Category Archives: Idolmaster

Theater Days: Year Three

Theater Days launched June 28, 2017. I still remember having to deal with it on the flight to Anime Expo after it went live server-side and thinking about how much to kakkin in the early days. It would not be hard to guess that I will still be playing it 3 years later, at the time.

To reminisce a bit more, on June 28, 2019, I was in Japan, just finished with day one of ML6th Tour Fairy Station. Days later I would get to see the anniversary celebration in Akihabara, while I was en route to Anime Expo. Notable, mainly, because I had changed my flight to do it. This paints the backdrop for 2020, as the pandemic has wrecked a lot of it.

Going from the highs of having UNION@IR Special announced to this year’s general blank of (almost) 6 months since Kanshasai, we’re in the same place the rest of the world is in–a lot of uncertainty and adjustments. As a non-essential good/service, Million Live generally took a back seat to the real life crises the world face today, but at the same time it can be a salve to those hunkered down at home during this time.

I think this is a nice pivot opportunity for the franchise. One, it did the full month of live streaming leading up from the make-up nico nama (thanks Zoom) to the anniversary stream. That brought the fans together online and celebrated when the world didn’t give us much to celebrate. Personally I did the exact thing they did in the months leading up to June so it was a nice reliving the same thing, but once again with more experience.

With UNION@IR and the end of the MTGeneration phase of things, I thought it was good that the series didn’t take a break and swapped into the MTWave series. It chopped up the units to form new ones, although separating 765AS from the Million Stars. With Theater Challenge though, it was pretty sweet to see how Emily or the handful of 765AS might surprise guest in each other’s events.

Well, that was just wishful thinking. What really should have happened, as it were, was Million Live’s first outdoor live concert at FujiQ, complete with sunset UO songs, Glow Map, and fireworks when the stars came out. There we would have shed buckets of tears (assuming the weather held out) while they announce the TV anime project. Imagine all of that PLUS all the TC cameos? That would have been nuts.

Instead, none of that happened. At the most, we got to buy 3rd Anniversary goods from Gift, Amiami (btw one retail staff caught the rona recently), and Asobi. Yes, for about a week there were some stuff in Akiba Animate and Atre by the station, as things were. But it’s probably not a great idea to go there, in this kind of a situation. At least a month ago the coronavirus cases in Japan didn’t spike like it did recently as of this writing.

The Third Anniversary event came and went. Just a brief note on that–even though I wasn’t at Anime Expo as it was cancelled, I ended up being super busy running KuroCon. At least after it was over I had some time to grind up top 1000 for Matsuri, although what was hard is the forced nature of the rest-and-boost mechanism. I had a busy dayjob, so there were only so much of time outside of that 9-hour rest period in which I can play, and I had to also grind that boost once a day during the week after KuroCon. It was not the easiest thing, just because 9 hours is a tad too long. I certainly do not even (get to) sleep 8 hours a day, and before and after I sleep were my prime playing hours.

Bugs and repatriation aside, the Glow Map event went by uneventfully. Glow Map itself is sort of just OK, maybe not as cool as Flyers but also not as emotional as Union, so a happy middle. The outfit glowing was almost as impressive as how it was basically the menu background from the game. I mean, really? That is cool in a very dorky way–but not dork enough to be fashionable? Maybe? Not sure I dig the shoes but it was a focal point of the outfit.

The QOL changes from the game as of the 3rd Anniversary was mostly in the new outfits that you can now unlock via getting the 3rd Anniversary SR to four-stars. It now require you get points to awaken the cards, most of it coming from playing lives and unlocking missions that give points. Some of the biggest sources are Full Combos, and number of Million Lives.

Believe it or not that is a real game changer. Fundamentally, people like myself play Million Live Theater Days for content. And I think it’s not just me–a lot of people do this over trying to rank highly or get a high score. It’s not that kind of a rhythm game. Content, as I mean it, comes in the form of lives and commu–so songs, performances, stages, special characters, and outfits. Anniversary SRs give new outfits (and free gems–which gives outfits and characters and commu). So now there is a reason to get Million Lives and FC, beyond FCing each song once and forever. Because, let’s be honest, most achievements in Theater Days are next to worthless.

Also, the game now introduces the B-side type event, which revives MTG B-side tracks as new event songs, using existing MTG units. As of this writing the BORN ON DREAM event is going on, and so far it is both a good move to open up more content (Another outfits for the full team) but also a definite minus as it replaces rebooting a pre-Theater Days unit into Theater Days. In essence no new unit is introduced unlike every event up until now (save for the Anniversary ones I guess). We got a fun minigame, even if it doesn’t really keep your attention for long. Having a booster deck like the Twin Stage event seems gimmicky, since it took no effort for me to hit that 20% bonus. The bonus commu lines are bare-bones, but at least it’s good if you are a fan of the unit.

Since none of the MTG units really wowed me, I’m not too sure how to feel about this new event type, or having to deal with another 11 more units. It’s hard for me to not see this as a way to “ramp down” the content in the game so more stuff can be regurgitated. That in itself is not a huge problem, and I don’t have an issue with that per se–maybe after all the pre-Theater Days content is in game, I’ll be happier about this.

The more important thing has to do with a slew of other changes introduced in the 3rd Anniversary updates. One is the Birthday Live gacha. Not that you can pay 2500 paid gems for some next-to-worthless bragging rights, but you can gacha for all the SSRs for that idol up for the first 2 years. That is turning out to be a great bargain, even if it isn’t a guarantee, due to the high rate and the small pool. There are other small tweaks, like the booster deck in the b-side events, that rewards some players over another, and in ways that’s not exactly predictable. You can see why they did these things, both as balance and as a way to get new producers caught up, to lower the barrier a little. For a price.

Will it work? I don’t know. I’m not sure if I like these changes, but in the big scheme of things it is not a big deal. Just like how eventually all the LTH, LTP, LTA, and LTF events will have their week in the game, well before the heat death of the universe.

It just feels a little weird for folks who have invested $$$$$ into the game during earlier days, or into pre-Theater Days content. I mean, sure, do what you want… What I want, really, is more content: songs, dances, outfits, subunits, everything. And switching it up, not doing the same thing again. And blow it up. All the things that made Chupacabra great, and maybe not the things that makes Chupacabra divisive.

PS. Major feelios when 765AS live goods on sale included unit goods for Arcana and Xs. Man that would be flight worthy to see Rabbit Fur lmao.


The IDOLM@STER 15th Anniversary Update: Happy IM@S Life

This video is pretty strong, so watch only if you are not a faithful hardcore fan I guess lol. I mean, you would know what it already is if you were.

As usual, just going to collect some thoughts here. Might not have an overarching point in this post.

The 15th Anniversary celebration for IDOLM@STER series happened this past weekend with basically two really long live streams. It started actually the days leading up with some promo art on Twitter, but more importantly there is a website refresh (the new domain is now idolmaster-official.jp) and the launch of a dedicated IDOLM@STER channel on YouTube (and another twitter account, @imas_ch). The new site is much more modern (more circa 2016 I guess, instead of the peak 2000s machine with a blog on the side) and has actual reference data built in, mostly in this idol list subsite. The main things we used the old site for: event subsites and scheduler, are now prominently displayed on the header and the schedule is easier to read with a franchise filter. And the news pages are also filterable. Anyways, poke around there and see how much better it is than the old home page.

Now it just needs the data from these sites: imas-db (for seiyuu data and setlists), CGSS Games DB, MLTD Games DB, and Project-imas (for translated content, song content)

Thanks Covid

The anniversary streams are really not a big deal–they streamed animas, moviemas, MOIW2014 second day on Saturday. On Sunday it was MOIW2015 both days, SideM 1st and Shiny 1st. To cap off the weekend there was also a 2-hour live stream (actually live) of the performers giving us the full wax-nostalgia of the last 15 years in IM@S world. We got 4 big-ish news item out of it, so there was still that. Surprisingly, there was no new news on Starlit Season.

The big news, aside from 1 free ten-pull in every IM@S game today onward, is that there will be a CGSS x MLTD collaboration this winter. Considering the commonly accepted start of winter of 2020 is December 21, we have a long, long ways to go for something that hype. Two “longs” because, well, 2020 is that kind of a year.

And 2020 is that kind of year, where in lieu of a guaranteed, tear-jerking Shiny Colors 2nd live (featuring Noctchill 1st and in some ways, also Straylight 1st); Million Live 7th live (featuring actual fireworks, and an anime announcement); and the first big solo 765AS live since January 2018 (to go with the new console game), we got like…32 hours of live streaming over a 40 hour period or so? It was a 4-day weekend in Japan so I guess it worked.

But yes, these substitutions for our unbearable outpouring of love and nostalgia is easier to kindle than ever. The tearjerker music video is good, even, and I suspect the desired effects could have been had for less.

And let’s be clear–the streaming stuff and the news are just the carrot on the stick. The real value is the donkey walking forward. You know, it really is the case where fans pull the series forward. It’s not just a commercial activity, but that Bannam hears us and what we want. Once the bargain between the seller and buyer, consumer and provider, patreon and artist, whatever, is set, it is a virtuous cycle of capitalism where we throw money at them and they provide us with goods and services. Both of us go home happy. That does not, however, speak to the competence. Yes, the tearjerker music video is good. The new 15th Anniversary song is pretty good. But so what? IDOLM@STER, as my hindsight have it, is successful despite of its numerous failures. It isn’t because mistakes weren’t made, but because what came through, what people focused on, what worked, the overall sum of that is greater than all the limitations and suffering people had to put up with. It is a bit of a heartless calculus for something arguably by definition fun and fluffy. And it is with this lens I see IDOLM@STER in 2020.

That is also just to say, the fandom on fire is way more rewarding than anything that came out of GamiP’s mouth last night on the anniversary livestream. Seeing my twitter TL full of outpouring for IDOLM@STER is therapeutic and moving. People recalled the better times with animas and moviemas. People saw for the first time how these cast members were 5-6 years back, or even for the first time. People told the stories of great memories lived as Producers. It needed to happen–just once a year or something is okay, but it needed to happen on the regular.

Maybe the Corona Era enhanced this kind of thing more, maybe not. But it is what makes fandom worthwhile.


My Shinography

My sleep-addled brain cried buckets of figurative tears last weekend listening to Sato Takafumi’s DJ set during the online EDM music event Asobinotes. Why? [Hit play below to hear the relevant part. Full set here]

That question “why” is literally the description of words on the canvas of the deep blue sky described in the song Shinography. It is the reason why I do the things I do. I quote the lyrics from the Shiny Colors 3rd year theme (TL):

精一杯の先へ
目一杯の未完成で
まだ上昇中の Gradation days
世界の彩りにハート開いて
透明から鮮明に
不可能から可能性に
この空をキャンバスにして
誰のでもない 瞬間を
新しく記してこう
光空記録(My shinography)

The IDOLM@STER is a series that lives and dies in the hands of a, to put it nicely, turbulent company during a time when the future is uncertain. I’ve made the analogy of that tree in the past as a personal metaphor, but it’s a metaphor that is shared between not just other fans, but the series itself as well as its creators.

Million Live’s theme songs since the start had been as follows: Thank You, Welcome, Dreaming, Brand New Theater, Union, Flyers, and Glow Map. Do you see where we are going? We will go into the space over the future. We’re looking for the place under the shining star. And I guess Jam Project is also Lantis, right. Shiny starts at the glowing part already. To paint the visual metaphor of the tree, the OG is the seed, CG and ML are the trunk and branches, and Shiny is some fruit. Maybe also, CG is also all of these.

But this “growing” vibe, this repeating theme from OG, CG, ML and Shiny literally is the type of music fans consumed and loved year to year. It describes the attitude of the content, the attitude of the producers–those who know where they are but they dream big. Shiny Colors especially is that daring fruit hanging from the IM@S tree, bucking core trends and practices for popular mobile games and franchises, eschewing easy and quick play for deep characterization and VN-style rewards.

The lead in to Sato’s set, going back to what I was saying, is the summary of where he is. Sato happens to be the music director for the IDOLM@STER series, so he has a hand in all of this after taking over the role from his seniors. It seems almost like biographic when RE@DY was the start for this portion.

In a lot of ways when you are creating media works for a series like this, you are creating some kind of future that you are building towards, and it’s always somewhat risky how things will play out or not. Granted the risk is pretty low sometimes, but with these big franchises the room for mistake is pretty small, or so it can seem.

This is Manabi-ism. We exist as fans inside the space the work’s creators made, but the difference isn’t building a world, but building a the mechanism that moves the world forward. The difference is similar to having a lot of money versus a machine that makes money. In the year of our Lord 2020, only the latter exists, and it is one derivative higher, more difficult, more uncertain.

It’s about our perception of where this world will go. It is about the perception of the creators, and the fans’, the cast, the execs, the committees, and everyone pushing forward our next software update, our next gacha banner, our next new song. This is the idol festival that never ends, and is never exactly the same year to year.

Because if it was, it probably will end soon.

Now imagine that, all the ideas and emotions I tried to describe, play through in your mind in the span of about 138 seconds, and then add the pandemic-induced issue about having missed ML7th and Shiny 2nd, where for one weekend each you can actually touch, smell, feel and see this world materialize in the physical festivals that marks the typical IM@S anniversary lives.

Buckets of tears. My life is carved into the lights of the sea and sky beyond your water bottle. Want a sip?


CG7th Osaka Rocks

Rather than recap I just want jot down all the thoughts and feels from the live. This bid to try to get this post out ASAP didn’t really work, but I fear it would have been only worse otherwise. But first, the setlist can be had here:

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IDOLM@STER Concepts: Tantou vs. Favorite

In the age of Stan and Waifu, there has long been many different ways to say “love” in all sorts of contexts; forget about the Alaskan words for snow (it’s an urban legend of sorts anyway). The way the Greeks did it is what I was weaned on but in this day and age there are more ways to say the same things than ever. And it has been always the case as far as history went.

It just dawned on me on a practical difference between what IM@S Ps say “tantou” versus which idols a producer may simply like. To some Ps, there are no differences between the two. To others, they are entirely different things. And from where I stand there are no wrong ways to go about it.

(“Tantou” here means “in charge of.” A producer is someone in a position of responsibility over a project. In this case, it’s an artist or idol. It is not unusual for IDOLM@STER content to put the producer in charge of a project in which artists of the agency is then selected to participate under said project. If you talk to Japanese producers, the proper way to refer to your cartoon waifu is tantou, and while you may or may not be a wretched twitter critter, we all know what you mean.)

There are however technical differences. One is the basic understanding that IDOLM@STER is a game franchise in which the player is the producer, and the idols the player selects to literally produce, well, are the idols the player produces. Sometimes this is literally every idol in the game, sometimes this is even more (not all idols are really in the games if you think about it), and sometimes it’s just whatever the P wants.

If we extrapolate it from selecting an idol in games to engagement in general, the idols I produce are just the ones I will go out of my way to learn more, to read up on, to research, to think about, and to create content for. After all, it is all we can do to literally “produce” a fictional character. This is pretty much the same way anyone stans anyone else, but maybe there are some differences. Maybe there will be another post for that.

The idols from IDOLM@STER that I like, however, I don’t necessarily produce. Maybe for those characters, I just enjoy the content and call it a day.

This is most evident when you participate in IDOLM@STER content like a big live event. Your favorite or tantou characters, odds are, will only take up a fraction of the full show. The rest of the time you probably are still engaged in the content, even if it isn’t your favorite or it has little relationship to the idols you produce. Sometimes this does mean you might take a seat. But also, a concert is a concert, a show is a show–it’s enjoyable to watch and be a part of.

So while I don’t produce Syoko, I still have a lot of respect for the Matsuda twins and an affinity to the brand of rock that is X Japan. This is why the Kurenai cover during CG7th Osaka was a really special experience personally, especially given the venue, the setup, and the way things played out. These kinds of considerations were the reasons why I was even there in the first place.

I have been following Cinderella Girls since my initial baptism by MOIW 2014. What struck me as odd now is that while many idols from 346P are appealing to me personally, I don’t want to produce any of them. It’s a big reason why I gave up playing Starlight Stage, and also it made the franchise easier to deal with when I treat it like this bag of content that pops out hit beats once in a while, at arm’s length.

I try to go to a show every year still, because I do enjoy this branch of IM@S and I still know something about them. Plus, I never stopped being a seiyuu otaku and IDOLM@STER content is still some of the best kind of seiyuu content out there. An IM@S show (and this applies even to all the other branches) are often elaborate productions. Cinderella Girls lives are the most elaborate of them all, both because of the success (popularity and commercially) of the franchise and the style of the content that is conducive of big, bright, shiny productions at a large scale. That the franchise shows have been dome-sized the past couple years actually plays to the strength of the content and the material. That is contrary to my normal preferences; to me, domes are a negative otherwise–you are far from the action, it’s very crowded, the acoustics and view often sucks, and the seats suck too usually.

On paper, maybe I can call myself, at best, a Miho/PCS producer, because at least I roll for them. I also find myself leaning towards Tsuda and Tanezaki a lot, at least as far as seiyuu affinities go among 346P cast members. It is a production of conveniences. But I produces way more back home in 765Pro, which hopefully my actions speak for themselves.