The Star of Cinderella Girls

I wrote about the original iDOLM@STER anime back when it first aired, but never came back to it when it finished. For the record, I thought it was all good–good enough to convince me to partake of other parts of the franchise, like the current TV adaptation of THE iDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS.

The first one is better, no question. The cast is more interesting, and their circumstances are closer to the ground. While the original focuses around a bunch of girls struggling to get their careers underway at a small-time agency, this one is the opposite–a bunch of no-names start from scratch at a big, established company. I’m sure both situations exist in reality, but the setup this time around is taken too over-the-top. This goes for the characters as well–compared to the original lineup, the Cinderella Girls have more extreme cartoon personalities, and the weird romanticized agency they work for is a touch too fantastic. All in all, it seems the moe and fantasy knobs were turned a few notches higher in this one. I don’t hate it, but I prefer the original down-to-earth cast in their old, dingy office.

However, with the steady hand of A-1 Pictures to guide the series, each weekly installment guarantees a watchable and entertaining 25 minutes. The core of the series–the trio of Uzuki, Rin and Mio–are the best of the Cinderella Girls, probably because they’re the most realistic and relatable.  The manner in which they come to know each other at first and their regular interaction is organic and genuine. While some of the other girls’ antics can test my patience to a certain degree, the above-average scripting that underlies the main three also helps to portray the rest of the cast decently. Presentation-wise, A-1’s direction and animation are rich with character, and keep these eyeballs stuck to the screen.

But enough about all that. Mr. Producer is the real star.

The Producer left an immediate impression when he first popped up with his imposing stare and monotone voice. The thing about Mr. Producer is that his manner of speech and approach to human interaction make for the perfect picture of a salaryman who’s really bad at his job. When confronted with questions like “When’s our debut?” from the girls still unsure of their professional future, he responds with a business-like “It’s currently in planning.” His Japanese is very polite and vague–the exact manner of speech that is pivotal to the typical escape tactics salarymen must rely on daily when confronted by the work place’s constant and harsh inquisitions.

Producer’s clinical business-talk brings things to a head in episode 6, injuring Mio’s ego after the turnout at the unit’s first concert betrays her overblown expectations, with his words going on to turn away Rin as well. As he realizes his mistakes, he learns that speaking is human interaction, and not just a tool required to move on to the next task. Once back with the whole gang, the girls request that he refrains from using teineigo when talking to them to build a more friendly rapport.

It goes without saying that the default way to go in Japanese is to speak politely–especially in the work environment–but many Japanese office workers use teineigo’d apologies and excuses as a shield to excuse themselves for their mistakes or poor work ethic. So long as one can apologize nicely or have a polite excuse prepared for when a co-workers throw a fast ball, the salaryman can continue maintaining the middling status quo. This is Producer-san, along with legions of other real-life salarymen at their 9-to-11s.

Between weird developments like idol boycotts or tours about the label’s palatial offices, what Mr. Producer represents, and how he develops, stands out. Will his scary eyes become softer? Will he be able to speak in tameguchi to girls who are younger than him? Neither has really happened yet, but at the very least he seems to be getting an idea of where his girls are coming from, which is a promising start.

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