The Fall 2017 Anime Preview Guide
Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter
How would you rate episode 1 of
Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter ?
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How was the first episode?
Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter picks things up where last season left off, with our intrepid heroines getting ready to take the next steps into idol stardom by performing more live shows and recording their first full album. Now, of all the idol shows I've watched during my time writing for ANN, Wake Up, Girls! has easily been the most endearing; the girls in this scrappy little group are just so damned earnest, and the show takes its time to show how hard they have to work just to get their foot in the door of the cutthroat world of pop idol entertainment.
In this first episode of its new season, Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter seems to retain all of its charm and underdog appeal, and the story is simple enough that you can pick it up even if you didn't' see the first season. The main conflict of this episode is that one of the girls loses a good-luck scrunchy right before the big performance, which only goes to show how lovably down to Earth this group is. As individuals, the girls all remain fairly indistinct in their geniality, but their chemistry as a unit makes up the difference. There's really only one major issue with this premiere, though it's a doozy: visually speaking, it's pretty lame.
This is not a new phenomenon for Wake Up, Girls! The original season was a pretty rough ride production-wise, with the script being the show's true saving grace. The animation in this episode seems to have improved at least a little (with one major exception), but the new art style is just the pits. This is obviously a matter of personal taste, and the first series was no Violet Evergarden or anything, but the general art style was just simple and modern enough to avoid being garish. Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter looks like something you might have found in an anime bargain bin sale in the early 2000s, with everyone looking so squishy and shiny that the already unimpressive character designs become almost indistinguishable from one another.
Even worse is WUG!NC's use of CG, which is legitimately awful. I'm already a grump when it comes to idol shows using CG models to make easier work of musical numbers; I understand their practical purpose, but they almost always clash with the traditional animation in such a distracting way. WUG exacerbates this problem by making such a hard transition to CG for its main number that it literally looks like someone slapped a video game cutscene into the middle of the episode, and the whole scene is haunted by baffling camera angles and nauseating 360-degree panning. It's one of the single ugliest things to come out of this season, and the only thing that made it bearable is that “7 Girls War” remains a lovely piece of bubblegum pop, no matter how botched the visuals.
After all of that complaining, I'm still going to award this premiere a 3, simply because it's so nice to have Wake Up, Girls! back. I may not be a WUG super fan, but theirs is a solid and entertaining story, and Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter has a lot to offer simply by virtue of its lovable cast. So long as you don't need the animation to actually look too good.
Okay. Let me tell you about the Wake Up, Girls!
For better and for worse (usually in equal measure), I think Wake Up, Girls! is the idol anime for people who don't like idol anime. And by those people, I mean me. [email protected] has always felt like the world's most blatant CD commercial to me, leading me to drop it after the first episode of all three series that emanated this tone so far. Love Live! wears a little more heart and soul on its sleeve, but it also feels focus-tested and managed within an inch of its life, all sparkles and treacle to a stepfordian degree for me. So it seems obvious at this point that idol anime just isn't for me, and I should stop trying to watch it, right? Well, that's where the Wake Up, Girls! came in. I gave its first episode (actually a movie) a perfect score back in 2014, and it's had my heart through the ups and downs ever since. This is an idol group whose manager has abandoned them and taken all their money multiple times. This is an idol group where half the members were still breaking their backs working side jobs they couldn't afford to quit. This is an idol group who didn't know they were named after a love hotel until they randomly came across their seedy namesake.
That brings us to this series, which I'm of two minds about. On one hand, I don't think you'll be able to appreciate it much or have any reason to watch further if you're not familiar with the wildly awkward journey the girls took to get here. (They started at the bottom now they're like...holding a participation award two rows back onstage. Progress!) On the other hand, it's technically open to newcomers, explaining its premise very well though not having time to reintroduce and flesh out the cast, which I think is more important. Watching this episode alone, you'll get a good idea of some basic personalities in the group, the more naturalistic tone and color palette of their world, and just how often one of the girls screws up in ways that aren't just cutesy or consequence-free, but tense and relatable for anyone who's felt out of their league in the pursuit of a dream. (I'm not crazy about the art style change or CG dancing, but I can get used to them if it means more of this charming story.) Most importantly on the production side of things, this season's producers will no doubt have learned from mistakes of WUG's past.
For those unaware, the first Wake Up, Girls! anime was a production disaster after the introductory movie. Its now-notorious director Yutaka Yamamoto ("Yamakan" to his fans and haters) helmed a sinking, badly-animated ship to its natural conclusion, which almost made its story of seven would-be idols failing very slowly upward feel more authentic as the show started collapsing right along with them. However, through it all, the story and performances remained strong and memorable for anyone interested in an idol series without the rose-colored glasses. I realize this is a limited audience, but that's kind of the point of Wake Up, Girls! They're never going to be the top idols, maybe because these "eternal amateurs" (as the show's extremely blatant AKB48 stand-in I-1 Club calls them) are the most fallible and human bunch in the business. The point is that they'll be someone's top idol group, and that group of someones includes me.
My recommendation is that you give this decent introductory first episode a look, and if you like the unorthodox style, definitely go back and watch the original Wake Up, Girls! movie and TV series. Yes, the animation is just the absolute pits at times, and the show can be brutally honest about the realities of the idol industry to a depressing degree now and again, but the story and characters are one-of-a-kind in a genre mostly defined by more plastic happiness. I'm glad the Wake Up, Girls! are back, and if they get just a few steps closer to their dreams this season (with plenty of stumbling along the way), it'll be good enough for me.
It's a hard knock life for a Wake Up Girl. In the industry at large, Wake Up, Girls! has always been a somewhat awkward project, a show championed by controversial director Yutaka Yamamoto that never really broke out. Even in the series itself, Wake Up, Girls! takes a more jaded approach to idoldom, emphasizing the dark side of the industry far more than its many fellows. Here in the fall season, Wake Up, Girls! is overshadowed by [email protected] and Love Live!, two of the most beloved idol franchises out there.
But long odds can breed a scrappiness that becomes its own reward. Though I never watched the original Wake Up, Girls!, this premiere was a nicely constructed and generally entertaining journey, gracefully introducing me to the show's cast and world. The seven idols of Wake Up, Girls! have a strong group rapport, and this episode introduced their various specialties in a way that never felt overbearing. Their producer and director also felt like fairly dynamic characters, and this episode's overall tone of wariness toward the idol industries' financial fortunes gave it a strong sense of dramatic weight. Writing-wise, my only major complaint would be the hit-or-miss comedy and the less-than-graceful introduction of three new girls who will presumably join the main team.
As far as execution goes, this episode was somewhat uneven. There was a welcome amount of strong character acting throughout, and though some of the animation felt rough, the overall effect gave plenty of life to this world. The characters are expressive and their designs hit a neat balance of clearly defined and also fairly realistic, in keeping with the show's dramatic tone. On the negative side, this episode's direction wasn't really anything to write home about, and the performance at the end was portrayed through disappointingly mediocre CG. In contrast with Love Live!, which both employs higher-quality CG models and switches to traditional animation for closeups, or [email protected] which is basically a symphony of traditional animation from start to finish, Wake Up, Girls!'s performance scene felt visually underwhelming at all times. The problem of the character models wasn't helped by the strange camera work, which seemed to believe spinning around idols upside down is a great way to create energy.
Still, that performance scene was the only major black mark on an otherwise fine premiere. In an era with such strong competitors in its genre, it will likely be hard for Wake Up, Girls! to stand out. But if you're looking for a somewhat different take on the genre, you can probably jump into this even if you've never seen WUG before.
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