30 CommentsAnime Analysis / By Shinmaru /

AKB0048 – This Anime Has Microphone Lightsabers and an Android Idol with a Rocket Launcher in Her Arm

akb0048-entertainment

^Me watching every episode of AKB0048. Also, I couldn’t think of a cool, weighty title, so I decided to be straight about this show’s appeal.

When AKB0048 initially aired, I paid little attention to it. I vaguely remember a few folks singing its praises, but I never followed up on it. I believe my thought process was, “Wait, isn’t that show about idols? The fuck outta here.” As you can see, my reasoning is always logical and intellectual. It wasn’t until way later that I actually decided to look a bit deeper into the series and saw that it’s WAY FUCKING CRAZY. If that wasn’t enough to pique my interest, I then saw that the show was directed by Shoji Kawamori (of Macross fame) with Mari Okada as the lead writer. Now, some folks are down on Okada, and I’m not here to argue about that, but Kawamori and Okada did put out a damn fine show in Aquarion EVOL (another anime that I took way too long to watch); if this series is any indication, then they clearly make a good team, because beautiful, crazy things result when they pair up.

(Note: I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I’ll throw out a few while describing what the series is about.)

I suppose I should briefly address what this series is about. Basically entertainment is banned everywhere because repressive governments hate anything that involves having fun. Idols are particularly high on their shit list; they have signs showing what they think of idols, and just in case people don’t get the message, it’s on their missiles, as well. Yes, they use missiles against idols, along with giant robots and shock troops. But not to worry, because the idols themselves are trained in all manner of combat and come equipped with microphones that double as lightsabers! One of the idols is even an android that has a rocket launcher built into its arm. These idols preach love and peace and will defend it to the death. You can see why people would be eager to join them; the series follows a group of girls who audition to become the 77th generation of young women to join AKB0048.

77 generations? Yep. This is where the show gets really weird: The members of the main group take on the persona of a member of the original AKB48. This involves the girls relinquishing their names and going by titles like “Minami Takahashi the 5th” or “Yuuko Ooshima the 9th” or whatever (meaning they’re the fifth or ninth person to assume that identity in AKB0048′s history). What few people know, however (and this is where some spoilers come in), is that the ladies do not choose their identities; no, there is a mystical process by which the girls are secretly analyzed and it is determined which among them has a soul that resonates most closely with the soul of an original member of AKB48. Each generation of girls could work their ass off and be pretty damn good at singing and dancing and kicking ass, but they might not get called up if their soul doesn’t match up to an open spot in the group.

akb0048-dual-wielding

AKB0048 features the best dual wielding of the year.

So while the idols are mostly good folks fighting for what they believe is right, there’s some sinister, cultlike shit bubbling beneath the surface. (There’s another aspect to this stuff that I won’t go into here that’s basically as strange.) This dark tint is part of what elevates AKB0048 from a fun, goofy idol romp to something a bit more interesting. Even though someone from AKB48′s management is presumably overseeing this project, the details of the world and story don’t paint this idol business in an entirely glorious light.

It’s not particularly difficult to read between the lines here: What the top idols are asked to do is to shed their individuality and take on an identity that has been repeated for generations. Their role is to deliver safe, comfortable music in safe, comfortable, pre-determined identities, because that’s what the fans want. And if someone comes along who can do that job better, then your spot is at stake, though the girls at the top do have a bit of power in determining when they’ll leave the stage — if the threat of relentless competition and (for a few girls in the series) the knowledge that something out of their power determines their role doesn’t erode their self-confidence first.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and not in the normal, “Wow, being an idol isn’t as easy as I thought it would be!” sense. There’s a level of nastiness to this business that AKB0048 portrays without going into full on “this is actually Heart of Darkness but with pop idols” territory, since there’s no way in hell that would ever be allowed. To be honest, I’m not sure that would be enjoyable to watch after a certain length of time, anyway, which brings the other part of AKB0048‘s success into play. While the show takes a considerable amount of glee at satirizing the idolmaking process and this weird world of show business, at no point does the mockery extend to the girls themselves. They’re young women who have their own dreams and desires, and even those at the very top have their own wishes they fiercely protect, even as their goal is to assume an identity for public consumption.

akb0048-skirt-ammo

(Why, yes, that is an android loading rockets from her skirt.)

One moment that really floored me late in the series is when one of the top idol’s confidence is crumbling when she learns that The Powers That Be have decided that another girl is more suited for her role as Takamina (basically the captain of the group). A string of bad luck ensures that everything is going to shit for her. Confidence is at an all-time low. Takamina’s thinking about quitting. But her friend tells her that if her dream matters, then she should make every effort to stay on stage. If she’s crushing someone else’s dream to make hers a reality, then so be it. That’s the way it has to be. The wonderful irony is that Takamina’s role involves building people up and being the team-first idol; it’s her inspiration that paves the way for her seeming downfall.

Later she basically says, “Fuck you, I want to keep performing” and prevents her understudy from making her first stage appearance. And she feels like shit about it later, but that’s how much this means to her. Not once, however, does the anime judge her for this; it simply shows how much that passion to be on stage means to her. However screwed up this world is, AKB0048 sees a bunch of girls with dreams and empathizes with them, even when they’re not being such great people (which happens often). It reminds me a lot of the approach the original Macross takes with Lynn Minmay, presenting her clearly as someone who is bratty and selfish but nonetheless empathizing with her desires and seeing that she still needs to grow up. It’s that heart that keeps AKB0048 from being too silly or too sardonic.

If you can’t watch this because you can’t separate it from the ickiness of actual idol culture, then hey, I can understand that. This shit weirds me out, too; not just in Japan, but the way we build our pop music idols in America, too. It’s kinda fucked up! But to me, AKB0048 is in an entirely different, more self-aware universe.

akb0048-wota-awesome

Also, AKB0048‘s biggest fans form a paramilitary group that use glowsticks that fly off in an Itano Circus to combat enemies, so there’s that, too. (Thanks to Draggle for the .gif!)

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28 Comments

  1. Posted February 15, 2013 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    This is an excellent post.

  2. Taka
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    Welp that’s one down. I believe Milky Holmes is next?

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Haha, we’ll see when I get to it. I was planning on diving into VOTOMS next, so maybe I’ll be in the mood for something shorter and weirder once I’m done with that!

      • lmm
        Posted February 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        You should talk about Hidan no Aria, and confirm whether it’s a misunderstood gem or I just have no taste.

      • Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        Haha, I never really planned to watch Hidan no Aria, so I dunno if that will happen. Maybe you can pretend I did and think it’s misunderstood, though!

  3. Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    I saw the first eight or so episodes of AKB0048, and actually liked it a lot! I find it amusing that some of Mari Okada’s best work these days has been produced while goofing around with Kawamori, but that’s the price one has to pay for genius, I guess. The empathetic characters and weird cult conspiracy going on under the surface help too.

    That said, after reading into AKB48 the show’s appeared progressively more skeevy to me. From what I’ve read, AKB48′s primary audience is otaku culture, and what better way to sink its hooks into otaku culture than by airing a show by the creator of Macross about pop idols in space? A surprisingly good show about pop idols in space, granted. But I can’t help but feel that if I was to watch the show on Crunchyroll I’d be supporting a segment of the industry whose treatment of human beings, for all intents and purposes, verges on cruel and unusual.

    I’m not telling anyone what to do–you should all be able to decide, and AKB0048′s pretty fantastic for what it is regardless. I think I might just have to do a bit of soul-searching before I decide whether watching the show means supporting an organization I find progressively more despicable.

    • Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this is basically why I said I understand if people still want to avoid it, even though I don’t think it casts all this nonsense in a totally favorable light. There is still some level of approval, some weight given to this idol business. Given the general themes and ideas in his works, I don’t think Shoji Kawamori is the type of person who would be among those saying, “Well, she had it coming; she knew what she was getting into!” with this AKB48 business, which is part of why I can watch and enjoy this without feeling too weird about it. That is, admittedly, merely speculation on my part; I have no idea what the man truly thinks about this stuff.

      • Posted February 16, 2013 at 4:28 am | Permalink

        Right now I really, really want to know what Kawamori actually thinks about the Idol industry.

        Nothing I’ve ever seen from him, either in AKB0048 or in the various Macross shows makes me think he is a fan of the actual idol industry at all.

        I mean hell, look who the main villain of Macross Frontier was!

      • Posted February 16, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        I wonder that as well. I kind of suspect he isn’t really a fan. I mean, all the songs in AKB0048 are literally generated by a computer; the idols take the names of girls thousands of years dead; AKB0048 is basically a terrorist organization; the girls get one day of “recreation” a month which they are expected to spend practicing (treated like human beings? hahaha) and the list goes on. Watching AKB0048 has actually made me *less* accepting of the idol industry.

        Now iDolmaster I think you could make a stronger case for…

      • Posted February 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        @Fencedude: Yeah, like I wrote, the general themes of Kawamori’s shows indicate that he’s sympathetic toward the actual idols themselves, but not so much toward the starmaking process. I’d love to see an interview with him on that topic, though it’d probably have to be after he retires for him to be totally honest, haha.

        @Draggle: Yeah, there’s a laundry list of stuff like that. The one thing that didn’t totally work for me is the episode with the “hater” where it seems like the message is, “Reach out and take constructive criticism where ever you can get it!” I’d hesitate to say that it’s condoning his behavior, though, since it’s not that difficult to see what a creepy dick that kid is … but then again, I’m saying that as someone who’s not in that bubble.

    • Taka
      Posted February 16, 2013 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      I gotta dissent a little. I don’t see what is wrong with AKB48 itself. I mean it’s not like these girls have no agency, they clearly are interested in being famous. They are clearly invested in it. I’m not sure what you specifically mean when you say “segment of industry whose treatment of human beings, for all intents and purposes, verges on cruel and unusual” my guess is it’s the recent scandal of the AKB girl shaving her head after she allegedly spent the night at some dudes place, either way I rather think that’s a result of fans not the managers. The fans demand their idols be “pure” in a completely unrealistic, dehumanizing, and disheartening manner. It doesn’t happen strictly pop idol sector either, seiyuu idol have been on the end of these various scandals as well. For instance when pics of Aya Hirano were published that showed her in bed with a dude it effectively ended her singing career and for a long time she had no new seiyuu roles. The problem with the managers is that they basically enable the shame that gets placed on the girls in these situations by demoting them. I assume they do it because they feel like their brand will be hurt if they don’t. It’s unfortunate but it shouldn’t be anything new to us considering a wrong word on twitter or facebook these days can get someone fired, or in the case of a celebrity, lose their endorsement deals. However, going back to the main point, I don’t believe that anything done on a day to day business to these girls could be considered cruel and unusual, it implies that the girls have no say in the matter which I don’t believe is true at all.

      • Posted February 16, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with pop groups, but it’d be shocking to me if the girls weren’t manipulated in some way, even if it’s not happening on a day-to-day basis. So many of them get into this at a young age; how many of them actually know what they’re truly getting in to? They just want to sing and dance and be famous! That’s not a knock on them, by the way. I’d liken it to, say, taking out a student loan in college. People see it as a way to help them through school, but so many loaners are less than honest (to say the least) and quick to take advantage of young students who might not know what they’re getting into. I really doubt that managers and such are entirely forthright about this business, although I will stop short of saying they’re actively corrupt, since I don’t really know that.

        But, yes, you are right to implicate the fans, as well, and the media is complicit in this mess to a certain extent, too (much like over here).

  4. Madu_Scientisto
    Posted February 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    First image, lyrics subs: “just keep walking without hesitation”.

    Perhaps this is a hidden DEEP™ warning? The creators are trying to tell us to get away while we still can.

    • Posted February 16, 2013 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      That’s the WRONG message (unless the message is about idols).

  5. Fumoffu!!
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    This show honestly scares the shit out of me with how terrible the idol industry they’re partaking in is, made worse by the fact I imagine it’s closer to reality than you’d think.

    I like the show quite a bit, but it’s also hugely depressing at the same time, if it weren’t for Sonata and Kanata (that adorable sister combo) I’m not sure I could keep going on. :’(

  6. NormalMar
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    I’ve only seen the first episode so far, but this post has got me a little excited for what’s to come. Looking forward to watching more.

    • Posted February 16, 2013 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      I hope you like it! It starts off strong, has some nice character building in the middle and ends with a string of great episodes.

  7. SENSEISHUN
    Posted February 16, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    The 1st 2 episodes of AKB I enjoyed 10x more than the 1st 2 of Utena.

    • SENSEISHUN
      Posted February 16, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

      actually like the first 5 of Utena

    • Posted February 16, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      lol, that’s a weird comparison, but OK!

      • SENSEISHUN
        Posted February 16, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        lol I know, I just happened to be watching them around the same time frame.

  8. Embok
    Posted February 18, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Yesss great post. Picked it up for yet another wacky Kawamori show with robots and idols, stayed for the shockingly real (to a reasonable extent for a show that’s supposed to be a promotional tool) portrayal of the idol industry.

    The Takamina/Kanata conflict was the best part, but I also really liked the Yuka/Mamoru stuff toward the end. It kinda reminded me of Yunoha/Jin a bit.

    Despite the above, Sonata is my favourite AKB. Drama is nice and all, but sometimes you just need a happy character hopping around in animal outfits while making silly noises.

    • Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

      I wasn’t as into the Yuka/Mamoru stuff as everything else, mostly because I didn’t really care about Yuka at all, haha. But there’s something for everyone! Also, I totally thought Sonata would be super annoying, but the show does a good job of using her enough that she’s amusing, but not so much that it runs her into the ground.

  9. Someone Else
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    This anime is so fun you should make a long list of why this thing is crazy, probably something like this http://thecartdriver.com/20-reasons-to-watch-aquarion-evol/

    • Posted February 19, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

      I thought about it, but I didn’t want to crib on Scamp, and also, I think that unintentionally contributes to the misconception that this and EVOL are just silly, goofy series with nothing at all to offer beyond that. Not that there’s anything WRONG with just being silly and goofy, mind, but the outlandishness in both series is intentional and actually thought out.

  10. R1CK_D0M
    Posted February 19, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Those guided glowstick rockets are the highlight of my universe.

    That being said, I find it increasingly hard to buy into the fact that either akb48 is still alive and autonomous, or that DES actually wants to stop them. Because from everything I’ve seen, if they applied even the smallest bit of brainpower all the idols would be dead.

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