Standing alone while standing together, Aikatsu! and The Idolm@ster.

"The best picture I could ever take."

“The best picture I could ever take.”

“True friends stab you in the front.”

-Oscar Wilde

Towards the end of The Idolm@ster, I was disappointed in its execution of protagonist Haruka Amami’s character arc. However, it wasn’t until I recently watched episode 35 of Aikatsu! that I was able to articulate why.

Aikatsu!, although it focuses on an ever-growing cast of characters, is most easily-described as the story of Ichigo Hoshimiya as she attends Starlight Academy and attempts to become an idol. Much like Haruka is to The Idolm@ster, Ichigo is the face of Aikatsu! (albeit the two are marketed to completely different audiences). Also like Haruka, Ichigo is surrounded by other talented idol candidates – some with more skill than herself, some with less – and must compete with them constantly in auditions. Haruka and Ichigo also have similar characteristics: clumsiness, a cheerful attitude, and most importantly, a passion for performing with their friends.

“But I started wondering if nobody else wanted to. If my ‘With everyone, having fun’ would weigh everyone down.”

-Haruka Amami, The Idolm@ster episode 24

However, where Ichigo draws strength from her friends and leads them through her enthusiasm, Haruka’s attachment to her friends at 765 Productions becomes an incredible burden for her, resulting in a nervous breakdown. As each of the thirteen prospective idols become more popular individually, or fragment into smaller groups of twos and threes, the girls inevitably drift away from each other. This shouldn’t be a bad thing. In fact, the only one who seems to mind is Haruka (and her best friend, Chihaya Kisaragi, by association). The remainder of the idols happily continue on their own respective paths to further their careers. Above all, 765 Productions is a talent agency. Its role as an organization is to further the careers of its clients, not further the group as a whole.

“Haruka, you’re being selfish! Haruka, you’re the lead! If you aren’t there, practice for everyone else will be put on hold too. I wanted to be lead no matter what. I was serious about it! But your acting was amazing. That’s why I let it go, but you’re going to throw it away?!”

-Miki Hoshii, The Idolm@ster, episode 24

Emotions reach a boiling point in episode 24 where Haruka, following an accident involving her producer, finds herself unable to process how far the group has drifted apart. She begs to be allowed to quit everything but an upcoming group live performance involving all thirteen girls.

As Oscar Wilde said, “True friends stab you in the front.” Miki Hoshii would have figuratively done this had she won the lead role, mentioned above, from Haruka. Instead, Miki is able to acquiesce the role to Haruka because she recognizes that, in this specific situation, Haruka performed better than her. Additionally, a true friend is honest, in spite of the fact that it may hurt feelings. There is nothing in what Miki first says to Haruka upon her announcement that she wants to quit that isn’t true. Haruka is being selfish by putting her desire to be with her friends over their own individual obligations and careers, never mind her inattention to her own. Regardless of whether she enjoys performing with her friends more than performing alone, she should recognize how important their individual careers are to them. Furthermore, if she were as close friends with them as she claims to be, one would think that she would be able to draw on their successes for inspiration and strength, whether she is in close physical proximity to them or not. Miki’s words make her more of a true friend to Haruka than Haruka is attempting to be by forcing the group to practice together.

haruka amami, nervous breakdown, haruka, idolm@ster, the idolm@ster episode 24

Like 765 Productions, albeit on a far grander scale, Aikatsu!‘s Starlight Academy focuses on furthering the idol careers of its students. The audience watches as Ichigo, and her close friends Aoi Kiriya and Ran Shibuki, attend various auditions – often vieing for the same role – and develop their individual skills. For the majority of the series, the three lead charmed lives. Even when they have to compete with each other, they are able to stay together as a unit. However, the series had always hinted that, as the girls grew stronger, they would eventually have to separate, as is the nature of the entertainment industry.

Episode 35 defines this moment for the trio. The three are competing against each other for one spot in a three-girl idol unit that just so happens to also be a vehicle for their personal favorite idol, Mizuki Kanzaki. Prior to the audition, the three make the time to eat a meal together, knowing that this will be the last time that they will be physically together for months, potentially years, as one of them will be instantly catapulted to super stardom within a different group of three.

I couldn’t help but be struck by the maturity displayed by these three characters as they realize that this will mark the last time that they will be able to stand on the same stage in this capacity. When Ran ends up winning, Ichigo and Aoi are obviously both sad at their own losses, but incredibly happy for their friend. Not once is it a source of angst that Ran is leaving them to go on to brighter things. Unlike Haruka, they seem to understand that it’s all part of being an idol. They believe in Ran, and their friendship with Ran is something that all three of them can draw upon as a source of inspiration for their individual careers.

haruka amami, the idolm@ster episode 24, 765 productions, idolmaster, haruka

“I’m sure it’s fine! After all, I believe in everyone!”

-Haruka Amami, The Idolm@ster, episode 24

In contrast, Haruka’s awareness that she’s no longer as close to her friends is what eventually causes her breakdown. She is unable to rely on them as a source of strength without being constantly reminded of their presence which, as mentioned previously, brings up the question of exactly how strong her friendship with the other twelve idols at 765 Productions actually is.

Worse still, The Idolm@ster bends to Haruka’s wishes without her having to learn anything. Miki retracts her previous position, saying that if she had continued with the individual path that she had been on, she would have lost her way, while the rest of 765 Productions rallies together to call out to Haruka. In fairness, Haruka does come to her own realization that she believes in the rest of the team; however, it rings false when the series hands Haruka her friends back at the end of the episode without her having to actually prove that she can believe in them regardless of how close they are to her. It’s understandable that The Idolm@ster wanted to end on a positive note by bringing the thirteen back together, but it does so by taking the easy way out which is detrimental to Haruka’s character in the process.

16 comments

  1. Finally! Someone writing about Aikatsu! I thought I was the only one watching the show (and Pretty Rhythm too)
    I have to admit I really do like Aikatsu and their togetherness. Even when Kaede shows up out of nowhere and wins, they weren’t backbiting and trashing her, but were genuinely happy that she won.
    I wonder if the difference between Ichigo and Haruka is the differences in audiences too.
    Even watching Pretty Rhythm (Aurora Dream) when there’s a rift between the two Aira and Rhythm where Aira wants to do things the safe way and Rhythm goes along a path of self destruction that their friendship also isn’t handed back on a plate. Also I like the separate, but equal between those characters. Only ONE can be Prism Queen, however by the end it doesn’t matter who gets it because they all have their own goal they achieved at the end.

    1. I love Aikatsu! and a large part of that is due to the cast dynamics and the deft hand it has shown in both building a likeable cast with chemistry, while keeping focus on Ichigo as the lead. Other series *cough* Dokidoki! Precure *cough* could learn a lot from this.

      Unfortunately, all I have seen of Pretty Rhythm was the first two episodes of Rainbow Live, which I enjoyed but put on hold for other series. It’s nice to know that its predecessor is worth watching, and I’ll have to give it a go sometime when I have more time. Indubitably, part of the differences between Ichigo and Haruka come from who each of their respective series is marketing to, although I have to wonder why the one marketed to older audiences (The Idolm@ster) is also the one taking the easy way out in terms of building an emotional narrative (especially when the series had already proven it could do it effectively through Chihaya Kisaragi’s arc). That being said, it’s nice to see series like Aikatsu! that, in spite of primarily being a vehicle for a card game, build such wonderful characters for their younger audience.

      Thank you for the comment! ^ ^

  2. Nice post! I agree with what you say here (even if I’m not caught up on Aikatsu) as you are pretty much spot on with that particular episode of the idolmaster.

    I was fine with the episode up until the point where the rest of the girls at 765pro all have a change of heart and come back. Haruka’s image of being an idol and being at 765pro is much different from the rest of the girls, so her breakdown when they all start going separate ways is understandable. Given her personality and the circumstances, one could even argue that the breakdown was inevitable and a vital moment of growth for her character.

    Unfortunately, as you point out, the idolmaster chooses to take the easy route and ruined the character arc that the show had been building towards since the Christmas episode (and hinted at well before). Had the episode ended with Haruka coming to a realization then I would’ve been fine with it. But instead, the way the idolmaster chose to end the episode just left me confused.

    In other news, this is making me want to pick up where I left off in Aikatsu, but odds are I will be stalled there for a while longer.

    1. Thanks! Yes, you should catch up with Aikatsu! It’s become such a wonderful little show. If you ever want a watching partner, I’d be happy to offer my services (although I know that you’re really busy. For that matter, so am I…)

      It sounds like (for once ^ ^) we’re on the same page in terms of where we believe The Idolm@ster faltered. I think the series still could have had Haruka come to terms with the fact that her friends would no longer be as close to her as they once had been while still being able to bring the gang back together for their final concert. And in fairness, as I say in the post, Haruka *does* come to the realization that she believes in her friends all on her own (with a little help from astral projections of her younger self). Where I take issue is the fact that the rest of the idols, most specifically Miki, end up bending to Haruka’s wishes.

  3. I got a pretty different impression from the conclusion of Idolmaster. I thought the ending was about how everyone was sort of feeling like they wanted to spend more time working together but none of them really knew what the others were thinking, so they all kept quiet. Haruka was just the one that took it the hardest. I took that to be commentary on how friends can get caught up in things and lose touch with one another. Being happy for other people from afar isn’t quite the same thing as being friends, imo.

    1. My impression comes from the meeting that the rest of the 765 Pro girls have together with Chihaya explaining Haruka’s feelings to them. The girls end up realizing that Haruka has been calling out to them under the guise of practicing because she was afraid that they were drifting apart. They did, as you say, get caught up in other things and began to lose touch with one another.

      Being happy for other people from afar and being friends are two very different things, yes. However, in my opinion, if you are truly friends with someone, especially in the case of The Idolm@ster girls, where they all understand that furthering their careers as idols means that they won’t be able to see each other as often as they would like, you would be able to understand why they couldn’t spend as much time with you. When Chihaya clarifies Haruka’s feelings to the group, they all seem surprised that Haruka didn’t express her doubts to them directly. I received the impression that, yes, they did want to be together with everyone, but had already accepted the fact that their careers would make it impossible until the live show.

      Even if we remain at odds on this, thanks for the comment. ^ ^

      1. I think the scene might intentionally be a bit ambiguous, as I’ve been in both situations; the “nobody really wants something, but thinks everyone else does” and the “most people want something, but don’t make a big deal out of it because they don’t want to hurt those who don’t”. I lean towards the former, if only because I really liked the atmosphere in that scene in episode 24. Reminded me a lot of the bit in Uasgi Drop where Daichi takes a demotion so he can be a better parent to Rin. Most of it probably does come down to a difference in interpretation, though.

  4. The blocking in the pancake scene in Aikatsu was very unsettling. Having watched the episode the second time with you, this time with full knowledge of the outcome of the audition, I was further saddened by the impending departure of Ran from the group (whether this is a fully sublimated occurrence in regards to screentime is to be seen, but nonetheless, she is significantly removed from the current dynamic) due to the distance between her and the other two girls. When the group down at the table for four, Ran conspicuously sat across from Aoi and Ichigo. Her positioning in relation to the other two, who are clearly closer to each other personally than Ran is to either of them, effectively created a visual (and by extension, emotional) distance, which has been established right from her introduction to the group.

    What Aikatsu does remarkably well (sometimes to the dismay of fans who tend to root for specific minor characters more than the main characters) is that it establishes a clear hierarchy in its cast, not only with regards to their standing as idols, but in relation to Ichigo. Even though Ran bests the other two in the audition, it comes at the cost of conceding further development of her friendship with them, and potentially severing her ties altogether. I’ve never been particularly fond of Ran, as the execution of her character type and personality never really appealed to me the same way a similar personality like im@s’s Miki did (personally, I like the way she exudes a playful confidence in the same manner as another Miki, Miki Aono from Fresh PreCure).

    However, seeing Ran concede her relationship at the table the way she did through her body language and distance broke my heart. I was happy for her that she won, but I effectively realized that her fixed presence in the group fostered the type of character dynamic that allowed me to appreciate other characters that I loved more (Aoi, Otome, Yurika, etc). Now that she’s gone, there’s an emptiness in the cast that resonates much more profoundly than I could imagine.

    I’m saddened, and I know that I’m supposed to be. It’s all according to Aikatsu’s grand plan, and no matter what happens next (whatever is inevitably in store for Aoi later on), I will always appreciate and love these characters (some more so than others), and love the show that featured them. This show is essentially The iDOLM@STER given a genuine PreCurian makeover, and it’s one of my favourite series ever as a result. This post reminded me of this point, and I thank you so much for writing it.

    1. I loved the pancake scene, not only for the blocking, but for how it showed the viewer through the dialogue just how much these three girls had grown emotionally to get to that table scene, on the cusp of one of them “making it big.” In addition, it demonstrated how well they knew each other and had grown as a group. (As an aside, Aikatsu! continues to visually isolate Ran throughout the entire episode.)

      The Idolm@ster plus Precure comparison is an interesting one, although I disagree with you to some extent, only because Precure is so diverse in terms of what each series tries to accomplish. However, where I think the comparison is valid is in the team-building. The Idolm@ster had a great emotional narrative with Chihaya; however, missed the mark with Haruka’s, and didn’t touch upon any of the other idols for too long. This is okay, the series is a compilation of one-off episodes about a few of the girls at a time, but the result is that 765 Productions is more of a loose coalition of girls than it is a tight-knit group like a Precure fighting team. Even in a series like Smile! Precure, the girls are shown as being close with one another and forming a strong team, even though the series itself is, like the Idolm@ster, more of a collection of standalone episodes. As you have said yourself in the past, even when the Idolm@ster focuses on one particular girl, the others in the group simply go about doing their own things, basically unaffected.

      Thank you so much for the comment, as always. ^ ^

  5. Ah, it always makes me happy when I see people seriously discussing anime meant for a younger audience, that most people dismiss as being ‘stupid and girly’ and just pass over (as if being cute is a bad thing, anyway….)

    I watched Idolm@ster, and the ending did bother me a little bit – but the conclusion was so feel good, I let it slide. However… a similar situation happens in the idol anime Love Live! (I don’t know if you’ve seen it?), in which one character wants to leave the idol group she’s a part of to go and study fashion abroad, because that was always her dream, or some such thing… And the main character has a complete breakdown when her friend decides to leave, confronts her tearfully at the airport, and starts crying about how “our idol group needs you – we have to be together, or it won’t work at all! you need to come back with us! you don’t really want to go abroad – you want to stay here!!!” And then of course, the girl who wanted to leave realises the error of he ways, cries, and decides that she shouldn’t leave after all (even though this was a very big opportunity for her, and i think something she wanted to do for a while) and doesn’t go abroad after all.
    And, this really, really annoyed me. It seemed like an incredibly selfish thing to do, and it left a really bitter taste in my mouth – especially when the narrative was framed in a way that suggested the girl who wanted to go abroad was being selfish, and should have thought of her friends, and she apologises for this…
    I don’t know – I thought Love Live was pretty shoddy all around, given it had a massive cast and only ran for about 12 episodes, the time frame was far too fast and i didn’t find any of the characters very likable… but that ending was really annoying.
    I think Idolm@ster got away with having a vaguely similar ending, with a theme of “put your dreams on hold for the sake of others”, because I genuinely liked the characters a lot, and thought it was cute and fun.

    It is interesting Aikatsu seems to be handling the same issue in a more mature way, even if it is for a younger audience n_n;; (although it does have its problems too, ahahaha)

    Sorry for the text spam, reading this made me want to rant😄

    1. Full disclosure: I am currently attending university to become a teacher. How things are presented (and more importantly, marketed) to children is definitely something I pay attention to personally. Aikatsu! is an amazing series for all ages, but especially for children because, in spite of the fact that it is primarily a marketing tool for a card game, it doesn’t assume that its audience is dumb. I love it for that. Additionally, it’s cute, fun, and girly. It’s something I love as an adult, but would have loved as a young girl as well. ^ ^

      I have seen Love Live! and while I didn’t think it was shoddy – I enjoyed it quite a bit – I agree with you on the ending, which rang very hollow for me. Here’s my turn to play “have you seen _____?” by asking if you have watched Tari Tari. Without getting too much into spoilers, a similar thing happens towards the end of that series; however, the group doesn’t ask the character in question to stay, knowing that this is such an amazing opportunity for her. If you hated how Love Live! ended, I’d suggest Tari Tari, if only because it takes a similar situation and “does it right.” Additionally, Tari Tari is a charming little show.

      Thanks for the comment! Length is never an issue here, talk as long as you want to. ^ ^

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