Wednesday 29 April 2015

Movie REVIEW: The Idolm@ster Movie: Beyond the Brilliant Future!

The Idolm@ster Movie: Beyond the Brilliant Future!

Idols, idols, idols. Whether it's music, television, films or video games you can't get away from them when it comes to Japan. And anime is absolutely no exception, going all the way back to the 80s with the likes of Macross or Magical Angel Creamy Mami. These days among the plethora of idol-based anime available there are arguably two franchises that constantly battle it out of the top spot - ASCII Media Works' Love Live and Namco Bandai's The Idolm@ster. While personally I couldn't tell you the first thing about Love Live outside of the fact it's popular, The Idolm@ster has gone on to become quite a favourite of mine after the 2011 series took me completely by surprise. These days A-1 Pictures have moved on with a series covering the Cinderella Girls spin-off game, at the beginning of 2014 they brought the original cast back for a feature length film entitled The Idolm@ster Movie: Beyond the Brilliant Future! (or Kagayaki no Mukōgawa e!). Time to dust off those glow sticks and cheer for the girls of 765 Production all once again.

The 765 Girls reunited
The more things ch@nge...

It's been a year since the 765 Pro girls became their journey to idoldom, and since then they've gone from strength to strength. Whether it's presenting their own television show, making celebrity appearances at sports events, starring in movies or even getting acting offers from Hollywood, the girls' schedules are all jam packed. However their Producer brings all 12 of them together once again for a big announcement - they're going to play their first ever arena concert!

A show of that magnitude requires more practice than ever, so the girls' schedules are cleared for them to go on an intensive summer training camp. Here they meet seven budding idols who have been chosen as their backup dancers. Things seem to go well at the training camp, but after that things slowly being to unravel. The backup dancers fall into disarray, while Producer has some shocking news of his own to share to the girls. As the date of the concert draws ever closer, it's up to Haruka - the group's elected leader, to unite the girls and get the show back on track.

The budding idol backup dancers
Guess which ones contribute to the plot!

Though the girls have continued to soar to new heights since we last saw them, Beyond the Brilliant Future! opens up in comfortable territory that not only proves the series hasn't lost its own sense of style, but will hopefully give fans a sense of just how much they've missed this pretty loveable cast. A faux movie trailer where the girls are part of a supernatural magical idol academy proves laughably disappointing as well as a lot of fun, because if you're like me you'd totally be down for watching that movie instead of the one we got here!

But the tongue in cheek opening aside, this film isn't really about breaking new ground. The audience will already know the characters and most of them have already had as much development as they're going to get, so this is all about the reunion aspect of things. Bringing the team back together and putting them on their biggest stage yet. So as you can expect at its core the story is quite simple, but it keeps things interesting with that same dash of Idolm@ster brand drama that spiced up the series halfway through its run. For a show that many would instantly assume is cheery and brightly coloured, it can really go into quite serious territory for its drama (even if the implications of what the film presents are a little trivialised). This time the drama also comes with a bit of a twist though, centring around some of the new blood rather than one of the established girls. Which is where the other sense that the film evokes comes into play - the passing of the torch. Our idols are already to the point where we probably can't see them feasibly grow much more, so by bringing in some new characters puts a new spin on things. While the new backup dancers get to see the tough side of becoming an idol, for the 765 girls it's like looking back to how they were at the very beginning. Now they're in the mentor position, and their guidance sets an example of how they've grown.

765 On Stage
Bigger, better, flashier.

But sadly once again one of Idolm@ster's biggest strengths proves to be its most notable weakness. Even with 26 episodes at its disposal the original series was spread quite thinly on developing its huge cast, so a two hour movie is obviously going to do far less with them. But what's complicating things a bit more this time around is the introduction of backup dancers, adding a further seven into the mix. In reality most of these are just faces in the crowd, with Kana and Shiho being the only ones that truly contribute to the plot outside of what they bring together as a unit. Out of the main girls Haruka is the star of the show, with as usual Miki closely bringing up the rear. Iori also has some great moments, but unless your favourite just happens to be one of those three then you might come off feeling a little disappointed. There isn't anybody missing and arguably every gets at least one moment, but that's all they really are - moments. In fact a select few of the girls barely make themselves known at all.

Thankfully the musical element of the film isn't so focussed, as every number is a collaborative effort rather than a bunch of solo pieces. With the narrative immediately telling you that the 12 of them being together after again after such a long time it was the best way to play it, as (looking at it from a fan point of view - both within the confines of the show and as a viewer) no good reunion should focus on one member more than the others. Sure it's Haruka and Miki getting all the spotlight in the story, but musically the film never feels like it's about only one or two of them. Of course most of the songs are either inserts or montages until the very end, but the point still stands. Naturally the film culminates with the entire cast on stage at the arena concert, launching into "M@sterpiece" - the lead single for the movie. While it doesn't have quite the same memorable charm as the two series openings ("Ready!!" and "Change!!!!") it's still a catchy tune and definitely serves its purpose - to play alongside a flashy concert sequence full of epilepsy-inducing glow sticks and noticeable CGI character models (although to the film's credit it's definitely slicker than the series). It's an idol anime - it wouldn't be any other way.

A certain Cinderella Girl cameo
A cameo so predictable it's amazing they saved it for the credits

Ultimately the only people who are going to enjoy The Idolm@ster Movie are those who enjoyed the series (and if you didn’t it kind of begs the question of why are you watching this), but if you’ve been rooting for the girls of 765 Productions all along than there isn’t much better reward than this. Beyond the Brilliant Future! features all the elements of the perfect closing chapter – a scale bigger than anything before, a feel of passing the torch, cameos hinting at the future of the franchise (in animated form anyway). But most importantly it’s a reunion of these great characters that feel like they’ve been away for far too long. And while the story never really ends, if this truly is the last time we’ll see them then things have definitely ended on a high.