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Real vs. Perfect: The Two Opposing Idol Values

1983’s Creamy Mami was the first idol anime, and it made an idol out of Mami’s voice actor as well. Watching her videos from back then, a 15-year-old Ohta Takako comes across as awkward and unaccustomed to the spotlight, even in “Love Sarigenaku” above, her most “grown-up” song. Compared to many of the slickly produced pop hits of later years, Ohta can come across as almost unprofessional, but that’s exactly where her appeal lies. When it comes to Japanese idols, there are two general directions: “unrefined and real” or “polished and perfect.”

When comparing the Japanese idol juggernaut AKB48 to the K-Pop sensation Girls’ Generation (who have been enormously popular in Japan), the latter visually comes across as a much more “professional-looking” group. While calling them idolsTheir dance and choreography are on point, and their music videos make them look like a million bucks. But while the girls of AKB48 have a kind of awkwardness about them, and many aren’t the greatest singers, there’s a sense of them “trying their best,” and this is exactly what the fans want. In other words, perfection isn’t necessarily desired. It can be, but that strain of inexperience and perseverance is just as strong.

These dual forces can be seen in idol anime in spades. In Love Live! School Idol Project, the main characters are the ragtag group μ’s (pronounced “Muse”), and the defending champions are the practically-professional A-RISE, who come from the richest high school in Akihabara. In Aikatsu!, Hoshimiya Ichigo is shown as having some kind of natural spark of genuineness that contrasts her from the seemingly unassailable Kanzaki Mizuki. And in Macross Frontier, the main love triangle features, as seen above, the humble waitress Ranka Lee (right) vs. the sultry Sheryl Nome (left). In every case, what causes the “small fry” to ascend isn’t that they transform into polished and perfect idols, but that even as they improve, that unrefined and authentic quality shines through. Perhaps it says something that the main heroines of these shows tend to lean that way as well.

And yet, as touched on briefly in the beginning, voice actors who play idols in anime actually end up being idols themselves. When the girls of Love Live! hold live concerts their flaws come out, but that’s part of the appeal of seeing them in person. When watching the characters in the anime or in music videos, that imperfection doesn’t come across in the performances so much as in the dialogue and supporting materials. A similar phenomenon exists all the way back with Creamy Mami. She comes across as much more “polished” than Ohta Takako does, yet they share the same voice.

An interesting case of the strange interaction with the 2D vs. 3D and real vs. perfect contrasts are those that toe the line, like Hatsune Miku or virtual youtubers. With Miku, her limitations—the fact that her voice sounds robotic—is considered part of her appeal. With virtual youtubers, the fact that there’s a person performing behind the character is much more obvious, and the idea that they start to break down or break character is what lends a sense of “realness.”

In this regard, California-born Japanese idol Sally Amaki is especially interesting. A member of 22/7, an “anime-style characters” idol group in the vein of Love Live!, she plays the bilingual character Fujima Sakura while bringing along her own fans as Sally. Not only does she perform the virtual youtuber role as Sakura, but her native English fluency brings an interesting dynamic that highlights a sense of “realness,” especially for English-speaking fans. Not only is there often a contrast between Sally’s “cute, practiced idol” voice and her Californian mannerisms when switching between Japanese and English, but she’ll mention something that only someone growing up in the US would know off the cuff. This lets American fans connect with her sense of authenticity in ways that they might not have been able to in the past.

In the end, “real vs. perfect” is not a true dichotomy by any means, and every idol/idol group approaches that divide in different ways. Whether you’re an idol fan or not, which do you prefer?

The Intertwined Histories of Magical Girls, Idols, and Science Fiction Anime

Magical Angel Creamy Mami

I recently learned (thanks to Japanese popular culture scholar Patrick Galbraith’s new book The Moe Manifesto) that Magical Angel Creamy Mami is not only an influential magical girl anime but the very first anime about an idol. In other words, idols and magical girls have been conceptually tied to each for decades now. You can see this not only in the the fact that you’ll get the occasional idol + magical girl still (Cure Lemonade and Cure Sword in the Precure franchise, for example), but the fact that the latest competitors to magical girl anime have been idol-themed shows, such as Aikatsu! and Pretty Rhythm, both of which feature magical girl-like transformation sequences. I think Creamy Mami is especially significant here because the majority of magical girls prior to it were more “witch girls,” characters who already have magical powers without the need for transformation and use them for mischief.

Of course, the common trait of magical girls and idols is that they both feature cute girls, and with idols especially they’ve always occupied a position where they are innocent yet sexual, and I don’t mean that necessarily in an “idols are creep magnets” way. Both men and women respond to idols for a variety of reasons, and a lot of it is tied to the image they present. They can be somewhat literal idols for girls and targets of affection and desire for men, and this can be seen in how idols are used in anime. While Creamy Mami built an unexpected older male audience, for example, Superdimensional Fortress Macross reveled in it by combining the idol with the extremely prominent aspects of science fiction and giant robots. The 1970s brought forth a lot of giant robot anime, and the 1980s saw the time when those who became fans of robots and SF began creating their own works, as seen with Kawamori Shouji and Macross and later Studio Gainax and their Daicon III and IV animations. Many of these creators said, “I like SF, and I like cute girls,” and created a defining combination of anime where mecha and other forms of fantastic technology are mixed with cute girls.

Daicon IV

It can also be argued that the girl in the Daicon animations is herself a magical girl, but the connection between magical girls and science fiction is especially evident in the 1990s and the advent of the fighting magical girl, most notably with Takeuchi Naoko’s Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon. While Sailor Moon does not feature giant robots, it’s undoubtedly influenced by the Super Sentai (i.e. Power Rangers) franchise with its own transformation sequences, color-coded costumes, and monster of the week fights. Super Sentai is not only traditionally marketed at boys (though this too changes as they eventually start trying to appeal to the “moms” market), but it’s also more broadly tied to tokusatsu, the costumed fighters and rubber monsters genre that more or less literally means “special effects.” What I find significant here is that when it comes to categorization of genres in Japanese, you often see “SF/tokusatsu,” tying things back, at least somewhat, to science fiction.

Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon

Moreover, the manga group CLAMP have been fans of titles like JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Saint Seiya, and Galaxy Cyclone Braiger, and have produced titles such as Magic Knight Rayearth, which features magical girls in a swords-and-sorcery world who also gain the power to summon giant robots. “Rayearth” itself is the name of a giant robot, thus making the title itself reminiscent of the naming scheme of many mecha anime such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Super Electromagnetic Machine Voltes V. It’s as if these female creators have taken the works that were made “masculine” by Kawamori, Gainax, and others, and in a sense re-feminized them in a process that created something new and exciting.

If we’re talking influences though, Sailor Moon and CLAMP works such as Cardcaptor Sakura are huge in and of themselves, and their shadows can be seen in a number of anime from the 2000s on. Sailor Moon basically transformed magical girls to such an extent that many assume that fighting magical girls have always been the norm, and Precure has come up as a spiritual successor that has lasted even longer than Sailor Moon. The protagonist in Sunday without God practically is Cardcaptor Sakura protagonist Kinomoto Sakura, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, which has as its primary audience older men, clearly takes a lot from Cardcaptor Sakura as well. In the case of Nanoha, it also incorporates an increasing level of science fiction from one series to the next, as the franchise goes from technology-based magic staffs that shoot lasers in battles reminiscent of Mobile Suit Gundam to spaceships and interdimensional travel. Once again, the magical girl as cute girl is tied to SF. As for idols, they not only haven’t been forgotten, either in real life or in anime (as seen with series such as Love Live! and the aforementioned Aikatsu!), but Kawamori makes his return in the form of AKB0048, a series that not only features idols as magical girls of sorts both piloting and fighting giant robots in a story that spans a galaxy, but is directly based on one of the biggest real-world idol acts in Japan today.


It’s as if magical girls, idols, and SF have been doing a song and dance for years and years, changing partners along the way but always being drawn to each other. They’re seemingly tied together by the fact that just a few tweaks to either appeal to a male or female audience more, while the fact that people will not necessarily stay within the genres or types of entertainment that they’re “supposed” to remain with. Cuteness is a versatile tool that at times reinforces societal and gender norms while other times becoming a tool to defy them, and this continues to influence anime to this day.

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Only 4 Days Left to Support Classic Magical Girl Anime Creamy Mami’s Release


A company called Anime Sols has been trying to crowdfund a number of old anime, some classics, some rather obscure. Despite streaming all of their shows at least in part, none of the anime they’ve picked so far seem to be anywhere near their intended goals, and I think it’s a bit of a shame. Of their shows, the one that seems to have the best shot is Magical Angel Creamy Mami. At over $8000 currently of its $19,000 goal, it’s been much more “successful” than its fellow Anime Sols shows, and I’ve even pledged myself. With only four days left there isn’t a lot of time, but that also means it’s still possible to contribute.

A popular 80s magical girl show which is still well-loved, Creamy Mami is less Sailor Moon-style “magical girls as fighting force” and more Full Moon o Sagashite’s “magical girls using magic to turn into adults.” It’s from a different era and conception of magical girls, and thematically also very representative of what was around at the time, and the ability to have these shows brought over and sold to English speakers would be great for fans of anime, especially those interested in the mahou shoujo genre.

Now those who’ve read Ogiue Maniax may be aware that I’ve not exactly given Creamy Mami the best reviews. I don’t exactly find it to be a riveting show, so it may seem like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth, but my support of Creamy Mami has less to do with the quality of the individual show and more about the potential opportunity it brings to have more classic magical girl anime available. I’m a fan of mahou shoujo for aesthetic, narrative, and emotional reasons, and so even if Creamy Mami isn’t fantastic, it may be the bridge to shows of a similar cloth which are. Keep in mind that I’m not asking people to support a magical girl show so that they can get more violent action shows or harem works, nor am I suggesting that failure to support this would mean the death of all anime crowdfunding. However, if mahou shoujo is your thing, then it might just be worthwhile.

And once again, I have to say that the second ending theme for Creamy Mami is really good.

Creamy Mami, All Right In the End I Guess

A few months ago when I decided to write my mid-series thoughts on the 80s magical girl anime Mahou no Tenshi Creamy Mami, I expressed some dissatisfaction with the show. With a story centered around a young girl who gains the ability to transform into an older version of herself, and who becomes a beloved pop star as a result, the fault I found in Creamy Mami is that did not do enough to convey its main character Yuu as a normal girl. All of her friends around her age were boys somehow romantically linked to her, and she seemingly never had a normal environment such as as school setting which you could contrast with her adventures.

Shortly after I published that post, I went into the second half of Creamy Mami and lo and behold, the anime now featured her attending classes and talking to female classmates. Seeing as it’s highly unlikely that my thoughts somehow traveled back in time and influenced the production of Creamy Mami, I can only imagine that similar criticisms were brought up at the time, and that at the half-way point they decided to do something about it. At the same time, the show was also clearly successful enough to hit that 6-month mark and continue (and I know there are OVAs and such as well).

While they eventually resolved some of the issues with Creamy Mami, I have to say that it’s the kind of show where even though it gets better, it takes so long to do so that I can hardly expect anyone to stick around, even if it concludes well. Overall, it’s mostly a cute fluff kind of show, which can be nice, but you can also get cute fluff and some more substance from other shows.

Actually, if you want to know the best part about Creamy Mami, it’s probably the second ending theme, Love Sarigenaku. It’s catchy, and kind of a far cry from the rest of the songs in the show, in a good way.

Preventing Anime Burn-Out

Every so often I’ve been asked how not to burn out on anime, but I haven’t been able to formulate a proper response. Sure, I’ve talked about how to not burn out on anime blogging, but nothing tackling the beast itself. With the new season starting up though, I figured now was as good a time as any to address that malady which afflicts so many otaku and their disposition towards anime. It won’t be a sure-fire guide to preventing burn-out, but I think it’ll at least help get you somewhere in the realm of a right mind.

I’ve never really burned out on anime, so in the sense that I have never hit the bottom and risen back up to fight another day, I may not be entirely qualified to talk about avoiding burn-out. However, I do have times when the act of watching anime can seem overwhelming, as well as times when I just don’t feel like watching anything or feel myself not enjoying what I’m watching as much. One such moment occurred a couple of months ago, as I found my attention was drifting away while watching Creamy Mami. I had some other shows I was watching at the time, but I was feeling a stronger desire to check out competitive Starcraft II matches. I had to ask myself, was it really happening? Was I really getting tired of anime?

Then I remembered that just the day before I was being riveted by Legend of the Galactic Heroes. I had an untouched full series of Ojamajo Doremi Sharp that I know I would enjoy but hadn’t gotten around to yet. The fantastic Heartcatch Precure had just finished or was about to finish, and I’d just been enjoying Star Driver since the fall season. I also knew that some of the shows I was ignoring in favor of watching Nada siege tank someone to death were not shows I was chomping at the bit to follow…at that moment. Things could change given a couple of days. Rather than finding myself in the beginning stages of anime burn-out, I realized that I was simply being incredibly short-sighted.

It’s easy to trick yourself into dwelling on the negative experiences. Remembering the bad more than the good, it then can cause you to create unfair demands for anime because they’re based on a desperation to be knocked out of your funk, and when the next batch of shows don’t rescue you from yourself, the burn-out becomes that much worse.

So then, how do you stop that from happening?

If you’re worrying about the shows in the here and now, I think it’s a good idea to just take a mental step back and look at the shows you’d been watching previously. I know that on the internet and among anime fandom there’s a tendency to quickly forget anime after it has finished airing, but don’t be like me and get caught up in your own myopia. One year ago isn’t that long a period of time, let alone three to six months ago.

Don’t be afraid to stop watching those specific anime that seem to be dragging for you and to replace them with something you think you’d enjoy more. If you’re not sure whether you actually dislike a show or if you’re just not feeling it, put it on the back burner for a while. If it’s a current show that you’ve been keeping up with week after week, don’t get so attached to the rat race that watching it becomes more of a chore than anything else. See if you can come back to it a few weeks or even a few months later, when you’re feeling sharper. If you must keep up with it as it airs, and I have to again recommend you not fall into this trap, let it run as you’re doing other things. A lot of television in general is made with the assumption that its audience will not always be paying full attention.

Anime burn-out is largely psychological. How you define it is ultimately up to you. If you find the amount of shows you’re interested in dwindling, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not enjoying anime anymore, it can just mean you’re watching fewer shows. If you’re not feeling any of the shows currently running, don’t be afraid to look backwards, to older anime. If you’re really finding nothing to watch, perhaps think about what it is exactly you’re looking for. Whether you’re following ten shows or just one or are even deciding not to watch any anime for a little while, the quantity of anime doesn’t have to define your interest in anime or your identity as an anime fan.

Creamy Mami, All Alone

I’m a little less than halfway through 80s magical girl anime Mahou no Tenshi Creamy Mami, and though it’s fairly entertaining I haven’t really been feeling it. I’ll watch a couple episodes and then have no motivation to keep watching, unlike when I watch, say, Ojamajo Doremi where I almost have to stop myself from watching more. It’s not particularly boring or offensive or anything like that, so for a while I just wasn’t sure why Creamy Mami wasn’t quite gelling for me, but I’ve finally figured it out.

Morisawa Yuu, the girl who transforms into Creamy Mami, has no female friends around her own age.

Instead, you mostly see her interact with adults (some of whom she primarily talks to as Creamy Mami), a couple of male friends, and only rarely do you get a one-off female character the same age as Yuu. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, especially given that it is very possible for a girl to be friends with guys her own age, but in the show Yuu likes one of them, the other one likes her, and that one is the comic-relief fat kid. We never get to see Yuu interact with someone who can truly be considered her peer and equal, and I think it can be a problem, even if the show was intentionally designed that way. (Cardcaptor) Sakura has Tomoyo, Nagisa (Cure Black) has Honoka (Cure White) and her lacrosse team, and even Mitsuki (Full Moon o Sagashite), who also transforms into an older girl, can be seen interacting with her female classmates. All of them are better characters for it.

Without a female friend of the same age, Yuu kind of feels that she’s only there to transform into Creamy Mami, which she very well might be, but I think that she would have been fleshed out much better in a way that doesn’t run contrary to the overall feel of the anime if she had such a friend. I could possibly say that the show works as a somewhat minimalist anime, where only the bare essentials are needed to drive it forward, but even that could have benefited from a female friend for Yuu.

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