.
If there’s one thing that I think was a lost opportunity with Sakura, it has to do with the fact that she originally appears as Ichigo’s fresh-faced freshman (whereby Ichigo is supposed to guide her), but Sakura is already way more talented than Ichigo in a variety of ways. What Ichigo is meant to teach Sakura is the sense of exuberance that Ichigo is known for, and I think they could have directly developed that more.
The second upgrade is the improved 3DCG dance sequences. CG at the start of Aikatsu! was pretty bland, something it shares with rival series such as Pretty Rhythm. But it gets better as the show progresses, and with both more natural-looking movements and better camera work the dance numbers go from tedious to pretty entertaining. The only strike I hold against them is the fact that they’re often meant to be competitions but no differences are really shown in regards to how each character is dancing (they do the same moves at the same time all the time), with the exception of the “Special Appeals,” which are essentially fanciful cut scenes that act as special moves (this is based on a game, after all).
As someone who is neither a dancer nor rhythmically inclined in general maybe I’m not getting it, and I also don’t expect a show for little girls to cater to my adult sense of continuity, but I think this is exactly the sort of thing anime and manga tend to be good at. It’s hard for an ignoramus like me to enjoy ballet, but when it’s ballet + shocked expressions + exposition, even I can enjoy Swan Lake.
Hoshimiya Ringo, an Awesome Mom
The third improvement is the way that they build up Ichigo’s mom. When the series begins, Ringo is shown owning a simple bento shop and having no connections to the idol world. Over the course of the series, it blatantly hints that she’s not what she seems, and while it’s quickly made obvious to the audience that Ringo was a member of the most famous idol group in history, Masquerade (along with Starlight’s headmaster Orihime), seeing Ringo hint at her past in conversations with Ichigo by dispensing advice only when necessary, or exchanging knowing glances with Orihime kept me wanting more. In the end, the payoff for this little plot thread is well worth it.
The show actually hints at this right from the opening, as Ringo is shown pretending that her rice scoop is a microphone and posing for her son Raichi’s camera. What is supposed to be a mom playing at being an idol is actually Ringo very briefly delving back into her past.
It’ll probably be a while before I watch the second season, but I can easily see now why Aikatsu! garners such a loyal fanbase. It’s a genuinely entertaining series that never really has any low points, and stays consistent throughout even if it doesn’t have any kind of massive involving story arc. Let’s look back in a year or two and see if I’ve come back to the world of Idol Activities. Alhough, I feel like I’ll miss the first opening and ending themes; they really were the best.
By the way, I spent a bit of time in Japan recently and got to play the actual Aikatsu! arcade game. What stood out to me most about the game is that the awkward idol poses in the anime are just there to directly reflect the game elements. Without the visibility of success and failure in those sequences, however, some of the impact is lost on TV.
I also got a couple of sweet cards for my trouble, and I rocked Kaede as my character. While I was indeed playing a game for 5 year olds, the only other person playing was a salaryman in a suit and tie. Perhaps Idol Activities truly are for everyone.
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Oh awesome, you finished s1! I was much the same way, starting out of curiosity, then finding myself plowing through the series as it got more and more engaging. It’s so much fun.
Fans seem kind of mixed about s2, but I felt it was a perfect second half for the Ichigo generation, and the CG continues to get much better…some of the best CG work in the series is in the latter portion of s2, in my opinion, and in fact it was seeing some excerpts from that period which got me more interested in the series at the time. The movie was a lot of fun, too. S3 and s4, the Akari generation episodes are a much more mixed bag, but since my last comment the series ended and I was very happy with how they wrapped it up overall. Aikatsu Stars hasn’t completely grabbed me yet but I’m still catching up on it after falling a bit behind.
I can’t agree at all on Pretty Rhythm though…the CG in it was much better than Aikatsu at their respective starts, and Aikatsu had to catch up quickly to match PR’s quality and start to compete. I would say that Aikatsu really upped its game with the introduction of changing lighting and depth of field focus, but Pretty Rhythm was doing much the same thing around that time as well (and had a good headstart on Aikatsu overall, given how much earlier the PR trilogy started). Would you call *this* bland?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTrHBMl6CKc (don’t worry about the last 3 minutes, which are just dialogue)
I’ve never seen anything in either Aikatsu or PR itself quite top that particular portion… well, excluding maybe the King of Prism Pretty Rhythm movie, which is really a divergent path as they went for the older fujoushi fans with that one (highly recommended! Though it won’t make much sense without seeing PR Rainbow Live first). But then, PR is a dramatic (sports anime-like, more or less) kid’s show in contrast to Aikatsu’s more “slice of life” like format, so there’s a greater sense of competition and high stakes…kind of night and day, really. I would argue that of the two, PR feels more like a vintage 1990s shoujo anime (but with a unique story), while Aikatsu feels more current or even a bit futuristic (something that Aikatsu Stars seems missing somehow). I totally agree on the way we have to take the narrative’s word for it on who is “winning” a competition in Aikatsu, in any case. There are some points later where the CG team starts actually really differentiating the performances in some face-offs and duets (some really quite nicely and refreshing after so many performances that look like they just mapped the motion capture from one performance to multiple models), but there are still a lot of points where I felt we just have to accept what they claim happened over what was shown.
I held off mentioning it last time, but I do feel there is a strong goal for Ichigo in Aikatsu, which is to become an idol as great as or exceeding Mizuki, and I think that further intensifies in s2. Mizuki always seems to be a number of steps ahead of Ichigo, and after a while my spouse and I started nicknaming her both “Darth Mizuki” and “Last Boss Mizuki”. Not that she’s ever a “bad guy”, but she’s probably the closest thing Aikatsu ever presents to an antagonist in the original series.
Looking forward to your thoughts on s2, when you get to it!
I am glad you are enjoying the series, getting to play the actual game sounds awesome!