「キモチリレーション」 (Kimochi Rireshon)
Empire DES strikes back on Hoth Tudrastar!
I’ve gotta say, of the two show being worked on by the Kawamori-Okada team, AKB0048 has slowly been edging Aquarion EVOL out as the more enjoyable one out the two for me. It’s not just in the fact that both are mecha science-fictions that these two shows share common ground, as the direction in both largely feels like it is similarly made up of two halves: One half encapsulates the absurdities and ridiculousness so integral to the tone of the shows, AKB0048 with its entire guerilla idols context as well as the DES/AKB clashes, and Aquarion EVOL with its over the top, innuendo-filled gattai-ing robot fights and its grand story about duality. The other half comprises of character dramas, through the competition and hardships an idol faces, and similarly in the central theme of LOVE in EVOL.
Certainly, no one could fault the former; both shows are equally matched in the pure silly entertainment they bring to the table, with Zen’s wacky logic and strategies as well the Aquarion mech pulling out crazy, effects-laden moves in nearly every episode of EVOL, and AKB0048 with their AK48-toting idols, micsabers and Itasha mechs. Just look at this episode, with the idols employing a fantastically surreal hit-and-run concert against the DES forces! But it is in the latter, the character dramas, where EVOL had spluttered along towards its ending, and where AKB0048 has continuously impressed me for the past few weeks.
The difference between the two series ultimately boils down to its consistency in characterization. The initial handful of episodes aside, the idols of AKB0048 have displayed a continuous, organic growth alongside the developments we’ve seen, the lack of which is painfully obvious in the latter half of Evol, what with characters constantly jumping steps in its developments.
This is why I really enjoyed how Takamina came to concede that Kanata deserved the succession name in the end. There were no shortcuts, no jumps in personality from the Takamina of last episode that wanted to cling on to the title. Indeed, the girl perhaps came off far too strongly here at first, to the point where she was disturbingly hostile to Kanata for substituting her in the performance. There’s no denying that Takamina had spirit when even the Kiraras glowed in response to her, but the captain herself came to understand that the ideals of the title were lost on her in that moment of self-fulfillment. For Kanata, there was every right for her to be resentful, but even in that unreasonable moment of selfishness by Takamina, she remained devoted to success of the performance and to the success of her admirable mentor, the one person blocking her path to succession. The moment Takamina understood how Kanata felt about her was a moment of emotional relation, the realization feeling both organic and natural. And in my opinion, this organic progression is really why AKB0048 has been getting better over the last few weeks.
This praise also extend to the side–plot AKB0048 is pushing between 76th gen Kenkyuusei members Wanabuchi Megumi (Kinoshita Momoka) and Youko – now sucession member Sae. Her conversation with Mimori in this episode while short, was succinct; as both girls were in a similar situation with a close friend progressing ahead of them, it felt natural for an understanding to form between them.
It doesn’t mean AKB0048 is flawless: At an earlier point the show didn’t seem to understand which direction it wanted to bring the growth of Chieri into, having her flit between her logical, goal-orientated persona and her more emotional, silently concerned personality. And let’s not forget the characters that hardly had a chance to shine until now, such as Makoto. This is the problem with such a large cast, as the spotlight will naturally fall on a number of key characters – in this case, Kanata and Takamina – regardless of how well it can balance the exposition of its extended cast. I’d say that the only show I’ve have ever seen done this, and done exceptionally well, is Bacanno!, but considering how far most characters have come, AKB0048 is already doing a stellar job where so many other shows tried but utterly fail.
What I’ve been going on about brings us to the main problem I have with the show at the moment, one directly related to the points I’ve mentioned on character dramas and which this episode has brought into stark focus: The validity of DES as a proper antagonist. As it stands, rather than being the villain of the show, DES feels more like a plot device used to further character growth and developments along, showing competence when they need to (last episode, to dramatize Takamina’s situation) or otherwise staying as a background presence that barely hinders the idols, merely because the context demands their presence like in this episode. (You’re telling me they can’t hit idols standing still in the spotlight? That they don’t have enough manpower to enclose the whole area?) AKB0048 is not the first story to use an opposing force as a plot device in this manner and it certainly won’t be the last. Thus, while I hardly have any misgivings with its purpose (it’s to be expected of the medium already) I still find the inconsistency of DES’s portrayal irksome.
That said, it certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this episode. Not only was the aforementioned melodrama brilliant, the entire episode served as a nice throwback to the very start of the series, and for the four girls – Nagisa, Chieri, Yuuka and Orine – their dreams have somewhat come full circle as they performed together on a planet so similar in its aura of depression to Lancastar, while a group of young girls gain the same idoling dreams they have. Furthermore, the concert scene was also fantastic, reaching the same levels of quality we saw in AKB0048’s first spectacular episode. And DAT music. I don’t usually make a note of pointing out the inserts, but I especially loved the dual performance of the heart-pumping [River] and the beautifully evocative balled [Sasae].