Wake Up, Girls! on Managing Idols

wake up girls! episode 2, wake up girls!, wug, girls in a line wearing white bikinis

“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.

president tange, junko tange, wake up girls!, president tange blows smoke in matsuda's face

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.

president junko tange, junko tange, wake up girls! tange with sudo in a headlock

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.

wake up girls!, wake up girls episode 3 live preview

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.

9 comments

    1. I find this show fascinating, but I also love idol shows, so one should consider that when considering my opinion.

      The only thing I will say is that, should you pick up this series, watch the movie, “Wake Up, Girls! Seven Idols” prior to beginning the series. It’s a bit like a longer first episode, but necessary viewing, especially when considering President Tange (who in my opinion is the most interesting character).

  1. Apparently Idolm@ster fans self-identify as “Producers,” from what I’ve read here and there. (Haven’t yet made the leap into that franchise myself.) Having the well-meaning Matsuda play at being Producer and failing horribly at it seemed to me like a well-aimed kick in the balls of that fandom.

    >> picture Yamakan as Producer
    This image has been floating around since day one.

    1. Oh my gosh, that image. ^ ^

      I really want to make the leap into playing the video game, but unfortunately I don’t have enough confidence in my Japanese. That being said, as you say, I do love the mocking way that the series addresses this idea that anyone could be a producer. It’s as if it’s saying directly, “Oh, you’re a nice guy, that’s great. You’re going to be crushed.”

      Thank you for the comment, and that image link! ^ ^

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  3. I’ve tried a few idol shows before WUG, but this is the first one that I liked because of the idol bits. Part of it is it’s cynical look at the idol world, part is giggling at Yamakan being angry at The Establishment, and there’s also Tange being awesome. Especially in the movie I got the impression of her as a cartoonish super-brainy villain who comes up with convoluted schemes that all fall apart in the end, with the producer guy as the unwilling henchman. Now that she shows some competence she’s even better.

    This show has the weirdest fanservice. On one hand it successfully makes me uncomfortable seeing the girls do that, on the other hand it feels great that there is a show that wants it to be uncomfortable. It feels strange to be pulled in those two directions at the same time.

    On another note, with Mayu in ep2 it’s the first time to me that an idol character feels like a person to me and not just a character design with some more or less superficial characteristics and a voice attached to it. I don’t know why that is.

    1. Fanservice is weird for me, as I usually don’t notice it much, accepting it as something that happens in nearly every anime. As it’s not targeted at me, much like the commercials that air during sporting events that I watch, I largely ignore it. However, the fanservice in Wake Up, Girls!, as you say, is specifically designed to make one uncomfortable. Like you, I do love it for that, even if it makes me feel like a total creeper while watching this show (and I’m not even the target demographic).

      I have yet to watch the third episode, but I loved Tange since her first appearance. She’s rude, and will probably make the girls do some embarrassing things, but nothing on par with Sudo because she also, presumably, still has a stake in her own company and wants to succeed. Her reasons may be selfish, but as long as she wants/needs to make the money, she’ll have the girls’ back. Additionally, there was that one scene in the movie where a famous duo (Twinkle?) came back to write the girls’ first song, and they said that Tange had been invaluable to their success. She’s all sorts of shades of grey, and I love her for it.

      Idol shows, by nature, along with idols themselves are designed specifically to appeal to certain superficial characteristics from the get-go (although I’d argue that most idol series do eventually show the human struggles that their characters face). This may be why you’ve not felt attached, or seen a character as at all human. In Miyu’s case (I’m assuming you meant Miyu, because Mayu only had the one scene where she said that it’s a job and they have to do it regardless, please correct me if I’m wrong) I like how they built her character up as a very superficial one. She reminded me of Nico in Love Live! who could change personalities on a dime to suit her customers’ interests. After all, Miyu was the one who had prepared at least three introductions, she was the one that Matsuda initially scouted, saying that becoming an idol had always been her dream, and everything about that interaction, as well as others, seemed superficial. Episode two does a good job of showing us the human behind this mountain of superficial attributes, even as she’s performing the OP song to Nyarko-san.

      Thanks for the comment! ^ ^ (Sorry if I’m wrong about Miyu/Mayu)

      1. Fanservice gets all kinds of reactions from me, but it always tickles one out. In Bakemonogatari it can easily be seen as part of how the characters think about each other. It was almost as if the camera was let by the narrator’s (i.e. mostly Araragi’s) feelings. I quite liked that. In Yozakura Quartet there was the occasional weird camera angle for the purpose of a random pantyshot, and I vaguely remember a scene when one guy started groping his maid in a public (even if kinda rarely visited) place. They made me stop watching it entirely.

        Tange is probably my favourite character in quite a while. I almost stopped watching when they made comments in ep1 that she wouldn’t come back, but then I heard others talking about her return. I kind of want to compare her to Shining Saotome from UtaPri or Fudou ZEN from Aquarion Evol, but those were more idealistic/less antiheroic than her. They also had clear plans for the main characters in a trickster mentor kind of way, whereas the lesson they learned here from the Sudo thing seemed more accidental. She is a quite amusing combination of competence and greed.

        Yeah, I meant Miyu, I am horrible with names. I also frequently have the problem with idol shows that I can’t really connect certain characteristics with particular characters, even if the show has told me about them. It feels like their motivations are only an afterthought to them being appealing. They had charactes that doubted themselves (I think they did, at least), but I didn’t care much about it. Miyu’s reason to doubt herself and quit are blatantly clear as well as easily relatable. Additionally, she always does things out of her own initiative. She didn’t sulk and brood in a corner, she quit the group. She didn’t come back because the other members gave hugs and friendship, she did it because she figured out what she’s comfortable with and where she can get comfort when she needs it. (I vaguely, very vaguely remember a passive character having such an arc in 0048, but don’t ask me who it was or when/how/why it happened. I only remember that I would have preferred the silly funny space hijinks.)

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