The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

AKB0048

Title: AKB0048 aka AKB0048 First Stage and AKB0048 Next Stage
Genre: Drama/Action
Company: Satelight
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 29 Apr 2012 – 22 Jul 2012 and 6 Jan 2013 – 31 Mar 2013

Synopsis: An oppressive government heavily regulates entertainment in the future; it is banned on several planets. However, an idol group acting as descendants of the legendary AKB48 goes from planet to planet putting on concerts to inspire hope in the people. A group of girls, inspired by a concert witnessed when they were very young, decides to join the cause and make their way in the peculiar world of idols.

The Highlights
Premise: Ridiculously dumb, and yet the show plays it straight enough that it somehow works.
Action: Solid and bombastic, which is to be expected with Kawamori Shoji at the helm. Occasional CG that doesn’t look too good.
Satire: Though mostly positive, elements of the series dig at the idol image in interesting, unexpected ways.
Cast: Surprisingly sympathetic and well-managed, though some characters inevitably get lost in the shuffle by the end.
Ending: Concludes on a note that can close the story; however, it also feels as if the series is angling for another season.

I paid little mind to AKB0048‘s initial season when it aired, because idols are of little interest to me. It was later that I learned that the creative combo of Kawamori Shoji and writer Okada Mari — whose work I enjoyed so much in Aquarion Evol — helmed the series. It was later still that I learned of some of the show’s more oddball quirks: microphones that double as lightsabers, an android idol with a wrist-mounted rocket launcher, and, of course, the very fact that these are teenage girls fighting a war against a well-armed militia. How could I not be curious? I expected something weird, but AKB0048 also touched me in thoroughly unexpected ways.

The premise behind the series is silly. Yet the show wins the trust of its audience by being utterly serious about it, albeit with tongue firmly planted in cheek at times. There’s a training sequence that would probably be shocking if it weren’t so darkly humorous: The new girls expect to be trained in the art of dance and song, but instead they get a primer on military tactics and battle. It culminates with an exercise that seems ripped straight from the D-Day sequence that opensĀ Saving Private Ryan. The idol business is a war, and its practitioners are besieged on all sides at all times. The girls must know how to protect themselves, lest they be destroyed by those who would tear them to pieces.

This is not even the strangest aspect of AKB0048. No, that would be the peculiar way the group’s hierarchy is handled. It is a mystical process by which a girl’s soul is determined to match the soul of an original AKB48 member; thereafter, the girl discards her name and assumes the identity of that member. There are generations of people who have assumed these names — Oshima Yuuko the 9th and Takahashi Minami the 5th are two such members in the current rendition of AKB0048 — and it is more than possible that a newcomer has a soul that more closely aligns with an original group member than the person who currently holds that name. AKB0048 exists to bring hope to people, but that of course does not preclude them from bitter competition over who exactly doles out the hope and love.

It is in these moments where AKB0048 evolves from being a silly, light series to something with more bite. What the succession process says about the idol industry is at once frightening and fascinating. These are girls who must discard their entire identity to reach the upper echelon of success. They assume these identities because they are the safe, familiar archetypes that fans truly desire. Oh, the girls can build fans based on their own identity at first; eventually, however, they will become someone else. A relevant plot point revolves around the fear among friends that those who undergo succession actually do become different than they were before.

The satire in AKB0048 would have much less menace if the cast weren’t so sympathetic. Though the competition is bitter, the girls’ desire to light up people’s lives is genuine. They struggle with competition and are torn between their desire to help the group and to better themselves. Takahashi — nicknamed Takamina in the series — is one of my favorites; her relationship with another favorite of mine, Kanata, provides much of the best drama in the series. The new generation of gals is great fun, as well. They provide the fresh eyes needed to take in the madness of this world, but they’re also bright and positive enough to make something of it.

The generally high production value also aids in keeping interest high. The battles provide great, fast-paced action, with mecha and missiles zipping around in equal measure. Perhaps the sole low point of the visuals is ironically the song and dance sequences, which are mainly rendered in CG. These lend a fake, plastic look to the girls that makes them unappealing to view. Perhaps that is part of the point, but I doubt it.

AKB0048 has another large imperfection: the ending. The first season concludes on a confident note because of the assurance there would be a second season; the succeeding season, however, seems to lack that luxury. The final quarter seems tugged between the desire to provide both a conclusive end and an ending that leaves things open for a potential third season. The result is not entirely satisfying; the show never feels as if it is heading toward a real conclusion, and while Big Things do indeed happen, they’re so rushed that they don’t have the impact they should.

Despite that, AKB0048 is well worth watching. It’s peculiar enough to grab attention, but sincere enough that it’s clear the series isn’t acting out simply for the sake of doing so. There are genuinely interesting things to mine from the show; it just so happens that we get androids, missiles and lightsabers along the way.

The Rating: 7
6/10

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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