Years of watching sequels has made one thing clear to me: it can be remarkably difficult to properly pass the torch from one protagonist to the next. For every Love Live! Sunshine!! that presents a cast with its own individuality, there’s a Saved by the Bell: The New Class, which, like so many in the graveyard of failed follow-ups, tries too hard to imitate the formula of the predecessor. In this respect, Aikatsu! takes on one hell of a challenge, not only taking the focus off of original heroine Hoshimiya Ichigo and re-centering it on newer star Oozora Akari, but actually keeping Ichigo and the rest of the old guard around.
The risk that comes with keeping the older characters around is that they might very well make the newer characters feel less worthwhile. In a post comparing the manga Genshiken to the series Kyuukyoku Choujin R, Japanese blogger tamagomago talks about how, while both series are about generations of college students, in the latter’s case the older characters stuck around to the extent that they overshadowed the younger ones. In Gundam SEED Destiny, protagonist Shinn Asuka ended up taking a backseat to the original Gundam SEED hero, Kira Yamato, to the extent that the opening changed to reflect this. Perhaps this is why the 800 lb. girls’ show gorilla known as Precure switches to a completely disconnected world with every new series more often than not.
To my pleasant surprise, I find that Aikatsu! does a fine job of re-focusing itself to highlight Akari as its new protagonist, with Ichigo passing into the role of support character in a manner that diminishes neither character.
It is necessary that I point out the following: for the sake of this post, I did not watch through the second year-long stretch of Aikatsu!, and thus cannot comment on how the actual transition from Ichigo to Akari went. All I know is that Akari was introduced partway through, and that, sort of like in the world of pro wrestling, she was gradually elevated to take center stage. By the time the third season starts up, Akari seems just different enough from Ichigo that it somewhat resembles the relationship and character contrast between Jotaro, the hero of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 3 and his Part 4 successor, Josuke. Like Jotaro, Ichigo even as an inexperienced individual feels like a powerhouse of sorts, a rock-climbing, tree-chopping force of nature. Akari, in turn, is more unsteady but brimming with life, akin to Josuke. She’s very much her own character, which is also the case for all of the newer cast.
Ichigo’s substantial role change into supportive mentor also has me thinking about the aura that emanates from characters who were ex-protagonists. Often, when a work no longer revolves around them, these former main characters gain a kind of stature or legendary status that elevates them above even the most prime moments of their time in the spotlight. Think of how the arrival of Cure Black and Cure White is generally considered a high-impact moment in the Precure crossover films, or how the arrival the original Red Ranger in the Power Rangers special Forever Red has the others standing in awe. Think of Goldberg at Survivor Series 2016. Ichigo is more or less the same character.
From my prior experience, Aikatsu! had been a consistently strong and entertaining series, so it’s not too much of a surprise that later parts of the anime manage are similarly high in quality. Akari’s a worthy successor thus far, and I’m curious as to how she and her friends will transform and perhaps someday become mentors themselves.
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