First Impressions – Wake Up, Girls!

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I admit it – I watched WUG.  That’s what this season has done to me.

Yes, I blogged an idol show – get your potshots in now.  They couldn’t make me feel any more soiled than I already do…

This was one I really hadn’t planned to subject myself to, because I have a dislike for anything idol-related that goes much deeper than tastes in entertainment.  But there are a few reasons why I gave it a shot.   The most obvious is that there’s so little else of interest on this schedule.  Then there’s the fact that a few normally lucid people I know recommended it (I can’t dismiss that factor – that’s what pushed me into White Album 2, though the buzz would have gotten me there sooner or later anyway).

Lastly, and probably most importantly, is the fact that I consider Yamamoto Yutaka to be a very talented director and it’s not like we get much from him.  Does he have a big mouth?  Yes, I wish he’d STFU about saving the anime industry and all the other silly things he says.  But that doesn’t make every criticism he makes wrong, and it doesn’t deny his skills as a director.  He has an interesting vision and a good sense of comic timing (though he doesn’t always display them), and just because I know it would piss so many people off I kind of root for him to have a big success again (I suppose it’s been since Kannagi that he’s had a show that didn’t tank).

To backtrack, that wasn’t exactly lastly – there’s also the fact that I had some hope that this might finally be the series that truly attacks the idol industry for the corrupt, exploitative and venal system that it is.  I don’t like the music, sure – but that’s no big deal.  What I hate about the idol industry is the way it perpetuates an unrealistic and distasteful stereotype of girls, exploits the girls who participate in it and makes millionaires (in Dollar value, not Yen) out of so many of the men (yes, and women) who do the exploiting.  The rise of the idol craze is directly linked to the rise in anime that share its skewed perspective on girls, and it’s been a terrible thing for anime, popular music, and Japanese culture generally.

That makes the premiere (I refer here to the “Shichi-nin” OVA as well as the first TV episode) of Wake Up, Girls a kind of good news, bad news scenario.  The bad news is that there’s nothing based on what we’ve seen so far to indicate that this is truly the long-overdue indictment of the industry I hoped it might be.  It’s somewhat restrained and humanistic, but this is not something you can have both ways.  If Yamamoto-sensei chooses to exploit the idol boom to try and help his struggling studio, Ordet, the fact that he does it with kid gloves is no free pass – you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.  Ultimately, Wake Up, Girls, by its own choice, is part of the problem.

The good news becomes sort of moot in that light, at least for me, but for the record WUG is actually a pretty good show.  It features a mostly unknown cast and that, along with the inconsistent animation gives it a bit of a home movie quality.  I don’t mind that, though, because it has a certain charm to it – especially considering it’s a story or a thrown-together idol group (the titular “Wake Up, Girls!”) in the Touhoku capital of Sendai that isn’t all especially brilliant or polished.  The show also has an old-fashioned look that viewers of Yamamoto’s work will be quite familiar with, the 90’s style character designs moving in-front of naturalist backgrounds by the superb Art Director Tanaka Takanori.  I find the combination quite pleasing visually – the whole enterprise falls in the naturalistic and unpolished vein, in a good way.

Make no mistake, this is nothing exceptional – certainly nothing that would justify further promoting a poisonous industry that exploits both its performers and its customers.  But it is a pretty decent piece of character-driven anime, and by the standards of this season practically a gem.  The OVA is clearly better than the first episode of the TV series, and there are some instances where the pacing feels a bit jerky.  In addition it’s plagued by the same bane as many series with large casts, in that most of them fail to make enough of an impression to stand out as individuals.  But Wake Up, Girls is, at the very least, not a cookie-cutter light-novel adaptation and it’s directed with far more style and wit (not many anime would work in both the Haiyore! Nyaruko-san OP and Citizen Kane) than most of its competitors this season.  It’s just too bad it doesn’t seem to have the stomach to take on its subject in the way I suspect its director would like to, if he thought he could get away with it.

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35 comments

  1. i

    The world is ending. If you dislike idol anime than I positively detest it and will show a complete lack of etiquette to anyone involved on any level with it. Simply put I had a teaching assistant who was into AK whatever and I told him I hated idols and consider their fans to be people who bathed in shit. Thankfully he didn't grade the exams or I would have failed the course. My hatred for it in anime doesn't just go to animes about idols but also idol characters in anime, including those ones in Macross and so on. The only one I've ever liked is Lacus Clyne and she was more a princess than an idol.

    So to correct the day I watch an idol anime is the day the world ends.

  2. 4

    This post makes me extremely sad. I'm sure the majority of idol fans don't support the skeazy and exploitative elements of idol culture and fandom, just as the majority of anime fans don't support the child pornography that rears its head from time to time within the medium. This kind of blanket treatment of fans as automatically supporters of the most abhorrent bits of their interests is presumptive and hurtful.

    I watch and enjoy idol anime. In many ways I enjoy it for the same reasons I get really into sports anime. I enjoy the camaraderie, the teamwork, and the overcoming of challenges by a group pulling together. Just, instead of getting muscly men sweating it out on the pitch, we get cute girls (or guys, in the case of UtaPri and the like) sweating it out on the stage. And singing and dancing is always fun. I don't support, or follow, the events that happen in the real idol industry as I find them gross and creepy. But, for that matter, I don't support the more lurid aspects of the machismo and the culture of homophobia often engendered in real sports. Being a fan of one doesn't make me an implicit supporter of the other.

    It's too bad you don't like idol anime, Enzo. I suppose you won't be blogging Love Live when it returns this spring, then? 😛 I'm glad you blogged WUG regardless. For my part I'm really looking forward to seeing where it goes. I'm into the fact the girls for the most part speak in a much more normal, non-cutesy way. They all seem cute and fun, and it seems like there's plenty of possibility for not only commentary but enjoyable drama with Mayu, and the chemistry of the unit as a whole. I really didn't need to be flashed with seemingly tonally deaf shots of young teens' panties, but if that's the price for non-CG dance sequences, I'm willing to put up with it.

  3. M

    Even Setsuna from WA2? :( Although she wasn't exactly an idol,she had an idol-like personality.

  4. i

    I consider the idol industry as nothing more than the pseudo prostitution. And in this moe filled crap of a season I've found my solace by deciding to watch as many animes from my wishlist and pre-moe era as possible. First up Yu Yu Hakusho, if Togashi was a genius with HxH then he will be too with YYH

  5. H

    My impression is that it isn't any less "moe filled crap" than usual. Just mediocre where all else is concerned. But I agree that people should definitely use it as a chance to catch up on older series from decades past. Catching up on Berserk, HxH and Nadia myself.

  6. H

    *sorry, I mean "isn't any more"

  7. R

    "I'm sure the majority of idol fans don't support the skeazy and exploitative elements of idol culture and fandom"

    There's a big problem with that statement, which is the culture gap. While it may (very much a maybe) be true for a large number of idol fans, the idol industry in Japan is mainly supported by the extremely creepy, hyper paranoiac, obsessive and often times just down right insane fans. You need to read about and see it to understand that these people are seriously messed up. And they are the ones who buy the CDs, merchandise, spend thousands a month on premiums and the ones the industry caters to. Kind of like the anime industry catering to Blu-ray buyers these days.

    And that's where it gets ugly. These girls sign on to these contracts when they're as young as fourteen. If anyone can tell me that they understood what a binding, decades long, unrecoverable agreement really meant at that age, I will personally give them a gold medal, because personally I don't think most people my age even really understand. These girls are basically signing away control of there lives for the next several years. And you should see what the industry does to the girls that try to actually have a social life, or even just have hobbies that don't conform to the fantasies these seriously deluded fans have. Being driven to suicide isn't unheard of.

    There's nothing saying that liking idol anime makes you a bad person. But what Enzou is saying, and I agree one hundred percent with, is the industry that does these things to these girls in real life is exploitative and disgusting. And I don't expect people on the other side of the world to necessarily understand all of that, but it's an attack on the industry than all fans in general (although I am definitely attacking the creepy fans who rub their sperm all over their hands before going to handshaking event I wish I was kidding)

  8. a

    "…it's an attack on the industry than all fans in general…"

    I have no problems with criticisms of the idol industry, and in no way meant for my post to be some kind of apologist tract for the shockingly disgusting behaviour of obsessive WOTA-esque fans. I am aware of the extreme behaviour you outlined, and am completely in agreement with you that it is appalling. I was specifically responding to the fact that Ishruns was practically bragging about verbally abusing an AKB48 fan for the fact that they were a fan of that group alone. I used my own interest in idol anime to hopefully show them that one can be a fan of aspects of idol culture while still maintaining large reservations about the behaviour of the idol industry as a whole. Just as I think one can be a fan of sports while also rightfully launching scathing criticisms at the culture of homophobia that exists within locker rooms and has pushed many players, professional and amateur, to suicide.

    I can think of no other words than sad to describe the fact that someone would feel compelled to go out their way, approach, and try to make someone else feel miserable because of their interests alone. If what Ishruns has said is the entirety of that story, their actions were extremely presumptuous, abusive and disgusting. It not only showed an extreme lack of respect, but coming from an anime fan, an extreme lack of introspection. Enzo does not suffer fools in his comments section. It does not speak well to his character that he would not equally suffer bullying.

  9. R

    See this is why I should make sure I double check that I'm reply to a post or a response to a post first. Got it.

    On that note, I understand what you are saying in that obviously your interests alone don't define you as a person. But I also often work under the assumption that fans (especially foreign fans) that are fans of Japanese idols don't realize what kind of horrible things it does to these girls mentally and socially.

    It bothers me that someone who does realize what sort of behavior goes on in the industry can still enjoy idol shows. That was what killed the genre for me because I couldn't watch it without thinking about the real world cruelty I was indirectly supporting.

    That being said, the ways idols are treated in anime and in real life are obviously different, but because anime is usually positive and hopeful, it portrays this false image of the idol industry, especially to fans that don't know better, and sort of hides all the really ugly parts. If you're and anime fan first and became an idol fan because of anime, there's a good chance your perception of what an idol goes through is radically wrong.

    I'm not saying anyone is at fault, but that right there bothers me. The fact that directly or not these shows are trying to make something appalling appealing. I wouldn't be nearly as negative if the industry in real life was anything like anime portrayed it, but it isn't. And its not just one or two groups, its all of them that I know of.

    Now about your second point, I don't agree with ishruns statement either, but for different reasons. I'd assume his TA didn't know better. And yes insulting someone because of their hobbies is rude regardless. But the thing is I can understand why he might feel that way (when you hate something you don't tend to think things through rationally). Also, in general I've seen Ishruns other comments and he's usually relatively insightful and nice, so I'd like to think that wasn't the whole story. And if it is maybe reading our conversation will give him another viewpoint.

  10. i

    If you were hurt by my comments I apologize but I truly hate the idol industry, probably as much as some people love it. My peeve with it is simple: it sells woman/girls as pure virgins who exist only for their male fans and as soon as they reach an age cast them and their shambolic music career aside for younger girls. The fans I despise lap it up because they love how new and cute the younger girl is. Also this scandalous nonsense about not being allowed to have a life or voting for favorite girls and most horribly handshake sessions for triple priced CDs and whatnot. It is the last point which makes me think that the idol industry is a red light one. What do you honestly think most men who go for that session do after they hold an idol's hand? Take Watamote as an example.

    The reason I hate idol anime as well but not as much is because more than anything it popularizes something I despise into something I love. Do I hate you if you watch idol anime? Probably not, idol anime is about as annoying as simple moe anime to me. But I refuse to associate myself on any level with an idol fan. Someone who enjoys a system made to exploit the lives and careers of young girls and woman will never be allowed within my company.

  11. K

    I have also heard good things about this (it got really good reviews on ANN) but like you I wasn't all that interested in the subject matter. That being said I also find this current season pretty dry so I might check this out as well. It can't hurt.

    I am impressed by the Citizen Kane poster. Didn't expect to see that in an anime.

  12. K

    Okay the guy at the end was really creepy. I am guessing that was the point, at least I hope it was.

  13. There were even a few times during the episode that even Matsuda felt creepy to me. That's just it – this whole process is creepy and disgusting. I guess my hope was that Yamamoto believed that strongly enough (I'm pretty sure he believes it) to damn the torpedoes and take aim. But it doesn't seem that way based on the premiere.

  14. s

    I dont know if we should make that judgment call just yet; their are some very subtle hints in the synopsis that we just might get that inside-look into the dark side of the idol industry, even if it is just a little peak.

  15. L

    Even if the Kane poster is pointing in that direction, this might be the closest we get. The further Yamakan goes into this rabbit hole, the more dangerous the risk he takes—which is the implication when one delves into the inner workings of an industry that has testimonial ties with certain crime syndicates.

  16. s

    exactly; that's the same vibe i was getting. Seeing that this series has nudged pandora's box open slightly, there's no way it can continue to progress without getting into the dark matters behind the idol industry, even if its just a little. How far this series can take it though will be based on the leg room the director and writers have been given (perhaps it will go all out regardless of leg room and this anime could end up a commercial failure).

  17. A

    Have to admit I got about thirty minutes into the OVA and decided that I just really didn't care.
    I didn't hate it. I didn't even dislike it. I had no feelings for it whatsoever except that I could not be bothered to continue.

  18. t

    I am glad you give it a shot and it worked. I find this show quite nice and pleasant enough to watch.
    sure, this is no "wow" premiere or perfect show. this is an idol show, but it has something more…more than generic idol story. or at least it seems for now. and as I said, it's making good enough performance and execution to justify watching it IMHO.

    as for the animation, well I liked it. sometimes inconsistent, but bearable.
    the character design is good and reminded me gatchaman crowds somehow.

    well, if this season brought Enzo to watch idol show then the situation is serious.
    still, as I said earlier in Sekai's post, the fact that there isn't WOW premiere doesn't mean there aren't good or at least decent shows. true. some of them are generic and even too much. and some of them might surprise, after all, opening doesn't have to be fabulous all the time. some of good and even great series (long and short) didn't start as promising..
    and as someone else said, this winter at least has a variety. true, maybe it's a lot of mediocre shows, but last winter we barely had something except for leftovers and 2-3 new shows…

  19. p

    From what I understand from reading this article, Enzo acknowledges that the series is pretty well made, but thinks that so far there is nothing to indicate it is going to depict the dark side of the industry. I don't agree with this fully as I saw signs (and I am somewhat optimistic that the creepy guy at the end of TV ep 1 is going to get what he deserves) that it will on top of the rather humanistic and down to earth way it's portraying its cast. Of course I could be wrong and they may ignore this social commentary altogether in which case I will be disappointed, but not necessarily dismiss the series as it's head and shoulders better than the likes of im@s, Love Live, AKB0048 and the like.

    I do however, disagree with your statement of unable to have it both ways when it comes to Japanese idol industry. I don't necessarily think you have to be in a for it or against position. Don't get me wrong, I think the Japanese idol industry is pretty f'ed up, but I don't think a show should be heavily criticized if it trying to tell a genuine story about it. I still think it's possible to be neutral about the issue it without being overly positive nor negative and still be able to present a good character drama out of it. It goes for any other controversial topics including (come at me bros) the overused incest trope. Unfortunately the problem is not necessarily the trope itself but how they are handled… and in anime certain tropes are repeated to death, fetishicized and sexualized and that's where the problem comes from.

    Don't get me wrong, I too don't think this series is by any means exceptional, as if this aired in the Summer or Fall season of 2013 it would be around mid tier. I do however think it's a noteworthy entry and one that could still potentially (keyword here) be great if it goes the way I hope it does, though whether it does or not is up in this air at this point.

  20. K

    "Yes, this season has me reduced to watching idol anime…" Guardian Enzo, Winter 2014

    I think this line sums up very well the quality of the shows in Winter 2014. It's a bit sad that even some of the Fall carryovers aren't particularly great.

    WUG wasn't terrible, but when a show has too many main characters, what ends up happening is rooting for 1, maybe 2 characters at most, and not caring for the rest of the cast. Not particularly interesting when events focus on characters that you couldn't care less about.

    The animation/ production seems decent, but the panty flashing during the dance sequence just killed it for me. It came out of nowhere in a seemingly self-respecting show

  21. R

    I liked the show. It's a less fantasized approach to the workings of the idol industry.
    I'm also watching it for the animated performances. It is directed by the creator of the Hare Hare Yukai and God Knows choreographies after all. Why would anyone ignore that?.

    But the chances of this being an complete deconstruction of the genre are pretty slim.
    WUG is a real idol group that launched along with this anime. Even the agency is a real thing and the character's appearance was based on their respective teenage voice actors.
    Here's their website: http://gl-e.jp/
    Here's Yamakan living his dream: http://imgur.com/5ZSE1Li

  22. n

    Enzo, if you don't have enough shows to write about, why don't you blog some of the old anime that you haven't watched and are supposedly good. I don't know how much anime you've watched but I'm sure there're some you overlooked.

  23. k

    This season has me digging out masterpieces from yesteryear like Mushishi that I haven't watched in a very long time.

  24. L

    I've been doing the same, finishing Clannad, Mushishi, Cowboy Bebop, and Gintama while I quickly drop half of the shows this season.

  25. I'm re-watching Mushishi and Cross Game myself.

  26. R

    I don't blame you for watching this show, I'm not a big fan of the idol industry myself, and I don't blame you for actually enjoying some of what you saw. I don't think this series will be the full indictment of the idol industry that you wish to see. It is probably more about communicating what an idol should mean to people, while exposing some of the more negative aspects of the industry that we know of. More of a "here are the issue" and "what we should strive for in the industry" sort of thing.

    There are some legitimately creepy aspects of the idol industry that I am sure both you and I will never feel completely comfortable with, but I respect the more naturalistic character drama portrayed in WUG so far that gives it more credibility. For now, I'm interested enough, and in a season like this, boy I am desperate for anything to watch.

  27. I think the moment when my loathing for the idol industry calcified was when I saw an 18 year-old girl berated, humiliated and forced to shave her head on live TV for the crime of having a boyfriend. There's no middle ground for me on this topic – the industry is a nest of cockroaches, and the people who financially support it and make apologetic anime about it are part of the problem.

  28. M

    "forced to shave her head on live TV"
    I saw that report too. And I knew before I did any research, that it was fully capitalized on by a sensationalist media to fuel the xenophobic self-righteousness of white-knighting social justice warriors who never cared about idols before that, eerily similar to how the war on Islam and drone strikes in Pakistan are partly justified because we are liberating poor brown women. And I have too much experience with that.

    Needless to say, I asked why she had to do it. What would happen if she didn't do it? She'd have lost her popularity. But people lose their jobs every day. So why?

    See, being an idol, as I've learned, is not the same as being a musician. Nowadays the world is interconnected and they are reality TV stars. People apparently don't need Mozarts, but just like watching ordinary people practice, get better, play in game shows and talk about various topics. Idols are meant to be just your ordinary girls, with just passing talent, given a chance to be in the spotlight, so it's more democratic than the traditional, elite, academic way of rearing musical talents (think Korea). Naturally, people would root for celebrities they can fall in love with, so stars that aren't dating become more popular. This is nothing unique to idol girls, and there's a whole J-drama called Mukodono about such a male pop star. And singers being exploited by labels aren't even a Japanese phenomenon, look around yourself.

    So after all, the idol industry is the culmination of capitalism answering the need for more relatable celebrities of the working class. As they say, "idols you can meet". These girls, after their teenage years and training as an idol, are promoted into other sectors like acting and singing. And many, if not all, idols and labels declare them dateless because that's how you gain more popularity. It is, in the end, a business where everybody, including the girls, stands to make profit.

    That girl who shaved her head felt remorse because she took advantage of that trust. That's the mistake, not the dating. There are many celebrities getting married and not afraid of making it public. They just didn't sign the pact saying to the public they're dateless. By the way, the girl was let back into the group.

    If anything, I'd say that both the extreme fans and the social justice warriors overreacted, in 2 different kinds of ways, with the former insulting them as jilted lovers, and the latter demeaning their work with thoughtless comments about their functions in society.

  29. Every sick, depraved institution has its apologists – why should the idol assembly line be any different?

  30. M

    The sickest thing here is, of course, your holier-than-thou trashing of the work and effort of many, and instant dismissal / incapability of actual arguments. It's like explaining anime to self-righteous haters who have seen all the news about hentai. I shouldn't have even bothered typing all that out looking for new ideas.

  31. Always amusing to be lectured to by someone whose opening argument is a string of personal insults. I'm touched by your intellectual purity. Keep defending this monstrosity to your last breath – I'm sure it makes the girls whose lives were ruined by it feel much better about themselves. And you have a nice life, hear?

  32. S

    After reading the description about the idol industry, I was actually pleasantly surprised how laid back and "natural" (for an idol anime) the first episodes turned out to be. This is sadly so far the only show for a more mature audience this season I've seen so far, aside from Silver Spoon 2.

  33. o

    Just prior to the 19 minute mark in the prequel movie, Matsuda's former boss asks the girls if they're virgins. Assuming the translation is accurate – and the girls' reaction suggests to me it is.

    With Yamakan at the helm, I very much doubt that's a throwaway line. I doubt we'll be getting the all encompassing criticism of the industry you want, but I have the feeling we're about to see Yamakan fire a high budget FU at the creeps who are ruining more than one fandom – and boy do I want to see it.

  34. E

    The idol industry is dirty, gross and exploitative. Yes. Did someone mention pseudo prostitution too. This idol anime might be good because it intends to reveal those, instead of sugar coating it, I hope. I thought like that because of the first episode final scene. Where the ugly, fatso producer threw really skimpy underwear in front of all the teenage girls. I can imagine him saying, "wear these and show me, if you want to enter the idol industry"
    Hoo boy…

  35. Z

    I never liked Idols and especially Idol Industry in general, however I must admit that The IM@S (the TV series, never bothered the game/every other spinoffs) is a pretty good anime.

    Since it made a pretty big buzz, I decided to watch it and I was impressed. It has a kinda weak first cour, but the second cour is pretty strong. In fact, it has one of the strongest episode reception in MAL (95.17% 5/5 in MAL at ep. 20) and the last two arcs are particularly very great for me. One thing for sure is I don't regret watching it and actually I still have two or three of IM@S songs in my playlist (I do not like >90% of their song, though).

    As for WUG!, I only watch few of Yamakan's works and I think I'm not really impressed by his works that I watched. I guess I will wait if it made a buzz in the middle/late game to decide, there's still several works that I still have in backlog to fill this barren Winter.

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