「笑顔のために」 (Egao no Tame ni)
“For Their Smiles”

There’s really isn’t all that much to go on about this last episode of AKB0048, except to just lie back and bask in its glorious spectacle. And boy, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the Kawamori-directed shows I’ve seen until now, it’s that the guy certainly knows how to deliver one hell of a flashy, bombastic climax in shows already filled with flashy, bombastic moments. It’s as if the guy always looks back and says to his team: “Okay guys, we need to take it FURTHER.” Because that’s what this episode essentially is, AKB0048 cranked up to 11, as we get back-to-back performances of Kibou ni Tsuite, Yume wa Nando mo Umarekawaru, and AKB insert Yakusoku Yo! And boy was it glorious. Kawamori and Studio Satelight again prove why they are one of the industry’s go-to for animating concert scenes thanks to their signature style – one of blindingly flashy colors, dazzling visual effects, impressive shots from a dizzying variety of angles and pans, ambitious sequences, as well as the impeccably timed inserts that flow alongside the wild scene-shifts between performances and fights – a winning combination that we’ve seen time and time again in AKB0048, and back in Macross’s various incarnations. Few other studios and directors have managed to capture the same frenetic energy that so defines these musical performances and translated it onto the animated screen, much less with the panache and flair these people have shown. Hell, the sensory overload from all the SFX in this concluding performance is enough to make me forgive the rotoscope CG animation Satelight tends to falls back on, especially when I got to the brilliant rendition of Kibou ni Tsuite. (Surprisingly, the CG looks extremely decent in this episode, although it could’ve been the saturation.) The visual quality of the show has quite honestly never been higher, as Satelight displays an impressively balanced mix of keyframe and rotoscope animation in the performance amidst the overtly saturated backdrop of the Lancaster concert venue.

In a way this episode encapsulates what makes AKB0048 entertaining for me at its most basic level, Kawamori’s predisposition for the Hoot and Hooray. The performances are very much a part of this, but let’s not forget the spectacle of the repeatedly ludicrous, yet ridiculously entertaining clashes between the teenage idols, wotas and DES, an aspect which has by now become an integral part of the series’ identity. The best part of it has always been how little it took itself seriously, and this last episode continues the tradition in grand fashion. Almost none of that character drama I’ve raved about for the last few weeks is present, but you know what? This was a perfectly fine way for the show to wrap up. Sure, the questions to the hanging plot threads still linger in my mind, but as conclusions go, I liked that instead of trying to rush inconclusive answers for our many questions, AKB0048 brought us full circle with an episode that has the Kenkyuuseis now performing in the very place of the idols we saw in the very first episode. It is an episode that also serves as a reminder that AKB0048, for all that’s been said and done, is a show that can entertain on multiple levels.

Of course, with the knowledge of a continuation (be it second season, OVA, or movie) secured, the episode takes the liberty of thrusting onto us a number of wild developments, like the disembodied voice of the former Maeda Atsuko speaking to 00, S-Quad declaring a new Center Nova amidst the Kenkyuuseis, and to my great surprise, Takamina regaining her position in the Succession Kiraras’ eyes. It’s thankful that amidst all this setup for the next arc in the story, most of the immediate issues were neatly resolved, the most prominent being Nagisa’s voiceless situation. However, I did feel that the way they went about it was less than ideal, as having her meet her parents seemed to undo all that her arc stood for, the sacrifices made for her sake, even if she did come out of it with a stronger conviction. Also, where was poor Megu during the entire episode!? Being the one character to get the shaft this badly, I do hope that she emerges as part of the main cast in the continuation, since her character has been one of the most interesting and underused in the story.

While being somewhat unclear, the episode also tries to pin down what exactly the “idol spirit” means here, which is roughly explained as the desire to give a good, worthy performance despite adversity. It’s a simple and perhaps trite answer, yes, but as a beginning to what could potentially be an exploration of the concept in the continuation, it feels like a good starting point.

Full-length images: 04, 09, 14, 18, 24, 25, 29, 30.


ED3 Sequence

ED3: 「虹の列車」 (Niji no Ressha) by AKB48

Final Impressions

Sell-out. Product tie-in. Cash cow. The definition of “Pandering”. There’s a lot of animosity attached to AKB0048, and to be frank, I too approached a good portion of the show as a cynic rather than as an ideal, unbiased watcher. There was a great temptation for the team to just kick back and let the brand name take up responsibilities for the sales, while delivering the bare minimums of a serviceable story built purely on the hijinks of idols, interspersed with inserts of fan-favorite songs, and I think everyone saw that possibility, even expected it. The AKB brand is huge in Japan, big enough that it seemed like it was possible for the anime to sell decently so long as it pandered to fans at the lowest common denominator. It certainly didn’t help these impressions that the designs were so very reminiscent of various moé archetypes, to the extent of characters having hearts symbols emblazoned into their very beings. For me personally, I wasn’t a fan of the group, and in fact used to regard them as another one of the music industry’s endlessly generic pop groups. I was thus, prior to its airing, firmly in the camp that dismissed the show.

So in retrospect, it’s amusing how well the show has won me over across its run, to the point where I am absolutely giddy at the confirmed prospects of a continuation. At its most basic, AKB0048 was pure popcorn entertainment, encapsulated by the hijinks of the 00 girls as they go about their idol lives. And I guess the reason I found it so much more enjoyable than it rightly should’ve been was mainly because it wasn’t just your typical slice-of-idol-life stuff, as equal parts were fueled by the spectacle of the 00 vs DES conflict – which saw some of the most enjoyably silly fights I’ve had the chance to see – and also by the animated replications of AKB48’s performances, jazzed up with Kawamori and Satelight’s signature flair for combining brilliant visuals and music together.

And for sure, I was having fun, god forbid the DES stop me from that! But make no mistake; this superfluous entertainment isn’t all there is to AKB0048. The bulk of the show is driven by its character drama of the struggles idols face as part of 00, and this was executed with a genuine sincerity one would not have probably expected out of the show. I was truly surprised by the amount of depth certain characters gained over the course of the show, without the developments feeling particularly contrived at all. For all that’s been said about the voice acting cast which mostly comprised of industry newbies handpicked from AKB48’s repertoire of performers, they have carried the anime along surprising well, breathing some truly believable emotions into the characters we see and hitting the right notes on some of the show’s more sentimental moments. But what I thought was particularly smart about the writing was that most of the drama is framed in developments that relates to the Japanese pop industry. What would’ve otherwise been an above-average psychological drama on a group of girls wanting to be idols transforms itself into a meta-documentary of the realities in the idol business, touching on the themes of adversity, competition and the personal hardships faced by every individual in such a career.

It’s hard to believe that this came from Kawamori and Okada, two of the industry’s most eccentric personalities, because it some ways, AKB0048 represents one of their most straight-laced efforts in the drama and developments. Their trademark is obvious, with the tendency for loud exaggerations to prove their points, but the characters at least represent some of the most down-to-earth in term of emotional development, without the wild tangents we’re so used to seeing from them. Plus, despite the outlandish nature of the setting, the drama can at times feel surprisingly grounded.

I guess, in some ways, AKB0048 is still very much a work that panders to the AKB fan. There is a sense of the immense respect paid to AKB48 throughout the anime, and while admirable, very little is given to the questioning of this pervasive, religious-like worship of the group and their anime counterpart. Here’s the thing though; I’ve never quite seen fanservice being used in such a smart, context-aware manner. AKB0048 draws inspiration from the history and the workings of the group for their meta-documentary, and through the smokes and mirrors of its premise, actually gives us audience a look into the nature of one of the most prolific groups of the Japanese music industry. For fans, there is the gratification of seeing the numerous, smartly placed references to the group and its members as the show places the idol group on its pedestals. Meanwhile non-fans like me get the exposé on the life of a prospective idol in the business like I’ve mentioned above, and I can’t quite argue with the way it was executed here. I’d especially like to make a note of the Takamina-Kanata arc, my favorite in the entire show, as the stand out which brilliantly captured the paradoxical nature of competition within the group, playing on the contrast between teamwork and individual success while integrating this idea into an extremely sentimental character arc for two aforementioned idols.

Now the show isn’t without its flaws of course, the most glaring one being that there will come a point in the show where your tolerance of its sillier moments will be tested. It is a fine line between silly entertaining and just plain silly that the show treads, as I’ve complained about before in my earlier posts, most prominently in episode 5 and 10. How well you can take the wackiness so inherent to the nature of the show is thus something that will undoubtedly affect your overall enjoyment. One of my other gripes with the show was the way DES was persistently portrayed as a central antagonist when they are in fact mainly used as a plot device to further along the character drama, and they never could develop past that role. While it certainly became the least of my concerns the further I got into the series, their inconsistent portrayal, from ruthlessly efficient to clumsily incompetent, remains one of the weakest links in AKB0048.

Bottomline here? AKB0048 is a work that proves it can entertain while giving a relatively thought-provoking look at the harshness of the idol business, as well as the regimental nature of the AKB48 group. Kudos to Kawamori and Okada, who made this anime far greater than what it might’ve been, and gave me what has been one of the biggest surprises of the spring season.

Folks, it’s been a one hell of a season – to me, the best in years – and AKB0048 wraps it up in glorious fashion. I immensely enjoyed watching this show, and you can bet that I’ll be there for the continuation in 2013. Onwards to next stage!


Preview (Continuation)


  1. I have to agree, when i read the show was about AKB48, i was very skeptical of the show. I only started watching it because i was bored and i had seen everything else. I have to admit though, the show really surprised me. While i was not a big fan of the CGI dance scenes, the atmosphere of the show was well done, it was more serious than I was expecting. Also, i dont really mind the silly aspect of certain shows.
    I do certainly agree with the DES portrayal being rather weak. For most of the show they just seemed incredibly incompetent and honestly their attack on that AKB planet didnt make sense. so the show definitely has its weaknesses. But overall, I found it fairly interesting due to the characters and their interactions.

  2. The funny thing is that the actual AKB48 fans haven’t been supporting the show. Though I’m not surprised since AKB is sometimes shown in a negative light through the series.

    1. I have to admit, this is the first I’ve heard of it, but I could be that the number of AKB fans who are also anime fans make up a relatively small percentage of the fanbase.

      I’ll also be surprised if AKB fans were dismissive of it, because for all the bluntness of AKB0048 on how crazy hard it is be an AKB member, it never actually goes out of it’s way to portray the 00 group or the girls in any particularly negative light, and instead felt to me like they were celebrating the group and its beliefs.

      1. As an AKB fan, I can testify that it has nothing to do with those things.
        The support for AKB48 in real life has nothing to do with the group as an entity, and everything to do with support your number 1 member. Other than the anime fans, the only people buying this will be the wota of the voice actors from the franchise, of which the only real big name is Watanabe Mayu. The rest have only low to middling popularity. In addition, it’s only the voices of the girls, with none of the 3D eyecandy that most wota are in the franchise for, so there’s very little appeal for them to be spending money on this when there are other “more important” things to buy to support their idols, like Mayu’s latest solo single, or AKB/SKE/NMB’s latest singles, which come with the all-important handshake tickets, or tickets to their next concert.

      2. I wouldn’t say that AKB fans have been unsupportive of the show, but rather… most just have no interest in it.

        As AKB is such a huge franchise now, there are so many AKB-related TV shows that one can hardly find time to watch them all. And if you count all the shows that have AKB members as regulars, not just AKB’s own shows, then there are at least 30 shows per week. Not to mention, of course, shows that have them on as guests and the sister groups’ TV shows.

        Just because this anime has AKB in its name, an average AKB fan wouldn’t watch it unless they also like anime, or their favourite member(s) was on the show. This is because for most fans, what they ultimately support is not the brand name itself, but rather the girls (and the girls as a team).

        So really, the average AKB fans wouldn’t watch this because:
        1.) it’s not even about the current AKB
        2.) it’s not about the current members (yes, it has their successors, but only Takamina and Yuko actually had any screen-time to speak of)
        3.) there are already TV shows and heck, documentary movies that show the actual members (not their animated counterparts) struggling to achieve their dreams.

        This is why I think this anime wasn’t actually meant to target AKB fans.

        I enjoyed the anime though, both as an AKB fan and as an anime watcher.
        And I really think that people should just enjoy this series for what it is without thinking that they have to know about AKB or learn more about the group.

        It’s a good anime.

  3. I fell off of the anime bandwagon a few years ago in favor of idols, growing more and more dissatisfied with the writing style of characters and pacing of the anime I was watching. For me, AKB0048 benefited greatly from the fact that Kawamori and Okada are fans of AKB48, Okada especially so. Most of the fictional main cast was one-note and cliched, the ones that Okada clearly didn’t care about split between your poison of bland or annoying. (MAKOTO, Orine, Mimori) But nearly every moment of the senbatsu members (other than Haruna and Sayaka, and somewhat Yukirin, dammit. Also lol Acchan is really, really not like that.) was packed full of little personality ticks that made them come alive, feel like more than 2D, because Okada was drawing off of endless real-life reference material, more than any one writer could come up with even with the most vivid of imaginations without actor input or a real-life muse. Sure, one could conceive of a beloved devoted-to-the-team leader character like Takamina, but it was the display of her real-life contradictions, her fail moments and strange fashion sense, that really rang true to me. Of the main cast, Kanata was the least one-note exactly because she directly interacted with the senbatsu characters the most, and was given the developments to match. The conversation between her and Takamina in episode 11 after the “Nagisa no Cherry” announcement was the most real moment of the series for me, Kanata’s playing around with the scenery standing in stark contrast to the subsequent scene with Yuka, Orine, Suzuko, and Sonata just sitting around until the plot called for them to move to the computer.
    (Keep in mind, though, that my favorites of the main cast ended up being the SuzukoSonata combo, and they were some of the most one-note least developed characters. Then again, part of that is that I think Sawako, Suzuko’s voice actress, is pretty awesome, and Suzuko’s personality bent was largely based on her, so there’s a lot of recognition amusement.)

    My main gripe with this episode is that Chieri seems to have gotten a lobotomy, or be on happy pills or something. After her passionate speech last episode, her sudden derpy speaking and expressions suring Nagisa no Cherry were way too generic, none of that tough-love edge to her that defines Chieri. (Mayu’s voice-acting was also possibly its worst for those lines.) Otherwise, this episode was a blast to watch. For pete’s sake, Yuko motherfucking dual-wielding!
    Hoping that the uneven character development was intentional because a second season was always in the works.

  4. Well said.

    As an AKB48 fan, I literally laughed when they first announced an AKB48 anime. In my mind I somehow felt it would suck a lot. I thought to myself, “Yeah, sure, I’ll watch it and then I’ll laugh at how crappy the first episode will be. Then I’ll just watch two more episode and leave this anime behind.” But boy did I underestimate this entire series. I really enjoyed every episode. Although none of the voice actresses were my oshimen, I still watched it every week. What I didn’t like though was the AKB48 member’s voice acting. You can tell they are still new at VA. But if I look past that, everything else was quite good. One thing I have to point out is that I absolutely enjoyed the veteran VA’s doing the senbatsu members. You can tell they actually did a little homework in learning the voices of the “real” AKB48 members. Mayu in the anime actually does sound like Mayu in real life. Also Yui Horie was just amazing as Yukirin. She executed Yukirin’s catchphrase in the last episode perfectly.

    I am looking forward to season two. Hopefully more anime senbatsu members will show up. 🙂

  5. Like some people, I first approached the show with both excitement and trepidation; excited because of the emotional buzz generated by Macross Frontier, and fears because I wondered if this project could fly as a commercial success. To be sure I had to immerse myself into learning much about AKB48 and its sister groups, which took months but somehow I was won over, not just because of the songs nor the girls’ looks, but because of their quirky personalities and imperfections (that is, the kind of homely, down-to-earth beauty you can find and easily talk to in the classroom, rather than, say, at Cannes or Mann’s Chinese Theater on premiere night).

    Anyway, after 13 weeks I suffice to say that it was an entertaining journey, an emotional roller-coaster ride that took me away from watching anything else and wait for late Saturday nights, wondering and fearing what would happen next.

    An imperfect cocktail of science-fiction fantasy that runs along the lines of a “real-person” fanfiction (RPF) crossed with a tried-and-true musical drama plot out of, say, Western works like Glee, Rock Star or Drumline, yes and while 0048 may not win awards in anything — character design department, voice-acting, plot or screenplay, achieve fantastic sales figures, or convert any viewer into an instant wota — on an emotional level the show hits the right buttons, there was little or even no sugarcoating about the harsh, frank discussions about the realities of idol life (further complicated by the constant threat of the faceless DGTO and its dictatorial leadership, which should’ve given more focus and a face, and why they crack down on pop music), and indirectly a tongue-in-cheek look into producer/songwriter Yasushi Akimoto’s mammoth creation, his pride and joy.

    But the season finale was total shock and awe of devastating, dazzling fusion of light and sound that makes viewers get up on their feet and cheer the heroines, just emotionally powerful enough for most to forgive those aforementioned mistakes.

    Bottom line, this show is truly for keeps. On my collection shelf, front and center.

  6. Megu was shot last episode, so maybe they didn’t see a point in giving her air time, as we already know she’s recovering?

    I went in without knowing anything about AKB48, and I enjoyed absolutely every bit of it (except for the first few minutes of episode one, when I was adjusting to the character designs)! Looking forward so much to S2!

    1. Although it was disappointing that it took a graze to leave her out of the finale, I’m sure there will be domestic fan clamor to get Megu more time in the next installment, her being the most underrated but well-developed minor character in the entire story.

  7. While being somewhat unclear, the episode also tries to pin down what exactly the “idol spirit” means here, which is roughly explained as the desire to give a good, worthy performance despite adversity.

    I think there’s more to it than that. The desire to encourage and protect the dreams of others is, I think, the most fundamental part of the idol spirit. The reason why they want to perform well is even more important, I believe, than the desire for that good performance.

    Anyway, this episode was absolutely great. Flashy, exciting, dramatic, full of good music, over-the-top in ways that should have been ridiculous yet somehow turned out awesome instead… I loved it. I want to thank you for blogging about this series. I had initially dismissed it myself, since I’m not into idols. I just sort of clicked on your review for episode 3 out of idle (heh. idol.) curiosity due to one of the images it put on the front page, and… well, ended up watching the series and sticking with it the whole way through. This is a surprisingly good series, and I fear all too many people have still just dismissed it out of hand, not even realizing what a good show they’re missing.

    Looking forward to more 0048 next year. Given that it looked like we came within a hair’s breadth of losing the entire team of kenkyuuseis to the center nova phenomenon, the competition for Acchan’s position is going to be fierce (but hopefully friendly). Most people seem convinced that it’s going to be Nagisa for sure, so I’m just waiting for Makoto to end up winning the slot instead. 😛

  8. “It’s hard to believe that this came from Kawamori and Okada, two of the industry’s most eccentric personalities, because it some ways, AKB0048 represents one of their most straight-laced efforts in the drama and developments. Their trademark is obvious, with the tendency for loud exaggerations to prove their points, but the characters at least represent some of the most down-to-earth in term of emotional development, without the wild tangents we’re so used to seeing from them. Plus, despite the outlandish nature of the setting, the drama can at times feel surprisingly grounded.”

    Kawamori interview (I’m intend on translating) actually calls AKB0048 the “fast ball” which is unexpected in how straightforward it is (contrast to EVOL that was all about “betraying” fans, literally).

    Anyway, fabuous show. Loved it.

  9. I had some problems with this show… the story was pretty corny at times, the same with the cg they used for the dancing and performances…

    But damn… the last episodes were well done. And it wasn’t just the return of the action and fighting and all. Even with the featured songs being reused from the op/ed the presentation was just brilliant. For once the cg actually made things look better.

  10. The show is incredibly stupid and cheesy. Its also really awesome. That’s what I love about this show. It basically takes its incredibly dumb premise and presents it with such loud and unsubtle spectacle and I can’t help but love it.

    This finale is pretty much what the shows is cranked up to max. Using the OP as a “battle” song was perfect. Then pretty much everyone started spawning their own Kirara or that Mayayu Rocket Bandolier, and it was all awesome to watch.


    Lol. I think I’m really starting to recognize the classic Okada Mari style, and consequently understanding some of the flak regarding her writing.

    It took a while for me to jump on the AKB0048 bandwagon, but for all its flashy entertainment, I’m glad I did. By no means is it a flawless series however – in fact it’s full of them – but like you said Asobi, it’s pretty good popcorn entertainment. The finale ramped it up to max, and it was easily on par with some of the flashiest scenes of Macross Frontier. Plot-wise the show has been pretty terrible at churning out believable, well-developed conflicts, and I really hope the second season serves to actually explain some things instead of churning out one flashy concert scene after another. The first season should’ve been sufficient enough to build the AKB0048 universe, so assuming this whole anime wasn’t some money mongering venture, the second season should really look to resolving some key issues that were hinted at in the finale (e.g. DES, Center Novae, etc).

    Oh yeah, I don’t know if anyone noticed, but did anyone else think the whole “succession” thing was strangely dark? I know the show certainly doesn’t present it that way, but there’s something a little off about casting aside your own identity and molding yourself to be another person, no matter how lauded they may be. You’re essentially losing your identity, and I personally found it fascinating they built an entire series on that. A backhanded jab at the idol industry maybe? Who knows.

    Anyway, thanks for covering the show Asobi! See you next stage!

  12. Loved it. My favorite so far this year. Not ground breaking, but well written and executed. It got you emotionally involved with characters you never thought you would before.
    Yes, the main DES plot is silly. But Kawamori and Okada KNEW that and don’t focus on it.
    I agree you could tell Okada and Kawamori love AKB48. I am not a big fan, but I do enjoy watching Kojima Haruna(the stuff she does is hilarious) on TV, and her voice was creepily the same when she said “nyan nyan deshita!”
    PS- I think that the OP/ED single is going to have the “senbatsu” election tickets to vote for favorite trainees and/or whoever is #1 will be the new Acchan. I think that is why it said 2013. Since the actual AKB48 elections are over for 2012, maybe they want to coincide?

  13. Well, I watched AKB0048 because Kawamori is directing it. I didn’t care about AKB before that. Then I watched the first episode, Aitakatta is echoing in my head after the concert.

    If this is an attempt to get some anime fans to support AKB, it worked.

  14. Man will definitely miss the show. Definitely was the surprise hit for me of the spring season. Kawamori and Okada have truly put effort into AKB. I’m not the biggest idol fan but kawamori has always made me a fan to the macross idols at least. If anything from this show I was definitely a Kanata fan.

    As fun as the battles and concerts were I’m glad there was just that little bit of conflict and drama of the senior and junior members that’s what really made the show a more memorable experience. Just a very entertaining watch.

  15. While and interesting and entertaining essay overall, a couple of factors hurt it. First is the purplish and somewhat wandering prose; second is the ignorance of iM@S. The latter hurts a lot. For example, the paragraph with “transforms itself into a meta-documentary of the realities in the idol business” applies fully to iM@S, but AKB0048 is more than that, which is the point. It would be an extremely instructive to compare the two from this angle, I suspect.

    BTW, Megumi, obviously, was stuck in infirmary, not having Takamina’s firmness or Chieri’s insolense to thrust herself into the action.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *