On Christmas 2013, the band Wake Up, Girls plays their debut song to a small audience without much fanfare. After the concert, the group’s manager takes off with the money, leaving Green Leaves Entertainment on the verge of closure and the band without a future.
Despite this tumultuous beginning, the girls get a second chance, thanks to a mysterious benefactor and a shady business proposal. From here it’s a rocky climb to the top, but it’s a climb the girls are ready to make. Wake Up, Girls! follows the internal and external struggles of being a small-time idol girl band, from finding and accepting gigs to competing in popularity against other pop bands.
Through the band, the girls come to accept their pasts and become more certain about their futures. Faced with increasing stakes and popularity, each of the band’s seven members must find the strength and courage inside herself to give her all to the band.
Wake Up, Girls! was announced by the production company Avex Entertainment, who helmed the series in collaboration with director Yutaka Yamamoto and voice talent agency 81 Produce. The anime was billed as the Lucky☆Star reunion as Yamamoto would once again work with scriptwriter/series composer Touko Machida and MONACA composer Satoru Kousaki. Avex and 81 Produce held open auditions for the voice actresses who would voice and sing as the Wake Up, Girls! idol group and over 2000 candidates auditioned. The anime served as the V.A. debut for the seven eventual winners. In addition, the winners all shared their given name with the character they voiced.
Note: watch the movie BEFORE you start watching the first episode. You’ll thank me later.
Success doesn’t come easily for anyone. No one is born with talent and although there are some that possesses exceptional abilities, or otherwise labeled a ‘prodigy’, everyone must try something in order to succeed. For idols, there is no exception to that. The people you see on live television performing dances and songs worked long and hard to reach where they are. Why? Because they love performing for the audience. But for a small seven-girl unit called ‘Wake Up, Girls’, they don’t have much of an audience, at least not yet.
Directed by Yamaken, Wake Up, Girls is the first show he works on three years since Fractale. And as an original work, one would expect some natural feeling coming out of his writing. While that seems so, there’s suggestions that the show itself builds more for just the road to earning success. It suggests that the characters themselves are on their personal road to not only become an idol but also to change themselves. But for a show to succeed in this way requires development, something that is staggering for just 12 episodes. It’s also important to watch the movie (Wake Up, Girls! Shichinin no Idol) before venturing on to this series. It’s the prequel after all.
And 12 episodes really is just like pouring oil into water. The end result isn’t pretty and neither is the overall direction of this show altogether. But for starters, Wake Up, Girls does a decent setup with its general concept a bit differently in some ways. Compared to some other idol theme series such as Idolmaster, Love Live, and Akb4008 Stage, WuG has a more realistic vibe. The main characters aren’t famous and in fact doesn’t seem different from your average day folks. They all come from different backgrounds and it takes some time for them to come together as a group with a united goal – to become a professional idol group for the world to recognize. The diversity could be perhaps something to expand on and one such character hold a more distinctive stand than others. Her name is Mayu and was recognized as a centerpiece figure in a former group she was once part of, the I-Club. Unlike them, WuG is more like a freshman. I-Club is not only their rival but also their senior as a group of experienced idols. What the show brings together is to see how WuG climbs a ladder to success in the entertainment industry. Against such a rival, that’s no pushover.
Mayu is perhaps a character of various complexity. Most of this revolves around her past as a former member of I-Club. Her talent has earned the nickname ‘Mayushi’ where she also has a fanbase on the Internet. Yet, her decision to quit the group now has backlash from fans that invites insecurity to such attention. Regardless, Mayu still stands out as perhaps the most prominent character in WuG as the series explores her dynamics. But from basic perspective, it’s easy to cherry pick her present state of being. From her first encounter with WuG’S manager Kōhei Matsuda, one can tell that she no longer wishes to be an idol, at least in the entertainment field. So where does that lead her now? After some convincing, she does want to become an idol again but not without some tough love. There’s also an exploration of her persona and inner psyche at the surface level. But what the show doesn’t do right is dealing with how she copes with this and her seemingly resolve seems rushed. At the same time, some of her development lacks sympathy despite the feelings she tries to reach out to others. It may feel realistic on some stances but the way it conveys itself is lacking. On the other hand, her relationship with her mother can be relatable in some ways. Remember when your parents sometimes disagree with you on topics such as your future? Mayu’s scenario is not so different.
Other characters comes from a variety of backgrounds although they all have the ambition to become an idol. A few of them stands out more than others such as Miyu and her hyperactive personality or Yoshino as a defacto leader with her experience. Unfortunately, not all of them get enough characterization as the show focuses on their path to their future, rather than their past. Only a few characters get spotlight with Mayu being the centerpiece. What that past does explore is the rivalry between her and Shiho, the current center spot of I-1 Club. Yet, that rivalry is frivolous and lacks impact on some aspects. Through the few encounters they have, it’s shown that I-1 Club always steps ahead. This should be no surprise considering their experience while WuG is more of a newbie. Still, their progress feels rushed and lacks integrity.
What the series does have is realism, defined in a rather natural way especially for the idol group WuG. Most of them seems to stay themselves rather than trying to become someone who they are not. They also take their work seriously and have fun while at it. At the same time, they group develops a strong bond with each other despite the hardship of being an idol. There’s no competition among each other to see who is the best unlike Mayu’s past days as an idol in the I-1 Club. Everyone stays united and when life becomes tough, they look out after one another. There’s a certain appeal for WuG as well when they take the stage to please both the audience and people who supports them. The story itself also gets to the point right away rather than pushing buttons to drag itself. It’s important for a 1 cour show to focus on this aspect to truly and realistically show just how difficult it is to become an idol. It takes skill, determination, and integrity. WuG delivers that with the extensive training programs, their coach’s method of discipline, and rivalry with other idol groups. Even the audition will invite tension and make it realistically challenging to high degree of credibility. It’s a hard life out there.
Animation wise, we get a moderate and average delivery. None of the characters stands out in any particular way with their character designs. They look simple and even the first episode has the idol group dance on stage in school uniforms, a classic of what you may see during childhood days. The Green Leaves Entertainment agency itself also seems to lack any distinctive features although it once again demonstrates credibility. Because it’s near bankruptcy, you’d expect a simple design and that’s what you’ll get. There’s also small bits of fan service that may be distracting but most of it isn’t depicted as shock value.
As an idol theme show, soundtrack is a key element that empowers WuG. The music has a way to clearly describe itself as artistic with the enthusiasm. The downside is the rather repetitiveness the show seems to demonstrate with a lack of diversity in its songs. What the singing festival present lacks strength with how the song is performed. Fortunately, the OST finds itself to balance this with its well-coordinated tone. A quiet atmosphere with a small group of idols, the soundtrack creates realism from all angles. On the other hand, the OP song isn’t very easily to appreciate with its weak artistic features.
WuG isn’t a show I’ll remember for long. Yet, it depicts more of a realistic way of how the entertainment industry works as being an idol and reach success is a very challenging task. It’s not a joke considering the minimum amount of comedy demonstrated by each episode. Yet, the girls of the group has that spirit, the dream to reach success as a group united by an ambition. Just don’t expect any deep enthralling story or strong character development as the show isn’t trying to write a tale of success. Rather, it tries to create a story of an idol life. Did it reach success? I’d say so-so.
Nowadays, idol music groups are a firm part of otaku culture. So it doesn't really come off as a surprise that anime more and more includes idols as a theme as well - and it does it quite successful! Wake Up, Girls! is another anime that tries to hop on the moneymaking bandwagon of idol-focused series with a huge original project including a movie, a TV series and of course lots of music. So, how does Wake Up, Girls! (WUG from now on) compete with other popular idol anime series? Not too bad, I would say.
While the 50-minute prequel movie (which you definitely should watch
before the series) focused on the auditions and the forming of the seven-member idol group Wake Up, Girls!, the TV series follows our idol group on the way to stardom. It's a basic plot, really - we watch them face various challenges, like difficult jobs and also struggles of individual members of the show. A key character in that case is Mayu Shimada, a former member of the extremely popular idol group I-1 Club, who is now a part of WUG and makes her a rival of I-1 Club.
Over the 12 episodes a story of their rise from a small local idol group to a firm part of the most popular groups of Japan is told, and as WUG is an original production, we luckily get treated with a pretty satisfying conclusion.
The way the story progresses is cliché in lots of ways - typical tropes get used, things like an injury before an important appeareance, tragic backstories and of course the power of friendship. Some of the clichés seem annoying, others you don't mind. While the whole progress of the story is cliché itself too, you still find yourself cheering for the girls somehow and hope for their best. The story may not be perfect - but for what it's trying to be, I think WUG does present it's story rather solidly.
The main characters are presented quite decently too. As we have 7 main characters in a 12-episode show, it is not easy to develop much, but for that it's doing pretty well. We get some insight at backstories and individual struggles of the girls some episodes in. At the beginning though, you might have a bit of trouble relating to the characters, or even differentiate between them (which is also due to the same-face-syndrome which is present in the series). But when we actually get to see the development, we more and more feel with the characters and also cheer for them at some point. The side characters are rather irrelevant to the story though. Matsuda and the president Junko are completely useless, only the songwriter Hayasaka and I-1 as rivals are somewhat important. But the side characters barely are focused on anyways, so it's not that bothersome.
I usually don't put that much focus on music, but since WUG is an idol show, music obviously plays a huge part. And I have to say, it delivers! As typical for idol groups, WUG is filled with J-Pop songs that are absolutely catchy and quite enjoyable. I think it influences the enjoyment too, as the good songs influence that you cheer for WUG more and more. For their first voice-acting and singing job, I think the voice actors do their job quite well.
On the art and animation - I loved the character designs (even despite the same-face-syndrome), and the sceneries were pretty too. The animation was rather average though - it was rather inconsistent and lots of quality issues were visible.
So, is Wake Up, Girls! a good idol anime? To summarize my thoughts - even though it is not good enough to be considered a "classic" in the music anime genre, for a one-time watch it is quite fun indeed, and the songs are enjoyable too. This results in my final score 7/10.
-WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST- It is episode 0, and highly relevant to the series.
Let me be first to tell you that I'm not a huge fan of slice-of-life anime which this falls SQUARELY into.Also, I am not a big idol fan either. But WUG! is a masterpiece of art, idol management and hype. Here are some facts about the WUG!:
1. Every SINGLE one of the 7 main characters are completely new voice talents. For all of them this is their first major role. The one with the most experience is being train announcer in an another anime before this gig.
2. All the main characters
shares their name pronunciation with their respective voice actresses (this only makes sense if you know some Japanese), and shares facial features with them too.
3. The "next week's preview" segment shows the voice actresses in real life in the studio.
The above facts translates to a direct attachment between the real life voice actresses and the characters they portray in the anime. As the group grows from a bunch of rag-tags to a solid idol unit you can not help but grow attached to them. The writers/managers clearly made this anime with the fullest intention of launching and promoting the idol group that is Wake Up, Girls!
What is amazing is that they delivered. Whilst AKB0048 tried a fantasy approach to describing what being an idol is like, WUG! takes the full reality approach and lays it all out for all to see. Everything is of course a bit more exaggerated for drama but none so far-fetched that you can convince yourself that it will never happen in real life (though some may argue otherwise).
I find it refreshing that they didn't go the ecchi route either and just turn it into yet another one of "those" animes. This lets the audience find the moe elements in the character's personality and character developments. There was one thing that i didn't like as much, and that was the costume designs, they were pretty ordinary.
The songs from the movie, OP, ED, various other inserts are REALLY good. Watch them on a live performance on youtube if you don't believe me. At the end of the day, they're an idol unit, and idol unit make or breaks with their songs, unless you're AKB48, they can pretty much do anything they want and get away with it.
Oh, and Hanazawa Kana (and lots of other big names also make cameo appearances).
Overall, you can see that they went for a marketing ploy, giving rise to a new idol group through an anime, generating hype, interests, fanboys, and you know what, it worked for me. I thoroughly enjoyed WUG! as an anime and it made me want to pursue them as an idol group.
This is a series that attempts to showcase what true idols are like, it does so fairly well by using characters who are not particularly talented aside from a few who have some singing experience or dancing experience. Doing this allowed the series to focus on the hardships they faced as they practice as well as the hardships of trying to draw a crowd of fans despite their lack of talent which served the show very well. All 7 girls got a chance to have their personal lives expanded on during the series which is a good thing to see for a short show like
this, and it was handled well compared to a similar show. The art was fairly basic, but served the show fairly enough, and looked good during their dance scenes. The music might have been the best aspect of the series, it was upbeat and enjoyable, yet simple and easy to have stuck in your head. For a 12 episode show, it was wholly enjoyable, and with any luck a second season will happen allowing more WUG to be enjoyed in the future.
A perfectly-timed gust of wind. A low camera angle. Once in a while we get a peek under a skirt. And sometimes, just sometimes, we get a glimpse of the legendary striped anime panties that are shimapan.