12 D@ys II: ステキな仲間だぜ

The first time I heard Nakamura Shuugo do the アイマスですよ!アイマス! call at SideM 1st, it almost brought me to tears. As I mentioned before, in its earliest days, SideM Ps had a lot of existential crises going on, like, is this thing even real? And of course, the big question with the introduction male idols was always going to be: Is this really Idolmaster?

This isn’t exactly a new question. With Ryo, the answer was easy: sure, since he walks, talks, and quacks like a girl, it’s not a problem. With Jupiter, things were not quite as rosy, but in time, everyone’s come to accept that they also belong to imas. But SideM gives us the most direct confrontation with that question. The response to the initial announcement at M@STERS OF IDOL WORLD!! 2014 is kind of fuzzy now that we’re so removed from it, but I seem to recall a lot of puzzlement and confusion, which is probably better than outright rejection. Luckily, that all changed once everyone got to see 1st. But if that wasn’t enough, that’s okay, because we had the imas series producers hammering over our heads that SideM is imas over the past year. For me, the most gratifying development in this vein was finally letting SideM in on the cross-series niconamas.

A lot of the other joint series promotions are pretty easy to segregate from one another. At worst, you’ve got Haruka, Uzuki, Mirai, and Teru all on one poster, but the goods for each series are all their own thing, or they run events separately, or whatever. That’s fine, everyone wants to focus on their on producing, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But in light of that, things like joint niconamas are one of the few things short of another M@STERS OF IDOL WORLD live that you can get to having a shared experience across the entire imas fanbase. It’s always been fun to see the 765, CG, and ML seiyuu sit around and shoot the shit and fuck around for an hour, so why not also have the SideM guys on?

To be honest, it’s been a worry of mine that the producers would decide to keep the guys and girls part of imas separate despite a large chunk of male Ps getting into imas. Luckily, that all ended with SideM joining the new year’s niconama and we’ve had a few more pan-imas niconamas since then. Now, the only thing that’s really left to complete the circle is to see everyone at the next M@STERS OF IDOL WORLD!!

12 D@ys I: 夢の向こうへ

SideM exists in kind of a unique space among its male idol cohort. As you might expect, it resembles imas more than it does other other male idol mobage, but that’s also down to its relatively early launch. I doubt that a game launching today would settle for the dramatic idol card game, nor would it really have gotten away with it if it weren’t for being imas.

Its relatively humble beginnings explain a lot of the existential crises that SideM Ps feel so often that it’s become a meme. Unlike its elder siblings, SideM was about guys, which added another dimension of uncertainty to the mix. Recall that the game itself launched months after a botched attempt, and then it ran for a few more months after that before the first significant announcement came to assure us that SideM wasn’t dead.

Scamco works in mysterious ways, so it’s easy to get jittery when they move slowly and we see all these other upstarts rush by. Like, wow, did you hear? Ensemble Stars got an anime announced already! And so it’s easy to be a little worried when the only thing to come out of SideM 1st were reveals of the new idol candidates. And we can repeat this process. New idol games coming out of nowhere and getting super popular. Meanwhile, I walk into an Animate and struggle to find the SideM section buried between massive rows of shelves for other idols. And so it’s been three years of alternating between excitement and doubt, but I think this was the year that we could really say that SideM is real without any nervous laughter.

This shift is can be seen as the same slow move from DRIVE A LIVE to Beyond the Dream as the song of choice for this new era of SideM. It’s really weird that Beyond the Dream is less than a year old given how ubiquitous it’s become in SideM. At first, it doesn’t seem like we had DRIVE A LIVE with us for very long, but it’s actually been two years since we first heard Jupiter and Dramatic Stars’ rendition of it. In fact, you could say it was with us much longer, having existed in a very preliminary form, unrecognizable in the announcement trailer shown at MOIW in February 2014. Wild.

Because it’s been used so extensively in everything having to do with SideM, it’s become inseparable. And yet, it sounds very distinct from a lot of other SideM and imas songs. It stands out in kind of the same way the older imas themes do, like The IDOLM@STER or Onegai Cinderella, and it feels more “classic”. It could just be the effects of the passage of time being felt, that as more and more music gets released, DRIVE A LIVE feels like it sort of fits in less and less. In that sense, Beyond the Dream sounds much closer to the modern imas anthems that we associate with each series.

Of course, when it was first announced that Beyond the Dream even existed, it was kind of strange, because, you know, we had DRIVE A LIVE. It’s weird to think back on because at the time, I was pretty convinced that Yozora o Kirameku Hoshi no You ni was going to be the song carrying the series forward, even if it was a Dramatic Stars and HiJo song. Only after 2nd live did Beyond the Dream make sense. Beyond the Dream marks a shift in SideM not only symbolically, but practically, by being the main theme for LIVE ON ST@GE!!.

But like all the other good old imas songs, DRIVE A LIVE will live on forever. On that note, it hasn’t even been one year of Beyond the Dream but in recent days, we’ve been hearing less of Beyond the Dream and more of a certain other song……

12 D@ys of @nime

Sometimes, throughout the ye@r, I get the urge to write something to put on my blog @nd then shelve it for 12 d@ys, since it’s the only time I’ve truly required myself to write something @nd I don’t w@nt to blow @ll of my ide@s during the ye@r just to come up short @t the l@st minute. Sometimes, I press @he@d @nyw@y @nd post things, but usu@lly, I keep interesting things I’ve seen in the b@ck of my pocket to t@lk @bout @t the end of the ye@r. This ye@r is the first ye@r th@t @ppro@ch kind of b@ckfired on me, since I re@lized th@t when I w@s coming up with my list of things to t@lk @bout this ye@r, I re@lly only w@nted to t@lk @bout one thing. @nd so, I’ve decided to toss out my pocketed items to use for some other time @nd inste@d, t@lk @bout the only thing th@t m@ttered this ye@r.

High Speed Discourse IV: On High Speed discourse

I was thinking about KyoAni and how everyone has a billion words to say about their stuff, no matter what they do, it’s inescapable – except High Speed. Outside of Free! fans, no one has anything to fucking say about that movie, nothing, good or bad. And by bad, I mean not criticism, but the stupid KyoAni discourse shit that every other KyoAni discussion is hit with.

There are tomes of discourse on Phantom World titties and a movie that 90% of us couldn’t even watch yet but not a word about High Speed. At the same time, everyone’s like why can’t KyoAni do something other than moe girl shit? Even people who liked Free! but weren’t, say, haruchan-lickers or whatever don’t even seem to know it exists. It’s baffling. These are the same people who otherwise would have four or five journal publications about whatever KyoAni TV anime is airing at the moment.

This all gave me the sense that despite being the latest KyoAni movie directed by Takemoto, a director people said they liked, no one watched it. People were already turning their attention to Koe no Katachi despite not being able to watch it for months maybe? who knew? So I decided to push hard when Maidragon started airing, since I figured people were likely going to be impressed by Takemoto, and they were.

No one gave a shit and they still do not.

It’s become clearer since that every new show or movie KyoAni makes means that it’s more likely that High Speed is going to be forgotten. Personally, it’s become a lot harder to get excited for new KyoAni shows and movies knowing this but that’s something for me to deal with. It’s more disappointing to me because it’s such a clear demonstration of Takemoto’s unique and underappreciated skill with male characters and it’s disappointing because I honestly thought we had moved past finding boys icky after Hyouka and Free and other KyoAni shows.

While I’ve been vindicated whenever I get told that High Speed was good after all, I can’t feel like I succeeded, having berated them into it. It’s very strange, because as I’ve previously noted, High Speed has a lot of the things you’d want from a Hyouka sequel. It’s the same kind of school club drama shit y’all can’t get enough of from Sound Euphonium. So it’s probably worth reflecting on why we feel the KyoAni movie for a popular series targeted to women is probably not worth checking out. The only difference here is that there’s no cute girl to direct your shitty focus on. It’s a bit of a mystery why the only KyoAni anime that’s been ignored doesn’t have a cute girl in it (Oreki-san ki in narimasu!).

It’s easy to say lol anime fans but this pattern can be observed among “serious” or “progressive” anime people: typical run-of-the-mill shitty harem comedy can be tolerated; shoujo romances and otome game adaptations get dropped half an episode in. We’re much more interested in performing progressive feminist criticisms of popular shows for men than talking about shows for women at all. In that sense, we’re no better than the shitheads who whined about Free! when it first got announced because it wasn’t made specifically for them.

Everyone watches what they like, I get that, but don’t fucking tell me you’re a Takemoto fan or that you love KyoAni if you couldn’t be assed to watch this movie. Someone will object and go “oh but I didn’t hear about it” which is the biggest pile of shit because, as a KyoAni fan would know, KyoAni only ever does one thing at a time! Oh, whoops, I didn’t notice my favourite studio and director were abducted and disappeared for a few months, てへぺろ. Yet another person will object that it’s hard to pirate Blu-rays and wait for subs and so on and so forth. But how soon was it after the Koe no Katachi BD came out that it was sitting in your torrent queue? Oh no, but that’s different, they’ll say, that’s a movie that’s actually, uh… Good (or so I’ve been told, because I couldn’t have watched it before it got pirated!), praise Yamada.

Yes, that’s right, I, a person who can name an anime director from this particular studio I love, am ignorant and unaware of exactly one work that they’ve produced in the last few years. Am I supposed to believe this horseshit? That an entire community built around unbelievably efficient piracy lost track of a BD release date? No, it’s the same reason why Cinderella Girls CDs get ripped immediately and SideM CDs take a few days despite coming out on the same day.

And yet, recently, I observed that a good portion of the audience at SideM lives were guys who started as Ps from other imas series (an observation that’s been confirmed by GamiP). So I have no doubt that male 765/CG/ML Ps will support and watch the SideM anime when it comes out, as they’ve been doing for SideM already. But my prediction is that the wider anime audience, which includes the various writers and talkers and “thought leaders” (lol) and are the kind of people who were convinced to take a look at animas or Love Live and liked them and maybe even wrote some posts about them, won’t watch SideM.

Because look: where are their UtaPri or Marginal#4 or TsukiUta posts? For these people, it’s obviously paramount that the idols are girls. This is how anime criticism can come to the conclusion that Love Live is great because of female empowerment and queer representation and all sorts of amazing achievements, while at the same time imply that shows for women are not worth discussing by simply not watching them and being silent on them. Kobayashi-san’s Dragon Maid is a groundbreaking progressive work, while no one has anything to say about positive and non-shitty portrayals of boys, perhaps because they don’t happen to occur naturally in works that target men. It turns out serious anime people are only able to watch emotionally resonant works that all happen to feature cute girls. Wow, what a coincidence, right, this is fine.

Ah, but I loved Yuri on Ice, an extremely progressive anime targeted to women!, you might say. And yet, Yuri on Ice shows just how many hoops need to be jumped through and boxes need to be checked before men will take a show for women seriously. It’s got a serious take about an international-level competition for a respected sport and casts mainly adults and real world athletes are really into it. It’s incredibly atypical compared to anime of any genre. Its acceptance and critical acclaim has everything to do with how much it isn’t like the typical shows for women. Notice, for instance, that Kinpri is another surprisingly successful movie with huge buzz, but again, no one gives a shit about it outside of the fujoshi cluster.

It all comes back to the principle that we watch what we want to watch and write about what we want to write about and talk about what we want to talk about. There’s seemingly nothing we can really do about this. I definitely don’t have any great ideas except to implore that we all be a bit more critical in how we select and approach what we watch. Maybe whenever someone wants to perform some sort of deep dive feminist reading of some show made for dudes that they liked, we should be asking whether they’ve ever looked at a show made for women for more than three minutes. Regardless, the result is still that our choices implicitly confirm what random assholes on the internet claim explicitly, that shows made primarily for women are inherently inferior.

The example of SideM is particularly interesting. Although the producers have talked about making SideM approachable for everyone, regardless of gender, it’s still clearly a property for women. However, that so many male Ps gave it a shot was an explicit choice on their part. This wasn’t like the infamous Jupiter situation from 2010, where they were forced into it. They decided to give SideM the benefit of the doubt because it was imas. While I’m sure not everyone was enamored by it (which is fine), it now likely boasts the best male/female gender ratio among fans for male idol anime properties and it’s probably fairly high for general anime properties made for women.

Anyway, to conclude: despite wanting to be good and progressive and all that, anime writers and fans are still incredibly sexist and blind to it, i.e. the reason you didn’t watch High Speed was because it’s for women so it couldn’t have been any good. I hope someday I’ll be able to read something interesting about High Speed outside of the comments section on gogoanime.

High Speed Discourse III: Free is not High Speed, High Speed is not Free

I love KyoAni but I think this poster encapsulates my frustrations? disappointments? that I’ve had with them lately. Now, I’d like to think I’m not dumb; I know that this has been their “thing” since the beginning of time. It’s just that I’d just begun to hope that things would change a little with Free!, but four years later…

Anyway, this is why I yell about High Speed all the time. It shows that they can make a fairly serious/grounded work about boys. Free! has tonal problems where it’s wacky hijinks like their comedies but they also tried to shoehorn some drama that didn’t really fit; High Speed resembles Sound Euphonium, where it’s more quiet, coherent, and less gags or melodrama. That’s not to say that Euphonium wasn’t funny or didn’t have drama, but the style is very different.

So it’s really difficult not to conclude that a lot of Utsumi’s decisions harmed the coherence of Free! and that she needed to hold back more. This is more clear now that we can directly compare to, say, Takemoto’s High Speed or even Kawanami’s Free!. Watching High Speed and Free! Timeless Medley Kizuna has made me wonder what a more focused and less wacky TV Free! or High Speed adaptation would’ve been like. An immediate objection is that it’d be boring or something, but the movies show otherwise. Of course, it’s also hard to say because Kawanami was really tied down by the Free! that already exists, but I liked his original parts in Kizuna and I hear that Promise has even more new material.

My hot take is that if Takemoto had done Free!, a lot more people would be talking about it in the same way as Hyouka or Euphonium. Again, someone is going to object and say that’s bad, but here’s the problem: everyone’s biggest problem with Free! is the drama. As I mentioned earlier, Free! tries to go down both the comedy and drama route and it’s worse for it, especially since the original High Speed novel was never a comedy. This sort of points to a pretty clear alternative adaptation strategy: that the Hyouka/Euphonium route would probably have been the best direction to go in, which is exactly what the High Speed movie does. And it’s a much stronger work because of it.

One final note is that Timeless Medley is ostensibly a recap/summary but it completely skips over season 1. Is it because Free!’s first season is bad or hard to square with the rest of the narrative? Who knows? But it’s evidently not important enough to include. Meanwhile, explicit callbacks to High Speed! the movie are incorporated into the new Free! movies, so good fucking luck if you haven’t watched it.