Aikatsu as Absurd Idol Anime Turning Point?

Every so often, I think about a specific kind of comic absurdity I see in many idol anime. It’s one thing for characters to be having pillow fights, but it’s another for the heroines to be digging miles-long tunnels, shooting lasers, and scaling treacherous cliff sides with the greatest of ease. Of the franchises that fall under this umbrella, I’ve started to wonder if Aikatsu! is actually a significant contributing factor, bridging the silliness of actual idol media appearances with the impossibility of cartoons. I’m much more of an anime fan than I am an idol fan, so my knowledge and experience in regards to the latter is limited, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

I often see clips of idols on variety shows, as well as in their own video specials and the like. There’s a certain lightheartedness portrayed in these instances that creates the opportunity of laughs and gasps. It’s the kind of humor you see more in Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, which initially tried to be a little more “down to Earth” with their characters and presentation, though are willing to stretch the boundaries of believability. The difference between those examples and what we see out of Aikatsu, Purichan, and Show by Rock! (not exactly idols per se, but a similar vibe) is that these three franchises venture into a very different reality where even everyday interactions are colored by the strangeness of their worlds.

Take for example the go-to mantra of Aikatsu!: “Ai-katsu!” Characters chant it while exercising, practicing, and engaging in pretty much any situation. Sure, it’s just short for “idol activity (aidoru katsudou),” but the way the phrase is treated as this perfectly routine thing everyone understands sets the stage for series after series where the humor is about challenging expectations of what’s normal. Whether it’s the aforementioned climbing, chopping down trees like Paul Bunyan, or visiting an idol school that’s also literally a gigantic cruise ship, the girls of Aikatsu! do what their flesh and blood counterparts cannot—not always because it’s harder for the latter, but sometimes because the laws of real-world physics do not permit them to do the same thing.

So why do I point at Aikatsu! as a possible origin point? It’s because the closest series to it when Aikatsu! first began was Pretty Rhythm, and that franchise was the predecessor for Purichan. Over the course of that transition from Pretty Rhythm to Purichan, the humor changed to something more akin to Aikatsu’s. A little more distantly relevant is the Precure franchise, but even the magical superpowers on display there aren’t quite the same as the at-times Looney Tunes-esque slapstick and accepted norms of Aikatsu!-esque series.

I’m not a deep fan of any of the series mentioned (with the possible exception of Love Live!), so there’s a lot more to potentially deve into. If there’s anything I’m missing or clearly mistaken about, don’t hesitate to let me know.

PS: Today is an idol shared birthday between Hoshimiya Ichigo from Aikatsu! and Sonoda Umi from Love Live! You know what they say: “Beware the idols of March.”

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Aikatsu! and Idol Franchise “Experiences”

As Aikatsu Friends! inches ever closer, I find myself thinking about the longevity of Aikatsu! as a franchise. By this October, it’ll be a whopping six years old—a lifetime when it comes to children’s anime. Where other similar series have tried to compete, few have managed to hang on as Aikatsu! has. One of its closest competitors, Pretty Rhythm, eventually pivoted towards the male-idol-centric King of Prism series. Either by outlasting or outmaneuvering other idol series, Aikatsu! feels as if it’s conquered its own niche—though the exact nature of that niche is what I’m trying to figure out.

There are, of course, key differences between Aikatsu! and other idol character franchises. Series like King of Prism and Idolish 7 utilize male idols in a desire to capture a different market. Love Live! and The iDOLM@STER feel like they skew older. Macross Delta and Symphogear have idols as thematic flourishes as part of a greater science-fiction story. They cover various demographics, as well as various degrees of idol presence. Yet I feel there’s another element of difference that isn’t accounted for, as if Aikatsu! and Love Live! occupy different compartments of mental space, at least personally.

While this is only a tentative thought exercise for the sake of categorization, if I had to describe that difference it would be as the following: With Love Live! or The iDOLM@STER, I’m most interested in how the idols will react, but with Aikatsu! I’m most interested in the actions they’ll take. The way I phrased it makes it seem as if it’s a contrast between more passive characters and more active ones, but that’s not quite right. Instead, it’s more that the girls of Love Live! seem to draw their appeal from the way they behave and influence each other, while the girls in Aikatsu! feel as if they influence the environment around them.

Perhaps the reason I see Aikatsu! different is because of the fans and how they express their love for the series on social media compared to other idol anime lovers. Other series appear to celebrate cuteness and style. Fans of Aikatsu! revel in an aura of power and excitement. At the heart of this fan output remains the indelible images of Ichigo, that very first Aikatsu! heroine, as she climbs those cliffs and wields that axe. It’s as if Ichigo and her successors reshape and navigate the land while other idols move through it.

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.