「愛をうたうアイドル」 (Ai wo Utau Aidoru)
“Idols who Sing of Love”
What would you sacrifice for your dreams? Back in the first episode of AKB0048, this was the message that was fleetingly hinted at during the girls’ departure from Lancaster, leaving their home, family and friends behind so as to chase their idol dreams. 11 episodes on we see this same message finally being realized, as we bear witness the true extent of what the Lancaster girls have lost, as well as the consequences of their dream. For Nagisa, it has been the complete deconstruction of her former life, what with her father now being held in prison by DES, and her mother likely being in as ruinous a condition as her house. For Yuuka, we see first-hand the warm family she has been blessed with, a family that she has now chosen to leave behind yet again. True to AKB0048’s style, there is some meta-commentary going on about the realities of the idol business, with the theme prevalent throughout the episode being one not just of the personal sacrifice undertaken by each aspiring idols but also of the sacrifices, both literally and figuratively here, that the people around them have to endure.
The episode jumps almost immediately into Nagisa’s attempt to break out her father, only to find her father refusing to leave with her. And while Nagisa still believes it to still be her fault, it feels to me that her father understand the nature of the sacrifice he has willingly taken on for his daughter to continue pursuing her dream, and refuses to belittle the significance of it by leaving with her. The guilt however, only seems to further pile onto Nagisa with this failure, and the short, but succinct scene of her passing over the chance to see her mother indicates just how much she wants to avoid facing the sacrifices made for her sake.
I hardly get to see an aftermath, a consequence, played out to this extent, and it makes the subsequent development of Nagisa losing her voice from the accumulated stress – likely from the pressure of the role, and the realities she faced on Lancaster – all the more engaging, as her guilt continues to grow now that the other Kenkyuuseis have to cover for her. We’ve seen angst on the show before, but never a complete breakdown like this, making Chieri’s speech about her loss ring all the more true: Despite the support she received and sacrifices made for her sake, she still couldn’t handle the stress, and a breakdown like that would probably be the end of an idol’s career in reality. However you want to look at it, Nagisa seems to have indeed lost as an idol due to the lack of will and drive to see her dreams through. Of course, being anime, there is a strong underlying message of never giving up, and it’s almost certain we’ll see an emotional rebound from Nagisa in the final episode.
Where Nagisa’s situation shows us the sacrifices made by the people supporting the idols, nowhere is the idea of personal sacrifice exemplified more than in the star crossed relationship of Yuuka and Mamoru, their mutual longing forsaken in the pursuit of Yuuko’s dream to continue performing as a 00 member. It’s a development we’ve seen many times before – love being given up for a greater cause – and while AKB0048 certainly doesn’t quite seem to hit any emotional peaks with it, what was done here felt genuinely sincere in its execution and acting, which is more than I can say for most stories. Like many of AKB0048’s developments, there is a parallel to be drawn here with the workings of the actual group; idol groups like AKB48 always had partially sold on the fantasy of its idols virtuous, virginal image, with the group itself going as far as to impose a dating ban on its performers to preserve this. Putting aside the ethical implications of this rule as well as the questionable expectations of the Japanese media and public, (because, really, you could get an entire debate out of this) it makes scandals, especially those concerning relationships, absolutely destructive to an idol’s career. Each of these idols had to sacrifice the freedom in their private lives for the sake of their careers, which is the idea we’re seeing here, albeit framed in a different context.
This episode had plenty to muse upon, but alas, at the rate it is going it seems almost impossible for the show to give a proper conclusion by its end.
There’s still so much that can be explored in the show, and I’m hoping for a second season looking at the Kenkyuuseis after succession that would make a brilliant follow up. AND YES, SECOND SEASON CONFIMED. REJOICE YE!