The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

The Idolm@ster

Title: The Idolm@ster
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Company: A-1 Pictures
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 8 Jul 2011 – 23 Dec 2011

Synopsis: 765 Productions is a small idol talent production studio that takes care of twelve rookie idols. However, the production side of the studio is understaffed, and while the profile of the studio is low, there’s not nearly enough work coming in for all the girls. Each of 765 Pro’s idols are different, from the optimistic Amami Haruka, to the mysterious Takane Shijou, from the well-to-do Minase Iori, to the boy-ish Kikuchi Makoto, and each has her own strengths and weaknesses. A new producer has just arrived at the company, but will his presence be enough to change the fortunes of 765 Pro’s up-and-coming idols?

The Highlights
Tone: Light-hearted and idealistic for the majority of the show, but changes for the better near the end.
Music: A new ED for every episode; most of the J-pop insert songs are catchy.
Antagonist: Not very convincing; mostly there as a plot device.
Characters: Every idol gets her own episode or two; the most interesting two girls are left til the end.
Choreography: The dancing sequences are good, but why aren’t there more of them?

Now here’s another anime that grows the beard. Unlike Idolm@ster: Xenoglossia, Sunrise‘s bizarre (and fun) alternate universe interpretation, this take on The Idolm@ster is a straight-up adaptation of the video game series about an idol production company where players get to produce songs, develop routines and organize schedules. Much like the games, The Idolm@ster anime is all about the idol industry, following a talent agent known only as “Producer”, who fills the role otherwise occupied by the player in the game, as he helps raise the profiles of each of the idols of 765 Productions from rookies to recognized.

The first thing to keep in mind is that all of this is fairly idealized, and this is my biggest criticism of the show’s first two-thirds. Up until the introduction of the main antagonist, Kuroi, the girls face “grave” issues like figuring out what best to wear for a photo shoot, or dealing with a fear of dogs, or solving the mystery of the eaten pudding. It’s humourous at times and well executed for what it is, but the level of ambition isn’t far reaching, to say the least. Being an idol anime, there are insert songs in almost every episode, and most of them are quite catchy, but I was left unsatisfied by a distinct lack of dancing, particularly during the early episodes, which is odd, since dancing makes for the centrepiece of the games.

When Kuroi is introduced as the president of a rival production studio, he becomes the show’s main antagonist, but he’s underwhelming on two counts. The first is that he’s evil because the plot needs a bad guy, and therefore comes off as little more than a shallow Machiavellian. The second is that, with one exception, all of his attempts to sabotage 765 Productions are overcome with fairly straightforward resolutions. He’s sinister, but what he poses are more annoying inconveniences than threatening hijacks.

It’s the one time Kuroi successfully inflicts emotional pain on one of 765’s idols that starts the first of the final two arcs of the series, which each contain far and away The Idolm@ster‘s best dramatic moments. In the last six episodes, the anime sheds much of its frivolousness, exploring some of the (slightly) darker aspects of the profession with a decent amount of introspection and honesty. Let’s put it into context for a moment: we’re not talking Perfect Blue levels of warped depravity here, but that’s something The Idolm@ster could never be. Its drama levels are more subdued, and the girls’ triumphs are inevitable. But because their dilemmas are believable and their moments of triumph are executed with heartfelt care, they become incredibly rewarding scenes to watch.

There aren’t many similarities between anime’s two attempts to transfer The Idolm@ster to the small screen, but if there’s one thing this entry and Xenoglossia share, it’s that they both get better with more episodes. Every girl in The Idolm@ster gets at least one episode of attention, but the anime shows good judgement by leaving the two most interesting idols til last. While the vast majority of the show is well executed, even in the earlier sections that are idealised and lack ambition, its lack of depth outside of the final two arcs will limit its appeal. Fortunately, those final two arcs make for a rewarding compensation, particularly within the moments that are heartfelt and triumphant.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Sorrow-kun

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