The iDOLM@STER (A-1 Pictures) – Genre: Comedy, Music
“Cute girls doing cute things.” This is certainly not a new idea in the anime industry and can be a huge turn-off for someone looking for something new and exciting to watch. While I cannot necessarily guarantee that The iDOLM@STER will feel all that new to regular viewers of anime, I can say that the series offers an exciting, fun experience that should not be overlooked due to one’s preconceptions of what makes a good anime.
To be an idol. This is the dream for 12 young girls, each with their own personal motivations and a different idea of what it means to be an “idol.” With so many characters, one would expect that this would be cause for shallow development and interactions, but thankfully that’s not the case with this series. The 12 lead girls strike a good balance with each other, and each has very distinct personality that allows each girl to shine on her own, as well as play off the traits of each other. The super-optimistic Haruka ends up being best friends with the all-business Chihaya, with the same going for the prince-like Makoto and the androphobe Yukiho.
There are only a handful of male characters, but with such a broad spectrum of idol personalities, males are kind of not even needed. This is further evident with the role of the nameless producer (simply referred to as Producer-san), who is the typical good-natured male protagonist, and the company president, a mysterious man whose face is never even shown! Attention is taken away from any male characters, and all the focus is put upon the literal stars of the series. One might argue that this is a case of objectifying women in media, but I like to think of it as female empowerment by diminishing the role of male characters. While it may seem overwhelming to get to know over 12 main characters, their unique and memorable characteristics, as well as physical traits, make it very easy to become acquainted with each of the girls. This creates an immediate sense of familiarity that is friendly, inviting, and will keep you watching from episode to episode.
Over the course of the series, you get to watch each girl grow into her role as an idol. Of course, the road to stardom is not abundant with glitz and glamour. Due to being a small-time idol agency, their headquarters is a ramshackle office building and they’re forced to do odd jobs in the beginning to slowly push their popularity. This makes for some funny scenarios that one would not expect an musical idol to be in, like performing in a country village or participating in a chase scene through Chinatown.
The series does a good job of grounding the idol lifestyle in the real as the girls embark on their ascent to stardom. Sure, the whole premise of being an idol is to be idealistic, but real issues inevitably arise, such as drifting apart, losing initial motivation, and competition with each other. There are several characters that do get focused on a lot more, but for the most part all of the girls receive fairly equal screen time, and all of them have at least one episode that is devoted solely to them.
A-1 Pictures is slowly becoming one of favorite animation studios. The animation throughout the series looks great, particularly of the characters, and is fairly consistent. I really enjoy how colorful everything is, as well as the lively facial expressions that add an extra layer to the characters’ personalities. The only inconsistencies understandably occur when all 12 girls are on screen at once, where some distortions can occur but likely won’t detract from your overall enjoyment. However, the concert scenes are pretty amazing, I must admit. The dance moves are very fluid, natural, and don’t have that feeling of being computer-generated. The camerawork during these scenes are also really dynamic, with different movements and angles to add extra sparks of energy.
The amount of music in series is, as you may expect, astounding. For each episode, there’s usually at least one insert song, and almost every single one of the 25 episodes has a unique ending sequence and song. This doesn’t even include songs from the concert scenes or even the boundless amounts of character albums that are released. The franchise is all about music, and it’s not all about quantity over quality either. The songs are catchy (like J-pop should be) and have varied styles to fit the character singing it. The voice acting is also something of note. Each girl has a very distinct voice, both when speaking and singing, and the voice acting is very good on the whole. Vocal talents includes (to name a few): Rie Kugimiya (Nagi from Hayate no Gotoku!), Asami Imai (Kurisu from Steins;Gate), and Azumi Asakura (Kumin from Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!).
If you look at The iDOLM@STER and say “it’s just cute girls doing cute things,” then I won’t tell you that you’re entirely wrong. What I will say is that you’re potentially missing out on a series with a lot of fun characters, humorous scenarios, and a lot of good music (as long as you like J-pop). The iDOLM@STER pleasantly surpassed all of my expectations, and I am eagerly awaiting any potential anime sequel (while listening to my iDOLM@STER albums, of course).
For those of you (like you) who need more iDOLM@STER, there’s a series of short 3-minute episodes that airs daily called Puchimas!: Petit iDOLM@STER!