May 23rd, 2015

Firechick's Anime Reviews: Aikatsu (Season 1)

I give this joyful anime about singing...a 78/100!

Lots of people have favorite singers. Many I know have very devoted fans who would go to concerts in hurricanes just to see them. I liked some singers back in my day, but never to that extent. Due to lack of enthusiasm and money, I could never go to concerts for my favorite singers. I'm not into singers as other people I know are, and TV shows that often star those singers often turn out really bad. So...anime about singers? Meh, I wasn't sure if I would like it. But then I saw people praising Aikatsu up the wazoo. Being bored and having no other good anime to watch, I decided to give it a try. I expected to hate it, but...after seeing the first season, I'm saying this: Why won't America broadcast this?! If this had been shown when I was a kid, I probably would have ate it up, and thus, its popularity is 100% justified.

The story is about a normal girl named Ichigo Hoshimiya, who works at a bento shop alongside her mother and little brother. When her brother asks her to take her to an idol's concert, Ichigo and her best friend Aoi accompany him. The idol in question is Mizuki Kanzaki, who is world famous. After watching her concert, Ichigo is smitten, and decides she wants to be an idol just like Mizuki. She and Aoi manage to find a special idol school called Starlight Academy, and they audition to get in. Together, they encounter friends, rivals, endure intense training, and are determined to fulfill their dreams. But some obstacles may be too much for even them to handle.

For a kids show, the animation starts off rather bland and wonky, especially the CGI. At first, the CGI is pretty atrocious. The movements are stiff, the girls look like plastic Barbie dolls, and it doesn't blend well with the 2D animation. Thankfully, both the 2D and 3D animation get significantly better as the show goes on. Gradually, but definitely. The CGI is at its best in the second season, and this review is about the first season, so it's safe to say that it takes a loooong time to get better. But the 2D animation itself isn't bad. It's reasonably good, but not particularly great either, with plenty of bright colors, special effects to make the concerts flashy, outfit designs being detailed and elaborate, etc. But it is a kids show, and kids love bright colors and intricate designs, so its definitely not a detriment to the show. I do have some problems with the character designs, namely with the girls' legs being drawn extremely thin and stick-like. But that's just a personal nitpick so don't take it seriously.

For shows about singers, music obviously has to be an important factor in marketing a show. Aikatsu...well, it tries, but while its soundtrack is good, most of the songs...are rather mixed, at best. Some songs are great, some are good, some...are badly sung. The soundtrack is pretty mellow and bouncy, and some are even instrumental versions of songs that the characters sing in the show. I feel some of the best songs are Glass Doll, Signalize, Wake Up My Music, and Happiness On The Same Earth. But some songs are not only bad, but very badly sung. For some reason, the characters all have different speaking voices and singing voices, provided by different people. I don't know what made the producers do this, but for some characters different singing voices work, such as Aoi, Yurika, Ran, and Sakura, but Ichigo's singing voice...isn't the best. She sounds like she smoked too many cigarettes when she sings, and her singing voice is nasally. I actually feel Ran's singing voice would be better for Ichigo than the person doing Ichigo's singing voice. Not only that, some songs try waaaay too hard to be cute and poppy, and some songs have really stupid lyrics and premises. So yeah, even though music should be the show's strong point, it isn't in this case, and it continues in the second season.

The characters are a bit of a mixed bag. At first glance, they look like simple stereotypes, and for the most part they are pretty simple. But over the course of the series, they show many subtle characteristics that make them more than just stereotypes, and many cliches about them are toned down so they feel like real people. For example, Ichigo is a cheerful girl who eats a lot, but the show puts emphasis on her working hard to achieve her dreams and learning about the idol world. Aoi is smart, but she isn't over the top about it, and Ran at first comes off as a snob, but she shows hidden depths later on. My favorites are Yurika because she's gloriously funny and takes pride in pretending to be a vampire (and she has the best song in the series) and Sakura because she's more than just a shy yamato nadeshiko character, and also has great songs. I do feel that the characters don't always make mistakes or mess up, especially during their idol performances. Ichigo only messes up once, and never does it again, even though she doesn't always win everything. Even the characters who look perfect show hidden depths later on. I applaud the show for keeping the characters all on the same level regardless, and they're never more or less talented than each other. Everyone gets a fair chance, and I especially love Mitsuishi. She's a teacher who actively wants her students to do their best in everything, but doesn't coddle them. She challenges them for their benefit, and genuinely praises them when they do well, so she's not a stereotypical good teacher or bad teacher. She's everything a good teacher should be.

Unfortunately, there is one character who is the sole exception to this rule, who really shouldn't be in the show, and that's Kaede Ichinose. I hate her. Why? Because she embodies the following tropes: Mary Sue, Deus Ex Machina, and Broken Aesop. Imagine this: there's a big competition coming up, and you work your butt off to try and win, putting in lots of effort. But then, out of nowhere, a random person leaps into the competition, forces her way in, and gets accepted into the contest without any repercussions whatsoever. This person claims to be able to pull off impossible feats, manages to perform without any effort, and wins, making everyone else's efforts, and by default the entire said competition, completely pointless! That's basically Kaede in a nutshell. She appears completely out of nowhere, steals the girls' chances of winning the Tri-Star competition, outright wins without any effort, forces herself in a competition she didn't officially sign up for, doesn't get called out on it, gets everything good handed to her on a silver platter, and is basically a perfect, idealized idol girl who is good at everything. She even claims to have scaled the entire Grand Canyon WITHOUT ANY CLIMBING EQUIPMENT WHICH EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG KNOWS IS COMPLETELY AND PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR AN ADULT LET ALONE A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL. (Ichigo pretty much does the same thing on Angely Mountain, which is also impossible). The worst part is, she doesn't appear in the show until episode 33 despite being shown in the opening, very late in the series, so there's literally no time to develop her. Had she been introduced earlier and given some episodes to show human strengths and weaknesses, she might have been given a chance, but the creators just throw this overly perfect Mary Sue in here, and considering she does everything right without any effort, it not only completely destroys the show's dynamic, but renders its morals and ideals about working hard to fulfill your dreams completely pointless. Not only that, she has absolutely ZERO realistic flaws that make her more human, whereas the other girls do. Yurika pretends to be a vampire because she thinks her fans won't like a nerdy shy girl, Aoi doesn't have faith in her abilities, Ran tries too hard to be perfect, Sakura is too reserved, and Ichigo sometimes takes things the wrong way. Even the top idol, Mizuki, has flaws in that the only reason she's so good is because she works her butt off, which leads to her overworking herself. Kaede has absolutely no weaknesses that allow us to root for her or identify with her. A perfect character isn't interesting, creators! I take back everything I said about Yuuko from Happiness Charge, because at least Yuuko had SOME hints of weaknesses even though they weren't utilized, and she at least was still on the same level as the other girls! Kaede is just a poorly written character who shouldn't be there. It seems the creators realize where they went wrong, as Kaede doesn't make many reappearances in later seasons, and the girls get their times to shine again, so I guess I can give them some credit for realizing where they went wrong.

But Kaede isn't the only flaw the show has. I have to admit, things do tend to go a little too smoothly for the girls on occasion. Other than Ichigo, almost no character messes up during their performance, nor does anything really prevent them from showing off nothing but their best, which can push people's suspension of disbelief a lot. Success comes from failure, and even though the show has good morals about hard work and perserverance, they don't really mean much if we don't see the characters struggle or even fail at times. The show also has a very...odd view of scandals. One episode featured Yurika flipping out because...someone caught her without her vampire persona at a hospital, fearing that if her fans see who she really is, they'll stop loving her. Uhh...that's not a scandal. If it was discovered that Yurika was actually really mean or did bad things, I'd believe it, but her fans dropping her because she's really a nerdy shy girl? I can't see that happening, and I fail to see how this is viewed as scandal material. Scandals are something like people having illicit affairs, doing drugs, overstepping their bounds, or doing genuinely bad things such as robbery, murder, dog fighting, you name it! True, this is a kids show so the writers aren't allowed to explore topics such as this, but honestly, I felt Fancy Lala did the whole scandal episode a lot better. Also, as much as I like the characters, they don't feel like well rounded individuals to me, in that they don't seem to have any lives outside of being an idol. We hardly ever see other aspects of their characters, such as their family lives, their hobbies (and I mean hobbies that DON'T involve idols of some sort), their weaknesses, their habits, their daily routines, etc. Almost every single day of their lives is devoted to being an idol. It's good to be passionate about something, and that's great, but there's more to a person than their dreams, and giving characters those little extra tid-bits about them makes them feel more human and even more relatable so we can have more reason to care about them. I love anime that make use of their episodes to show aspects of their characters that normally people wouldn't notice, as things like that show how much producers care about their characters. Unfortunately, this isn't the case with Aikatsu, which is a shame, as there's so many characters who deserve so much more development than they've gotten.

Overall, if you want a cute anime about singing, idols, cute girls, and good morals, Aikatsu is the perfect anime to show to your little sister, daughter, niece, etc.