natsuki sakaki

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—”

“Idols~”

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. 

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