Which I pronounce as “A-K-B double-oh forty-eight”.
AKB48, as I understand it, is A Big Thing. While I find myself immune to the snares of mainstream Japanese pop, they seem big enough to have warranted an anime dedicated entirely to promoting the AKB48 legend, and quite literally in this regard. Or does it?
I had a conversation with ghostlightning last year. He just came out of finishing The iDOLM@STER, and disliked it. When I prodded him about it, he said the idols were too moe. Their private personalities were the same as their own idol ones, and it made it very inauthentic to watch for him. Idols are a special breed of people, who have to be loved by all but possessed by no one. Idol-ness forces people to live dual lives, which iM@S doesn’t do. Instead, it treats idol-ness as just another breed of moe, like light music club moe or restaurant worker moe.
In that respect, The iDOLM@STER isn’t strictly an idol show, instead it is a moe show where the girls are idols. This is not to disparage The iDOLM@STER, but it is an important point to address for this post.
Who gets idols, then? Shoji Kawamori does, way back in 1982. In contrast to the airbrushed personalities of iM@S’s cast, Lynn Minmay is a human being. She’s an immature, selfish girl to those who personally know her, but she’s the treasure of the human race, a pop idol who saved humanity (and Zentradi) with her song. The duality is important. She has a stage face and a private face.
This brings me to my point: AKB0048, being a Kawamori show, gets idols.
Admit it, you guys who’ve been following those anime season charts scratched your heads upon reading AKB0048’s writeup. Why does this exist? Why is Kawamori such a lolicon? Why is there mecha? (Schneider’s answer: mecha makes everything better.) How is this ever going to work?
Did anyone ever expect this show to be good? Be honest. It’s got good production values, even if Satelight likes to make jarring 2D-CG transitions for character animation. The songs are pretty decent, and they have proper voice actors along with the newbie AKB48 members voicing the understudies. I mean, it’s a far glossier production than Mouretsu Pirates, the other recent Satelight sci-fi show.
Despite the moe character aesthetic, AKB0048’s cast isn’t really moe, and some, like Orine and Yuuka, are written with a surprising amount of sense in them. Most of their time is spent in pursuit of their dream, which is to become a fully-fledged member of AKB0048. This means running away from their homes and signing up with the most wanted group in the galaxy, and enduring countless hours of grueling training.
The idol life is depicted as far from glamorous from the inside–the girls receive fan mail, and some of it is from haters. One of them who had a boyfriend prior to joining the group meets him again, and she’s quite shocked to learn that the same boyfriend who expressed his hate for idols is now an idol fan himself, but he’s not a fan of her. The path to their dreams is hell.
The AKB48 wankery is where the show starts to be off-the-rails crazy. AKB0048 is a group inspired by the ancient, legendary group of AKB48. To become a senior member of AKB0048, one must embody the qualities of an AKB48 member, and “succeed” her. A girl who is very much like Takahashi Minami would become Takahashi Minami the Nth, becoming another in a long line of successors. A good part of the drama revolves around this, which is where the show hamstrings itself by portraying the conflict as good girl vs good girl.
(I suppose more than a few people would probably get mad if an AKB0048 member revealed herself to be a complete bitch.)
I’d like to know what an AKB48 fan would feel about this. I find it quite offensive, but thankfully it doesn’t eclipse all the other plot elements of the show!
It’s more than a little whacked, when you think about it. “Pop music de-individualizes its stars and strips the artistry out of music!” The cynic would say. But nobody in the show seems to mind. AKB0048 is fighting the evil, oppressive government who outlaws fun, idols especially. People fight with guns and mecha for idol pop music. It’s so bad that AKB0048 has to arm itself every time it has to hold concerts. Meanwhile, the really good idols get sucked into the Warp so that Sensei-Sensei Slaanesh could feed upon their souls. Terrifying, more like it?
But even then, AKB0048 could’ve been just that–a cheap tie-in for a popular idol group. That he made it so much more (and added mecha!) speaks of the love and care put into this show.
PS: Sonata > Suzuko > Makoto > Tsubasa > Chieri > Mecha Mayuyu > everyone else