“Matsuda, do you remember what I told you at the audition? About idols being a story? They’ve written tons of stories this past year, and today will become a new story. I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but these girls are idols.”
-Green Leaves President Junko Tange, Wake Up Girls!, episode 12
Where The Idolm@ster plays with traditional harem elements to captivate its audience, AKB0048 is the next evolution of Macross, and Love Live! is a high school musical, Wake Up, Girls! makes a compelling case for itself as more of a classic sports narrative. President Tange tells Matsuda – and by extension, frames the series for viewers – that idols are “a story.”
Many things qualify as stories. Towards the end of The Idolm@ster, there is a shift in focus as the series chooses the narratives of Chihaya Kisaragi and Haruka Amami from its available pool. AKB0048 ties multiple story-lines together with a grandiose finale, culminating in Nagisa Motomiya’s swaying a violent crowd with the words, “Don’t hate entertainment!” while her idol compatriots magically sing their way out of a war. Honoka Kousaka of Love Live! undergoes her own bout of illness before collapsing at the end of a concert. All of these are stories. What sets Wake Up, Girls! apart is the manner in which the story unfolds.
In spite of presenting a struggling production company, Green Leaves, much like 765 Productions in The Idolm@ster, Wake Up, Girls! fashions its story more around the development of the girls as a unit. With only seven members, the focus is on forming one idol group, instead of mixing and matching different talent to find the most marketable arrangement. They’re hardly fighting an anti-entertainment war – in fact, one of the conflicts in Wake Up, Girls! is the over-saturation of idols, pitting groups against one another – and there’s nothing tangible on the line, like the closure of a high school. As the series progresses, the girls work through their individual problems to form a strong team in order to compete at the highest level. However, this idea of competition – or the “age of warring idols” as the series says – is ancillary to the core of the series: a grassroots approach to the value of entertainment.
Ever in the background is the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. The Wake Up, Girls! are a small, unknown group from Sendai, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake and resulting tsunami. This is clumsily tied in by Tooru Shirashi, General Manager of the rival idol powerhouse group, I1-Club, who mentions drawing inspiration from performers in New York, following the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001. It’s a bit dirtier and more down-to-earth than Shoji Kawamori’s trumpeting of the value of entertainment in AKB0048, with instructor Tasaku Hayasaka calling to mind the more personal intangibles of being a fan.
“I wonder if the guerrilla concerts you used to put on at Azuma Bridge smelled like this.”
-Tasaku Hayasaka to Tooru Shirashi, following Wake Up Girls!’ performance, Wake Up, Girls!, episode 12
I-1 Club’s now infamous “guerrilla live” concerts that put them on the map were previously mentioned by Green Leaves’ President Tange, frame Wake Up, Girls!’ efforts to become a popular idol group. More importantly, they tie in with Hayasaka’s words to the group later on: inspiring their audience should be their first, and only, priority. Wake Up, Girls! grows as a group thanks in large part to their core, homegrown fans from Sendai (some of whom are pictured above). Their fans are not numerous, and often they hail from previous efforts of the individual girls – for example, Minami Katayama brings with her the folk song group she used to sing with, where Mayu Shimada brings a former superfan from her I-1 Club days – but their support for the group is shown at every step of their journey. This “smell” as Hayasaka puts it, is the scent of emotional investment from an audience. Once Wake Up Girls! reaches the grand stage, it begins with the tiny group of Wake Up, Girls! supporters in a gigantic arena, screaming along with nearly every line to the group’s newest song, “Seven Girls’ War.”
On June 10th, 1997, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan woke up sweating profusely, with barely enough strength to sit up in bed. Following their diagnosis of a stomach virus, trainers told him that there was no way he would be able to play basketball the next day in a crucial Game Five of the NBA Finals. Nonetheless, Jordan suited up on June 11th to aid his team in halting the Utah Jazz’s momentum that they had gained in games three and four. Teammates, coaches, and fans watched as a visibly-pale Jordan struggled through waves of nausea and fatigue to play all but four minutes of the entire game, ending with 38 points. In the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, Jordan collapsed into the arms of a fellow teammate, Scottie Pippen. When asked about the game, Jordan said it was probably the most difficult thing he had ever done. Coach Phil Jackson called it the greatest game he had ever seen Jordan play. In comparison, Yoshino “Yoppi” Nanase’s decision to jump on a sprained ankle is tiny and insignificant in comparison, but the emotional result is similar, especially if one is a viewer who has been rooting for Wake Up, Girls! from the beginning. The intangibles surrounding the performance are what elevate it.
Much like Honoka Kousaka’s illness in Love Live!, Yoppi’s injury is a direct result of her own inattention and anxiety over an upcoming performance. Both girls decide to perform in spite of their respective setbacks, but this is where the similarities end. Honoka’s desire to form an idol group was driven by the imminent closure of her high school. This narrative is wrapped up neatly, outside of Honoka’s collapse and their subsequent withdrawal from the Love Live! idol competition. Yoppi’s jump is an emotional, split-second decision, with the energy she receives from her fans acting as the catalyst. She stumbles, possibly costing her group the victory, but exemplifies the inspiration found in performance that Wake Up, Girls! is so eager to portray. It was never about beating I-1 Club, or winning the idol festival, but rather about overcoming adversity and establishing an emotional connection with an audience, both in-universe and those at home.