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.
“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.”
“I believe there are three ways to make people happy. There are those who make many people happy throughout the world, there are those who make those around themselves happy, and those who make themselves happy.”
-Mayu Shimada, Wake Up, Girls! Seven Idols
Considering the three options above, Airi Hayashida is most successful in making those around her happy. She is the least naturally-talented, admitting in her audition paperwork that she has never sung nor danced before, and wants to become an idol to improve her confidence. Airi is two red hair ribbons away from being Haruka Amami (The Idolm@ster) with Wake Up, Girls! treating her inner demons with genuine care. We knew that Airi would not quit, and that the group would somehow find a way to both keep her as a member and stay together under Tasuku Hayasaka’s tutelage; however, the nuance with which Wake Up, Girls! presents her situation allows the series to shine above its other idol brethren.
“If only I could stand on a larger stage and have even more fans…but I realized something after yesterday’s performance. I was naive. Ultimately, what I enjoyed was being coddled by the fans of this familiar store.”
-Miyu Okamoto, Wake Up, Girls!, episode 2
The second episode of Wake Up, Girls! provides a great deal of fodder for discussion. Coerced by their new idol producer, Sudo, the girls are forced to perform in skimpy bikinis to a leering, salivating crowd of drunken older men. This is the obvious part of the episode – as one intrepid 2-chan denizen pointed out, it’s as if Yutaka “Yamakan” Yamamoto is saying, “These are your moé pigs!” Easily contrasted with Miyu’s defection and performance to her fans at Maid in Sendai, the surface lesson is that there’s a truckload of uncomfortable, awful things that you have to do in order to get to the top.
It would be easy to leave the lesson learned at that without delving any deeper. While the bikini scene was uncomfortable to watch – more uncomfortable than the panty flashes in Wake Up, Girls! Seven Idols – what the episode had to say regarding idol management furthered this tone set by the girls’ swimsuit performance.
The story of Wake Up Girls! begins in a movie – one that I highly recommend you watch before beginning the television series – not in its first named episode. This sets a specific, cynical, framework through which to view the series, much like how The Idolm@ster‘s premiere episode was shot in the style of an idol interview, giving the show a specific tone. In spite of a harsh outlook on the idol industry, Wake Up Girls! doesn’t shine that same light on our would-be idols, similar to AKB0048‘s treatment of its progenies.
A few minutes in, our soon-to-be Producer of Green Leaves talent agency – who, in spite of bearing a strikingresemblance to Producer from The Idolm@ster, is also graced with a name, Kouhei Matsuda – watches company president Junko Tange yell at her own client like a deranged Anna Wintour. From that moment on, I knew that I was going to love this movie.