Gakuen Idolm@ster has Dropped

Everything that needs to be said about Gakuen Idolm@ster can be found on Twitter/X. There’s also this wonderful thin slice on the visual contents side from Sakugabooru–feeding us 9 proper music videos will do this. I personally enjoy the music, not only because “Hajime” is the most IM@S song I’ve heard since Starlit Season, but also because each of the 9 felt like some Asobinotes persons took each one and ran.

Between QualiArts lifting IDOLM@STER into the 2020s, that we are onboarding into an official Discord server, or that ultimately the game still isn’t available in another language besides Japanese, there’s a lot to be said of the game that is both a content delivery platform that Ps are familiar with, and idol-slay-the-spire strapped on top of a gacha game engine. The first banner and event already dropped, 1 week into launch. I spent a lot of Acen avoiding to play it, and a lot of Animazement playing it….which speaks more to which con is more laid back than the other and less about how compelling the game is.

I have not much else to say than, again, finally IM@S is a game that is new. It is so hard for Japan to create something new but still maintain what was great about the original, yet they are able to do it from time to time in spectacular fashion. I ate up the pre-launch promo like a child in a candy store, waking up early for each character reveal. The rivals, the Chokaigi streams, the daily video drops, it was a lot of fun. This doesn’t even mention the curve ball like Apple Music’s regular show. Or Chihaya.

So yes, the Famitsu in-depth interview confirms that the lead creatives are otaku influenced by works from the 00s, which explains why the vibe feels like the 00s. It answers many of the questions.

As for the game… it is a card game roguelike, in terms of getting the performances/practices. You raise the idol by using P items and building the deck, and gaining stats (ViVoDa) by achieving a certain number of points during audition or practice. There’s the full uma inheritance thing with 4 cards you can bring with you each produce trip, plus stats/bonuses from those previous runs. Support and P gacha cards add more special cards or items (persistent artifacts/items) plus other bonuses to stat/health to your game.

It’s also a lot of fun. I know some might want to have a more long-form roguelike experience (closer to STS) but I like this shorter format where you can really grind in small chunks. Each run takes about 30 minutes. The SSRs gate the songs for each idol in this game which is an unusual trick versus the previous games. The idol performance, as you roguelike your way each time, improves until you get to the True End.

Gakumas is all clicking and firing on all cylinders. Shiny Colors anime or Miriani may be for “existing” fans, but so is Gakumas in a way. It’s so fun to see how this game came into existence and to me it isn’t how different it is as an imas game, but how much it took from the past and made it its own that seems amazing to me.

Anime Central 2024: Wrap

Acen 2024 came and went. It was a lot of fun and I’m home now enjoying that post-con glow. Just want to jot down all the key take-aways before I have to deal with the dozens of to-dos for next week’s con trip to Animazement.

For one, a big 30,000-ft view topic is that we are so back. I will need to bring back the blog post sticky of my events for 2024. Granted I still did a lot in 2023 that probably warranted it, but I am enjoying cons with other friends who also go to cons now that it just feels more right than last year to do it. I went to Acen 2022, 2023 and 2024 since the pandemic and it’s a good slice of what happened for the US con scene for each of those years.

Second, of course, it’s HiroMaya. Hiromi Hirata plays Makoto and I have been a MakotoP for ages now. That said, in a way I think it doesn’t excite me as much as seeing Mayako Nigo because to me Nigo is one of the cast members that makes 765Pro Allstars special, especially when you compare it with other similar groups. Either way, the two young moms felt quite at home on their new-ish radio show (about a year old now?) and they brought some of that healing atmosphere to Acen. The discussion and the manzai-but-not chemistry between the two is just wonderfully charming to me. Various Ps got their long-wish goods signed and dreams came true. I brought a life-size cardboard cutout of Makoto, and with the major help of friends able to bring it to Chicago and got one signed. I saw 2 other POPs there as well which is great. (BTW, Q&A panel notes here.)

Knowing a bunch of other Ps in the US meant I also saw a lot of them at Acen, which is always a good time to catch up since I haven’t seen many in a long time. It’s also fun to see those people see each after, after so long. We were able to do a big group dinner at Fogo de Chao (mainly because they can host large groups easily), and that was a blast (of meat eating). Three JP Ps also came to visit and it was their first time at a churrasco steakhouse. They are fellow P-friends from abroad that I’ve met several times already and they got the local greeting (even if most of us weren’t from the area).

Acen’s other seiyuu guests are also impressive. Tomo Sakurai is kind of rebooting her seiyuu-idol career after being invited to the con. She’s even doing some other event later this week? It’s nice to finally meet this showa-era seiyuu idol who voiced most notably, Mylene of Macross 7. I went to one of her panels and she did a karaoke performance to Friends. That was a surprise. (As an aside, Dan, who was interpreting for Tomo, also ran a booth at the artist alley which I failed to drop by because I only found out later.) I got my Shayla-Shayla fix when she signed my El-Hazard DVDs.

The most impressive seiyuu on the list was Sora Tokui, who hopefully helped all of us get the “nico nico nii” thing out of the collective attendee’s systems. The love for her was bountiful, from flower stands (the Midwestern Liver/idol group folks knew better so everyone got a stand, leaving no seiyuu behind) to a big banner. The people were out in force here. Meltdowns and other stuff that comes with the territory, stories about getting into and out of the scene thanks to the OG Love Live school idol herself.

Which leads to the last but hardly the least seiyuu guest, Sally Amaki. This present-day idol seiyuu’s story is well-rehearsed via her popular Trash Taste interview, but Sally is more than the sum of her parts. Or the number of RTs for her various tweets. It’s just like the other dreams-come-true stories in a way, but this time our 21st century Japanese idol in her prime is also a socal shitlord turned josei seiyuu, which is a word spaghetti that means also more than the sum of their collective meanings.

I got lucky and was able to attend her “autograph session” substitute given that she doesn’t do that kind of event anymore, but the meet & greet event was just so, so good. I hope other anime cons in America can replicate this whole thing Acen has made with SME and 22/7’s management to make Sally available, because she is the bringer of a busload of hilarious idol fun.

In some ways the four seiyuu guests at Acen this year paints sort of a past-present-future look at how things are in the seiyuu idol side of the biz. That sums up how powerful the draw this year was for me personally.

The nuts and bolts of the con this year are pretty similar to the past few years, although we are ever inching closer to 2019 Acen again. What’s different is Win Morisaki, who is mostly a Toku music guest, and Lotus Juice, who’s here to suffer the Knicks getting knocked off of the playoffs. It’s a bit too bad that I barely got any time to watch their stuff due to event conflicts, but these bros don’t bring down the house by themselves. Acen needed to give them a bit more help, for no fault of their own.

Industry/production side, the one that caught my eyes the most was PILI, or the Taiwanese production group that made the Thunderbolt Fantasy puppet show. Some of their puppeteers came, and they messed around with the doll with the fans. I couldn’t find time to see the Colorido guests doing their premiere or the Kinema Citrus guests, but I did pick up the Colorido shirt from their new Netflix movie.

I couldn’t get any tasting for the Saburomaru whisky tasting because Acen booth’s lines were super long and they couldn’t process transactions fast enough, so I came back when everything was sold out to pick up the shirt and the Sally cheki thing. On that note, the biggest public enemy at Acen this year had to be the security theater. It was not very well organized and during peak morning hours people had to wait quite a while, up over 30 minutes? There were 6-7 scanners at the main con entrance and one at the hotel overpass. I’m not sure if there’s one also over the Embassy Suites side though. Anyways, for the most part it wasn’t an issue for me, but I did hear some problems over internet chatter and others I talked to, while most didn’t have much of an issue.

The autograph situation was somewhat better for me this year than the last, and some people really got it figured out. Turns out to get all the sessions you wanted you will need to create new accounts as sessions conflicted with each other. On the flip side it sucked if you didn’t get any, and some folks I know basically struck out. The system is merciless and not well-documented beyond this tweet, I think. One of the JP Ps was able to get FOUR sessions across all 3 days right away and none of the Sally oshis who flew here got hers. It’s rough. Our GR dude Sujay even translated the procedure into Japanese with pics for the 22/7 fanbase…I wish the non-Japanese even got that lol. I mean, I suppose it only tells you to install Guidebook and sign up for an account, which gets you just half way there.

The setup from last year mostly translated to this year, with most folks hanging out by the back tables at the street level of the Hyatt and the lineup going around it. It was chill and a good time to trade P cards? It was old timers reunion and good time to meet new people.

I personally was able to get both Hiromaya sessions (they were together) after coming off the waitlist, a Tomo Sakurai session, a PILI session, and one with Soramaru on Sunday. All of this is punctuated by that aforementioned lucky Sally M&G pickup. Man that was a great session. Normally this level of programming is reserved for the rare “VIP” panels that you pay $$$ for, but because Sally can’t do the normal signkai stuff, she gets to hang out with 60 of us for about an hour and a half as a compromise. It was so wonderful and it was as if her dreams are coming true and we’re all in it, and I guess we were?

One more thing to add: fan projects. It seems the con is finally set up for flower stands, so if you want to make Acen smell better, that’s one way…I jest. Hopefully we will get some kind of written method to hook those up. This year everyone got flowerstands as mentioned. Soramaru also got a banner and some other stuff. I made two business card binders with message boards from people in line as usual.

I’ll end with this. If you want to see your favorite imas or LL seiyuu (or Sally) come back, request it in the feedback form.

PS. Fooding at Chicago was so good this time, but also in general. I stayed for almost a week on this trip so I got some decent options, basically ate pizza everyday but Sunday and Monday (when I landed at 10pm). Pizza (deep, normal and tavern style), italian beef, the Chicago dog, cake shake, and others were consumed. One night I was theorygaming Vancouver vs Edmonton with friends at “the” Uno Pizzaria bar and that was an one of a kind experience. One of the JP Ps also brought me a visiting gift, his favorite butter “sando” from Hokkaido, and it was heavenly too. At the con I ate out with friends and hit up Gibson’s and the aforementioned Fogo also, which both hit the spot after long, long days at the con.

PPS. I didn’t forget Kawaiikon! But Raleigh awaits…

Girls Want to Be Yellow: Gakumas Prelude

As the new IDOLM@STER brand, Gakuen IDOLM@STER, slow-drips its hype juice leading up to the mobile game launch later this Quarter (or whenever Spring 2024 is), I have thoughts about not only Gakumas (the official abbrev) and the franchise in general. More specifically, context is important and also kind of amusing to think through, how one thing may lead to another or vice versa, and the joy of learning from the past.

Around 2020, we got Asobi Notes, which is kind of a new music brand from Bannam that included some of the up and coming track makers and DJs with a slant towards trending EDM and pop music. I only know this because they pulled a bunch of composers and DJs that worked on IM@S into their first online stream/concert (COVID era memories). Along side that was the launch of the Denonbu brand, which is uhh, character-based rave music I guess? Turns out Denonbu’s strategy and Asobi Notes form the music side of the Gakumas system. So far Gakumas has followed a similar plan between the idols and their music producers…I suppose around 2018-2019 the link between the music maker and the IM@S tracks has been more in the foreground in the marketing material, so this is the next step.

When IM@S hands off an idol to a music producer to make songs for, it reminded me when people like Inotac always wanted to produce Kaede songs, or when Jun Sasaki talked about Julia back when being asked about Airu. Now with 3 of the solo songs available, it seems a bit like that, but more so. I was rather taken by minami’s song for Temari, both that it is very minami, but also very good for an IM@S Blue solo, IYKWIM. Taken together with Giga’s and HoneyWork’s songs we can say that this is unlike any IM@S, and more like a group of good creators getting to create what they want based on the character concepts presented to them.

Which is just to say, based on the released commu, if Shiny Colors was a visual novel from the 00s, Gakumas is just OreImo (to no surprise–the PR material proudly boasts that the same scenario writer from OreImo is on staff). It is the same energy that warps around the same idol production story that has been grinded down like a raging river on smooth stones along the shore. Saki (Red), Temari (Blue) and Kotone (Yellow) may be signal lights, but I don’t see any Miki anywhere. The enigmatic and emblematic idol idea now lives between … Red and Yellow? It feels like the opposite-of-normal has happened with the cute but timid pink/red idol now being a confident and spicy brat who will tsun her way into your heart, while Yellow Is Just Trying To Make It with everything she got. And in traditional IM@S fashion, Blue didn’t change much in Gakumas. Is this what kids call “on brand?”

With the promo material slowly being released since the Gakumas announcement from KominoP (and his teammates…) the hype has been slowly building. Weekly release streams showing off the main cast along with their characters felt like both common-sense and uniquely new for the franchise. When a new IM@S seiyuu drops once a week it’s like getting a Christmas present once a week. The story of Shiny Colors playing off their yearly unit-add really shines through with this strat. The tech upgrade (thanks QualiArts) also are appreciated. IM@S official 4k videos are great and welcomed for something made in this decade. The hype continues to build.

I’m okay with my Aipura plus Oreimo plus Denonbu concept game so far. It’s got everything I want except the engaging gameplay part. I think as a raising game, the crown still belongs to Umamusume, being several furlongs ahead of the pack. It’s easy to forget the mess that was the first SideM app game which copied the gameplay loop from Hachinai, and only if they did more of it…

Which is all just to say, like the Ps who polled ML producers on Gakumas before even all the idol characters were unveiled, my prognostications are just that, premature. But what is clear as day is not just Giga dropping the name 15 seconds in Saki’s solo, but the direction of this franchise is going. It is thoroughly modern. It leans on famous and popular contractors. It is an ensemble work. It is aware (and its creators also are) of the past and hopefully, clear where it wants to go in the future.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the rivals becoming idols themselves, but what we’re looking forward to Gakumas cook is how it will happen. The wonderous but a bit underplayed story of Luka Ikaruga, will she get a nod in Gakumas? Only time will tell.

PS. I wrote this before Rinami’s solo dropped, but I think it just continues the trend. Watanabe Sho’s entry reminds me of Pinky Hook lol, but maybe that’s because I am Mocho-Pilled a bit.

IDOLM@STER Shiny Colors: The Animation

This is really a first-impression piece. I’m talking about my own impression but more like how a nice meal tastes, but with the right wine pairing.

You can now catch the TV anime streaming on Crunchy, after I guess some kind of exclusivity period. I would think none of this matters given how the entire series was pre-screened in theaters in Japan already. I have this story in which I could have caught the first segment during ML10th Act3 in Fukuoka, but time didn’t allow, and due to some snafu of not his own making, my hotel roommate during that weekender wasn’t able to see the show on day one. Instead, he went to catch this pre-screening.

Here are what I think are the relevant “filters” coloring my experience after 1 episode in, some personal biases if you will. In the interest of time I’ll just bullet them.

  • Miriani. Everyone likes to compare children of the same family, and while I am not any less guilty of this, I don’t really think about it. Rather, it’s an unconscious effect where before seeing the show I can see how people make these plot, writing or direction comparisons and it makes sense (to support their points about one being better or worse than the other). Or rather, Miriani is unimpeachable? I don’t think it’s that good (but I don’t 100% agree with those hankering for the A-1 days, FWIW) in the grand scheme of things, and after seeing Shinyani I don’t think it’s as bad as people make it out to be, if comparing it to Miriani is something that happens either consciously or not. Ultimately, Shinyani is not some 10-years-worth of tears pouring into something or another, like Miriani was–that is more like pulling teeth since 2015, for an anime that would have been better suited in 2018. I guess this means I’m consciously ignoring that obvious comparison.
  • Visual novel anime titles from the 00s. There is one specific title I have in mind, which is one of my all-time faves. That title, ef, is taking the same vibe in which we are telling a story, mostly not with plot, but with vibes, or whatever vibes were called in the 2000s. It’s a common focus in many postmodern narratives, and visual novels tend to have this going on back when. Visual novel anime basically derives, in a figurative-mathematical sense of the term, the same feelings and storytelling techniques, in order to express emotions. I don’t know how well Shinyani will carry this concept that the OG Shinymas game kind of prides itself on, but I guess we’ll see. Generally though this takes a lot of time, and Shinyani has to deal with a lot of idols in a cour, so it’s probably not going to be a strong point. Anyways, all throughout episode one, I think of the sky, the feathered wing, the scene as set by the rhythm of the sun (note all the sunset scenes…), and all colored by simple piano chords. This is EF.
  • Gakumas visuals. I realized my impression of the Shinyani visuals before Gakuen IDOLM@STER is different than after Gakumas. In fact that realization prompted this post. Looping Rinami’s 4K intro clip countless time probably made me even more damaged than I was? Joke aside, this is because the IM@S 3D art style has shifted. I would say this is also kind of a subconscious impact of Miriani, in which we are now in a new territory where the A1-licensed artwork is ancient history, that MLTD is kind of a transitional visual artifact, almost, and Gakumas is the future. Or the present. Shinyani actually pairs well with the graphics coming out from those brave folks at QualiArts. I mean, when I saw this unveiled, it reminds me of someone saying something about courage.
  • Who I am as a Shinymas Producer. As someone who dips in and out of Shinymas game-wise, I’m really following it for the overall meta-story, the fandom, the songs, and the performances. Having been with the franchise since the start I know what I’m looking forward to, to put it in the same like as Gakumas as we’re doing weekly new-character-reveals, the overall progression of the franchise as new units are added to the series. The anime is not something I’m dying for–it’s clearly an onboarding for the payday pinata that is the Shinysong game that launched just months earlier. That reminds me, I should write something about it… but I guess you can guess how I feel about that game. Anyways, Your Mileage Will Vary here because I’m not sure how big my cohort size really is–probably not that much in the English-language speaking sphere.

So far, the anime is at least good enough to carry on the branding of IDOLM@STER from a production point of view. I’m not really sure how the story will take its turn at the end of the season, as they have announced S2 (completely with at least Straylight and Noctchill), but are they going to “progress” at that point on? I assume so. To say it feels kind of bad to announce and tease the new units of S2 before S1 even aired is putting it mildly. Unfortunately, speedy is the Otaku’s Sword of Judgment, errors and nuances be damned, and we know the cohort that knows Shinymas purely from zako illustrators on the internet and erodojinshi is much larger than the cohort for me, LOL. Anyways, I guess I’ll continue to watch this show, as if I had any other choice.

Frieren Thoughts, One Season In

I think there are two aspects of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, or Souzou no Frieren, that really work well together to carry the story. One is that it’s a really emotional story. The other is that it builds a narrative that is well-layered. The two together works like a sieve of sorts. Instead of a Gunbuster-okaeri payoff you get a slow drip of the mono-no-aware (or as the kids say, “vibe”) over a longer period of time, in much smaller doses, as the story unfolds layer by layer accordingly.

From 30,000 feet up I think Frieren is repackaging the story also told by other cyro-timeskip plot devices, where you have some weak interactor that carries memories from times of ancient past to the present or future. This character is living history out itself so each generation connects with each other much like subsequent scenes in a movie featuring the same protagonist; or a TV show in this case.

Spoilers ahoy.

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