the idolm@ster

Fan culture and growth in IDOLiSH7

In the double-feature of IDOLiSH7‘s anime debut, hapless newbie producer Tsumugi Takanashi books an outdoor venue that seats three-thousand for her rookie group, IDOLiSH7. Despite hard work handing out flyers, and trying her best to drum up interest, only nine people show up. Tsumugi tearfully apologizes, only to have all seven group members laugh and say that’s about how many people they expected.

This is where I fell in love with IDOLiSH7. 

At times as unrealistic as its idol anime counterparts, IDOLiSH7 excels in nitty-gritty business details like venue sizes and whether your favs are truly best friends behind the pretty smiles. The answer to the latter question is no, but that doesn’t mean they can’t care about each other deeply as business partners working towards similar goals. After all, no one besides your group mates will understand just how hot that one guerrilla live was, or what it was like to perform to a crowd of only nine people (twelve if you include your own staff). IDOLiSH7 also explores what happens when one member or subunit is significantly more popular than the group, and is never afraid to show disagreements between members, even over small, seemingly insignificant things. Some of the conflicts are melodramatic, but most are grounded in a reality that actively chips away at the veneer of being an idol group, especially one under a smaller company.

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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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The business of The Idolm@ster SideM, Episode of Jupiter

“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. 

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Views of Ryuugu Komachi

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.

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Summer Stock: Love Live! Sunshine

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“In this moment, I had the greatest epiphany!”

-Honoka Kousaka, Love Live!, Episode 1

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.

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