“We aren’t singing so we can be used by you!”
-Touma Amagase to President Kuroi (flashback), The Idolm@ster: SideM, Episode 00
A minute into the pre-premiere episode of The Idolm@ster: SideM, I wondered why the venue pictured was so small. The three-man group of Jupiter is a well-known Idolm@ster commodity, after all. Presumably, they’re not even the stars of the SideM anime.
Instead, Jupiter are the end goal at the proverbial finish line for SideM‘s burgeoning trainees. These young men should be filling arenas like 765 Productions do later in this episode — or at least larger concert venues like the one in The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls‘ “Onegai Cinderella” performance — not performing in a hole-in-the-wall place that looks to be slightly larger than the average bar.
Another minute later, I quickly realized that the venue’s comparatively small size was the point of the entire opening.
Each premiere of an Idolm@ster anime frames a goal or a promise for the entirety of the show. These episodes also tend to be somewhat separate from a standard episode in the series. Episode of Jupiter advertises itself as a prologue for SideM. The first Idolm@ster anime filmed the entirety of the episode as a documentary-style extra, something that would be included in a limited edition repackage or release. Cinderella Girls has the most standard first episode, but it too stands out from the rest as the awkward Producer in question attempts to assemble his unlikely lineup.
The title variations are interesting from premiere to premiere. The Idolm@ster opts for bold white text on a black background. This not only reinforces the documentary-style look of the episode — text in between scenes is shown similarly — but stands out on its own: THE IDOLM@STER. It’s simple, to-the-point, and makes for both a stronger introduction or familiar greeting — depending one’s familiarity with the franchise — than the franchise’s signature title, which later appears with the opening song “Ready!!!” in the series’ second episode.
Cinderella Girls, despite having it’s own large cast and and game fanbase, is still piggybacking on the popularity of the original Idolm@ster anime and game. Following “Onegai Cinderella,” the first episode of Cinderella Girls relies on that franchise familiarity by using the standard Idolm@ster stylings for its title.
SideM‘s Episode of Jupiter splits the difference. The title is an inverse of the original white on black Idolm@ster anime series title card with a few more sparkles. This isn’t the first time that Jupiter will be presented in relation to 765 Productions in this episode — the girls make several advertising appearances along with a Haruka Amami cameo — which acts to bridge the gap between the last time we saw Jupiter and now.
In addition to establishing a certain relationship with the Idolm@ster franchise as a whole — there’s a great meta post here on the staff behind SideM and prior anim@s endeavors — each Idolm@ster premiere establishes a different relationship between the idols themselves and where they’re at in the business of being an idol.
The Idolm@ster kicks off with a documentary on the less-popular 765 Production and makes the promise that, by the end of the series, they’ll become top idols. Cinderella Girls begins with even less-popular rookies, or girls who weren’t even planning on becoming idols, that are recruited by the comparatively massive 346 Production’s Cinderella Project. The agency already has a group of successful idols, who are pictured on billboards and train station advertisements as the eventual Cinderella Girls pass by.
Yet Jupiter, the subject of SideM‘s prologue, are already successful idols. When Jupiter look up at a large broadcast advertisement of 765Pro or see a flyer for their arena live, the three boys already have the popularity to be in that same position, unlike the various Cinderella Girls who are looking up from the ground at what still seems like a dream. The only reason that Jupiter aren’t in the same position as Haruka and company is that Jupiter lack resources due to their departure from 961 Productions.
In SideM it’s the production company itself, 315 Productions, that’s completely new and inexperienced. Although Cinderella Girls dealt more with the business side of idols than The Idolm@ster, SideM‘s Episode of Jupiter discusses small details, quickly painting a picture of Jupiter’s inability to deal with their popularity on their own. When the boys inevitably pick 315Pro, it’s a decision that frames their talent, stage experience, and idealism perfectly. Episode of Jupiter purposefully plays with these ideas, to make an introduction that’s altogether nostalgic and something wholly its own.