Idolmaster Cinderella Girls: The bit where they steal your money by not showing up on your screen

I’d never really taken on a game the like of Starlight Stage before, to be honest. I mean, I never properly dabbled with its most obvious competitor, Love Live School Idol Festival, despite being a proper Love Live fan. You can thank mu’s ending for that. And not even stealing an actual Idolmaster term (of which, more later) has changed my mind. But Starlight Stage is the big thing doing the rounds for iM@s around the world at the moment. So, of course, I had to check it out.

Not the easiest of tasks, all told. Unlike Love Live, which went fully worldwide with its rhythm game, Namco has stuck resolutely to its home turf with its spin-off of a spin-off, released in 2015 as the obvious counter to LLSIF’s resounding success. The difference: ‘Deresute’ – a portmanteau of its Japanese syllables – comes at you in 3D. Which is terrific.

And it looks it too. Relatively speaking, of course. On the whole it’s not gonna be pulling up trees but for a mobile game it looks sweet enough. And so do its idols. Finally, they are right there in front of you and glorious. Aren’t some of them just lovely or what?

But before you can get to them, there’s a whole damn game in front of you. And boy is there a lot of it to take in. When I saw just how many factors you had to take in with all this I thought I would be really up against it, especially with a whole language barrier in front of me. I’d learnt games in Japanese before but not only did I have the backing of English versions in those cases, they weren’t nearly as complex as Starlight Stage. Luckily, the game has the English community around it to provide several translations for everything. But even then I still haven’t got my head round it all. Let me try and put it all to you.

So the aim of the game is to get EXP from songs, and to level up to unlock more songs and items. But to play songs, you need to have stamina, which refills over time or with items. You also get presents through various methods, each of which have to be picked up through the present box. As for what there is to play, well, there’s daily and weekly mission which give you small rewards upon completion. There’s also rewards for reaching milestones – achievements, or trophies, if you will. And there’s also rewards from big events that come around often in the game.

You set up units of 5 idols at a time, the centre idol applying their skill to the entire team as well as the skills each idol comes with. You can make 18 different teams, the centre of your main team being the one who shows up on your profile and home screen. There’s an auto-picker to trivialise a lot of it, sorting by Cute, Cool, Passion or all types and by appeal, Vocal, Dance, Visual and Life, the core stats for all the idols. The game’s songs are split into those four types, and ‘appeal’ is the total of an idol’s Vocal, Dance and Visual. To raise these stats, and the idols’ levels, you give them lessons by consuming other cards, or using trainer tickets. Also, playing songs with an idol increases their affection. Once you max this out, you can ‘awaken’ them, but you have to have the right jewellery to do it. This gives them a new graphic, another stat boost, a raised level cap and a raised affection cap, to give them yet another stat boost. They also have a star rank to be raised through star lessons, whereby you take two identical cards and combine them into one, which allows you to get rarer items when they’re in the centre. There’s also potential breaks that let you power up your idols further. And you can sell idols as well, although that’s only really useful for normals.

That make sense to you all? Thought not. Still, at least that’s the most complex bit out of the way.

Of course, after all that it’s only right and proper that the actual gameplay would be simple as can be. You just tap circle notes, hold on to notes with trails and slide your finger on notes with arrows. Of course, you can make it very unsimple by going right to the highest difficulties, the creme de la creme being Master. However, some songs go even higher and have Master+ difficulties, the toughest of all. Naturally, the higher the difficulty, the greater the rewards – and beating a song on Master difficulty gives you its MV, letting you watch the songs in their full glory. However, I’m still a relative newb to this all, so I haven’t had thoughts on going past Regular difficulty yet. Once I can do some songs properly, I’ll make the step up to Pro. I’m a long way off trying Master yet. Incidentally, a lot of the game’s many songs are always available (once you unlock them, anyway), but some are limited to certain days of the week or are only available for a limited time. And there’s also songs that go round during events, too. Even before it all, there’s still some complexity – a ‘guest’ idol giving you their centre skill, the 10 strongest idols not in your chosen unit giving you half their combined appeal, and so on. But what’s important is that at the end of it, you get EXP, money, fans, some normal cards, some jewellery and affection for your idols. So, there you go.

But to get a lot of the songs, you have to go through the main story. All you have to do to get the songs themselves is read through their dialogues, but then you have to go out and complete the songs in Live mode to actually proceed to the next one. And you have to level up plenty to go on to most of the songs, and you have to do so more and more as you go further on. This takes some time. Time I do not have. Hence why I haven’t been able to go through most of the story. It wouldn’t be so bad if they just let you unlock songs at your own pace, but Starlight Stage is a game that demands your attention, and lots of it. I can’t give it anything like enough. And so, I sit here with a game with plenty of content largely untouchable to me. You can buy a lot of stuff in Starlight Stage. Perhaps they would have been wise to let you buy levels as well. As it turns out, once you get to Level 50, you can do just about everything. But getting there is a real drag and yet a necessity as well. So come on, Namco. Give a busy man a hand here.

I suppose I should also touch on the many, many side stories on hand for each idol – all 184 of them. They have two kinds of them; memories, and episodes. Memories get unlocked as idols get more fans, which you also get by using them in Lives. Episodes are unlocked once you awaken an idol, with a different story for each card. And reading through all these stories gives you friend points and star jewels to use yourself. There’s also the event stories, only accessible if you unlocked them through the event yourself or using memory keys to buy them. And there’s special stories as well that don’t fit in with the rest otherwise.

Hey, I only said the most complex bit was out of the way. But yes, there really are more currencies in this game than the world itself, or so it seems.

Also available is the Room. This is a gloriously cute, and also gloriously pointless, feature, that simply lets you watch 5 idols traipse around your own customised office. Many find these chibi-fied idols sweet, and I can see why. But there’s better places to see them all. Such as, for instance, when you put the game in 2D mode, whereupon the 3D models are replaced by the cuted-up 2D chibis. That’s what you wanna see them in, really. Alternatively, you could be like me, a guy who just prefers to see them in the flesh and in their full glory. Which is exactly what Starlight Stage lets you do. Maybe if my phone weren’t up for it I wouldn’t have a choice, but my phone does let me use 3D. So I do. And it’s damn great. Therefore, cute as they are in 2D, I’m not as sold on them as much as on their actual looks. Therefore, I almost never go into the Room. Especially as the money is better spent elsewhere. Still, the free items (more jewellery and trainer tickets) are nice…

So, with all this complexity around the game, just what the hell is there to sell a new player on it? What is there to encourage a newbie to walk in and give this a shot, when they might not stand a hope in hell of reaching the top from the start? Well, there’s one thing that can make it all happen. One thing that can step forward and give you a leg up, and also break your heart at the same time. It’s the make-or-break of this game… Step forward, the gacha.

This is what gives me hope with this game. But, of course, it doesn’t always work. Not even most of the time. Indeed, things of this sort – in the form of the ‘lootbox’ – are currently a big thing in the gaming world right now, due to their capacity to define games to the point where you need them, except they usually end up giving you crap all. This does not please people. A game I’ve played plenty of recently, Forza Motorsport 7, has been reviled for this sort of thing, and others encourage microtransactions to the point of idiocy. And I’d share a lot more sympathy with these if I didn’t know the way to really make these sorts of things work. And that’s with a system like this, a system I’ve known not just from Starlight Stage, but for well over five years now. As a FIFA player, I know exactly what Ultimate Team demands, and how tempting its packs are. I’ve seen the good side of those before, and the bad side…so I know exactly what’s up with the gacha. And with the rewards on offer, I can’t help but go to it over, and over, again.

The heart of the game is the Platinum Gacha. This is where you spend the one currency in the game that really matters, Star Jewels. This is the one you can buy with your own money, at a rate far greater than the game’s slothful offering. While sometimes they get given out in decent amounts, for special occasions, getting Star Jewels otherwise is a thankless task. However, what the Platinum Gacha does is let you take a free card, of a Rare or higher nature, for less than £1, once a day. Given the potential that you could get something special from it, this is well worth it. Of course, whether it works out is another thing entirely. 85% of the time, it’s nothing more than a Rare, but around 1/8th of the time, it’s a good SR, with a proper picture and all.

And then there’s the 3% chance of getting the game’s most prized possessions – SSRs. These are what everyone aspires towards in this game. And several characters have more than one. However, every character’s second SSR is the ‘limited’ sort – the type that comes out at the start of the month and is available initially for only a ‘limited’ period, as the name suggests. However, there comes a point when they’ll be thrown in the gacha again for another limited period, and during this time they’ll have a higher chance of showing up. So if there’s an idol you like, best go mad for them when they get a limited card, or when it pops up. Because the chance to get them again might not come around for a long, long time…

Lastly, there’s the SSRs afforded to the in-universe gods – the ones available during the ‘Cinderella Festival’, which comes round for 2-3 days, once every four months. The cards available during this come with the best stats in the game, and the chance of getting an SSR during this time is doubled to 6%. However, only the newest ‘CinFes’ idol is easy to get – the ones from previous CinFests, while available, are still hard to get. But if you get one, hoo boy…

Aside from the Platinum Gacha, there’s also the local gacha, which is mostly meant as a place to get cards and tickets to train up your idols. You get one of these free a day, and using it otherwise costs 200 friend points a roll. You can actually get SRs from this, but consider yourself damn lucky if you do – the chance of that happening is less than 1%. Still, it’s a useful thing to have.

All this might make you think Starlight Stage is very much a pay-to-win game. It isn’t. But to get by playing F2P, you have to be real dedicated and have plenty of time on your hands. Which, as I’ve said, I do not. Fortunately, I do have money to use the gacha with. The free £1 rolls are a given every day for me, but it’s the big 10-rolls that are the most tempting. However, doing two of those would cost me some £40. Which is why I’m only doing them every payday, i.e. every other week. A bit like I did this Friday. After getting shafted by the game for a long time on SSRs, having waited for ages, two came along in one 10-roll; Nina and Frederica. One good idol and one great one. See what I mean by these being worth it? The reason I like the 10-rolls most of all is that you’re guaranteed an SR in it, and usually more. You’re only meant to get an SSR in around 1 in 3 of them, but hey, who am I to complain about luck? I’m the type that aims for 1% Pokemon every time I play the game. Heck, I’m running through Silver right now with a Dunsparce and Azumarill around. And they’re both damn rare to find. I like a bit of a lottery every now and again.

However, this was all before I realised what one of the gacha options was – you can pay for a 10-pull, plus two tickets for an SR and any card of your choice, up to and including permanent SSRs. So on Saturday, I went and threw another £20 at the game, to get the one card I’d take above all. Sure, it’d be a lot more special if I got her through the gacha itself, but what if she never came? Best to take the chance while it was there, otherwise it might never come again. So I did what had to be done…

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If I’m gonna be tapping through so many stories, I want at least one idol whose stories I’ll sit up and pay attention to. Kanade, meet my phone.

Now go get yourself a limited SSR or show up during CinFes. (Hah, as if either of those would ever happen)

So yes. That’s what £60 gets you in this game. 3 SSRs and a good clutch of SRs as well. Yes, that’s a decent return I think. No, I won’t be spending that much again for a long time. Not until my next pay day, that’s for sure. But as it turns out, I might not need to. Because tonight, with my £1 gacha roll, I went and got another SSR. Guess who?

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Someone’s after my heart.

Yes, I did genuinely get two Frederica SSRs this weekend. Which is madder than even she is. I’m OK with this, actually. When you get two of your favourite Cute idol in the series, you take her alright. I’m supposed to keep her for my support team, it seems. So I shall.

You know what I call her now? Half-meme, half-amazing.

But this is exactly what I’m getting at. The gacha is great because it gives you the chance of something this glorious, for so little. Never mind that I got the same card literally two days ago, an SSR is an SSR. That’s the appeal of the gacha. That’s why I’m still coming to this game. Of course, finding time to do anything with my earnings is another matter entirely…

But the thing is, having toiled at this game for a while, and having made mistakes aplenty with it already, as it turns out, I’ve just about got the hang of it all. Whether it actually means anything given how little I play the thing is a worry, but at least I know what the bloody hell I’m doing now. If this complexity might have turned you off in any way, though, I completely understand. I just wanted to get in and dance with the idols I could too but I found myself with ten thousand features thrown in my face. It’s fine once you know it all, but it takes time. And when you just want the gacha to play ball, there’s not a lot of time when there’s so much else more you wanna do. But I can start to give Starlight Stage a proper go, finally.

And at the end of the day, the result of it is just wonderful. The Cinderella Girls, all 184 of them, at their very finest, dancing to the best songs in the series. And there’s a lot of them. Behind the complexity of the menus lies a simple game at its centre. Just tap and let the rhythm flow. And you wonder why so many are playing this right now. It’s tantalising at its best.

It’s just a shame I’m not the kind of person that can really get stuck in to it. No matter how good my situation looks now, at the end of the day, this is a game that requires a lot of playing to get the best out of. I am not capable of making time for that playing. And yet even I can see there’s a good game within. No matter how little I actually play Lives, that gacha is always so, so inviting. And, at the end of the day, I can always remind myself just what this game has given us, on YouTube. The all important MVs are all here to behold. A lot of the stories are translated and on YT, too. So I might not even have to play the game to see its most appealing bits. But that doesn’t stop me. I want these idols for myself. I want them all… And Starlight Stage can give you them all. It’s fantastic. Flawed, for sure, but fantastic.

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Idolmaster Cinderella Girls: The bit where they come together and make some drama

Spoilers within. Obviously. 

I’ll be honest – I spoilt myself just a little on Cinderella Girls’ anime. Specifically, the second season. From what I’d heard about it, I knew there would be drama abound throughout, and as far as I could tell, it was going to be real good. The problem was, I couldn’t envisage what it would actually be like without seeing it for myself. So I went in to the first episode of the first season largely planning on playing a waiting game for it to all kick off. And in the end, I wasn’t disappointed…but not for the reasons I was thinking.

The series starts off well enough, despite the constantly mistaken identity of a character relevant to this part of the series only – Producer-san. His development throughout the course of the anime is genuinely impressive, and as well it might be, given that the majority of the show revolves around his perspective. But he starts off about how he looks; as a tall, awkward, slightly creepy looking man. And boy doesn’t the series let you know. Uzuki cries for her mummy as she sees him. Rin gives him the cold shoulder constantly, despite a scene that ultimately provides both a hilarious role reversal and a scene that comes to define the Producer. But it works out in the end and he signs them both up.

And then straight after, in comes the best girl of the entire main group – Mio Honda. Her presence instantly overshadows her direct peers. She puts herself right at the centre of it all with her perfectly applied cheerfulness. They might not have intended it, but she really does come across as the anime’s main character. And that’s great because she’s such a charming character to watch – all Uzuki does throughout is pitch in with a ‘Ganbarimasu’ here and there, and Rin, whilst still a very good idol, is very quiet for much of the first season. And it helps when they get a leg up from possibly the best character in the anime – Mika Jougasaki. Not because she’s the highlight of the show, but because she is about as perfectly played a support character as you could imagine. When they give her an episode in the limelight in S2, she shines there, too. But in the context of the early episodes, her performance of TOKIMEKI Escalate, with a helping of NewGen’s fried chicken, is the highlight. It’s just one iconic idol doing what she’s best at, with one of the franchise’s best songs. Make no mistake, Mika is top-class. And yet it’s this highlight that serves as the basis for what is nearly a huge chokepoint in the series.

But before that, we get a look at the rest of the group. We get an episode to introduce the lot of them to us at first, but the real impressions of them all are formed mostly in the two big episodes each of them get across the two sessions. Of the lot, Rika makes the best first impression, with thanks to – yes, you guessed it – her sister. But one makes a first impression so bad she never really recovers from it, in spite of her best efforts later on. That’d be Miku.

I knew I wasn’t gonna be sold on her, as a catgirl who was too catty, and yet her tantrums in S1’s first half had me up against her even more from the very start. She just comes across as spoilt, frankly. She gets better later, but that first impression constantly lingers over her. She’s fortunate she didn’t end up as the Cinderella Project’s worst character…but more on that much, much later.

Then comes Episode 6. This is the one where NewGen and Love Laika make their live debuts in a shopping mall. Love Laika, obviously, are excellent. Anastasia turns out as one of the anime’s strongest characters and Minami does herself plenty of good later on. And their couple is just brilliant. But whilst their performance goes swimmingly, NewGen’s, as we see during ‘Memories’, really doesn’t. And then it gets infinitely worse afterwards.

See, Mio made the mistake of asking Producer-san about the crowd, with her friends coming along and all. P-chan says they should be OK to come along, but Mio only asks this because she believes the place is gonna be packed – going off the example of her time as back-up dancer to Mika, who, let me remind you, is an in-universe superstar. Something Mio isn’t yet. Amazingly, the crowd isn’t packed for a unit no one knows making their debut. But Mio’s reaction to this is nothing short of farcical. She kicks up the most awful scene about it and, utterly broken, walks out on idolism that instant. All that goodwill for her shattered in the space of a minute. She could have ruined herself entirely with that moment. But luckily, by the end of the next, thoroughly depressing, episode, she comes back around, and admits it was all her own fault. And with that, she saves herself. From there on out, she’s back to her usual, giggly, humorous sort, and I wouldn’t have her any other way. Well, maybe except one section of the second season, but that’s nowhere near as bad. She toed the line and lived to tell the tale. Good on her.

From then on the first season moves on to its second half, where it establishes the rest of the units. Ranko becomes relatively ordinary after spending the first half making no sense. Anzu shows her hidden genius and brilliance. Dekoration’s introduction is all a bit hectic. Asterisk’s introduction is all a bit hilarious. And then the first season concludes with an episode that builds Minami up very well to make her misfortune in the last episode all the more painful. The concert goes all fine in the end, lightning strikes be damned. And so concludes season 1. Not too bad at all, but nothing too special, either. Roll on season 2…

But before I go onto the big, definitive arc of the entire anime, I need to get a bit real. I’m doing this for two reasons. First, it might help you understand why I’m praising some elements no one else would dare to. And second, because it will help you understand the real reason I enjoyed the second season – the reason I didn’t see coming.

You see, I’m in the kind of job that sees ill-advised changes around it all the time. We’re doing things we weren’t ever told to do at first. Changes to staff are made for no readily apparent reason. And it’s all because of some utterly ridiculous motives that help no one, not me, or my colleagues. No one but themselves. Keep this in mind when I talk about this season in general.

The first episode introduces us to the new top, top woman of 346 Production, Mishiro. We don’t see much more of her in that episode, as the re-introduction to the anime spins off into a story about the terrible stalker, Mayu, which, while funny, is ultimately rather pointless. (There’s also light introductions to key characters Karen, Nao and Natsuki.) And then at the end Mishiro asks every producer to tear up their projects and start again, kicking off the cycle of drama that comes to define the season.

The episodes themselves don’t all look like much in hindsight. The next episode focuses on mega star Kaede Takagaki, and whilst it’s great to sit through at the time, it ultimately doesn’t actually lead to anything. Episode 16, meanwhile, should have been the episode of my nightmares; an episode based around two of my least favourite idols in Nana and Miku. And yet, it actually turned out alright. The sense of them being taken out of their comfort zone struck a chord with me. But not as much as the next episode did, my favourite from the first arc. There, Mika and Rika are put in positions that clash with their personas, turning two lovely, upbeat sisters into two miserable figures of tragedy. Two heroes come to the rescue for them both. Miria, a character desperately short of meaning in the first season, finally gets some, as she shows the struggles of being a big sister. She channels these issues to Mika, herself a big sister. In doing so, she cheers Mika right up and makes for the anime’s sweetest moment. But the real hero of the hour is Anzu. And all it took the secret genius was one small line, my favourite of all.

“No matter what you wear, you’re still you, so who cares about clothes?”

That line strikes a chord with Rika, and she uses it to her advantage. Not only that, but in doing so, she inspires Mika to do the very same thing. It works to perfection, and with it, all is well with the Jougasakis. They weren’t the only ones who felt that message. Through thick and thin, I’ve learnt that being myself helps above all else, no matter what the powers that be try and do. They ain’t gonna change who I am. Never. So I’ll be myself. Forever.

After that, the opening arc concludes with a largely unremarkable episode featuring Kanako and Chieri, only brightened by a lovely moment with Kirari and Anzu, and another quality episode showing rockers Riina and Natsuki getting together, a combo as tantalising as you’d expect. But then it all really kicks off.

The Project Krone arc of Episodes 20-22 is the anime’s finest sector. The overarching tension of the whole thing kept me so on edge I couldn’t help but love it. Rin’s budding relationship with Karen and Nao bears fruit, and they come together to form Triad Primus. But not before a lot of soul-searching with NewGen and Mio going off on another strop, albeit one not nearly as bad as her first. And then she decides to go solo… Although that isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, since it only amounts to her doing drama work. In the middle of all this, Anya too joins Project Krone in a saga handled near-perfectly. Honestly, I don’t think they could have pulled off Anya any better than they did in the anime. She’s amongst its very strongest characters. And with her off to the other side, Minami too goes solo and also improves her character further.

The climactic 22nd episode, the Autumn Festival, is also a great episode. That’s where it all goes wrong for Project Krone as Fumika’s nerves get the better of her and the Producer steps in to sort it all out. Mostly it’s all just a great musical occasion too, as all the hits come out, even if only briefly: Nebula Sky, Venus Syndrome, Ranko and Koume’s new duet, the new Asterisk’s Wonder Goes On!!, GOIN’!!!, even Hotel Moonside. And at the climax of it all, Triad Primus’ outstanding Trancing Pulse. That’s the crown jewel of all the big musical shows they put on in the anime. So, all in all, a fantastic piece of anime all round for three episodes. Unfortunately, it also builds up to the worst two right at the end. I’ll get to that in a bit.

The only real niggle I have with the whole arc is Project Krone itself. Not their very presence, which is great, but the execution of it all other than those we already knew. I banged on about this plenty in my latest piece on the characters, so I’m not gonna repeat myself here. However, there is one crucial point I need to make: I was probably a bit too hasty in writing them off. As it happens, they actually do get some development in-universe thanks to the magic of extra content – content released during the anime’s run in mid-late-2015. Most importantly, the NoMake short that went with Episode 22 actually let them have some of the spotlight for once. The first half was spent finally giving Kanade, the leader of the whole damn project, the time of day, albeit in a segment more notable for Rika and Miria’s besotted reaction to her sexiness than anything she actually does. And then the second half gives Arisu a lovely piece of development with her fellow young’uns from Cinderella Project. I haven’t seen most of the NoMakes, and aside from maybe Episode 20 (largely based around Mishiro, or a conversation on her) I don’t think there’s much more done with them as directly, but it’s something. Other than that, all of Project Krone (except Anya, weirdly) got spread out over three Magic Hours during their big arc – Kanade being the host of all three of their radio shorts. So that’s nice, as well, albeit not as closely linked to the anime.

But my point still stands. Letting them have the limelight off the beaten track is fine and all, but it’s the anime that people pay attention to. And in that regard I still think there wasn’t enough done with them. Maybe I’m biased, given that I like a rivalry as much as the next man, but I still can’t help thinking Project Krone itself was a big opportunity missed. And yet it’s also the anime’s biggest X-factor at the same time. Weird how these things work out, sometimes.

Anyway, back to the anime itself. To be honest, if it had ended right on Episode 22 it would have all been just fine. The central plot point had been all wrapped up, Projects Cinderella and Krone could ride off into the sunset and all was well and good at 346. Except it wasn’t. Because the anime continued solely for one small reason; Uzuki Shimamura.

In short, in amongst all the action Uzuki’s place had been somewhat lost and she was feeling it. Mind you, she wasn’t even the most ignored girl in her own Project; you only need see how little action Ranko gets to know what I’m on about. And yet they chose this moment to put her in the middle of it all. The resulting two episodes are nothing short of agonizing to watch. I mean, seeing a character break this badly isn’t fun. It’s just a mood-killer. Especially when that character is Uzuki. Honestly, she ends up acting like she’s half her age. And I just can’t get behind her in any way. Not when she makes herself look so utterly pathetic. In fact, what those two episodes did, more than anything, was made me realise just how childish Uzuki really is. She can’t decide on anything herself, her reasoning for stuff is hardly resonating and the only way out she has with anything is her ever-present “Ganbarimasu”. There’s no appeal in just trying hard, Uzuki. Mostly everyone else is doing that, too. And all this shitshow managed to do was turn her from a generic try-hard to a juvenile retard.

All I can say is, thank god she came around before the end. If the whole thing had finished on such a brooding low, it would have been an irremovable stain on an otherwise fine anime. Luckily, the whole sorry Shimamu saga gets solved before Episode 25, the Winter Festival episode, which is about what it’s hyped up to be; a coup de grace, and a celebration of the Cinderella Girls as we know them. It’s all very sweet and pretty, and a nice little closer to the whole thing. A fine conclusion to a mostly very strong season’s worth of anime, an anime which on the whole came up trumps. An anime about as good as I’d expected, albeit not for the reasons I’d expected. But goodness is goodness and I’ll take it however it comes.

But wait! That’s not all with the Cinderella Girls on the anime front. Indeed, even the core anime itself doesn’t quite finish there, as it got an OVA which mostly just features the girls mucking about, which is fine. There’s also a real bad-ass samurai movie trailer featuring all the relevant girls. There’s all sorts going on here. Everyone gets a look in at the start. Absolute Nine starts playing and it all goes wild. The Cinderella Girls hijack Project Krone’s gaff. Uzuki wrecks some generic blokes. Anzu and Fre-chan have touching death scenes. Kirari smashes Kanade through a door. It’s all very exciting. If anything, it needs an OVA to itself. As it is, this one is just a lot of generic skits along the way, which are fine as well. Skits including Minami reaching her breaking point, Rika taking diet advice…from Kanako, Uzuki once again proving her complete and utter inability to make a decision, and Rin sending some love out (to her dog). It’s all pretty innocent, at the end of the day.

And there’s more. Indeed, separate from the anime world, and closer to the games themselves, we find the series’ 4koma, Cinderella Girls Gekijou (Theater). These are all based off a select few of the myriad sketches done for each and every one of the Cinderella Girls in the game. Of course, these are limited by and large to solely the voiced idols, for obvious reasons, but most of them are properly funny and define each character really well. But the highlights in the anime have to be Episodes 9 and 11. Instead of multiple sketches, these are just one thing, but both are glorious. Episode 9 is a cop show with Sanae and her colleagues Shizuku and Yuko. And in it Akane and Mizuki blow them to pieces, including Shizuku with the shittest getaway vehicle ever (her tractor). It’s all really quite funny. But not as much as Episode 11, another trailer in the mould of the OVA. This one sees Haruna and her mob trying to take over the world, and force them to – yes, you guessed it – wear glasses. Akane tries to battle her, Mayu, Ayame and Kanade (who has a monocle instead, because they’re just better), and loses badly. And then Kirari comes out of nowhere with a fucking mecha and turns it into the most mecha thing ever. It’s just brilliant and I want the damn thing made. Like, a lot. If none of this makes sense in context, just go watch it. And don’t forget about the web additions, either. They’re all just single sketches at a time as bonuses. And the great thing is, there’s a second season’s worth that started this week, as of this writing. I’ll be keeping up with it, for sure.

So, there you have it. The anime for these Cinderella Girls turned out alright. I knew going in what stages it would probably at its best to me, and I was right. But not for the reasons I expected. Either way, I’m not bothered. A good anime is a good anime no matter how it comes. The first season is merely about average, with only Mio there to spice it up both in good ways and bad. But the second season was as great as I thought it would be. The drama and tension really did hit hard there, but I didn’t see it coming quite so soon. Maybe it fizzled out a little too much at the end, and it could have been done even better yet, but it was great while it lasted. Episodes 23 and 24 are the only blots on the season’s copybook. So, on the whole, I’d say yes, it was worth the watch. I’d say it’s worth your time, too. Give it a shot.

An update to my views on the Cinderella Girls, post-anime viewing

I have been and watched the Cinderella Girls anime. Describing it all would be an absolute doozy and it will eventually get its very own piece. But for the meantime, I thought I’d revisit my extensive analysis of the series’ characters with some much refreshed thoughts on the most important characters in the anime. Oh, and a few other elements I’d like to share some views on, too.

Oh, and of course, spoilers within.

Uzuki Shimamura: Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.
Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.
Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.
Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.
Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.
Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.
Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu. Ganbarimasu.

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No matter how hard you try, Uzuki, there’s no mistaking one thing: You fucked up. Big time.

It’s hard to explain just how awful Uzuki’s presence made Episodes 23 and 24. She really was threatening to turn the entire ending of the anime into a damp squib. And it’s all because she lost her mind completely and became nothing short of a retard. Like, fuck me dead, it was just all so…embarrassing. Thank god she came around before the last episode. That wouldn’t have been nearly as cheerful with Uzuki screwing about like an insane child. For this, she pays the ultimate penalty of being amongst the series’ lowest of the low. And I didn’t think she was much cop anyway. Like, how could she have been worse? So much for being a main character in this series.

Don’t worry. It gets much better after this.

Rin Shibuya: I’d had high hopes for the girl who looks rough enough to make it big in the industry, but good as she seemed, she just seemed far too quiet to stand out in season 1. She was still pretty great, but I wasn’t expecting her to be quite as serious as she was. However, she got plenty of strong development in season 2 which took her up a notch, plus she also went out and formed Triad Primus which was pretty much phenomenal. As you’ll see later, I don’t think Project Krone was as good as it should have been, but that unit was definitely the best thing to come out of it.

Mio Honda: I could argue that seeing the potential in Mio led me to see what most of the other girls offered. In her own regard, Mio didn’t disappoint. Not by a long way. It could have all been so different. Her Episode 6-7 tantrum over the fact their first performance wasn’t in front of a teeming mass of fans (seeing it fair to compare it to her time as a back-up dancer to in-universe mega-star and really very good idol Mika Jougasaki) damn near spoilt her entire character, but luckily for her she was sane enough to realise what a mistake she’d made and came back round. And so I realised what Mio was deep down – an imperfect girl with perfection all over her. Indeed, from that flashpoint she was all smiles, wonder and leadership. A face as bright as day, a persona that fuelled the whole group and a sense of humour that brought me great joy. Oh, and her giggle just makes my heart melt so, so much. She’s energy and enthusiasm done right. In fact, the way she acted throughout you’d think she was the main character of the whole thing. And I wouldn’t mind it that way. Make no mistake, Mio is one of the best of the bunch. Top 3 caliber, easily.

Chieri Ogata: Being such a bag of nerves didn’t exactly sell her to me, but at least it made for some funny moments. Can’t help but laugh in sympathy for her whenever she suddenly has to concentrate on frogs. And though it took a while, at least she did get over the hump eventually.

Anzu Futaba: I thought Anzu was gonna be pretty terrible, to be honest. The first half of the first season didn’t do much to change that, but she started to turn me round on her after that and by the second season she’d definitely come full circle. Not only do the work jibes become less frequent with her but she also shows some hidden genius within herself, both in her humor and intellect. Perhaps the anime’s biggest surprise at the end of it all.

Kanako Mimura: Still quite an excellent idol, even if all she seemed to do was offer food to everyone else. Was also part of one of the funniest bits of the anime (the Mayu section from S2E1.) However, her redemption quest in the second season wasn’t exactly the most sparkling and she didn’t do herself many favours in it. Despite which, of course, she’s still excellent.

Ranko Kanzaki: Now I knew well in advance that Ranko was going to be far from ordinary, and yet even I couldn’t prepare myself for all the bullshit tumbling out her mouth at first. It also made her come-around in Episode 8 all the more surprising, and the result of that was one of the series’ best songs. She put in a decent shift with Anya in the last episode, too. And yet, for some reason, the second season threw her under the bus almost completely. Like, seriously. You just don’t see Ranko get a word in, like, ever. What does it matter that she already had her moment in the sunshine? Given the plotlines of the second season, you’d think she’d be a prime target. And yet…nothing. Shame.

Anastasia: Wow, did Anastasia make an impression or what. Everything about her in the series was just so…right. Her pairing with Minami was perfect, as was their subsequent relationship. The way they handled her Project Krone saga was spot on. All the music she came out with was great… Really, Anastasia could do no wrong here. I thought one idol would come really good out of all this, and I’m glad it turned out to be Anya. She was one of the first Cinderella Girls I heard about and I always thought she might be a pretty good one. She’s not pretty good. She’s pretty much incredible. Well done, that Anya.

Mind you…she did get away with saying “Harasho” once. That’s no way to respect the real best Russian idol. Still, second ain’t bad when you’re this good. You want a foreign idol? Call a Russian.

Minami Nitta: A girl that seemed as plain as day from the start proved herself as a sensible headed and very respectable leader. She was never the most upfront girl, but then that’s kind of the point with her. The cool-headed one of the lot, Minami was a strong character and her moment in the sun in S1E12 was great, and made her misfortune next episode all the harder to swallow. A good character, no doubt.

Riina Tada: I had my hopes up for this idol with a difference, and her rock attitude didn’t disappoint. Her pairing with Miku was really quite funny in the end, and once she got a partner to suit in Natsuki she only got even better. Also, she loves the UK and that’s good. Still, I’m not entirely sure about her attitude to find whatever she wants to as ‘rockin’. I mean, that might have been a little too far at times. But really, Riina was a great idol on the whole.

Miku Maekawa: I sort of guessed I wouldn’t enjoy Miku flitting around the place imagining she was a cat. In fact, she turned out even worse. Fighting and quarrelling with everything and everyone the whole time out of sheer jealousy was just plain annoying. And she did this for the entire first half of the first season. The second half was better for her, including her ‘relationship’ with Riina, but I still wasn’t harbouring much goodwill towards her. However, she did seem to wise up at times throughout the second season, firstly with her big episode with Nana then her showing in Riina’s big episode. I was never gonna be sold on Miku with her gimmick, and indeed I wasn’t. And yet, at the end of it, I think she turned out alright. Not good. Not bad. Just fine.

Kirari Moroboshi: I wanted to like Kirari a lot, but thought that her inherent need to stay as cutesy as possible would shy me away from her too much. These fears proved unfounded. Kirari’s personality is actually fine. Even all her upbeat, happy-happiness didn’t go so over the top it became straight up annoying, and her relationship with Anzu was just a little bit sweet. So with that, Kirari ended up as another big surprise, and an even better one than Anzu – because I came to like her even more than I thought. Good on her. And, it’s worth saying again: 6 foot.

Miria Akagi: For much of the series, Miria was struggling to gain much meaning. She was there, and cute and all, but rather too plain to make any difference. And she was under threat of remaining so for the first half of S2, until she got in on the Jougasaki’s big episode and made a name for herself. In doing so, she also made for the series’ cutest moment, the big sister eulogies with Mika. She’s a sweet little thing, is Miria.

Rika Jougasaki: The best of the young’uns. I already had some good expectations of her after all, with no shortage of help from her big sis, and she also helped to make Rika that much better here too. Yet even without her Rika was a bundle of joy throughout, a conducive personality that brought her to the forefront of a number of scenes. Then again, there is her whole ‘sexy’ image to consider as well, but given the influence Mika brings her I think we can give her the benefit of the doubt. Speaking of which…

Mika Jougasaki: The idolest idol of them all done herself no harm. Her performance in the early stages of season 1 was something to behold, her magnificent singing making up for what is admittedly a rather unusual voice in normal conversation. A small and largely inconsequential flaw in an otherwise fantastic idol, who also proves to be the perfect support character throughout for the Cinderella Project. You couldn’t ask for much more out of her in that role, and then there was her big episode which went and brought out the very best in her. In case you didn’t figure it out, Mika is really, really, really damn good. She’s better than anyone from the actual Cinderella Project itself. She’s brilliant. My personal second best. Second best, because even she can’t hold a candle to…

…Wait a minute. Before I go on any further, I think I’ve gotta talk a little bit about Project Krone.

See, while Mishiro is nothing short of a power-hungry fool, when it comes to picking an idol, she is really damn good. That’s why I’d say Project Krone, on most days, beats the Cinderella Project. Here’s the reasons why:

1) Anya and Rin were two of the best idols you could have handpicked out of the Cinderella Project. Both among the very best in their group. Additionally, the presence of both Karen Hojo and Nao Kamiya (two idols notable enough to get their own writeups to me – more later), two idols who, while not outstanding individually, turn out to be a masterstroke when paired together with Rin. You’ll see what I mean later.

2) Unlike the Cinderella Project, the weakest idols aren’t necessarily bad. Yui Otsuki has a bit of pizzazz about her. Arisu Tachibana isn’t too bad for a young’un and Fumika Sagisawa‘s shyness is not only just fine, but ultimately comes to turn the drama Project Krone’s very presence brings right on its head. Not every idol can be great, but as long as they can stand out, there’s no problem at all.

3) The project possesses two top-class idols in Frederica Miyamoto and Syuko Shiomi. I’ll bang on about Freddy’s eyes until the sun stops shining, but if you look away from that defining flaw you’re left with a seriously good idol in front of you. And Syuko is the anti-gimmick idol, the one who lived life on the edge and is now here to tell the tale. And boy doesn’t she show it in her style. Looking at her, you can probably see why she was the Cinderella Girl once.

And lastly, and most importantly,

4) The face of the project is Idolmaster’s diamond in the rough, Kanade Hayami.

Make no mistake, Project Krone has potential coming out of its ears. And yet the anime left so, so much of it on the table. Their presence helped make the anime as good as it was, but the actual project itself was something of a fraud. And they could have avoided it so, so easily.

Oh sure, Anya ended up profiting from it greatly. And in combining Rin, Karen and Nao, we got given the phenomenal Triad Primus, who made the simply brilliant Trancing Pulse. That’s nearly as good as songs get in this series. But these four were already well-known to us all because we’d seen them doing their thing for plenty of episodes prior. So their performance is hardly unexpected.

Where they went wrong is with the other six idols. The other six who I really believe they should have gotten us to know better, but ultimately didn’t, for whatever reason. Well, OK, that’s not strictly true. We got introduced properly to two of the characters. One of those introductions proves important – Fumika’s intro to Anya is a wholly necessary part, given the rather unfortunate role Fumika plays in the concert. What isn’t so clear is what Yui was doing there. With the greatest of respect, she did nothing of note after that scene. So why they bothered sticking her kind of beggars belief. There’s also Arisa to consider, as she got some marginal screentime in the wake of Fumika’s dramatic moment. So she can consider herself lucky to get away with it.

You know who didn’t get away with it? The three best idols, that’s who. Yes, they gave the longest, hardest shaft to Frederica, Syuko and, most of all, Kanade. And it’s all because they short-changed us on the three of them. You see, iM@s does its part in hyping up outside characters by given them big adverts in-universe. In Season 1 – and indeed, plenty of Season 2 – Kaede Takagaki (yes, I know, I’ll talk about her in a minute) is the biggest recipient of this, as one of the most popular idols around. But they also quite noticeably do it with this trio. For instance, you see them together in one mag. Kanade gets the most of it, her first ‘ad’ screaming ‘foreshadowing’ so much it had my hype trails set ablaze for the next five episodes*. And after we see Project Krone forming up, all the signs point to her being pretty much the centre of it all. You’d think all that would lead up to something important, right? …No. After all the build-up, Frederica and Syuko get the sum total of about one line each. And Kanade? Well, she spends most of the time remaining a mystery in a bottle. Except most mysteries aren’t right there in the thick of it. So much for being ‘distant and mysterious’…they took that one far too literally. So what we end up with is a group whose leader we don’t know. And no, that Hotel Moonside cameo isn’t fooling me, either. There was a rivalry they could have really made here, somewhere. And Season 2 missed its chance to make it even better than it already was.

*Mind you, if she hadn’t got me into all this mess, she would probably have fooled me.

What do you mean, I’m sore about it? Who, me? Never. But I guess that’s the price you have to pay sometimes when you treat someone other than a main character like the second coming. At least there’s Starlight Stage…**

**Then again, who wants to play as Shiki? Ironic that the best unit has the worst character in it. But then that’s OK when the leader almost transcends the entire series in your mind. (Also the other two and Mika)

Kaede Takagaki: The big episode she got was a very good one, and established her character very well. You’d think they’d have used her a lot more afterwards, especially given her popularity both amongst the fanbase and in-universe. And yet after her day in the limelight she was barely heard from again. Which is a shame. Still excellent, mind.

Nao Kamiya: I wasn’t expecting a great deal from her, especially given her place as a tsundere. And yet that personality didn’t really manifest itself. In fact, it came more off as a disguise of a personality, given that it applied more to her doing things and not other people, like most tsunderes. And either way, she was usually too shy and quiet to evoke it. Which is fine, too.

Karen Hojo: Karen was mostly unremarkable, especially considering her defining trait as an ill girl hardly came up after her introduction. But that just gives me a chance to talk about her, Rin and Nao’s unit, Triad Primus. Specifically, the song they came up with, Trancing Pulse. In short, it’s almost perfect. That acapella intro might just be the best bit of any song in the franchise. And the rest of it is one of the most epic songs around. Idolmaster’s music really is very strong on the whole (I’ll write about it soon too, certainly once I’ve played Starlight Stage a bit), but that might just be the best I’ve yet heard. Superb.

Natsuki Kimura: The most welcome addition of all the newbies in Season 2. I thought her rock tastes would go well together with Riina’s; I wasn’t disappointed. Natsuki might be strictly the better rocker, probably because Riina keeps banging on about how rockin’ stuff is, and also because she can play her own actual instrument. But really, both of them together are great. Would like to see what other stuff they have together.

Mayu Sakuma: They managed to turn her terrible trait into something really very funny, in S2E1. But I’m sorry, nah. If she just wasn’t a fuckin’ stalker she’d probably be fine.

Miho Kohinata: The poor girl had to put up with Uzuki at her worst. Other than that, ordinary.

Sachiko Koshimizu: I knew she was gonna be a bitch and so it proved. The rivalry with Candy Island was alright. Just not when she got involved in it.

Nana Abe: I thought Nana’s big episode was gonna be pretty terrible when it came around, especially with Miku backing her up. And yet, in the end, it turned out alright. Still not a good character, but better than I thought she was.

Sae Kobayakawa: Your sweet little Yamato Nadeshiko lived up to her personality. The best bit of her group, though Yuki ‘CATS’ Himekawa was alright as well.

Koume Shirasaka: The whole interest in horror still isn’t fine by me, but she seems a lot more innocent outwardly than her interests suggest. So perhaps she’s not quite so terrible all along.

Mizuki Kawashima: A good older idol, and pretty strong as a background character as well. Also, her defining trait as one of the series’ oldest never came up. Which is absolutely fine by me.

Airi Totoki: Much like Mizuki, a strong background character, and again perhaps because her true personality never actually came through. Again though, in the context of this, that was just fine by me.

Akane Hiro: Apparently she was important at some point. What was she doing again? Ah yes, she was part of Miku’s group. But I’m damned if she did anything important at all.

Yuko Hori: The psychic thing was funny from time to time. Especially when it went and popped Shizuku’s tits out. But still…meh.

Aiko Takamori: Ah, right, yeah. She was the radio show host in the anime. Well, I suppose the funniest thing that happened there was Mio calling out Uzuki for saying “Ganbarimasu” all the time. Wish she’d listened. Oh, the host herself weren’t anything special, though.

Syoko Hoshi: The wiki really does consider her an ‘important’ secondary character. Apart from the fact she was Natsuki’s band mate, one can only presume it was because she only dropped one line, and that line was fucking hilarious.

gdswecunlde4kk

I knew she was a girl on mushrooms: I didn’t think they’d take it quite that far. Just wonderful.

So…yeah. That’s all I have for now. On to Starlight Stage, next. Some words on that, the anime, and the music, will come soon.

A small word on a couple more Idolmaster characters

A few of the unvoiced ones, this time.

Note: I would have put Tomoe Murakami here, but it turns out that she just got a voice. I’ve therefore edited her into the main article I posted before.

‘Cutes’

Rena Hyodo: Now she should not be a ‘cute’ idol. She’s a damn mature and flirty one, and a fine looker. She’s also drinking friends with some popular idols. Not too sure why she’s not more popular.

Koharu Koga: She’s holding a LIZARD IGUANA. This makes her massively more interesting than, like, most of the cast.

Misato Manaka: Oi, Misato, have you seen your LIPS mate? Hahahahaha…

Now, Idolmaster likes doing a character with proper lips. In fact, not only does it like doing ones with lips, the ones they come up with actually tend to be really, properly good. (Case in point: Kanade, Mika, Syuko, Frederica…ah shit, that’s just the unit, isn’t it?) But Misato takes hers way too far. Like, I don’t care about the rest of her, those lips are far too distracting.

Yuu Ohta: Actually seems rather a nice character, on the whole. Wonder why she isn’t as popular. Mind you, she isn’t even her own biggest sell. That accolade goes to her DOG, Akky.

LOOK AT THE PAIN IN ITS EYES

LOOKATTHEPAININITSEYES

LOOK AT THE PAIN IN ITS EYES

Kozue Yusa: oh no is spooky

Still, credit her for bucking the trend by having a hobby of “What are hobbies?” They’re what half the cast tries to base themselves off in this series, Kozue.

‘Cools’

Chinatsu Aikawa: Think I saw her in a French film once. Might just be the fashion talking though.

Nanami Asari: She’s holding a FISH. Not a real one, you understand. Just a plushie one. If she held an actual fish up it would just be dead. And she wouldn’t like that. Still, this is conclusive proof that holding up an animal automatically makes you a better idol. (Unless, of course, you’re an absolute lunatic.)

Honoka Ayase: She’s not down here for any sort of personality, as Honoka is yet another wholly unremarkable idol. I’ve only put her here for one reason only: she shares names with two Love Live idols. Now that is taking the piss.

Kate: She’s the resident Brit of the series. I can confirm that most Brits don’t look anything like she does. Also, most of us here tend to have last names. So where’s Kate’s?

Layla: LAYLA
YOU GOT ME ON MY KNEES
LAYLA

Actually, she looks like she’s about to go on her knees any time soon. She looks almost lifeless. And weird with it. Presumably giving off the feeling of what it must be like to be in her hometown of Dubai.

Chizuru Matsuo: Low-key underrated idol. She’s acknowledged as an idol who doesn’t have many qualities but has that cool persona that makes her good. Mind you, I can’t agree with this from the wiki:

She may not the cutest girl in Cinderella Girls, nor the one with best body, but her constant attempts to be a cute idol while keeping her cool persona have charmed most of the fandom.

Chizuru has not yet been ranked in an election.

“Charmed most of the fandom.” Well, if she has, she hasn’t done it nearly as well as anyone with a voice. Or indeed most of the cast, evidently.

Seira Mizuki: She looks like she’s stepped off the set of every other anime ever. Like a cross between someone from Railgun and K-On. Maybe she’s the series’ tribute to the latter.

Hijiri Mochizuki: CHRISTMAS-CHAN CHRISTMAS-CHAN CHRISTMAS-CHAN CHRISTMAS-CHAN

Cute for it as well. Which is why she’s a cool idol. Obviously.

Yume Narumiya: So shy it’s actually hilarious, cause it turns out her mama just signed her up for the hell of it. Actually a little bit sweet, even cute. Which is why she’s a cool idol. Obviously.

Rei Shinohara: That older idol who looks like she’s definitely in the wrong series. Mind you, that’s probably just cause she always shows her damn cleavage. You can’t get away with just that, you know.

Makino Yagami: You know how I joked a lot about, like, three idols looking like Maki out of Love Live last time? What if I told you this one looked more like her than any of them. By the way, that name’s not helping either. She’s supposed to be a secret agent and/or spy. Yeah, she is one, alright. One from a completely different series.

Hey, I’m allowed to have Idolmaster headcanons too.

Saki Yoshioka: Having just joked about an idol looking like Maki, here’s a change: this one looks like Rin. Well, a bit messier, but the whole tomboy-not-a-tomboy thing is going on here too. Seems decent enough. Should probably be more popular.

Haru Yuuki: Looks like she’s trying to make it big in the rap game. At the age of 12. Still, the whole football thing is decent. Just wish they’d done it a bit more. And that is literally the only hobby in this series I will say that about.

‘Pashuns’

Mary Cochran: Some idols say some damn disturbing things in this series, but Mary is amongst the most discomforting. Seriously, just go and see what she’ll say to you. And remember that she is 11.

Cathy Graham: Creepy as fuck eyes. The weird need to totally disparage foreign characters’ eyes from the rest of the cast strikes again. This one’s American, which is why she keeps on banging on about hamburgers.

Reina Koseki: Looks like she wants to take over the world from time to time. Hasn’t achieved it yet. Apparently the closest to ‘evil’ you can get in the series, which says a lot. She should be friends with Ranko. They’d get on very well, I bet.

Natalia: BRAAAAZIIIIIIIIIIL…BRAAAAZIIIIIIIIIIL.

(Literally put her in just to say this)

Eve Santaclaus: From the wiki’s description of Eve:

Eve is a beautiful homeless woman the Producer found on Christmas Eve, partly nude in the trash of a street alley after someone took her presents and her Santa outfit. The Producer got her clothes, a place to stay, and employment as an idol. She claims to be the legendary Saint Nicholas, or at least one of them.

Lol, no.

Tokiko Zaizen: I know I’ve just used the wiki to describe a lot of these characters, but I feel I need to take most of it here to fully do justice to Tokiko:

Tokiko is a forcefully direct woman who believes men are inferior and require painful punishment to keep them useful.

She’s abusive to men and calls them pigs, which she uses as a stage gimmick she enjoys and performs most. Tokiko believes that men require corporal punishment, although she might give a safe word depending on how attractive her victim looks and depending on her mood. She also states that she thinks all women should be dominant towards men, though she doesn’t try to spread it among the other idols.

She firmly believes that men are perverts, and uses this as her justification for using the whip to punish them. Though slightly amused by the Producer being the target of many of her fellow idols’ advancements, she does not tolerate it and will severely punish him for being a pig. She often words how painful things should be pleasurable for men, and has a thing for whips.

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Talking shit about Idolmaster’s characters – feat. a bunch of mentalists, some good people and one utterly, utterly lovable sex machine

I talked at some length about some of Idolmaster’s characters in my post about them. So, obviously, all that’s left to do is talk about even more of them. And go even further on the ones I already talked about before.

Sticking mostly with characters who have actual voices. Might even need another post just to go into some of the unvoiced ones. Also including the 765Pros, even if this is mostly about the Cinderella Girls.

‘Cute’ idols

Haruka ‘Emporio’ Amami: The face of the franchise. At least it’s a pretty cute one. Otherwise, apparently completely generic. Well, unless she’s as wack as what I’ve seen of the anime suggests. But I have my doubts.

Hibiki Ganaha: Apparently ‘cute’ despite looking a bit rougher than most. Also makes her misleading, and a sign of the occasional randomness of Idolmaster’s class selections. Otherwise, not notable.

Makoto Kikuchi: She was raised as a boy. A fucking boy. Whether that’s ‘cute’ or not, I’ll leave up to you. Still, all credit for trying to go against.

Yayoi Takatsuki: The one who tries too hard to be cute. And doesn’t really manage it. Therefore, should mostly be ignored.

Nana Abe: From the wiki’s description of Nana:

An eccentric part-timer maid of dubious age who claims to be an eternally 17 year old alien originating from Planet Usamin.

She will often communicate with Planet Usamin, while using the sound, “Piipii☆”.

…No.

Karin O*Domyoji: Ah, a miko, you say? And an unlucky one at that. Maybe you should try some detached sleeves? They seem to work wonders for two mikos on the other side.

karin_ss_ssr2b

…Oh. Blimey. You didn’t have to go that far, love.

*Fix your font, Cinderella Girls

Rina Fujimoto: Oh my god what the fuck are those EYES

No, seriously. Nothing else matters. Swear down. Why the fuck are her eyes like that. Who thought they were a good idea at any point. Ever.

Anzu Futaba: Lazy, whining, spoilt bitch and yet somehow one of the most popular idols in the series for this reason alone. Perhaps a lot of the fanbase identifies with her in some way.

Mirei Hayasaka: From the wiki’s description of Mirei:

Her attire is normally covered with fake blood splatters, buckles, chains, leather straps, and metal studs. Her catch phrase is, “I’ll claw you!”

Each to their own. But as for me? Nah.

Shiki Ichinose: One of the most utterly mental characters in the series. I’ll just leave the wiki’s description here.

Shiki is a curious girl who can be described only as “a mad scientist”. She loves experiments, and is motivated by finding new things to hold her attention; if it’s not interesting, she’s not interested. Rather than being scouted by Producer, she chose him as part of one of her experiments. She sniffed the Producer and his smell convinced her that he was the right one for the experiment. She became an idol for this reason.

It’s implied she uses pheromones to attract fans, and even in idol form, her hair looks messy and uncombed.

And we’re supposed to be convinced that she’s sexy enough to be in LiPPS. Jesus Christ. She doesn’t look sexy. She looks like a social loser who hasn’t washed in many months. Fuck that. Still, I suppose every band has that shit member that nobody likes…

4th Election Ranking: 5th

…Ah.

Kyoko Igarashi: From TVTropes’ description of Kyoko:

A gentle teen who makes a perfect housewife.

Because of course all perfect housewives are 15 years old. Think there’s been a mix-up here… Mind you, this is the anime world, so what do I know.

Sae Kobayakawa: Your basic, traditionally raised Japanese girl. I’m sure this appeals to some, but other than this, plain ordinary.

Miho Kohinata: Plain old shy girl. Literally not interesting.

Sachiko Koshimizu: From TVTropes’ description of Sachiko:

She’s kind of a sadist, getting a kick out of showing other people how superior she is to them.

I thought at first this would be related to the way everyone thinks of sadism these days. But actually it’s only describing how she acts towards everyone else. Therefore, the correct word they are looking for is ‘narcissist’. And nobody likes a narcissist. Also, there’s something about her face.

Miku Maekawa: Your resident cat girl. There’s a fine line to tread with being one of these, the difference between being an ordinary person with it as a notable feature (which is what Rin Hoshizora is) and being a person defined by it completely. Miku crosses it. Therefore, best left ignored.

Kanako Mimura: The best ‘cute’ girl. For all her regrets about her body image, I count myself as someone who doesn’t mind a bit of THICC. But credit to her for gaining more confidence as you go along with her. And at the end of the day, she’ll always be a little bit sweet. Well done, I say.

Frederica Miyamoto: There’s ways of defining a second nationality in some way, then there’s ways of screwing it right up. I don’t care how good she is, and how well she does flirty (second only to best girl), the way they did Frederica’s eyes is unacceptable. And they’re kind of important. Otherwise, bloody brilliant.

Yukari Miyamoto: THE FLUTE PLAYER. You can keep your other idols, they can’t play their own instrument. Mind you, she doesn’t use her FLUTE as an overt stage gimmick, a welcome change to the norm, but still. She’s THE FLUTE PLAYER.

Yuka Nakano: She does karate, and…that’s it. Nothing to see here. Move on.

Chieri Ogata: Nothing but a lot of shyness and a constant fear she’ll be abandoned by Producer-san. Somehow, this is enough to make her one of the most popular girls in the series. There is no logic.

Yuuki Otokura: Would be ordinary if not for her definitive height. I won’t bang on about it too much, but 164cm is pretty damn tall for a 13-year-old. She worries about it a lot; I say, nothing wrong with being a tall girl.

Mayu Sakuma: From TVTropes’ description of Mayu:

Former photography model who quit her career upon seeing the Producer at first sight. She strives to become his finest idol, so they can always be together… forever.

And from the same website’s description of her hobbies:

Hobbies: Cooking and knitting. Note: These are likely to be hobbies 346 Production wants the public to believe. In actuality all her free time is spent stalking or thinking about the Producer.

Like, no. Really no. No. Just…no. No.

Momoka Sakurai: Your basic mature for her age girl. Being mature beyond your years can be one very good quality. Just not when your actual age is 12. And especially when said maturity only applies to your personality, and not your looks.

Hiromi Seki: So generic it’s almost painful. Somehow didn’t stop her getting 9th in the last Election. Whatever.

Noriko Shiina: Most of Idolmaster’s gimmick girls have gimmicks too wild, but Noriko is a rare case of a gimmick that is too soft. I mean, lots of people like donuts. Having a character based around that is nothing special.

Uzuki Shimamura: Ugh, and we’re supposed to believe this is one of the faces of the franchise? Do me a favour. She’s ‘cute’, alright, but only in the most generic way possible. She’s so average and so boring it annoys me. Do something interesting with your main characters, for chrissake. Like the other two she’s alongside, for instance.

Mind you, her utter averageness did at least invite the most meta moment of all time:

shimamura_uzuki

Just wonderful.

Still doesn’t make her any good though.

Ai Hidaka: One of the series’ side chicks from another Idolmaster game, Dearly Stars. Hot-blooded, and also a sore loser, the kind of behaviour I would slam if I didn’t have a bit of it in myself. Otherwise, ordinary.

Haena Ryoo: I thought Haena was an actual K-pop star though? Whatever, this Haena looks alright. Though I can’t help but think she looks rather similar to an idol I’ve seen before. She’s not the only Korean to do this, either. Maybe she’s popular on that bit of the continent? Maybe it’s something in the water? Who knows.

‘Cool’ idols

Ritsuko Akizuki: Looks a bit like the resident geek of the series, but actually isn’t. She’s just someone who was an office intern who became an idol because they were short of numbers. Which makes her a player-manager. Except Producer-san is the manager. So she’s just a normal idol in the end. Whatever.

Chihaya Kisaragi: Despite being as plain as day, still one of the most popular idols in the series. Again, hard to see why. Mind you, that classical music love is interesting. Maybe some potential for an in-series musical mix there? How about some Ode to Joy? Or the good old O Fortuna? Or even my personal favourite, Dies Irae?

Ah, that’s not the sort she listens to?

Right. Okay. Forget it then.

Azusa Miura: I knew someone who quite liked Azusa, so it’s a shame she seems to be the least popular of her bunch. She’s not too bad really, and nothing wrong with being a bit older than the rest.

…Wait a minute. Wasn’t the Azusa I was thinking of…the other one? You know…the one from K-On?

Ah, right. Yes, it was.

Shit.

Takane Shijou: The mystical girl among the lot, and with some pretty mystical features too. Still not that special in the context of the series, but a bit more interesting than some of the other 765Pros for her image.

Anastasia: A damn good idol. Does the whole half-nationality thing well, in her case, Russian.* And she shows it in quite a sweet way, speaking in broken Japanese and having to sprinkle in her native language to everyone’s slight confusion. Bless her.

*Note to all idol series: If you want a good part-national idol, make it a Russian. See also: Love Live

Hina Araki: She finished 4th in the last Election. On balance, it’s hard to see why. She’s got the otaku factor going for her, but if that’s the only thing she has, the fanbase would have noticed her more often, earlier on. Still, well done on your new voice.

Hajime Fujiwara: She finished 3rd in the last Election. On balance, it’s hard to see why. All she has going for her is a hobby so boring, it’s a wonder she’s been so popular for so long. Still, well done on your new voice… But seriously, how do they end up with results like these? Sometimes they really do just beggar belief. You know who needs more love?

Kanade Hayami: Woah, okay. Let’s just stop here for a second. I know I sung all of Kanade’s praises last time out, but I’ll be honest. Even there, I was only scratching the surface. It’s time to tell you why she’s in a different class to all the other idols I’m talking about. Why she’s an absolute all-timer. It’s time to go into the mind of the real Cinderella Girl.

Now, you see, Kanade’s like a lot of these idols in that she’s got a defining trait. With her, it’s the kissing. However, while she likes to bang on about it, she doesn’t do it so much it’s silly. And anyway, compared to most of these idols’ traits, Kanade’s is almost angelic. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a kiss? I know I do. That’s why I’m sold on this girl puckering up.

And with that attitude comes her tantalising personality. She acts as sexy as she really is. I mean, just look at some of her cards. My god, how could you resist? There’s a lot of elements to attraction in characters, but sexiness might just be the hardest to nail in this kind of series. And yet Kanade makes it looks so easy it’s absolutely mind-blowing. Them killer eyes are the best bit of one of the best lookers of all time. And her bod is the definition of just right. Near perfection.

But it’s the manner of her words that really sells it. She doesn’t just express herself in her photos. She leverages her sexiness on you, Producer-san, too. And if you get her to luuurve you as much as you can, well…

“Producer-san, someday, I’m going to make you happy for having met me. When that happens, I’ll give you more than a kiss!”

S H E  W A N T S  T H E  D

No wonder she always wants your gaze on her. Heck, even the girls can’t take their eyes off her… And, a reminder – she is 17. Doesn’t look it, does she? And that’s not a bad thing in this case. Not at all. Maturity only does her more favours here. In fact, as you’ll notice later, she’s an exception that proves a common rule in this series, as she is perhaps the only idol who looks older than she is. Not bad for a high schooler, eh?

And, as I’ve previously established, her voice lends itself so well to music. And even the music itself is damn good. So all credit to her seiyuu, Yuuko Iida, for that. The best singers deserve a lot of credit in these things, especially given how many idols have voices (as you can tell). So well done, I say.

I could still say even more about Kanade’s brilliance. But I think we can just leave it here and say she’s one of my favourite characters to come out of anything, ever. She’s a good, bad girl. And she’s the best girl.

Karen Hojo: Yes, she has nearly the same name as someone we’ve already talked about. Karen is the typical ‘ill girl’ for the series, which would be fine if I hadn’t seen this sort of thing before and been sold on one ‘ill’ character long before I got into this. You wanna give me an ill character, just give me Jun Misugi out of Captain Tsubasa.

Haruna Kamijo: So ordinary even the series itself seems to admit it. Still, her name’s the type a main character would have. Other than that, all she seems to do is worship the aforementioned Ritsuko out of 765Pro. Like I said. Ordinary.

Nao Kamiya: Somehow the only true tsundere so far. Unfortunately, this also makes her an instant turn-off in my eyes. I can’t be having tsunderes in my life. Unless they manage to fool everyone into thinking they’re a tsundere when they aren’t.*

*Read: Maki out of Love Live

Ranko Kanzaki: Sorry, Ranko, you’ve arrived in the wrong series. Were you looking for Touhou? …No? Oh. Ranko acts like she’s stepped out of a fantasy, but as one of the most prominent Cinderella Girls she is also really damn popular. And, distracting as her trait really is, at least it invites a lot of cosplayers to try and be her. Not the most inviting character of all for it, but still.

Mizuki Kawashima: She is 28. This is absolutely fine, except it isn’t because for some reason she refuses to shut up about it. It’s fine. Trust.

Ryo Matsunaga: From TVTropes’ description of Ryo:

Horror movie and death metal fanatic.

Nah, you’re alright.

Miyu Mifune: A bit plain, but has a little shyness and backstory to make up for it – and is indeed rather popular as a result. Also 26 years old, and yet amazingly not defined by this fact alone.

Nono Morikubo: From the wiki’s description of Nono:

Full of negativity and terrified of everything in the world

Being full of negativity is the biggest negative anyone could have. No positive vibes? No party. At least it goes some way to explaining her name. Also somehow rather popular despite this negativity.

Asuka Ninomiya: Ah, a rival? Mmm, good stuff. I do like a bit of rivalry in my series. But what’s she like as a person?

From the wiki’s description of Asuka:

Asuka is intense and brooding, and trying to find her identity like many other 14-year-olds.

CRAAAAAAAWLIIIIING IIIIIIN MY SKIIIIIIN

Yeah, that kind of intense broodiness. Mind you, if it manifested in her songs like that, that would be absolutely brilliant and hilarious in equal measure.

Minami Nitta: I honestly can’t get a gauge on her popularity. She’s never ranked that well in the elections, but there is art of her coming out of every imageboard’s ears. Even though all she actually seems to do is play lacrosse. Presumably a favourite among Kanadean Canadian fans?

Fumika Sagisawa: Another noticeably shy girl (you can’t move for shy girls in this series) except this one is so shy she’s actually really quite popular. Also does something important in the anime but I haven’t watched that yet so I won’t touch on that until I do.

Chie Sasaki: You’re not gonna believe this, but she is, yes, another shy girl. This one, however, is 11. And therefore not really worth touching on. Especially when you see some of the stuff that comes out her mouth once she loosens up a bit… Put simply, it’s like Kanade gone wrong. Mature and flirty is fine at 17. Not at 11.

Rin Shibuya: The main ‘cool’ idol in the series, but also became the most popular idol, and indeed the poster girl, of Cinderella Girls. In fact, she might even be the defining idol for the whole series now. And she’s not too bad as the franchise centerpiece. She’s got a bit more edge about her than the two other idols she’s grouped with, and her personality is a nice contrast to a lot of what’s going on around her, for the most part. I also still fully maintain that in her main picture, she looks like she belongs on an epic album cover.

chara_167_01_base-dds

Someone edit this onto some mad album art. And let’s all have us check out her mixtapes. Fire, etc. etc.

Syuko Shiomi: The series’ lone example of a bad habit done right. When you see ‘donating blood’ amongst Syuko’s hobbies, you expect the worst. But when you consider her backstory – kicked out her house, left to wait tables and therefore simply donating blood to scrounge money – it isn’t quite so bad. So what you’re left with is an actually really rather good idol who also happens to be really surprisingly popular. You’d think her pale looks and black eyes would be an acquired taste, but she seems to strike a nerve. Can’t hurt that she’s got a little bit of sexy about her, too.

Koume Shirasaka: From TVTropes description of Koume:

An innocent, introverted girl fascinated by horrific death, violent gore, and the grim supernatural.

Hahaha, no.

Arisu Tachibana: Another ordinary girl, with the exception that she hates her first name. How?! Doesn’t she realise that ‘Alice’ – the name it’s derived from – is the best name in the world? How can you hate it? Come on. Also, she’s 12.

Riina Tada: Tada! Someone who almost certainly has something to her other than J-pop. I’m quite looking forward to discovering just what her rock music tastes do to her actual songs, but she hasn’t got much besides and she doesn’t seem as popular as she perhaps should be.

Kaede Takagaki: Here’s someone who’s definitely as popular as she should be. Kaede has been the most universally liked Cinderella Girl since it began and in the last election she finally, actually won the thing, which makes her the Cinderella Girl at the moment. It’s not hard to see why. She’s got all kinds of little factors that define her looks, her heterochromia and beauty mark tiny elements of what is a seriously good look. Just see a cosplay of her and you’ll know what I mean. But if anything her personality sells even more to me. Quiet and calm normally, as soon as she gets some drinks down her she goes mad. And she’s only too happy to let others join in. The kind of personality I can get behind, as can many others. By the way, she’s 25. Not only does she not bang on about this, she even looks a bit younger than that. Yet she’s still a most mature idol. Yeah, and you wonder why everyone loves her… She’s a damn good idol all round.

Tamami Wakayama: Defined only by the fact she does kendo. Bit like a few other idols here, then. And not important, either.

Aki Yamato: Hmm, military, eh? Well I’m not gonna shy away from it as such, but it’s not quite what I’d expect from my average idol. Certainly, I’m not sure the experience would help that much in the industry… If I wanted to focus on military stuff I’d do it in a more relevant context. I mean, when you try and mix in military stuff with a massive franchise full of characters, it doesn’t usually turn out well…

Eri Mizutani: Another side chick from Dearly Stars. Except this one actually looks rather sweet and has the good kind of shy personality, even if some of her back story is a bit…eh. Also: Kana Hanazawa.

Juney: The Korean idol who isn’t quite like the other Korean idols. Not least because her name comes from her hometown of Seattle and she looks nothing like the other two. Not too bad, though.

‘Pashun’ (passion) idols

Mami Futami: One of the bunch who leaps around. I’m not all for hyperactivity myself. Maybe in controlled doses, but not if it defines them to a point. Still, better than her sister alongside her.

Ami Futami: Like her sister except less mature and obedient. And looks it from time to time, too. Therefore, is the worse twin. But neither of them are much good anyway so, whatever.

Yukiho Hagiwara: Yet another shy one. And a too shy one, at that. And just plain…well, plain other than that. Not what you want in your main group of idols, surely…

Miki Hoshii: Perhaps the most popular character in the entire series, and probably justifiably so. Heck, even I know a good few fans of her. She’s the in-universe ‘perfect’ girl, in that she gets everything she wants without even trying. Just a shame that she doesn’t seem to try in much of anything as a result. You can see why she’s struck a chord with most fans. Because they wish they could get everything by doing nothing, too. Miki’s a sweet enough girl, though.

Iori Minase: Another one of the most popular idols, thanks to the type of personality that fans are a sucker for but which I don’t like. She’s got hints of a tsundere about her, but they aren’t what really define her. Rather, it’s the backstory of being such a spoiled sweet that kind of jars me. While she’s really polite and sweet to people she doesn’t know, she’s really sharp-tongued to those she does. No way could I live with a personality like that. People will say they’re sold by her looks too but I don’t buy them either.

Yumi Aiba: Defined only by her hobby and favourite thing, flowers. So not interesting, then. Even despite her real popularity in one election.

Miria Akagi: An energetic sort who can also be rather mature, calls the Producer ‘cute’ and asks to hang out with him on days off. She’s also 11. So that’s that one out the window, then.

Ayame Hamaguchi: Another girl defined solely by her hobby, though a lot of them don’t come quite as interesting as wanting to be a ninja. I dunno though, should I tell her? Most ninjas aren’t really real these days.

Yuki HimekawaC A T S
Yes, I too would give my support to cats. Although her support is for a baseball team. Eh, I suppose it’s alright for her. If she wants to watch 10,000 games a year where not much happens, that’s her lookout, I guess.

Akane Hino: The typical hot-blooded girl, which somehow equates to her loving…rugby? Well, OK, but I’ve got other words for a lot of rugby fans and/or players I know. Also loves tea, a drink that’s supposed to calm you down. With that in mind her personality makes less sense.

Mio Honda: The central ‘pashun’ idol in the series, and probably the best of the main three girls. In fact, she’s potentially one of the very best of the lot, in the running for second best. Yet somehow she’s never been amongst the most popular unlike her two peers, Uzuki and Rin…until now, where she’s risen to second after the last election. That’s about where she might belong. She looks an absolute cutie and has enough energy about her to actually be notable. Even her bod’s kinda rockin’. She seems like she might be something special, but I’m reserving judgement until I look at the series further. After all, she is quite prominent in it. I’ll find out more about her soon.

Yuko Hori: She thinks she’s an esper, a full on psychic with telepathy and telekinesis and all. She’s not, but she does know her fair share of magic tricks at least. Her gimmick is relatively harmless actually and causes a bit of humour in the Theater sketches, but otherwise she’s fairly unremarkable.

Syoko Hoshi: So here’s a girl who spends her time growing mushrooms… What sort, I wonder? Certainly, I reckon there’s a few characters who probably spend a bit of time on them. Actually, there’s plenty of characters who could be spiced up with some of those… In fact, put the whole series on ’em. Maybe I’ll even need them to take some of it in… Sadly, this hasn’t actually happened yet. In fact, only she seems to have taken any of them…which would explain her batshit mental idol persona. She just goes insane, basically. So, that’s a no from me, then.

Nina Ichihara: She’s 9, for fuck’s sake. 9. Nine. Mind you, if you just look at her as an ordinary person, she has her funny moments. And there’s nothing wrong with waddling round in animal costumes at her age. I mean, we all did it when we were 9, too. But, I’m sorry. Have you seen the stuff she says to you? I mean…no. Just…no.

Mika Jougasaki: A seriously good idol. Mika is an idol who rocks all kind of looks, and rocks them all very well. She puts on a real outward show of skin and sex appeal, which makes her an infinitely cosplayable character – and a good cosplayable character, too. With a personality that conveys her image well, and has plenty more to admire about it besides, Mika has a little something for everyone. On the whole, it’s her slightly wild image that I like most about her, even if the reality is she can be a bit shy about expressing herself outside of her outfits. But really, Mika has so many qualities that she can only be seen one of the series’ very best idols. Perhaps the second best. She’s got the best case for it at the moment. She’s a proper idol.

Rika Jougasaki: Rika doesn’t have quite the appeal of her older sister – she’s rather more playful, can act a bit odd and doesn’t have nearly as striking a demeanor – but at heart she’s still alright. Seems like she might be a decent person, at the end of the day. But overall Mika is the better of the sisters, definitely overshadowing Rika.

Sanae Katagiri: The Idolmaster Five-O is here. And it’s also a bit ridiculous. Sanae is another one of the flirty sorts, but hers is played for laughs much more, mostly in the style of her former job. However, at the end of the day, she gives the feel off of someone who is merely a lot of tits and who also happens to be short. Which is what she is, actually. Other than that she’s just a drunk. She’s also 28, and bangs on about this at least some of the time.

Natsuki Kimura: Another rocker, which again should be good news for her actual songs. Naturally, very closely attached to the other ‘rockstar’, Riina. Together, they seem like they might be decent enough.

Kirari Moroboshi: She’s 6 foot. That positive alone is enough to make me sit up and take notice, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows with her. Her personality is very much justified (trying to counter her height), but I can’t get behind it to be honest. Also she has this habit of looking either real damn good or real kinda bad, with no real inbetween. Still, a pretty sweet idol regardless.

Takumi Mukai: This one was a gang leader once, and acts it. Real rough and real rude, but also shy about performing. Some elements of a tsundere in this one. More interesting than most, but not necessarily what I’d call ‘good’.

Tomoe Murakami: Actually rather a good girl, who earned a voice courtesy of a 7th place in the latest election. Her yakuza attitude is all very interesting, but I’m sorry, when I see her, I just can’t get a certain idol out of my head. Also, from the Wikia…

Tomoe seems to enjoy punishment for men. In fact, one of her philosophies in life is that if a man is good for nothing, he deserves “harsh discipline and a bare butt spanking” from his superior wife.

Now that’s what I call fetishy.

Emi Namba: And we’re back to the average idols again. This one wants to be a comedian, though. She uses the good old Boke and Tsukkomi routine. Well sorry but, if I want some of that, I’ll just put on some Touhou M-1, thanks.

Yui Ohtsuki: She looks like she’s trying to make it big in the hip hop industry. That’s what happens when you wear so many caps. Laid back type, which is alright I guess. What’s actually quite interesting is she managed to shake off a boring trait – her primary quirk being a love of candy – to actually develop into something rather more. Which is something, I guess. Certainly more than most of her fellow idols have managed.

Shizuku Oikawa: Just about my favourite looking idol nearly wasted on a dumb personality. I beat on about her quite a bit in my first Idolmaster piece so I won’t retread too much old ground here, but the gist of Shizuku is; she’s got all the perks I love in someone’s looks, and a pair of tiddies that could probably take over the world if she wanted. But this is dampened by a character so utterly dominated by her gimmick as a cow-loving farmer that honestly, you’re so much better off just ignoring the person inside and just focusing on what’s on the outside. On that basis, Shizuku is damn great.

Kaoru Ryuzaki: Her story as to how she became an idol seems interesting enough, but that interest isn’t matched by her character and I’m afraid she’s another 9-year old. Fairly harmless in the grand scheme of things, though.

Shin Sato: In a series with plenty of idols looking younger than they are, Shin is top of the lot; what you see here is the looks of a teen on a 26-year old. She adopts a cute personality, but actually might be quite bitter deep down due to doubts about, yes, you guessed it, her age. Well, maybe not her age as such. But rather what she’s done in those 26 years. There’s actually quite a dark backstory behind this one, but still Shin is rather unremarkable.

Aiko Takamori: Another one of the painfully average idols, except this one has photography for a hobby. Most people would be OK with this. I am not one of those people. It’s a personal thing, you see.

Airi Totoki: Airi the airhead. I doubt they intended the name to work quite that way, but that’s what she is. Long, long ago, Airi won the very first election. She didn’t even rank in the top 50 in the last one, though. Hers wasn’t a surprise rise like Syuko, though, this is more of a slow decline. Maybe it’s because she only seems to be known for taking her clothes off a lot. As it turns out, this isn’t always a good thing.

Suzuho Ueda: Looks like she ought to be a lot more interesting than she actually is. In reality, she’s just yet another average Joe, another plain Jane. It’s damn surprising to see just how many of this lot have voices… They’d better be good voices if they deserve them.

Yoshino Yorita: Actually quite popular for a little while despite having another lukewarm personality. She’s not all plain though, she’s got an interesting image about her, as if she were out of another series. Probably explains why, deep down, she wants to become a god. Best be careful if I were you. Next thing you know Idolmaster will turn into an action-filled epic or something.

Ryo Akizuki: The third and final of the Dearly Stars side girl… Wait. That’s a boy?

Well, fuck me sideways. You had me fooled. And pretty much everyone else. Err…there was some interesting stuff I would have mentioned otherwise, like how that name might seem familiar because of the family connection to 765Pro’s Ritsuko, and being a sweet enough looker, but… Nah, I’m way too put off by the fact that’s a male I’m talking about here. The only one here, and right at the end. But…wow. I was expecting a side girl. Not a SideM.

Yujin Im: If you thought fellow Korean colleague Haena looked like Maki, wait till you see Yujin. Couldn’t look more like her if she’d been genetically engineered for the purpose. Don’t worry, though. It’s not just Koreans that look like her. There’s another idol or two more…but they’re unvoiced, so I’ll leave that for a post about some of them.

So I’ve been looking a lot at Idolmaster lately…

Idols, in real life, are no good. They’re singers who aren’t picked on how well they can sing, they have to sacrifice a lot of freedom or else lose their career, and if they don’t choose to go out on their own terms, they are cast off as soon as they hit the wrong age. An idol is named so because they are idolised by the type of people they set out to inspire. But they’re also idolised by the sort who can’t touch them. The sort who fantasise about them in a different way. It’s a pretty nasty industry.

And that’s a shame because the idols themselves are usually nice enough people by themselves. They’re in the business for a reason…but its reality always bites in the end. That’s why someone, someday, came up with the idea of taking the reality out of it. The result was the ‘virtual idol’. And there are few things more desirable.

Vocaloid was already a pretty great idea to begin with; a synthesizer that lets you make a character sing. But you know why it’s amongst the most successful franchises conceived? Because it could make those characters whatever they wanted to be. And they struck gold with their creations. And above all of them lies the first character of their most important version, Vocaloid 2. That was Hatsune Miku. And you know why she’s the most successful character we’ve ever seen? Because she’s an idol that will never get old. And a really, really good one. [1]

It also helps if you take idols further out of the reality of the industry and put them in a different situation entirely. That’s how I came to love Love Live.

Love Live isn’t about idols being manufactured into desirable characters. Love Live is just about nine girls coming together and becoming idols to save their school. And in doing so they became timeless classics.

For all her numerous faults, Honoka deserves infinite respect as the face of mu’s – the idol group the series centred around – and indeed the face of the franchise as a whole. Kotori doesn’t knock my socks off either, but she certainly knocked a lot of Eastern fans for six. And the rest of the cast is just brilliant. Umi exudes coolness from every pore. Nozomi appeals in all sorts of ways. Nico works harder than anyone to be cute, and manages it brilliantly. Hanayo is as naturally cute as they come. Rin makes her catty behaviour work well.

But special mention has to go to the two best idols in the series. After all, what more could you desire from an idol than what Eli Ayase gives you? She’s beautiful perfection. And as for Maki Nishikino… Well, if you look away from the popularity of the Vocaloids – an entirely reasonable idea, given that they are a completely different kettle of fish to anything around them – you could call her the most successful idol of all time. She’s the one everyone loves. She’s the tsundere that isn’t, and she’s more attractive than you could possibly imagine. Still think this isn’t any good?

And doing Love Live the way it was done opened the door for another approach; gathering the seiyuus together to perform live. Of course, what Vocaloid did for live performances – their characters having their own inbuilt voices – was to make holograms of them and project them on stage. A mildly insane concept, but such was the success of the franchise it didn’t matter. Love Live, though, had the real voice actors, singing and dancing in the flesh, doing what their characters did, bu in real life. And it didn’t matter nearly as much because, at the end of their day, they were being their characters. Not themselves. That’s how it ought to be with idols…

…Except for one small thing. Because, in 2016, what happened? Love Live’s creators decided to move on from mu’s. Because the real seiyuu’s were getting too old, and they wanted to get some fresh blood. And this, in a franchise based in fiction, supposedly well away from the reality of the idol industry. And they went out and did that to mu’s. They took those nine legends and decided enough was enough. Unbelievable.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if they’d taken it as a chance to move in a different direction. You know, try a group that’s a little bit different. That’d be a good way to keep things fresh. Instead, they made Aquors, a group of nine girls, three first-years, three second-years and three third-years. Which is exactly the same as mu’s was. And they will go out in exactly the same way some day, too. Which doesn’t make them special. It just makes them a replacement. And until Love Live changes its formula in some way (they’ve made another group in the exact same mold for one of their video games, too), it will ultimately end up as a franchise making fictional works to become a real idol production company.

Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t make mu’s any less magical. But the idea that its makers thought they were expendable in favour of an identical formula is just rotten. They were supposed to be a group far, far away from the reality of the idol industry. Instead, they became swallowed up by it. They deserved so much better. Luckily, such was their impact that they remain key figures in doujinshi today. But the real mu’s is no more. And that’s sad.

And so, with Love Live doomed into an existence of eating itself, I am having to look elsewhere to get my idol fix. Unfortunately, whilst the idea of virtual idols is a seriously tantalising prospect, there are very few franchises who have managed to make a series so successful that they have become part of the fabric of doujinshi itself. Luckily, there is one series that fits the description, one that is not only more popular than Love Live, but is even more popular than Vocaloid. The most popular idol series in the world. The problem is, that series is…Idolmaster.

I have talked about Idolmaster before on this blog, when going through the most popular series in the world of doujinshi. Four months ago I said that Idolmaster was a series utterly overshadowed by the cut of its jib, which was, to all intents and purposes…the real idol industry. And you played the part of the producer who made it all happen. That wasn’t fooling me. When you say ‘producer’, you mean ‘the type of idol fan who lusts after them, in a bad way’. For all the credit I was willing to give it for the immense success it enjoys, the premise of the whole franchise gave me a very dirty feeling about it. I mean, virtual idols are good…but not when they’re in a situation mimicking reality.

Thing is, with my increasing curiosity to try and see just what all the fuss was about with this immensely popular series, I’ve been further investigating the most important parts of ‘iM@s’ (I’ll stick to its full, unsullied-by-stylization name throughout, if you’ll excuse me), in the name of trying to evaluate just where I stand with the series beyond the rather off-putting image. I’ve been at it for a week and a half now. And, while I knew bits and pieces about the series to some degree, what I’ve found of late has been… Well, why don’t I talk about it all right here, right now? Strap yourself in – there’s plenty to take in here…

Firstly, I need to talk about the series’ premise. Again. See, whilst it’s centred around the evil idol industry, it’s not the idol industry as we know it. What this is, is the idol industry taken to its logical extreme. In Idolmaster, the characters are not idols so much as goddesses. And you’re the one in charge of making them that way…

There’s one thing about actually getting the idols right to the top, though. Doing so sees them gain myriad male fans, as is the case in reality. However, the difference here is, when you get an idol to the top, the only male she has eyes for is…you. You, the producer, are the Idolmaster.

In exaggerating the sheer importance of the idol industry, they do at least soften the reality of its theme. But in making the idols in question fall for you, they cater right to the industry’s fans. Those ones. So that’s not really fixed its image. It’s just changed it a bit.

Mind you, if the idols in question were the sorts you’d actually be fine having all over you, that would at least make it more desirable. The good news is, there are plenty of idols to choose from. Over 200 of them, in fact. The bad news is, I’m not sure the vast majority of them are much good.

Characters are the most make-or-break deal in anything like this for me. I don’t care how many other positives there are on hand; for me, a series MUST have more good characters than bad. I mean, look at my favourite, and the most successful of all, Touhou. That now has over 130 girls and of them, I’d say about a quarter of them are top-notch. Idolmaster is well past 200 now. And, whilst I’ve not given all of them a fair look – how could I, with so many around? – I think that, of those 200 or so, only about 10 of them are pretty good. So only about 5% of the series’ characters are quality ones. Which isn’t really enough.

But eh, you know what? As much as Idolmaster is a fantasy, the roots of the series are based in reality. And its characters are just people. It’s not like Touhou, which is as much of a fantasy as you could imagine. There, you expect everything to be as perfect as can be. And it is. But Idolmaster’s not really like that. I mean, most people in real life aren’t perfect. So why should you expect 200 different characters to be perfect in one series? It would be stranger if most of them weren’t imperfect in some way. So, in that respect, I don’t mind that the series doesn’t have superb characters coming out its ears.

And you know what? That might be how they want it anyway. Because that’s really the whole idea with Idolmaster. You pick and choose who you really like and then you use them in the game. And then they get the hots for you and you can then imagine you and her riding off into the sunset and all that jazz. Perhaps this would explain well just how my experience with the characters has gone…

Of course, it wasn’t anything like this to start with. Way back when Idolmaster was still making it big, there weren’t 200 idols to choose from; just 13. The ‘765 Production’ girls (for each production team in the game is as generically named as the generalness of the corporations that come out with generic idols [2]) remain the series’ most iconic, but I’ll be honest, none of them blow my frock off. They’re all either largely generic or just annoying. I’ll admit Haruka Amami – who I first thought was called Haruka Armani, which would make her a type of fragrance – is kinda cute. I know a few people who quite fancy Miki Hoshii. But the rest of them? Nah.

Luckily, they didn’t end up stopping there. Successful as their lucky thirteen had been, Namco knew their series had room to grow, and so they decided to turn it up a notch. And so, in 2011, they went out and made Cinderella Girls, a mobile card game with over 100 new idols. Now, the game makes up the bulk of the series’ 200+ characters. And so that’s where most of the focus will lie. Not just because it’s where the best characters in the series lie, but because its own overwhelming success is something to be admired. I mean, it’s not easy to try and come up with so many different characters and make it work quite like Idolmaster does. Obviously not all of them have met with success, but the number that have is impressive. It’s like Leeds United in the early-2000s, only this didn’t end up with the total capitulation of the franchise as we know it.

Now I didn’t particularly fancy interrupting this prose with a comparison, but I feel it must be done. And I’m doing it with Love Live, not just because it’s the most direct rival to Idolmaster but because, as I said, I love the goddamn thing. So it’s important that Idolmaster can manage something equally impressive with its characters.

Now, of course, Love Live started in much the same way with its characters, except there were just less of them; mu’s had 9 to 765Pro’s 13. [3] And Love Live, like Idolmaster, ended up with a highly successful mobile card and rhythm game instalment, in its case, School Idol Festival. (Idolmaster, too, got a rhythm game spin-off of its spin-off in response, Starlight Stage. Yes, most of the Cinderella Girls are in it too. The difference is, the dancing is in 3D. And it’s rather good, for what it is.) LLSIF, too, had new idols in it when the game came out. The difference is, the game was barely about those minor idols: the game was still all about the nine superstars they made. Completely the opposite approach to Cinderella Girls, where they started by putting all the idols on ‘equal’ footing (with a few in-game exceptions) and let popularity take its course.

And with two markedly different styles came two markedly different results. Love Live’s noble nine all became mega-stars in their own right, but Idolmaster has ended up being a series where nearly 60 characters have met with success. So which is more impressive? The status of each of LL’s characters is pretty phenomenal, but Idolmaster’s numbers are pretty great, no matter how many characters it took to get them.

However, the thing with Idolmaster is, whilst the Cinderella Girls made for plenty of successful characters, they could only be made because of 765Pro’s original 13 icons. And they didn’t need any help from something like LLSIF. Also, while a number of the Cinderella Girls haven’t amounted to much, Idolmaster’s approach to getting fresh blood has been much better than Love Live’s latest idea, which was to discard mu’s and replace them with something identical. Which isn’t really changing things up. Just keeping things the same but with different people. And even though Aquors are meeting with success, at the end of the day Love Live will have had 18 successful idols, half of which aren’t around any more. Idolmaster has had about 60 odd, all of whom are still kicking around. Which is why the whole series has been popular.

And that’s why I respect Idolmaster to the degree I do. If you see the formula for the most successful series around, you’ll see one thing in common – a number of characters into triple digits. But making a series with that many characters doesn’t guarantee success. The huge success it can bring is a result of making so many characters work. That’s why Idolmaster is one of the most iconic series of all time. The thing is, though, while I’ll always respect the series for its characters…can I like the series for its characters? Well, let’s take a look at them…

Since, as we’ve established, there are quite a few characters in the series, Cinderella Girls splits them up into three distinct types – ‘Cute’, ‘Cool’ and…’Passion’. Now the first two are bleeding obvious, but what the hell does ‘Passion’ mean? It’s like the sort of thing that you give someone credit for because they can’t do anything else. “Nah, she can’t sing, isn’t cool enough, isn’t cute enough, but…pashun!!!1” Yeah, being passionate about something doesn’t equal being good at it. I mean, I’m passionate about writing – I know, you couldn’t tell – but I hardly fancy myself as the next J.R.R. Tolkien or anything.

Whatever, let’s break down these tags separately. Unfortunately, at the first hurdle, Idolmaster stumbles. Because I can’t help but think that most of its ‘cute’ characters aren’t actually…you know, cute.

Now, cuteness is subjective. Some prefer their characters to force their cuteness upon everyone (Love Live’s Nico comes to mind). Others prefer characters who are more naturally cute without trying (someone like Hanayo out of mu’s). I’m in the latter camp, but the problem is Idolmaster’s ‘cute’ idols don’t have much of this going on. In fact, I’d question whether ‘cute’ is even the best fit for some or even most of the idols. Indeed, in a few cases here it seems like they’ve just spun a wheel of fortune to decide where some characters will go. The character I’d say fits the description most is actually 765Pro’s own Emporio Amami…and you can’t play as her in CG (mostly). Even the ‘cookie cutter’ cute idol, Uzuki Shimamura, just isn’t desirable. Personally, I think she looks so plain it’s painful. She’s just so average and boring I wanna knock some interestingness into her. The only notable ‘cute’ idol I’d really give credit is Kanako Mimura – who I knew about long before most of the other characters, incidentally – because there’s nothing wrong with being THICC. (Honourable mention to Yukari Mizumoto, THE FLUTE PLAYER.)

However, despite one group of idols being largely lacklustre, it makes up for that with another group. Because, whilst Idolmaster isn’t much cop at making a ‘cute’ idol, it is really damn good at making a ‘cool’ one.

Cinderella Girls is blessed with several quality cool idols. They aren’t all the most perfect, but they still stand out from the crowd. There’s the likes of Ranko Kanzaki, who looks like she’s stepped out of the new Touhou game more than anything – and acts like it, too – but who happens to be insanely cosplayable. There’s Minami Nitta, amongst the most popular characters even though all she seems to do is play lacrosse. And we can’t go by without mentioning the prototypical ‘cool’ idol, Rin Shibuya. She’s the most popular idol in Cinderella Girls, maybe even the whole series. Mind you, even as one of the poster girls of the game it’s a little hard to see why. I dunno. There’s just something about her face. Looks a bit…edgy. Although it also makes her look, on her normal card, like she’s about to drop the biggest mixtape of 2017. So maybe her edgy look does do her favours after all.

And there’s more. There’s Syuko Shiomi, who has just enough about her to counteract her flaws, and who also happened to be the most popular girl in the game, according to one of Cinderella Girls’ annual elections…then she immediately fell out of the top 50, but we’ll gloss over that. There’s the actual most popular girl as of this year, and one of the most universally, consistently popular, Kaede Takagaki. A lovely, cool girl in every sense with a real mischievous side. Maybe she’s secretly Finnish deep down? Her personality is just like theirs. And talking of that bit of Europe, there’s Anastasia, the second best Russian idol of all time. Sorry, but, no idol in any series ever is gonna come close to matching Eli Ayase.

Mind you, Idolmaster has one that gets close. In a sea of 200 idols, there is one real (blue) diamond in the rough. A character so good she leaves everyone else in the franchise in the dust. She might end up being one of my favourite characters…ever. And her name is Kanade Hayami.

Kanade has the sort of qualities most of her fellow idols can only dream of. She’s a flirty sort, and she doesn’t hang about waiting to get affected to you – she asks for kisses more than she doesn’t. Yet behind her openness lies a distant, mysterious mind. That’s a cool idol right there. However, being a flirty sort opens the door to a habit that rarely works as intended; being ‘sexy and I know it’.

Except it actually works with Kanade because, you know what? She is sexy. And how. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but my kind of hair is the short, dark type Kanade rocks. Add to that those captivating, golden eyes, those lips – the ones she wants all over you – looks and demeanour that defy her 17 years, the kind of voice I relish in an idol, and a body that’s just right, and you end up with an absolute stunner.

My favourite characters always brought me to a dead stop when I first got into them. Kanade is one of them; she can bring out some real excitement. She’s mind-blowingly brilliant. It’s just a shame no one in the series has a personality that comes close to hers. More on that later…

As for the last bunch of idols, the vaguely named ‘pashun’ group, they aren’t quite as strong as their ‘cool’ counterparts, but there’s still some strong characters within. There’s a handful fighting to be the best of the bunch, one of whom is the default ‘passion’ idol, Mio Honda. I haven’t given her a full look-in yet, but I can tell she has a lot of potential. In fact, I’d call her the cutest idol I’ve seen in Idolmaster, despite not being an actual ‘cute’ idol. Like I said, cuteness is subjective. But Mio hits the spot for me. Then there’s Mika Jougasaki, probably the most idolish of all the idols. And in a good way, too. She’s got something for everyone. With her ‘gal’ image, she has a wide variety of looks, all pretty good. She shows plenty of skin, has all manner of outfits, and the result is another seriously cosplayable character. Despite this, her personality is actually comparatively ordinary – not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Put simply, Mika is like a normal idol gone wild. I think she’s very likable. The last really good ‘passion’ idol, to me, is Shizuku Oikawa. If you made a cocktail of what I thought my perfect girl would look like, Shizuku would come pretty close. Short, brunette hair? Check. Soft, brown eyes? Check. Them tiddies? Check, check and double check. She would potentially be my favourite, were it not for one seriously crucial flaw. I’ll get to it in a second…

However, after this lot, the ‘passion’ group is relatively nondescript. I suppose I ought to give an honourable mention to Kirari Moroboshi, because 6 foot girls >>>>>>, but then she manages to be one of those characters who can look rather sweet one minute and then just plain silly the next. Again, though, the tag she and the other ‘passion’ idols come under doesn’t help them much. Some of them might well be cuter than the actual ‘cute’ idols, and some might be cooler than the ‘cool’ idols. But they’re all under this tag that implies they’re neither. Which seems a bit mean.

And speaking of being mean, I have to get mean now. Because, while Idolmaster has its fair share of good characters, they are the exceptions that prove the rule. And amongst the rest of the characters, the problem with a lot of them boils down to one crucial factor – personality.

The ways in which several characters’ personalities are flawed are many and varied. There’s the non-descript ‘cookie cutter’ types, for a start. However, more worrying are the number of idols whose personalities are centered around either a disturbing trait of theirs, or a trait of theirs which has been taken to such an extreme that it almost turns them into a joke.

There are several examples I could give of this, so many in fact it would probably be worthy of another post entirely (and I will do one, to show what I’m on about). However, in this case, I’m going to give just one: the character I just went out and praised, Shizuku.

Obviously, Shizuku’s defining trait is DEM TIDDIES. Naturally, you’d think much of her personality would centre around them, and you’d be right. In this modern world, it would be weirder if they didn’t take the piss out of them somehow. However, the approach they went with her was the ‘cow’ approach. Which is fine, by itself. Some people probably get a chuckle out of it. Except the lengths to which they took it with Shizuku are appalling. Not only did they make her like cows, they made her love them so much she won’t ever shut up about them. And they based her whole background around them. And they gave her an outfit like one. And they made her act like one from time to time. And that’s terrible. As a result, she is very nearly ruined by her personality, simply because they took her defining trait way, way too far.

Regrettably, she is not alone. There are plenty of others in Idolmaster who are defined by their traits so completely that they reach the point of being damaged irreversibly. And that’s without mentioning just how unerring some of the characters’ habits are and how it makes them look absolutely mental. About the only one who gets away with one of these ‘hobbies’ is the aforementioned Syuko. Normally, her ‘hobby’ of donating blood would be just plain creepy, but because it’s a part of her backstory (she did it for money) it softens the blow of it a bit. Again though, she is merely the exception that proves the rule.

There’s another issue that dogs quite a few of the characters, too. The average age of most of these characters is usually in the 15-18 (maybe 19) year old range. But there are plenty in the series who go both above and below it. Those well past their teens, obviously, don’t fit in particularly well amongst the rest. However, remembering what the whole appeal of the series is, this is a virtual idol world. So older idols are actually fair game here. Except they spoil the illusion quite a bit by constantly banging on about how old they are and how they don’t think they fit either. So that defines them a little too much, as well. As for those younger than the average age…well, lemme put it this way, they go quite a bit younger. The youngest that any idols get in this series? 9 years old. I’ll leave you to judge what you think of that.

So Idolmaster is left in a bit of a quandary. A lot of its 200+ idols are flawed beyond any real redemption, but what that does is make those who are good look even better than they are. The question is, are they good enough to outweigh the bad? Let’s not forget, whilst there’s good idols here, I only really have eyes for one of them. Honestly, right now, I’m stuck in the middle with it all. Which is where the rest of the series’ elements comes in. Don’t you worry, this isn’t just a referendum on Idolmaster’s idols. I’m bringing what the series…brings to the table…er…to the table.

The only problem is, I haven’t given it much of a look myself. Which means that what I’ve got to do now is check out three things Idolmaster has going on outside its most important factor; its music (duh), its games, and its anime.

I’ll be honest – I’m not entirely sold on J-pop. I love all sorts of music from several different genres, but for some reason there just hasn’t been an awful lot of J-pop that has captured me. However, whilst Idolmaster is obviously quite happy to stick with what it knows best, there are times it ventures out of its comfort zone. And it’s not too bad when it comes to genres further afield. Mostly, it reserves alternative genres exclusively for certain characters. For instance, among the many genres I enjoy, I like electronic and dance music most of all. But, even though it’s not its usual thing, Idolmaster can still make something like Hotel Moonside and have it come out really good. Better than its usual thing, actually, in my mind. Oh, and guess who’s singing my kind of song? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding when I told you Kanade was a cut above the rest. [4]

Of course, Idolmaster started out as a game. Not like the sort you’d find today, though. It’s been through a fair few games now, including, of course, Cinderella Girls, the mobile game that took the series up another notch. The current big game in the series is still based around said Cinderella Girls, but it’s not the original game. Instead, it’s the series’ latest wheeze, Starlight Stage, the answer to Love Live: School Idol Festival. There’s one difference between the two though, at least here. LLSIF is available in English, translated and all. Starlight Stage is not. In fact, it isn’t even available here on the Play Store. Which is why I’ve had to get it on my S6 through the rest of the internet. This might go some way to explaining how Love Live can actually compete with Idolmaster on this side of the world. Closer to home, it’s a different story. As yet, I haven’t touched Starlight Stage. But that’ll change soon.

Lastly, Idolmaster’s popularity means it has animes for both the 765Pro girls and the Cinderella Girls. In fact, this autumn, even the SideM series is getting an anime. [5] However, I’m not convinced the former is much good. I have actually seen some clips of the original Idolmaster anime, and I have to say…they all make the characters look ridiculous. Like they’re on some particularly strong drugs throughout or something. Maybe if I watched it on drugs, I’d enjoy it plenty. But I don’t want to try those just for the sake of making 765Pro look sane. Cinderella Girls looks more interesting, and I’ll probably end up watching it, but with what I’ve heard about it, it’s hard to say just how good it’ll be. It could be a masterpiece for all I know. But it could be nothing more than a lame duck. Mind you, I don’t think Love Live’s anime was much good either. The second season was real good, but the first season took time to get good and then went bad again at the end. And as for the movie? God knows what that was about. The first half of that was fine, but the second half was straight up awful. And yet despite that, as we’ve already established, I love Love Live. But my point is, right now, to me, the Cinderella Girls anime is a bag of Revels…I don’t know what I’m gonna get. Much like a lot of Idolmaster, really.

The thing with Idolmaster is, it has some gaping flaws that, ordinarily, would serve as big black marks on most series. I’m not sure about its image, a lot of its characters aren’t any good and it panders to exactly the kind of fanbase you’d expect…which is not a good thing in this case. At all. And yet within the series are some seriously tantalising positives that are keeping me reeled in. Because its image is countered by the genuine fact that it is one of the most successful series of all time – and one that is still running at peak power. For all the bad eggs amongst the series’ idols, there are a couple of real gems – one of whom is absolutely sublime. And, at the end of the day, I don’t have to go hand-in-hand with the rest of the fanbase. I mean, I did that with Love Live. A lot of its fanbase is filled with nutjobs who just make a mockery of the whole thing. So I do my own thing with it. NicoMaki? Pah, what’s that? Just let me take Maki and leave it at that. I enjoy Love Live how I want to, even if I’m not enjoying it so much now. And I can enjoy Idolmaster however I want, too. And I am right now. But I need to go deeper. For all the respect I’ve given here to Idolmaster – respect that continues to grow day by day – I’m still on the fence as to whether I can love it. But my relationship with Idolmaster is still in its early days. What I do next with it will hold all the answers.


[1] For the record, I think Meiko did it first, and better. But that’s just me.
[2] Yes, I know they all mean something literally in Japanese. But they still don’t look interestingly named.
[3] As an aside, LL’s lower number is better, not just because they need less characters to end up better on the whole, but because 13 is simply too many for an idol group. But that’s just my opinion.
[4] I knew about Kanade before all this because of this Hotel Moonside remix. Listen to it. Now. It’s the most lit thing you’ll hear all day.
[5] I haven’t touched on SideM. That’s what male idols does for you. And having a name of ‘side’ implies where that bit of Idolmaster is for the most part.

Because I missed Touhou’s 20th anniversary…

Highly Responsive to Prayers and Story of Eastern Wonderland were both released to the public on 15th August, 1997. It’s been 20 years since then. And I missed the date. Damn. Since I can’t go without giving some kind of tribute to such a great series, let me re-post here a Reddit post I made upon reaching my fifth year as a Touhou fan, where I paid tribute to its brilliance. (Bear in mind this was in May prior to HSiFS’ release.)

I don’t remember exactly when I found the one thing that ultimately got me here. But judging by how long ago I put the first picture into my vast Touhou folder it was probably a little over 5 years ago now.

When people get asked how they got into Touhou, there’s a lot of different ways that come up. There’s the usual suspects. U.N. Owen. Bad Apple. Maybe something from IOSYS. There’s the great elements that come together to make Touhou what it is. The music, the games themselves and of course its lovely, lovely characters. My gateway to Touhou wasn’t quite as conventional as that.

My way into Touhou was a video on YouTube of a fangame, Touhou Soccer. You know, that game I won’t shut up about. The one I wrote a guide about last Redditaisai. I was just binging YouTube, as we all do, when my deep, deep search eventually led me to a video titled ‘An unfriendly game of Touhou Soccer’. Being a football fan, I clicked it on through curiosity. And I fell in love with it almost instantly. Not because of the girls, though their presence certainly helped. But because I knew exactly what the game was based on. From there, I slowly but surely got to know the girls in it and, well, I haven’t looked back.

Now, I had heard about Touhou before I properly got to know it. In fact, you hear that non-Touhou music playing in that video? Yeah, I’d heard all of that a long time ago, remixes of the Captain Tsubasa series’ music. (Although due to a similarly named team in that series, Toho, I had mixed that up with Touhou.) But mostly this I’d only heard of Touhou before because I’d seen it mentioned a lot on TVTropes – specifically the fact it seemed to be the hardest game ever devised in the history of history. Of course, I now know that not to be the case. But I’m glad I did know it before I went out and actually played the games. Not that it’s made me any good at them, of course. For all my five years of playing Touhou, all I really have to show for it is a grand total of one 1cc. And that was with MarisaB in MoF. Which is the single easiest way to get one. (Well, apart from Stage 4.) Mind you, I have at least cleared some of the games with continues. I’ve done MS, PCB – which was my first game, and should be yours too – and…erm…oh, actually, that’s it. I came within one spell of doing EoSD once, though. And I can’t actually remember if I’ve really cleared IN. The way the endings work there are just way too weird. And I could probably do DDC one day. I’d count PoDD and PoFV, but that seems like cheating. So, no, I am really not very good at Touhou itself.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the games themselves. If I just sit back and watch someone who can actually beat them, I can take in just how brilliant some of it is. Heck, even when playing it myself, it can sometimes give me just such a rush. I mean, recently, I’ve been as hooked as I’ve ever been on some of the PC-98 games, and even they, despite being some 20 years old, can still thrill so much. I mean, have you played PoDD recently? That’s just an awesome game to play first hand, and also, have you noticed the soundtrack to it? It’s almost…perfect. Some of its songs are incredible. There’s some gems in PC-98’s locker, that’s for sure. Listen to its songs. Some are really damn good.

But, of course, it’s the Windows games that it’s all about, really. Sure, EoSD looks very dated now, and it doesn’t seem to work on my laptop any more. But some of the stuff in the game is timelessly classic. It’s unforgettable. PCB is a magical game, too. There’s a reason I tell everyone to start with it (and it’s not because I did too). It’s because it’s the most original, defining game of Touhou. And it’s still capable of raising chills for me, even today. And, if you can look past all the complexities of IN, there’s a properly epic feel behind that too. I have my qualms with the game, but there’s no doubt that Stages 4 and 5 are thrillers in that game.

But surely the best period of the series’ history was 2007 to 2009. That new engine made all the difference. Everything feels fuller, more action-packed from MoF onwards. MoF just feels like an awesome game to play, more frantic, more lively. It’s terrific, but not as much as SA is. I can safely say Subterranean Animism is one of the best games I’ve had the joy of playing. Every single bit of it is perfect. Nearly every single part of the game, taken individually, is the best in the series, and it makes for the series’ crown jewel. While my personal favourite stage in Touhou is SA’s Extra Stage and its boss, Koishi, I reckon the greatest fight in the series has to be Reiuji Utsuho’s. You can’t believe that it comes from a game that’s nearly 9 years old now. Because it’s still jaw-dropping even today. In fact, SA is, on the whole. And UFO is another wonderful game, and even its gimmicks can’t bring it down. So all in all, three successive games which are among the series’ best. If you’re new to the series, get to them when you can. Because they are all terrific.

Then there’s TD. But let’s pretend it’s not there because I don’t want to lower the tone or anything.

DDC was the first shmup to come out once I’d become a fan, and while it’s never fully won me over, I now see it as a pretty terrific game on the whole. It feels pretty cool to play and it certainly has its epic moments, even if it’s not exactly the hardest game in the series. But with ZUN releasing games less often than in the past, I was wondering if perhaps I’d never quite see a truly, truly great new Touhou game in my time as a fan. I thought I might have come a bit too late, but in 2015 I got shut right up by the incredible Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom, an astonishing game. For all its many and varied flaws, the game itself just feels utterly incredible to play through. It’s as lively as any Touhou game has ever been, as mad, and as difficult as any game. ZUN went mad for this one and he made something special. A game that really encapsulated what Touhou was all about. Not only that, getting to play as all of Reimu, Marisa, Sanae and Reisen is as good a roster as we might ever see. And, whilst it took me a long time to warm to the music – no surprise there – once I did, I realised some of it was just phenomenal. LoLK has proven a divisive game, but I firmly believe it is amongst the very best in the series. However, it seems ZUN might have gone a little too mad with the game. HSiFS looks like it should be another strong game, but it’s clearly a lot calmer than the last game. Certainly, ZUN seems to have reined it back for this instalment. Hopefully it should still be pretty great though!

And let’s not forget some of the side games. My favourite of all is Soku, which is a great game to just sit back and play when I feel. But ULiL is another good side game too, and I even have that on PS4 now. AoCF looks like it should be a nice evolution on that, and will presumably bring closure to the aerial fighters, so hopefully that should be nice too.

But, as we all know, Touhou is so much more than just the games which provide the crux of the series. There’s the music, which obviously, is mostly very excellent. Except just about the only bit of Touhou I’ve never gotten into is the massive collection of remixes, weirdly. Obviously, there are several terrific remixes of different songs all around, and I’ve found some which I really love. But I’ve never found myself going all round searching and finding countless remixes from countless different musicians. Rather, my preferred way to listen to Touhou music is simply to sit back and listen to the original songs. Much as I’m doing right now, actually. (Reincarnation‘s on at the moment.) Of course, I can’t do justice to every single excellent song in the series, but I can at least point out some of my favourites. My favourite from the PC-98 era is a lot closer to call than it used to be, but I’d give it to Doll of Misery. It remains one of the most chilling songs in the series, and sounds epic as well. Honorable mention to Illusion of a Maid ~ Icemilk Magic, Vanishing Dream ~ Lost Dream, Maniacal Princess and Strawberry Crisis. From the ‘first trilogy’, as I like to call it (that’d be EoSD to IN), my favourite is Lunatic Eyes ~ Invisible Full Moon. It’s one of the only songs where every single remix I’ve heard of it seems to be absolutely brilliant. That speaks volumes about the song itself, which is clearly very excellent. By the way, my second favourite song of that era is…Cinderella Cage ~ Kagome-Kagome, from the exact same stage. Yeah, IN Stage 5 got a damn good draw on music, in my mind.

The ‘second trilogy’ (MoF-UFO) has my four favourite songs, and three of them come from SA. My favourite from MoF is Cemetery of Onbashira ~ Grave of Being, a song so epic I didn’t get tired of it even while having to hear it so often when playing the game in my attempts to clear it. But SA’s last three songs are my favourites from that game. Solar Sect of Mystic Wisdom ~ Nuclear Fusion is the perfect accompaniment to the stunning final battle. Hartmann’s Youkai Girl encapsulates Koishi’s astonishing fight to a T. But my favourite song in the series is Last Remote. It’s not just the fact it works well as a stage song, it’s the fact that musically it is just perfect. It’s perhaps the best song I’ve heard in any game, ever. And my favourite Touhou song of modern times is Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner. An absolute epic of a song that defines Clownpiece and her fight so, so well. Honourable mention to The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight, The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space and DDC’s Magical Storm.

And there’s all the little things with Touhou, too, such as the print works. Most of the comics are pretty great, but my favourite of all is Wild and Horned Hermit. All its stories are most interesting and it has that most lovely of art styles by Aya Azuma. And there’s other small things about Touhou that make it just that little more lovable. Gensokyo as a whole, an absolute fantasy of a world. The spell cards, some of which can astonish you in all manner of ways. Even the dialogue from the characters, which might be a dying art today, but which is a real source of amusement from EoSD to around UFO.

But if there’s one thing above all that I love most of all about Touhou, it is its numerous, wildly-dressed, and beautiful characters. After all, they’re what sold me on this series first and foremost. And since I first found them I’ve realised just what a difference they’ve made to me. Some of the characters are so good, they’ve redefined my standards of what’s possible from a character in any form of fiction, period. There’s something to like in a majority of the series’ characters, and in the case of the very best, there are several things to like about them. Make no mistake, some of Touhou’s cast really is truly, truly special.

Of course, not all of them are great. But when was anything in life ever perfect? What’s important is that there are far, far more characters I like than I don’t. And, of course, I happen to like plenty of the series’ characters. So I’ll give a small mention to the ones I think are the very best of the best. And beforehand I’ll give an honourable mention to this seriously good lot: Sakuya, Alice, Reisen, Aya, Satori, Koishi, Byakuren, and most of all, to Maribel and Renko. All seriously, seriously good characters, but not quite as good as this lot.

When I first got into Touhou, as I was getting into more and more characters, a few initial favourites came up. I was keen on Yukari, Remilia and Flandre, I took a good liking to Yuyuko especially and I really rather admired Sakuya as well, as indeed I still do. But the first character I really fell for was Yuuka Kazami. She’s just such so agonisingly pretty and yet also had a damn cool feel about her deep down. She remains one of my very favourite characters and my first year or so as a Touhou fan was all about her.

But there was one small problem. Due to the relative age of the game with which I got into Touhou, I never really got into any characters past PoFV (Touhou Soccer came out in 2006). So for well over a year, I didn’t know about nearly half of the series. Eventually, I went and took the plunge, and after finding out how terrific SA was in particular, one character stood out as a particularly outstanding person, and that was Reiuji Utsuho. Quite apart from also being another damn pretty character, there was more to her than her appearance. As I’ve already said, when I saw her fight in SA I was utterly smitten by that too and it made me wonder why the hell I’d missed out on this for over a year. And so ‘Okuu’ stands out to me as one of the most important characters in the series, the one who really made me a Touhou fan. Her brilliance inspired me to go on to further things with Touhou, rather than simply admiring it from afar. That’s how I found, for instance, this subreddit.

Over that time I’ve come to like all sorts of different characters more and more for all sorts of different reasons, but one I don’t think I’d have come to like quite as much was one who was there right from the start. As time has marched on, I’ve come to admire none other than the series’ very own protagonist, Reimu Hakurei, for her obviously pivotal role in Touhou. Yet it’s not just the fact you see her left, right and centre in Touhou itself, or the fact she is therefore its defining character. Because I’ve realised she is truly a magnificent character in her own right. She’s obviously a clearly flawed individual, but that gives her a genuinely human quality as a character – and not just because she actually is a human, within a sea of youkai. I mean as in someone who actually feels real. She’s a top-class character, and it helps that I am permanently amused by her snarky antics. Oh, and it also helps that she is, of course, really cute. Like, I don’t care what you say. She just is.

But even she’s not my favourite miko in the series. That accolade lies with my favourite character in Touhou, and probably in anything ever made ever. That’d be Sanae Kochiya. And the thing is, I’m still not quite sure how she became so. I actually found out about Sanae long before I cared to look into who she actually was, thanks to her sheer popularity. Five years ago I was a far naiver person than previously, and I thought going too lewd on something as simple as Touhou was just wrong. However, Sanae seemed to bring it in spades. Not knowing who she was, 2012 me promptly said “Is she just a fan-serviced version of Reimu, or something?”, and promptly wrote her off as a character. Oh how wrong I was. By the time I’d actually got round to finding out about all the characters, my views on Touhou had changed markedly and so my view on Sanae gradually softened to a point where I thought she was fine. And then…I dunno. Something musta just clicked because suddenly I realised that actually Sanae was really rather brilliant and I couldn’t stop looking for art of her and oh my god what is this feeling I don’t even. Since then, I’ve been smitten. Sanae is my favourite character in the series, and most of all I’ve put this down to her being about as attractive as a character can get. But it also helps that she is a genuinely very amusing person and a little bit silly all at the same time. She’s a great person, I think. And it helps that her shots in UFO and LoLK are really damn good! But yeah, Sanae is basically perfect.

But wait…how do we get to love all these characters most of all? If we just took them for what they were in canon we wouldn’t get to see enough of them all. But that’s where the true most important factor in all Touhou comes in. The reason it’s so great, is because its characters are so popular, that so many artists have come along, and given their take on what they think they should look like. And the answer is: mostly, they all look absolutely brilliant. The characters are the heart of Touhou that makes it tick, but all the fan art of them is the bloodstream that makes them work.

I’d gotten to know a good few artists from previous looks at art from anime I liked. But Touhou took my love of fan art to another level. I’ve discovered several artists so utterly brilliant, that it is their representations of each of these characters that I look at, and think “That’s what she looks like in my mind.” They take all these lovely girls and make them beautiful in so, so many ways. The magic of fan art has let me discover the likes of An2a, whose art you’ve doubtless seen before. There’s more genuinely artsy types such as Kirero, plain cute artists like Cierra and Shironeko Yuuki. There’s my personal favourite artist, Minakata Sunao, an artist capable of mixing coolness and beauty to the point of absolute perfection. And there’s all the fan favourites we know and love, too; the likes of Banpai Akira, Hammer and Ke-ta. All of these artists, and more, are, to me, the single most important contributor to the fabric of Touhou itself.

And all those artists are, of course, just like us, fans of this series. I’m proud to be a part of this fanbase, one which has plenty of wonderful people to go around. The loveliness of a great many Touhou fans would be more than enough to make me proud to be a fan too, but it’s not just about those who love this series like I do. Just as admirable, if not more so, are those whom are capable of creating absolute wonders in tribute to this magnificent series. And not just art – there’s musicians all around, game makers, writers…and more. I hope to be one with them soon, too. I’ve already written my fair share about all manner of things Touhou. And now I’m planning on going to the next step: writing some Touhou fiction itself. I’ve tried it before, but it proved too soon. It isn’t now. I’ve loved this series for five years now. I say, it’s time I tried to create a story of my own now. Redditaisai is two months away. Hopefully, my endeavours will be there for you all to see.

Before I got into Touhou, I saw myself very much as a general anime fan first. Of course, Touhou is not an anime. But as it’s clustered into much the same culture, it was always likely to attract me when I found it. Five years on, I could never have imagined how much I’d love it. Or how much it has changed me over those five years. Now, I am a Touhou fan first, and an anime fan second. Nothing else will be as good as this. Ever.

Touhou is a most valuable thing in my life. I will forever be a fan. And I hope you will be, too.

Touhou music: Lotus Land Story

The first golden shoot-up in Touhou’s history got some suitably golden hits to match.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

Oh, my, God. Just hear the opening notes hit and drink it in. The rest isn’t as good, but I literally don’t care.

Witching Dream: Reimu gets a solemn opener, but the song itself doesn’t pick up until that lengthy opening is finished. Then the drama comes in, but the second half of the song is merely a repeat with a different tune, and a tune not quite as good as the first half. Still, it’s plenty long enough for the stage.

Selene’s Light: Marisa’s opener is more upbeat and a much better song, but cruelly a lot shorter as well. The melody to this is a better one, and has a degree of variance to it as well, but even this isn’t long enough for Stage 1, I’m afraid.

Decoration Battle: Not the most terrific of boss songs, but there’s a few good notes within. I doubt you’ll hear all of it, though. It’s actually nearly 2 minutes long, but don’t worry, it mostly just repeats itself.

Break the Sabbath: Hmm, I like the tone of this song a lot. Plenty of atmosphere about it in the first half, fitting for the level it takes place. A Touhou song with a difference, this one, it doesn’t come screaming at you, not until it builds up a little towards the end, at least.

Scarlet Symphony ~ Scarlet Phoneme: The boss themes repeat themselves a lot in this game, and this is no exception, but this one is just about good enough to justify its constant repetition. Changing up the instruments throughout the little bits doesn’t hurt either.

Bad Apple!!: Ah yes, you’ve heard this one before. But have you heard it like this? It’s a good job it’s so popular because the original which that video is based off is a very good one, the best stage theme in the game. It’s short and sweet, and hectic too, but plenty of fun, even if it’s not nearly long enough for its stage, again.

Spirit Battle ~ Perdition Crisis: I like the opening notes to this a lot, and the melody afterwards isn’t half bad either. And this one has quite a bit of melody to it too, with not nearly as much repetition as the songs before it.

Alice Maestra: One of the PC-98 epics, this is a perfectly built song. The instruments for the song’s first section are perfect, and it’s a great melody as well. The mid-section continues that perfectly, the song changing tone and tune effortlessly. This is a top-class song.

Maiden’s Capriccio: This song might be composed alright in places, but it didn’t really get its best version until it came back for Imperishable Night. The instruments aren’t nearly as well chosen as its stage song, and it’s not the longest of songs either.

Vessel of Stars ~ Casket of Star: Now this is a much better boss theme. One of the game’s better ones, it’s uptempo from the start and has a great melody across the entirety of the song, both at the start, middle and end. A very well-done song, again the only shame about the song is its short length.

Lotus Love: A song with a bit of chaos about it, with some wild instruments around and a lovely little opening. The tone of the opening section is calmer, but then it suddenly becomes a more dramatic second section. It’s all a bit mad, but it’s not too bad.

Sleeping Terror: Just wait for the song to drop…wait for it…wait… Ooh, this one’s a bit manic too. However, the melody could be a little better, I think. There’s plenty too it but it doesn’t particularly stand out. Don’t worry though, not every opening and resultant drop is as anticlimactic. Plenty fitting for a Stage 5 boss, though.

Dream Land: Longer than most final stage themes, and with an alright melody to match at the start. The drama picks up for the second half of the song, but the melody isn’t as good. Obviously not too long a song by Touhou standards, but then no Stage 6 song is. This is merely average as they go, though.

Faint Dream ~ Inanimate Dream: Plenty of intensity throughout this final boss theme, with another solid opening, but the instrumentation isn’t all that perfect and second half of the song isn’t anything more than a repetition with a tone change. Not too great a final boss theme if I’m honest, but don’t worry. There’s more to come from this game yet.

The Inevitably Forbidden Game: This Extra stage theme isn’t too bad, it has its moments and some nice notes within. The melody for the second part of the song is pretty decent, and there’s some strong instrumentation here too. The second half, with its change of tone, isn’t quite as strong in that regard, but does ramp up the drama a fair bit. Again though, really short for an Extra stage theme. Mind you, if ZUN had stuck with the Extra stage theme he’d first planned

Illusion of a Maid ~ Icemilk Magic: And suddenly with a drop of the most dramatic opening notes of any Touhou song comes the game’s most epic song. The repetition within this song is fine, especially since there’s actually some variation within, and it also helps that the tune itself is really, really good. And it’s non-stop once that opening drops. In the running for perhaps the finest song in PC-98, this one is a seriously underrated tune.

Cute Devil ~ Innocence: Mugetsu’s theme had one hell of an opening, but immediately after her sister matches her for sheer epicness. Then when her opening drops comes another very strong tune, although it’s at its best at the tune it starts in. The changes in tone are less effective with this song, but it doesn’t make it any less impressive. The melody for the final part of the song makes it all even better. This theme is plenty long too, perfectly fine for a boss of Gengetsu’s stature and making up for the relative shortness of Mugetsu’s magnificent theme.

 

Touhou music: Mystic Square

The best of the PC-98 era got some suitably besty music all over the place.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

Ooh, it’s nice. Melodic at first, epic later on.

Dream Express: This is a fast start of a song, something no other PC-98 opener was, so this is already quite unique. And in a good way, too, as this is a rhythmic song that sets the tone very well. And it’s a damn sight longer than most Stage 1 themes, either from this era or the modern one.

Magic Circle ~ Magic Square: Nothing too special, but the main melody is alright at least. Sadly, by the time you get to hear the second half, Sara is usually dead. Which means no one ever notices quite how it builds up and the tone change that results.

Dimension of Reverie: A seriously hectic song, and a song that’s much better off for it. The tempo of this is right up to 11, and the melody is all very good. It’s just a shame it isn’t that long a song.

Spiritual Heaven: Like the last boss song, nothing too special, but the melody is fine. However, it never really changes up, which works fine for some of this era’s songs, just not this one.

Romantic Children: A song that builds up well, as an intro to the main setting of the game. Those PC-98 drums do a good bit here, and the second section of the song is quite enjoyable too. Then it just loops in a different tone, but that’s fine.

Plastic Mind: Like the boss themes before it, this is a song that’s merely OK when the main melody kicks in. It builds up to its climatic final section very well, though.

Maple Wise: A real barnstormer of a theme, short but sweet, this one has a superb rise up towards its wonderful chorus, whereupon the theme breaks into a wondrous tune. This is another theme that deserves to be much longer than it is.

Forbidden Magic: Finally, a properly good boss song in all aspects. A strong opening section, with dramatic instrumentation all around, leads nicely into the song’s melody in the second half, with the drums going mad throughout, before it lowers the tone. It’s a class theme, all told.

Crimson Maiden ~ Crimson Dead!!: A hectic theme for a sometimes hectic boss, this one is uptempo to the maximum, and keeps its melody going throughout, a style oft used throughout PC-98. This one’s good enough to make it work, though.

Treacherous Maiden ~ Judas Kiss: A calmer theme for Mai, and a noticeably more melodic one right from the start. Then the drama is pitched up after that opening section and it’s all very lovely, but sadly the song’s all over after a change of tone in the dramatic twist. Should be a bit longer.

The Last Judgement: Cracking theme, this. Perhaps it’s a bit more inclined to a Stage 6 than a Stage 5, but then most Stage 6 songs aren’t even this epic. A dramatic atmosphere throughout lends itself very well to this late stage of the game, and builds up well to the real star of the stage.

Doll of Misery: The opening notes aren’t like anything in any other PC-98 song, and they are utterly bewitching. And they lead into a quite magnificent battle symphony. The song is composed superbly, the instrumentation is utterly faultless, and the song fits the fight so, so well. This might just be as good as PC-98 music gets…

End of the World ~ World’s End: A typical Stage 6 affair, a short song with an ominous overtone to begin with but a decent enough, albeit very short, melody to go with. This is alright.

Legendary Illusion ~ Infinite Being: A final boss theme as it should be, this has all the elements that songs of its like capture. Only most final boss themes today aren’t only 2 and a half minutes. This is an impressive tune, with a cracking chorus to it and a suitably sweet build-up. And the final section of the song is composed well too. Top-class stuff.

Alice in Wonderland: A much beloved theme, and with good reason. An epic befitting any Extra stage, after a rather prolonged opening comes a lovely melody. However, I reckon that for once the instruments don’t quite do it justice. It’s well composed but this is a song that is begging for a remix. The original could do with a bit more variation to define it, though I do enjoy the change of tone for the final part of the song.

The Grimoire of Alice: Dramatic openings to Extra boss songs are a feature of PC-98’s collection and this is no exception. The melody that defines the song is a nice one as well, but again, this is just a bit too short for what it is. Again, a bit more variation needed, but luckily ZUN would find it as he went into the next era of Touhou.

Touhou music: Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom

Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom was a return to Touhou at its best. So was its music.

First things first; is the menu theme any good?

It’s pretty strong. It’s also a long epic by menu theme standards.

Unforgettable, the Nostalgic Greenery: Whoa, what a frantic opener this is. After a few games of calm the return of manic Stage 1 themes sets the scene for this game wonderfully. And the second part of the song is a sweet one, too.

The Rabbit Has Landed: A classic, uptempo Stage 1 boss song, a theme that’s a lot of fun. Although I reckon the song isn’t at its most epic until it loops back round to the start, at which point you get to hear better versions of the opening notes.

The Lake Reflects the Cleansed Moonlight: Holy mother of God, this is an edgy theme. And in a good way. This is a superb track, right from those dramatic opening notes. And it builds up to a real crescendo as well. Who’d think a theme like this belonged in a Stage 2?!

September Pumpkin: Ringo’s theme keeps it nice and simple, but the instruments used here are particularly lovely. The classic piano that opens it, prototypical ZUNpets abound in the second half of the song, it’s all very nice, and if only the rest of the soundtrack weren’t so good, this might be a better song in another game.

The Mysterious Shrine Maiden Flying Through Space: Oh blimey, what an astonishing theme this is. The opening notes are great, the first part of the song is absolutely terrific, and it builds up to something even better than terrific. It took a while to get hooked on this theme, but when I did, it became something special. Magnificent.

Eternal Spring Dream: A more hectic theme for the boss, this song has all sorts going on in it, but it all combines to make something rather good. There’s a few dramatic moments within, and the tension only builds throughout as more and more. The only real criticism I have of it is that apart from the two central bits, there’s not much change within sans some changes of tone at the end.

The Frozen Eternal Capital: Suddenly everything goes calm for this very new-style Touhou theme. It starts off well, but it doesn’t really turn into anything too special, despite the best efforts of the ZUNpets at the end. Still, the atmosphere it sets is lovely.

The Reversed Wheel of Fortune: Another song put through newer instruments, within all the different sections of the song is a pretty cool tune. The changes throughout the song are very well played as well. A solid tune from beginning to end.

Faraway 380,000-Kilometer Voyage: And now the drama is turned up to 11 for the wild Stage 5. This one is magnificent, a lovely tune emerging within the chaos, the ZUNpets playing a great part again, and with the dramatic crescendo reaching the peak of the stage’s insanity. This one was well played. Atmospheric too, with its spacier parts possibly the song’s best bits.

Pierrot of the Star-Spangled Banner: The game’s crown jewel, an utterly wonderful theme that hits the spot in so many ways. No battle is better matched by its music than this is to Clownpiece’s. The bewitching instruments are a joy to behold, the dramatic sections inbetween verses add further to the drama, and the song reaches its peak once the ZUNpets come in. And it all goes perfectly with Clownpiece’s brand of sheer danmaku lunacy. An all-timer of a theme.

The Sea Where the Home Planet is Reflected: Wow, what an intense Stage 6 theme. The game’s most atmospheric song, and simple as it is, the way it’s done is most magnificent. It’s one of the longer Stage 6 themes, too. A song quite unlike any other Touhou theme.

Pure Furies ~ Whereabouts of the Heart: A suitably epic final boss theme, and one that encapsulates Junko’s terror superbly as well. Quite a bit more manic than most recent final boss themes, mostly thanks to the drums, and that dramatic, low guitar. A superbly well-thought-out theme.

A Never-Before-Seen World of Nightmares: This one has its moments, but on the whole it’s one of the game’s weaker tracks. It’s a little too…reined in compared to the relative mania of the other stage themes around it. Sure, Stage 4 was calm but that was meant to be. This one isn’t quite hyped up enough, I don’t think, despite the best efforts of the song’s second half.

Pandemonic Planet: This one, on the other hand, definitely isn’t short of intensity. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily what I’d call a good song. The main melody isn’t much to write home about, and all there is to try and spice it up for most of it is tone changes. But when the second half drops, it doesn’t really make much of an impact either. This one’s a rare miss from ZUN, I’m afraid.