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.

「315プロダクション事務員の山村賢です」

山村ァ!!

12 D@ys VII: 俺たちに勇気をくれるいつでも

If you take a look at one of the many shots of the crowd from any of the SideM live BDs, take note of how many guys you can spot. This is abnormal for a male idol property or for most properties featuring hot and/or cute guys. It’s not too hard to imagine that these kinds of media franchises don’t exactly appeal to guys, but it’s something else to physically experience just how overwhelmingly female these audiences are. Walking into a theatre for a viewing of King of Prism or High Speed, I spotted about as many guys as I had fingers each time I went. Ditto for Super Comic City. Once in a while, you run into another brave soul who’s willing to dive into 女性向け stuff, but these moments are often fleeting.

Which is why it’s incredibly exciting to see guys get really into SideM. I first noticed that there were an abnormally large number of guys in the buppan line at SideM 1st. Of course, it wasn’t for the event itself because who the heck knows anyone who actually won tickets for it, but you don’t just wake up at 4 to catch the first train and sit in the cold for nothing. Most of these guys were decked out in their other imas gear, although I did notice a few in SideM gear, particularly one who stood out in my mind because he had a towel from the Hijo release event, which are impossible to get into.

It’s not something that’s escaped the notice of important people either. This was so abnormal that the producers were asked directly about it in an interview. They mention that although it wasn’t exactly their goal to appeal to a male audience, somehow the imas-ness of SideM was able to shine through anyway and attract a significant male audience. The seiyuu are aware of this too. In particular, I recall Nagano Yusuke, who voices Rei, getting upset that a male P who wrote into 315Pro Night! was worried that being a male SideM P would be troubling for the seiyuu at greeting events and stuff. And of course, some of them are known imas Ps and were into SideM before they landed their roles. For instance, Furuhata Keisuke, who voices Shiro, is a known HayatoP who couldn’t get tickets to 1st.

But it’s not just that guys are into SideM that makes this so significant. First, let’s consider that SideM opens up imas to more girls. This in and of itself isn’t that big of a deal, there are a lot of women who are already into imas, big whoop. Like so many other nerd hobbies, women have really only participated on dudes’ terms and it’s rare that this is reciprocated. What tends to happen is that at best, men and women form their own parallel cultures and never interact, or at worst, men crowd out or displace women in these spaces.

Imas and SideM show us that things can be different. We can all trade business cards and do calls and talk about all the different parts of imas we like and all the different boys and girls we produce. And so there are a few things going on here. First, a series that’s largely targeted men has now chosen to devote some of its energies at women and the men haven’t thrown a hissy fit over it. Secondly, men have chosen to get into media for women. And lastly, the men haven’t been shit about it; they’re not displacing female fans, but being good fellow Producers and choosing to embrace this new part of imas and its new Producers. But there’s also a bonus to this: everyone gets to enjoy a new aspect of their favourite series that they might not have even considered before.

This, I think is why it’s become so saddening to see so many anime fans and writers who are unable to watch something that doesn’t have a cute girl in it (or hard mode: only has cute boys in it). As is the case in too many instances, most hardcore fans of any particular series have very little reason to be open to new spinoffs and the fans those will bring, especially if those spinoffs are very clearly Not For You. But Producers were able to get past all of that and welcome the new boys and their Producers. I continue to hope that the folks who talk about anime on twitter will eventually have the same open mind.

12 D@ys VI: 解き放て何度でもYour Song

Another differentiator between SideM and all of the other imases that came before it is the very strict adherence to units. Everyone belongs to a unit and they are bound for life to it. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t situations where everyone breaks out and mixes together, but you’ll notice, for example, whenever seiyuu or characters do their introductions, that they don’t only give their name, but also the unit they belong to.

Even now, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the strong organization around units. I think it’s worked out so that it’s helpful for quickly establishing relationships, since there are so many characters, but it can feel a bit constraining at times. In most of the mobage events, units tend to stick together, so there are limited opportunities to for characters to interact outside of their units.

More practically speaking, this also means that music is organized around the units. This is less of a problem in the other imases, since group songs usually aren’t strictly “owned” by any one group. In SideM, the songs so far are very heavily based in the units’ identity because they also serve the purpose of being an image song for the unit.

The Origin@l Pieces series is a start to the giving each character a bit more of an identity outside of their units. The main attraction is obviously each character getting their own solo song, but the events gave the characters more of a chance to spend some time with each other outside of their units, which was kind of nice. It should be noted that while the stories in the mobage are still fairly heavily unit-based (save for a few special occasions), LIVE ON ST@GE!! seems to be dealing exclusively with events that aren’t unit based at all (possibly because of the gacha/reward structure).

An interesting question will be to see how far away from the unit concept SideM will go. For the moment, it seems like OP was a diversion rather than a new direction that they want to explore. All of the new music, whether it’s the Animation Project series or the 3rd Anniversary Disc series or the Starry Collaboration series, is entirely unit based. It makes me wonder if we’ll ever see full-length performances of any of the solos at the lives, since even during the Greeting Tour, they were only willing to perform short versions.

In the short term, this doesn’t really seem to make much of a practical difference, but I can see the unit structure causing some practical problems in the future. We can already see some consequences in the 3rd live tour, where Jupiter, Beit, and Sai are confirmed to be performing at only one of eight performances. In the case of other imases, having others fill in is not such a big deal, but again, unit identity is much more important in SideM. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since the start and it doesn’t seem like there have been any good solutions so far, but we’ll see.

12 D@ys V: We can go anywhere

Hello, here is the story of the time I went to Sapporo to see a SideM mini-live.

Back in January, there was a niconama just a few weeks before the release of the new group song Beyond The Dream and 2nd live. Here, they decided to announce that just two months after 2nd, they were going to be doing a tour! What the heck.

So a good friend was like yo, let’s go. Now, it turns out that my boys W were going to be in Sapporo and I’d always wanted to go to Sapporo but when would I ever find an excuse? Wow, hey, what luck, but of course, tickets still needed to be won, so I’d put off my decision until then. Turns out my entries lost, but his won. As it happened, it seemed that a lot of overseas people had pretty decent luck for Hokkaido compared to other venues (probably because it was comparatively far, which doesn’t really matter much to ballin’ foreigners who are coming to the country to event anyway).

So it was time for a decision. In the end, everything went according to plan: I was lecturing from January to the beginning of April, which would give me about two months to prepare and submit my thesis and fly off to Japan for some well-earned vacation before hitting up my conferences and returning to prepare my defence. Just about the only thing that didn’t go according to plan was my pal sadly couldn’t end up making it.

So everything goes well and I end up in Sapporo and after futzing around and realizing I have to get the Seven Eleven tickets from the cashier, I get the tickets and wait for the day. Sapporo, by the way, might be my favourite Japanese city for the sole reason that it’s not deathly hot in the summer. It has all the great urban features that I love about Asian cities combined with the inhabitable climate that Canadians all love as well as fantastic food. A+, highly recommended.

I hadn’t originally planned to go for goods, but unlike for 1st, the goods line didn’t start until 11 am, and since it wasn’t unreasonable and was a short walk down from my hostel, I decided to check it out. I got to the venue about ten minutes early. I knew this because as I was walking towards the venue, I saw a bunch of people with W and FRAME and Altessimo gear hanging around a small parkette about a block away, since we weren’t supposed to be forming any lines before the start time. When it was about a minute or two before 11, everyone started heading towards the line area.

The line experience is always neat, even though I can’t really speak any Japanese. It’s a chance to talk to people who are really into the same thing as you and I’ve found that imas Ps are super friendly. More than anything, being able to interact with other fans at these sorts of events is a huge motivator to get better in this language.

So, up ahead in the line, someone is asking around for something, but I don’t know any Japanese, I tell the people just in front of me who were relaying the message. This is enough for them to get interested and attempt to strike up a conversation. They were from Hakodate and came up to Sapporo since it’s extremely rare for there to be an imas event all the way up in Hokkaido. They were also obviously intrigued by a dude who would come from Canada for SideM. Luckily, it turns out that the little Japanese that I knew and the little English that they knew combined with the power of Google Translate was enough for us to talk about what we loved about imas for the rest of the time. Once the line started moving, we said bye and were scattered amongst the goods tables.

Time passes and I meet up with friends a long the way and get them their tickets and we end up in line at the venue again. We get into the venue and there’s still like an hour to go before the live starts, which is kind of a drag since it’s a standing venue. But, a few magical things happen.

Obviously, since there are no seats at a standing live, there are no seat assignments. Instead, your ticket is assigned a number and you enter essentially in that order, so if your number is lower, you have a chance to end up closer to the stage. By chance, it so happened that my Japanese line buddies from earlier that day ended up just a few metres to the right of me. It was nice to see them again if only just to be like hey, cool.

Then, we were all waiting around until we hear a commotion coming from behind and above. I lied earlier, it wasn’t just a standing venue, since there was a smaller balcony section that was seated. Anyway, people are cheering and people cracking UOs, because it turned out that someone noticed GamiP taking a look around the balcony section.

So, one more note about the pre-show waiting period is that they played songs by the three units over the speakers. At some point, people were bored and started doing the calls for the song. And then some people started singing along. And then everyone decided to join in and sing along. We went through a few songs and there’d be some chuckling after the end of each one until ending off with Beyond The Dream and kicking things off for real. It was one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of. If you’re skilled enough, you can even find me in the video in the tweet above!

As for the live itself, my main impression is that there really isn’t a substitute for being there in person. Up until then, I’d watched lives on blu-ray and I’d even ended up in live viewings in Japan, but as much as we try very hard to recreate the atmosphere, there’s a certain weight that you feel from being present in that particular space that gets filtered out through the screen. Even in a relatively small venue, the feeling is overwhelming when compared to live viewing in a large theatre.

On the setlist itself, it was basically everything I really wanted to see. Beyond The Dream is a fantastic hype song, although the red/blue/yellow part is always a bit funny with imbalanced casts like this one. Since FRAME didn’t perform Mission is PEACEFUL! at Nico Nico Chokaigi, it was really nice to finally see (and in retrospect, also because they performed it in carts at 2nd). Altessimo did an extremely unfair segment, going from Echoes My Note to Sanctuary World to Never end 「Opus」. And W performed the two things I wanted to see the most from them, LEADING YOUR DREAM and a non-cursed performance of Pleasure forever…. If I ever see LEADING YOUR DREAM at a live where I don’t have to stand and hold all my lights, I’ll do the UO balrog thing.

The skits and talk portions were nice, although hampered a bit by my lack of Japanese ability. I’ve found that in these situations, skits seem easier to follow. In the talk section, one part I clearly remember was Yamayan getting asked which country he’d like to go to and I felt like yelling Canada, but I also didn’t want to be That Guy, so I didn’t. In the end, he chose some lame non-Canadian European country because of football.

One of the most important things that happened here was that Yamayan was the leader for this stop of the tour. This meant that he did a lot of the type of things that you’d expect Shugon to do for these kinds of events, which was extremely good and well worth traveling for. But the part that I have etched forever into my heart was his 「監督!アイマスですよ!アイマス!」.

Standing for two hours is pretty tiring, so afterwards, I went with a pal to scrounge up dinner before crashing. We ended up at this place near Susukino with the most amazing chicken ramen I’ve ever had and I really regret not making a note of wtf that place was called.