The story of Wake Up Girls! begins in a movie – one that I highly recommend you watch before beginning the television series – not in its first named episode. This sets a specific, cynical, framework through which to view the series, much like how The Idolm@ster‘s premiere episode was shot in the style of an idol interview, giving the show a specific tone. In spite of a harsh outlook on the idol industry, Wake Up Girls! doesn’t shine that same light on our would-be idols, similar to AKB0048‘s treatment of its progenies.
A few minutes in, our soon-to-be Producer of Green Leaves talent agency – who, in spite of bearing a striking resemblance to Producer from The Idolm@ster, is also graced with a name, Kouhei Matsuda – watches company president Junko Tange yell at her own client like a deranged Anna Wintour. From that moment on, I knew that I was going to love this movie.
In the past two years or so I’ve seen my fair share of idol shows in The Idolm@ster, AKB0048 and AKB0048 Next Stage, Love Live!, Aikatsu!, and now Wake Up Girls! While watching these series its impossible to not see their attempts at selling you on a product, be it the never-ending list of Idolm@ster merchandise or the real-life AKB48’s discography. Additionally, each of the girls are handpicked for specific viewers attention.
For example, Wake Up Girls! introduces us to Airi Hayashida, the quintessential hard-worker with a middling amount of talent and a positive attitude. It’s not hard to see traces of Haruka Amiami (The Idolm@ster), Nagisa Motomiya (AKB0048), or Honoka Kousaka (Love Live!). Airi is the girl who wants the team to stay together, and continue working hard. Miyu Okamoto’s dream is to become an idol, and she not-so-coincidentally works in a maid cafe. She makes it obvious from the get-go that she has a myriad of personalities to draw from – reminiscent of Love Live‘s Nico Yazawa – and will choose whichever suits her goals in that moment. Nanami Hisami is the young, wealthy talent – introduced with her piano rendition of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” – with an attitude to match, reminding me of The Idolm@ster‘s Iori Minase.
When I watch Wake Up Girls!, I bring with me my entire database of idol series that I have watched previously. I’m playing into director Yutaka “Yamakan” Yamamoto’s hands. Where The Idolm@ster and AKB0048 poke and prod at the idol industry, they shy of attacking it outright. Wake Up Girls! has a far more caustic attitude towards the entire business, specifically within the character of Green Leaves’ president, Junko Tange. She swaggers, chain-smokes, drinks constantly, and the crucial question she asks her would-be idols is whether they are virgins or not, making it abundantly clear that they are her product to be sold. Later, she leaves the agency high and dry by fleeing Sendai, saddling Matsuda, along with Green Leaves and the Wake Up Girls!, in debt. Pushing back against this cynicism is the struggle of the Wake Up Girls! themselves, along with their washed-up center, Mayu Shimada, who hails from supergroup I-1 Club (a direct reference to AKB48). One only has to compare the heartfelt cheer before their debut concert – to an audience of about 10 people including their own producer – to the aggressive stomp of I-1 Club in their introduction (quoted below) in order to know whom the series wants us to root for.
“Harder than anyone! More beautiful than anyone! More precise than anyone! I-1 Club! Let’s go!”
– I-1 Club cheer, prior to their stage entrance, Wake Up Girls! Seven Idols
For this project, Yamamoto searched for new talent, with help from Avex Entertainment and the agency 81 Produce. Wake Up Girls! is set specifically in Sendai, with an incredible attention to detail in the setting, which was hit hard in the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. Make no mistake, Yamamoto is trying to sell a product. At the same time, he is also lampooning the industry that produces the exact same product that he is selling. For one such as myself, it’s an irresistible combination.
After all, I love idol shows.