A Group of Their Own: Wake Up, Girls!

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“I believe there are three ways to make people happy. There are those who make many people happy throughout the world, there are those who make those around themselves happy, and those who make themselves happy.”

-Mayu Shimada, Wake Up, Girls! Seven Idols

Considering the three options above, Airi Hayashida is most successful in making those around her happy. She is the least naturally-talented, admitting in her audition paperwork that she has never sung nor danced before, and wants to become an idol to improve her confidence. Airi is two red hair ribbons away from being Haruka Amami (The Idolm@ster) with Wake Up, Girls! treating her inner demons with genuine care. We knew that Airi would not quit, and that the group would somehow find a way to both keep her as a member and stay together under Tasuku Hayasaka’s tutelage; however, the nuance with which Wake Up, Girls! presents her situation allows the series to shine above its other idol brethren.

“Even I-1 Club was built by the passion of Shiraki, who had nothing going for him except his love of idols.”

-Green Leaves President Junko Tange, Wake Up, Girls!, episode 5

Most importantly, Wake Up, Girls! continues to impressively paint the narrative of its titular group in shades of grey. Aside from the group’s brief stint under the gangster caricature of a producer in episode two, the series has no clear-cut villains. Idol powerhouse I-1 Club’s Tooru Shiraki is no cardboard cutout of a bad guy, as President Tange states above. The series has painted him as ruthless, leading I-1 Club with a bullhorn and the affirmation, “Don’t rest! Don’t complain! Don’t think!” however, it’s easy to see what motivates him, and his sweeping ambition to always be the the best is understandable.

Shiraki’s current methods may be suspect, but they have brought him to where he is now, a place that President Tange admittedly wants to be herself. In spite of her somewhat motherly attitude towards the group as of late, she is still the woman who ran off with Green Leaves’ money, and left Wake Up, Girls! high and dry before her inspiring fistfight and reappearance in episode two. Musing over Shiraki’s success with I-1 Club, she admits that his idol empire was built on honest, hard work.

If there is anything that idol anime series love the most, it’s highlighting that being an idol requires sacrifice and hard work. Perhaps this is to assuage audience guilt in supporting an industry with its fair share of dubious practices while continuing to market to them. Perhaps this is to appeal to young girls who would want to become idols (Aikatsu! specifically comes to mind, as it is the one idol series I know of that is actually marketed to that audience). Or perhaps it really is to draw attention to the sheer amount of effort and dedication that it takes to become a successful idol. Regardless of the reason, this outlook breeds a genuine relationship between the viewing audience and their cartoon idols. Although I may take issue with many aspects of the idol industry, I want Wake Up, Girls! to succeed because I’ve grown to care for them.

wug looks at i-1 club, i-1 club, wake up girls, wake up girls! episode 5

“I’m not sure how to put this, but is that what we’re doing? You’re right that we’re here to become idols, but is that what being an idol is about? I don’t think it’s Wake Up, Girls! without Airi.”

-Mayu Shimada, Wake Up, Girls!, episode 7

Circling back to Airi’s conundrum, Hayasaka has told her that she simply cannot cut it in the ruthless world of idoldom. He is not wrong when he says that Airi is very far behind her group counterparts. His assessment of her talent level, blunt as it may be, is also not wrong. As a singer and a dancer, she has the least amount of natural talent out of anyone in the group. Where Hayasaka misses the mark is in saying that Wake Up, Girls! does not need Airi as a member. As a new group formed solely by President Tange for the purpose of eventually making money, the girls were thrown together overnight with varying talent levels, attitudes, and sources of motivation. Airi is a person who makes those around her happy, making her an invaluable piece of Wake Up, Girls!

Wake Up, Girls! challenges the notion that becoming a successful idol automatically means pitting girls within the same group against one another. When de-facto leader Yoshino “Yoppi” Nanase says the typical, “We’re not here to make friends, we’re here to be idols” line, Mayu responds with the quote above. Having been a part of I-1 Club in the past, her opinion is invaluable to the group, changing Yoppi’s mind and inspiring all of the girls to find a way to keep Hayasaka from firing Airi or disbanding the entire group. After all, it was Airi who inspired Mayu to consider why she had wanted to become an idol in the first place. Additionally, if Mayu had to settle on one of the three ways to make people happy – in spite of various characters within the series attempting to assign her to the first: one who makes those throughout the world happy – it would be the third option, making herself happy. Airi is most likely the only person who understands this about Mayu.

In choosing to reject both options placed in front of them and seek out a third – the third being stay together as a group with Airi – the girls don’t do anything unpredictable or unexpected. Obviously the series was going to find some way for them to stay together as seven. In spite of being a vehicle for money (in the eyes of President Tange) and a Pygmalion-style artistic challenge (in the eyes of Tasaku Hayasaka) their determination to stay together is affecting. They become a group for their own sake, as well as others.

8 comments

  1. Reading this post just made me realize what Airi brought to the table when I couldn’t put a finger to it. Now that it’s shown that Hayasaka isn’t as malicious as he appeared to be in the previous episode, maybe we can see a stronger group soon!

    I’m still impressed with how tight the show is. Even if Airi would never be cut from the group, the sense of dread and desperation that plagued the girls was excellent in maintaining the mood.

    I’d like to write about the same episode/arc, but with a different focus.

    1. I wonder if I’m the only one who didn’t see Hayasaka as malicious. He’s certainly not a clear-cut “nice person;” however, I didn’t particularly see him as malicious. If anything, I expected him to be more of a “tough love” kind of person, although it seems as if the series is presenting him as more of a bored artiste. That being said, WUG has already taught its audience to trust no one, and the fact that Shiraki tells I-1 Club that WUG will be catching up to them soon makes me think that he’s at least on to Hayasaka, if not behind his initial contact with WUG.

      Yes! I completely agree with what you said. It was always about how the girls were going to get there and not whether Airi was going to leave. Their conversation, particularly Yoppi’s perspective, was very tense. Additionally, not all of that tension has been dissipated as we see Yoppi still working up the courage to confront Mayu about her past with I-1.

      Thank you for commenting. I’ll look forward to that post. ^ ^

  2. While I agree that Hayasaka was off the mark in assessing Airi’s worth to the group, I definitely believe that he’s aware of this fact as well. One particular scene in last week’s episode has him bringing up the analogy regarding lions and their cubs. The tough love aspect that you mention is definitely in play, and the way he goes about administering that system comes rather calculatedly. He wouldn’t have commited such time to the girls if he couldn’t see the potential for them to survive his regimen and succeed in the industry. He has a personal stake in the group also because of his reputation as the individual who breaks out burgeoning idol groups into the mainstream. I think he knows Airi is important, but he wanted to push her just enough to strengthen her will and step up her game as an idol.

    Good stuff, always love reading idol posts. Keep it up!

    1. Hnnn…I saw it a bit differently, but don’t wholly disagree with your assessment.

      I see Hayasaka as a more ambivalent character. If the group comes together to push Airi, that’s okay by him as long as it makes the group better. If the group decides to abandon her and focus on becoming good as six, then I don’t think he would have minded that either, provided that WUG was going to go into his lessons with a stronger mindset and focus.

      Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with some of the girls in the most recent episode, as they don’t seem to be willing to work as hard as they need to (notably, Airi is one of the hardest workers even if she has less overall talent). However, I like that things were not so easily solved in terms of teambuilding, etc. Additionally, I’m interested to see how Nanami’s apparent resignation affects the group. I personally loved the talk that she had with Airi, asking Airi how she can work so hard.

      Thanks for commenting! ^ ^

  3. I have a different perspective on Hayasaka. He was definitely harsh, but I felt that he dropped Airi’s lack of talent relatively easily. I believe the reason was that he wasn’t looking for removing her. I think it was intended to assess their teamwork, team building.
    After that he confirmed their teamwork, he easily dropped the case, as long she improves, it’s fine.
    If Hayasaka truly think that she is way behind and is hopeless, he would of removed her regardless.

    1. I can see that.

      For me, Hayasaka is a whimsical artist who seeks out new groups/talent to play with. Wake Up, Girls! is a toy for him, and in deciding whether it’s a toy worth his time and effort he tests them. In proving that they are a team of girls that actually care about one another, Hayasaka additionally finds something in WUG that, in his eyes, I1-Club lacked, making them a worthy project.

      Thanks for the comment. I’m always happy to see that others watched this show. ^ ^

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