OGIUE MANIAX

Anime & Manga Blog | 50% Anime Analysis, 50% Ogi

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?

Advertisements

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.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

Trinity Tempo: The Idol Franchise Where Money Literally Equals Success

tritem_index_3Anime-style idols (and of course idols in general) have been of the most enduring trends in current Japanese pop culture. Between franchises like The iDOLM@STER, Love Live!Ensemble Stars, and King of Prism by Rhythm, more and more pop up seemingly every week. Trinity Tempo is one such franchise, but what makes it unique is the degree to which it takes the AKB48 “vote with your money” concept to the next level. That’s because Trinity Tempo exists almost purely in terms of merchandise, with nothing else to anchor it.

Ever since AKB48 and their annual elections, the idea of idols competing against each other with fan support has been prominent within that world. Fans vote by getting CDs because one purchase equals one ballot, and the idea is that the more you love your favorite idol the more you will buy buy buy. Currently a little over a year old, Trinity Tempo‘s premise is that different schools compete against each other in idol competitions, and you get to determine who wins by buying merchandise for your favorite team. You literally get to influence how the overall story progresses by spending cash on character-specific goods, with certain items giving you more “votes” than others.

“Where does Trinity Tempo come from?” you might be asking. The iDOLM@STER began as a game with visual novel elements. Love Live! got its start as a series of songs. All of these properties aim for the media mix, with anime and manga adaptations, coverage in magazines, and more, but they tend to have at least one or two initial starting points. After all, how would you know who your favorite characters or what your favorite songs are?

The answer is… there is nothing. No CDs. No anime or manga or games. Trinity Tempo exists almost purely in “merch space,” where potential fans are supposed to be drawn into it based primarily on their attraction to the concept and the characters themselves. Since release there has been at least one Drama CD, but that’s about it.

I think this speaks to the idea presented by Azuma Hiroki that fans take bits and pieces of characters, worlds, and stories and merge them together in what are known as “database narratives.” I’m oversimplifying the idea, but I think it can be argued that Trinity Tempo aims to commercialize the otaku desire to gather these fragments together on a level even beyond something like Kantai Collection. Whether or not they’ll succeed in the end remains to be seen.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

The Open-Ended Nature of Aikatsu’s “Idol Activities”

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 sponsor Ogiue Maniax, check out my Patreon.

aikatsu-group

There have been many attempts over the years to dethrone the Japanese children’s entertainment juggernaut that is Precure, but while Precure is squarely in the realm of the “fighting magical girl,” most of its challengers are themed around mahou shoujo’s sister genre: pop idols. This includes Pretty Rhythm, PriPara, Lil Pri, and the subject of today’s post, Aikatsu!

Aikatsu! began in 2012 as a multimedia franchise consisting of games, manga, and anime. The animated television series, created by Sunrise (of Gundam fame), follows Hoshimiya Ichigo, a girl who enters the idol training school Starlight Academy after being inspired by its top star, Kanzaki Mizuki. Together with her best friend and idol fan, Kiriya Aoi, and others she meets along the way, they engage in idol katsudou, or “idol activities.”

aikatsu-obaripose

Sunrise at this point is well known for another popular idol anime, Love Live!, and despite the fact that they don’t share that much staff, the two shows are similar in feel. Both have an overall lighthearted sense of fun and engaging character interactions combined with learning and personal development. Both feature bizarrely comedic moments (the episode where Ichigo gets into an “Obari Pose” and chops down a christmas tree is famous). Both series are also so entertaining in these respects that the actual “idol performance” moments are comparatively less interesting.

aikatsu-helpmeobiwan

However, one curious aspect of Aikatsu! that differentiates it from Love Live! (and many other anime) in terms of narrative is that Ichigo and the other idols don’t seem to have a concrete goal to aim for. The girls in Love Live! want to save their school and then win the Love Live. Naruto wants to become Hokage. Ichigo’s motivation is this vague sense of “becoming an idol,” but by the first few episodes she already is one more or less, and there just seems to be this general sense of forward progress. This is also what differentiates it from other more episodic works, or series such as Hidamari Sketch.

Aikatsu! has just enough on-going threads in the background and pays attention to its characters’ growth that the series carries a nice sense of continuity. Aoi becomes the mascot for a crepe company in an early episode, and after that you can always see a copy of the advertisement poster featuring her in Aoi and Ichigo’s room. The show also drops hints that Ichigo’s mom is a former idol, and as I continue to watch the series I’m just anticipating that moment where Ichigo discovers the truth. Every time her mom appears on screen, I think, “Will this be it?!” That desire to see Ichigo’s realization is actually one of my main motivations for continuing to watch.

dokidokiprecure-phones

There’s one last element of Aikatsu! I want to discuss. More specifically, it’s a theory pertaining to Aikatsu!‘s relationship with Precure. When watching Aikatsu!‘s core cast, I could not help but be reminded of the cast of Doki Doki Precure!, which came out in 2013. While the characters are different enough to not feel like copies of each other, Mana’s blonde hair and pink color scheme in her transformed state resembles Ichigo’s, Rikka (blue) plays the role of the more level-headed and smarter best friend just like Aoi, Alice resembles Arisugawa Otome (orange) not only in name but also in appearance, and Makoto’s occupation as an idol (as well as her serious personality) feels akin to Mizuki. I suspect that Doki Doki Precure! may have taken some inspiration from Aikatsu! but I can’t be certain of this. That said, I recently checked out some of the character design notes for Doki Doki Precure! and noticed that Cure Sword (Makoto)’s design originally had longer hair, which would make her more stylistically similar to Mizuki from Aikatsu!

Aikatsu! has been a series on my radar for a while, that I had only briefly engaged with, but given just how entertained I’ve been by it I definitely want to watch more and talk more about it. Expect future posts, maybe?

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.

AKB0048

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.

If you liked this post, consider becoming a sponsor of Ogiue Maniax through Patreon. You can get rewards for higher pledges, including a chance to request topics for the blog.

%d bloggers like this: