The One and Only: Aikatsu on Parade! and Hoshimiya Ichigo

After just seven episodes, Aikatsu on Parade! pulls out the big guns and brings in the original Aikatsu! heroine, Hoshimiya Ichigo. I’m actually kind of surprised that they didn’t wait long, as I thought they’d save her for a climactic moment. Regardless, Ichigo (as well as Aoi and Ran) are a welcome sight, though what I like even more is how Ichigo’s presence also shows what makes Raki so different from past main characters.

Raki, Aine, and Mio first meet Ichigo and the other members of Soleil at Ichigo’s family bentou shop, where the latter are wearing Clark Kent-level disguises. But then off come the glasses, and their true selves are revealed. Ichigo, Aoi, and Ran come across as old friends with a casual yet rock-solid bond, and who accept that they’re accomplished celebrities but don’t let it get to their heads. This is especially the case with Ichigo, who despite being the top ranked idol seems more keen on being supportive.

Episode 7 is a fun re-introduction, but it’s actually episode 8 that really drives home why Raki meeting Ichigo is important. Raki meets Amahane, the designer behind the Angely Sugar clothing line that Ichigo always wears, and it fits in perfectly with her desire to become an Aikatsu fashion designer herself. Raki wants to support, and she’s supported by people who want to see her support.

In fine Aikatsu! tradition, getting to Angely Sugar involves quite a few hurdles, but it’s also here that the original series’s history conveys this real sense of weight. Raki wants to meet Amahane, and the one to arrange it for her is Ichigo’s mom, Ringo. As Ringo subtly hints at her own background as a legendary idol, an instrumental version of “Wake Up My Music”—her old unit, Masquerade’s hit song—plays. When she gets to Angely Sugar’s location, she has to do the classic cliff-scaling, only it’s shown that the original AIkatsu! wall climb is far harsher than in later series. In fact, there seems to be a lot more intense physical training to go around here, as if the original Aikatsu! girls are the equivalent of Pretty Cure’s Cure Black and Cure White in terms of raw physical strength. It makes Ichigo and the rest seem even more like idols from days gone by, but their humble attitudes keep everything down to Earth.

One other thing of note is that the CG is markedly improved over the first season of AIkatsu!, and it really shows with Ichigo, Aoi, and Ran. They just plain look better and move better, and it really highlights how far 3DCG has come in only a few years.

Ichigo’s return to Aikatsu! does not disappoint, and she surprisingly also doesn’t overshadow the new heroine, Raki. It looks like this won’t be the last we see of the classic heroine, and I’m eager to see what other interesting collaborations happen.

This post is sponsored by Ogiue Maniax patron Johnny Trovato. You can request topics through the Ogiue Maniax Patreon or by tipping $30 via ko-fi.

Aikatsu! and the Challenges of Protagonist Succession

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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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