Tuesday 13 January 2015

First Impressions: The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls

The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls

The original Idolm@ster anime was something of a surprise hit with me. Lured in only by screen caps I'd seen of the series without any prior knowledge of it or the video game series it was based off, I ended up falling in love with it's great characters and story of aiming for the top. So when a spinoff series named The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls (again, based off of the game of the same name) was announced for the Winder 2015 anime season, it certainly piqued my interest. Once again animated by A-1 Pictures, this series is set apart from the original and focuses on a brand new set of girls and their journey to become Japan's newest idol troupe.

In this first episode we are introduced to our first idol of the team (and who will likely be the glue that holds the gang together, just like Haruka was in the original - Uzuki Shinamura. For a long time it's been Uzuki's dream to become an idol, and she's continued to train even as the students she trained with eventually began to give up one by one. Her luck changes when she's visited by the Producer of the 'Cinderella Girls', who reveals that they are forming a new troupe and she is the first one they've chosen to join (having failed several prior auditions for the Cinderella Girls). Naturally Uzuki is eager to begin preparing for live shows and recording an album, but first Producer needs to find the rest of her eventual teammates. His first stop is Rin Shibuya - a girl who actually doesn't seem to show any interest in becoming an idol at all!

Before I give my first impressions of the episode, it's probably worth noting I know next to nothing about The Idolm@ster games other than how the gameplay works. So if the show's doing something that's accurate to the games, I can't really comment on it. But given how the games' work based on social links interaction with the various girls in them, I can only assume there's no strict linear path to them and it's much a case of the anime capturing key moments from them and filling the blanks in-between as they see fit. Of course, I could also be completely off the mark with this.

One thing I can definitely commend Cinderella Girls on is being different from its predecessor. The formula is exactly the same (Producer finds girls to become idols) so it would have been easy just to be a carbon copy of the original, but instead Cinderella Girls mixes things up to make it properly feel like a separate entity. The original Idolm@ster threw the viewer straight into the deep end by introducing all the main characters (which was a whopping total of TWELVE girls, plus various adults) at once. Cinderella Girls on the other hand takes things slower, only introducing us to three main characters in this episode and starting with the very beginnings of the idol troupe. The end result is likely to be exactly the same, but at least the journey will be somewhat different.

Producer is also VERY different to the original's. Instead of a handsome, loveable hard-worker, this Producer is this huge, daunting guy who says few words and doesn't take no for an answer (more on that later)! I expect him to be a source of much of this series' comedy, and to be honest it is pretty hilarious to see such an unlikely guy working as an idol producer. Sadly the idol girls aren't nearly as interesting - Uzuki is your typical peppy/optimistic school girl, and Rin is the one that looks confrontational but actually has a heart of gold. Neither really stand out right now, but Idolm@ster's strengths lie in the group working together so this may change as things progress.

But what really made me feel uncomfortable about this episode was how it felt like Rin only became an idol because she was a) hounded by Producer and b) guilted into it because without her Uzuki's dream was going to be put on hold. It may have been funny to see Producer follow her everywhere and (rightly so) be mistaken for some kind of creepy weirdo, but the whole "hound a person enough and they'll do what you ask" thing this episode had really didn't sit with me right. However it's a certainty that Rin's going to warm up to the idea of being an idol as doors begin to open for her, so this will probably be never brought up again and the show will hopefully be able to recover from this rather rocky opening.

The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls has gotten off to a decent start, but it certainly doesn't have the instant draw that the original had. I'm a bit surprised since I thought starting with a smaller cast might have given it a bit more development, but obviously playing with such a large cast was a bigger strength of the original that I realised. If anything, this has only made me want to watch original's sequel movie, Beyond the Brilliant Future! (which I've been meaning to do for a while, but not found the time) even more.

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