AKB0048 Next Stage Review

This is review number one hundred and eighty four. I was actually watching this anime and then stopped to do my obligatory one year anniversary post. Anyways, this is part of the Winter 2013 lineup and it’s a second season from the lineup I started out with, the Spring 2012. The anime I’ll be reviewing is AKB0048 Next Stage. It’s the second season of that anime inspired by that popular idol group. I sort of kind of enjoyed the first season and I am a bit curious how the second season fare. This is a thirteen episode anime about aspiring girls trying to be idols while they battle giant robots using their floating platforms and mic sabers. Life is awesome. Let’s read on. Story

The second season of AKB0048 is still about the journey of the girls as they try to become members of the group. The understudies are slowly trying their best and their efforts may soon pay off. The mystery behind the Center Nova incident and the group’s fight against the entertainment ban will soon hit its climax as well.

Taking the Pants Off

When I saw the first season of this anime, I was intrigued. The whole concept was a bit ridiculous but there was certainly something there worth watching. The wonderful thing was that it appealed not only to the AKB48 fans, which the anime is heavily inspired of, but it was also something casual fans can watch. The music and the mecha genre was something that sounded absurd but the anime was able to combine the two pretty nicely. There were some things that were still a bit hard to take seriously but it was still an enjoyable experience. The whole AKB48 phenomenon is really an interesting thing. The biggest idol group ever with 86 members has really made an impact in the world. It’s so big that not only does it have its own following but it has its very own culture. An anime regarding that culture is really a great way to cement its legacy. The first season actually ended pretty openly. It’s all fuzzy but I remember their manager is actually a former member and she is hell bent on discovering the secrets behind the disappearance of one of the former AKB0048 member. Of course, the understudies are also slowly growing and their chance to be a successor seems to be within their grasp. I’m pretty excited with the second season, actually, because I wanted to see where the anime will lead to. I seem to forget just how ridiculous the show was though. It all came back to me in a very unsettling way.

The second season started where the first season ended. The main story about the Center Nova incident is heavily explored by the anime. In the first season, it was revealed that their manager is a former member and she witnessed an event where the 13th Atsuko Maeda glowed so bright and resonated with the Kiraras so greatly that she disappeared in the bright light. This is the Center Nova phenomenon and it’s actually an occurring incident that happens to the girls that gets the zero position. I’m not really sure what the position is about in regards to the AKB48 culture but it’s apparently the most coveted spot for any member of the group. It’s a hard to earn spot and only the most special of girls can receive. Something about the emotions of the fans and the go ahead by their malignant being song writer that qualifies a girl for that position. It’s a position left open though for a long time because of the girls who get the position disappears with no explanation.

Various people in the anime have now dedicated their time to understand the phenomenon and are finding ways to bring back the missing girls.  The position was announced to be up for grabs for the current girls both the successors and the understudies. There is now an air of rivalry among the possible contenders while they slowly learn the things a Center Nova must have in order to attain the position zero.

The whole AKB48 culture is very rich. The anime has featured two things associated with the popular group. The General Elections and the Successor Concert was highlighted in the anime. I am actually a bit intrigued how someone becomes a member of the group. Of course, the whole process is a bit ridiculous but it’s still pretty interesting. The current members gain the names of the original members of the AKB0048. So when you are chosen, you lose your real name and you gain a new name. The selection process is actually pretty interesting and the successor concert is actually a pretty great experience.

The general elections are about the fans voting for their favorite members of the group to sing their upcoming single. It’s a whole marketing strategy, to be honest. You gain ballots by buying their new CD and then the top ten members will sing their new singles. This is another interesting phenomenon in regards to the AKB48 culture because people really worship the girls and the votes often rack up to one million. Can you imagine how many CDs were sold to gather up 1 million votes? This whole process was featured in the anime. The whole thing was diluted, obviously, and only the fanfare was featured. It’s interesting though and the emotion of such an event was heavily focused by the anime. I’m not an AKB48 fan but this event is still pretty goddamn interesting.

Now as you can see, I‘m intrigued by the whole culture the group has created and this was one of the anime’s strongest aspect. There is another element to the anime though. It’s mecha. In the first season, I was really laughing hard at how stupid the whole thing is. These girls are not only singing in front of people in their flying platforms but they also fight robots using their mic sabers or their own robots as well. There is an entertainment ban in the universe because trading is disrupted by entertainment or something like that. They are criminals and they visit heavily banned planets because the power of music uplifts the mood of the people and stupid sh*t like that. I suggest that you do not overthink this aspect of the anime. It’s dumb but it completes the anime. I, myself, rolled my eyes countless times because I just can’t take this thing seriously. They have fans that can fight for them so making them fight is really just hard to grasp.

Anyways, the mecha aspect of the anime also got an improvement. The powers that be have finally dropped the hammer on the group. They really want them to stop and they’ll do anything to do that. It doesn’t stop there though. The government out to capture the girls actually have some secrets of their own regarding the entertainment ban and they are also interested in the powers of the group. Remember, there is something magical with the girls because they can give birth to Kirara (flying annoying mascots, basically) and they can harness the emotions of the fans and band people together. The government is interested in that and they want to get their hands on it. They’ll do anything to get it even if they have to hurt a whole bunch of people if needed.

akb2-16

The idol aspect of the story and the mecha aspect do blend well together. I personally can’t take it seriously but a good story is a good story. The two elements were able to support each other to make the episodes pretty interesting. There were some things that made me cringe though. Despite the interesting combination of the anime, it really comes off as a bit ridiculous. It was focusing too much on the fluffy appeal of the idol aspect rather than give us something edgy to counter that certain aspect of the story. It really needs a strong antagonist to really complete the anime. There were some people chasing the girls but they didn’t have a face we could hate. Instead, the anime was all about how awesome it is to be an idol and how the power of music and friendship will unify the world.  There is enough to make little girls sing along and inspire to be idols themselves but the story was taking major hits for that point to come across.

If you also think about, why did the anime choose to combine mecha with music? Couldn’t they just have made an anime that really focused on the AKB48 culture? There is a lot to write there and I personally believe something slice of life or Shoujo can do wonders with the AKB48 culture. Instead, it was pandering to its fans. I finally realize that AKB stands for AKIHABARA and 48 stands for the original number of the group when they started. It’s that many because the concept of the group was about a daily performance in Akihabara in its very own theatre. Okay, let’s think about it. The famous Otaku district gave birth to the AKB48 phenomenon. Well, its fans will obviously appreciate a story about the girls but wait, plot twist, we’ll add mecha because why not? If this anime stands for the legacy of the AKB48 then they really just bloated their ego with it. I would rather see a really gritty story about the idol group. A touch of realism in regards to the life of an idol to give us a different perspective into being an AKB48 member is something I believe can do wonders. Where’s the story about their contract forbidding them to have boyfriends? What about the different ages of the members (11 to mid 20s) and the rather sexual nature of their songs? I guess it’s too real so let’s just dilute it with mecha and cute little girls. Wouldn’t it be cool though if they made a story about that chick who shaved her head? Personally, I was really turned on when she appeared on camera bald. It really worked for me. To be fair, the anime wasn’t just about AKB48. It was also about Satelight and their reputation for making mecha anime. The combination works but for something that could very well tell future generations of this thing called AKB48, I personally think they missed a great opportunity to tell a real story about them. Instead, they pander to the diehard fans and it comes off as a bit insulting for me. I’m not a fan though so I’ll take this missed opportunity in stride.

There are a lot of characters in the anime. The story was focused on five or six of them though but the large number may still intimidate casual viewers. Majority of the characters are also either very bland or they are massively generic. If you’ve seen the first season then you won’t have a hard time liking the girls. Their various interactions are still interesting for what it’s worth. The anime’s focused though are on certain individuals. There is Nagisa and Chieri. They are the main characters of the anime. The story was about their slow rise to stardom but various factors regarding their rise would soon become a problem to the girls. They want to earn their keep by their own abilities and they don’t like other people helping them through dirty means. Their determination and love for music will see them through though. There is also a few focuses on some of the people trying to become the Center Nova and the ones trying to understand the mystery behind it. They are very much important to the story because the events leading up to the show climax meant a lot more thanks to their various input. It gave us a clear perspective of the Center Nova phenomenon and the attributes behind it. How does one truly become a Center Nova? Apparently there are conditions that must be met.

There are also some new characters. They don’t add much, to be honest, but they help develop some characters. They also greatly help Nagisa and Chieri grow into admirable AKB0048 members. The use of flashbacks and monologues also help us learn new things about the characters. One of the interesting additions to the cast is the 13th Atsuko Maeda who disappeared. As the anime progresses, we are given an insight to the enigmatic girl that shined so bright that she disappeared afterwards.  The old side characters are also present and some of the things brought up in the first season was also tackled here in the second season. Things like Nagisa’s father’s support for her, the 75th generation’s hard work finally paying off and the current AKB0048 members doing their best to keep their spot.

The anime really did improve from its first to its second season. The story particularly, even though I personally cannot take things seriously. There are definitely some things to look out for and the nice buildup was really appreciated. Of course, the addition of the great voices of the voice actors was also a great bonus. The power of music and friendship aside, this is really an enjoyable show both die hard AKB48 fans and casual viewers like me can truly enjoy.

Sight and Sound

I’m pretty sure I praised this aspect of the show like crazy in my review of the first season but animation wise, the anime is really atrocious. The movements in the anime is really too plain that you can clearly see the sloppy frame rate. Majority of the dance scenes are robotic and the facial expressions of the characters aren’t that well defined. Most of the scenes involve the girls singing and I am a bit irked that only their mouth moves. There are no expressions when they sing, their mouth just moves. Some scenes are nicely animated like the various stage performances of the girls but everything else in the anime was very low quality. It isn’t honestly that hard to give these girls some needed personality and mannerisms but I believe the large number of characters that needed those details was just too much. Why even bother, right? The animation was good enough to tell the story so it is passable but the anime missed a great chance to feature the girls as eye candy because yknow…they’re idols?

Character design is decent. I do love the moe touch in the girls and the different hair styles. Their body template is really the same and it only differs in height and the shape of the head. It’s OK though because there are some details to make some girls stand out. Some details are the same though and again, it’s the large number of girls that made the whole thing messy. The main characters look unique but I often forgot what the pink haired girl of the 74th generation and the 75th generation and the 77th generation looks like. Maybe I’m not just paying attention but it does get overwhelming sometimes. I also love the nice hearts spread all over the characters. Some are in the eyes and it’s a unique style for the anime while some are in the hair or in their dress. The design of their outfits is also pretty nice. It highlights their cuteness so I appreciate that. The outfits they wear in the concerts are all really nice and it gave the characters a nice idol appeal.

The sci fi aspect of the anime is still pretty great. The design of the spaceships and the giant robots are all pretty amazing. This was studio Satelight’s biggest selling point and they do it pretty well. The background design of Akibastar, the AKB0048 home base, is really great. It has a futuristic style and a bit of a cyberpunk appeal to it. I’m a big fan of that giant fan that overlooks the city. The floating platforms and the mic sabers are also nicely conceived. I am not a fan of those things but they really give the futuristic approach of the anime great justice.

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The show still oddly switches from 3D to 2D during concert scenes. The 3D scenes are decent but I cannot get a clear screenshot of it. It’s maybe because the copy of the anime I got was crappy or maybe the 3D scenes lack decent frame rate. They are also stiff CG so it looks like the girls look like dancing expensive toy figures instead of looking like realistic actual girls. The transition to 2D is still something I cannot get used to. It’s a bit awkward but the shock is no longer there so I did enjoy them for what they’re worth. In a different light, I guess the 3D to 2D dance scenes are cute but only after you get over the fact that the whole animation approach is excessively stupid.

The voice actors are mostly AKB48 members and various junior members from their B group or something. Some voice actors did a nice job of bringing out the personality of the characters and some was good enough to bring forth the stereotype needed for their characters. Majority of them are massively robotic though. My ears have enjoyed professional voice actors do anime so you can really tell that the voice actors in the anime lack experience. Some sound massively inexperienced with the same kind of hollow acting you’d expect from an amateur actress. It’s passable enough to keep the anime moving forward but not good enough to be praised. I guess their distinct voices are intentional so fans can recognize them rather than actual trying to sound good. I’m being oddly harsh. I’m sorry. It is a novelty for the anime though for the actual AKB48 stars to voice the characters so that is a great plus.

The songs are pretty great though. Their voices are amazing when they sing a song and I love that aspect of the anime. The songs themselves are pretty catchy. A bubbly verse and an upbeat chorus that brings forth their voices in unison is a nice touch in the anime. The lyrics are pretty funny though. I learned in the first season to not read the lyrics when they sing. I don’t really find lines like “rainbow train” and “I’m a cute teenager” as something I would listen to personally. They are really good songs though. The typical idol type songs sung by a bunch of moe girls. I get the appeal. It really works.

The anime’s OP is “Aruji Naki Sono Koe” by NO NAME. The group No Name is a bunch of selected idols from the main AKB48 group by the way. It’s an energetic song featuring the various voices of the characters. It has a nice catchy vibe to it and it is pretty inspiring. The song is about determination and the power of friendship told very poetical, to be honest. The OP features the animation, among other things. Everything faulty with the animation I previously mentioned is all here. The odd 2D to 3D dance scenes, the expressionless faces while they sing and the lack of eye candy are all in the OP montage. It also features all the characters and a rundown of the girls that are relevant to the anime because there are a lot.

The anime’s ED is “Kono Namida wo Kimi ni Sasagu” by NO NAME. This is my favorite song in the anime. It starts out a bit serious with the voices having a bit of tension to them. It gradually builds to the chorus where the voices of the girls are nicely featured in a slow pace rhythm that I find myself happily listening to. The ED sequence is just a simple flashy montage of the girls in various poses and, of course, a dance scene.

Overall Score

5/10 “Despite the noticeable flaws, the anime’s strengths really shine bright like a bunch of those cute kirara”

I will admit that the show is a bit ridiculous and hard to take seriously. If you can manage to not let various ridiculous things in the anime bother you then you will easily recognize how wonderful the anime is. The AKB48 culture with all of its aspiring message and crazy hype was nicely encapsulated in the anime. The mecha aspect, being a bit ridiculous, was nicely handled as well with the studio’s greatest strength nicely being featured. If you’ve seen the first season then you should definitely see how the story continues. If you love idol anime with a bit of mecha like the kind of fans the anime openly pander to, then you’ll love this anime. If you can suspend your disbelief for a bit and see the anime for its beauty then I’m sure even casual fans can enjoy this anime. I recommend it.

Thoughts~

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