“To become a Center Nova, you must be accepting of loneliness. Those who glow the brightest are haunted by the darkest shadows. They’ll envy, target, and try to manipulate you. She who stands in position zero must bear the brunt of those winds.”
-Minami Minegishi the 5th, AKB0048 Next Stage, episode 21
Much like her namesake, Minami Minegishi the 5th did bear the brunt of those winds. Instead of a boy, it was a corporation. Instead of shaving her head, it was a suicidal mech-piloting mission.
AKB0048 deftly toes the line between lauding idol culture, and shining an important light on the seedier, unsettling social expectations that an idol takes on when they ascend to a certain level of notoriety. Most importantly, as Shinmaru reiterates here, AKB0048 does not shine that same light on the girls themselves, or denigrate them for wanting to become idols. As a viewer, there were times when I felt personally conflicted in my alliances. I wanted to see my favorite character, Mimori Kishida, fulfill her dream of becoming an AKB0048 successor; however, as I watched Mimori receive her new name and status, the entire process of succession left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was uncomfortable to watch.
On the heels of Mimori’s succession, comes Mikako “Minami Minegishi the 5th” Minamino’s betrayal of AKB0048. Also known as “Mii-chan,” Mikako sells the band out to their anti-entertainment adversaries, resulting in the destruction of their home planet and their subsequent position as inter-galactic fugitives. Not-so-coincidentally, real-life namesake Minami Minegishi, labelled herself a traitor to AKB48 in February 2013 – between episodes 17 and 18 of AKB0048 Next Stage – after having been photographed leaving her presumed boyfriend’s home. Hours after the photographs surfaced, a tearful Minegishi appeared in a video that quickly went viral, profusely apologizing to her fans and fellow band-mates for her “thoughtless and immature” actions.
“Don’t try to stop me! This is Minami Minegishi the 5th’s graduation concert! At least let me go out in style!”
-Minami Minegishi the 5th, AKB0048 Next Stage, episode 22
The series’ Mii-chan offers her own apology in the form of a suicide mission to protect the other members of AKB0048. Never having had a graduation concert – she quietly left the band and the name Minami Minegishi following a failed ascension to the mystical position of Center Nova – Mii-chan commandeers a mech and goes out to fight AKB0048’s enemies, allowing them to escape. It is made abundantly clear that she does not expect to return. In spite of the fact that she makes her reasons for selling out the band known, and that said reasons are born of a desire to save her friends and former AKB0048 members, she is still driven to sacrifice herself for the sake of the band.
AKB0048 refrains from making a definitive commentary one way or the other in regards to Minami Minegishi, and the series’ own Mii-chan; however, I’d like to think that the series is rooting for Mii-chan to break free of the obvious strain that being in AKB0048 caused her, while celebrating the enjoyment she did receive from her fans and her performances. The most telling, and genuine, part of episode comes from the other girls’ reactions to Mii-chan’s piloting. Although some say that they still haven’t forgiven Mii-chan, they proclaim admiration for her, thank her, and admit that they have been secretly rooting for her. After all, she is still one of them. Like her namesake, Mii-chan’s apology earns her a spot as an understudy.
While giving an AKB0048 panel at Anime Boston 2013 (which I had the pleasure of attending) panelist Viga expressed her struggles with resonating and supporting AKB0048 the series, without additionally supporting the societal pressures surrounding AKB48 the group. Fist raised in the hair, she declared herself to be a supporter of Minami Minegishi. “I am pro Mii-chan!” she proudly stated. This vote of confidence is not for those who would shame Minami Minegishi, but for the girl herself. The girl who, to this day, continues to pursue her career as an idol. And if that’s what she wants, then she has my support as well.