What The Idolm@ster SideM gets more than any other entry in the franchise (and how we talk about idol shows)

The opening moments of The Idolm@ster: SideM‘s seventh episode involve high school light music club turned idol group High x Joker’s Shiki Iseya trying to convince his fellow bandmates to film a promotional video. Jun Fuyumi reminds him that they have to request permission first. Haruna Wakazato and Hayato Akiyama quickly chime in.

“Because we are—”


Cue disbelieving laughter.

Although the scene is a setup for what’s to come  — High x Joker fumbling through the making of their own PV — it’s also buoyant, guileless in a way that few idol shows are. By nature, anime idol television there to sell you the product of the idols themselves and their accompanying game or merchandise. This requires toeing the line between artifice and marketability. Err too heavily on the artificial in order to promote your idols, and would-be fans will walk away.

Fortunately, SideM is here to remind us that an idol show can be both genuine and marketable. SideM is just in time too, with all of the criticism that’s been heaped on idol shows —more specifically, male idol shows — as of late. Where The Idolm@ster (Anim@s) is now heralded as a surprising critical darling and The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls (Derem@s) gained traction in its second half, SideM has failed to catch on in the west like its Idolm@ster brethren. SideM is easily accessible, but rarely discussed. It didn’t earn enough traction to be featured weekly on Anime News Network. Reddit and Twitter discussion have been well below what even the maligned first half of Derem@s mustered.

There are myriad reasons for this, and one glaringly obvious one, but it’s certainly not due to a lack of quality. Consider this my case for watching SideM.

Watching someone do something that they love is always a special treat, and an unfortunately rarer occasion in real life than it is in anime idol series. SideM gets this more than any other entry in the franchise. Nothing is more charming than watching people realize that they’re really really good at what they do. 



[Six] Talkin’ ’bout my generation (A Silent Voice)

“While I was location-hunting in Gifu I started wondering what Shoya was like at that point: a kid who feels invincible but also deals with perhaps unfounded frustration. This song appeared in my mind with a bang.”

Naoko Yamada on the use of The Who’s “My Generation” in A Silent Voice

Naoko Yamada makes many precise directorial choices in her film adaptation of A Silent Voice, including but not limited to the use of flower language and other non-verbal forms of communication to form emotional snapshots of the lead characters.

The most polarizing choice was her insistence that the film lead off with The Who’s “My Generation.” This naturally created a licensing nightmare, for which Yamada took full responsibility according to multiple interviews prior to the film’s release. “My Generation” also became the primary citation of the movie’s detractors, who said that the use of the song indicated a misunderstanding of the original manga’s meaning.


For Whom Do You Play? — Sound! Euphonium’s Seven and a Half Minutes of Music

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“I’m going to play for you.”

-Mizore Yoroizuka to Nozomi Kasaki, Sound! Euphonium, Episode 5

It had to be Nozomi Kasaki.

No other young woman could lead us onto the stage prior to Kitauji High School’s concert band performance at the Kyoto Regional. Nozomi, of whom we were not aware until this second season of Sound! Euphonium, represents a core tenet of the series as a whole: finding inspiration and love through music. Mizore Yoroizuka found her love and inspiration in Nozomi and the girls’ reunion and reconciliation formed the narrative during summer practice that led to this performance. Nozomi spent the majority of that time forbidden from rejoining the band even to help with menial tasks. Now she leads the viewing audience to their exclusive seats for the show.

In the moments before Nozomi pulls back the heavy stage curtain, Mizore tells her that she’ll play for Nozomi. Reina Kousaka overhears this and immediately tells Kumiko Oumae that she’ll play her trumpet solo for Kumiko. Senior trumpet player Kaori Nakaseko tries to pass off the band to second-year Yuko Yoshikawa who passionately insists Kaori stop that line of thinking — they still haven’t made Nationals together. They raise their hands in solidarity and the small subgroups of band members around them, including Kumiko and Reina, follow suit. In that moment they, without speaking a word, make the promise to play for each other.

Nozomi’s presence at the start of the performance again hints at this question, which is answered time and time again throughout the seven-and-a-half-minute song.

For whom does everyone play?



Sound! Euphonium and Those Left Behind

hazuki katou, natsuki and hazuki in sound euphonium, natsuki-sempai hibike euphonium, sound euphonium hazuki with natsuki

One of Sound! Euphonium‘s more remarkable traits is that, within its captivating world, not everyone is equally talented. Where other series use those left behind – by their lack of skill, practice, or motivation – for dramatic effect, rarely returning to them once they’ve served their purpose on the main character’s decisions, Sound! Euphonium celebrates them.



Sound! Euphonium on Fresh Starts and Asuka Tanaka

asuka tanaka, asuka drum major in sound euphonium, sound! euphonium, hibike! euphonium, asuka drum major

In showing and developing various narratives, Sound! Euphonium invites character comparison. The most obvious example is of Reina Kousaka and Kumiko Oumae. Both struggle with verbal communication – Reina preferring to express herself through music and Kumiko seemingly possessing large amounts of anxiety – which is what makes their developing friendship work. As evidenced in the series’ fifth episode, Reina begins to open up to Kumiko, and while Kumiko still stumbles over her own words, she has managed to overcome her fear of starting a conversation.

While Kumiko is the primary character, Sound! Euphonium relies on dialogue with others, along with her actions, to speak for her. In spite of the audience’s access to her thoughts, Kumiko is one who has trouble identifying what she truly wants, and her inner monologues reflect this, rarely offering her actual emotions.