「波間のキセキ」 (Namima no Kiseki)
“Miracle of the Waves”
Yea, um, Makoto-san? I’m pretty sure that’s not how boobs work.
Trust the show which has given us the absurdities of [Guerilla Idols VS Space Mechs] to throw in yet another dose of wacky: Crazy Boobs Logic. No doubt, it truly is a facepalm-worthy moment when jellyfish stings can magically transform DFC into USELESS MEAT.
But then again, hasn’t wacky always been the prerogative of AKB0048? This is a show where exaggerations take the place of subtleties, where the meaning between the lines doesn’t have to be read because it’s already in your face. Even so, it doesn’t mean that the themes of the show are any less simple; clichéd maybe, but there’s definitely some brainwork going on in insane means Okeda Mari uses to portray these themes to us. In that regard the show is perhaps more unique than most give it credit, for the extremely literal presentation of its story and the corresponding themes. Take the boob antics and the dangers of Center Nova in this episode for example, where there are fleeting glimpses at some basic commentary on the extremes idols go to for their roles, an extension on the theme also present in the “Day Off” episode. While I’m not disregarding the messages the show brings out, it at times like this where I feel there is an unbridgeable gap between the portrayal of characters and the themes through these exaggerations.
Which brings us to the case of Makoto in this episode. AKB0048’s character expositions have always been something of a hit or miss for me, and disappointingly Makoto’s failed to hit the mark. People have been commenting how Makoto supposedly represents the average AKB trainee, and with the spotlight on her gravure-shoot anxieties here, the theory doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. Here’s a girl who if not for artistic cues and her exceedingly mundane peeves, doesn’t seem to possess an individual quality which separates her from the rest of the “normal” bunch, adding to the point that up until now she’s been little more than a background character. The thing is that there’s some real potential for playing on a character trope like this, as one might see from shows such as The World God Only Knows and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and there is charm in the perseverance and energy she shows here despite her seemingly fickle, “grumbly” behavior. In execution however, Makoto’s little character arc comes across as exceedingly juvenile, much like the trivial worries that so personifies her “normal” characterization. Rather than expanding on her character with a clever subversion like in the two examples I’ve mentioned, AKB0048 opted to -what else- exaggerate with uncreative flab and boobs antics that serves to do nothing more but to trivialize her even further. Nothing wrong with some exaggeration since the overarching theme is still intact, right? Surely it’s only in the name of good fun, one might say? Am I so stone-hearted that I can’t readily accept a boob joke or two? And to this, I say that it might’ve worked if it wasn’t so derivative. The drawback of presenting characters and themes in extremely literal manners is that it only works if people buy into exaggeration, something that is in the end wholly subjective. And while the idea did get through, there isn’t anyone else in the show I’ve had a greater disconnect with, much less with such overtly clichéd antics. It’s truly a shame, because Makoto’s minimal presence up until now had me really looking forward to her own arc, and this episodes only seemed to further that emotional gap I have with her instead of the empathy they had hoped to win from me. (I’m somewhat looking at Suzuko for this as well, but that mostly stems from her god-awful voice actor.)
Simply put, I take fault not with the themes being portrayed, but how characters and exaggarations are used to portray these themes, if one goes back to my similar complains about the “Do or Die” confrontation in episode 02, and again in the pheromones shebang of episode 05. This is still wholly subjective; I’ve heard similar complains of disengagement with the extremes of competition the Takamina-Kanata drama brought to the table, yet I was completely sold on the show’s portrayal of that particular conflict.
Now, I’m not saying it was a bad episode. It didn’t quite reach the same levels of brilliance with the Takamina-Kanata dramatic arc for me, but it’s definitely a much better attempt at a low-key episode than the “Day Off” one. While Makoto failed to engage me, her antics did serve as a platform for Suzuko’s exposition to kick off, and I honestly liked what the show did with her characterization. At a time where the AKB0048 characters feel far too homogenous in their motivations, Suzuko makes for a breath of fresh air with her aspiration to be a pillar for 00, but not necessarily through performing. Where girls would want to mimic the larger-than-life figures they so idolize, it’s refreshing to find someone who only desires to support the lofty ideal of entertainment these paragons bring, whatever the means available. For AKB fans its yet another distinct moment of fanservice through Suzuko, who seems like a dead ringer for the Mariko title: The real-life Mariko Shinoda never made it through the AKB auditions, but her desire to work with the group was so strong she signed on as a staff member at the AKB theatre, before producer Akimoto took notice of her popularity with visiting fans and made her a full-fledged member.
The bit of introspection between Nagisa and Chieri was also revealing, and for all the development we’ve seen from Chieri over the last nine episodes, the glowless Kirara still serves as a reminder of her nagging doubt that she’s not cut out to be an idol. Now, I very much think that the Kirara only glows in the presence of the two of them together, and Nagisa’s belief that it isn’t about winning or losing as idols seem to carry the same notion. (Even if awkwardly conveyed.) But it then begs the question: What exactly does the idol spirit entail? The Kiraras have glowed in response to a variety of situations up until now, and each case seemingly responding to a different stimulus. Are all of these aspects part of the idol spirit? I suspect we might get some kind of answer down the road when Chieri’s doubts get the better of her, but until then it’s an interesting question to muse on.
We also finally get some answers about graduation thrown our way, but rather than the morbid connotations I’ve come to associate it with, graduation seems to be little more than a glamorized retirement. Where the heart of the 00’s darker nature lies is with the Center Nova disappearances, something that Tsubasa (the former Mariko) witnessed first-hand. The interesting twist here is that despite being privy to 00’s secrets, Tsubasa is just as clueless as the rest of the cast with regards to this particular mystery, and it seems that it’ll fall to former Center Nova Mikako “Minami Minegishi” Noono (Kojima Sachiko) to provide the answers we so desire.
All things considered, while this wave was anything but a miracle, I reckon I still got a good surf out of it.
Next Episode: Tears! And wait…is that a proper AK47!? Oh wow, now we have actual guerillas!