For me, being an iDOLM@STER fan has had its challenges. It’s a set of dumb first-world problems, of course. But it can occasionally be hard to argue in favor of a 2011 anime that’s the adaption to a game series I don’t really like, in a genre that’s mostly made up of low-tier waifu bait products, while having a more popular spin-off that I loathe, kept afloat by one of the most cancerous fanbases I’ve interacted with, and simply has a lot of problems in its own right. For a while, I was convinced the iM@S franchise had nothing to offer me anymore. There are
some good manga adaptions that play with the loose canon of the video game series, but few of them have had scanlators dedicated enough to see them through to the end. So some of the manga spin-offs that I like have never been fully translated. And for a long time, The iDOLM@STER: Million Live was one of them.
In June of 2018 however, I saw a dream of mine come true. After some time of long silence, I found that Million Live had finally been fully translated. The translations were pretty crap, as they were done by some anon(s) from 4chan, but whatever. I could read it! And I can say with full enthusiasm that Million Live is the best thing to happen to the franchise since the 2011 anime series.
It’s not technically a sequel to the 2011 series, but you can pretend it is one without issue. It is its own coming of age story about new girls whom have joined 765 Productions now that it is a successful idol production company. Some of the old guard familiar to most people make a cameo, but I suggest you don’t hold your breath on seeing your favorites show up. Those characters have no place here and are just a backdrop for the setting of this new arc within the 765 story.
Unlike before, you can say this story has a distinct main character. Shizuka Mogami is in a race against time to be a top idol before her high school entrance exams. Her father sees her dream as childish, and only lets her join 765Pro until the allotted time for which he has decided that she needs to grow up. This is motivation to cheer for Shizuka. However, by accident, she meets Mirai Kasuga; and Mirai becomes inspired to be an idol as well. Shizuka’s character arc is to break her aggressive demeanor as she comes to balance her friendship and rivalry with primarily Mirai.
Mirai is the face of the Million Live branch of the iM@S franchise as a whole, but I’m glad the author took a step back to see that she’s not the best main character to be telling this story. Mirai works here as a perspective character who acts as the audience surrogate to be exposited to by other characters. Mirai still has her own development, but it’s a fitting smaller story as she faces the pros and cons of every side to being on stage.
Another pair who got to develop side by side was Tsubasa Ibuki and Julia – Julia’s full name is never specified. Tsubasa is a self-centered girl who thinks that success in the idol industry will bring her an easier life. She idolizes Miki Hoshii, of the old guard characters, for her natural talents but misinterprets where Miki’s strengths actually come from. Tsubasa doesn’t really get to see that arc end, as she’s far from growing into the mature woman someone like Miki has grown into over the years. Mostly, Tsubasa’s development lies in subduing her rebelliousness after being told she’s no good by Miki. Ironically, the character to bring Tsubasa, who has too high of an opinion of idols, back down to Earth, is the character that’s struggling with the decision to be an idol herself.
Because of unspecified backstory reasons, Julia joins 765Pro despite being in her own rock band before. She doesn’t see herself as fit to be an idol despite the Producer trying to convince her otherwise. She’s a character trying to find her place in the world of music, as it’s a passion she loves. And her interactions with Tsubasa create this middle ground for the both of them to find and walk together.
There’s many other faces from the Million Live branch of games that appear here, but few of them regularly participate in or move the story forward. And that being said, most of them being restricted to cameos is for the best. One of the biggest problems with the 2011 series was that it tried to shoehorn in dedicated episodes to every character that could really kill the pacing of the series at times. “The iDOLM@STER (Mana)” manga remedied some of that, but Million Live needs no such assistance. It is a far more focused product with less intent on making sacrifices for the sake of pleasing fans. Some characters do get to be regular faces, like Kotoha Tanaka, Elena Shimabara, Shiho Kitazawa, and Mizuki Makabe, to be somewhat more of veteran members who can offer small pieces of advice from time to time. But the real star among such veterans is Nao Yokoyama.
Nao has always been a favorite of mine from what little I’ve been able to consume from the Million Live games. She’s an incredibly proactive character who can’t help but to step into other people’s problems to help them, even when she acknowledges how much of a bother it is to do so. She’s just a load of fun, as well as being someone you can feel safe with and proud of. There are other mature and sisterly characters who could have filled her role, but Nao’s charm is all her own – and she lends to some funny sight gags too.
I also need to take time out to mention the art of this series. For the most part, it’s just passable, functional art for a manga. But chapter 6 in particular did manage to deliver upon on a magnificent set of color pages that were highly symbolic in their use. It was a wonderful utilization of the manga medium to make a moment that was truly special. If the scans you read don’t feature these pages in color, then an enriching effect will be lost to you and I sincerely apologize. Besides that, allowing me to bask in how attractive a lot of these girls still are for a moment, the artist for this manga draws legs really well. It’s a weakness of mine, I can’t help it.
My only big problem with this series is that there isn’t more of it. I felt like it ended too quickly for me to have the time to truly fall in love with it as much as I had hoped. It’s a short 24 chapters, with three extra chapters for fun on the side. I only speak as a fan, saying that I would have loved to see more drama among more characters than what we got. However, I fully accept that this was Shizuka’s story; and whoever else was featured in it were only the important players towards helping her dream be realized. It’s a solid, nice, motivational, and surprisingly original story within a franchise that I thought couldn’t shock me anymore and had already told the best coming-of-age tales it had to offer.