The anime AKB0048 asks a simple question: “What if the J-pop AKB48 was in the future and its members fought with light sabers?” Essentially another marketing platform for an already extremely popular band, the anime uses a lot of existing AKB48’s songs, most of which are fluff pieces about falling in love or being young girls. The songs are part of their image and have factored into their popular and financial success, but within the context of AKB0048, I find that these same pop songs start to carry a different meaning.
AKB0048 takes place in a future where mankind has colonized space, and during which a movement to ban all entertainment and performance has grown increasingly strong. Successors to the “legendary AKB48,” the girls of AKB0048 fight in order to protect people’s rights to rock out, and in this setting the songs of AKB48 are near-ancient “relics” passed down through the generations. No longer acting as the supposedly genuine expression of young girls’ thought and feelings, the songs are “weaponized” within the context of a guerilla movement to restore entertainment in the universe. The songs act more like representative anthems of a better world, not so much in the actual lyrics, but in the way they promote the right to have lyrics so light and fluffy.
AKB48’s songs in AKB0048 act as symbols of change, revolution, and renewal. This is even more apparent when looking at the songs made for the anime. Compare the lyrics below:
First is “Heavy Rotation,” a popular preexisting AKB48 song used frequently in the anime:
I want you!
I need you!
I love you!
The blaring music
Playing in my head
Is on heavy rotation
The words “I love you” dance
Of your face and voice
Makes me go crazy
I’m so lucky
To get to feel like this
(translation taken from Kiwi Musume)
Now compare it with “Dreams Will Be Reborn Again and Again,” the 1st ending theme for AKB0048:
The stars shining in the night sky
are billions of light-years away
Even if the deep despair
turns into endless darkness
The truth will be passed on
Who will be the one to accept
its message of light
that is entrusted to the flow of time?
People will be born
People will die
The flesh is mortal
from its ashes
that goes to the next generation
(translation taken from Words of Songs)
The lyrics writer for all of the AKB48 songs, as well as “Dreams Will Be Reborn Again and Again” is the famed AKB48 producer Akimoto Yasushi, so it’s not like AKB0048 is divorced from the creative forces which govern the actual band. Suffice it to say, however, the songs from the “future” seem cut from a different cloth than their predecessors, and this changes the meaning of “pop idol group,” at least for the anime.
It is difficult to regard the fictional group AKB0048 as simply girls who desire fan support within a specific section of the music industry. The girls begin to embody values beyond music, youth, and sexuality, such as social and political potential. Granted, this isn’t too surprising, seeing as the man directing AKB0048 is the creator of Macross. Kawamori Shouji has decades of experience in creating anime about pop idols changing the world, though I actually feel that the usage of pop music in AKB0048 surpasses Kawamori’s more established work because of the more thorough incorporation of the very idea of popular music into the anime’s narrative.
With the criticism and controversy surrounding AKB48 as a pop idol tour de force and all that it entails, the existence of AKB0048 is a curious thing. Is it in support of that system, does it go beyond, or does it sit somewhere in the middle? Is the “ideal” of AKB0048 different enough from the constructed space of AKB48 that it can be considered something more?