「消せない夢」 (Kesenai Yume)
It’s hard not to be skeptical of AKB0048, both for fans and non-fans alike. We never asked for this. But this first episode of the genre blending idol-centric-dystopian-mecha-musical-science-fiction (whew) by the folks behind Macross does make a pretty damn good case for itself.
You can probably tell that I’m going into the series with a lot of cynicism, and for good reason. When industries try to cross, it’s often risky and alienating both to fans and non-fans alike. Just look at how long Hollywood took to bring comic-book movies into prominence! AKB48 already has a number of ventures in mediums such as TV dramas, manga and games. So initially, AKB0048 screamed of a poor marketing attempt to sell a show by attaching AKB48’s name, while reaching out to a rather niche market. And in this case, it’s a pretty damn big name indeed. AKB48 is arguably Japan’s most successful girl pop group, and probably one of the country’s last few remaining successes after the Korean pop sensation took the world by storm, causing the Japanese music industry to largely fade into irrelevance.
And yes, perhaps this whole thing is indeed an elaborate marketing attempt. But so was the Avengers, and against all odds, THAT managed to score with critics and fans alike. (Really, like, I was expecting it to be Michael Bay bad) So when I took a closer look at AKB0048, I began to get interested. Coming from this season’s highly entertaining Aquarion EVOL to take charge of this project is Macross man himself Kawamori Shoji, as well as Okada Mari, responsible for series composition and whose past works include stellar shows like Toradora and Ano Hana. You can bet that these people know a thing or two about getting galactic idols to work with mecha science-fiction.
And for the better part of the episode, AKB0048 seems to work. Animation-wise Satelight (Aquarion EVOL, Macross Frontier) has brought their A-game to this series, opening up the pilot with a spectacular concert sequence reminiscent of their work on the concerts in the Macross Frontier anime and movies. While last year’s IDOLM@STER wowed audiences with its completely hand-drawn musical numbers, copious amounts of CG are present throughout AKB0048’s as per Satelight’s usual style, which caused me some worry. The usage of CG in anime has garnered quite a bit of infamy for how bad it looks, due to its disorientating contrast with traditional animation. And while we sadly won’t find any particular improvements here, Satelight has smartly used the draw distance of the scene as a means to vary between traditional animation and CG, making the CG animation less jarring than I feared. Most of the close-up shots are beautifully hand-drawn, and combined with the CG makes for a spectacularly energetic scene. The ensuing fight scene was equally great, even if it felt too much like watching Aquarion or Macross with all that CG animation.
Despite the spectacular visuals, for a music-themed anime the score was largely forgettable in this first episode. Inserts were mostly standard J-pop songs courtesy of the actual AKB48 and should appeal to J-pop lovers and AKB48 fans. However, asides from the theme song “Kibou ni Tsuite” by AKB48 unit NO NAME, nothing about the audio particularly struck a chord with me.
On the subject of audio, the show mostly did away with traditional voice actors (They voice the supporting characters of the 5th generation AKB0048), and instead opted to defer to AKB’s own repertoire of artists for the voices of the main cast. It seemed like a bad idea, but my initial skepticism of this decision by the production committee was put to rest when these fresh faces in the industry proved capable enough at voice acting without sounding too awkward or forced. I did feel that certain voices didn’t quite match up with the characters they were playing, such as lead heroine Motomiya Nagisa, who is played by AKB member Iwata Karen. However, despite this minor complain, the voicework provided by the AKB48 members were more decent than I had expected, and shouldn’t sound unsatisfactory to anyone watching.
Plotwise, the first thing that should jump in your face is the orwellian setting of the series; Due to unknown events in the past, humanity’s governments saw fit to ban the general populace from any form of entertainment (music in particular), and in this totalitarian future, AKB0048 is a terrorist(?) organization rebelling against this, admittedly, stupid law by conducting guerilla live concerts. Yes, “What”? Much like Aquarion EVOL, it seems that Kawamori intends for the absurd premise of the series to be something only taken at face value, or perhaps as an analogy to some facet of the music industry, if Aquarion’s numerous references to mankind’s base instincts are anything to go by. (Or hell, maybe it’s his insane trolling attempt) While it works as a fun 20 minutes romp filled with spectacular vistas of the bleak planet Lancaster (and oh boy are the backdrops lovely), I have no idea where they intend to go with a premise like this, beyond the whole chasing-your-dreams motif that the second half of the episode seems to set. Furthermore, this seems too sanitized a series for any V-styled gunpowder treason or plot. I expect the power of music to be the revolution that topples this regime, but with the mechas, who can tell?
The other thing about the story is its massive cast. AKB0048’s cast has two central groups of characters; the main cast which is a part of the Kenkyuusei (AKB’s trainees), and the other group being the 5th generation of AKB0048. Furthermore, the characters from the 5th gen are based off the more prolific members of AKB48, such as Maeda Atsuko and Oshima Yuko. It a doozy to take it all in, especially if you aren’t an AKB48 fan just like me, and it might take more than a few more episodes for any concrete impressions of the characters to form. Nevertheless, this episode give did give us a measured introduction to the first three of our main cast: Nagisa, Ichijou Yuuka (Sato Amina) and Aida Orine (Nakaya Sayaka). It’s a tricky thing to balance character exposition since the spotlight will inevitably shift towards other members in the Kenkyuusei. However, at least in episode 1, credit is due to the creative team for fleshing out these characters sufficiently without making them seem too stereotypical or annoying, a common pitfall for shows dealing with wannabe-idols. I am especially intrigued by Orine, an orphaned girl working for her own bread and butter while her friends go to school. It’s an interesting angle one does not often see, which leads me to wonder about the kind of developments AKB0048 intends to pull out.
For now, it seems that the development of our main cast as they grow from their Kenkyuusei positions to full members will be the major focus of the series. Judging from this first episode, AKB0048 does show some promise for a story that could be greater than what its premise entails. However, the AKB48 name felt unnecessary to the overarching story, unlike the manga AKB49 which explores the inner workings of the AKB48 group. Asides from the references and songs, there isn’t any significant contribution to be had from the AKB48 group in the anime.
My initial skepticism of the series has not fully vanished, but it’ll definitely been interesting to see the direction Kawamori plans to take this anime in.
夢は何度も生まれ変わる 希望について」 ( yume ha nando mo umare kawa ru Kibou ni Tsuita) by NO NAME