Category Archives: Idolmaster

Million Live: Tiered Days

When I got into western anime fandom (in the 1990s) I did top 10 lists for fun. It’s a framework that allowed people to think about things in relative to each other, along a dimension so to speak. It can be a complicated thing or a simple thing, or things, or whatever that floated the boats of individual opinions. It’s a habit only enforced by today’s media landscape that desire click-through understanding, not some serious business digression.

So here’s a serious business digression:  My own tiered ranking of the idol characters of Million Live.

Disclaimer, though, this is not a producer ranking. I do take that aspect into account when compiling this, but let’s just say while I do put Matsuri at top out of obligation, it is not out of obligation to say that she is also my favorite, and vice versa. And while it would be nice to say that it’s a coincidence, one does not cause the other. There is a distinction between “producing” an idol and calling her/him your favorite. Until western fandom understands this (within IDOLM@STER at least) there is no way we are really deserving of anything good.

It’s very much a snapshot of my mind, and if you ask me again tomorrow I might disagree with my past self. I did sleep on it and tried to keep it sensible but it isn’t written in stone or anything like that. It’s probably safe to say that there is a half-life of sorts, that things will definitely deviate the further into the future we go…

Last but possibly the most important thing before I begin… I’m strictly speaking, when it comes to Million Live, a MD with a favorite. This means, in reality, I like all Million Live idols. This is important to keep in mind. They are all god tier. I’ll explain the distinction individually below. [See this GamiP interview to know what I mean about being MD with an oshi in regards to being a P.]

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Theater Dayz

So much to unpack. But let this be the prelude and I’ll just build on it.

The rhythm game IDOLM@STER Million Live: Theater Days, launched the night I was packing for Anime Expo (day -1). I put in a fair amount of hours and money in the game since and we don’t really have a real event yet. The first “event” is actually just a period of time where activities in-game will yield more rewards, and you get a free 30-stam drink every day.

Since I can’t talk about how events affect this game, I can talk about the other stuff–which is rather noteworthy. To put it simply, this is the game we’ve been waiting for since Shiny Festa was first a thing. It takes the next step that Deresute didn’t quite take, which is to build out hakomas-style dance groups (fixed at 5 members), but also with audio mixing. Granted this is only available for one song, Brand New Theater, but we expect Thank You, Welcome, and Dreaming all will have this option available.

Watching and playing Brand New Theater in Theater Days (avoiding the Milishita nickname for now) is a trip. It is enough proximity of an experience to watching S4U modes in PS3. This is something that I can call authentically “IDOLM@STER” which has been now recreated in a new video game. On just this level, Theater Days is a success in my book…at least comparable to Shiny Festa.

The main interface of Theater Days is full 3D with characters moving about the screen like…ships passing in the night? They just glide to and from designated points in each “room” and other than a few pre-scripted things, they are just kind of there. I guess this is the limitation of randomly-generated character events than carefully-scripted ones you find in the in-game menus of Platinum Star or BanG Dream. I’m nonetheless grateful that at least on an individual basis, the idols that appear in the rooms, lobby, hallways, or whatever, do the things we want to see them do.

Unlike Deresute, I’ve been playing Theater Days with 3D as much as possible. The 2D mode is pretty lame, but it does what you need it to do–which is nothing but static background that you can’t even affect (outfits/SSR make no difference). Indeed, this game is meant to put the fact that IDOLM@STER the Video Game Franchise is about 3D-rendered idols dancing and singing while you do things, front and center. The gameplay even forces a gameplay pause during the bridge of each song so you can watch the idols strut their stuff.

I feel this is the main charm of the game. And at the same time it’s something that the market has been kind of weaning off of. Most players these days are groomed to play them without these enhancements, in order to squeeze the battery life a bit longer. The hardware in the wild probably still has a ways to go to make the Theater Day vision 100% true, but we’re pretty close, if you have a modern phone (GS8, iPhone 7).

The rest of the game is very much similar to Deresute. The team composition, leveling, training, awakening, and limit breaking all play more or less like modern rhythm F2P games that now flood the market. I won’t belabor this and rhythm game aspects of Theater Days besides to say that flick notes sure are PITA. And probably the one most notable thing is that Theater Days have many quality-of-life upgrades over Deresute, such as removing inventory management all together, so you never have to deal with duplicate cards or putting cards into dorms or whatever. Not too important of a thing, but I appreciate it.

Of course, Theater Days is still in its early days, and it isn’t as feature rich as Deresute, although you can kind of see they plan to feature-match all the basic stuff down the road. It’s also kind of buggy on the edges, and talks to the server a lot. The core game works pretty well, so it’s not like BanG Dream which can still cold crash on my phone (happened just today in fact…).

And yeah, it’s invariable to compare Theater Days with Deresute, and so far it’s a helpful guide. There isn’t a room of SD stuff you can play with, but I think that’s intended (no such thing in ML card game). The gameplay adds a “shigoto” mode which in effect, lets you progress using stamina to get a random commu, rather than to play a song. Maybe it’s a QoL thing too, but commu with idols is also another hallmark of the franchise. It’s important and heartening to see this feature being put it to in the game explicitly, rather than just story that you unlock.

One last note in regards to the early days of Theater Days: the gacha. Unlike Cinderella Girls, you can reasonably “collect” all the Million Live characters off the bat. In fact, with 765Pro characters in the game and getting new voiced lines and scenarios, I really wanted to at least get those 13 first. It would just be like OFA! LOL. The harsh reality is that the initial gacha layout gives 26 R and 26 SR, splitting the full cast in half. Since there is no “friend point” gacha you cannot roll for Ns, as N cards drop only by completing songs and work, and at a “fairly low” rate (given that this is a compu gacha you’re aiming for). The characters whose only non-N cards are SRs are hard to get. Also since the SSR rate is at a blessedly 3% it meant that you had a higher odds of pulling a SSR than a specific SR. With the first new batch of limited SSR/SR, that ratio has changed a bit so you have 0.388% of pulling a SR (excluding the promoted SR) and 0.338% of pulling a specific SSR–almost the same IMO. But it’s hard to get all the Ns. As of this writing I have 48 Ns, 24 SRs, and 7 SSRs. I only was able to complete all the Rs.

So, let’s talk about the meta stuff.

I’m still struggling to incorporate Kaori and Tsumugi into my brain, on an emotional and intellectual level. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about it; it took me over half a year to get into Million Live properly so I expect to get comfy with the two project 39 members by winter this year at the latest. I certainly don’t dislike them, but it would help to see them live in October, yeah?

There are some fanon forming and reforming around Kaori and Tsumugi, and it’s kind of a fun time seeing it happening as it goes. The game itself brings life to Million Live by introducing the characters to more people and to opportunist artists, so hey, not complaining about that.

One of the more subtle threads about the two new characters is how in effect, at least at this point, the less refined characterization necessarily meant they are caricatured to a degree, replacing existing ships or roles in well-established tropes or jokes. I think Fuuka is really feeling it. Hopefully this is just a temporary thing while Mugi and Kaori spread their wings to come into their own selves.

With SideM game also on display (prereg period ongoing now!) we get a glimpse of the hydra that is IDOLM@STER as a game franchise. LOS is clearly taking a different path than TD and SS. It’s sensible to see that the boy side take a different route than the girl side. And it makes me wonder if we’ll get another boy-idol spinoff…

What’s probably the most noteworthy is Taneda Risa and Tanaka Kotoha. Kotoha is plainly not in Theater Days, and this is a huge move relatively. This speaks to me that IDOLM@STER is done with seiyuu switching if the circumstances can help it, and this is an internal decision. If anything, we should infer all the more that Tanechan is coming back, and it is just a matter of time. Just like how SideM anime announcement confirms that Million Live anime will happen, and it is also just a matter of time…

I guess I can take heart that at least the management is committed to doing the right things, but it’s hard to see what’s good about it. Tanechan is not Kotoha. But if Tanechan is coming back, then we need to keep that seat warm for her… Maybe there is a temporary compromise somewhere that makes up the room for improvement. Namely, just put Kotoha in but keep her voiceless?

Please get well soon & come back Tanechan, we all miss you (and not even just in Million).

In Re: Tsumugi & Saki, New IDOLM@STER Million Live Cast

Basu actually captured my thoughts more or less the same. But I think it helps to take a higher perspective.

The big picture view, well, is idols are Gundam. Bandai Namco is shepherding these larger and larger IPs to create content and make money. The trend for this particular market space (otaku like myself) has long been a change from making money by making media to making money by selling an experience, thus leading to the rise of a live-oriented way to pitch your 2D idols. And idols are a natural and built-in style of content that can be used in this way.

However IDOLM@STER is probably the longest standing and actively produced 2D idol property, at least in a post-00s, 48G style kind of way. The way the series evolved over the past 11 years meant that the producers of the series had to overcome different and various challenges, and take on more that are yet to come. I think the Yukiho swap series of events is the guiding data point on any consternation regarding Taneda Risa, and I think everyone who has been through it know that having the idol take a year or two off is something the IDOLM@STER series, at least since the beginning of the mobamas era, can deal with.

The real challenge, from a personal point of view, is the reconciliation between the two aging card-based mobile games to the new, full-feature rhythm games. On a business level it makes no sense to stop the classic Deremas game. It’s money on the table, and another way to put out content for a series, that I think, is bottled up in terms of its full potential on the content level. They were able to leverage this to throw in 876 Pro stuff and still periodically add interesting content there. But what is its role outside of that? It seems not just quaint, but kind of irrelevant. The current Million Live game, too, will hit that same crossroad.

Since I think it’ll be a business decision, it seems unlikely to see the classic Greemas game go away as to leave money on the table, but with the newly introduced idols, how will Tsumugi and Saki meld into Greemas? It’s an unique situation that oddly only the 765Pro games had to face, which is adding Takane and Hibiki in SP and still not able to produce them in the arcade version. But obviously, Bannam has now the power to retcon the Million Stars, as the cost of doing so is much lower versus doing it back in the arcade days.

Which is just to say, this does feel like when Takane and Hibiki was added to 765Pro. It’s not clear to me why Takane or Hibiki was added, but if today’s trajectory of the 765Pro seiyuu is any indication, our two new Million Stars will be able to shoulder a larger share of work in the future as more and more of this generation of Million Stars move on to having babies or what have you.

Well, at least on paper. There are already 37 Million Stars. It would be weird to not able to call up, I don’t know, 6 of them, at any given time, if Bannam needed to do an event. Maybe a more ideal way to channel cute young voice actresses is to churn them in this mean, sprawling, 2D seiyuu idol machine. I have been thinking about the difference between CG and ML in this way, where our set 37 Million Stars were all auditioned and recruited from the same generation of newbies. CG on the other hand recruited from the full poll of newbies every year, so both it allows CG to get a fresh boost of new blood every so often, and allows the cast to draw from a much bigger pool, and potentially pulling in a wider fanbase (from seiota point of view). Of course the downside is that the Million Stars have a different chemistry, as result of this, than the Cinderellas, but maybe that’s not as important when you’re already at 37 people strong.

The impact on team chemistry will play out in the long term. Nunu, Haramii and Azumin are the faces of 765Pro today, in a way, because they are in a lot of the more recent events versus even Eriko and Mingos. This is possible because even Azumin has been with the franchise for over 6 years now, and as I can testify from 765ML TW, she fits right in there with the other old ladies. Looking back, the seiyuu changes and additions to 765Pro were bumps in the road, not drastic landmarks where the series turned towards a very different direction. I’m somewhat hoping this is the case for Million Live. However I think the concern over seiyuu that I have is dwarfed by my concern over the franchise as a video game IP. Perhaps the arrival of Project Fairy signaled the end of the Arcademas era and the start of the mobile gaming for the franchise, and perhaps the arrival of Saki and Tsumugi signals the end of greemas and the start of “hey we’re just gonna copy Deresute, don’t mind us.” I hope that’s all there is to it.

And to just be super honest here, I don’t want to put my money into two Million Live games. It would be really nice if they can just fold the old game into Militheater, even if that’s probably not going to happen. Realistically speaking I’m just going to spend in both, so I am my own worst poison.

IM@S 765ML First Time In Taiwan

Hooboy, where do I start? Do I begin with how I ninja’d another weekender to Asia, but it’s the first time I did Taiwan in this way. Do I talk about the fans at the show? Do I talk about the show? Or the various uchiage and stuff like that? Or Kuro’s teleporter?

I think the most important thing about 765MLTW is that it’s the first oversea solo IDOLM@STER event. The second most important thing is that they pulled out (some of) the stops, both to introduce the charm of Million Live to new fans as well as giving veteran fans some unusual, unexpected, or brand new collaborations and combos.

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What Is Million Live?

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.

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