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Old 2017-09-26, 11:14   Link #1
Akito Kinomoto
Sekiroad-Idols Sing Twice
Join Date: Oct 2009
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The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls (season 1&2)

Left to right
Top diagonal: Miria Akagi, Rika Jougasaki, Kirari Moroboshi, Rin Shibuya, Mio Honda, Uzuki Shimamura, Miku Maekawa, Riina Tada
Mid diagonal: Anzu Futaba, Kanako Mimura, Chieri Ogata, Minami Nitta, Anastasia
Bottom left: Ranko Kanzaki

Once upon a time I watched an anime called The iDOLM@STER. It was a likable if unremarkable show, its enclave of characters not standing out, its absence of story robbing their chance to shine, and only the gift of music and concerts to look forward to. The lack of a resonant tale on this first chapter would close the book on this series for many years. But one day, the clock started ticking, the pumpkin carriage was set, and a new generation of idols was ready to take the stage with sparkling glass slippers. This is The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls

With no relation to the first anime outside of a few posters in the background, these girls are free to ascend the palace steps on their own terms. Uzuki Shimamura, Mio Honda, Rin Shibuya, Kirari Moroboshi, Miria Akagi, Rika Jougasaki, Kanako Mimura, Chieri Ogata, Anzu Futaba, Miku Maekawa, Riina Tada, Ranko Kanzaki, Minami Nitta, and Anastasia; these girls are scouted by 346 Productions for a new venture called the Cinderella Project

But the magic isn’t just in the name. Any 1 of these 14 girls would have trouble standing out without cost to another girl. Limited time with this many characters would force any show to slide the scale between focusing on everyone and nobody standing out to focusing on a few at the expense of others. But this story wrote a miracle unto itself, focusing on everyone and conjuring a resplendent ensemble in this tale, climbing steps that are inconceivable to ascend

It ascends these stairs by personalizing the girls into smaller groups, dedicating itself to focusing on a few characters at a time and letting these subunits tell a tale of their own. Mio and Rin are the classic high-energy/aloof duo, with Uzuki being the balance between them as she consolidates the trio. Kirari, Rika, and Miria create an amusing contrast of a young woman acting like a child, a precocious girl who wants to be a woman, and a girl who actually acts her age. The duo of the quietly forceful Minami and the exotically girly Anastasia create a feminine force balanced by the gothic chuunibyou of Ranko Kanzaki. And the wild rocker Riina and the catlike, feisty Miku who synchronize with each other more than the other would like to admit

If there were one group who shined less than the others, it would be Kanako, Chieri, and Anzu, since the former two are more or less the same character, with only frogs and sweets distinguishing their shy personalities. Anzu, meanwhile, achieves the title of lackadaisical, often coasting along but putting effort when it really matters. The show itself could have coasted along, letting the magic in its name carry itself to Cinderella’s Ball. But from the poignant opening scene to the finale of season 1, this show proved to be something special beyond its namesake

It wasn’t just how much this anime made so many characters shine, but how it connected all of its precious gemstones called idols into a gorgeous narrative crown. No matter what group of girls the tale focused on, it never lost sight of its other characters. Not once does someone outside the episode’s scope appear and feel like an out of place throwaway for fans of the character. They push each other to do their best, help one another through difficult times, compete to be the best, all the while becoming friends even with the most unlikely of partnerships. It is this connection between all the characters that makes every ascension from practice to performance all the more rewarding, each success encouraging another to dazzle even more

However, the magic would not last. As resplendent as Cinderella was at the ball, her magically gifted luster faded as the clock struck midnight. Indeed, the graceful steps that let each of these girls climb on their own terms is abruptly taken from them in season 2. They must now prove themselves better than they envisioned themselves to be, faster than they thought they would go, or the Cinderella Project is done. As turmoil gripped upper management with what direction to take 346 Productions, these idols now had to abandon the ephemeral magic of Cinderella to achieve the everlasting presence of a true princess. The clock struck midnight, but their tale had just begun

And it is not a tale that holds back, forcing the girls to confront problems from within and outside. The person you want to be conflicting with what you’re supposed to be. Feelings of envy and admiration that test friendships more than surface differences could ever hope to. A common responsibility to unite 2 very different characters. Channeling nervousness and anxiety masked by a group to stand on your own. The decisions you make to test yourself because of and despite your best friend

What’s astounding is how some of these threads are built over the course of season 2, introduced in one episode as a road while other stops tell their tale along the way, only for the road to reach its destination after sitting just on the horizon. It plays the short fable and the longer tale, using the former to build the latter and using the latter to unify the former. And despite how emotionally thick the show can be at points, it never goes too far (except for this one episode in the middle of season 1...). There’s either levity at the right points or the characters are tested but never soured

And nowhere is this tale more emotionally loaded than in the final chapter of season 2. An impeccable combination of close-ups, dialog, and even character positioning slowly build the strongest narrative this series has put to screen. From the clenched fists in its conception to a bridge that exemplifies the road a character takes, this is when the show hits its hardest with no reservation. It’s easy to see where it all goes, but it approaches like an inevitable tragedy instead of an innocuous predictability. But what tops it off so perfectly is how the resolution is anything but perfect, turning the fairy tale on its head. It’s this grit that pushes season 2 from an improvement over season 1 to an astounding tale in its own right

The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls needed season 2, and season 2 needed this. This show could have been content with a perfectly likable cast, but it goes the extra mile to stress test them from within and outside. To create empathy and a meaningful connection with each of them beyond surface likability. To test their own friendships and come out ever closer. In effect, this is a cast-driven tale motivated by individual hopes, dreams, and fears. And complementing this poignantly resonant tale is an astonishingly great soundtrack

And I don’t just mean the memorable melodies from the subunits. From ‘Theme of Cinderella Girls,’ a light piano piece that transforms into a mixture of vocals and other instruments that exemplifies the sense of a new adventure, to ‘Passione,’ a wonderfully jazzy tune to fit with the hectic goings on with the characters, the less obvious music tracks do wonders in keeping every episode lively before the main event starts. But equally impressive is the show’s capacity to hold back its music and let the dialog and characters speak for themselves. It knows when to play, but it also knows precisely when to have confidence in itself to let the audience witness events unfold. It wields energy and silence perfectly, to say nothing of the superb songs from the subunits

‘Freshly Evo! Revo! Generation!’ is a reflective rhythm that captures the enthusiasm of New Generation, while ‘Trancing Pulse’ is saturated with a soprano reverberation befitting of the powerfully passionate and cool Triad Primus. ‘Memories’ from Love Laika marries femininity and coolness, creating an unexpectedly strong melody from the most unlikely of idols. 'OωOver!!’ is a journey in itself, opening with onomatopoeic ‘nya’s’ before it rocks out into a proper song, echoing the tale behind Asterisk. And then there’s S(mile)ING!,’ a solo serenade that begins in simplicity and ends in triumph, the pitch of lyrics adorned with louder and louder vocals as it culminates in a cathartic crescendo of happiness and resolution

There are many more songs and instrumentals in this tale, as these are just the ones I liked the most. And I’d be remiss to not talk about how good the performances accompanying the songs are. Every concert is fully animated in traditional 2D style when it would’ve been quite easy for the show to use 3D models. The end result from song to song encapsulates every girl’s expression and movement with every song’s style and rhythm, making the tale that much more of a labor of love than love manufactured by labor

If there was any problem I had with the animation at all, it’s season 2’s tendency to cut away from performances, though this is more of a directional problem than an animation one. But it’s a minor grievance, as the songs and performances are the send-offs to splendid chapters rather than a crutch for a lackluster story. It’s not a problem I’m excusing, but it’s definitely worth noting for anyone who wants more dance with their song

But what’s magnifique about the visuals, especially in season 2, is the direction behind them. Though the final chapter is the best at this, the tale is scripted with powerful visual direction. The juxtaposition between an idol’s nervousness and the audience’s indifference to reflect her helplessness. The resolution between self image and expectation being hidden before a wide shot reveal. Two older characters having a heart to heart while one of them is obscured by a shoji wall to hide her vulnerability as she confides in the other. Or a quirky example from season 1 that cleverly deceives its audience

The tale is as creative with the camera as it is diverse with the designs, and with 14 idols one of them is bound to be easy on the eyes. From the gracile and mature Minami to the younger and rotund Kanako, the Cinderella Girls have no need for the sorceries of fanservice to let their luster shine on its own. And indeed, the charm of personality to harmonize with their appearances is all the show does and needs. I’m still shocked I liked Miria, since her archetype is the last thing to blip on my radar

But The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls isn’t content with likable archetypes to distract until the music starts. It strives for characters tested as they emerge more resplendent, singing in jubilation. Its visuals don’t coast on its budget, but ride a creative brilliance. These girls could have been content using the franchise name alone, but they ascended higher than even the palace steps could reach. Though the midnight strike makes the magic ephemeral, their majesty is endless, their hopes and dreams real
Heil Muse. Bow before the Cinderella GirlsMuses are red
Cinderellas are blue

Last edited by Akito Kinomoto; 2017-09-26 at 11:26.
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