12 D@ys XII: さぁ、行こう!選んだ道の先へ

Look, SideM isn’t going to get an anime. It hasn’t even been three years yet. Let’s just chill. Look at Million Live, it’s been four years and they haven’t had an anime yet, but it’s successful and continues to grow and they’re even at Budokan this year. Getting an anime isn’t the only marker of success. I’m sure SideM will get there eventually, but there’s a lot of other stuff to look forward to in the meantime.

Holy shit SideM got an anime.

I’ve always been resistant to putting all of my hopes for SideM into getting an anime. Part of it is because the timeline didn’t necessarily work out in my mind based on CG and ML. But a bigger reason is that while it’s obviously a huge deal for a series to get an anime, it wasn’t clear to me what was supposed to come next. Like, the series gets an explosion of growth and popularity after one or two years and then… what? Not that it matters anymore because it happened.

I remember that day, when I was unfortunately not at Makuhari, but in bed, just having woken up and catching up on tweets just in time to see the news and @imas_anime putting up the reaction video.

There are a lot of angles to explore when it comes to the SideM anime we got. In particular, one can ask a lot of questions about the production circumstances and the timeline it’s been on. External factors concerning Aniplex and the game app may have had adverse effects. Is it really only one cours? The obvious big disappointment is the retreat to 3D CG performances, with cuts ranging in quality from quite good to noticeably jarring. But those are the same types of questions that Cinderella Girls faced when it became clear that production was not going so great.

The big challenge for the SideM anime is really the same question that’s followed SideM since it was announced: is this imas? Despite its production challenges, Cinderella Girls was able to convincingly and conclusively be imas.

It turns out this wasn’t going to be much of an issue at all. Everyone was ready already crying because of the return of imas anime with Episode 0, but that’s a bit unfair, considering some familiar faces show up. But after the first episode about Teru and Dramatic Stars? Yes, it really happened: we have another imas anime to look forward to and this time it’s about boys. The SideM anime makes its case so convincingly that you’d have to perform some elaborate mental acrobatics to think about SideM as not imas or consider imas without SideM.

People would raise an eyebrow if you tried to suggest that Dearly Stars or Cinderella Girls or Million Live wasn’t imas, and so we should too if someone tries to do the same for SideM. So what is it about the SideM anime that makes it a part of imas? It’s danketsu. SideM follows in the footsteps of its elder siblings and focuses on the unity of all the idols at 315 Production. In a way, SideM approaches this much more directly, both as the culmination of Jupiter’s story and also explicitly by noting the diversity of all the idols’ origins.

This is also where I think the SideM anime displays its biggest strength over the various other media that’s carried the bulk of SideM’s story up to now. It’s been much more effective at mixing up character interactions between everyone and setting up smaller spontaneous moments. The problem with, say, text in mobage is that everything has to be explicitly presented to the reader. In an anime, you can have things go on in the background or small cuts or breaks that show something very quickly, giving us situations where everyone gets to mingle, which contributes to building a real sense of community for these guys.

At the time of writing, only the last episode remains to be seen. The producers have said that SideM 1st was the main inspiration for the anime even existing and that it’s about 315 Production’s path to their first live. They’ve definitely stuck to that: the stage that Touma and Teru were standing on in episode 9 is Maihama Amphitheatre and will be recognizable to anyone who’s seen SideM 1st.

Like SideM 1st, I think this anime has been a great catalyst for getting more people into SideM, particularly if they’re more casual imas fans. But SideM 1st’s full title was THE IDOLM@STER SideM 1st STAGE ~ST@RTING!~ and the phrase “The Story of 315 Production ST@RTS!!!” can be found on the boxes of the BDs. In a lot of ways, this is still just the starting for SideM and after this year of wild things happening for SideM, I hope it’s a promise that they’ll deliver on next year and on.

12 D@ys XI: 心のオアシス、みんなのYellow

The path as a kantoku has been a tough one at the beginning, but we have been richly rewarded. I have been truly blessed that my idols managed to make it in under the wire to be the fifth out of the six units featured so prominently nowadays. It’s never seemed to me that W were particularly popular back in the early mobage days. If you looked at the event ranking border whenever they had a ranking SR, it was significantly lower than, say, and equivalent Hijo SR. Of course, I was fine with that because it meant that I didn’t have to bust my ass to get an SR.

But knowing that, I understand that we’re extremely fortunate that W ended up in the 01-06 wave of units. Not only did it mean that our boys got their voices and songs first, but it turned out to be far more consequential. They made it in to appear at 1st live. They got 2nd Anniversary songs. And they secured their place in the anime.

I’ve already mentioned that I got to see W in Sapporo, where they did the two songs I wanted to see live the most. LEADING YOUR DREAM basically became my favourite W song back when it first came out because I felt like it filled in a gap that was missing from their repertoire. VICTORY BELIEVER and Pleasure forever… were nice, but I felt like they could’ve used a cool song rather than two happy pop-py songs.

Pleasure forever… has a more significant reason. During 1st, at the afternoon performance, they basically fell over at the climax of the song, which was very unfortunate. Since I’d only seen the evening performance, I didn’t even realize that had happened until seeing it on the BD. A similar thing happened at 2nd, where Yamayan stumbled on and eventually forgot the lyrics to the chorus. This was very noticeably bad but luckily they were able to recover both times (of course, they’re professionals).

Not having been at 2nd at the time, the most noticeable fallout from the performance was when Yamaya put up a bunch of tweets where he talked about how frustrated he was with himself for screwing up and how that feeling lingered with him for the rest of the live. It’d always bothered me whenever people bring up the screwup from 1st as a joke, even if they really weren’t being mean about it, but I’d always wondered if I was thinking too much about it. Seeing this cemented my feelings on things like this.

This is also why I was so happy to see Yamaya filling the center role at Hokkaido. Sometimes, I get the sense that some people look down on Yamaya because of the kinds of roles he plays, though it’s more of a vibe I get rather than any actual concrete things I’ve seen people say. But this is despite the fact that he’s one of the more experienced and well-known seiyuu in the cast. Anyhow, it was gratifying to see them pull off a Pleasure forever… performance without a hitch.

As for the anime, I remember very early on, everyone was wondering when each unit was going to get introduced and then they all showed up at the end of episode 1… except W. And so each week, kantoku of all different sorts would get to the title preview and get disappointed that W wasn’t coming. Luckily, thanks to my uncle who works at Aniplex, I had been informed that Episode 6 was titled 二人が選ぶVictory, so I waited warmly for a month and a half.

If given the choice between stuffing W in with everyone else earlier or giving them a proper introduction halfway through the show, I think I would’ve made the same choice. I think that W’s origin story works best as an episode on its own and I think they need a dedicated introduction in order for most people to understand their appeal.

Compared to, say, Beit or SEM, they’re not the type of unit most people immediately gravitate to. This has been the case since the very beginning; as I mentioned before, they’re not the most popular unit. My worry for the anime was always that they’d be overshadowed by the others, or worse, people start wondering why the heck they made it into the main cast. But luckily, their introduction episode was able to convey their particular charm and I got to see everyone talk about how much they loved these new twins and cried and stuff.

Their later introduction and integration into the group was also great. A few notes here. I was hoping that we’d get a Touma meeting W scene in their introduction episode and I was a bit bummed to only get a reaction still in the ED. Better than nothing, I suppose. Except they apparently decided to save it for the training camp episode! Fantastic. The other thing I wanted to point out, beyond the episode just being excellent in general, was Kyosuke’s noticeable hesitance at the beginning, particularly compared to Yusuke, and his later warming up. There’s a lot of good twin stuff like this in the mobage that’s rooted in the accident that probably won’t be touched on in the anime.

When I was waiting in the goods line in Sapporo, I chatted with some other Ps. I’d told them I was a W P and so they obviously asked me why I liked W. I thought about it for a bit, but realizing that we were crossing some major language barriers, I decided to keep it simple.

They’re cute and cool.

I’ve been really happy to see how far Kyosuke and Yusuke and Yamati and Kikuti have come this past year and I’m looking forward to another year of producing activities as their kantoku.

12 D@ys X: Start!スポットライト、Dance!キメていこう

Despite what would have been the questionable wisdom of taking another trip to Japan so quickly, I was disappointed that fate would have it that I wouldn’t be able to go because of job responsibilities. Although things would work out in the end, this still meant that I waited until September before getting the first glimpse of the rest of my sons at 315 Production.

One of the surprising things about SideM 1st even happening was that, no matter how you sliced it, SideM was pretty thin on content at the time. Sure, the cast was relatively big, but each unit had two songs and DRIVE A LIVE. This made for a short and sweet live without much room for some MCs and other similar features you’d find in a typical imas live. Despite that, it worked: SideM Ps were rewarded for their faithfulness and other Ps were won over. SideM is imas. And 2nd resembles a typical imas live much more than 1st did, simply by having enough stuff to it this time around.

As my Million Live colleagues are aware, there are huge obstacles to getting people into something when it primarily exists as a kusoge. It just isn’t really possible to recommend that people get into a game where you tap your phone screen and see a sprite and text go by, especially if you can’t read it. It doesn’t matter how great the characters are because they’re impossible to get to, trapped as jpegs of cards.

Lives are helpful in bridging this gap. Just sit people down and there you go. You’ve got the seiyuu, the characters, and the music all together in a package that makes it immediately clear why these guys are good. It’s the difference between seeing a jpeg of Kirio wearing cat clothes and smirking and having it explained why he’s the good cat to seeing Yamashita Daiki konchikichin and immediately understanding, yes, Nekoyanagi Kirio, the good cat denynasu.

This is what was most exciting about 2nd: seeing the other nine units cross that space for the first time. One of the great joys of watching SideM 1st with others is seeing the following progression every time:

  1. DRIVE A LIVE: This is good.
  2. HIGH JUMP NO LIMIT: Wow, SideM is really energetic!
  3. ∞ Possibilities: holy shit

In 2nd, there were so many more of those moments, where the unsuspecting non-SideMP has much to discover. That isn’t to say that SideMPs knew what they were getting into either, but one of the fun things about watching SideM with non-SideM friends is seeing which units and performances will hit that ‘holy shit’ centre of their brains.

But for the SideM Ps who know the characters and songs inside out already, there were some pretty wild performances. Personally, I was looking forward to how Mofumofuen would perform, just because of the incongruity of having grown men playing them, and F-LAGS for Sanpei Yuko’s new Ryo. And there were surprises in store for me too, particularly the wild Legenders clock men and the completely unexpected solo corner, featuring some songs which, at the time, weren’t even released yet.

Even with all of that, there was still biggest surprise of them all waiting at the end……

12 D@ys IX: 大丈夫、ひとりじゃないさ

The Producer has become one of the most fascinating characters in imas. Conceptually, it’s very simple: the Producer is you. This is why the guys and gals keep on shouting out to Producer-san. Once we leave the realm of interactivity though, the Producer as a character needs a bit more work. We all know that the idea of the self-insert as a character usually turns out rather lame. This is why it’s such a strange and happy accident that imas seems to have solved this problem.

Each anime Producer has managed to balance two seemingly opposed qualities. First, the Producer has to be interesting and consequential. No one wants to watch a lame, useless character flailing about or fucking things up. But at the same time, the Producer can’t outshine the idols. Their job is to support the true stars of the show, the idols that they’re in charge of. That’s not to say that the Producer can’t be a popular character because the Producers have turned out to be extremely popular. Rather, the bigger danger is that the show becomes about the Producer instead of being about the idols.

SideM’s Producer was an interesting enigma before his appearance in the anime solidified his character. The Producer shows up frequently in the mobage web manga, so they already were a character with as much of a personality as you could give someone without a concrete identity. As a result, to SideM Ps, the Producer already existed as an androgynous, slim ponytailed individual in a sharp suit with an ahoge.

Of course, this means nothing; there have been plenty of Producers in all sorts of adapted material for the original Idolmaster and Cinderella Girls, so there was no reason to believe that mobage P was going to be the anime P. Even worse, that P was androgynous, which was an aspect of that character that would be very difficult to retain in an anime. And so Producer speculation was doubly frenetic. Was the anime P going to be a man? A woman? Androgynous? Who’s going to play them? Let’s use our koebuta powers and analyze their breathing in Episode 0.

As with the other two anime before it, SideM’s P turned out to be perfect. I found it interesting that they decided to keep the design of the web manga P and filled out the details, so to speak. Similarly, they chose to make the P unmistakably male. Ishikawa Kaito fits so well that it’s almost impossible to see the faceless mobage P as anyone else.

There is a third quality for an imas P that has become more relevant, which is that the P should be their own character. Back when Cinderella Girls started airing and people were wondering about what the Producer was going to be like, one of the worries was that the P was just going to be some variation on AkabaneP from the original Animas. TakeuchiP defied all expectations and turned out to be wildly different from AkabaneP.

IshikawaP resembles AkabaneP simply by not being as wildly different as TakeuchiP, but he’s still a noticeably distinct character. Both AkabaneP and TakeuchiP acted like relative newcomers to the producing game. AkabaneP was noticeably less confident and TakeuchiP made some critical missteps. On the other hand, while it’s not clear whether this is IshikawaP’s first producing gig, he is introduced as far more skilled. This is a reflection on the cast of idols he’s in charge of. Would former pro idols and professionals leave their jobs for a producer who’s inexperienced and unsure of themselves?

So while each of the three anime Ps have the same goal, to make their idols shine, their stories in how they accomplish this is unique. AkabaneP grows into the job, alongside the idols he’s in charge of. TakeuchiP tries to express his belief in his idols’ abilities and qualities to them and everyone else. And IshikawaP acts as a trusted partner to the idols he’s in charge of.

Finally, there’s one more thing that ties them all together, although it probably isn’t strictly necessary. It’s that all the Ps are so dang likeable. Even though they’re not you, you can’t help but cheer them on because they’re doing they’re best to try and take care of our boys and girls.

12 D@ys VIII: Keep on smiling beside

At SideM 1st, we heard a very passionate man for the first time. Since then, I’d be wondering when we’d get to hear our faithful office assistant. I was reminded of this when watching Million Live or Cinderella Girls, where Kotori or Chihiro are always ready at the beginning of the live to remind us to follow the rules and not stir any shit up.

Yamamura Ken has been in SideM from the beginning and always pops up at various inopportune times, which led to the meme of him being the face of all the various fuckups and scams that we have to navigate. Game gets taken down for five months just after launch? 山村ァ!! Got nothing but manny and scout points from the garbage cans? 山村ァ!! New idol applicant profiles covered in tea? 山村ァ!! But he is an integral part of SideM, just as the other office assistants are. Who else can we trust to take our money?

One of the fun things about Yamamura is when the game decides to just randomly drop something involving him. One day, you’ll log in to collect your login bonus and Yamamura will show up in a Tanabata outfit or something. Or else, he’ll drop a sheet of paper which you discover has his birthday on it, and oh, it happens to be tomorrow (July 2).

In that sense, it’s fitting that we first hear Yamamura unexpectedly in the very first moments of SideM 2nd. The sponsor cards finish flashing and a new voice greeting everyone and thanking them for their hard work is suddenly heard. The camera pans to the crowd, where you can see people who are confused and people who are beginning to figure out who exactly it is they’re hearing.