The much-maligned — rightfully so, given their general lack of creativity — anime beach episode is a strong turning point in The Idolm@ster anime adaptation, part fanservice, part dig at the girls’ lack of success. Tongue firmly in cheek, the series is fully confident that its target audience knows that the many idols of 795 Production will find stardom eventually. In the meantime, it’s time for them to enjoy all that summer has to offer while they can.
With their air conditioner broken amidst sweltering heat, and little to no idol work, the would-be idols of 765 Production head to the beach. It’s a convenient excuse to have a beach episode that cleverly points to the production company’s current woes. None of their idols are successful, which gives them the time to take a vacation. A few of the girls remark on this throughout the episode, lamenting that they don’t have jobs, or urging their producer to find them steady work.
At the end of the episode, idol-turned-producer Ritsuko Akizuki’s proposed subunit of Ryuuguu Komachi — Azusa Miura, Iori Minase, and Ami Futami — is announced. The arrival of Ryuuguu Komachi changes everything.
Unlike The Idolm@ster, which already had a legion of fans from the original arcade game prior to the anime’s 2011 debut or the 2012 series AKB0048, which drew on the pre-existing AKB48 fanbase, Love Live! was still a relatively new multimedia project when the anime aired in early 2013.
Love Live! has always operated on a few different conceits than other idol series, even back in its first season when it was this weird and corny thing with janky computer generated animation. The Idolm@ster poked a bit at the exhausting lifestyle of an idol and AKB0048 prodded at the creepiness of it all while both sold their respective products and tie-ins, banking on the fact that audiences would resonate with one or two girls — or in the peculiar case of AKB0048, support them because of their real-life counterparts.
Meanwhile, Love Live! wants to charm you from the get-go, in the same vein of a hammy musical production. The latest iteration of the series, Love Live! Sunshine, is no different.
There are certain accepted truths in respective fandoms that one simply does not challenge, lest they draw the ire of nearly every other fan. In 2011, The Idolm@ster was brought to the small screen – sorry, 2007 Xenoglossia, it just wasn’t your time – creating an entirely new subset of Idolm@ster fans who were introduced to the franchise through the anime, rather than the game. This naturally gave rise to a battleground upon which favorites were declared, championed, and to this day are consistently fought for in a never-ending “best girl” war.
Naturally, this didn’t end with The Idolm@ster. For the franchise as a whole, the anime Idolm@ster cast is only the beginning – and had already expanded the game cast beyond the original ten girls to include the 961/Project Fairy idols – and delving into the games or fandom around that time led to the girls of 346 Productions, or the Cinderella Girls. When the 2015 Cinderella Girls anime aired, it was met with inevitable dismay and found lacking to the 2011 anime. Many dropped the series after the first few episodes, as these new girls couldn’t compete with their tried and true favorites.
It is commonly accepted that Cinderella Girls is inferior to The Idolm@ster, a statement that I wholeheartedly disagree with. A viewer who sticks with Cinderella Girls to the end is rewarded far beyond any emotional gratification that the 2011 anime provides.
“Matsuda, do you remember what I told you at the audition? About idols being a story? They’ve written tons of stories this past year, and today will become a new story. I know I shouldn’t be saying this, but these girls are idols.”
-Green Leaves President Junko Tange, Wake Up Girls!, episode 12
Where The Idolm@ster plays with traditional harem elements to captivate its audience, AKB0048 is the next evolution of Macross, and Love Live! is a high school musical, Wake Up, Girls! makes a compelling case for itself as more of a classic sports narrative. President Tange tells Matsuda – and by extension, frames the series for viewers – that idols are “a story.”