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.

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Aikatsu! and the Power of Not Running Jokes into the Ground

WARNING: Spoilers
For all of their abundant, game-shilling elements, the Aikatsu! anime have done a remarkably good job of standing on their own. Whether it’s Ichigo or Akari from the first series, or Yume from Aikatsu Stars!, the franchise creates fun, interesting protagonists and then surrounds them with a large cast of equally charismatic and compelling characters. Another important quality of Aikatsu! is that it excels at not letting any of its running jokes overstay their welcome, which is best seen in how it handles its famous “cliff-scaling” gag.

In an early episode of Aikatsu!, Ichigo tries to get in contact with a world-famous fashion designer who lives atop Angely Mountain. Ichigo, willing to do whatever it takes, ends up climbing all the way up, unaware of the fact that she could’ve taken an elevator. After meeting the fashion designer, Ichigo goes on to view her as a guiding voice of sorts, someone to ask for advice. And every time she visits, she takes the hard way.

Ichigo’s “pilgrimage” is not overused. It doesn’t show up every episode, or even every other episode. Every time that mountain shows up, it’s an opportunity to laugh but also to view progress. Eventually, Ichigo climbs it with such ease that it becomes symbolic of her drastic improvement as an idol. I knew that, whenever that cliff showed up, I would smile with glee.

Not every running joke is used as sparingly. Yurika’s vampire gimmick is prevalent. Even here, however, the frequency with which Yurika plays up her faux-occult origins becomes part of the humor. Because Yurika works hard to maintain what pro wrestlers call “kayfabe” (essentially living the role), it becomes one of her endearing qualities. Her constant refrain of “I’ll suck your blood!” is presented as one of the many reasons Yurika’s fans love her.

When it’s revealed late in the first season that Ichigo’s mother is a legendary idol, nothing is more perfect than the further revelation that Hoshimiya Ringo is already well accustomed to visiting Ichigo’s designer. “It’s been a long time since I’ve done this,” she says, ready to climb. The cliff-scaling is not a gag exclusive to Ichigo, but actually permeates the entire idol universe of Aikatsu! 

In one of the later openings, Akari (Ichigo’s successor as heroine) can be seen climbing along with her friends. Thanks to the context established by Ichigo, the scene encapsulates what’s great about Aikatsu!, instead of feeling like a callback to a worn-out image.

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.

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!

aikatsustars-op

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).

aikatsustars-s4

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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‘Tis the Seasoning: Ogiue Maniax Status Update for December 2016

Is it December already?! It actually feels like I just got done writing the update for November, and now we’re at the end of the year. Much love to all of my sponsors on Patreon for being with me for the entire year!

General:

Johnny Trovato

Ko Ransom

Alex

Diogo Prado

Viga

Yoshitake Rika fans:

Elliot Page

Hato Kenjirou fans:

Elizabeth

Yajima Mirei fans:

Machi-Kurada

November was the 9th anniversary of Ogiue Maniax, so I wrote my thoughts on how the blog’s been going and where I think it’ll head next. I’ve since reflected a bit further on what I said there. While I primarily look at Ogiue Maniax as a place to share thoughts and ideas, I think I’ve been a little sparse in terms of denser, heavier content as of late. I’m looking to write better and with greater insight as I move forward, but also balancing it out with shorter, lighter posts, much like a three-course meal.

It was a long time coming, but I finally posted my feelings on the dismissal of Precure as insignificant because it’s not Sailor Moon. As a fan of both I feel like this is a recurring issue, and I hope that magical girl enthusiasts and just anime watchers in general can come to appreciate Precure better.

I also began my pseudo-series of posts about characters I love, with Inukami Kyouko from the volleyball manga Shoujo Fight. As Ogiue Maniax was built on a foundation of character appreciation, I felt that it was kind of a nice return to my roots, so to speak.

This month’s Patreon-sponsored post sees me tackle the third season of Aikatsu!, which passes the baton from heroine Hoshimiya Ichigo to young upstart Oozora Akari. I mostly talk about the idea of switching protagonists and how the series handles it.

Finally, I want to give attention to something I wrote the day before the US presidential election. Even after all the chaos that has ensued, I want people to read it and perhaps take it to heart. I think it is all too easy to want to silence others if one believes others to simply be hateful and ignorant, but that merely creates greater animosity in my opinion. It’s ostensibly an anime-related post because I talk about Legend of the Galactic Heroes!

Look forward to the rest of December’s posts! I’ve got a new Anime Secret Santa review on the way, my annual “best characters of the year” post, and more!

Aikatsu! and the Challenges of Protagonist Succession

aikatsuakari

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.

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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YES! Kaede Sushi: Aikatsu! Season 1 Follow-Up Review

aikatsu-allgirls

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.

Summary

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 aikatsu-kaedesushi

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.

Improved CG

aikatsu-bettercg

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

aikatsu-masquerade

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

aikatsucards

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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