the idolm@ster

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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The Castle and the Girl: The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls

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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.

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