The latest (and perhaps final) animated offering in the Idolmaster franchise is a somewhat enjoyable, though equally forgettable ride that unfortunately falls into the same trappings as the original series. If you were looking for cute idols doing cute things... well, you will likely fall asleep halfway through.
The problem with the Idolmaster movie is that it doesn't quite understand what makes the franchise exciting to so many people. It's well-produced, the characters are fun and unique, the music is great-- exactly what any fan of the games would want-- but as soon as it starts to reach a high point, it just pops like
a balloon, replaced instead with mundane, boring drama that will send you into an hour-long yawning session. Even worse, the drama here is focused on a new group of idols rather than the main characters, so there's even less reason for anyone (save for perhaps the most zealous of fans) to care about anything that occurs in the movie's latter half. At least the girl with the side ponytail is cute, I suppose... ?
It's a shame, because the first forty minutes are a ton of fun. As the girls are now all accomplished idols (famous enough to have their own television station or to throw the ceremonial pitch in a professional baseball game), the constant battle to keep 765 Productions afloat is largely a thing of the past, and the girls are now able to simply relax and be themselves for a change. And so they do, joking with each other, participating in silly commercials and occasionally hitting on our ol' pal, the Producer. It's fun. It's cute. Idolmaster is at its best when it doesn't take itself seriously and focuses instead on the positive aspects of the girls, rather than their daddy issues or their ability to scream at one another. As a cute slice-of-life, Idolmaster is excellent, but as a drama, it is trite, boring twaddle that you could find for sale at the dollar store. And unfortunately the movie decides to take the latter approach.
That's not to say that the drama in Idolmaster is offensively bad, but it certainly does not offer anything new or interesting for the series. If you have watched even one idol anime before, you've probably experienced everything that the movie's dramatic portions have to offer. Girls struggle to practice in time for the deadline, they have arguments with one another, one threatens to leave the group-- you know how the story goes. It would be a little more interesting if the drama developed one or more of the characters by showing a more complex side to their personality, but nothing of the sort ever happens. The movie isn't even about the main cast in the first place. It's about the B Team. This may have worked if it was in the context of a second season, but developing seven new idols on-top of the main twelve (and then there's still the Producer, and Ritsuko, and...) in a two hour movie is simply impossible. The movie was not their time and place to shine.
If you're a fan of Haruka, though, you will find plenty to enjoy here since she is elevated to the role of protagonist, albeit at the cost of all the other idols. She serves as a role-model and a mentor to the other group, encouraging them and helping to resolve their issues. It's a nice change from the main TV series where she was always the underdog, the motivated but naive idol, and it shows that the characters are indeed maturing as time passes.
The Producer is also a surprisingly positive presence in the story, just as he was in the main series. The idea of giving the blank Producer from the games a face and a personality was controversial to some because it hinted towards the possibility of another boring, oblivious harem protagonist (hello, Infinite Stratos), but that has never been the case here. He is a genuine character in his own right, as important to the story as any of the idols. He's inexperienced at his job, yes, but his passion is real and it makes sense why the girls would feel attached to him. With his plan to leave Japan temporarily in order to study, he shows that he's willing to change and improve, that he's not content simply being the same person for eternity. The Producer is an honestly dynamic, three-dimensional character and the anime would not be anywhere near as exciting had he simply been a blank face like he was in the games.
The music in the Idolmaster movie is outstanding, perhaps even the greatest part of the entire experience, though that should not come as any surprise. There's the occasional montage with one of Idolmaster's iconic songs playing in the background, though it never breaks the pacing as it did in the case of something like A-Channel (... does anyone even remember that show exists?) The performances themselves are excellent and by far some of the best the idol genre has ever seen, although there are just too few of them. It might even be worth watching the movie solely for the five-minute performance at the end. If nothing else, Idolmaster has shown that it's still the leader of the idol genre with regards to music.
The animation also bears a mention for how natural and fluid it feels. There's a few short scenes that are even rotoscoped (and no, not the kind of rotoscoping found in Aku no Hana) which look incredibly lifelike. And whereas most idol anime opt to resort to CG when animating their performances, Idolmaster is drawn almost fully by hand. It's certainly a good looking anime- at least when it matters the most.
Should you watch the Idolmaster movie? If you are desperately craving for more of the characters and don't mind sitting through an hour of boredom, sure. But do keep in mind that the amount of screen-time for any non-Haruka or B-Team idol is pretty much nil. If you're the type of person who watches Idolmaster primarily or even solely to see one or two of your favourite idols (and provided that idol isn't Haruka), there really isn't a whole lot to look forward to here. There's no Mami, Ami, Takane, Makoto, Chihaya-- just a few scenes of them sitting mindlessly in the background with the occasional line of dialogue of every now and then. The movie is barely even a story about 765 Productions, anyway.
It's a nice sleeping aid, but if you're looking for a better idol anime, Aikatsu and Love Live 2 are duly recommended.
I recently had the pleasure of watching The iDOLM@STER Movie: Beyond the Brilliant Future!, bringing my experience with this franchise back to the ensemble that started it all. It was an unexpected round trip due to my checkered history with this franchise, not being terribly enamored with the original TV series--let’s save time and call it “Classic”--falling in love with the Cinderella Girls TV series, trying to get into the SideM TV series to no effect, and peeking back to the closing chapter of Classic out of curiosity
Perhaps my on and off relationship with this franchise disqualifies me from quantifying this film’s place among its
co-branded relatives. I know not whether I can speak for iDOLM@STER fans, idol fans in general, or even anime fans. I can only speak for myself, but the disparity between Classic and Beyond the Brilliant Future! despite sharing the same ensemble, makes for an emotional core that eludes description
But to be honest, my first impression with this film was rather pedestrian; simultaneously enjoyable while starved for a sign of incoming narrative catharsis. But as the curtain fell on the film’s first act, I realized what this film was about, and from there I knew I was in for something a little special
Beyond the Brilliant Future! is a film dealing in experience, walking side by side with enthusiastic aspirations and tangling with tangible insecurity. At the center of it all is Haruka Amami, thrust into the role of leader as she guides her peers to their first arena concert. Along the way, a group of aspiring idols is taken under Haruka and co’s tutelage. Though the gap in on-stage performance ability between the established idols and the idols in training is obvious, it’s soon clear the established idols, and especially Haruka herself, still have a lot to learn themselves
This is Haruka’s story through and through. Her bestowment of experience and the experience she gains is the canvas through which her character is expressed, painted by scene and song alike. Rain or shine, there are many moments where a certain frankness permeates her feelings. The whimsical fluttering in the early morning sun beyond her cheerful demeanor in the everyday. Her emotional maturity in confiding with her closest friend despite her role as leader, the only visible expressions mere reflections off a nearby window. To the very songs themselves, encapsulating everything from when she was a new idol herself, to the heights she’s reached and the triumph’s she’s had
But where Haruka’s character is most realized is through her relationship with a certain idol in training named Kana Yabuki. The plucky Kana adores the idol Haruka, her nervousness and fervor apparent but never a caricature of either shyness or admiration. At the same time, Haruka’s response to Kana’s intensity never elevates her to being above Kana, but sets them as equals from the outside looking in. At once, Haruka is elated and embarrassed, flattered and flustered, happy to be mentor and nervous -as- mentor, learning as much as Kana is along the way. The balance of humors between them perfectly grounds their relationship. The story understands what being starstruck is while the film understands how admiration acts
Through it all, Haruka runs through an emotional gauntlet as she juggles leading her peers while guiding Kana and the new idols. Throughout the film, the story slowly builds an escalation of tension on palpable worries and fears. But rarely does the story overstep anything it ever establishes; it’s clear their problems are a major obstacle for them, but the film scarcely draws attention to it with manufactured musical moments, instead preferring to punctuate high drama with low ambience. The film has -confidence- in itself enough to let the writing quality of its story come through in its deliberate pacing, to let the character writing express its depth for itself than to cue in for when it’s being expressed
But in committing so heavily to one main character from a cast of characters that was a true ensemble, the film runs afoul of having too many characters that contribute nary a much to the story. Remember how I said I might be disqualified from quantifying this film? I wasn’t terribly enamored with Classic in the first place, so where the film would go in terms of its focal point would be irrelevant to me. It might be safe of me to assume you’d really like movie this if Haruka was your favorite character from Classic, but Kana is the deuteragonist. I’d feel a bit dishonest if I didn’t disclose where I’m approaching this film from
That isn’t to say all of the characters got lost in the shuffle from Classic to movie. Chihaya Kisaragi has the same role to Haruka as before, being a close friend to confide in and be open with. The Producer and Ritsuko Akizuki are also more or less intact, but now distancing themselves from Haruka and her peers as they become the mentors for Kana and the new idols. Most pleasantly surprising, however, is Iori Minase, who imparts a few words of wisdom for the competitive Shiho Kitazawa
While Shiho felt like an antagonist who only expedited what would’ve happened eventually, she’s at least understandable, owing much to the preamble set in the early parts of the film that build to more drama as the story goes on. But the biggest problem with Shiho’s storyline, and Kana’s by extension, is the disconnect between what underlies their aspirations and the cinematography of the arena concert. The story is focused on Haruka and Kana, but the arena concert emphasizes Haruka and her peers. I know this is likely due to what The iDOLM@STER is as a franchise, but the disconnect between them is still noticeable
That’s my biggest issue with that storyline, but it’s overall just a nitpick that’s amplified because of how much I bought into that thread in the first place. Putting that aside, the arena concert song itself, M@STERPIECE, is, well, worthy of its title. It’s a tour de force of the Classic ensemble, as each of their voices stand out when they need to before harmonizing to perfection. The overall feel is nothing if not triumphant, emblematic of their accomplishments. Some of the insert songs are also nice callbacks to when Classic was the only anime The iDOLM@STER had. Definitely a nice touch of the past to accentuate the story-driven songs of the film’s present
But what I found more pleasing than the music were the visuals, and not solely for how good they look in and of themselves--high polish and budget can fade over time--but the direction within them. The film has a knack for communicating in juxtaposition between characters where dialog would be redundant, from the idols in training to Haruka to Miki Hoshii to Chihaya to Iori. And at its best, the film expresses some emphatically poignant epiphanies with nary a line of confirmation. This is part of why the film is often so confident to let the character and story writing express itself, because it can still speak volumes without uttering a word. And I just realized how ironic that is for a franchise rooted to characters who dance and -sing-
Regardless of what the core of the franchise is, I’m glad the original iDOLM@STER anime had this chapter and I’m highly satisfied I checked this out. This was the entry the original series needed, and the film the first face of the franchise in Haruka Amami deserved. Beyond the Brilliant Future! isn’t quite the M@STERPIECE to end a Classic, but if subsequent entries in the franchise can stick to this level of care, then that’s just one more step to a Brilliant Future