“If only I could stand on a larger stage and have even more fans…but I realized something after yesterday’s performance. I was naive. Ultimately, what I enjoyed was being coddled by the fans of this familiar store.”
-Miyu Okamoto, Wake Up, Girls!, episode 2
The second episode of Wake Up, Girls! provides a great deal of fodder for discussion. Coerced by their new idol producer, Sudo, the girls are forced to perform in skimpy bikinis to a leering, salivating crowd of drunken older men. This is the obvious part of the episode – as one intrepid 2-chan denizen pointed out, it’s as if Yutaka “Yamakan” Yamamoto is saying, “These are your moé pigs!” Easily contrasted with Miyu’s defection and performance to her fans at Maid in Sendai, the surface lesson is that there’s a truckload of uncomfortable, awful things that you have to do in order to get to the top.
It would be easy to leave the lesson learned at that without delving any deeper. While the bikini scene was uncomfortable to watch – more uncomfortable than the panty flashes in Wake Up, Girls! Seven Idols – what the episode had to say regarding idol management furthered this tone set by the girls’ swimsuit performance.
Kouhei Matsuda, the manager of Wake Up, Girls!, is saddled with the girls’ welfare when president Junko Tange takes off with company funds and leaves him to clean up the mess. In both appearance and job description, Matsuda resembles the aptly-titled Producer of Idolm@ster fame – whose name remains a mystery in the anime, and is decided by the player in the various Idolm@ster video games – similarly tasked with nurturing the careers of his charges without much prior experience.
Producer scrapes by in The Idolm@ster, piggybacking on the success of Ritsuko Akizuki’s Ryuuguu Komachi unit, with goodwill and a hapless affability. When Producer makes a mistake, double-booking one of his idols, for example, it’s easily resolved and he vows to do better the next time. Producer is a nice person who cares about his charges and success eventually comes to them as they’re all hard-working folk, willing to chase their dreams. He’s a bit like a giant teddy bear, non-threatening and easily run ragged by his charges, and the girls always know that he is working with their best interests in mind.
With the harsher world presented in Wake, Up Girls! thus far, our producer stand-in, Matsuda, is effectively neutered. When President Tange was running things, he shadowed her, all the while knowing that she was not the most delightful of personalities. Left to pick up the pieces in her wake, Matsuda struggles mightily in his new position. Unlike the world of The Idolm@ster, Wake Up Girls! does not give Matsuda leeway because he is a nice guy, with visions of the girls’ success in his heart. Instead, he is taken in by the promises of Sudo, who forces the girls into their aforementioned uncomfortable performance. When President Tange returns to take back her own company, she comments on how useless Matsuda has been, a sentiment that the girls themselves echo.
Her triumphant return doesn’t make President Tange a wonderful person, but it does prove that she is, without a doubt, the best option for the girls to further their careers. Returning to the simpler lesson of this episode, that one has to put themselves out of their comfort zone in order to become successful, this idea can be applied to Wake Up, Girls! as a group, and us as the audience. The girls decide to place their trust in President Tange, regardless of the fact that she’s a fairly awful individual, because she is the best option for their success, especially when contrasted with Sudo and Matsuda.
Likewise, we as an audience may prefer the affable Producer, or wish for a softer President Tange alternative, like Tsubasa “Mariko Shinoda the 7th” Katagiri of AKB0048. However, in the world of Wake Up Girls!, it’s not enough to be a battle-hardened former idol. The producer has to have their own interests in mind, as well as the girls’. Perhaps, like Miyu, what we wanted from an idol show was simply the ability to root for the girls in a more lenient environment, similar to Miyu’s experiences with both Wake Up Girls! and Maid in Sendai.
An added layer of discomfort is added to this equation if we remember that the idols of Wake Up, Girls! are also more closely-tied to real life counterparts, and are overseen by avex, 81 Produce, and Yamakan. Their existence is something that series does not allow us to forget, as episode previews are read in studio by the would-be idols themselves. This provides a specific punctuation mark to the intriguing messiness of Wake Up, Girls!, caustic while attempting to sell you an identical idol product.
As an aside, you can picture Yamakan as Producer for an amusing imaginary visual.