There are a lot of things you can say about iM@S fans but one thing undeniably so are their tendencies to go out of their way for it. I mean, now I can say that I went to a con just to attend an iM@S fan panel, as that was the con experience of AnimeNext 2012 for me. I also dropped by the dealer’s room and artist alley this year (what a weird setup) and said hi to some people, but this con is like, in my back yard. I actually have some humorous stories about it I could share if you ever run into me in the meat space.
Any any rate, I didn’t even really wanted to go. Berryz Koubou was the one guest(s) at the con that I was interested in, but I was also entirely unable to go to their programming due to a variety of obligations. I didn’t know a thing about this iM@S panel besides what was provided by the con website–“ARE WE LADY” and it’s got some generic but pro-feeling text about what iM@S is over here. I didn’t even know there was an iM@S panel until I read on twitter a few days I had to jet out of town earlier in the week. I only knew that this panel happened at a time that I can make.
Even after so many hours after the fact, I still have a lingering feeling to say “woah, an iM@S panel. Really?”
After the panel I did a minimum amount of stalking and here are the two LADIES (I mean, I always felt weird to say “I AM LADY” when I’m not, but anyway that isn’t the case for worry here) who ran the panel. They were nice enough to drop the usual social network tags to make my life easy. One of them was dressed as Makoto. (The other one gave me a tag on her imported 3DS! I think.)
The panel itself was mostly 50 minutes (out of 60) of overview of the basics. It started with some cute quiz questions to get people pay attention to the presentation–who are the voices for Yukiho (for some reason they used Hase Yurina instead of Ochiai, but w/e, there was a brief comment about her eroge/ero histories which was kind of not relevant? Maybe?), the one girl who had video game as a hobby (at least on the official sheets), the new studio in Dearly Stars, and the one idol removed from being playable in SP. Then it went through each of the main idol girls; the Makoto cosplayer identified Makoto as tops but Takane as top voice. The other girl (which I will just say Nyachan for now) is definitely the more avid player and prefers the likes of Chihaya and Haruka. Actually I forgot who she said exactly [Update: Mami was her favorite.] but it seemed that she presented the material in that way.
There’s also a feeling like they read 4chan or something. I probably should’ve asked which iM@S forums they read. Maybe this one? I mean, there was a slide for Nonowa and her kins. But the panel went through page-by-page of what each character and each game was, and the two panelists shared what their impressions were, what they really liked, and what they didn’t. Nyachan pointed out a lot of those little giggle things, like Takane’s place of origin or where the Nonowa doll was, stuff like that. Amusingly, they avoided Cinderella Girls entirely until someone brought it up as a question at the end. One of the girls actually played it! She brought up the gimped foreign aspect, and how it’s really just a tedious game otherwise. That discussion did bring up the complete gacha situation the game is in so that is pretty worthwhile.
There were a bunch of iM@S bros at the panel (out of about 27 people, this constitutes about 4-5), as you’d expect, and one of them did the usual loudmouth fanboy thing, even if it is reasonably so. Just that I couldn’t get a question in. As for the panel proper, I think I even learned something: that Xbox 360 Live for You thing–that’s pretty cool. And it explains a lot.
As for being LADIES, Hisui phrased it best–it’s all kind of oddish. It’s good and all and it doesn’t really matter, but the whole thing reminds me of this again. And in some ways this is why a girl can ask KOTOKO if she’s played any of the eroge her songs were used for, and actually give KOTOKO an awkward smile in, uh, the other way. Because, really, does it matter if 90% of iM@S fans in Japan are dudes? Or that there’s a healthy contingent of female galge gamers oversea?
Well, it’s good to know there are at least a few cosplaying girls who like this stuff. I would be stoked to see something like this at Otakon or the like. Because it sure beats me trying to do it (and it will spare you watching me trying to do so).
It’s not an entirely clean break, but Author wrote about iM@S and the whole children-for-idol stuff. I think that is a problem any child entertainers have, but having your child work as an entertainer is relatively light work when all considered; most would think it’s a privilege or an opportunity rather than some kind of abuse. I can’t really say that would be exploitation–no more than how in America tons of athletes are groomed and compete for the spotlight in various pro leagues, starting from a very young age. These kids work very hard and may end up landing jobs that will end their lives prematurely. Football is probably an extreme example, but this is the kind of thing, to me, that isn’t too unlike what SDB was talking about.
And by “isn’t too unlike” I mean it is exactly like. I mean, the bottom line is this kind of training that your parents put you through at ages 8-12 is probably something you can be entirely remove from as you get to ages 18-22. I think Author is being too romantic about it (see his header pic) but it’s generally right. Child idols have nothing on, say, what Olympic gymnasts do, and those start at like, 3 years old. “Taking away childhood” sounds like the kind of straw-man old people who have forgotten what being a child was like, and has way too thick rose-colored lenses on.
Of course it isn’t to say that is okay, and SDB is right that the industry is very cynical and there are some sleazy producers out there; the real problem I see it is how the Japanese porn industry is just way too pervasive. But Steve’s comments sounds like trite words from someone who isn’t invested; a non-customer complaining about the meal he hasn’t tasted. I mean, I think if anything, iM@S tells a story that all kids growing up has to tell–the one where a child and her dreams come through via some degree of determination from an adult-like attitude. Being “that age” means you’re not all mature, but you’re also kind of mature. That road, that vehicle for this story just happens to be being an entertainer/idol. If iM@S is a story about growing up and adolescence (and it’s fair to say everyone from Ami/Mami to Azusa have to jump through some kind of hurdle in their own character narratives), guided by friends, wiser/older people, and pluck, how is it any different than any other story with the same themes? If I was the contextualization fairy I would go tell SDB to stomp on Accel World and how it robs children’s childhood via high-tech cerebral network connectivity as a statement of the internet’s impact on the next generation.
To cap this, SDB actually replied to Author’s post and said that the age was what bothered him–does he think that being an entertainer should only be a thing adults do, or that 15-yo girls in anime are bothering him? I mean, it does read like the second way if you think about it for a minute. Then again, the more I think about it, the less reasonable (and unfortunately, less interesting) his complaint seems.