There are some anime series that you desperately want to love. You’re either drawn in by the premise, one of the characters will strike your fancy for some reason and you’ll begin a furious Pixiv binge in search of any fanart of them to the point that your computer crashes and you’re declared legally dead, or you see some shimmer of pure gold underneath that thick sheen of shit and mediocrity and want to see if it’ll be more evident later on. The Idolmaster was one of those series, and it left me feeling entirely unsatisfied from start to finish despite the many efforts to make it otherwise.
The premise is simple enough: Twelve girls of questionable talent with single-note personalities and insecurities all vie for the chance to become idols with the help of their talent company and their ever-faithful producer. This single idea takes them all over Japan as their popularity inexplicably soars and they learn important things like trust, friendship, and synchronized dancing. Say what you will about the overall quality, it sticks to this premise throughout without ever losing the spirit of the idea. If you’re not in the market for a show all about the power of friendship or supposedly catchy pop music, there won’t be much to enjoy here.
For me, the most important thing in any show is how the characters develop and interact. Something with a fantastic plot or great production won’t leave much of an impression if the characters don’t; see Madoka Magica. Unfortunately, this is the first and gravest misstep that the Idolmaster makes.
Though it really can’t be helped with such a large cast of main characters, there isn’t much gravity to how the characters develop or interact. One minute, soliloquies are dropped regarding what problems a certain character has on their rocky road to idol stardom, the next the plot tousles them on the head, tells them to move on with their lives, and it’s never brought up again. While I understand that everybody is supposed to develop, it still feels awkwardly crammed in when it could be made much more substantial.
This would be acceptable if all of the characters were memorable in some way, but some quite simply shine over the many others, leading to some intimate moments feeling resolved much too quickly in order to get back to what the Idolmaster perceives to be the most important characters. Haruka and the Futami twins seem to take up the most time, leaving the likes of Azusa and Makoto in the background for all but a few scant moments when they could have been fleshed out and humanized much more.
These overly-sentimental bits are punctuated every so often by the meddling of a rival talent company, 961 Pro, led by the conniving Takao Kuroi, which essentially plays out the same each time. While they’re a welcome distraction from the slew of halfhearted character developments, these scenes could have easily been left out without the series suffering in any way. Don’t get me wrong, these were the only episodes in which I believed that the 765 Pro girls would come out more mature and fleshed out in the end, but I acknowledge their overall pointlessness. They take away nothing from the experience, but they add very little in return.
Where the Idolmaster came closest to breaking out of mediocrity was in the last few episodes, as Haruka dealt with everyone’s newfound success and consequential estrangement. It’s well paced and actually competent, leading to a complete departure from the episodic format of before.
Story and character-wise, the Idolmaster falls a bit flat for me, even with the competently strung together drama in the final episodes. However, if there is one area where it shines, it’s definitely the production. The animation is crisp, the character designs are pleasing to the eye and soft by comparison, the dancing is wonderfully choreographed, the music could actually be confused for something thrown onto the market to be bought by thousands of impressionable Japanese teens and otaku of all sorts… in short, the Idolmaster went all out to bring the games to life, and that’s something to be admired. It’s perfectly evident just how lovingly crafted this is, and that’s more than worth of praise.
Yet, for all the dazzling displays and occasional moments of well executed storytelling, the Idolmaster fails to be anything more than a flashy series that fades from memory the minute it’s over. Yet I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this is the best adaptation of the game series that anybody’s ever going to make. I tried to like the Idolmaster for what it was, and I did enjoy it every now and then, but overall I found it a disappointing experience that I wouldn’t in good faith recommend to anybody who hasn’t played and otherwise enjoyed the games.