Shibuya Rin in the ongoing Cinderella Girls anime gets paired with flowers. I remember vividly still the first episode as she gets her first look at Uzuki’s smile. Director Kouno’s transformative climax paired with blossomed plant reproductive organs is not at any odds with the fact that Rin’s family run a flower shop and at times she adorns the shop’s front door.
The initial telegraph during episode one has Rin, Uzuki and Mio run into each other at a live event, each handling one behind-the-scene aspect. This flower girl Rin is, in a very literal sense, just like our flower girl, if you belonged to the growing number of fans who purchased flower stands for events. In retrospect that these flower stands got prominently showcased in the Dereani concert scenes should come as no surprise. It’s nice to imagine that behind every expensive order we put in for a live, there’s some Shibuya Rin putting the wreath together and hauling it to the venue.
Flowers from fans are, perhaps, a vain exercise, but it is nice. In the big picture, perhaps Rin’s existence isn’t so different. Both she and her fans hope, at least, the flowers will match her.
Comparing young women to flowers is the easiest thing.
Sometimes I watch Cinderella Girls from an agency point of view. By agency I mean via the character’s point of view of self-realization and self-empowerment. It’s a fitting term, isn’t it? In this sense, the Producer is an agent for exactly this, in order to further the idols’ careers. An agent for change? How does TakeP’s character bring it about? And will the change be the kind I am looking for? For better or for worse? From whose perspective?
Thinking back to season one, when the police mistook Producer for a creeper, it gave the Dekoration girls an opportunity to do something, even if it is to right what may be called a wrong (it may not be). And there are other instances of this, where agency is cloaked in some form of a challenge, like giving Cat and Rock the same unit song and to work out their differences, or just giving Minami a lead role as the eldest. But aren’t these challenges just normal tasks? It seems by giving them mundane idol work the Producer produces. In fact Mio’s big scene in the first half revolved around the most ordinary thing ever, although it might not be fair to trivialize the challenges that Mio overcame.
The same is true for Rin’s eventual change of mind in the recent episodes, or what Mio decided to do. But to what ends? And are the changes good? I think this is the real talk part of the show. Imagine if the idols give up something to become one. No dating the boys (or even girls?) that they like, for example. Leaving their familial responsibilities or betraying their parental expectations to pursuit what they dream of doing, to make a career out of it, outside of the entertainment industry context, can be framed as noble and sympathetic things. Being chased down by a tall, stoic dude trying to hand you some business cards is a weird turn-on-head approach to career guidance. Basically, a lot of these challenges in Cinderella Girls may be silly, but the show treats them no less real than the “real talk” items of the seedy underbelly of the Japanese idol biz. It’s as if we were handed placeholders for these things, even if we didn’t quite address them head-on.
This is probably why I always thought Rin as “the” Cinderella Girls character. Once I look beyond the intercharacter relationship Rin has on NewGen and see it as Rin’s personal struggle as a Millennial, anyway. I mean, to spell out what I think is obvious, if we think of Cinderella the fairy tale as a story where someone grew true to her potential with Theatrics, help of a magical godmother, and a mean adoptive family, then IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls takes this time-honed adage and time-honored, little-girl-marketing mechanism and spin it into Japanese idol regurgitate targeting otaku bros. This is a little weird, but also a little bit the most strangely gender-fair approach: Do boys like Cinderella like girls do? I mean, who doesn’t enjoy this generic kind of coming-of-age spin? This is way better than making a male-twist version on the same story. It’s like we are re-making a cake, using the old cake as the original material.
Is TakeP’s Producer the real pivot as our Fairy Godfather, whose CV was formerly just 17 years old?
Maybe I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who has been through the wave of otaku material in the 00s when Japan occasionally addresses its outcasts with encouraging messages such as “Don’t be a hikkikomori, there is hope” and such? Or is that way too subtle?
Anyway, all I want to say is if Rin blossomed, it’s only because she was born to do it. It’s natural for a character of her nature to do so. The response of seeing it is either admiration and awe, and/or a desire to have what she has. This is where Cinderella Girls get interesting, in terms of that and the setup it has to trigger whatever expressions from its viewers, both reactions engineered and not so much.