“I just really like watching people have fun. Like when someone gobbles down a delicious meal I made for them, or when I just get to watch someone I’ve never met having a great time –– I really love that. Yeah, so when I watch Haru-nyan, it makes me really happy. It’s like, I don’t know, she’s just having so much fun, y’know?”
-Tsuruya, The Intrigues of Haruhi Suzumiya, page 94
One of the most beautiful things that you will ever have the pleasure of seeing is someone doing what they love.
The idol anime Aikatsu!
is, conceptually speaking, a weekly 20-minute commercial for a children’s card game. It has yet to sell me on picking up collectible idol fashion trading cards, however, it has me sold on everything else: soundtrack, musical performances, and most importantly, a wonderful attention to its characters.
Episode 32 shows the series’ lead, and budding idol, Ichigo Hoshimiya struggling with a well-worn problem. She has stretched herself too thinly by agreeing to simultaneous engagements that are each important to her future career. Naturally, Ichigo decides to tackle them both on her own in spite of the fact that it is apparent she won’t be able to succeed without help. Following this problem to its logical conclusion, Ichigo realizes that she’ll need to rely on her friends’ help in order to overcome this particular obstacle. The plot events leading up to Ichigo’s realization, and her recognition that she will have to trust in and rely on her friends, are all straightforward. It’s the way the series handles them in terms of Ichigo’s emotional development as a character that is exemplary.
“For everyone to be smiling. The reason I chose you was because I was certain that you would be able to deliver that wish to everyone.”
-Fashion designer Asuka Amahane to Ichigo Hoshimiya, Aikatsu! episode 32
The reasoning behind Ichigo’s personality as a lead character is very sound from a marketing standpoint. She’s not technically the best at singing or dancing, nor is she prodigious like her own personal idol, Mizuki Kanzaki. Just as the cards shown in each episode are colorful and varied to catch the audience’s fancy, Ichigo herself is an approachable, hard-working, and charming character with relatable flaws in order to appeal to a wide audience. However, the enthusiastic attitude with which Ichigo tackles every situation that Aikatsu! throws at her is infectious. She is shown to be truly enjoying everything she is doing within the series week after week, and her passion for being an idol touches all other characters that she happens to interact with. Naturally, in spite of her lack of excellence in any one aspect of her chosen career path, she ends up leading her group of friends simply by existing as her passionate self.
“It’s already been decided. Without getting caught up in anything else, unflinchingly pursuing what she wants to do most, what seems most interesting…that may be something only Honoka can do.”
-Umi Sonoda on who will be the leader of their idol group, Love Live! episode six.
Love Live!, another recent idol series, also addresses this when the lead group of girls are forced to think of who will be the center, and therefore default leader, of their newly-formed high school idol group. The realization that it will be the excitable Honoka Kousaka is a bit more ham-fisted than the way Aikatsu! presents Ichigo’s latent leadership qualities; however, both series set out to show their audiences how the manner in which their leads choose to set the pace for their respective groups is decidedly off-center. Rather than purposefully lead by example, or out of a sense of duty, neither character seems overly-concerned with leading at all. In the case of Honoka, she is completely unaware that the others have recognized her as the leader, and her informal appointment by her peers is inspired by the way she recklessly charges into nearly every situation with overwhelming enthusiasm.
Ichigo differs from Honoka in that she is a bit more subdued but far more passionate. Driven by her sheer enjoyment of being an idol, Ichigo strives to be the best that she can be. More importantly, whether through her close friends Aoi Kiriya and Ran Shibuki, her role model Mizuka Kanzaki, or top fashion designer Asuka Amahane, Aikatsu! chooses to continuously reiterate that Ichigo’s success comes not only from hard work but her passion. Her love inspires others to strive for equivalent or greater heights, and it is in this way that Aikatsu! proves, time and again, how excellent of a leader someone like Ichigo can be. Like Tsuruya, they (and us by extension) resonate with just how much fun Ichigo has while doing what she loves.
Ichigo Hoshimiya may simply be a character in a 20-minute commercial for a trading card game, but my goodness if she isn’t genuinely a joy to watch each and every week.