Monday, January 11, 2016

Peter Shillito’s 2015 Aikatsu Awards

It’s that time once again. I give out completely unnecessary awards to bits of Aikatsu! that really stood out to me (or didn’t, as the case may be). 2015 has come to a close, so it’s time to wrap up the year. We’ve got the return of some previous awards, and a few new ones. Nobody’s probably gonna read this, so let’s get to it!

(Side note: While the first movie came out in 2014, I didn’t see it until it got translated in 2015, so I’m going to include this in my review of the year.)

The 'My How They've Grown' Award for Best Character Development
2014 winner: Akari

2015 saw the departure of most of the idols we grew to know from previous series. Most of the Starlight Academy idols pop in occasionally, but it’s a rare cameo if anything. Dream Academy are not as dead as in 2014, they had speaking cameo roles in episode 38 and in 47 where they also perform a song. They also feature as an advertisement on the side of a truck in the opening sequence of season 4, but no in-episode role yet. There has also been the introduction of several new characters, who have all had some sort of development over the year. To be honest with you, nobody has really stood out as getting serious development in quite the same way Akari did last year. Everyone is introduced as being already quite good at what they do, almost to the point of being unrealistic (see: Nono and Risa who were literally farmers then became idols in what seemed like a week or two, I dunno time didn’t make a lot of sense).

You know who got character development who I wasn’t expecting? Johnny Bepp.

The introduction of Rin, who grew up with street dancing, etc, provided the show with a character who would know Johnny Bepp from before his idol training days. From the moment Rin was introduced to Bepp, we got background knowledge on a character who was just some goofy teacher who occasionally had some good advice or helped out with things. There was even an episode or so almost dedicated to finding out about Johnny Bepp’s past while Rin seeks out Dance Fusion’s top designer (an old friend of Bepp). Add on the fact that with the increasing number of male characters in Aikatsu!, Bepp has been seen outside of work with these people, showing himself, not as a teacher, but as a regular person. We also find out about his family in a hilarious marriage confusion episode.

I’m gonna call it right here.

Johnny Bepp wins the 'My How They've Grown' Award for Best Character Development
Honourable mention
to Naoto Suzukawa who got promoted from groundskeeper to a teacher in the second half of season 3, though this was never really followed up with much information. I feel this is quite appropriate considering how insightful and helpful he was to Ichigo and friends from the very start, and also provides a cool, calm contrast to Johnny Bepp. Further to that, he has experience as lead singer of More Than True (from episode 11 of season 1).

The “Deus Ex Machidol” award for being useful to everyone but themselves
New award for 2015

As with many shows, there’s a lot of “what a coincidence” moments that allow the show to do stuff it wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Sometimes, someone’s talking about “oh I wish I could do X” and then the head teacher comes in and is all “there’s an audition to do X” and you have to have a certain suspension of disbelief when this happens. It’s a kids show, shut up. However, what’s quite interesting is that there’s a certain character who has been around since episode 77 who seems to have this role permanently. Hattori Yuu.

Yuu was previously Akari’s roommate until her room started leaking and they moved into separate rooms. Further on in the series, Yuu goes on an exchange programme TWICE, each time bringing a different idol from the other school into Starlight. More recently, Yuu shows off jewellery to Akari and friends and prompt them to audition for a jewellery advert. Yuu then hitches a ride to Kyoto and get the others to join her in a halloween TV special.

You never see Yuu perform. Ever.

Yuu wins the Deus Ex Machidol award for being useful to everyone but themselves.

The “Who?” award for character lost in the gap between seasons
2014 winner: Literally everyone from Dream Academy

In the run up to and previews for season 4, it seemed like the Luminas Japan Tour would be the main focus, meaning that you’d have the three girls from Luminas and any new people they meet on the way, losing everyone else in Starlight (most notably Rin and Juri). Fortunately, this was not the case, and they keep returning to Starlight between visits to places around Japan.

So did we lose anyone between 3 and 4? Well, at only 14 episodes into season 4, it’s difficult to say for sure. We’ve only seen the main trio from the original series so far (Ichigo, Aoi and Ran) but everyone appears in the opening credits, so it’s hard to say. However, everyone also had an appearance in the “best giant robot anime ever” episode, so they’re definitely not forgotten.

Hikari is still forgotten though, so that’s good.

I feel like I should mention Shion as someone who has been forgotten, but her involvement with the show has been rather unfortunate in general. Shion first appeared way back in episode 14 of season 1, but it took until episode 148 (episode 47 of season 3) to get a singing debut, as her role as an actor meant she was always too busy to be on stage. When she said “Everyone in the audience, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting” in episode 148, this felt not only as part of the plot for that episode where she was running late in the episode, but also to the fans who have been hoping to see her perform. I suspect we have another pile of episodes to go before we see her again.

Nobody really has been forgotten, so no winner this year.

The 'Kanzaki Mizuki' Award for Worst Character Other than Mizuki
2014 winner:

As Otome’s appearance frequency has dwindled drastically in season 3 and 4, I cannot give her this award. Heck, even Mizuki hasn’t appeared much. I have to actually think this time.

So the people who come to mind as being annoying and within the past year are Madoka, Kokone and Nina. Let’s review these:

Madoka is known for being very honest to the point of being somewhat insulting, which everyone writes off with an “oh you” sorta thing. It’s a bit weird to be honest that people put up with her like that. That being said, it’s not often she does that, so it might be that people put up with her occasional lack of tact for the rest of her, as she’s not an all-round bad person.

Kokone has the catchphrase “The Center of the World is Kokone!”. I’ve never really understood why this was a thing. It’s a really self-centered thing, yet everyone seems to go along with it and humour her. Maybe the catchphrase thing is what bugs me, as Otome’s “love you” was particularly bad, though that wasn’t helped by her voice. Kokone’s intro episode is based around her realising that the world actually isn’t centered around her (because she did actually believe that, because everyone around her back in Kobe knew her and humoured her catchphrase) and, from what I understand, she reverts to thinking that at the end because everyone starts humouring her at Starlight too.

Nina’s just a bit weird tbh, but she’s a comedy idol I guess…

I got angriest writing about Kokone, so…

Kokone wins the “Kanzaki Mizuki” award for worst character other than Mizuki.

The “It sucks to be a fat foreigner in a little Japanese girl world” award for Aikatsu! thing I’ll never be able to experience (previously known as the “It sucks to be a fat foreigner in a little Japanese girl world” award for Aikatsu! merchandise I’ll never be able to obtain and/or use)
2014 winner: Aikatsu! glasses frames

So a couple of weeks before the Christmas break off work, someone decided to crash into my car on the way to work. They confirmed that it was their fault, accepted all responsibility, etc. You’d think I wouldn’t be out of pocket, right? That their insurance would cover everything right? Well, no. My car has been written off and I have a courtesy car until the other person’s insurance sends me the settlement cheque, but even then I won’t have enough money to get a similar car without putting an amount of my own savings down as well. Plus, cars have gone up in price since I got mine, even the same model, so I can’t get the same again without spending more per month AND a deposit down. Basically, a car accident that wasn’t my fault has fucked up my new year, soon to be eating into the savings I had for going on holiday to Japan again and, as such, probably won’t be able to see the new Aikatsu! movie in the cinemas like I hoped I would. My year is ruined and we’ve only just reached January. Add onto that the plan to move closer to where I work (possibly even close enough to take public transport sometimes *gasp*) and that’s something else I’m gonna have to delay probably until next year.

Fact is, unless I find a way to save up a lot of money quite quickly, watching the new Aikatsu! movie in cinemas is likely to be the winner of this award.

“Watching the new Aikatsu! movie in the cinema in Japan” wins the “It sucks to be a fat foreigner in a little Japanese girl world” award for Aikatsu! thing I’ll never be able to experience (may be retracted if I can work something out with money).

The “damn son, where’d you find this?” award for best overall Aikatsu! song in 2015
New award for 2015

2015, and season 3 in general, brought major changes to the Aikatsu! lineup of idols, both in the series and in the real world. As you may or may not be aware, each character in the series has both a speaking voice actor and a corresponding real-world idol for their singing. In the original series, everyone had an idol (or two, looking at you Yurika) from STAR☆ANIS. Akari is voiced by Ruka for singing, for example. With season 3, STAR☆ANIS started taking a back seat role with AIKATSU☆STARS taking the baton instead. Ruka and Mona are in both groups, which makes things complicated tbh. Anyway…the first opening theme to season 3 is "Du-Du-Wa DO IT!!" by Ruka, Mona, and Miki from AIKATSU☆STARS! with Waka from STAR☆ANIS. Waka is the singer for Ichigo, furthering the as mentioned handing over of the baton from Ichigo to Akari, or from Waka to Ruka.

Songs eligible:
Du-Du-Wa DO IT!! (S3 OP1)
Good morning my dream (S3 ED1)
Lovely Party Collection (S3 OP2)
Tutu Ballerina (S3 ED2)
lucky train! (S4 ED1)
Etude of Radiance (movie insert)
Passion flower
Hello! Winter Love♪
Pretty Pretty
Love Like Caramelize
Poppin' Bubbles
Enchanted Party
Hello New World
Hey! little girl
Light Pink Day Tripper
Sweet Heart Restaurant
Emerald Magic
Little beat, Little wing♪

Gosh that’s way more tracks than I realised. I’m slowly narrowing the list down. Lovely Party Collection and Start Dash Sensation are nice, but nothing special. Almost forgettable. lucky train is catchy and fun, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Got an ace dance by everyone’s favourite farmer idols though! hashtag potato katsu. Tarte・Tatin was very different to any other Aikatsu! track out there, but it doesn’t seem to know what sort of track it wants to be. It bounces between genres, etc. It works well in the show as it’s only one section, but the full length song doesn’t flow quite the same. Pretty Pretty is an interesting one for having both the singer AND the voice actor for Akari in the song. The only song to feature *any* of the speaking actors in addition to the singers. MY SHOW TIME! was part of the introduction for a new character (Rin), who I’m particularly fond of, and used to showcase the upgraded CG engine with some incredible lighting effects. This was furthered by Tutu Ballerina, also featuring Rin, which is incredible in both the anime and performed live. Good morning my dream has an incredible introduction and verses, with very cool uses of alarm and clock noises throughout. This track made a lasting impression on me and it’s one I’ll never forget, though the chorus isn’t anything special sadly.

I was very close to giving the award to Tutu Ballerina at this point, but then as I started comparing songs against each other, there was one track I couldn’t remove from the list. One that is superior to even Tutu Ballerina: Chica×Chica. With a Spanish feel for the character of Juri, and the incredible sword dance performance in the anime, this is a stand-out track unlike any other used in Aikatsu! except perhaps Passion flower, but much more “passionate”. Chica×Chica is one song I never skip, along with Signalize right back from season 1.

Chica×Chica wins the “damn son, where’d you find this?” award for best overall Aikatsu! song in 2015
Honourable mention: Tutu Ballerina. You should see AIKATSU☆STARS perform this like, they’re really quite incredible.

This is the part where I would start saying who my favourite Aikatsu! character is, the “Mai Waifu” award, to be exact. The easy way out would be to just say Yurika again and call it a day, but is that truly what I think? Let’s take a step back for a moment.

Season 3 of Aikatsu! started in October 2014. Between then and January 2015, the transition between Soleil (Ichigo, Aoi and Ran) and the new trio Luminas (Akari, Sumire and Hinaki) was in full force to the point where the original cast were present in fewer and fewer episodes. As April 2015 arrived, further new characters were introduced to fill in the roles of the side characters such as Yurika, Otome, Sakura, etc, leaving even less room for the original characters to appear.

Yurika will always have a place in my heart, but I feel like it’s time for a change in this award I’ve only ever awarded once. Calling it the “mai waifu” award for best Aikatsu! character doesn’t feel appropriate any more. So, I am proud to announce:

The “Toudou Yurika” award for this year’s most stand-out Aikatsu! idol
That’s better.

So, for this award I am actively discounting idols who weren’t regularly featured prominently in the 2015 episodes of Aikatsu! This means I’m looking at Akari, Sumire, Hinaki, Juri, Rin, Madoka, Nono, Risa, Miyabi, Kokone and Nina. I would be tempted to include Ichigo as well, and maybe Aoi, but then I’m gonna start arguing with myself about where I draw the line.

Following on from last year’s 'My How They've Grown' award, I’d be very temped to go with Akari who, as the main protagonist, is the default choice. I do feel like she deserves a lot of respect, more so than Ichigo to be honest. Ichigo had a lot of flukes as the series got off the ground, while Akari is genuinely a hard working and fantastic idol.

Rin is also high on the list for me at the moment for having a visually attractive style, an incredible dancer and being almost like another Johnny Bepp, but we’ve not really had much fleshing out for her, so I can’t really justify giving her this award.

I feel like giving Sumire the award might be most appropriate. As has been made even more clear in recent episodes, but has been present since the start, Sumire is dead set on prioritising her singing over anything else. Partnering with dance expert Rin to form Dancing Diva was a fantastic idea as while Rin has the dance moves to show off to the song, Sumire can sing to her heart’s content without needing to dance as well. She’s regularly releasing CDs solo and is my favourite to be the next Starlight Queen currently, pending any events between now and then. She’s the most independent of all of the group and typically pushes a lot of the typical idol stuff to the side in order to prioritise singing events and performances. I can respect that.

The 2015 “Toudou Yurika” award for this year’s most stand-out Aikatsu! idol goes to Sumire Hikami.