This week’s episode… I guess I still can’t enjoy this anime for what it is, even if I do enjoy it for what it is. It’s just that there is more than what meets the eye.
I think let’s begin here. DiGiKerot spells out the basics well, and that’s where we have to start. What is up next is kind of the gap, lacking a better term, that ultimately describes a lot of these types of narratives.
The other starting point is Miku. Maekawa is a newbie idol working for 346Pro, looking to get her big break from the big idol production agency that she’s now a part of. The backstory that is yet present (but thoroughly hinted) in the anime is that she is pretty much a loner, and it plays out clearly between “cat” mode Miku and normal Miku. In the supplementary and manga material, Miku presents herself as a bookish, quiet if classy meganekko in her high school environs. She spends a lot of her time reading, aside from work and work-related activities, such as brushing up on things she needs to prepare for a job or for practice.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she’s a bit of a focus character in the past two episodes, just sort of painting some kind of background or basic level of where things are at for the Cinderella Project. As much as she’s neglected, the sakuga gods were kind on our senior cat girl, so it likely means something. Especially since she is probably the one character whose idol persona is the most clearly delineated from her normal persona in this grouping.
It’s easy to map this sort of an idea for idols as thematically similar to the concept of honne and tatemae? But it’s closer to what makes one’s professional persona versus who they really are. It’s less a facade and more a makeup. Or in Shirobako’s terms, armor. The difference here is that by default, idols are professional personas. That’s the tool or lens I’m using to look at this week’s episode of Cinderella Girls the Anime.
It is no coincidence that we’re seeing the story through some actual lens, of a camera. This is the gap in which an idol behaves professionally towards the persona, the product, they create as a part of their profession, versus the professional attitudes they extend to their coworkers. Which is also different than their innate feelings and inclinations and how that play a role in creating all of their secondary attributes, personalities. Putting these idols in front of an audience or a lens, it allows the story to make those the differences in three levels of abstraction.
And it’s necessary. I think the girls of IDOLM@STER all began as girls in front of cameras. And it’s the most terrible type of cameras that I know: video game characters from arcade machines or mobile games. They don’t get rich character development arcs; they get a fraction of your attention as you put in money or time in small increments (which is a major thing in light of the hardcore dedication of our early day Producers). It’s literally a few pictures and some voiced lines. The anime and manga take things to the next step and paint them as girls in front of cameras of a reality TV show. To that extent, we can enjoy the full experience of what it means to be an idol in the post-AKB48 world. To that extent, we can stick to canon and cast the anchors of character development without rocking the boat. This added dimension only has space to grow if we extrapolate from the TV screen.
And to that extent, character development has to go on in this way. Thankfully because this is an anime about idols, and idols being who they are, you can literally give Shiburin a camera and tell her to film something, and actually sell a video of what Shiburin did with that camera.
Watching Ohashi being the subject of this gag exercise, it feels strongly resonant of a certain Sabagebu episode.
That sidebar aside, there is also another purpose behind the camera-in-a-camera approach, and that is to frame not only the appeal, but the visualization of the appeal. By appeal I mean it in the English-taken-into-Japanese sense, that these idols are trying to make some attractive persuasive video clips for us.
I think this is where Toshifumi Akai flexed his MD elbows. It’s not solo episode for this A-1 animator but this Producer did basically owned it, taking care of all the direction and storyboarding, plus being the animation director. And it shows, with the same level of details as the prior episodes, from the escalation to the interplay between Miria and Rika, from AnKira’s stiffy jokes to even the awkward moment with Rina. I guess after talking to him at Sakuracon last year about IM@S I just have an added appreciation of his work in this specific context.
Which is also something to think about when Kirari did her candy spray. The camera went bonkers on that shot, which is just another way of saying that this particular idol don’t fit within the typical screens of your PR machines? Your interpretation is as good as mine.