The Winter 2014 Anime Preview Guide
Wake Up, Girls!
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Wake Up, Girls is a mix of showbiz sleaze and a good-hearted can-do tale. The story of group of hopeful girls put together by a down-and-out talent agent who decides, after her last client leaves, to get into the idol business starts out pretty seedy, and it definitely has aspects that still feel fairly unsavory, but elements of if it really seem to want to have a good time in a more feel good way.
The story revolves around a group of seven high school girls living in Sendai. Six of them answer the call of Green Leaves Production's idol advertising (generally by being scouted), while the seventh has a more complex relationship with the idea – Mayu was once the center for popular girl group I-1 Club before leaving under suspicious circumstances, and she was so badly burned by the experience that she thinks she never wants to go back. Naturally this changes, and the 50 minute movie that leads us into the series ends with their triumphant performance...even after the lady who got them all together bails with all of their money.
It is this last which makes up the key issue for the actual first episode of the TV series as the remaining manager tries to figure out if he can keep the group together. This is where some of the sleaze comes in, although it was casually present in the movie as well – he finds a producer, but he comes in looking like yakuza and asking the girls to put on string bikinis. Interestingly enough, there is some question of whether or not they will do it, mostly because earlier they said that they were happy to flash some panty if it meant getting noticed. This could speak to a duality for the girls – they recognize that a tease sells, but are potentially reluctant to take it farther. Seeing how they resolve this will likely get me back for another episode, although beyond that will depend on how this is handled.
The girls themselves are moderately appealing, all of different types for the viewers' delectation. No one has a flashy character design, which is quite interesting, even if Yoppi and Mayu can be a bit hard to tell apart at a glance. Mayu's emotional story is probably the most fascinating part, especially as her old buddies in I-1 Club are set to take on Sendai at the episode's close, although I admit that cranky yet realistic Nanami is my favorite thus far. The dance choreography is quite well done, enjoyable to watch from both a dance and an animation perspective, even if the panty flashes don't always feel necessary or realistic. Other animation aspects are not as good, with walking look especially stiff.
This isn't as peppy or sweet as Love Live, but Wake Up, Girls certainly has the potential to be soapy fun. If it doesn't get too exploitative for the sake of being prurient, there could be some good statements made about the idol biz, and I expect that Mayu's inclusion may allow for that. Now as long as the show can stop itself from shortening the group's name to “WUG” as the initial producer suggested (apparently because WHAM was a thing), then we'll be in good shape.
Wake Up, Girls is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Wake Up, Girls! has a stiffer barrier of entry than most shows this season. Episode 1 of the series is more like episode 3, as it follows directly on the heels of a 50-minute mini-movie completed earlier this year. So this preview is essentially covering 3 episodes of material instead of one, which is a severe handicap for a bad show hiding its poor hand and a great advantage for a good show to prove just how much it has going for it.
Wake Up, Girls! is a good show. It's a very good show in a remarkably quiet way. The movie opens with the standard arena filled with screaming fans waving glowsticks for a group containing dozens of idols: the I-1 Club. They take the stage and thank all their fans for allowing them to make it all the way to the Tokyo Dome. It's the most cliche of openings for a pop idol anime...at least, it would be if the I-1 Club were the stars of this story. But they aren't. The concert, and the fantasy, is immediately cut off in the next moment, placing us in a dingy apartment building with "Green Leaves Entertainment" pasted in the windows. A bitter old talent agent is in a shouting match with her last remaining client. Her assistant, a tired-looking twenty-something, lies on the couch drinking beer and seemingly awaiting a tongue-lashing himself. The agent's fight ends with a shout of "You're a terrible model anyway! Why don't you give up and sell your body like everyone else?" She slams down the phone, begins to smoke, and only a few minutes later, concocts a plan with her beleaguered assistant to make money off the creation of a teen idol group. Surely they can find eager girls off the street if their connections don't come through with any up-and-comings! Easy money!
It doesn't get any more glamorous from there. The audition process is awkward, and reeks of the scam that Wake Up, Girls! will turn out to be under the management of Green Leaves. The seven girls reeled in to form the group aren't peppy anime stereotypes who believe their pop songs can change the world, they're normal girls with many different dreams, aspirations, and levels of delusion or cynicism about what being a part of the "Wake Up, Girls!" group will mean to them. (This is brought home firmly by the voice direction for the show which is heavily naturalistic, does not use "chirpy anime voice" at all, and has the girls speak in their normal register with no emotional exaggeration.) Now this is in no way a mean-spirited show. There is charm, admiration, and deep sympathy for these seven girls and their clueless, exhausted manager thanks to the honesty of their situation. There is humor, but it's understated, as the entire story is understated. It's a slow, deliberate build of strong elements that's hard to describe until we see more of where it's going.
Normal idol shows like Love Live! and Uta no Prince-sama have their place as heartwarming fantastic escapes, but Wake Up, Girls! is heartwarming for entirely different reasons. These girls may not become world famous. They might never play in the Tokyo Dome like the I-1 Club. The very beginning of the series has the girls in debate about whether they can afford to become idols at all after a surprise case of embezzlement undoes all their hard work. The only concert they ever played was one song, no costumes, with six bored people watching. But it's the journey that matters here, and Wake Up, Girls!, brimming with little details and subtleties that draw you in, is easily the most human and honest show of the winter season.
Wake Up, Girls! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4.5 (of 5) for both parts together
Review: The debut of Wake Up, Girls! actually comes in two parts: a 52 minute movie and a regular-length TV episode. The movie must be watched first to make much sense of what is going on in the TV episode, so both are being previewed here together.
The story being told here is a fairly ordinary one about the formation and (presumably) road to success of a female idol group in the city of Sendai. In this regard the movie is the set-up piece, as it introduces the cast, bring them together, and shows the ground floor problems involved in putting the project together, culminating in the eponymous group's debut performance. Because of various problems they have encountered – including the president of the group's small talent agency running off with the money just a couple of weeks before the concert – whether or not the group is even going to have a second performance is in doubt. The first TV episode is about where things go after that first performance and how the group is going to pull together in the face of their uncertain prospects.
As plain-Jane as this all sounds, there is nothing plain about the execution of this original project; in fact, it could very well be the season's most pleasant surprise. It does not do anything outlandishly; no extreme personality types, no great degree of flash, no robotically CG-synched moves. Even the debut performance is done merely in the girls’ regular school uniforms, which means the occasion panty flash is unavoidable. (And aside from one cleavage-gazing scene, that is the only fan service of any degree in these two parts.) The girls are a diverse bunch from diverse backgrounds and with distinct personalities that emerge quickly, and centerpiece character Maya offers a compelling backstory: she once was the center of top idol group I-Club before something happened which caused (forced?) her to “graduate” and eschew the idol life for obscurity, and while she happily encourages her friend to get involved, and still has at least one friend active in I-Club she resolutely does not want to get involved herself until she finally convinces herself that she wasn't satisfied without how things ended. A touchy relationship with her mother also helps assure that the series will not be short on drama.
But again, most of that has been done before. The difference here is the pacing, the tone, and the writing quality. It does not waste time on extensive training sequences, instead providing just enough indicators that training is, indeed, going on, and lets the character development carry things along. It also adds in little touches, too, like how many acts have very ignominious performance beginnings and how in this day and age it can just take one person to get the ball rolling on building an act's fan base. Music is used sparsely, but when the key performances numbers come up, they do not disappoint; the group's debut song is a winner which looks like it will serve as the opening theme. Artistry and animation, while not great, are not bad, either, and each of the girls is distinct enough and appealing.
Most of my other recommendations this season are coming with qualifiers. I am not putting any on this one. I am not normally a fan of this type of show and yet am still giving it my general vote of approval.
Wake Up, Girls! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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