765’s Second Try: The IDOLM@STER (2011)

(warning: sarcasm is detected in the article below, fans beware)

“Are you ready? I am ready…” (from op song Ready!!) Ready to jump the fray of entertainment business and make a bunch of girls with interesting characters (yes, interesting is the meticulously chosen word) into super idols that’ll feed you tens of millions of yen per event? If your answer is yes, congrats, please watch The IDOLM@STER and be done with the idea, NOW.

The currently airing (at EP8) The IDOLM@STER anime is the newest addition to the multi-product franchise started with a 2005 game by Namco. The game received huge popularity and branched out everywhere, even Ace Combat 6 (also produced and published by Namco) featured special Im@s paint schemes for fighter jets, which is an idea so awesome it is one step away from total nuts. The awesomeness doesn’t stop here though. When Namco’s “game inspired” anime Idolm@ster Xenoglossia came out it redefined the meaning of poor product management. It doesn’t take an MBA to see what’s wrong here: you simply do not suddenly throw teenage girl idols originally designed to be everyday people into cockpit of an over-the-top robot fighting machine and protect Tokyo, not if you aren’t making Sakura Wars, anyways. In conclusion, fans alienated, seiyuus (voice actors) quit, brand value lost. So does the newest venture on air, The IDOLM@STER, live up to the tradition of the original game?

The building that homes 765 Production (2nd floor only) gives us an image definition for upstart company

Having never played the game on which the story is based, I personally find the anime acceptable. The story adopts the typical arrangement for animes with multiple main characters: develop one character in each episode in a steady progression.The entire first episode is quite interesting that it takes the form of a “silent interview” (forgive me for not knowing the exact term, if there is one), which is something we see aplenty in Japanese celebrity shows.  With no BGM most of the time, I have to admit the rather creative approach grabbed my attention and succeeds in making me continue watching. Most of the episodes so far deal with fairly imaginable situations that are close to real life ending on positive, encouraging notes. Although old fashioned, the 1 person/episode approach does a good job, since at EP8 I already remember 5, 6 names out of 11 main idols managed by 765 Production (read in Japanese as “namugo”, which is apparently a play on Namco itself).

EP8 is the most "out of the world" episodes so far...

Talking about 765, the worrisome business condition of the company stands out more than the monkey suit wore by the Futami twins in EP2: ten minutes into EP1 you will inevitably start to wonder why 765 decides to produce this particular group of people in the first place. I mean it is easy to understand why Iori (水瀬伊織) is chosen since her family could probably invest (should I say donate?) every penny 765 needs, but what about Yukiho (萩原雪歩) who is afraid of dogs and the entire male population? (she is good at digging though, with her omni-present shovel, refer to the screen shot below) In EP2, we are informed that 765 even has trouble funding photo shootings and get proper stage clothing for contracted artists (in other words the main characters…), and EP3, 4 tell us that 765 is only capable of getting tiny-sized contracts in remote villages… And of course when you are tight on budget a chain reaction happens: elevator fails on you, air condition breaks on you, and your employees (and biggest assets in 765’s case btw) push you to fund a summer vacation by the seaside (as in EP5)… Even formation of the first idol group Ryuguu Komachi doesn’t bring much hope for the lack of activities for rest of 765.

IM@S Chara#1: Able to produce a shovel out of thin air, Yukiho's trench digging skilz is nothing less than epic

That doesn’t mean 765 has no hope though. Despite her constantly semi-dormant state, Miki (星井美希) is obviously the most talented member of the group, who could charm people from beach boys (aka easy targets) to photographers to mid-aged housewives. She is also capable of extraordinary pull-offs in the like of learning a set of dance after being demonstrated only once or finishing a photo shooting meant to be completed by 3 all by herself. However, as of EP8 the ultra-talented Miki chan is sort of ignored, which is totally in accordance with the law that talented employee rarely receives recognition to the scale of his/her ability…

IM@S Chara #2: The way-too-awesome Miki chan is bored to death while single-handedly killing groups like Mor**** Mus*** and a**4*. People would pay to watch her sing Friday, like seriously.

The soundtracks of The IDOLM@STER mostly come from the game itself (according to Wikipedia), with few new additions. The opening song Ready!! has an impressive sales record of 26000 in the first week and ranked number 4 on Oricon.  It is quite interesting how the anime tries to incorporate part of the “performance mode” from the original game, that it shows title, writer and singer whenever an insert song starts. By insert song here I do not mean awesome performance scenes like in K-on! or Angel Beats!, but tracks purely “inserted” into say, a scene of daily cleaning and cooking. Personally, those MTV style rolling titles feel totally out of place, and somehow gives me a kind of 80’s feel (in a negative way). And the songs themselves aren’t too memorable either.

IM@S Chara #3: Either families categorized as "poor" in Japan (like Yayoi's) can all afford decent housing, or the anime is implying the cruel reality here that Yayoi's parents are working like crazy to pay off their 50-year mortgage under rising inflation and dropping property prices. Unable to go to university, poor yayoi has to become a super idol or face the certain family tragedy called foreclosure.

I would say that unless you are a fan of the original game or fan of certain characters or genuinely interested in how entertainment business will be depicted in a less-than-serious anime, The IDOLM@STER is an acceptable but far from satisfying watch.  Personally I will continue to follow the anime out of pure curiosity on how much (if at all) will it help with the coming sales of Idol M@ster 2. Highlights from the show will be duly noted in future posts.

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