「Who is in the pumpkin carriage?」
I tend to describe THE IDOLM@STER as a slice-of-life, but it is, at its heart, a sports anime. We have young people training ceaselessly for that next competition, shedding sweat and tears for their dreams, occasionally running off into the sunset, all that good jazz. Sure, it’s about showbiz, but it’s about showbiz infused with sportsmanship, unshakeable camaraderie and never-say-die attitudes that you wouldn’t associate with this rather cynical industry. The hypothetical FOOTBALLM@STER would be a very similar show.
As sports anime go, THE IDOLM@STER is an incredibly idealistic show. Whereas sports drama in Japan is usually about the struggle for the sake of the struggle (and the protagonist team would often ultimately lose), THE IDOLM@STER is almost a Disney variation. Consider Cinderella Girls‘ central metaphor. It’s about young girls dreaming of becoming princesses. That’s Disney magic right there, complete with musical numbers. This is a fairy tale (of the non-Grimm variety), a wholly romanticised version of reality. In fact, Cinderalla Girls intentionally and completely denies base pragmatism. Our main lead, Shimamura Uzuki (Ohashi Ayaka) is not actually sure what an idol does, but is still enraptured by the dream. That’s the kind of show this is.
So, all in all, Cinderella Girls isn’t all that different from its predecessor. It is, however, presented slower. The story starts from the very beginning, before our girls have even been employed by their agency yet. And the focus is kept firmly on our obligatory irrepressible genki girl and her stoic foil, Shibuya Rin (Fukuhara Ayaka). Those who have watched the previous season will identify them as the Haruka-Chihaya analogue who will serve as the focal point of the narrative, so it’s appropriate that they are given more time in the first episode. Other Cinderalla Girls are still used constructively, to create a sense of an expansive industry into which 346 Production must eventually penetrate. I think this narrow approach is good; it gives a clear sense of ‘main characters’ and doesn’t overload the viewer with too many faces, names, and background information in the first episode. I, personally, actually know very little about the greater IDOLM@STER franchise, and appreciate being eased into the anime, unlike the bustle of Kantai Collection earlier in the week.
The other thing I think Cinderella Girls does differently from KanColle is making the player avatar character from the source game into a bona fide character. The ‘Producer‘ (Takeuchi Sunsuke) of Cinderella Girls is, more-or-less, the inverse of the one in the previous series, a stone-faced man of few words who nonetheless still starts as being rather awkward at his job and frequently displaying a nervous tic. There’s actually a bit of a creepy subtext of a corporate face trying to solicit young girls, but even that is so steeped in idealistic goodwill that you can’t feel too bad about it. The producer is only seeking passion. Wow. Negativity is simply not allowed in this show.
If you need a soul-healing kind of anime this season, one that restores your faith in the human race and just makes you feel better about the world, then I recommend giving THE IDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls a try. I’m unlikely to be covering it regularly on Random Curiosity, but I do have faith in its power as a weekly pick-me-up. It’s a pleasant looking show (CGI flower petals aside) very comfortable in its pacing and direction, never in a hurry to be something overly complex. Sometimes, a simple show where you know, despite ups and downs, there will always be a happy ending, is just what one needs. It’s like reconnecting with your inner child, and I think that’s a healthy exercise.