I’m being very naughty here, I know. But having been into Idolmaster for damn near a year now, I feel well qualified to give it that most important of comparisons – to Love Live, another series I have previously been hopelessly in love with. So, with that, it’s time to annoy just about everyone with my general thoughts on two. All of which will immediately be declared ‘wrong’.
Characters: Let’s get the most important aspect, to this man anyway, out of the way first. And probably the walliest of my texts, too.
And I should note that in this case, I’m giving Love Live a fighting chance by focusing largely on their best characters, mu’s.
Well, OK. I suppose I could touch upon the others in Aquors. But I don’t think that a group consisting of a character who looks like she’s on drugs, her girlfriend, her inevitably jealous friend, Eli and Nozomi ripoffs, a brutal rejector, an absolute lunatic, a stupidly pumped up girl and someone who says one thing constantly – and has an unusually baitish body – is a very good reflection on Love Live. At least the Perfect Dream Project looks more promising, featuring its three ex-Normal idols, a novel approach for Love Live if ever there was one. I’ll be touching on that a bit later. Also, one of its idols has unswervingly pissed the fandom off by being very un-Love Live-like indeed. (Think Kanade Hayami in a Love Live suit. And bear in mind Kanade Hayami is almost as far away from a Love Live girl as you could reasonably get.) Then again, one of its characters is literally a piece of paper so let’s not get too carried away here.
You know who doesn’t have anyone gimmicked up to the nines? mu’s, that’s who. What they have is a collection of idols who are, by and large, pretty terrific. They’re not all perfect, mind. Honoka is probably the single most irritating character I have ever known, albeit one I harbour a great deal of respect for. Kotori gets no such respect on the basis that all she ever does is agree with Honoka. Which is terrible. But these two don’t need to be perfect because the others around them are so bloody good. There’s something for everyone here. Rin might be a bit overshadowed but she’s still a lovely person, and infinitely better than iM@s’ attempt at a catty idol. Hanayo is an absolute sweetheart. Umi has an aura of sexiness about her, although she wouldn’t like to admit it. Even now, Nozomi floats my boat more than most and Nico is one seriously iconic idol. And boy does she deserve it.
But above all of them are two idols that are a rare breed, a level reached only by a very select few idols – two idols I would call truly world-class. On a personal level, Eli remains the most beautiful character I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to believe it was so long ago I was giving her so much affection. I wish she’d stood the test of time a bit more, but then three months after I fell for her she was gone. Mind you, as outstanding as her seiyuu Nanjolno is, her crippling knee problems can’t have helped…
The other idol I would brand as truly world-class is Maki. She’s not just personal, though. She can make an honest claim to being perhaps the best idol any series has ever conceived. Whichever way you look at it, her popularity is immense. And that popularity isn’t an accident. She is, quite simply, indescribably attractive. And her personality is brilliant, too. She’s a tsundere, but not as you know it. As in, the sort that doesn’t make you say “Oh, here we go again.” She’s brilliant.
So yes. Love Live boasts some truly, truly great idols in its ranks, and that alone is worth commending it for. There’s just one small problem: the best Idolmaster can manage is even better.
Unfortunately, comparing the two series like for like is a bit difficult. You see, while LL’s creme de la creme comes from a group of nine idols, iM@s’ most prominent characters – the all-conquering Cinderella Girls – come in a 184-idol strong army.
You might have guessed that the way these two series approached their way of making idols was different. When Love Live took the chance to make several more girls, it let us know they were very much playing second fiddle to the main attraction. They were there, alright, but it was very much mu’s playground. And they treated it as such. Technically, iM@s went the same way with CG: In the early days, the mobage’s focus was very much on the OG 13 that was 765Pro (without which, of course, none of this would be happening, let us not forget). The kicker was when the others started getting popular…and then they started voicing them. And then from there, the Cinderella Girls started to take on a life of their own.
The result is a series with a remarkable collection to call upon. A collection of 77 and counting, in fact. Obviously, this means the variety it commands is extraordinary. The problem is, six years in, all the most interesting figures have already been covered. So there’s not much else to add with them. I mean, they had to resort to voicing a girl defined by her love of pottery at the last election. And things will only get more nondescript from here. So while Idolmaster has a great array of idols in its ranks, over 100 of them are in limbo at the present moment.
And anyway, it’s not like most of the Cinderella Girls are all that good, anyway. One way you can compare the two series is by averaging the quality of all its idols put together. In mu’s case, they average out as ‘very good’, since, as we established, seven of its nine idols have real quality. By contrast, Idolmaster’s average is just that: average. It has good idols, it has bad idols, but if you look in the middle it’s mostly a hotchpotch of largely unremarkable idols. So on that score, it’s 1-0 to Love Live.
Once you start narrowing it down to certain individuals, though, Idolmaster can hang with Love Live, easily. Because, as I said earlier, not only does it have its own world-class idol, that idol beats both of LL’s best. And you know what? I reckon iM@s might have a second one, too.
I understand this is all a very personal thing of course, but I’ll say it till I’m red in the face: I have never seen a character transcend my escapism, and brighten my reality, as much as Kanade. I still can’t believe a character can provoke as much emotion from me as she has done. But even taking my own experience out of the equation, you’re left with an idol that’s almost too good to be true. I’ve seen people say Kanade is cute, gorgeous, sexy… She’s an idol everyone just kinda likes. And the great thing is, unlike other idols of that mould, Kanade is much more exclusive. That makes her feel that little bit more special, to me.
The pink-coloured grenade iM@s throws into this discussion is one I’ve come to realise is in and amongst the best of the best, too. And that’s Mika. She stands out as possibly the only character I’ve known who feels both heaven-sent, and down-to-earth…at the same time. You have, before you, looks that blow your mind, in an outfit that you can’t help but gaze at and admire. But when you hear her talk she’s a typical, lovely sweet girl. Even a little easily embarrassed, at times. And that’s reassuring. In fact, I’ve even found myself relating to her more than any character I’ve yet seen. Yes, that’s right. A 17 year old high school gyaru feels relatable to me, a 21 year old working bloke. If anything, that might be her greatest party trick of all.
When I first wrote aaaaall this up, the one caveat with her was that she hadn’t received her long, long, long-awaited perm SSR. (Yes, that long ago.) Pretty much days later, she got it. It was, there’s no other way of putting it, bloody brilliant. Since then, the love hasn’t stopped. So yes, Mika is absolutely a world-class idol, too. Everything I think an idol is in one magical package. Better than Maki, I would suggest. Better than Eli? …I won’t say for sure. It’s so hard to compare them at this point. My love for Eli happened a long time ago.
Things get no easier when you go to the next tier down. Mostly because Love Live doesn’t have anyone in ‘the next tier down’. iM@s actually has three idols that aren’t quite top tier, but they get pretty close. They’d be Syuko, Mio and Frederica. They’re a boon to iM@s, of course, but countering their presence is the fact Love Live doesn’t possess the vast sea of utterly average idols Idolmaster has, either. This game swings both ways, you see.
So let’s go to the next tier down, the tier most of Love Live’s idols sit at, which is ‘really good’. However, even here, Idolmaster matches it stride for stride. The two possess idols who flirt with greatness – the definition of ‘really close, though’ – in Minami and Umi. Nozomi and Shizuku fight for honours in the best tits in idoldom contest, although a fight between those two probably wouldn’t be suitable for family viewing. They both have two iconic idols in Kaede and Nico. And then there’s Rin and Rin, where while Rin is much more popular than Rin, Rin still manages to be more popular in his own right and Rin is a surprisingly ordinary idol, but not as ordinary as Rin who is much quieter than Rin, and not as meme-worthy as Rin but quite possibly a bit better than Rin. Rin.
That leaves just Hanayo, who is a sweet cinnamon roll of an idol but not really like anything Idolmaster has conceived – they do cool idols better than Hanayo’s natural cuteness – and Anya…who is only the second best Russian idol in history, so she can’t even win that battle. So we’re still none the wiser.
And that means, regrettably, we have to go to both series lowest of the low. Thing is, though… While Honoka and Kotori are characters I very much don’t like, I reckon Idolmaster has concocted characters that manage to be even worse. Which, obviously, is not a good thing in this respect.
Some of their characters are bad in ways similar to Love Live’s. For instance, while I don’t think Shiki is completely without positives, they are dominated to such an extreme point by a personality that genuinely irks me at times. But they also manage to find new and innovative ways to find characters that annoy me, chief among which is personality traits. They have a stalker in Mayu, an extreme pessimist in Nono and an extreme narcissist in Sachiko. They also have a gimmick master to the max in the form of Nana, and whilst Love Live gets its attempt at a catty idol right with Rin, Idolmaster gets it wrong with Miku. But perhaps Idolmaster’s biggest disappointment is with its main character. It could have scored big points by making someone a damn sight better to follow than Honoka, but they ended up making Uzuki instead. A blank slate of an idol, and one whose little flashes of personality only serve to drag her down further. So unfortunately for iM@s, while its good characters make for enough reason by themselves to get into it, its bad characters make for several black marks in its line-up.
Which means that, on the all-important score of characters, Love Live really can claim to have the upper hand. As a collective, its group of nine is pretty special. If you narrow Idolmaster’s catchment down it can live with it, but on the whole it is a very…wasteful series. There’s no escaping the fact that no matter how good its best idols are, a whole bucketload of its idols aren’t worth the time of day. And that’s why I genuinely think, in this department, Love Live has it beat.
…Except it doesn’t, does it? Because what Love Live’s powers that be decided to do, with its great collective, was build them up to a level of true greatness…and then it decided it didn’t want them any more. And what did they put in their place? Exactly the same concept, with different names over it. Was it really worth the hassle? I think not, when you look at just what they’d managed to build. Only now with the announcement of All-Stars has this damage started to be repaired. But for now, there’s no escaping the fact Love Live had one superb bunch of idols, and decided the best thing to do with them was ultimately throw it away. And for that reason, I’m going to say; to hell with the overall quality, I’m giving this one to iM@s.
Anime: I’ll be honest, neither of the franchise’s respective anime are their strong points. They do have some things in common, though. Most notably, they both have really good second seasons.
But before we get to those, I need to talk about a big trump card in this aspect for any series of this ilk; MVs. The point of these franchises is, of course, to make music and if you can get your fancy idols to look good while they’re singing your songs, so much the better. The thing is, the way Love Live does its MVs does it no favours. See, while they obviously centre it largely around shots of select idols together, singing, dancing, whatever, when it comes to wide shots of the whole group, they go all computer-generated to make it happen. And it ends up looking…extraordinarily odd. There’s a difference in FPS to deal with, for starters, and a difference that doesn’t really feel comfortable to me. And while it does its job of making the dancing look good, the problem is, the character models look jarringly different to their animated counterparts. And it really hurts the immersion of it all. I mean, we’ve all seen conspicuous CG in our time, but here, conspicuous sometimes seems too small a word. It’s an understandable approach, but I wish they’d executed it a bit better.
So, what about iM@s? Well…to talk about its MVs, it’d be best to start talking about the franchise’s respective first seasons. And iM@s strikes first in this regard. Neither is particularly strong out the gate, but what Idolmaster does possess, unlike Love Live, is an episode that truly resonated with me. That was Episode 3. To be honest, that wasn’t well-drawn for the first half. It had a lot of good old-fashioned off-model drawing to behold. But there was a very good reason for that; they saved the budget for its MV. The first MV in the anime, for that matter. The hype and build-up to it is considerable, and you wonder if it’ll live up to it. Then the moment comes, NewGen rises onto the stage as one, and then Mika takes it away. And you have a rave of a song, in Tokimeki Escalate, that gets you jiving a little even the first time you listen to it. And there’s a whole crowd there, and orange glowsticks everywhere, and they’re all going “Ooooooooohhh…hai!” And it’s at that point I kind of sat back and thought, “You know what? This series might be pretty bloody good after all.” It’s the first season’s highlight, and it alone makes it better than Love Live’s effort.
Also, Idolmaster’s approach to its big flashy MVs is notable, in that it tends to spread its MVs out over a much longer period. Love Live gets up to the rate of one an episode by the second season, and most aren’t particularly inspiring. Idolmaster’s approach makes each MV feel like more of an occasion. And they all achieve that sense of greater immersion, and excitement, throughout. And there’s another factor at play as well, if I’m honest…more on that later.
Love Live’s first season doesn’t provide much in the way of inspiration, if I’m honest. Eli makes it pretty exciting with her drama, but there’s a slight issue in that the OP shows her dancing with mu’s every single time… Guess what happens to her? And once that happens, it’s pretty much over. Kotori decides to fuck off and study fashion. Honoka fucks herself over and is promptly destroyed by Kotori’s decision. Umi does what I wanted to do to Honoka for almost the entire anime. And then obviously Honoka runs and catches Kotori before she can go and, because the latter always agrees with the former, she changes her mind and mu’s isn’t killed. Probably for the best. That would have been an even less dignified end to mu’s than what they ended up with.
But Idolmaster isn’t exactly a knight in shining armour for its first season, either. Quite apart from the fact the rest of it is largely very lukewarm, S1 has one truly annoying moment in the form of Episode 6. Ironically, its best moment, Mika’s concert, is the primary cause of it, but no matter what, there’s no doubting Mio’s tantrum was deeply irritating. Worse than that, in fact; it turned a lot of people against her. Even I thought it might ruin her briefly, but after a thoroughly miserable next episode, Mio saves it by coming round and everything goes on as normal. So I still thought she was CinPro’s best character. But that section of the anime was deeply disconcerting.
Luckily, both up the ante come their second seasons. Love Live is mostly just a banter-fest, filled with nothing but fun with mu’s. And with a group like them, banter is a very jolly thing to have. The crushing inevitability of mu’s actual in-universe ending is handled well, too, at least up until the point that it actually comes. More on that in a second. And in the midst of it all is one truly great episode, the ninth episode. Here you witness the second-years in a brutal situation and fighting against a blizzard that threatens to call off mu’s concert. The atmosphere and tension is magnificent throughout. You just witness them, struggling, and you feel their pain. Then it stops, and you see a clear road ahead, and they run for all they’re worth, and they see their band members, and Honoka jumps into Eli’s arms in tears, and they’re all so grateful, and it all feels just wonderful. I’ll be honest, I didn’t feel all that good about Honoka most of the time, but there, I thought, “Alright. That’s pretty bloody good.” And the reward for this? The crown jewel in the Love Live discography, Snow halation. Just wonderful.
Unfortunately, even that can’t give it the edge over iM@s. Because actually, that manages to be even better. Just.
iM@s shuns the idea of banter with CinPro – first episode notwithstanding – in favour of sheer drama. The overarching plans of Mishiro and Project Krone keep you on your toes constantly. It had me constantly wanting to see just what on earth was going to happen. Before that, though, is a spate of episodes that largely chronicles CinPro’s troubles. One of these stands out more than most, especially on a personal level. Episode 17 is always an emotional rollercoaster for me and, once again, it’s Mika who makes it special. Not without a little help from her sister and Miria, though. The message in that is one I’ve followed throughout struggles in my everyday life, too. When I said Mika was relatable to me, I’m talking about stuff like that. It’s just so sweet.
S2 of Cinderella Girls climaxes at the end of the Project Krone saga, though. Whilst the new group ultimately doesn’t quite live up to the hype (albeit more so than I first thought), the 22nd episode is a scintillating watch. It’s just a massive festival full of mega-hits, and then, bang, in comes the drama again. The trade-off for that is another immense MV in the form of Trancing Pulse. It’s a highly enjoyable experience…until you get to the lead into the finale.
The one thing that holds CG S2 back is Episodes 23 and 24. It’s just nothing but thorough misery, at the hands of a character I can’t feel sympathy for. It’s just an unpleasant look into Uzuki’s frail workings. I didn’t ask for this after all the hype of the previous episodes. It just felt right out of place. I was not impressed with it…but crucially, a resolution is reached before the true ending, and that, more than anything, probably keeps CG’s second season ahead of Love Live’s. So that’s another mark notched up for iM@s.
Of course, there is one element Love Live’s anime has that iM@s doesn’t, and that’s a movie. Sadly, talking about this is largely a waste of time. The first half is plenty of fun, a nice, wild trip to New York. The second half is nothing but pointless despair over the unavoidable ending of mu’s, Honoka tripping balls, and to conclude, a highly implausible performance that proved fairly meaningless in the grand scheme of things. So on the whole, this bit of Love Live is best left ignored.
And that means iM@s has it beat here too. Neither truly shines in anime terms, but then they didn’t have to anyway. Still, the little things in their respective seasons make them notable, and iM@s has more of those little things. The kind of things you’d go back to and want to talk about. So it wins this battle, too.
I would say ‘to be continued’ at this point, but I’ve said that about a few posts in the past and then expressly failed to continue them. So to this, I say, possibly, maybe, perhaps, potentially, to be continued.