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The iDOLM@STER (review)

Final impression – above average is really the best that can be said (6/10)

Summer 2011 to autumn 2011 (25 episodes) (title synonym – The Idolmaster)

The innocent Yayoi, Ami and Mami the twin combo, Hibiki the animal lover, soft and timid Yukiho, Miki the flirt, Makoto the tomboy, serious Chihaya, Iori from a wealthy family, Azusa the plucky boob, Takane the foreign flavor and Haruka the stable pillar are the team of aspiring idols working for the studio 765 Pro.   In order to manage the human resources of the growing, young company, the president hires a producer to get the girls in top shape to start their careers.  They each have special traits that need the careful attention of their new supervisor to properly highlight their strengths.  But as they start to get noticed and their popularity begins to rise, the president’s old partner turned rival isn’t about to let 765 Pro attain success without resorting to dirty tactics.  These young women, guided by the leadership of their producer, will face this challenge with the strength of their convictions and a terrific display of talent.  As individuals they shine brightly, but together they begin to sparkle even brighter and nothing is going to get in the way of their path to stardom.

I’m not sure how to really categorize The iDOLM@STER.  It’s not a harem anime, as its major themes are nearly devoid of romance of any kind.  It has some music elements as a recurring theme, but it also touches on other topics such as TV, acting and photography.  With so many girls on this cast, you’d think there would be a lot of temptation to sneak in some fan service from time to time.  But The iDOLM@STER scoffs at the notion of doing anything risqué.  So given a lot of compounding factors, this anime could have been a really lowbrow feature that just melted into the background without finding any identity for itself.  So it manages to avoid a destiny of mediocrity, but in my opinion just barely.  The huge cast is well managed and everyone gets a chance to have some time in the spotlight.  The characters all have clearly defined goals and personalities, but for all it does right I just can’t call The iDOLM@STER a good anime.  It’s just so underwhelmingly mediocre.  Everything is so feel-good there’s never a chance for something to really grip the heartstrings and move you.  And when it does finally start to develop and mature into something meaningful, it’s over too quickly and we’re back to sugary happiness.  All in all, The iDOLM@STER’s best moments are too few and far between to be impactful in a 25 episode series.  It succeeds in setting itself apart with some original character composition and storytelling as well as the occasional catchy beat, but there’s nothing to make it truly memorable.

K-ON! (series review)

Final impression – heartwarming and funny, but oversold

K-ON! (8/10) Spring 2009 (13 episodes) (title literal translation – Light Music!)

K-ON!! (6/10) Spring 2010 to summer 2010 (26 episodes)

K-ON! Movie (7/10) Autumn 2011

When spacey Yui Hirasawa started high school, she decided she wanted to become a more involved and engaging person.  Carefree Ritsu Tainaka and pushover Mio Akiyama had a long standing pact to start their own band.  The warm and friendly Tsumugi Kotobuki wanted to be in choir, but when she bumped into Ritsu and Mio, she decided to stay and make new friends.  These four crossed paths in their first year of high school and the light music club or “K-ON” was born (if you’re wondering how light music becomes K-ON, the Japanese words for light music are karui ongaku, hence K-ON).  Through a few stumbling blocks, they managed to make it through their first year when the serious Azusa Nakano joined the club to help give them all a better team cohesion. From there, it’s an adventure of playing music and goofing off as only the five girls’ band, After-school Tea Time knows how to do.

K-ON! and I have a somewhat flimsy relationship.  I’m a big fan of the moe subgenre of anime and the first season of K-ON! delivered terrifically.  It was fast-paced, funny, clever, insightful and most importantly not a second was wasted.  It all added up to an entertaining experience.  The music was at times lackluster and a little over the top, but it all fit together beautifully to set up the phenomenon that would come later.  Then the second season began to air and it immediately became apparent from the much slower pace that this was not going to have the impact that the first season had.  It was really quite sad to see something fresh suddenly get turned into a vacuum; sucking away the value that the first season set up by putting the viewer through drawn-out, drudging, pointless story arcs. Admittedly, the second season’s music was much improved over the first season, but that’s little consolation for the huge sacrifice that happened to the story.

So does the K-ON! Movie breathe life back into the franchise that had become a bloated, empty appeal to the fan base?  The short answer is no, but I’ll add a caveat that the movie has much better pacing than the second season did.  There are equal measures of story, punch lines and character development that were seriously lacking in K-ON!! However, this gets undercut by a distinct lack of new music which would really have helped keep things fresh.  The product is a icon of compromise and mediocrity, fighting its desire to pander to the established fans while creating enough new material to keep everything afloat.

K-ON! Movie (summary)

Back on December 3, I watched the K-ON! Movie.  Below are the notes I took while watching the movie detailing a summary of the major events and plot of the film.  Be warned, the following text contains major spoilers.  Additionally, I’ve composed this article under the assumption that readers will already be familiar with the TV anime’s previous two seasons.  The events of the movie take place close to the end of the story of the second season, but before the anime’s final episode.

WARNING!! SPOILERS!!

Yui wakes up in her bedroom to the sound of her alarm.
The five HHT girls are going to school.
After classes they go to the club room and they can be heard upstairs
playing hard rock.
Azusa arrives in the club room.
Ritsu and Yui argue about the kind of music HTT typically plays as
being too light, fluffy and carefree.
She’s lamenting the end of the light music club because the four
seniors are all graduating.
Azusa pushes the play button on a boom box nearby to discover the hard
rock track that everyone heard downstairs wasn’t actually HTT.
Azusa wants to practice with everyone, but Yui decides to take a tea break.
Mugi takes out a baumkuchen cake to share with everyone, but has
trouble opening the packaging.
Sawako appears at the table out of nowhere and surprises the girls.
Yui says she wants to do one last senior-like thing before she graduates.
Back at Yui’s house she talks it over with Ui.
Maybe the four seniors should give a present to future members of the
light music club.
Ui suggests a bunch of other ideas that Yui doesn’t like.
Ui then suggests they go out on a senior trip and bring Azusa along as
a gift to their only junior.
In class the next day they comment on how Mugi’s hands are warm, but
Mio’s hands are cold.
Other seniors in the class are talking about going on trips around to
different places in the world with their clubs.
The class discusses what kind of gift they should get for Sawako
because she’s their homeroom teacher.
The four seniors ask Azusa where she would want to go if they went on
a senior trip.
She says anywhere is fine.
Ritsu suggests Hawaii.
Yui wants to go to Europe.
Mugi would be fine with a hot springs inn.
Mio really wants to go to London.
They use an amidakuji (a lottery ladder) to decide where they will go.
Yui wins the game but Azusa catches her cheating, so she has to sit
out any future decisions.
Mugi thinks it was really clever of Yui to cheat like that.
As a penalty game, they make her wear a piece of paper over her face
that has a funny expression drawn on it.
They decide to let Ton-chan decide where they should go by putting
teacups in his tank with names of the destinations written on them.
After a really long wait he touches London.
Mio is very happy.
Yui is sad, but when everyone reminds her that London is in Europe,
she admits she didn’t know that.
Mugi invites Azusa, but she hesitates because she’s not a senior.
Yui wants Azusa to come, too.
Azusa finally accepts the invitation after Mio invites her, too.
Azusa leaves the clubroom and calls her parents to check if it’s ok to
go on a trip to London.
Azusa returns to find the other girls calling their families as well.
Back at Yui’s house, Nodoka is helping pack and wishes Yui a fun trip in the UK.
Yui tells her they’re going to London, not the UK.
Nodoka tells Yui that London is in the UK and once again, Yui admits ignorance.
They go to a travel agency to pick out their hotel and sightseeing destinations.
Back at school, Yui talks with the members of the occult club and asks
them if they want a souvenir.
They ask her to take a picture of Nessie.
Yui tells this to the other HTT girls and they explain that the occult
club was just joking.
The four seniors still want to give a better present to Azusa as well as Sawako.
Maybe they should write a song?
Azusa returns to the clubroom and nearly blows their cover.
She becomes suspicious about it later when she recalls their serious faces.
Yui’s parents help her finish packing.
We only see their faces briefly when Yui departs for the airport.
The five girls meet up as they near the airport.
They have their instruments with them aside from Mugi.
Mugi asks everyone to double check to make sure they didn’t forget anything.
Yui jokes that she forgot her passport.
Azusa says they’re going to leave her behind.
At the airport the girls check their instruments and Yui says a long
goodbye to Gii-taa.
Yui talks about how amazing airplanes are, but Azusa points out that
it’s just a vehicle, not a time machine.
The girls are flying JAL (Japan Air Lines).  Product placement much?
For a while, Yui and Azusa practice their English on the flight.
At night during the flight, Yui wakes up to write lyrics for Azusa’s
song, but she falls asleep while writing.
Azusa wakes up and starts to read Yui’s notes, but Yui stops her just
in time to make sure the secret is safe.
The theme for the song is “World Wide.”
The immigration officer in the London airport is a black man.
They are visibly nervous.
The girls answer his questions with decent, if clumsy English.
On the luggage rack they can’t find Mio’s bag.
Ritsu jokes that Mio is going to have to get by without any underwear.
They find Mio’s bag off in a corner for unclaimed luggage.
Yui and Mio are amazed by all the English and begin taking pictures of
everything they see.
They have some difficulty telling their cab driver where their hotel is.
Yui comments that everything is so much bigger than in Japan.
They end up going to the wrong hotel.
Turns out this hotel chain has several places around London.
They consider taking the bus.
Azusa bought new shoes for this trip but her feet hurt.
The shoes are probably too small.
They buy Azusa new shoes.
As they head to their hotel on foot they see a conveyor belt sushi
restaurant and they decide to eat.
The store’s manager thinks the girls are a Japanese band he hired.
Yui can’t understand his English and just keeps answering “Yes” to all
of his questions.
By the time they realize the mistake it’s too late to back out.
Not that they even know enough English to point out the manager’s mistake.
In an attempt to explain the situation, Ritsu says “I love sushi.  We
are okyakusan (customers)”.
But the manager can’t understand them, so they decide the best thing
to do is to just go with the flow.
The manager introduces their band as Love Crisis, which Ritsu
recognizes as the name of her friend’s band.
They play some songs and the customers like the music.
HTT doesn’t get to eat any sushi.
Ritsu’s friend Maki from Love Crisis shows up.
They explain the mistake to the manager.
HTT finds their hotel.
Yui is tired and hungry
It’s a good thing Ui packed food for everyone.
Yui plugs in her hair dryer, but it shorts out because of the voltage
difference.
Azusa has a bad dream about Yui.
The next day in a park, Yui sticks her hand into what she thinks is a mailbox.
It’s actually a waste bin for dog poop.
Everyone wants to ride the ferris wheel in the park but Mio.
After some forceful coaxing, Mio gets on board and enjoys the ride.
Back at the hotel room Yui rushes to give Gii-ta a hug, but Azusa
thinks Yui is trying to hug her, so she elbows Yui painfully.
The four seniors have another meeting to work on Azusa’s song after
she falls asleep.
Azusa awakens in the night to find Yui missing.
Azusa knocks on the door, but the peep hole is too high for Ritsu to
see through.
Azusa is looking for Yui, but she had already left to go check on Azusa.
Azusa returns to her room while Yui returns to the other seniors to
report that Azusa is missing.
The two then start running in circles through their two hotel rooms
looking for each other.
The next day they go to a music store.
They get a surprise call from Japan.
It’s the owner of the live music house HTT played at.
Maki and the manager of the sushi restaurant want them to play at a
Japanese culture festival the next day.
They’re worried they might not be able to do it because there won’t be
enough time to make their flight.
That night they attempt to translate the lyrics of “Rice is not a side
dish,” into English with little success.
Azusa has another strange dream about Yui.
Mugi gets her keyboard airmailed to London.
HTT is playing on an outdoor stage at the Japanese culture event.
They’re going to play wearing their school uniforms.
Yui remembers shorting out her hair dryer the first night and worries
that plugging Gii-ta into the UK-made amp will hurt her guitar.
Then Sawako shows up and reminds Yui that her guitar wasn’t made in
Japan and everything will be ok.
Sawako made samurai outfits for the girls but they refuse to wear them.
They play Fuwa-fuwa time and Gohan.
Yui attempts to sing the last verse of Gohan in English, but fails.
They’re running out of time to make their flight.
Azusa falls asleep in the cab ride to the airport and Ritsu takes a
picture of her sleeping.
It starts snowing.
Back in their club room, they start sorting through all the English
tea they bought in London.
Their classmates are impressed that they went to London and played there.
The class wants HTT to play a final graduation live performance.
The senior girls of HHT go to the teacher’s room to ask Sawako if it’s
ok to do a final live performance.
At first she thinks it’s a good idea, but when the principal walks in
she has to feign prohibition to keep up appearances.
She recalls back when she was in the light music club, the principal
was her homeroom teacher and got really upset with her playing music
in his classroom.
The class makes a stage for HTT with their desks while the senior
girls go to get Azusa to come join them.
Upon hearing the music start, the principal heads off to stop the
performance, and Sawako attempts to restrain him unsuccessfully.
After seeing everyone having a good time, the principal relents and
allows the performance to continue.
Their classmates push the teachers into the classroom to better enjoy the music.
Later, the four seniors continue to discuss Azusa’s song.
Mugi has written a melody everyone likes and suggests they each write
a verse for the song.
Azusa is suspicious and discusses the issue with Junko and Ui during
gym class while they play table tennis.
She laments the other girls are going on to university together without her.
While writing lyrics in her room, Yui must hastily hide her notes from
Ui so her cover doesn’t get blown.
Yui thanks Ui for giving her the idea of going on a trip with everyone.
Yui is lost in thought and absentmindedly asks Ui, “since we’re all
going to the same university, we’ll still be able to have after school
tea, right?”
Next day on the roof, the four seniors are having a group huddle
before their performance for Azusa.
The lyrics aren’t quite finished yet, so they need one last brainstorm.
A bird flies away.
The seniors liken Azusa to the bird because she gave the group a set
of wings and helped keep them all focused.
Without the serious Azusa, they never would have gotten this great.
Azusa is their guardian angel.
It’s a little embarrassing, but they decide that’s the best choice for
that section of the lyrics.
The light music club has their last after school tea together and
Azusa comes in for the performance of her song.
They play.
Azusa claps.
Yui smiles because Azusa liked it.
The four seniors are university students now.
They go home.
Yui asks everyone where they should all go next year for Azusa’s senior trip.

THE END

The iDOLM@STER (ongoing)

Impression – not bad at all

Summer 2011 to autumn 2011 (25 episodes) (more info)

To be honest, the only reason I gave The iDOLM@STER a snowball’s chance in hell is because I play the Japanese trading card game Weiss Schwarz, and The iDOLM@STER is a very popular title (it’s also quite strong for those who don’t know anything about the game).  So I wanted to learn more about the source material for this set of cards.  Overall, I’ve been intriuged.  The iDOLM@STER started out painfully slow, but it’s started to work its way into my heart and on a couple occasions I caught myself cheering for the girls.  When I first started watching, I had mistakenly thought the series was only 13 episodes and I was wondering how they were going to cover all the girls without feeling a nasty time crunch come episode 12.  Even with 25 episodes it’s a bit of a squeeze, but I’m seeing the method to the madness.  The writers have chosen not to focus on particular girls as facets while the story progresses, but rather on the whole gem that is all the girls working together as a cohesive unit.  Ocassionally one girl will be the target for a particular side sequence, but it’s always about highlighting the teamwork the girls share to accomplish their dreams together and that’s surprisingly powerful given this anime’s premise and source material.  There’s nothing earthshattering about The iDOLM@STER, but it’s fun and that counts for a lot.

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