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THE IDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls 2 – A Case for Adolescence


Success, and drama, are fueled by tears.

I’m sure I’ve already told the story of how, before I was lured into watching the first IDOLM@STER series, I didn’t really have much respect for the idol industry, and by extension anime about idols. To me, it sounded at worst like cynical exploitation of young girls (strut for our amusement, ladies) and at best vapid frippery (y’know, pop music), and neither direction offered a very flattering image. So it’s a continual surprise to me that I enjoy the IDOLM@STER animes so much, and still without any knowledge of the games or larger franchise.

To be clear, the idol industry as presented in Cinderella Girls is still, when one gets down to it, vapid frippery, but it is presented in absolutely the most positive way possible. In fact, the frippery is arguably the point. It’s not frivolous, it’s innocent fun; it’s not superficial, it’s personality. Sure, it still handwaves over some of the more sordid aspects of the industry (is it alright to be so keen about sexualising yourself as a minor? Discuss!) but no other idol anime, to my knowledge (admitting that I haven’t watched all of them) have ever subjected itself to such examination before. Appropriately, the antagonist of Cinderella Girls, brought into play for this second half, is not a giant ham villain like Kuroi of the original series, but simply a representative of the serious music business angle from which I, in the past, would have gladly stood and sneered at THE IDOLM@STER. And Executive Producer Mishiro isn’t exactly ‘wrong’, not completely a strawman—she simply is not operating under the pure-hearted idealism as the rest of Cinderella Girls. The message isn’t that life is a fairy tale—that would have been far too saccharine for the 21st century—but that one should believe in the fairy tale anyway. Positivity is good for you! And in the end, it wins! Woo!

The other upgrade compared to the first series is that Cinderella Girl cast is even larger. Or perhaps it’s not really an upgrade, because I definitely had trouble keeping track of all the faces, especially since they shuffled groupings around this season. This is probably not a big problem for those familiar with the source game, but an anime-only viewer like me is probably not going to be able to recognise them all, let alone come to care for them all. While the first season went a way to develop the core members of the Cinderella Project, but even then it’s hard to keep them all close, and the greater role of ‘peripheral’ 346 Productions employees didn’t help. The competition for screen time was fierce, and only terse development was allowed for any given member of the supporting cast. I suppose they sort of made it work—it wasn’t really important to remember who was whom, just the role they played within the context of any given scene—but it does mean that many characters were one-note. And from that, we needed to create drama! Fortunately, it was on the whole fairly grounded, believable conflicts but still a bit reliant on the usual poor communication to stir things ups. And some of the problems these characters face are downright silly (want to be a rocker, but you can’t play a guitar? You poseur), but that’s forgivable because, again, the silliness is the point. Rather than frowning on these idiosyncrasies like the Executive Producer aiming for serious showbiz, Cinderella Girls applauds them. That artificial cat persona? Someone works really to maintain that. There is a charm to the silliness, and the silliness is important to somebody.

Thus the greatest fairy tale of Cinderella Girls: the one about individuality. You may already know that Japan is a highly collectivist society, and when teenagers emerge into the adult world they’re expected to have all individuality stamped out of them. Dream of being a ‘salaryman’, don’t rock any boats, and your company will take care of you. The highly corporate structure of 346 Productions represents that, and its idols are a generation of Japanese youth that struggle with finding an avenue for self-expression. And, lo, individuality stands triumphant! It may just be in an anime, which has always been more open to such ideas (anime as art and all that), but a win is a win. Looking at Cinderella Girls from this angle, the role of the extended cast becomes clearer: the seniors are the bridges between the adolescents of the Cinderella Project and the adult world of corporate show business (and also, following in your senior’s example is totally the Japanese way to do things). And all the different idols is a celebration of the myriad people that deserve their five minutes of stardom. They’ve sure spun a lot from what was originally just a social network game where you collect lots of idols. Considering what they had to work with, I’m impressed. Yes, sure, THE IDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls is still not the most sophisticated fare, but it really has managed to draw out a lot more depth from the idol ‘genre’ than I really thought possible. Beyond the usual feel-good fare (and there’s nothing wrong with that, of course), it has spun the entire idol industry into something remarkably positive with its introspection on what exactly gives it charm. That’s some brilliant apologia; it’s not vapid frippery, it’s vapid frippery that celebrates self-expression. We really can all afford to be less serious and just indulge in adolescence again.

As always with the IDOLM@STER animes, they really could have phoned it in with this one and just rode on the franchise’s domestic popularity. But someone obviously put a lot of work into making the anime something more, even without sacrificing the unconquerable idealism underpinning it. I could perhaps write more about the Cinderella metaphor, or what a great character the Producer was, or maybe get into the technical analysis about whether the drama was effectively executed. But I’ve gone on long enough already, and I think that the most appropriate thing is to salute the effort. Was the message not that, in the end, it’s about heart? It definitely shows in Cinderella Girls.

October 17, 2015 at 6:58 am
19 comments »
  • October 17, 2015 at 7:22 amstarss

    While this show was enjoyable for the most part, I can’t help but feel like a lot of themes were too anvilicious, and some moments dragged. I do like the preceding IDOLM@STER anime a ton more, but that doesn’t mean I won’t miss these girls as they go on to whatever they do! Anastasia, Ranko, and Riina will forever be in my heart!

  • October 17, 2015 at 7:30 amlegwkio

    Cinderella Girls was good but the original iDOLM@STER was about three times better.

  • October 17, 2015 at 9:21 amqwert

    The cast size was a definite downside for me. Aside from the New Generation girls and a separate personal favorite I don’t know a single other one by name, simply by their gimmick. Tall Girl, Russian Girl, Cat Girl, Rock Girl etc. And those are members of the “main” group, They didn’t even bother adding gimmicks for most of the additional girls they tossed in mainly during the second half and the ones who did get gimmicks were repeats like Rock Girl 2 and Rock girl 3.

    • October 17, 2015 at 7:37 pmPasserby

      I’ve mostly given up on remembering names in anime these days. Especially in Cinderella Girls, where all indication was that I didn’t really need to know these people, then my brain certainly won’t do it. For the anime-only viewer, I think Rock Girls 1, 2 and 3 are probably good enough.

  • October 17, 2015 at 9:29 amAlex

    “or what a great character the Producer was”

    You should have, this was a good article but I’m always up for some more Moeducer praise. One of my favorite characters in anime.

    • October 17, 2015 at 7:33 pmPasserby

      Maybe I’ll still do that at some point, maybe on my personal blog or something. Time permitting, of course. The art of creating a character is fascinating, and I’ll need to think about it a bit.

  • October 17, 2015 at 10:47 amstardf29

    Personally, I liked Cinderella Girls even more than the original iM@S anime (which I liked a lot). The story arcs were a lot more relatable, and Mishiro is a far better antagonist than the comic-villain Kuroi. The climatic episode 24 is, IMO, every bit as powerful as the original’s episode 20, joining it among anime’s absolute best single episodes. In fact, overall, I’d say that Cinderella Girls is my favorite anime idol franchise, for its fun cast and surprisingly great depth.

    That said, I might be biased because I’ve been able to get into the franchise a lot more ever since the Starlight Stage mobile rhythm game came out…

    • October 17, 2015 at 7:27 pmPasserby

      Playing the games in some form would probably help significantly, if only because you’re familiar with much of the cast.

  • October 17, 2015 at 5:56 pmc2710

    CindieGirls though more elegant than the brash im@s, im@s was definitely better than CindieGirls.

    I was rather disappointed by this

  • October 17, 2015 at 6:42 pmHalfDemonInuyasha

    It wasn’t bad, but the finale felt a bit rushed and lacked impact.

    The cast being enlarged with other girls without even (fully) developing all of the first main girls didn’t help because everybody loses in the development area then. From my post on animesuki…

    “The original IM@S felt a lot more personal with most of the idols (most likely because of the smaller cast), even if they weren’t all deep, dramatic, etc. situations, especially ones like Chihaya, for example; you’d think a much bigger and more successful idol production agency like 346 would have a lot more issues when it comes to things like paparazzi, tabloids, etc. like Chihaya (and almost Takane) had during her episodes, but it also directly connected to her personal demons, which culminated in her being unable to sing, so simply solving just one of the problems wouldn’t necessary solve the others, but it all came together spectacularly in the conclusion that still makes me tear up watching (and I still get good chills when Chihaya finally just comes out singing again).

    I just didn’t really feel anything close to that with CG. Even Uzuki’s bit didn’t affect me nearly as much as I’ve seen with some others simply because it felt so…generic. You could easily replace her with any other not-quite-developed idol girl and there wouldn’t be much difference. That’s not to say I didn’t feel bad for her and didn’t hope that she would overcome the problem, but it just lacked big impact, especially considering it only seemed to involve New Generations and not all the main girls.

    And while the lesson of “unity” is noticeable in CG, it didn’t feel nearly as close as the original IM@S was with 765. The main CG girls only seemed as united BEFORE they got put into their own groups, and then it seemed to mostly stay confined within those groups (like the aforementioned Uzuki bit) unless the plot brings them all together in a single room. Otherwise, it felt kind of like they were walled off from each other a lot of the time, even if they felt similarly about certain situations. With 765, even as the girls began making their own identities, they still felt united as a single entity and, again, the climax to Chihaya’s arc really demonstrated that to me.”

    IM@S’s ending also felt a lot bigger, brighter, more bombastic and such, really making it feel like a conclusion after many hardships while the CG ending just kinda…ended. Not badly, but nowhere near IM@S’s either. I guess, as others have said on animesuki, CG felt “safer”.

    One thing I’m glad for is that Mishiro wasn’t simply a female Kuroi.

    Producer was also better to me in that, as I mentioned at the beginning of the series, he was made to his own unique character for the story as opposed to IM@S’s Producer character, who is more the generic “nice guy” that males can self-insert as (which was the point for the games more or less). Not to say he was a bad character, but CG’s Producer feels more interesting because of being made from a different mold like that.

    • October 17, 2015 at 7:23 pmPasserby

      I should note, for all those comparing Cinderella Girls with the original, that the two are rather different shows, when one gets down to it. Indeed, the original was more personal, while CG is more about the industry and the business of being an idol. Simply compare 346 and 765 Productions. The former is escalated, but unfortunately the nature of the beast means that CG will not have the same kind of character focus as the the original. In terms of narrative, CG leaned more towards drama while the original leaned more towards slice of life.

      • October 18, 2015 at 4:52 amZhinvu

        Now that you mention it, 765 Pro’s challenges during the first season were mainly how and when will they get famous. As far as I know, none of the 765 Pro idols really had the same issue as Mio when she was frustrated at not getting famous quickly. The closest to drama the first season had would have been Miki playing hooky for believing Broducer lied to her, Chihaya’s family issues, and Haruka’s angst. I don’t think there were issues either like Uzuki’s fear of not standing out enough. I’d have to give credit though to both shows on how they told the story. First half they’d try to give one or more idolsa focus episode and by the second half they’d present a greater conflict. I was a little harder to focus on Cinderella Girls though since each episode I’d have to look out for cameos of idols not part of the main or supporting cast.

      • October 18, 2015 at 2:49 pmstardf29

        That’s a good point, and probably another reason why I prefer CG to the original is because of this focus on the industry/business side, because it allowed for the show to touch upon some very applicable issues that I could overall appreciate more. Personal preference, of course, and I do still love the original iM@S for what it does, too.

        On a side note, regarding the idea of cast unity, I think what CG did show well was the unity amongst all of the 346 Pro idols, not just the core cast of fourteen. Especially as the group started working more with girls outside their department in the second half, culminating in the grand event in the finale. It’s especially notable when you consider Show Spoiler ▼

        Sure, unity amongst a smaller core cast might be more personal, but this sort of large group unity is nice in its own way.

    • October 17, 2015 at 8:24 pmKuntzy

      You could easily replace her with any other not-quite-developed idol girl and there wouldn’t be much difference

      I wouldn’t necessarily say that myself. As Passerby stated, Cinderella Girls was basically about individuality and while, yes, majority of the characters are underdeveloped, they each have their own gimmick that makes them unique.

      Uzuki’s problem was that her gimmick (smiling, ganbarimasu-ing) is something that literally anyone can do and she’s seeing all the other girls come into their own and “shining”. Essentially she was having an an idol existential crisis because she couldn’t image what kind of idol she wanted to be or what she wanted to do.

  • October 18, 2015 at 4:38 amZhinvu

    It was great how the show went full circle. At first these girls were just seeing the previous Cinderella Girls batch strut their stuff on stage and by the finale, they were Cinderella Girls themselves. Being a fan of the first iM@S anime, I was really looking forward to this adaptation despite never playing the mobile game and knowing just a few idols, namely Anastasia and Ranko because for me it’s hard not to notice them from their individual quirks. By now, I can add Rin, Anzu, and Minami to that list, especially Anzu because if first I only saw her as lazy who only worked when needed (though she still is), they added even more good qualities like her valuing her friends surprising genius math skills.

    Now it’s really hard to choose a favorite because I liked both this and the previous iM@S anime so I won’t. I’ll just say each had their own charms (and by charm I mean the first iM@S had Shijou Takane). I’d have to say though Cinderella Girls had more drama. The conflict for most of the first season was how the 765 Pro idols were going to make it big in the idol business and the seriousness came with Chihaya’s story, Kuroi’s meddling, and Haruka’s distress from not being with her friends as often compared to when they were not so famous. I also can’t really fault Mishiro for being the way she is since for her, it’s all business. The way I interpreted her and Producer’s talk in the final episode is they clearly acknowledge that they’ll never get along in terms of their way of doing things but in a way they respect each other for it. Producer even admits that Mishiro recruiting some of his own talent for Project Krone actually helped in a way that he didn’t see. From here on I’m guessing Producer and Mishiro will just let each other do their own thing, and no doubt they will clash at times.

    Now to wait and see if Million Live will also get an adaptation.

  • October 18, 2015 at 8:09 amtheirs

    A different take on the Idol industry. Even though they are worlds apart, comparison with the “original” anime (not Xenoglasia) is inevitable. One focuses on a start up and the other on a well established company. It was actually nice to see what was the same between the two. Gives a bit of insight on what actually happens in the industry.

    Cinderella Girls did high light a few things. Let’s take Ranko for example, at first I thought she was a one trick pony and viewed her with pessimism. But then it showed on how she was actually stereotyped by everyone (both me and CG Producer at least). Her rise to stardom was actually believable in a way. Sexualisation of minors and following your seniors? Yep, they sure showed that. Mika’s little sister taking just the “sexy” from her image was both funny and disturbing at the same time. Cinderella Girls did good on things like that.

    If there’s one problem with Cinderella Girls, it’s the fact that I can’t remember their names. Even though I’m bad with names, the original Im@s managed to get me to remember all their names. Even though I might not like the characters, they still leave enough of an impression that results in me remembering their names. The Cinderella Girls? It’s just Anastasia, Minami, Mio, Ranko, Rin and Uzuki. And for some reason I remember Mika and not her sister (I think it rhymes though). Success would’ve been giving a strong impression and enough presence for all the Cinderella Girls. Unfortunately, sometimes I think the side characters get more of a spotlight compared to the main girls.

  • October 18, 2015 at 4:41 pmelmaton

    That was a pretty mediocre last episode. It felt rushed and anti-climatic. The last performance was pretty mediocre at best, and I just didn’t dig the song at all. At least it was fully animated, but even then it still pales in comparison to the original iM@S last episode.

    The show became a total mess as it started to introduce too many characters on the second half of the show. The first half of the show was pretty good because it introduce each idol properly and their groups. The second half of the show however, introduced even more characters with less significance and importance. It got so horrible that it was hard to keep up who is who, and it was very hard to remember their names at all. In the end there was just too many idols that the audience got thrown at and only half were barely developed at all. The show focus too much on the main trio towards the end and really became boring and uninteresting since they weren’t interesting characters to begin with.

  • October 18, 2015 at 5:31 pmEmictavice

    If Cinderella Girls had been a standalone show with no ties to the Idolm@ster franchise, I think most people would consider the show a great success. The show accomplished what it set out to do but stayed in the shadow of its predecessor.

    I should also note that for a franchise like Im@s, missing out on the radio shows, the concerts, the performances and interviews, is really a loss for many viewers. There was a whole other side to the show that wasn’t seen by many, and was only made for the more hardcore fans.

    TakeP was amazing from beginning to end, and I hope he does more anime especially since he will be finishing highschool

  • October 19, 2015 at 5:38 pmXXXmakeitrainXXX

    Uzuki is the best girl! I love her so much! ^^