Yoppi’s “Flu Game,” and the Emotional Narrative of Wake Up, Girls!

wake up girls!, wug, yoshino nanase, yoppi, kaya kikuma, minami katayama

“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.

Wake Up, Girls!, WUG, Wake Up Girls! ota group, WUG fans

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.”

yoshino nanase, wake up girls!, WUG, yoppi, yoppi jumps

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.

 

 

6 comments

  1. The ideas behind this show might not all be bad, but the execution sucked through and through. I couldn’t possibly recommend this over Idolmaster or AKB0048.

      1. For example, what made Idolmaster what it is was its ability to deliver episodes revolving around a given character while dragging the rest of the cast into the fray for extra development. One fond memory was the pudding investigation, which was based all around the quirks of different characters while also making up a single self-contained plot. Not only was this great in terms of efficient character development (I remember all the names of that bigger cast), but by having the characters constantly interacting and affecting each other’s development, the show really made them feel like a team.

        WuG, with its simple one character per episode format and problem found – problem resolved plotlines, makes a poor impression in this regard. And this translates to the understanding of the characters involved. I couldn’t say a single thing about Yoppi for the first six or so episodes, and even now I’m not sure if her name is Yoshiko, Yoshino or something else. Draw two characters at random and try to say something about their mutual relationship – that’s damn hard, because most of them are only marginally important to each other throughout the show.

        For an AKB0048 example, one great thing about the show was how it openly presented the entertainment industry as creepy, exploitative and at times even farcical, but did it all through the eyes of characters who decided to embrace that path /despite/ all that. Thus we are given two contradictory, but inseparable images of the industry, which lend the show’s commentary additional weight.

        WuG was too often stuck in black and white images to make solid points. The A1 scenes got painful after a while – yes, we do get that they “lack true idol spirit” and have attitude problems, no need to repeat that every episode. When the show decides to dedicate several episodes to the “dark underbelly of the industry”, and then has all the characters suddenly switch to spouting cliched friendship lines, I start wondering whether I missed an episode along the way. Or two. Or three.

        From my perspective, Idolmaster and AKB0048 went beyond the line of duty and took risks that paid off, while WuG played things safe with tried and true formulas which turned out a show that makes sense, but does not leave much of an impression. (But if you liked it anyway, more power to you!)

        1. I’m not going to pretend that Wake Up, Girls! is as well-constructed as either The Idolmaster or AKB0048. However, I also think that Wake Up, Girls!’ strengths are completely different from both of these aforementioned series (as stated in the post itself).

          The Idolmaster did do a great job of building its larger cast. I don’t know if you read the post I linked to (http://altairandvega.net/2014/03/05/im-just-dere-for-the-music-harem-elements-in-the-idolmaster/) but it does a good job of describing how well the Idolmaster uses archetypes to make us care about specific characters, and builds on them by the end of the series. However, I do disagree that they wholly felt like a team. For me, they were always more of a loose assembly of characters, with specific personal favorites. Additionally, as I’ve written about here: https://formeinfullbloom.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/standing-alone-while-standing-together-aikatsu-and-the-idolmster/ I did not like how Haruka’s narrative arc was so neatly wrapped up. It rang false for me, just as WUG’s character development rang false for you.

          In my opinion WUG was trying to play the same archetype game as The Idolmaster – if it was, as you already stated, it did it quite poorly – but instead was trying to focus on a smaller group of seven as one unit. This is why I don’t think that the “draw two characters at random” test is as applicable here, as I believe WUG to be focusing on a completely different emotional bond with its audience.

          I also disagree that WUG was too stuck in black and white, when nearly all of the characters are painted in shades of grey, even I-1 Club GM Shiraki. What Shiraki cares about, as we come to learn from his conversations with Hayasaka and how President Tange speaks of him, is the emotional effect that idols/entertainment can have on their audience, specifically following a disaster. I found The Idolmaster’s Kuroi and DES in AKB0048 to be far more cartoonish cut-out villains than Shiraki.

          That being said, a lot of this does come down to execution, and WUG’s is clunky, both in scriptwriting and overwhelmingly in actual animation. I’m not here to say that WUG is “better” or even far worse than these series. I just wanted to point out a few things that WUG does get right, and what resonated with me emotionally.

          Thanks for the comment, especially since we disagree. I love talking idol shows. ^ ^

          1. Thank you. I don’t really disagree with any of the points of the post itself. I noted how, ultimately, the execution makes WuG a lesser show, in my eyes, than either AKB0048 or the Idolmaster (both of those are in my Top10 lists for their respective years, so this is little surprise). Schneider asked for details, so I wrote a bit more.

            Just as a note: what I meant by black and white were not the villains (Kuroi = black, DES = death, no doubt about their allegation here), but the portrayal of the entertainment industry as a whole and the role the girls actively choose to play as they become a part of it. One of the great strengths of AKB0048 in particular was that the characters carried some of the darkness of the industry in their own hearts – they made choices between prioritizing their own dreams over those of others, sacrificing either their individuality or fame etc. The WuG girls were pretty straightforward in all of that. There was that one scene with the “cut one of your members” ultimatum, but the resolution of that ended up pretty wishy-washy anyway.

  2. @Cytrus (It won’t let me leave a threaded reply anymore.)

    I never caught on to DES=death, so thanks for pointing that out. ^ ^ I’ve written several posts on AKB0048 and if I had to pick a personal favorite idol series it would actually come down to that series or Aikatsu! Both do completely different things, but each series fulfills their respective narratives very well.

    Thanks again for the chat. ^ ^

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