Saturday 31 October 2015

Anime REVIEW: The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls

The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls

The last few years of anime have truly been dominated by the phenomenon that is the idol industry. Although they've been around since the 80s with the likes of the original Macross series, the dominance of shows such as The Idolm@ster and Love Live! have provided a boom that's thrust them back into the spotlight once again. And with the latter of those shows currently leading the way, it's no surprise that Idolm@ster has returned once again to compete with its closest rival. Though we said goodbye to the girls of 765 Productions in the Beyond the Brilliant Future movie, the mantle has been passed onto a new generation of girls as we move on to spin-off series The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls. The show is based on the free-to-play rhythm game of the same name, and once again produced by now-Idolm@ster regulars A-1 Pictures.

Rin, Azuki and Mio
Main character power activate!

High-schoolers Uzuki Shimamura, Rin Shibuya and Mio Honda are all scouted by a Producer from the 346 Talent Agency to become idols as part of their Cinderella Project - a new initiative to debut new idols blessed with what the Producer calls 'the power of smile'. After eventually agreeing to join the project (some taking more wearing down than others), they meet the other girls invited to become idols - the sweet-toothed Kanako Mimura, shy Chieri Ogata, cat-obsessed Miku Maekawa, lazy Anzu Futaba, rock chick Riina Tada, lacrosse player Minami Nita, gothic Ranko Kanzaki, half-Russian Anastasia, 11-year old Miria Akagi, 12-year-old Rika Jougasaki and the tall and bubbly Kirari Moroboshi.

This series charts their humble beginnings to the formations of their individual idol groups and early successes. However following their first successful idol festival, complications form as a new executive producer at the company proposes a huge shakeup. As the Cinderella Project comes under threat, the girls have to band together to save their careers while also coming to terms with the different directions they may end up going in.

The main Cinderella Girls
Best girls tier: 1) Anastasia 2) Anzu 3) Ranko. Yours?

As you will have probably already glossed from that brief synopsis of the series, Cinderella Girls is yet another Idolm@ster series that plays with a rather large cast. Too large in fact, because not only does it have the initial 14 girls (plus their Producer) to be occupied with, it also steadily introduces a pretty sizeable side cast that increases as the Cinderella Project and 346 Productions as a whole come under fire. With the series only clocking in at 25 episodes, that's far too little time to even give the main characters the attention they deserve let alone any extras. But despite that Cinderella Girls does admittedly manage to give all of the main Project girls some form of attention. Some might be done in pairs and a lot of it is through standalone episodes that don't have any long-lasting impact on the story, but it is all there. Unfortunately a lot of the girls are only really memorable for their individual quirks, and many of those quirks can be found either incredibly annoying or incredibly endearing. So while some episodes are going to be enjoying, others will be the very opposite. Personally for me, anything involving Asterik (the duet of complete opposites Miku and Riina) often proved torturous.

Rinse and repeat

But of course the show needed an anchor in terms of characters to get the story moving, which is why some idols always turn out more important than others. In the original Idom@ster series it was Haruka, Chihaya and Miki that took the lead, and here it's New Generations - the idol trio of Uzuki, Rin and Mio. All three are more unique than their fellow idols for not having to rely on some sort of gimmick to be remembered, and as a result feel like more natural characters. The issue with these though is how heavy handed the show is on the hardships of their friendship/working lives, focusing almost entirely on the lows without showing enough of the highs to provide proper context for them. The idol master festival halfway through feels like the only big moment for them that feels like a happy one until the very end of the series - the rest is constantly tarnished by one of them quitting, being depressed or some other spanner being thrown in the works. The only time these characters aren't surrounded by some sort of melodrama is when they're acting as side characters in another idol's focus episode. With the show having much more focus on the strain upper management can cause on idoldom it's understandable that Cinderella Girls would come out a more dramatic series, but when you aren't balancing it with enough of the good times it makes you wonder why they bother doing these things at all.

Mishiro & the Producer
It's just business

Despite the obvious weaknesses in its primary cast, Cinderella Girls handles its upper management characters in a much better fashion. Unlike the original series' Producer who was more of a big-brother kind of guy, this Producer feels like a business man first and foremost. He's awkward, straight to the point and often oblivious to how his straightforward nature can upset the girls he's supposed to be managing. If anything he's the character that receives the most development in the series, albeit in a rather subtle way. He never loses that awkward nature, but it becomes increasingly clear how much he does care for these girls - especially when Mishiro (the new Executive General Producer) shows up. Mishiro herself makes a great "villain" for the show - a businesswoman whose only concern is maximising profit with no regard for how this should go about in regards to the company's idols. It's really great to see Idolm@ster approach things from a more business-like perspective, even if the end-result isn't quite as impressive as one might have hoped.

The music and animation are as great as ever, and at the end of the day the former is perhaps going to be the biggest draw for anyone to watch The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls. Although it takes some impressive steps to be more believable than the original series, neither the story or characters are patch on the adventures of the 765 Girls. While this series is definitely worth checking out if you're a longstanding Idolm@ster fan or are looking for a new idol fix, it's an otherwise good concept marred by mostly forgettable characters, constant melodrama and poor pacing.

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