aikatsu!

[Four] When the outro ends, the intro begins to play, onto the next song — Aikatsu! Stars

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I’ve written a few times on this blog about Aikatsu! but not nearly as much as I should have. Aikatsu! is an utterly charming children’s series — far more than a vehicle for selling an idol card game should be.

With a fitting end to Akari Oozora’s emotional narrative, the regular franchise of Aikatsu! ended this past March after four seasons. Succeeding it was a near-impossible task. The spin-off sequel, Aikatsu! Stars, with a brand new cast of idol hopefuls in a stricter, boarding school setting was met with general disinterest compared to previous seasons.

Yet, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Aikatsu! Stars just as much, if not more so, than the original franchise, and not solely for its amazing ending song, “Episode Solo.”

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A Me-Colored Sky: Aikatsu! and Artistic Inspiration

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Creativity springs from familiar and unlikely places. As an artist, of any medium, one can fluctuate between immediate compulsive reactions to life experiences in addition to falling back on a comfortable style or source of inspiration. In painting, and additionally while writing for this blog, there are times where I work on crafting the familiar, and other times where I see something and am suddenly compelled to produce something.

Aikatsu! is a series that assigns inspiration to each of its characters fairly neatly, while accounting for both of these sources. Main heroine Ichigo Hoshimiya is a perfect example of this. She carries with her the love and support of her mother, represented by a rice paddle from her mother’s bento shop that Ichigo often brandishes, along with her own love of food. Initially, Ichigo is influenced after attending a Mizuki Kanzaki concert, but later finds out that her mother was also an idol prior to opening the bento shop. This revelation allows her to move forward with her own idol career, now using her mother as an additional source of motivation.

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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.

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Wake Up, Girl! How I Watch Idol Shows

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The story of Wake Up Girls! begins in a movie – one that I highly recommend you watch before beginning the television series – not in its first named episode. This sets a specific, cynical, framework through which to view the series, much like how The Idolm@ster‘s premiere episode was shot in the style of an idol interview, giving the show a specific tone. In spite of a harsh outlook on the idol industry, Wake Up Girls! doesn’t shine that same light on our would-be idols, similar to AKB0048‘s treatment of its progenies.

A few minutes in, our soon-to-be Producer of Green Leaves talent agency – who, in spite of bearing a striking resemblance to Producer from The Idolm@ster, is also graced with a name, Kouhei Matsuda – watches company president Junko Tange yell at her own client like a deranged Anna Wintour. From that moment on, I knew that I was going to love this movie.

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Memories in the Future: Aikatsu! and Family

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“I wonder if you’ve realized that I change a bit every day. I’m at my most beautiful singing by your side.”

– From the insert song, “Wake Up My Music,” first featured in Aikatsu! episode 31

It is not rare for an idol show to touch upon family, particularly when said family is opposed to the heroine in question becoming an idol (hello there, AKB0048). In fact, family plays a role in nearly every idol series I’ve had the pleasure of seeing – and additionally, many magical girl series – although it’s usually to provide an obstacle for a character to overcome, much like Chihaya Kisaragi’s emotional character arc in The Idolm@ster, or the stories of both Nagisa Motomiya and Chieri Sono in AKB0048. In all three cases, family members are not present to offer support, but to give the would-be idol a reason to sing or, in the case of AKB0048, rebel against her family and become a member of a forbidden organization.

These narratives put the position of an idol as something removed from every day life. Even in the case of the school idol series, Love Live!, becoming a school idol automatically puts one in a different position as compared to the rest of the student body. The separation between family or a so-called normal school life, and being an idol is a distinct one. Likewise, the idol is all-to-often forced to sacrifice their family ties in order to become a true idol.

This is not so with the recent idol series, Aikatsu!, and I love it for that. Not only does it make the process of becoming an idol the every day life of its heroines, but it also incorporates family into that same narrative wonderfully.

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