Wake Up, Girls! Review

This is review number three hundred and fifty five. This anime is part of the Winter 2014 lineup, and I think I only have one more main series before I can officially close this lineup. The rest are less than five minute shows, and I can look at them at a later date. Anyways, the anime I’ll be reviewing is called Wake Up, Girls! It’s a twelve episode anime about a group of aspiring idols. It’s a really wonderful show. Let’s read on.

Story

This anime follows the journey of an idol group into stardom. The journey is tough, and it’s even tougher when you’re in a cutthroat industry like the idol industry. Dreams will be broken, confidence will be shattered and failure will be your friend should you decide to be an idol. The payoff is tremendous though, and the seven members of Wake Up, Girls strive to do their best to achieve their goals.

Taking the Pants Off

Idol anime are often the most disappointing kind of shows for me. The main reason is because they often feel a bit insulting. The idol industry is actually a wonderful topic to cover, because it’s a really unique subject. It’s a subculture that has exploded into insane levels. Idols have been around since the 70s, but things are different now. The idol industry has become a jungle and young girls are out to kill each other. Anime shows often ignore the realism though, and they just want to focus on the veil covering it. Most idol shows follow the girls in their rise to stardom, and it’s often a story of how the magic of friendship and believing in yourself can get you to the top of the industry. This message is pure bullsh*t. The idol industry is cutthroat, and girls step on the broken dreams of other girls to rise to the top. To give you an idea of how the industry truly is, take some time to read this article from cracked.com. It’s about the “realities” of the idol industry told by an idol manager. This is a very informative article, and it has no hint of Japanese ego stroking since Cracked readers are mostly the US demographic. If you’re too busy to read it, it basically tells of six points about the idol industry. The list goes: (6) Idols value kayfabe and they are severely punished if they break the illusion of their character. (5) The idol industry is likened to the f*cking warring state period. Idols try to grab attention of a limited fan base much like how warlords would raid cities so they can rule the land. (4) It’s less about the music, and more about gimmicks. Talent for singing means sh*t if you don’t have an edge as an idol group. (3) The idol industry exploded thanks to the otaku culture with AKB0048 gaining immense popularity catering to nerds. (2) They have hardcore groups. I’d link the story of the bottle of semen the idols receive but the article is in Sankaku Complex, and f*ck that site. (1) They are kids exposed to a sleazy environment. No idol anime has had the balls to mention these issues. I understand this, because it’s not really an appealing side of the idol industry. It’s better to have them pilot mechas, practice and sing to become famous and whatever the f*ck happened in the anime version of Idolmaster.

Anime like Love Live and Idolmaster are also products that the studio and the recording company is trying to sell. The sole purpose of these anime is to attract new fans and nothing else. Of course, you can’t tell them about the bottle of semen, because that’s f*cked up. I know for a fact that the dark side of the idol culture is a wonderful topic for an anime, but I also know that no one is really brave enough to go there. It’s insane, and it’s detrimental to the idol product you are selling. Love Live’s tale of the idol industry is so veiled in ignorance that it’s really just annoying, but you also need to understand that their hands are tied. They can’t tell us about it, and that’s how it should be. Until now. Ladies and Gentlemen, if you want to see a wonderful look at the idol industry then go watch Wake Up, Girls. Let’s take a look at that list in Cracked again. Six, girls are punished if they break kayfabe:

Check. Five, the cutthroat nature of the industry:

Check. Four, insane gimmicks:

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Check. Three, nerds:

Check. Two, extremely dedicated fans:

Check. One, girls in a sleazy industry:

Two checks. Yes, for the very first time ever, we have an anime that tackles the different side of the idol industry. This anime focuses on the thing that most idol shows conveniently cover with a veil. Idol shows are often about following your dreams and the magic of friendship. You’ll never see any slither of realism in their sh*t. You want real. How about something like this?

This anime is insanely real. It isn’t shy about really capturing the nature of the idol industry, and I can’t believe I get to see the day that an idol anime grows a pair of balls. Wake Up, Girls is incredible, because it can really shock you at how real it can get. The story is pretty similar to Love Live, but holy sh*t the process to stardom is really really tough. The girls get no breaks, and their best friend is failure. So many times do you see idol shows where the girls work hard and they get famous for it, it is now really shocking to see the same idol girls get kicked around for trying. Do you not see the screenshots above? They get harsher as the show progresses, and this is why most idol anime settle with just cake and fluff. This kind of realism is too much, and I was personally taken aback at some of the things this anime presented. Wake Up, Girls might not hold reserve on the harshness, but it is also ripe with inspirational stories. This anime achieved a real sense of accomplishment, because the girls aren’t in a world where they get rewarded for eating cake and believing in the magic of friendship. They succeed because they produced results. You actually see them scrape the bottom of the barrel to try and become successful, and I just love how upfront the anime is. Wake Up, Girls is a splash of cold water to any girl that thinks being an idol is an easy thing. It is not. The truth most idol shows try to hide is readily seen here, and you’ll appreciate how honest this anime can be. No bottles of semen though, because that’s too damn real for even this anime.

Anyways, this anime is about a group of girls trying to be professional idols. The emphasis is on professional, because this anime will intricately reveal how amateur these girls are. They are based on the countryside, and they try their best to be something recognized nationally. They want to go mainstream, but the journey there is pretty tough. It gets too hard for even the girls, and quitting is always an option they have in reserve. That’s right, the show follows the girls from their backbreaking journey to the top and it’s not a pretty sight. As you watch the girls do their best though and the world ready to strike them down, this show now wonderfully captures the trials and tribulations needed to become a popular idol group.

The first two episodes will be a bit confusing, because it continues the story of the movie prequel released before this anime. There is an established status quo and the characters aren’t introduced, so you’ll have to get the gist of the situation on your own. You can skip these episodes though, and you can go to the third episode where the story officially starts but I think the first two episodes serve as a refresher of sorts. You can skip it and go back to it later, or you can just blindly grasp the situation. If you’ve reviewed confusing light novel anime like me, then I’d say do the latter. Actually, you can watch the movie first but it doesn’t really matter. I’m raving about this anime even though I haven’t seen the prequel. The first two episodes covers the aftermath of the Wake Up, Girls first ever concert. It’s in a small park with very little audience. The girls feel a bit indifferent afterwards, and they aren’t sure if they want to continue. The president of their company, Green Leaves entertainment, also ran off with their money so their group is in a bit of a bind. Their manager is trying to get things back in order though, and he’s trying to book the girls for some jobs. Unfortunately, he’s not really a reliable person.

Upon first impression, this anime really feels like your ordinary idol anime. We have girls trying to be famous, and the theme of “power of friendship” and believing in your dreams seems to be the main focus here. There’s also shameless fan service when the anime gave us a glimpse of the concert at the park. It has panty shots, and it felt unnecessary. At this point, I was really thinking that this’ll just be a run of the mill idol anime with very little to offer. Things changed though when we get to the second episode and the girls are forced to wear a bikini. Afterwards, they performed in front of a bunch of drunken perverts and the mood of the show suddenly shifted to something else. The girls are treated like pieces of meat, they were degraded and they are this feeling of uncomfortable-ness when the fan service is finally addressed. It felt horrible seeing the girls basically molested by a bunch of drunken fools. It gets a lot more horrible when you realize this is the norm of the industry. Catering to perverts, the anime is going there. The tone of the anime changed a lot more with the dialogue of the characters.

These are girls that want to become idols, and you get to experience the shock along with them. If your first impression is that this anime is a typical idol show, then I’m pretty it’ll change after the second episode. The look on their faces as they kept their head down and subject themselves to drunken idiots just felt a bit harsh for an idol anime. This is a huge sign that things will just get better from here. After this whole ordeal, the president of their company returns and they get the ball rolling on trying to become popular idols once more.

This show has four plot points, and they’re very closely connected. The first plot point is about the group itself. Wake Up, Girls is composed of seven girls, and they all try to work together to become popular idols. The first plot point follows their internal struggle towards their intended goal of popularity. This is presented in two ways. The first is about the individuals composing Wake Up, Girls. A girl is often focused on for a while, and the show introduces them for a bit. The anime would present the girls’ reasons and motivations for becoming an idol, and then it’ll get crapped on when the girls run into a problem that’ll affect them hugely. Some of them would lose motivation after being molested by a group of drunken bastards, some would lose resolve when a veteran in the industry outright tells them they have no talent and some would break down because of personal conflicts with families and such. The rest of the girls would often support the girl having a crisis, and they’ll come out as a stronger group because of it. This part of the anime is also wonderfully told, because it features the sincerity of the characters as they try to become successful. They’ll be faced with a problem that some of us would probably encounter as well, and you can see them really fall apart because the problem just crushes them. It’s not something important to the plot, but it’s a simple realistic problem that brings out the real life element the show is trying to portray. To see the characters sacrifice themselves and work hard to overcome the problem is really an inspirational thing. The show doesn’t shove it in your face. The audience is free to learn whatever the hell they want from the story, because the anime’s main goal is just to give us a realistic idol anime.

Part of the first plot point is the problem the group faces as a whole as well. This anime is so damn mean that the girls will optimistically practice hoping that they’ll get awesome results. As it progresses though, some of the girls cannot keep up with the rest and this creates tension within the group. Even though they want to stay positive, reality is knocking at their door. You need to be better than this if you want to be successful. It’s so damn harsh to hear, but it’s something the girls will simply have to accept. You’ll see them fumble some dance steps, and it gets harder to watch because you want them to succeed now. You want them to achieve the same thing those Love Live girls got when they practiced just as hard, but the anime doesn’t want to give it to them. You’ll often see the girls reach a low point, and they’ll try their best to keep it together. This is a big reality of the idol industry. Sometimes, your best just isn’t enough. The industry is so cut throat that perfection is the norm, and idol groups won’t last if they don’t strive for the norm. Strive as they might though, it’s near impossible to be perfect and the Wake Up, Girls are learning this the hard way. No cake and fluff for this group. No, it’s just harsh truths and bitter pills to swallow. But, again, the story isn’t really dark. If they try hard enough, they will get results and the show features this as well. It’s another uplifting thing, because the group does get some kind of success and they’d achieve it with some realistic hard work. Really, you get to see them reach for the brass ring and it’s so satisfying seeing them get results for all their sacrifices. It’s no easy task, but it’s still something pretty attainable.

Another part of the first plot point features the main character, Mayu Shimada, and her unique personal problem. Mayu is the former center of the popular group I-1, and it’s basically the anime’s AKB48. Mayu has since quit the group, and she’s having a hard time forgetting about her experiences there. It’s a mix of both good and bad, but it’s a problem so important that it goes through the core of Wake Up, Girls itself. Mayu’s past creates some tension with the other girls, and she, herself, can quite face this problem yet. She’s also not telling people about it, but it’s such a big part of herself that her life really changed because of it. The internet sewer rats are calling her a disgraceful person, her own mother hates her and she seems to be greatly affected by this as well. This problem is something the group must overcome, but this part of Mayu’s past is something she isn’t ready to handle. I really like this part of the story, because it follows the story of a disgraced idol. Her problem really connects with all the other elements of the story. Waku Up, Girls rise to success, I-1’s cut throat process to stay on top of the industry and the impending rivalry between the two groups all comes down to Mayu and her shady past. It’s one of the best parts of the show, and it shows us the state of mind of idols these days. This anime doesn’t really exaggerate that much, and Mayu’s sentiments is not far from the truth. Her very being symbolizes the state of the industry now, and the anime really captured the grittiness of reality with just this one character. It gets a lot more real though when we are introduced to the second plot point, I-1 itself.

I’d consider the I-1 group as foil characters for Wake Up, Girls. While our main characters are breaking their backs to become popular, they still have time to laugh and have fun. I-1 is a lot more different. In the fifth episode, this happens:

wgu1

Holy sh*t. Again, this anime does not exaggerate. This is something the idol industry does practice. They don’t give second chances, and they consider girls expendable. The second plot point really just gives us a glimpse of some more reality. It focuses on what the top idol group in the industry does to keep itself on top. For starters, they line their girls up like livestock, they call out the girls that will be rejected for failing to perform in I-1’s standard and new girls immediately replaces them. They don’t even call out their names, but they’ll call out their number instead. It’s so f*cking harsh that I literally dropped my jaw. This insanity is topped off by the president of the group ordering the girls to “sing” the I-1 motto:

The second plot point is really about the insane lengths idol groups does to achieve the standard norm, which is perfection. They are strict about following rules, and they really consider girls as nothing more than, well, here’s a screenshot:

This is not far from the truth. The industry upholds this belief, and I applaud the anime for really going there. It’s featuring the insane practices of the industry, and it can get a bit shocking. I particularly find this effective because of how cold I-1’s president is. The bastard does not bat an eye when he is crushing a girl’s dream to dust. You realize that the girls under his employ are pursuing their dreams, but one mistake and you’ll be immediately cut. It’s unbelievably intense, and this anime captured that wonderful cutthroat nature of the industry nicely. As I said before, an idols success is based off other girl’s broken dreams and the second plot point delivers this point a bit more harshly. The girls sacrifice a lot, but they do get to be part of the top idol group in the country so they really don’t have a choice in this. If you’re a high school girl that wants fame and success, then you better be prepared to get your throat slit. Love Live lied to us all! As the show progresses, more industry practices are revealed by the second plot point. They really give you an idea how strict and hard it is to be part of this industry. I honestly love it, because this is really how it goes down in real life. Cold hearted bastards like I-1’s president is normal to see handling the careers of these young girls, and they aren’t afraid to let these girls go if they think they aren’t performing as effective as they should. These girls are now subhuman trash, and this sentiment is something real life acknowledges as well.

The third plot point follows Wake Up, Girls and their journey to success. They’re amateurs trying to make it big, so they really have to do their best to be recognized by people. It’s a good thing they have a president that has a lot of connections. In the first half of the show, these idols got their first break at a local TV station. They did food segments while it’s raining, and they also did weather reports while inside a tank of scalding water.

wgu2

This is what they needed to do in order to become recognized idols, and you’ll notice that they don’t sing in their local TV job. They are actually more like variety TV actors, and they need to do this to get themselves established. As the show progresses, they do start to get better jobs and they start gaining fans as well. They level up to performing concerts and all their hard work eventually produces some positive results. The third plot point is a bit lighter than the previous chapters, and this is really where the typical idol story is featured. It’s not as cake and fluff like Love Live, but it follows the same format. The girls work hard, opportunity is given to them and they do their best to produce better results. They start gaining traction, and this eventually leads to the most important plot point of all.

The fourth plot point is about the Idol Festival. This is where idol groups from all over the country gather and they fight each other to the death. Actually, they just perform on stage and people vote on who is the better idol. This is the huge break Wake Up, Girls is waiting for, and they try to win the whole thing. Winning the Idol festival means that you are the second most popular idol group in the country, and you’re second only to I-1. They aren’t competing because the president of the idol group is sponsoring the contest. This doesn’t stop I-1 to consider Wake Up, Girls as their rival though. Mayu has some friends back in I-1, and they never had the satisfaction of crushing her dreams. With the Idol Festival, they want to make sure Mayu experiences defeat even though they aren’t fighting head to head. This kind of competition is actually something Love Live did as well. In the second season, they featured a completely one-sided competition where Love Live automatically won. As a fan of both shows, I promise you that this anime did it better. This show actually featured an intense rivalry, the competition isn’t just the characters checking their ranking on the internet and the bite of reality is still present as it tries to ruin the girls. Pressure of performing, feeling inadequate, unexpected shortcomings and the tension of the group failing still welcomes our main characters. They need to do their damn best if they want to succeed but, with such a realistic story happening here, the odds are pretty slim for the girls. The ending is also a bit unsatisfying, because the show did ease up in the end. After showing the dark side of the industry, the power of friendship and believing in yourself still reigned in the end. I know that it fits the story well, but I honestly wanted more harsh truths here. I’m just an evil person though, and I want anime girls to fail at life.

The characters started out bland at first, but they eventually grow on you. It’s hard introducing seven girls, but the show is able to do it with ease. I think they didn’t focus on it much because the prequel already introduced them, but the various parts of the show where their problems are featured gives you an idea of what the girls are like. Much like Love Live, we have a cast of stereotypes here. Unlike Love Live though, the characters develop overtime. There’s the energetic type, the mature type, the timid type, the rich type, the tsundere, the leader and the disgraced former idol. As the show progresses though, the energetic type transform into an even more annoying stereotype, the mature type reveals her feelings about the 2012 tsunami (which is f*cking well done since this might be the only anime to acknowledge the important event), the timid type turns into the caring main support of the group, the rich type, well, she’s still rich, the leader reveals her shortcomings and becomes a more dependable character and the disgraced idol turns into the most interesting character in the anime. Every character is intricately fleshed out, and I just love how well balanced this anime is. Characters are so effective that even I-1’s president, Torou Shiraki, leaves a huge impact on you. He is my favorite character, because he is so black and white about things. He knows the needed steps to stay on top, and he won’t hesitate cutting anyone that threatens to knock them off their pedestal. He is cold and ruthless, and idol anime has never had a character like that until now. Characters in this anime are so well rounded that they rarely stick to the stereotype they started out with. Even Shiraki, with his cold persona, transforms into a more understandable person in the end. He doesn’t change, but the little story about him building I-1 from a group of street performers to a titan of the industry is something that softens him up a bit. It’s incredible, because real life has well rounded characters like these as well.

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This is an Original Screenplay, and it’s my third straight one that I reviewed. People, this is probably the very first O. Screenplay that I find satisfying. It has one simple theme to focus on, the idol industry, and it really delivered on its goal. I have never seen an O. Screenplay so well balanced with every single element working together into something amazing. This is a rare one, because you don’t see a lot of O. Screenplay sticking to just a simple concept. Notice that it kept things simple, but the result is so amazing that it reaches such an incredible height of storytelling. If you truly trust your idea then it’ll produce great things, and I hope studios learn from this anime how to properly do an O. Screenplay. It doesn’t need to have robots, people. This anime is brought to us by the joint effort of Tatsunoko Productions and Studio Ordet. The latter is a small time company with Black Rock Shooter as the last series it worked with. As for Tatsunoko Production, they’ve been around for a long while and I think they’re the perfect show to give us this realistic idol anime. They know their stuff working with Pretty Rhythm, and they think progressive giving us shows like Gatchaman Crowds and Ping Pong The Animation. They’re not that prominent of a studio, but I think they’re surviving because the studio has some brilliant minds working for them. I sincerely hope they get better traction, because they have some good ideas that I’m sure people will love. They don’t have the money to make it happen though, because their animation sucks. It’s something I’ll mention later on, but I really think this studio is ready to make an impact. They should partner up with more prominent studios and go from there. It’ll be a damn shame if they continue producing wonderful ideas, yet getting to little reward for it. This anime is directed by Yutaka Yamamoto, aka the guy that directed the Haruhi Suzumiya ending aka the guy that KyoAni fired for Lucky Star aka the arrogant idiot that proclaimed Fractale will change the anime industry. I really hate this guy, but he clearly has talent. Given a chance to steer the ship, he really produced something amazing here. Wake Up, Girls is so wonderfully balanced and paced that a talented director is really in charge here. If he only isn’t such a big prick, then maybe his talents would be appreciated some more. It’s okay to have ego, but your resume isn’t enough for you to rub your genitals on public. There’s still room for improvement, and I hope the guy learns some humility sometime soon. I’d like to give some love towards the series composer, Touko Machida, as well,. She understood what kind of story to tell, and I am so amaze that she had the balls to tell the story of the idol industry. She’s been around for a long while, and she is series composer for a lot of great shows. Her experience certainly shows because Wake Up, Girls’ script is amazing.

Sight and Sound

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Character design sucks. It’s by Sunao Chikaoka, and you can’t expect much from an animation director. She’s more versed on making the characters move than actually designing them, and it clearly shows. She has the basics down by giving them different hair designs, but the templates are all the same. The design looks bland, and there is very little detail. In fact, I was confused between Mayu and Yoppi at first, because their design is the same. The only difference is the hair color of the two characters, and it’s a bit of a turn off to see an idol show with a lack of care on how they look. This is a big factor on why Love Live is so popular, so more care should’ve been given on how they look. Tatsunoko Productions and Ordet are small time companies though, so it’s understandable that they can’t animate characters with too much detail on them. As long as you can tell them apart, I guess. It’s a shame that even their costume lacks proper design, and the characters aren’t that distinguishable from the horde of I-1 girls that Shiraki forces to lineup and berate.

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Animation is the show’s biggest flaw. While the animation is good enough to tell a story, it isn’t enough to be considered good for an idol anime. The dance sequences are awkward, the faces gets distorted easily, there is no consistency in the design and simple movements like walk cycles are rough looking. I understand that it’s presented by a small time company, but the animation can really turn you off. If the show has at least given care on the performances, then I think it would’ve been much better. The story is so wonderful that it really deserves a much better animation. You can only imagine how it would’ve looked if the quality is a bit better, and it’s a shame it really affected the anime experience. To be honest, the story easily scored this anime a ten but the animation is such a crippling flaw that it ruined the appeal of the story.

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The anime’s OP is “7 Girls War” by Wake Up, Girls! The first two episodes have a different OP, but I consider this the show’s true opening song. Anyways, this is a very idol song, and I’m honestly not a fan of idol songs. I must say that I do love this one, because it does grow on you. The vibrant rhythm and the characters’ voices make it a special part of the anime. I also love the lyrics about dreaming big and achieving your goal. It nicely captures the anime’s wonderfully told story about success. The chorus is also pretty catchy, and that’s mainly why I don’t like listening to these damn idol songs. They’re catchy by design. The Op sequence features an introduction of all the characters, and then an awkward dance routine for the chorus. It does capture the energy of the story, but the animation is really distracting. It has heart, I guess, so it is still pretty tolerable. The anime’s ED is “Kotonoha Aoba” by Wake Up, Girls! This is a really lovely song. It’s a sentimental piece about love and life. It nicely captures the realistic feel of the story, and I love the slow pace of it. The voices are nice to hear, and it really just calms me. I’ll be adding this song to my anime song folders, because I am really in love with it. The ED sequence features still images filtered a bunch of times with, I think, noise or something. It does add something to the sentimental song though, but it’s still a cheap thing to do. Nothing says tight budget more than stock photos.

Overall Score

8/10 “This might be the only idol anime that tells it as it is, and I applaud it for doing so.”

The story is remarkable and undeniably rare. If the animation is any better, then the show would’ve met the standards for a perfect score. Unfortunately, it didn’t. That’s OK though, because the story is still something to really admire. The characters are all interesting, and the harsh reality of the idol industry is something you’ll find fascinating here. If you want a more solid idol anime, without any BS, then you’ll love this. The animation is a bit distracting, but the anime experience is clearly something unmatched. I highly recommend it.

 

5 thoughts on “Wake Up, Girls! Review

  1. Nice review! I’ll watch this anime as soon as I get a chance. I haven’t watch this show yet but I can sense some problems. At which point do you think that “realism” turns into misery porn? I get the feeling that many characters (especially the adults) are presented as one dimensional evil ass-holes. It sounds as if the show is trying to manipulate the audience by making them feel pity about the girls. What do you think?

    • While pity is a factor, it’s not really the main focus. The goal is still about being popular, like Love Live, but the presentation is just a lot more different, more realistic. For me, I never really think there’s audience manipulation here but its more about having a really incredible idol anime story.

Thoughts~

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