Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Anime REVIEW: Idolmaster: Xenoglossia

Idolmaster: Xenoglossia

While The Idolm@ster gaming franchise from Namco Bandai wouldn't truly make its mark in the world of anime until A-1 Pictures full-length series in 2011, two previous attempts at bringing the girls to television screens were made prior to that. Although 2008's The Idolm@ster Live for You! was only a 17-minute short bundled with the game of the same name, 2007's Idom@ster: Xenglossia was a very different story. Produced by prolific studio Sunrise and directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai (who would later go on to direct AnoHana), Idolmaster: Xenglossia discards the original premise of a production studio and in favour of exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from Sunrise: giant robots.

Haruka Amami
Forever the main character

107 years prior to the events of the series, the moon was destroyed in an event known as Lost Artemis. This event caused fragments of the moon to fall upon the Earth, wiping out around a quarter of the population. In present day, these fragments continue to fall toward the planet (in events known as Drops). The only line of defence is Mondenkind, who protect the Earth from the drops using giant robots known as IDOLs. Though these robots are piloted by a human "Idolmaster", the IDOLs origins are shrouded in mystery and each of them show some signs of sentience.

Haruka Amami can't believe her luck when she passes a singing audition and is sent to Tokyo to start a career in entertainment, but in reality the audition was orchestrated by Mondenkind in an attempt to find a brand new Idolmaster. Joining the team with fellow newcomer Yukiho Agiwara, Haruka butts heads with the existing Idolmasters of Mondenkind as she forms a relationship with her partner IDOL Imber. But as she forms new friendships, Mondenkind also faces threats from Turavita - a terrorist organisation with their own IDOL units. The battle is far more complicated than simply the threat of Drops...

Imber, an IDOL
Sweet robot love

So for anyone checking Xenoglossia out on the strength of the faithful Idom@ster adaptation, there's a fair few things to quickly get used to here. The first thing you won't be seeing all of the idols present in A-1 Pictures' version, since the cast here is derived from the very first game (which lacked three of the ten girls. So if your favourite Idolm@ster girl is either Miki Hoshii, Hibiki Ganaha or Takane Shij┼Ź - be prepared for some crushing disappointment. That said, if your favourite girl is in this series you should also be prepared to not recognise them at all, given some of the drastic changes to some of them. Between ageing, de-ageing and some rather different personalities, it begs the question of what exactly is left of the original girls in Xenoglossia. An older, confident Yayoi is definitely something that never stops feeling weird. While certain characters/elements remain comfortably faithful (mainly Iori), that doesn't change the Idolm@ster element of Xenoglossia to feel like a bit of an afterthought. It's as if Sunrise had come up with some original series concept, and then just decided to slap The Idolm@ster on it because it would instantly make it sell.

Yayoi
How to ruin best Idolm@ster girl

However a lot of these are just superficial complaints and if the show still manages to stand on its own two feet, then it shouldn't matter how much or how little inspiration they took from the source material. After all, the A-1 Pictures anime featured "film within film" segments of the girls playing wildly different roles in wildly different settings, so if any of the above is that much of a problem then Xenoglossia is more fun to just view as that kind of show. But unfortunately it isn't very good at that either, as the show immediately begins to feel like a watered-down version of Neon Genesis Evangelion. If the apocalyptic prophecies/imagery and multi-national defence organisation weren't enough to persuade you of this, Chihaya is practically cosplaying as Misato through the whole thing. But whereas Evangelion for the most part mask the fact that it's story was descending into nonsense through being at least visually interesting, Xenoglossia doesn't really offer much in terms of story or visuals. While it does feature a fair bit of robot versus robot action in the latter half, there isn't much to say about hi-tech robots going up into space to destroy chunks of the moon . Well, other than that surely they could build some sort of cannon to that?

But that's not what Idolmaster: Xenoglossia is really about. All the Drops and impending doom is just a backdrop to a story about how teenage girls can fall obsessively in love with their giant robots. That's what's always at the forefront of the show, and probably the main reason why so little effort was seemingly made to have all its nonsense terms and backstories make sense. As the plot gets thinner and thinner, the only thing left to mildly entertain is to watch just how much some of these girls hate each other and then decide which one is the most insane (for the record: it's always Chihaya).

Chihaya
She's goin' off the rails on a crazy train

Sunrise, mecha and The Idolm@ster sounds like a winning combination. Sunrise have got more than just a good track record when it comes to mecha anime, and as snippets the A-1 Pictures series later proved The Idolm@ster actually works quite well when the characters are being twisted to fit a specific premise. On a more personal level, it also helps that I love all three of those things. I don't however, love Idolmaster: Xenoglossia. Although the latter half does introduce some fairly interesting twists and turns to keep the show watchable, the majority of it is simply dull - bogged down by psychobabble and pseudo-science which is painfully transparent. The energetic Idolm@ster cast have been reduced to (mostly) unlikeable husks, and to top it off the show isn't especially pleasant to look at either. Fans of the franchise might be tempted to check this out as a bizarre oddity that's been largely forgotten since the arrival of a proper Idolm@ster series, but Xenoglossia was clearly forgotten about for a reason. And to be honest, it's much better that way.

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