Rethinking the Origin of Value for iDOLM@STER

If I said human existence is full of contradictions, I would be exaggerating. If I said when iM@S fandom ships producer with his idols and that hits too close to a pimp and his prostitutes, that would be exaggerating. But I guess that would be a contradiction!

The truth is, I am steadily descending that slippery slope into iM@S fandom, and while the ride is enjoyable, I see too much stuff that I’m not entirely comfortable with, producer shipping notwithstanding. Maybe to some extent idol fan culture is always a little toxic. Talking with the AKB-whatever fans I know, at least, that’s a bit of what comes across. That truth gets shared and strengthened by also whatever idol fan culture that is over here in the US.

But just like chemical addictive in an artificially flavored and preserved treat, idols and idol fandom is robust and often fits your fancy, just how you like it. The toxicity is not without benefit. I think Japanese-style idol fandom likes projecting and shipping, which coincidentally goes with the whole “no dating” strategy that industry employs. There are some advantages, especially when the idols themselves can’t do anything, as in the case of animated cartoon characters from video games. The fans can move and groove the idols themselves.

But I suppose you can’t ask for too much; we get what we paid for, at least when it comes to fan creation. Is it even a fair statement though? If I were to buy all the PS3 iM@S2 DLCs I don’t really think for a second I would have thought anything other than “I just got ripped off like a man dripping with blood in a dunk tank with an hungry great white shark.” Even if I bought the cheapest addon song Â¥1200 DLC I feel as if I just got tricked into doing something that my parents would have been ashamed of, and that is not because I bought some video game addon for raising Japanese idols but because I just wasted a bunch of virtual money. Well, that goes for most other idol fandom; do we ever get what we pay for? In the era of mass media it all feels like a “free taste! But if you want more please deposit your wallet and bank routing info here” kind of gimmick.

It’s in light of this that I slowly crawl and fight my way down the slope. While it would be fun to buy ten Â¥10,000 PSN point cards and just go to town, that does not seem like the “fair” deal in which you can spend almost as much and buy the entire iM@S anime on Blu-ray, which isn’t so bad in comparison. It is why I reject buying the ¥20,000 PS3 limited edition box, or why I still don’t know if I will buy any of the older iM@S CDs (the animation masters look like the ones to go for, plus the Best Ofs). Or why should I even listen and enjoy their back catalog, or the M@STER version tracks, or anything they are peddling beyond the core video game experience. I mean, I am okay with buying DLCs and the game, if that is what iM@S is. Or maybe the anime or the music, if that is what iM@S is. Is it?

That would explain why I actually do look forward to the 7th Anniversary concert on Blu, because that seems like what proper idols do. If AKB48 can perform almost everyday, it means there’s this other interface in which a fan can spend his money by having the idols entertain him or her, like how performers have done it throughout the ages. I’m probably still going to spend money in the meta (I think I spent more on iM@S figures than on DLC right now) but let’s get a grip and look forward to what being idols really means in this day and age. Because we have to ask ourselves: when did iM@S become some kind of framework in which we plug our wallets into so we can buy things and ship people and do what Touhou fans do? What is that worth?

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