“True friends stab you in the front.”
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.
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.
“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.