“In the arms of my love I am flying
Over mountain and meadow and glen
And I like it so well that for all I can tell
I may never come down again.
I may never come down to Earth again.”
-From “Ten Minutes Ago,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella
But come down to Earth we shall. After all, how well can you possibly know someone after only ten minutes?
One of the major things emphasized in every facet of The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls anime is time. Ubiquitous clock imagery, accompanied by oft-ominous “tick-tock” sounds, reiterates the fact that time is limited. Tying this into the “Cinderella” mythos is easy, as Cinderella only had a limited time at the ball before returning to her wretched home life as housemaid to her stepsisters.
Time is always something that animated iterations of The Idolm@ster have had to work around. With so many characters to work with – and a preexisting audience eagerly awaiting for the on-screen appearances of their respective favorite – choices must be made.
In the first animated series, an overarching narrative of 765 Production’s development, from an empty whiteboard to one overflowing with notes, is accompanied by a narrowed focus on Chihaya Kisaragi and Haruka Amami. The cartoon villains of 961 Production appear for the girls to cut their teeth on before delving into the muddier inner demons of both Chihaya and Haruka. Time that would have been spent getting to know all of the idols equally is instead redistributed to two of the girls. It works, and allows for fans to watch their favorites while also supplying a cohesive storyline to tie all 24 episodes together. At The Idolm@ster‘s end, there is a sense that this is only the beginning, and 765Pro’s burgeoning popularity will continue to grow in an off-screen future.
Continue to grow they do, if their minimal presence on large advertisements in The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls is anything to go by. Even in this world, 765Pro stands as the major success.
Underneath 765Pro in the hierarchy are the successful Cinderella Girls, featured in Episode One’s opening sequence, while the soon-to-be-featured characters of the series look at them from a distance. Immediately, the separation in their stations is felt, and the reiterated in the first short narrative, featuring Uzuki Shimamura, Rin Shibuya, and Mio Honda. The three become backup dancers for a more successful Cinderella Project idol, Mika Jougasaki, and this initial performance is immediately compared to their significantly humbler unit debut.
Throughout, there’s the continuing impression that time is of the essence. As the debut of Uzuki, Rin, and Mio’s unit, New Generations, is announced, Miku Maekawa leads the charge for the rest of the girls to demand their own debuts. Unlike The Idolm@ster, Cinderella Girls seems more interested with churning out single after single, using each episode to put a different unit, or character, on display.
With this more fractured approach – spreading the audience’s attention to cover as many Cinderella Girls as possible – comes a unique sense of urgency that the first Idolm@ster animation does not share. 346 Production and The Cinderella Project are more vast in scope. Gone is the scrappy underdog story of 765Pro, leaving a sleeker more distant approach that’s truer to life. While fans will still watch for their favorites, there’s an underlying current of cynicism unique to Cinderella Girls. 346Pro – in spite of their adorably awkward producer and cast of cute characters – is a well-established agency trying to pump out as much as they possibly can, hoping something sticks. Significantly more girls are available from the original source material, the Cinderella Girls game, and Cinderella Girls the anime only has a short amount of time.
Returning to the idea of time, and Cinderella herself, the would-be idols of The Cinderella Project have a limited window to catch the attention of the viewer and their in-universe audience, just as Cinderella had until the clock struck midnight to capture the eyes of her prince. The equal distribution of time across all idols leads to less of a personal connection, but also gives the series a more ephemeral feel that The Idolm@ster: The Animation did not have. There was always a sense that 765Pro would rise from the doldrums to stardom, the only question was how it would happen. In Cinderella Girls, gone is the feeling that these girls will find their stardom. Instead, they only have until their personal midnight, wherever that may be down the road, to capture our hearts.