Not so much introspective as descriptive–what exactly happened to me this year?
It’s hard to explain precisely why, but let’s start with a recent Amiami blog article. I quote:
Aspiring producers, take note–The Idolm@ster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukou Gawa he grossed 765 million yen at the box office before moving over 600,000 Blu-ray/DVD disks in the first week. Imas fever is only getting hotter as the series approaches its 10th anniversary. You can bet Japanese fans are hyped for Cinderella Girls this winter season.
Well, yeah. CG anime will be hype. As a matter of off-handed indication of its popularity, when I was looking up circles for C87 day 3, the CG section on Day 3 had the largest area for IM@S, bigger than even the original group. It’s not an indication of popularity as much as an indication of its whole adaptation by the otakukin, that most of CG is being looked after by somebody. Granted I’m pretty new at doing Comiket planning so I might have missed the large swath of IM@S circles somewhere else, but that’s what it looked like.
What is more interesting about the quoted blurb above is stating that there is, and has been, such a thing as Imas fever. There always have been ardent fans of the IP since the early days. What I observed off the cuff is that many of these ardent fans are no longer ardent fans, and somehow new ardent fans filled in the ranks over time. It’s a little unusual perhaps. Well, if you thought about it, it isn’t all that unexpected, and that’s something that happens regularly to even other franchises.
What’s a little bit different about the IDOLM@STER is that it isn’t old or widely accepted enough to be one of those legendary franchises. I’m not sure if you can say it’s the same level as Nanoha, and that one is not even quit there. It’s, I think, just on the cusp. Maybe in 2014 that is changing, but I don’t know. If you think about Star Wars or Gundam fans, a lot of them have been fans for a very long time. And it’s baked in otaku culture. This is not really the case for IM@S. So in order for the franchise to heat up, it has to get new fans. The key thing is that it is getting new fans.
In 2014 terms, the way Bamco and team are able to do this is by making an anime movie out of 2014. There were some clear objectives they wanted to accomplish. First, it wanted to relight the fire in the fanbase that sort of tapered since Anim@s and Shiny Festa that happened over a year ago. It was also a gateway to hook in the second mobile game, Million Live. It also is a driver to bring around One For All, which is arguably the most important monetary incentive. One For All is ultimately the fully pivoted version of IM@S2 the video game.
One For All, unlike the previous games, has monthly DLC sets that actually adds to the story. The previous DLCs only added assets, not so much the narrative in a direct way. It’s a page taken out of mobile games, but it is straight up PS3. Fans can expect to spend anywhere between 500 to 10000 yen a month to continue the story of their favorite characters. I personally fall somewhere between 3000-7000, although I haven’t had the time to play the last few months’ worth due to the equipment dying on me. IDOLM@STER One For All came out in May, so seven or eight (day 1 DLC LOL) times those numbers on average is what you’re expected to spend for the core fans, on top of the cost of the base game.
As far as the two mobile games go, the paths are similar. Cinderella Girls is actually sufficiently well off on its own (see C87 details above) that it doesn’t really need to get fans via tie-ins today, even if that is still one of the driving engines behind the series. The anime itself will set it to new heights just because there’s enough momentum behind CG and IM@S on the whole. I mean, mobile games are good cash money these days, and CG has been one of the most successful ones from the start. What the crossovers help is in terms of the event-types situations where it helps to provide some cohesiveness and assurance that CG is still part of the family, that there’s this co-laboring thing between the core IP and the mobile games (kind of like a senpai thing). Million Live takes a slightly more direct approach in that it directly grafts into the 765pro setting and sensibilities. If you think of Puchim@s as a show with a different “sekaikan” then Cinderella Girls is also one that’s just a hair different from the original.
But at the same time, if we consider its arcade roots, IDOLM@STER is in some ways more similar to Cinderella Girls than Million Live, which feels like a more polished, by-the-committee approach to the aging franchise. It doesn’t have the same feel, the crunk. (Like when you compare the CG JP UI with the KR UI and it feels like an aging pachinko machine.) At any rate, both offsprings expand the core offering, which in itself has taken a turn since the earlier days, both by necessity and because it’s a form of rehabilitation. A pivot in startup talk, I think. From video game franchise as center to 2D idol franchise as center. From selling games and machines as a focus to selling CDs, toys, merch, and event tickets as focus. Well, both were always something that were available before, and in a way the change to mobile games means a renewing commitment to gaming, but that’s not saying much when I could be playing the Hanayamata cash-in (or similar) on my PSV right now.
In 2014, this rehabilitation probably comes to life best in the IDOLM@STER movie. The idols go to camp to get ready for their big arena live. In real life, the idols probably did spend a lot of time training for their big arena life in the real, too, slated a month after the movie debut. There were a handful of Million Stars and Cinderella Girls performing on a stage that big for the first time. More than a handful were super nervous, now that you can observe them on Blu-ray. There were small dance mistakes and singing mistakes if you are the nitpicker. But that is all well and good, as it is the part and parcel of the idol package. Fans enjoy seeing newbies develop into great people and go on to do great things, to further connect with them. The SSA live was a launching point for the CG and ML franchises and the seiyuu/character that stand behind them. The Movie gave those folks an in.
The powerful thing about the 2014 IDOLM@STER movie is also that it is the climax of the IDOLM@STER experience from the start, as a butt-of-joke among gamers to a force to be reckoned with in the scene, even if we’re no longer dealing with gamers per se. Fans followed the way Namco took the series, and how fans and people involved work with the show like a force of nature. It was a thing that was. Little bits of lore like how Berserk creator Miura would play it, or these days how HaradaP who is a leader on the Tekken series reps Iori, and sort of the thing that builds up over time that adds meaning. Or how people call themselves Ps on Nico from the Nicom@s days, and how that translated into the Vocaloid scene. There was also the seiyuu take, as IDOLM@STER proved to be something that grew up with the likes of Nakamura and Imai, providing them both work (and pay) and a sense of identity, a stable fan base in which both launched moderately successful careers with. As everyone kept at the series, creators and fans alike, over time, naturally a pretty powerful sense of sentiment builds up.
In a way to honor these qualities, the whole PR for Moviem@s felt like a ride. If you followed it from the start it was almost big enough of a subcultural cache for news and happening all by itself. And this isn’t like AKB48, this is a media-mix franchise! And to walk into it with an open mind was simply overwhelming. That’s kind of in a nutshell what happened to me this year. It was both a crash course on 8 years of IDOLM@STER via marketing, the anime, and learning from other fans; and a giant push for the future along with Cinderella Girls and Million Stars. It was like they paid to get us to pay into the next generation, and how can I give that up?
How well the whole Moviem@s push got me to play with Million Live is a different blog post, but I can say for sure that the IDOLM@STER Movie is one hell of a symbol. It is Producers’ holy ground. And I didn’t even really talk about the movie; just the role it plays in the big picture. In my mind however, 2014 is the year of the IDOLM@STER movie, and there’s no getting around this.
Year in Review 2014: