So, what happens when the clock strikes midnight?
I wasn’t actually intending to write an end post about THE IDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls, mostly because it hasn’t, er, ended yet (I’m pleased that it will be a split cour show), but after going on and on about Kantai Collection – KanColle the other other day, I thought we needed a positive example. I’m not convinced that KanColle needed to turn out as… well, bad, as it did; after all, THE IDOLM@STER is an adaptation of an insidiously similar type of game—a lot less boats, slightly more dancing—and it at least managed to end up coherent, which is something to note, nay, celebrate. The task is not trivial; the Cinderella Girls game also had a heavy cast and not much of a narrative. If you were writing an anime, what would you do with material like this?
When I previewed this show I noted how Cinderalla Girls seemed to want to juggle its diverse cast, and it did seem to manage fairly aptly. Yes, there were still faces popping in now and then that I will not recognise at all, and it was fairly obvious when someone was showing up as part of a play-or-pay contract or something, but at least it was always clear what their actual role in the story is. To be precise, their role in the story was often completely unimportant and I felt relieved that I didn’t worry about them much. Not that their appearances were useless—they were usually in-universe celebrities or roommates or a senior colleague—but that they were allowed to be forgettable because their role didn’t need me to know anything about them to understand. It also helped that the continual focus remained firmly on the primary trio, Uzuki, Rin and Mio. Look, I actually remember three names, and I’m awful with names. Even within the Cinderalla Project that they were part of, it was obvious they were the main characters and played that role consistently, even during other characters’ arcs. So even if I forget everyone else (full disclosure: I only remember three names) I feel assured that if I keep track of them I’ll still be able to follow the overarching plot.
Cinderalla Girls appears to have two main lines in its narrative. There’s the standard ‘show off all the girls and their quirks’ episodes, which is standard fare, and there’s also the ‘breaking into the industry’ plot, most evident in episode 07 and 08 and focused on our main characters. It was still a bit of a bumpy pace—mainly because the light character episodes contrasted with the heavier drama quite starkly, but two lines of narrative are still far tighter than a dozen thrown ad hoc onto each other. And the stark contast, is I suppose, part of the point, at least for the first round involving Mio’s sudden disillusionment in episode 07. When I introduced episode 01, I ribbed about how the whole ‘Cinderalla’ metaphor was used in an incredibly hopeful and idealistic way, and to Cinderella Girls‘ credit they eventually played off that. Unlike the original run of THE IDOLM@STER, Cinderella Girls zooms in on the nitty gritty of the industry. In the original, our girls were practicing idols at an unestablished production house, whereas in Cinderalla Girls they are unbaptised idols in a well-established production house. Whereas the original cast were already used to the travails of showbiz, the new one is not. Juxtaposing the idol dream with the unflattering work needed to reach it was simple, obvious, and effective. I should emphasise simple, because it shows that one doesn’t need convoluted plots to create compelling drama.
Much of the effectiveness of episode 07, to me, comes from the use of the Producer as an actual character. From what I understand he doesn’t exist in the game—that’s the player’s role—but in a story with a Cinderella metaphor about turning girls intro princesses, a fairy godmother is required. Sure, you could have kept him behind the camera as an asinine gimmick (the first episode of the original series played with this), but that would have reduced him as a character. I would argue that in our tale the fairy godmother is just as important as the Cinderellas, if not more. So credit to the staff for writing one from scratch. Remember, it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t exist in the original source. Adaptations are not transliterations. Your game is about some guy who needs to raise idols? Well, here is an anime about the very same, and a Producer who actually has character, who actually has a conflict, and who plays an active part in the narrative is required. If there’s only one thing that I would hold Cinderalla Girls above Kantai Collection about, it would be the Producer versus the Admiral. The Admiral is a vapid, distracting nonentity, whereas the Producer is by far the most developed character in his show and helps greatly in driving the plot. The latter is far more useful, and makes for a far better story, than the former.
Look, Cinderella Girls doesn’t do everything perfectly, and it doesn’t even pretend to have ended yet so I’m not equipped to pass final judgment, but at least so far it has shown that it understands what the general shapes of an anime adaptation of a plot-thin game should look like. It doesn’t just feel as if someone amateurishly threw everything they could think of about the game into a pot and boiled until it bubbled over. I’m not looking for genius, just competence, because a very competent show can make for a perfectly palatable watch. Unlike the alternative. Before going crazy with the ingredients, make sure you know how to cook.