Originally intended to be one continuous two-cour series, due to production problems, the show's run ended early with episode 13. Re-airings of the original The iDOLM@STER anime aired in the rest of the purchased timeslots. The originally planned second cour returned as a second season July 18, 2015.
The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls is like the party of the most popular kid in class you get invited to even though you’ve never really talked to them before. When you arrive you realize, oh wait, you don’t actually know anyone there and everyone’s already talking to each other. So you start filling a plate with carefully picked food before walking over to lean on the wall that’s not too close yet not too far from the crowd to have people think you’re a loner while you begin slowly chewing away, trying to look busy.
As a big fan of the original iDOLM@STER who’s seen the
original series and the movie twice and planning on a third time, you should’ve seen my face when they announced another season. It was still iDOLM@STER, even if only tangentially, and iDOLM@STER holds a special place in my heart. But this… this was just never quite what I wanted it to be. I couldn’t find the passion in it that drew me in to the original so quickly – it felt way more content with its character quirk busywork, and it never really lived up to its potential. And frankly, I’m not sure if it ever even wants to. It spent so much of its time trying to sell its characters to its rabid pre-existing fanbase, and what momentum it might try to build only ended up dithering away through its obsessive focus on keeping its one-note personalities as intact and samey as possible.
While the directors of this and the original iDOLM@STER do have very different styles, it really did feel like there’s a certain energy that was missing here. And it’s not quite that it was less upbeat (although it certainly was less upbeat) and more that it was missing this extra layer of creator personality. It felt like it was just going by the motions – like it was just being iDOLM@STER – what with it spending so much time on giving each character quirk its dedicated screentime. And, sure, you could make an argument that the original iDOLM@STER also went by its motions, but it felt like this show really ramped up the optimisation for Maximum Screentime Efficiency. The original iDOLM@STER felt like it was directed by someone who likes The iDOLM@STER, while this felt like it was directed by someone who just really likes anime.
And with the less creator personality in this show it also apparently comes without any of the cynicism present in the original – this really is just much more content with its characters quirking it out and letting the fans do the rest of the engagement work. Something from the original that really caught me off by surprise was during the Gero-Gero Kitchen reality cooking show where they deliberately show these small visual asides like a cameraman focusing their camera on Haruka and Chihaya when they fell over, trying to frame their compromising situations with an enticing spin. The show wasn’t going to make its quirks Super Nuanced Characters but it was moments like this along with how it liked to revel in some of its obvious ridiculousness that I thought really gave it an extra breath of life.
I bring this up because there was a scene halfway through one of the earlier episodes with three idols posing in police uniforms when one of them suddenly bursts open, revealing part of her chest. They give it a close-up shot and play it completely straight, with no cameramen zooming in or even any remarks from the audience.
And I was like, “what?”
It’s a small scene, yeah, but it didn’t feel like something The iDOLM@STER would ever really do. It almost felt like a sort of cynicism in its own way, like the creators were sticking to their market data studies and concluded they needed to add something like this every once in a while between all the quirk screentime to maximise its fan appeal. But it didn’t stop there.
I thought the biggest offender of this show’s constrained, passionless core was when three other idols ended up on a variety show and they play out their quirks without missing a single beat. Having them go on a variety show was fine, but having them go on a variety show and just letting their one-note personalities do all the work felt pretty darn lazy. It put the focus on their inherent character, but since they’re pretty much entirely predefined entities there wasn’t a whole lot of personality to them in the first place. Of course, you could draw the immediate comparisons to the original iDOLM@STER’s Namassuka!? Sunday, but that episode felt far more playful and self-aware. The show never really gives most of its expansive cast any particular nuance and it’s especially exacerbated by the very passive, self-contained writing – all the small moments of self-seriousness kept piling and piling but refusing to burst, leaving the entire segment feeling even less passionate than some of its busiest of busywork.
And I think it’s really a shame because this show’s more organic dynamics could’ve really worked well with the things it tried to do, and it didn’t have to compromise any of its own integrity to do it. The performances, while not entirely common, were fantastic visual treats, and they were great to see how far this show could stretch its creative muscles. Its dramatics had visual subtlety in spades, and it imbued a whole wealth of personality to even the smallest of gestures – a small hand movement or a slight sideways glance – that spoke quiet volumes by themselves and helped keep everything firmly grounded in the personal. I don’t think we've ever really had anything like this in the original iDOLM@STER outside of dramatic setpieces like episodes 20 and 24, so there were parts of this that almost felt like a completely different show.
Because the more I keep looking at it, the more I can see its very obvious strengths. The genuine heart I could feel from Producer's final "You had a nice smile today" despite his usually stoic and uninvolved nature brought the biggest grin to my face from all the shows I've seen in the past month, and it was a perfect reflection of both the Producer's and idols' journeys while very smartly playing to this show's talents as an organic and natural product. It's something unique to this show you could've only barely found with the original iDOLM@STER, because that was rarely going to try to be as grounded as this. It's a high-profile, high-budget, and high-effort franchise blockbuster that could've done things few other shows would've ever even dreamed of. It’s not over yet, and there’s still a whole second cour to go, so maybe this is when things will actually start kicking in and this show can finally be the star it’s always wanted to be. But for now all I can think about is how the ballroom's been packed for hours, yet it's been dead quiet - the ball's halfway over, and no one's really tried to dance.
As one of those clueless idol anime fans out there, I'll be honest here. I watched Cinderella Girls before I bothered to watch the original. Now, I was reluctant to watch the original after watching this because I thought to myself "wow, look at all these unique characters and great songs in Cinderella Girls", now that I look back at myself for thinking that, I want to slap myself as hard as I can this instant.
So some people are probably wondering what the huge hate on Cinderella Girls is compared to the original iDOLM@STER, now I'll put this example as
a real life scenario. You all have seen those food commercials on TV or on your computer and said to yourself "Damn, that looks delicious" and you decide one day to go out and get that food you saw on the commercial to try for yourself and you see it as half the portion and not even relatively close to the food you saw on the commercial, this is what it exactly is like. A pile of misleading directions trying to sway on how you really want to think.
"Omg, why is this guy rating the story 5 for Cinderella girls while he rated it 7 for original iDOLM@STER?!?! Aren't they both basically about cute girls singing cute songs???" No, just no, this is the statement that refrains new-coming anime viewers to avoid anime with these kind of genres. Cinderella Girls is probably inferior in mostly every way compared to the original iM@S series. While the original was based on starting from the bottom, working together with friendship and hardships, going through fun times and the sad times, Cinderella Girls is the complete opposite. The way they produced this was literally half-hearted, they plopped the girls into one big room and forced them to mingle and that's how 346 Cinderella Girls was formed.
Even though the art for the original and Cinderella Girls are basically the same and made from the same studio, Cinderella Girls didn't give the same feeling as it did in the original. In Cinderella Girls it had those very lazy intros to each characters, such as just putting a caption under the character with their name on it rather than in the original where they zoomed up to each characters face trying to catch the viewers attention, it was a very half-hearted thing to do. They also had very awkward moments when they dressed up different, I'll take Rin for an example when she was dressing up for Mika's TOKIMEKI concert. Her face and her clothing were very awkward looking when she looked at herself in the mirror.
Why am I giving this a 10 if I said that this is inferior to the original in mostly every way? The keyword there was mostly. I'll be frank here when it comes to the song, it was very catchy indeed, the group songs were honestly better compared to the original group songs IMO (I have downloaded majority of the original iM@S Live The@ter series, the 765 Allstars pros, and their Solo Collection, same with Cinderella Girls, I downloaded all the Jewelry albums and some of their solos. I have to say that the group songs for Cinderella Girls is more pleasing to me while the solos for original is better, but that's just me. As far for how the characters sound, they all fit their character basically. Each character getting assigned to their personality with a specific Japanese artist, nothing too special.
Why are the characters such a low rating? Think of it this way, you go to your local Free Market just to see what's going on and you see a pair of Nike knockoffs that were smuggled in to be sold for a cheap price, let's say 20 dollars whilst you saw the same design of those shoes at the mall for 150 dollars. That is how you describe these characters, majority of them are just a half-baked knock off of the original characters while adding some new personalities to jazz it up and not get repeated. I'm not saying this is a bad thing because I love the Cinderella Girls characters also, but they just don't feel that attachable if you get what I'm saying. Each character has such a rushed development and doesn't make you feel that attachable to them. The main issue in this series were the separative groups such as Candy Island, Love Laika, and New Generations. This was a huge mistake in an anime such as this, I honestly think that this is what enraged some of the original series fanbase because the original had them all work together and go through the hardship together while in Cinderella Girls if they had an issue within the subgroup, it was their issue to deal with as the other girls just shrugged it off not trying to get involved with them.
Now I realize I sound hypocritical after saying at the beginning on how I watched this before the original series, but hear me out. I would've honestly given this an 8 or a 9 and the others a much higher rating if I never watched the original series, but this felt so inferior compared to the original after I watched it. They add melancholic drama to Cinderella Girls that shouldn't even exist. For example, when Mio got sad when she realized she performed in such a small crowd. I thought to myself "You fucking selfish bitch, you still performed in front of people tat a god damn mall, how do you think 765 felt when they got turned down from local auditions and had to perform in a country side full of middle aged people and elderly?!?!". This part is what infuriated me when I didn't even watch the original series at first, but after watching the original that specific part in Cinderella Girls just infuriated me even more. So for those who don't want to read this scumbag rant of mine I'll write a TL;DR below here
THE ORIGINAL IS BETTER THAN CINDERELLA GIRLS
My experience with the idol genre of anime can be summed up with “Love Live”. Based on that being the most popular entry in the genre, I didn’t hold out much hope that Cinderella Girls would blow me away. That being said, despite some preconceived notions upon starting, Cinderella Girls proved to me that the idol genre is basically a giant game of best girl and the only reason anyone watches anime of this type is to bitch about the crappy characters and gush over the good ones. So, in other words, Cinderella Girls cemented what Love Live had already taught me.
But Cinderella Girls is
actually a much better series. The focus here is on a large variety of girls and their backstage shenanigans. There’s no school life or anything like that, this is about training, promoting, and doing shows.
The initial episodes introduce us to a trio of characters who I guess we can consider the main girls. Rin, Uzuki, and Mio are picked up by a producer to join an idol project known as Cinderella Girls. From there we are given a bevy of other characters who are put into units and gradually make CD debuts. After we get an idea of the overall dynamic, an episode is dedicated to each of the units which is then followed by the entire group coming together again. It’s pretty well done pacing, though suffers initially because of how boring the first three characters are. Once you get past that hurdle, the series is a lot less rocky and much more entertaining.
There’s not a lot of story to be found though; no running thread or immediacy to the plot. Cinderella Girls plays out a lot more like a slice-of-life. While there is the occasionally painful drama piece (Mio walking away was ridiculously forced and underdeveloped) the lack of story gives the huge cast air to breathe and develop. I’m sure the second season is where we’ll see an actual plot given that the viewer is now pretty well acquainted with each cast member.
Something I enjoyed and found unique was that there was a male main character, the unnamed producer. While he’s not the most exciting person, being very stoic through most of the season, he does have moments of tenderness and comedy. I hope we see him open up more in the second season.
Getting into the huge cast of girls would be a pain in the ass in the typical format. So I guess it’s time to play the biggest game of Best Girl this site has ever seen!
15. Miku Maekawa- The prerequisite cat girl who says nyan after every sentence annoyingly, Miku is a cancer. All she does is bitch and cry, treat other characters like shit, and continually do that terrible cat girl thing. She’s the worst girl and I’d fire her ass on the spot if I was the producer. She ruins the dynamic and really brings the entire cast down.
14. Chieri Ogata- The crybaby moeblob piece of shit. Go away. You’re useless.
13. Kanako Mimura- The fat one who eats and bakes a lot of sweets. This is when we move from bad characters to plain boring ones.
12. Uzuki Shimamura- Why do idol anime have to have a super girly, clumsy, and entirely uninteresting main character? She’s basically the exact same as Honoka. A “let’s do it everyone” attitude may be inspiring to younger girls, but to me, is way overdone and doesn’t create a compelling lead.
11. Kirari Moroboshi- Super tall and super unexciting.
10. Miria Akagi- The youngest girl. She’s cute but not very entertaining.
9. Minami Nitta- Neither here nor there. She’s just boring.
8. Rin Shibuya- She started pretty great but gradually became another bland character with little emotion. The hesitance to be an idol is quickly forgotten and she becomes the straight man.
7. Mio Honda- Her drama portion was shit, but her character isn’t bad. She’s preppy and tomboyish. The best of the main three by a longshot.
6. Rina Tada- Rina’s a rocker girl who wears typical British-punk clothes and has a collection of head phones. She’s obsessed with rock and trying to be a rocker. While not the most developed girl, nor the most exciting, she is fun.
5. Anzu Futaba- A seventeen year old who looks like the youngest girl in the show, she’s a NEET with very little ambition. Her portions, at first, aren’t that great but she grew on me as the show continued and some of the funnier moments of the latter half came from her.
4. Rika Jougasaki- The kid sister of popular idol Mika, she’s trying to emulate her sister however she can. She’s one of the most fun characters of the show.
3. Anastasia- A Russian girl who is still learning to speak Japanese, Anastasia is really freaking adorable. She enjoys looking at stars and that’s about as much as we get of her. But what we did get I enjoyed. I loved her.
2. Mika Jougasaki- A very caring big sister who is also the most popular idol who gets any screen time, Mika is really fucking hot. She loves looking sexy and being the center of attention but wants the best for the new idols. Not the most solid character but one of the most memorable.
1. Ranko Kanzaki- Seriously one of the most adorable goth girls in any anime I’ve ever watched. She’s a chunibyou who speaks like a total weirdo but only does it to hide a very cute interior that hates horror movies and is secretly in love with the producer. She develops a lot in the show, maybe more than any of the other girls, as by the end she’s speaking like a normal person and is a lot warmer than she was initially. She may not be the most complex or even the cutest character but she is definitely the best combination of both and my favorite character of the series.
For the most part, pretty solid. A lot of the characters don’t look unique enough to stand out while a couple (Ranko and Mika) are really memorable. During movement the animation is fluid though characters can look kind of strange. Even during still shots characters in the background can look a little derpy. But there’s nothing offensively bad and, thankfully, no CG during dance numbers.
I appreciated that, much like the cast, there was a huge variety in the music department. Each group got their own unique song and there was a new song for more minor things like training montages. While the music itself is vapid and sounds much like the rest of the idol J-pop of every other series, there are some decent ones like Ranko’s song.
It took a couple episodes before I really got into Cinderella Girls but once all the characters had been introduced, I found that this was a fun little ride even if most of it was vapid and pointless. Each episode did something new and the few really good characters brought a lot of charm and cuteness. I don’t think it’s a show that can be marathoned without getting bored, but it is a good distraction between watching other series.
At the end of the day, Cinderella Girls isn’t anything special but it does provide a more engaging and varied experience than Love Live, though not an overall more memorable cast. That’s the problem with having such a huge group of characters: some are bound to be tossed to the sidelines and never get enough development to be likeable or anything more than a facsimile of a singular character trait. So in that regard, because Love Live has a smaller cast, it does have the advantage in characters and development (well, that and it’s had two seasons so it’s unfair to really say that).
But Cinderella Girls has a few wonderful characters, pretty decent animation, some good songs, and a few memorable episodes. If you liked Love Live, I’d definitely suggest giving The Idolm@ster: Cinderella Girls the viewership it deserves.
The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls is a follow-up to the 2011 iDOLM@STER anime that is set in the same universe, though with no returning characters. That said, I make frequent comparisons between the two. If you have no interest in seeing how Cinderella Girls measures up to its parent story, and want a review of it as a standalone work, read elsewhere.
Cinderella Girls tells the story of the girls at 346 Productions, and the hurdles that they overcome on their paths to becoming professional idols. Every episode, some hurdle will appear, and one of the characters will have to grow as a person to overcome it.
It goes a bit beyond that for the main trio, but for the most part, that's about as deep as the story gets. This is a character-driven show, and any plot that exists is just an excuse to put the characters into interesting situations. It accomplishes that just fine, but don't have any lofty narrative ambitions, because even with the introduction of an antagonist in the second season, the story remains largely inconsequential.
Art & Animation
The original iDOLM@STER anime had character designs drawn by Nishigori Atsushi, who also did character designs for Gainax shows like Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking. It's not easy to follow that up, but Cinderella Girls does a pretty good job. While definitely not on Nishigori's level, every design is distinct and appealing, which is impressive considering the massive size of the cast. Outfits are silly at times, but at this point, that comes with the territory. My gripe in this category is actually with regards to the animation. Coming back to Nishigori, the performance scenes in the original series were traditionally animated, and served as spectacles that still hold up today. In a few cases, Cinderella Girls captures this, but more often than not, these performances are reduced to series of stills. These scenes can be cathartic, and offer the characters a chance to really express themselves, so cutting out the animation was a huge disservice.
Cinderella Girls is an idol show, so there’s plenty of music, but none of it is particularly good. To rephrase that more objectively, I’ll say that none of it is memorable. Some of the songs from the original, such as Yakusoku and Nemurihime, were unforgettable moments, but for Cinderella Girls, these scenes are few and far between. Part of the problem is that song lyrics were mostly left untranslated by the official subs. They were covered when it was most important, such as Uzuki’s song during the penultimate episode (which is excellent), but for the most part, viewers were left in the dark. Some scenes had the potential to be memorable if the audience actually knew what they were singing about, but as most of the songs weren’t translated, the musical aspect of Cinderella Girls was largely a forgettable experience.
Cinderella Girls has an expansive cast of 14 girls, though with 25 episodes, you’d think there’d be plenty of time to develop all of them thoroughly. Unfortunately, the unit system makes this task near impossible. The group is broken down into six units, each with one to three members, and since episodes tend to put the spotlight on a unit as a whole, rather than its individual members, there’s less focus on each character’s personal growth. To make matters worse, the second season often tries to showcase several units in the same episode, further reducing the amount of screen time each character receives. In the original iM@S series, every idol got their own devoted character episode, which served to clearly establish their personality. Additionally, each girl acted differently depending on with whom they were interacting, so the diverse cast helped to further develop different sides of their characters. But in Cinderella Girls, characters are mostly restricted to interactions within their units. This means that the unit dynamics are well built, but any dynamics outside of them are largely unexplored. Lastly, there was a tendency to bring in other idols from the games as a sort of fanservice for fans of the series, and while they were intended to aid in the development of a member of the main cast, they would usually just end up taking up precious screen time.
In case it wasn't made clear over the course of this review, I'm a huge fan of the original iDOLM@STER series. It's easily one of the best animes I've seen, and I still regularly revisit some of its scenes/episodes. I went in to Cinderella Girls hoping for a worthwhile successor, and it unfortunately fell short. As a standalone, Cinderella Girls is fine, but it's never anything more than that.
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