You do not understand how many times I’ve seen people say all idol anime are the same, without even watching them. To be fair, I wasn’t always interested in idol anime, but my taste has become more diverse over time and I’ve given some a shot, which cleared some misconceptions about the subgenre.
Let me give a bit of background with my history of how I got into my first idol anime, The Idolm@ster. So I was first interested because of Makoto Kikuchi, as a fan of tomboy characters. She looked really cool and I gave it a shot. And I dropped it in 5 minutes. To be fair, it was like 5 AM. But I did give it another shot later on. Why, you ask?
This gif, of course.
I don’t remember if I saw it as a gif or animation clip, but Makoto looked so badass, so I gave the show another shot, and it became one of my all time favorite anime.
So before I completely lose my credibility, let’s actually talk about why you should give idol anime a chance. There are two major perceptions people have about idol anime that are wrong. The first being that all idol anime are the same. The second are that they are super cringy and for weirdos.
I think the second one comes from the toxic Love Live fandom. The fandom can be pretty toxic and the memes can give the anime the impression that it’s very weird, but lots of anime have weird funny faces and comedy one would find off-putting if they haven’t seen it.
It’s the first one that really annoys me. Lots of these people haven’t watched idol anime, or least gotten past the first few episodes. I have seen a total of 5 idol anime. That isn’t a large number, but I can say that all 5 were distinctly different, even 2 of them were an addition to a franchise. Another thing that annoys me is people saying Zombieland Saga was the only unique idol anime for it’s zombie premise making it feel different. While the zombie gimmick did help it feel different in many positive ways, that is only one way in which idol anime can distinguish itself.
What people need to understand is that idol anime is a very loose concept. The main thing in common with idol anime is the very loose and flexible concept of an idol. The way the 5 idol anime I watched even tackled idols to begin with is very different. What people don’t get is idol anime are just drama anime with a very loose commonality, being idols. Through such a loose concept, each idol anime explores character relationships and creates scenarios that lead to drama, with variances in execution and quality.
So what I will do now, is without spoiling, go through each of the 5 idol anime I’ve watched and explain how they distinguish each other. Let’s start with my absolute favorite one.
The Idolm@ster focuses on a new idol company trying to make a name for itself in the industry. They are young and inexperienced, but through building themselves from the ground up, aim to become top idols. In a way it’s kinda an underdog story.
It is in some ways more realistic than the other idol anime. It shows the wide range of the idol industry. These idols need to dance and sing, but they isn’t all they do. They are kinda celebrities in general. They participate in other forms of entertainment such as plays, tv shows, and modeling. The Producer who is never named has to use the talents of his idols to find work for them and build them up to be top idols.
It isn’t completely realistic. There are absurdities that make you wonder what even is an idol anime anymore. But what truly makes The Idolm@ster a m@sterpiece is the ability to swap between its various styles in an effective way and achieve the intended result every time.
The Idolm@ster is an episodic anime with more than half of the episodes being focused on a specific character, while other episodes focus on the cast as a whole. Each little mini character arc has a largely different focus. Some are largely driven by comedy and end up hilarious. Some are very wholesome and sweet. Others are pretty dark and surprisingly emotional. It was those emotional scenes that made me realize this was one of my favorite anime of all time. Of all the anime I’ve watched, this has to be the one that made me the most emotional. The point here is that each focus of the show hits the mark without making it feel completely disjointed and nonsensical.
Another thing I need to point out is the animation. Certain idol anime are notorious for using GCI for the dancing scenes. It’s understandable because it is really hard to animate dancing, especially with multiple characters on screen. This anime not only has 2D animation, it is some of the best 2D animation in anime, ever. The level of detail in the dance animation is phenomenal. Complex dance choreography with lots of complex movement and even hair movement. It isn’t just the dance scenes that look amazing. Outside of the dance scenes, the show looks consistent and is loaded to the brim with detailed and engaging character animation, which gives its amazing cast of characters so much life and personality.
At this point, it just seems like an Idolm@ster shill post, but this anime really is that good and I can’t recommend it enough.
Love Live! School Idol Project!!
The second idol anime I watched was Love Live! School Idol Project. It’s hard for me to call this a good anime, because it really isn’t. Watching Sunshine made me look back at this with even more disdain, but we will get to Sunshine in a bit. School Idol Project has a group of students who want to become school idols to prevent their school from shutting down. It’s a pretty simple concept with a lot of potential, but it doesn’t really make use of it.
The main issue is the characters. They really do just feel like typical archetypes that do little to make them feel like genuine characters. It honestly isn’t hard to see why people find love live to be cringe because it kinda is, and it isn’t just from the memes. Considering the characters being mediocre, it only follows that the drama is mediocre too. It was really hard to care much about the drama when all of the characters felt extremely unrealistic. At points, the execution was just baffling to me. While some characters have an episode focused on them, others do not. Ironically those are the least annoying characters, as the character focused episodes made me like the characters less.
Another issue is the stakes. They don’t feel real. Since this is a light-hearted anime about idols, I should expect most of the results to be positive. That isn’t my issue. Nothing feels earned in this anime. What truly makes these idols shine? The answer is nothing. They succeed at everything because the anime demands it. It gets so ridiculous at points that there are memes of Honoka being a demi-god. She might as well be. Considering what a generic airhead she is, it makes no sense that everything goes her way so frequently.
Unlike Idolmaster, dance scenes are done in 3D, which doesn’t look all that great, but it isn’t terrible.
There is some fun to be had. There are some funny moments, and there are some great memes to come out of it. The school idol concept is somewhat unique, but ultimately it falls short for a variety of reasons, especially as a drama anime.
The Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls
Cinderella Girls is an idol anime that takes place in the same universe as the original but focuses on a different company. Unfortunately, it’s a much weaker entry than the original. The characters to a certain extent fill similar roles to the original cast but aren’t as well executed.
Cinderella Girls takes place in a well-established company. A producer is recruiting idols for the Cinderella Project, and he forms his idols into a variety of groups. As opposed to having episodes focusing on individual characters, the episodes for the most part focus on these various groups. While not as good as the original, these episodes work for the most part.
What causes this anime to be weaker than the original is it’s themes. It’s themes feel kinda confused and contradicting. An event happens in the middle of the anime that forces the characters to re-examine what it means to be an idol. What essentially happens is the business of idols starts to become more like a business. What I mean is, they do what the idols don’t want because they feel it would be best for business if the idols do what they are told, as opposed to being themselves. What I expected to happen was the idols proving that being themselves and expressing themselves the way they want to is the right way to go. Instead, it feels like the show compromises with this theme, with some idols caving into the corporate greed and others outright refusing to give up what they stand for. The latter is what lead to some of the series best moments that almost lived up to the original. The former was some of the most frustrating parts of the show.
There were some other issues. The final arc felt like a watered down version of Haruka’s arc from the original anime. While Haruka’s arc got me emotional, Uzuki’s felt very forced. You couldn’t really get a feel for what her issue was, but with Haruka, it was clear.
Also, the larger cast size made many of the characters feel unexplored. Since it focused on groups as opposed to individual characters, sometimes the members would feel flat. And for some reason, some side characters were explored way more than some of the mains. Some of the mains felt like side characters.
Fortunately, with the exception of one episode, the animation was fantastic. The art style was a little bit different, and not as good as the original, but the animation in the dance scenes was still great and the character animation was also great. There was also a pretty decent variety in character design.
As opposed to Love Live! School Idol Project, which was consistently mediocre, this anime felt very up and down with some moments being fantastic and others frustrating. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to the original but it’s still a decent watch.
Love Live! Sunshine!!
This is what you get when you fix everything wrong with the original anime. Okay, not everything, this anime still has some issues but it’s a huge improvement over the original anime. Chika is a girl who wants to form a school idol group so that she can shine.
Let’s get the issues out of the way. Funny enough, the main issues with this anime is directly because of the original anime. Aquors want to be like the idol group from the first anime, Muse, who are famous school idols for being so amazing. Early on in the anime, they want to find out what made Muse so great, so they can shine just like Muse. The issue is that nothing made Muse great besides plot armor and plot convenience, which gives Aquors’ goal less weight. Eventually they realize they need to find out themselves what makes them shine and show that to their fans to the best of their ability. Finding what makes them shine and becoming something more than normal is a major theme in this anime, and it’s really well-executed.
Also, just like in the original anime, their school is set to shut down. At first it feels like a rehash of the original. The main difference is the actual stakes. Saving the school feels just as important of a goal as becoming amazing school idols. The results of their journey might actually surprise people, unlike the original anime.
A huge difference maker in this anime was the characters. Every character has at least one episode that gives them focus. When trying to recruit members, some of them are given major focus. There is actual drama and character development associated with joining Aquors that was well-executed. Even after forming the idol group, there is some fantastically well-executed character drama and development. While the characters do have their own gimmicks and fall into common archetypes, the drama and character development really makes a difference in making these characters feel like actual people. It feels emotional and at other times very real, something the original anime lacked entirely. Some of it’s most emotional beats really hit hard.
Unfortunately it sticks to 3D dancing, but with the rest of the show being executed so well, I can’t complain too much.
Sunshine is no Idolm@ster, but it’s a very solid as an idol anime, and a drama anime.
Just imagine idols, but they are zombies. That’s Zombieland Saga. It’s a very comedy focused idol anime, but it does have some great moments. What truly makes Zombieland Saga work isn’t just it’s zombie gimmick, but how it makes use of that gimmick. Much of the comedy of the anime revolves around the fact these idols are zombies, such as in the rope swinging scene when one of the idols falls apart and they have to rush into the mud to put them back together before anyone notices.
As you may have guessed, this anime has a ton of meme material. The first scene of the anime has Sakura getting rammed into by a truck which became a huge meme for months. I don’t think this blog can truly do the comedy justice, it really is that good of a comedy.
Another really strong aspect of the show is the characters and their struggles. These characters have a past that influences the way they feel presently. The circumstances of their death has a major effect on their feelings and decisions regarding idols in the present. Most of the characters got a backstory and an episode focused on their development. All of their backstories and current motivations are done really well. I especially loved Saki’s biker gang backstory, with a truly epic death. Lily also had quite an amazing and emotional episode with her backstory of dealing with gender dysphoria, and using the fact that she is a zombie that doesn’t age to come to feel secure in her identity as a girl (since she won’t go through puberty).
Early on in the series, it focuses on certain aspects of being an idol that don’t really feel like idols. The first episode has heavy metal while the second episode as a rap battle. Over time the anime starts to focus a bit more on traditional idol concerts, but it never forgets to have fun with it’s concept and do silly stuff like a chicken commercial.
Unfortunately like other idol anime, there are 3D dance scenes. Not all scenes are 3D, but performances with heavy choreography do use 3D, which isn’t bad but not impressive. The 2D animation is quite great, with tons of character animation and amazing facial expression.
Unlike the other idol anime, I actually like the music performed in this anime. It definitely feels more unique, with some of the songs making use of a specific idol more than the rest. A good example of this is Saki’s song, which largely focuses on her voice and giving the song a delinquent vibe to it.
I initially expected to not like Zombieland Saga but I gave it a shot and loved it. It isn’t an all-time favorite like The Idolm@ster but it’s still a great anime.
Hopefully I was able to explain to you what makes these idol anime unique. As you can see, idol anime vary greatly in both quality and execution. Some are more or less serious, more or less realistic, more or less absurd, more or less focused on developing characters, more or less focused on comedy, etc.
Idol anime really doesn’t deserve the stigma it has. I don’t expect anyone to like all idol anime and I don’t expect anyone to like one idol anime just because they liked another. Idol anime are just drama anime with different strengths and weaknesses. I encourage people to at least try them out and see what makes them special.