In the context of explaining to people who are not familiar with IDOLM@STER, or whose familiarity comes only in the context of Cinderella Girls Starlight Stage, I sometimes wonder what’s the best way to explain it. Then I wonder what would be the most fun way to explain it. Or the explanation I would like to read the most.
I think on some level, Million Live is to the OG IDOLM@STER what AKB48 is to, say, Morning Musume or the older idol factories of the late 90s and early 00s. I mean it makes sense, the earlier IDOLM@STER games were a product of the 00s, but by 2010 the game has changed drastically in the real world, or the real idol world has drastically changed, whatever.
It’s particularly clear in that Million Live is about having a lot of songs and doing live shows. This much it mimics (it wouldn’t be fair to say it is a mimic, if anything it is a poor attempt to mimic the shadow of the actual thing) the 48G style of having a crapton of lives and events where fans have access to the large quantity of idols. That much is probably a stretch, but what isn’t a stretch is that Million Live is the next iteration, or a continuation, of the 765Pro business. It’s both a spinoff and a parallel story in which the OG idols are a part of.
That much is already quite different than Cinderella Girls. I think it’s better to compare Cinderella Girls with a platform, along the lines of Touhou or Vocaloids, that it is this modernized fandom space. Toss in a very polished mobile game and you have a winning formula in the making. Today, not much of Cinderella Girls’ popularity come by association with the OG. In essence 765Pro was a gateway in a very minor sense, and mostly in the first few years of the series. There are some similarities and the IP is built on top of the good things IDOLM@STER already has going for it, so Producers will find it at home. I think Ginderella Girls is poised to make its own fans, fans who are not attached to the OG, with the more fairytale-ish outlook and the setting around 346Pro.
So to answer the original query, I find it a little hard to say that Million Live is just another 37 more idols to keep track of. It’s closer to a theater troupe than just another idol agency, in that the idols inhabit different contextual spaces. It’s like, how do you run a danketsu story with 346Pro? You can, but it would be a different one than the original. I mean, sure, they are just more idols to keep track of, when it comes to the Producer’s day-to-day affairs, but it’s like a different family? Is this why there are not a lot of inter-IM@S shipping? I guess ML and CG are kept in different buckets? I don’t know.
It might be worth thinking about the live performances as another way to frame the question. Are the voice talents for Cinderella Girls more “mercenary”? I’m not sure. What I know is that when it comes to doing the live performances, Million Live tend to call on the same few people repeatedly, and the rest of the cast take it on every now and then, no different than any other job. From the actual performance point of view, I don’t think Million Live performances are notably more difficult than Cinderella Girls ones, although the latter tend to be bigger budget productions with more of a focus on theatrics. When it comes to actually standing on stage, singing and dancing, there isn’t a big difference overall. If anything, the performers who have been doing it a lot tend to be better at it, just because they have more opportunities and more practice, regardless which series they represent.
If we take Nunu’s Pon de Beach during 10th as the standard, I think a handful of Cinderella Girls and a handful of Million Live are at that level now. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the Million Live seiyuu tend to be good at dancing–it probably is just a thing more so in 2017 than it was in 2007 or whenever Kugyuu was big–but they do get more practice, so some of them do seem to be better at it. The dance choreography for both series are still squarely in the standard, female seiyuu level of difficulty though. Anyone who watches SideM can tell you better about harder dancing, LOL.
Oh, the only exception to this is probably Aimi’s guitar playing. The only thing AFAIK that can eclipses that in terms of skills is Makino Yui’s piano, but she’s not likely to go there for Cinderella Girls any time soon. Let’s not even get started on Hegochin’s drums.
I think someone has done a song breakdown of live performances, as to who sang which songs how many times. Million Live actually doesn’t get a lot more live performances than Cinderella Girls. More, but not a lot more. And it’s only just the core 6 or 7 people who have those extra reps.
As a seiyuu otaku, one thing I feel I get more from Million Live seiyuu is that there are more “true believers” in that bunch. Part of it is because the 37 people are set, so they have to sink or swim, there is no escape. Many of them got the Million Live job in the first years of their agency, so it’s a particularly significant, both career-wise and emotionally, engagement. You also have people like Kokochan, Todakun, Yunkon, Pyon, and other nerdy types that gives such narratives a bit more spotlight than the industry standard joshikai atmosphere that tend to be the case in Cinderella Girls talk events.
The other, more important reason behind that is because the Cinderella Girls group, today, spans for quite a bit in terms of the casting “vintage” as cast is slowly added. There are people who were hardly even seiyuu 5 years ago involved today, on top of the fact that not everyone selected were at the same point in their careers. In fact, many of the CGs were already established by the time they were selected. There is less of an “outside of imas I don’t even get many jobs at all” vibe going on in CG, LOL.
The talk for Cinderella Girls thus tend to be more “industry standard” which is fun enough, and it helps to highlight the relationships beyond-the-call-of-duty. Of course, truth is the more the same people get on the same job, the better they get to know each other. Maybe this has been happening kind of throughout the ML3rd tour? Or 8th/SSA? You can see it throughout the year when Cinderella Project was in the main push, as those dozen or so folks got a heck of a lot of media time.
Which is to say, HRR sure is fun, isn’t it?
On a more personal level, Million Live is kind of where Bandai Namco is pushing things towards. I say this because I’m still rooting for my OGs, but fact is outside of the Aisute girls, the rest of them just don’t show up all that much. They all have their own stuff going on so there’s nothing unusual there, but there’s a lot of rapport built between the OG IM@S girls that you just don’t see in today’s cour-after-cour of the same old talk shows. I definitely do miss that in a way.
I say “in a way” only because relatively speaking I only got on the bandwagon since 2011, so oddly enough it lines up with the Nu/Harami/Azumin push more neatly than what has happened with our older ladies. I definitely feel closer to HaraNuAzumin despite them being late(r)comers. And to be honest? They aren’t that different than PyonKoroMochi, besides from like, 10 years worth of levelheadedness. (Haramii is pretty notenki, so that’s saying something.)
On the surface however, Miliraji is a crazy sort of thing, where the hosts are all pretty hard going at it. It has a very different appeal, and it appeals also to a younger crowd that might point to a general demo shift in the generational cycles of otaku in Japan. Anyways.
Million Live is where all the new stuff is coming out from. People probably don’t know this well, but there were more Million Live songs than Love Live songs as of 2015, at Love Live’s peak, just to show you where things were happening. They’re both done by Lantis. Love Live was making all sorts of money, but Million Live was on the hook to make like 12 CDs a year or some absurd number between 2013 and 2015. As a result this meant Million Live was very active during the time when I was really turning on to the event culture aspect of IDOLM@STER. It doesn’t take much for me to dive right in, either, because Million Live just had a tighter package at the time compared to CG or even 765Pro. It doesn’t even take an anime (and as CG anime has shown, it doesn’t always work, or work well) to get things started. All it did take was having a lesser barrier of entry, maybe.
Of course, with CP and Deresute, things are even more different now. I think maybe part of the appeal then was seeing the newbie seiyuu of Million Live and having that trigger an interest for me. Part of it was the curiosity in how Bannam is trying to play the successor/spinoff game. Part of it was that Million Live, as far as IM@S live events go, is genuinely good. Wanst was great on Blu-ray. ML3rd was life-changing for me. Fourth turned me inside out emotionally.
It also helped a lot that I did play the social game, so I was able to gleam some nuggets of character lore from that, and from other players. The content in the game sometimes is pretty incredible, so it was a fun way to keep in touch with a niche franchise over the years. I didn’t even get to go to any ML-specific event until ML3rd, but by then it felt like I was going home.
I remember 10th day 2 when they started on Kokoro ga Kaeru Basho, and it felt so right. Those feelings were for IM@S as a whole at the time, but it felt kind of right having that as a Million Live song. It was as if that’s where the franchise is needed to be in this day and age. Maybe it comes across a bit hipster-ish, but for those of us following the franchise at a certain distance, it’s where we want to be.