Title: Idolm@ster: Xenoglossia
Company: Sunrise/Bandai Visual
Format: 26 episodes
Dates: 3 Apr 2007 – 26 Sep 2007
Synopsis: It is 107 years since the moon has been destroyed, blown into a million pieces that orbit the earth. Modernkind, a vast and powerful organization, uses iDOLs, mecha based on a mysterious technology, to destroy any of the pieces whenever they threaten to fall to earth. In spite of her lack of confidence, Amami Haruka passes an audition to become a pop idol, and makes the trip to Tokyo. What she doesn’t realize is that her selection at the audition will lead her to become involved in the world of Modernkind and the iDOLs.
Characters: Very well-developed; all their motivations are made clear.
Animation: Clean and fairly polished.
Pacing: As two-paced as a West Indies cricket pitch.
Plot: Second half is filled with twists and turns.
Romance: Characters fall in love with mecha… wait, what?
One could almost think of Idolm@ster: Xenoglossia as third in the line of Sunrise’s moé-meets-action anime, behind My-HiME and Mai-Otome. The three series share a lot in style, tone and pacing, as well as a fair portion of the creative staff. To get the comparisons out of the way early, in my eyes My-HiME is ultimately slightly better than Xenoglossia, but, considering the source material and how misleadingly generic the series starts off as, Xenoglossia is as great (if not, even greater) a surprise as My-HiME was. This, after all, is based on a game in which the player produces the songs of a group of idols. It couldn’t be any more removed from the anime’s story.
What’s even more surprising is the ridiculousness of the plot, once analyzed retrospectively. Somehow Sunrise have slapped together a plot filled with mecha, moé, romance and secret organizations and not only made it work, but managed to make it genuinely dramatic. Many of the key plot points revolve around characters… falling in love with mecha! Yes, under any other circumstance, I would have found the concept laughable as well, but Xenoglossia somehow manages not just to treat it seriously, but also turn it into a source of compelling drama. The key to this was the way Xenoglossia developed its characters; when it was time for a given character to take centre stage or become involved in an important plot point, the audience became privy to everything about them, and were left in no doubt as to what and/or who they were emotionally invested in and, thus, what motivated their decision making. It’s a basic tenet of storytelling: build the characters to the point that all their actions may be understood by the audience, and the story, more likely than not, will become compelling… even one as ridiculous as to involve mecha romances.
Getting to the good stuff takes a long time, though. Before the emotional rollercoaster, one that features infatuation, betrayal, manipulation, romance, rejection, hatred and more twists than a game of Snake, the audience is unfortunately subjected to a very slow build up period. It’s obligatory, since it works to establish and reveal the various bonds between the characters that drive the drama later on, but the important stuff takes place as asides in what are otherwise essentially filler episodes. When the plot does kick in, it becomes relentless for a number of episodes, but there are a few minor aspects of the rollercoaster ride that disappointed me. One particular confrontation never reached the intensity I was hoping it would, while a plot twist featuring android clones was too ridiculous to bear (yes, even for this series). The ending itself was underwhelming, considering what had gone before it. I’m always disappointed when a series such as this doesn’t end on a climax.
Even after eight episodes, had someone told me Idolm@ster: Xenoglossia would become one of my favourite anime of the year, I’d have given them a funny look. This is a series that gives impetus to the idea that good characters are vital to good drama, even (or perhaps, especially) in the action genre. A seemingly generic set up and ridiculous concept isn’t enough to slow down this really well crafted story. Sunrise have this incredible knack for making highly enjoyable series… provided the word “Gundam” isn’t in the title.
The Rating: 7
Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun