Aikatsu Stars! Christmas 2017 Thoughts

I was asked to talk about the Aikatsu Stars! 2017 Christmas episode, so here I am!

Christmas isn’t the utter juggernaut of a holiday in Japan as it is in the United States, but it’s still celebrated in its own way: as a time for romance and appreciation. It’s not uncommon to see anime and manga feature Christmas stories, notably the many shoujo series where dates happen on and around December 25th. In some cases, series can be long enough Christmas episodes themselves become annual traditions, and this is the case with Aikatsu! Apparently, they even sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” every year:

As a Christmas-focused story, episode 87 of Aikatsu Stars! stands out to me for a few reasons. Generally, with these seasons-long children’s anime, the Christmas episodes are pretty self-contained. Maybe it’ll be about meeting Santa, or just having fun with friends. With Aikatsu Stars!, there’s a surprising amount of overall narrative progression. It’s not like they’re throwing revelations left and right, but the fact that M4 (the series’ premier male idol group) is branching off into their own solo careers is kind of a big deal. That there was some romantic development between perennial cat(-like) girl Saotome Ako and M4 member Kiri Kanata is also notable.

I only watch Aikatsu Stars! on and off, so I didn’t realize that Kizaki Rei is from New York City. As someone who just stopped by Rockefeller Center to see the giant tree right before Christmas, and as someone who kind of takes its presence for granted, I found the show’s presentation of it as this stand-out example of “Christmas around the world!” charming. If there’s one thing AIkatsu! has done right that many other series haven’t, it’s having more non-Japanese characters.

Aikatsu Stars! (and Aikatsu! in general) is that it really is in its own world when it comes to idol anime, or magical girl(ish) anime. Other series will be fun and wacky, or they might be a bit serious, but there’s rarely the almost Saved by the Bell-esque feel you find in Aikatsu! Even when the anime are literally about idols using their singing to defeat galactic empires, it lacks that particular brand of mild absurdity that permeates AIkatsu!. This is why Aikatsu Stars! is the sort of anime that could either go episodic forever or rapidly develop into an elaborate story at any moment, and both are equally welcome. Perhaps the Christmas episodes are indicative of that balance of story advancement and self-contained amusement.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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Aikatsu Stars! and Nikaido Yuzu, the Ultimate Kouhai/Senpai

At first glance, Nikaido Yuzu in Aikatsu Stars! is not an especially unique character. She’s an energetic, bubbly character in a show filled with energetic and bubbly characters, in a genre (idol anime) conducive to energetic and bubbly characters. One or way or another, however, she comes to stand out over time, especially with the slight shift in her role between seasons from kouhai to senpai.

I previously wrote a little about how the heroine of Aikatsu Stars!, Nijino Yume, undergoes a similar transition. At the start of the series, Yume’s the new girl aiming for the top. By the time Season 2 rolls around, Yume’s at the apex as a member of the elite idol group S4. In contrast, Yuzu starts off already a part of S4, going from the youngest member to the oldest between seasons. But unlike Yume, who has to get used to being looked up to, Yuzu’s personality and approach to life transitions almost seamlessly.

To the former members of S4 who graduate, Yuzu is a bundle of youthful enthusiasm. But to the younger members of S4 who come in after her, Yuzu is an eccentric wise man of sorts, her decisions seemingly bizarre but ultimately with some underlying purpose or reasoning—even if Yuzu herself doesn’t quite know what that is herself. This balance is on display in episode 67 of Aikatsu Stars!, when Yuzu sets up an elaborate treasure hunt on Aikatsu Island.

Yuzu tells the participants, many of whom are her underclassmen, to find a treasure that’s so well hidden that even she can’t remember its true location. As one hint after another comes up to help the hunters along, there’s a certain sense that they’re not just clues, but philosophical ideas about what it means to live. In a twist straight out of “The Purloined Letter,” the actual treasure is revealed to have been disguised as an overly obvious giant treasure box-shaped prop at the very beginning, and the treasure within is…friends. Literally. Out of the enormous box comes the three former members of S4. In that moment, between S4 girls new and old, Yuzu is simultaneously the wide-eyed “kid” and the experienced “adult,” so to speak.

Compare this to Yazawa Nico from Love Live!, a character known for being older but acting younger. Nico’s cutesy behavior is meant to contradict the fact that she’s a third-year in high school, and lets her act as a foil to the young-but-mature Nishikino Maki. Yuzu, on the other hand, isn’t really a “contradiction”; she just “is.” Her actions and behavior fit, whether she’s dispensing advice or giving it, because they reflect a generally positive approach to life that’s all about excitement without being beholden to “newness.”

Aikatsu Stars! is generally a fairly lighthearted show bordering on the wacky, and Yuzu fits well within that universe. Energetic and bubbly she may be, but those are surface qualities that open up to a sense of loyalty and adventure, rendering her a unique figure. She’s the kind of character who could thrive in any degree of prominence, whether main, side, or even background figure.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

The Star that Shines Brightest: Thoughts on the Aikatsu! Five-Year Anniversary Crossover

“Five years of Aikatsu! sounds strange. Sometimes, the series seems like it’s been around forever. Other times, I remember it as one of the many young upstarts nipping at Precure‘s “anime for young girls” throne. However my feelings sway, the reality is that the show is long enough now to have a mega crossover event.

In episodes 69 and 70 of Aikatsu Stars!, the characters if the latest series encounter their predecessors from seasons past. While there are plenty of interactions across the cast, the main focal point is how heroine Nijino Yume meets her protagonist senpai, Oozora Akari and Hoshimiya Ichigo.

One thing is crystal clear after these episodes: out if all three main characters, Ichigo is by far the most memorable and the most meme-able.

That’s not to say that Akari and Yume are bad characters or uninteresting. However, everything about Ichigo leaves an impression. Like in so many other franchises or enduring works, being the original confers a kind of aura of greatness. Whether it’s Amuro Ray from Gundam, Superman, or Cure Black and Cure White from Precure, there’s a sense of reverence for being the first.

But it’s not just being the inaugural protagonist that elevates Ichigo; it’s that she comes across as amusingly superhuman compared to the other two. Like Cure Black and Cure White in their own crossover specials, Ichigo is portrayed as the strongest. She scales cliffs with ease. Her skill with an axe is so notable that the crossover puts special emphasis on it. I’m fact, nowhere is the animation as lovingly handled as the tree-chopping scene, as the anime plays with dynamic angles, fluid animation, and perspective. Yume and Akari recede into the background in the face of Ichigo’s might.

If you look at the S.H. Figuarts figure for Ichigo, she actually comes with an axe. It’s an identifying element for fans. What would Akari and Yume come with? It’s less obvious. One might argue that they’re more subtle as characters, and that this is a strength, but even Cure Black and Cure White don’t overshadow their Precure successors this much.

It might sound like I’m being critical of the franchise for not developing its later heroines more, or of the crossover episodes for not doing a good enough job, but I’m not. I found the crossover episodes to be a fun celebration of all things Aikatsu! I especially enjoyed seeing the previous S4 (Yume’s senpai group before she got to the top of her school) and Soleil (Ichigo’s group) perform. It was also great to see my favorite, Ichinose Kaede. My thoughts on Ichigo are more of an observation.

On a final note, I thought the character designs for Aikatsu! and Aikatsu Stars! would clash more, but they really don’t. I think they made the original Aikatsu! girls’ faces a bit rounder to make the different casts more visually cohesive. This is generally the sign that a crossover knows what it’s doing.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

Aikatsu Stars Season 2 and Notions of Perfection

The second season of Aikatsu Stars! begins from an interesting place. After the end of the first season, heroine Nijino Yume becomes a member of S4, the top idol group at her school. In Pokemon terms, this would be equivalent to having Ash start a series as a member of the Elite Four. She’s not just improved, she’s established as one of the best. Given this setup, I find it interesting how Aikatsu Stars! season 2 brings up the difference between “great” and “perfect.”

Confronting heroine Nijino Yume is a new rival idol academy called Venus Ark, which travels around the world on a cruise ship looking to poach idols from other schools. At the head of Venus Ark is Elza Forte, who, much like deceased pro wrestler Curt Hennig is known by one word: Perfect. There’s even a tangible symbol of perfection in the form of wings that appear only when a perfect performance is given, and at the start of the series “Perfect Elza” is the only one who has them.

But what does it mean to be perfect? Does it mean to never lose? Does it mean performing in such a way that it would be the equivalent of a perfect score in the Aikatsu Stars! arcade game? As the primary rival of the season, Elza is there as a goal to aspire towards and overcome, much like Shiratori Hime in season 1. Whether Yume will beat Elza or not is up in the air, but my hope is that Yume challenges the concept of “perfection” as presented by Elza. Perhaps Yume could show that the best possible performance is not necessarily a perfect one, but the one that connects to the audience best even if mistakes are made.

I understand that Aikatsu Stars! is based on a card-based arcade game that has a more concrete idea of what it means to play a “perfect game,” as well as cards that just have better synergy. However, the first Aikatsu! series (back when Ichigo was the main character) went above and beyond those restraints, and season 1 of Aikatsu Stars! really emphasized a balanced mix of product placement and story. I don’t need for the development I’ve described above to happen, and it’s not even the only way for the series to be strong, but I’d like to have a series where the kids watching don’t feel the need to strive for “perfection,” only their best.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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New Year, New Look: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for January 2017

The Year of the Rooster has arrived, but given the tumultuous nature of 2016 it’s hard to be…cocksure.

Bad jokes aside, it’s time to look backwards and forwards. And as we enter this new year, I’d like to once again express my gratitude towards my Patreon sponsors.

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

You might have noticed things being kind of different. Half on a whim, half as a result of ruminating on the dated look of Ogiue Maniax for the past year, I decided suddenly to change the look of the blog. While I think ultimately it’s the content that matters, I got the feeling that people were turned away by the fact that the site looks like it’s from a decade ago (which it pretty much is). This is actually the first aesthetic change I’ve made in a very long while. The last time was when I moved from Blogspot to WordPress back in 2007!

I’d like to know you think about the new look, so feel free to drop a comment. In fact, don’t be afraid to tell me what you’d like to see out of Ogiue Maniax. I can’t accommodate everyone, of course, but I’m still keen on finding out what my readers think.

Given that the end of the year just passed, the blog has been full of reflective articles and the like. Check out my picks for best anime characters of 2016, read my Anime Secret Santa review of Queen Millennia, and take a look at what’s in the final volume of Genshiken. I also took a picture showing off in part one of my Christmas gifts: Nendoroid Shidare Hotaru from Dagashi Kashi!

I also finally got around to reviewing the first volume of the fantastic Ojamajo Doremi16, the light novel sequel to the beloved early 2000s magical girl anime. And leading off from November’s post on the latter part of the original Aikatsu!, I wrote something about Aikatsu Stars!

And over at Apartment 507, I discuss both the end of Sabagebu! and what this bizarre survival game-themed manga brought to shoujo manga, as well as some of my favorite anime openings that came at the tail end of 2016.

The last article I’d like to mention is my very first of the new year, about the manipulation of time in adapting manga to anime. I think it’s a good way to start off 2017, personally.

 

 

Idol Activities are Serious Business: Aikatsu Stars!

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In contrasting the different eras of the popular idol anime series Aikatsu!, I once used a JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure analogy. If the original heroine Ichigo is equivalent to Jotaro, then her successor Akari is the Josuke of Aikatsu! If this comparison holds water at all, then the latest series, Aikatsu Stars!, must be the Steel Ball Run of the franchise, and therefore its main character, Nijino Yume, must be its Johnny Joestar. In other words, it’s a new world, a new setting, and all ties to past series have been more or less severed.

It’s unclear to me whether this “reset” was necessary, but then again it’s how the Precure franchise has rolled for the past 14 years. Whatever the case may be, to the discerning eye Aikatsu Stars! reveals itself to be a different beast. While it shares plenty of similarities to the Aikatsu! of years past, there are enough changes to make it feel like a new and almost separate entity.

Aikatsu Stars! follows Nijino Yume as she enters the prestigious idol school, Four Stars Academy, in order to chase after her idols, the mega-popular group known as S4. What she lacks in experience she makes up for in enthusiasm, as well as a strange potential that seems to only manifest itself when she’s directly onstage.

aikatsustars-hmph

The summary above mirrors both Ichigo and Akari’s own stories, but where it begins to diverge is that Aikatsu Stars! feels like a more serious story with higher stakes. This isn’t to say that the show is dark or cynical; they’re not poisoning each other and putting thumbtacks in each others’ lockers. However, whereas Ichigo is confronted in the early episodes by her classmate Ran’s fairly cutthroat attitude and quickly overturns it, I sense a much greater emphasis on rivalry in Aikatsu Stars! Adding to this feeling is the impact of S4 themselves. As the premier female idols, they give off the impression of being nigh-untouchable, their minds occupying a world almost beyond the reach of regular mortals. Not even #1 idol Tachibana Mizuki in the original Aikatsu! quite has that aura.

The most noticeable change with Aikatsu Stars!, however, is the new character design aesthetic. The girls and guys of Aikatsu Stars! have smaller frames and rounder features, giving them a look that feels to me be to more “gender-neutral.” What I mean is, the original Aikatsu! had designs that I see as closer to shoujo manga. Their large eyes weren’t just expressive, they were almost like miniature planets. With Yume and the rest of the Aiaktsu Stars! cast, the designs more resemble a balance between girls’ anime and bishoujo anime for guys. It’s effectively The iDOLM@STER meets Peach-Pit, the artist duo responsible for works ranging from Shugo Chara (shoujo) to Rozen Maiden (seinen featuring cute doll girls).

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While the characters are all different and look different, there’s one semi-subtle link to the franchise’s lineage, which is that the girls of SF4 match the main four in original Aikatsu in terms of hair color. Blond, blue, red, and brown are all present, and although their personalities don’t really line up at all, it can’t possibly be a coincidence.

There are a couple of other differences which I think make Aikatsu Stars! rather interesting. The first is the greater prominence of male idols. Yume meets a boy who turns out to be a member of M4, the top group from the academy’s male division. The previous Aikatsu! as far as I know only barely bothered in male characters. Is this the influence of successful male idol spin-offs, such as Pretty Rhythm: King of Prism?

aikatsustars-sensei

The second is that the series implies a greater and more diverse range of possible idols. Sure, Aikatsu! has things like an American idol, and one who likes to dress as a vampire. But Aikatsu Stars! has a teacher who has a rock background, and the first ending theme is an S4 dubstep song. What other possibilities exist? I want to find out.

Aikatsu Stars! feels more tightly focused and more dramatic, but I do wonder if this comes at the cost of the more lighthearted fun of the original series. That being said, there’s nothing so far that tells me it’s going to plummet or lose its footing. I look forward to seeing Aikatsu Stars! build on itself, and even if the episodic hijinks don’t feel as strong, it looks on-track to being a more polished work overall.

This post was sponsored by Johnny Trovato. If you’re interested in submitting topics for the blog, or just like my writing and want to support Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

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