Every so often, I think about a specific kind of comic absurdity I see in many idol anime. It’s one thing for characters to be having pillow fights, but it’s another for the heroines to be digging miles-long tunnels, shooting lasers, and scaling treacherous cliff sides with the greatest of ease. Of the franchises that fall under this umbrella, I’ve started to wonder if Aikatsu! is actually a significant contributing factor, bridging the silliness of actual idol media appearances with the impossibility of cartoons. I’m much more of an anime fan than I am an idol fan, so my knowledge and experience in regards to the latter is limited, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
I often see clips of idols on variety shows, as well as in their own video specials and the like. There’s a certain lightheartedness portrayed in these instances that creates the opportunity of laughs and gasps. It’s the kind of humor you see more in Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, which initially tried to be a little more “down to Earth” with their characters and presentation, though are willing to stretch the boundaries of believability. The difference between those examples and what we see out of Aikatsu, Purichan, and Show by Rock! (not exactly idols per se, but a similar vibe) is that these three franchises venture into a very different reality where even everyday interactions are colored by the strangeness of their worlds.
Take for example the go-to mantra of Aikatsu!: “Ai-katsu!” Characters chant it while exercising, practicing, and engaging in pretty much any situation. Sure, it’s just short for “idol activity (aidoru katsudou),” but the way the phrase is treated as this perfectly routine thing everyone understands sets the stage for series after series where the humor is about challenging expectations of what’s normal. Whether it’s the aforementioned climbing, chopping down trees like Paul Bunyan, or visiting an idol school that’s also literally a gigantic cruise ship, the girls of Aikatsu! do what their flesh and blood counterparts cannot—not always because it’s harder for the latter, but sometimes because the laws of real-world physics do not permit them to do the same thing.
So why do I point at Aikatsu! as a possible origin point? It’s because the closest series to it when Aikatsu! first began was Pretty Rhythm, and that franchise was the predecessor for Purichan. Over the course of that transition from Pretty Rhythm to Purichan, the humor changed to something more akin to Aikatsu’s. A little more distantly relevant is the Precure franchise, but even the magical superpowers on display there aren’t quite the same as the at-times Looney Tunes-esque slapstick and accepted norms of Aikatsu!-esque series.
I’m not a deep fan of any of the series mentioned (with the possible exception of Love Live!), so there’s a lot more to potentially deve into. If there’s anything I’m missing or clearly mistaken about, don’t hesitate to let me know.
PS: Today is an idol shared birthday between Hoshimiya Ichigo from Aikatsu! and Sonoda Umi from Love Live! You know what they say: “Beware the idols of March.”
This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.
Having watched all of Pretty Rhythm and all of Ichigo and Akari gen Aikatsu, I have to say Pretty Rhythm gets waaaayyy. more absurd and silly., and builds entire alternate dimensions out of it. Aikatsu definitely influenced some directional changes, but if you are talking about surreal, looney tune like gags, PR goes way deep. It also has a very dramatic serial plotline dealing with far more serious issues than Aikatsu, so its range of content can obfuscate just how cornball the show can get to casual observers. The silliest stuff in Aurora Dream was presented in omake chapters, which further explore jokes from the show, but Dear My Future integrated that material as canonical to the show proper (including the best Tuxedo Kamen knock-off parody I have seen yet) and raised the silliness even further, going into a lot of over the top Time Bokan homages and more. It is a shame the show isn’t better known outside Japan.
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