This is just the thoughts from this particular Producer, so take it as you will. Just reacting to some other folks from this morning (evening JP time on July 25) when the 18th anniversary stream dropped its usual payload of news and inter-brand interactions.
I’m lurking in a couple community discord servers for IDOLM@STER. Some SideMs are gnashing teeth. Others are just putting them to perspective. You can see some of that in the Youtube comments. I think perspective is important, as it can highlight the way forward out of this hellish situation. But I think some empathy and compassion is good. More over, these emotions and momentary problems are probably something that will come and pass with time, without us doing a whole lot.
One thing I noticed is that many of these online communities are surrounding the core game product. This is Deresute, MLTD, the Enza Shiny game, and what have you. Players of the console 765Pro games kind of dissolves into the background as old(er) people who bring up obscure data points (see above about perspective) but it’s not tangibly linked to the community. The band of IDOLM@STER branding is not that strong.
I think this is invariably the case when all it takes is a smartphone or emulator, and Qooapp. All these free-to-play games have no doors, effectively, other than being in Japanese. And just like how anime culture in America is a rainbow regurgitation of the same thing in Japan, a lot is lost in the translation. Or more precisely, a lot is missing in the localization of a media mix IP, that wasn’t even localized to begin with. Localization outfits are just publishers, they are not marketing firms with a hand in the media mix pie who want to sell rights to merch or whatever it takes to do SideM Ice Cream.
I would feel way less secure as a SideM P if all I had was the game and not the concerts, the live streams, the music, the anime, the comics, and the fandom at large. I really think this is part of the answer to Bannam dropping the Growing Stars game, but not much of this has come. Anyways, it has been disconcerting for some Ps and things have remained uncomfortable.
I remember seeing the SideM announcement at MOIW 2014 intermission. I was there at my first IM@S concert and still feeling a bit overwhelmed. Yes, even back then, we, collectively (Japan?), know that joseimuke stuff was taking off. Women buying 2D dude merch was a bigger thing than it was ever before. It was a force to tap into, if you are an opportunist. So at some level, SideM joining the fray was already a bit, let’s just say, sus, fundamentally.
At any rate, SideM fits this scheme, and I bemused around then, even, that Bannam was a tad late. But the dice were cast, and we’re in it together. Will IDOLM@STER as a business translate well as joseimuke content and media mix strategy? Despite hindsight being mostly 20/20, I think the answer is still unclear. To some degree, we see where it was successful. We also see the missteps.
I think one clear thing we can say is that Bannam executed the SideM vision with some urgency. Vision 2.0 started with IDOLM@STER 2, which introduced us to Jupiter. These guys are the lynchpins for the SideM franchise and connects us from today back all the way to origin. SideM also provided a home Akizuki Ryo, which we cannot say enough to thank for. Maybe this is at SideM’s cost as a female-pandering franchise, but ultimately it was just one person in a group with 46 or 49 idols. These are, in the big picture of the 18 years of IDOLM@STER, large, franchise-altering moves. They’re on par with Shiny Colors dropping a new unit every year from 2019 to 2022. But I didn’t think Bannam and the SideM team played this up well. Maybe because they were urgently trying to solidify this brand?
I believe urgency was why SideM took the path of Million Live, almost carbon-copy from web game to app game. It was definitely why SideM had a TV anime first, well before Million. But did this urgency pay off? I’m not sure. I can say that the transition to the app game did more to harm it than any other decision for the series, because SideM LIVE ON ST@GE was not up to the quality and standards set by the other games in the series. If rushing was a big factor towards the cause of it, it was just a bad decision.
In 2021 we got SideM GROWING STARS, which is being shut down this month. The circumstances surrounding the shutdown is still a mystery. But we probably got here only because the mistake that was LOS. Still, we should properly credit who credit is due: Bannam needs to own the bad treatment for this franchise at the closing of the game. SideM now does not have a game platform to put all the character content on top of. I think that’s actually okay, but it invites envy and criticism.
Objectively speaking, what SideM is doing is becoming more lean and agile. New character media mix franchises often start this way: announcements, casts, recorded songs and drama. But this is sort of the opposite business strategy for IDOLM@STER, one that hasn’t really happened until the launch of Shiny Colors. It is still a really weird way to see an IDOLM@STER brand exist. How can players be players without an ongoing game? Until this existential issue is resolved, it stands to reason that SideM players and producers are going to have their undies in a knot.
Given this blog and I am very silver-lining oriented, this is the best spin I can put on it. Bannam did what they could, they pushed the franchise and hit all the high notes until the Covid years. There is not much left to execute for SideM in the Vision 2.0 game plan.
So, because I have nothing to lose if I am wrong, you should take the following prediction as far or as close as you want. I suggest that the 6th franchise in IDOLM@STER canon might be also joseimuke. KominoP said it started 5 years ago. What started 5 years ago? So again, I have nothing to lose if I’m wrong, it’s going to be joseimuke, and 2.5D oriented. I mean it makes sense. It’s the one arrow missing in the quiver of the IDOLM@STER franchise. I want real life Haruka tripping on stage, just like how I really enjoyed my time at the Umamusume stage performance. SideM did rodokugeki. Is this why IDOLM@STER was so slow to this punch?
Because, on paper, the only threat to IDOLM@STER is Umamusume. Bang Dream is for kids! D4DJ is … also for kids. IDOLM@STER is for boomers! Love Live is actually just not-iM@S and belongs to Bandai Namco anyways. That’s why the franchise want to expand and add, it needs to grow to replace the warm bodies that will graduate from the series because invariably, as long as SideM or Million or 765Pro continues to exist, Bannam will make mistakes along the way. Rightfully so, it’s okay to quit when these entertainment IPs stop being entertaining.
Except Cinderella Girls–it continues to grow, and Cygames seemed to have hit the winning formula. Doomposting, unvoiced Producers continue to cause chaos and rub people the wrong way as entitled pricks. One person’s bug is another person’s feature, I guess.