Mar 31, 2016
vegetablespirit (All reviews)
There aren't many idol anime with over a hundred episodes, and there are even fewer idol anime that have the ability to hook and surprise you for such a long period of time. Coming in at just under two hundred episodes, Aikatsu is a series that manages to do both, and there are so many ways to describe it; energetic, revitalising, and optimistic, to name a few. But the best thing about Aikatsu is that it's able to toss its target audience aside and create something able to entertain people of all ages. Unlike Hollywood family movies or shows like Friendship is Magic, there isn't much dumbing down or simplifying of the content within—it's effective, straightforward, and surprisingly realistic in its presentation.

So what makes it different?

The premise is straightforward: A school for female idols named Starlight Academy exists to seek out and train its kin, be it through acting, dancing, singing, or some other form of entertainment. Aside from an exceptionally kind headmistress and a few spunky teachers, there is no supervision or management to keep the girls in check; much like college, the primary reason for their attendance is so that they can discover who they are as a person (or idol) whilst remaining in an open social setting. Thanks to its believability, the concept itself provides you with many dramatic writing opportunities. Who are the students? What are their reasons for attending? Why are they all so interested in living a monolithic public life? These questions are regularly asked and answered, and their answers further the countless possibilities of the universe time after time.

To bridge the gap between idol and school life, the staff always provides students with opportunities to get their name out and/or obtain new apparel, resulting in a rush of motivation for everyone involved. Depending on their popularity, idols can even influence the work of prominent and rising fashion designers or brands at large. Once the characters' training cycle begins, the lurking element of surprise prevents you from taking your eyes off the screen. That's not to say it's all training and no action; the fun graces you one episode at a time, so the competitions, extracurricular activity, and other unspoilable events don't seem out of place for when their time comes. In other words, the occasional slices of life flow as naturally and beautifully as the show at large.

One aspect I've found to be unique to Aikatsu is its painless and beautiful sincerity; the characters have natural unbreakable bonds between one another, be they incandescent rivals or shimmering partners. It shies away from the trends of melodrama and grittiness by keeping things light and sometimes funny, completely aware of the fact that the most powerful emotional stirs are naturally-occurring. The cake is topped with a sprinkling of internal conflict, often pertaining to the difficulty of meeting one's own expectations. For a cast made up of teenage girls, they're delightfully headstrong and angst-free. That maturity spares you the clichéd nature of most conflicts within Idolm@ster and Love Live, and often gives you the opportunity to ask yourself the same questions. I truthfully believe the series is ultimately sociological, as is any great drama.

That said, the show's composition resembles western TV dramas much more than it does your typical anime; the supporting characters are constantly evolving, changing roles, and moving into the picture, whilst the main characters themselves aren't as prominent as you may believe. Such traits are definitely not suited to everyone, but for anyone searching for more complex development, they are a dream come true. The continuity put on display here is fairly amazing—things you may haven't seen for dozens of episodes can slowly begin to reappear, and they always have a graceful fall into place. It doesn't sound so surprising on paper, but the practical appropriation of older content happens when you least expect it to. You'll want to trust me on this one.

For the sake of performances, a fun little wardrobe transition to 3DCG is made whenever an idol needs to be on stage. But don't hold your breath! While the CG starts out on rocky ground, it goes out of its way to make some vast adjustments every few episodes. By the time you're a third of the way through, all of your gripes with its appearance will disappear. Still, it never stops making improvements, and things become increasingly gorgeous as you approach the final episode. The beauty of the CG is best illustrated during group performances, yet it also has some interesting tricks up its sleeve like flying objects and wireframe views that liven up the stage experience. Some incredible on-stage camerawork does a great job illustrating the benefits of using 3D animation, and definitely proves why the show chose to use the medium in the first place. I'm not quite sure if the show could have retained the same energy without it.

Finally, let's talk about the music. Some insert songs are impeccably composed and arranged, others excel in one of those two departments, and the few songs leftover are straight-up bad. From a production standpoint, it's rather hit-or-miss, but the hits have the strength to absolve it of the misses. I even find the insert songs that are only okay to be a treat every once and a while, but due to the subjectivity of music, your personal results may vary. On the other hand, the background music is so subtle and relaxed that I doubt anyone could take issue with it. Heck, sometimes they're just little piano arrangements of prominent insert songs. It's definitely more consistent overall, and kind of sounds like something you'd hear from a modern Nintendo game or device. Kind of perfect to do work to.

Point is, this review may make it sound like I think Aikatsu is exceptional and near-flawless. That's because I do. I find its weaknesses completely redeemed by the underlying strengths. I find it able to appeal to any demographic without a hitch. I find it to be of a standard that all other kids' anime should hope to achieve. If you're not sick of anime already, I would plead that you at least give it a shot. Otherwise, it's never anything remotely amazing, nor does it outright excel in any category; it was just enough to retain my interest in anime for much longer than I expected.

And so as it decides to let go, I find myself doing the same.