Review

by Nick Creamer,

[email protected] Cinderella Girls Season 2

Episodes 1-12 Streaming

Synopsis:
IDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls Season 2
The Cinderella Girls project has finally taken flight, and now all of the girls are embarking on their various journeys. But before they can be truly established, a shakeup in 346 Productions management may spell the end for their dreams. Executive Director Mishiro has returned from America, and brought with her a whole set of new ideas on how the idol division will be run. With their futures uncertain, the girls of the Cinderella Project will have to fight to maintain their jobs and identities in a new era of idol production.
Review:

When I reviewed the first season of Cinderella Girls, I mentioned how the show seemed to have serious trouble getting out from under the shadow of its predecessor. The animation was a clear step down, and though occasional episodes were very well-directed, the show overall lacked the visual beauty and dynamism of the original. Couple that with its underwhelming early dramatic arcs, and you were left with a show that often like an awkward shadow of its older sibling.

In some ways, that is still true here. As far as the visual execution goes, Cinderella Girls is an undeniable step down from the original Idolmaster - the direction is “only” above-average, the animation “only” occasionally great. Even the music is put to less interesting use, with the original's diverse montage tracks here being replaced by simple background tracks and occasional diegetic idol tracks. And yet, in spite of these relative disappointments, Cinderella Girls here finds new strengths that let it stand proudly beside its predecessor. It is a very different show, but still quite a good one.

While the original Idolmaster was great at building its characters up across goofy episodic narratives, it stumbled when handling larger dramatic conflicts. The show's “villain” was a joke of a character, and its big internal character conflicts overwrought and underwritten. This trend of inconsistent dramatic beats continued in the first half of Cinderella Girls, leading me to conclude that subdued drama simply isn't something Idolmaster does well. But after watching this second season, I am happy to say I've been proven completely wrong.

The entire second season of Cinderella Girls is constructed around one ongoing conflict, as the new head of the studio's idol division, Director Mishiro, arrives with a set of new plans. Immediately announcing she's putting all current projects on hold, she decides the division's new direction will be focused and polished. No more gimmick idols with silly costumes, or cutesy idols with small but dedicated fandoms; 346 Productions is going to produce starlets, carefully chosen girls who'll act as graceful lifestyle brands unto themselves. Those who can't represent the new face of 346 Productions will be discarded, and those who stick to the scrappier, more individualistic old style will be reassigned.

This overarching conflict gives the second season a strong, grounded base of drama, a threat that feels consistently relevant and also completely realistic. Changes in corporate philosophy really are a threat to individual, contract-bound performers like idols, and the need to either please the new director or fall in line in other ways affects all of Cinderella Girls' characters differently. There's one episode where Miku's gimmick idol role model ends up being fired from her role on the company's variety show, and forced to either give up her old identity or admit defeat and return to her home in the sticks. In another, Mika is forced to change her image entirely, leaving her feeling defeated to the point where she lashes out when her sister has her own image-based complaints. And even when the overall image shift isn't threatening these characters, the need to find work in a new environment still is. Idols struggle to support each other in spite of the fact that they're ultimately also competing, second-guessing their relationships as their friends form new units in order to compete. There are a large number of very good individual episodes here, sensitive reflections on the trials of maintaining your work and identity in the face of larger workplace shifts.

While the struggle of maintaining individuality in spite of the move towards homogeneity continues to the end, Cinderella Girls' last few episodes also focus in on Uzuki, giving her one strong arc before the show ties everything together. This too is handled with real grace - Uzuki's insecurities are grounded and relatable, and the execution respects her fears without overselling anything. The show doesn't add any external injections of drama; Uzuki's fear of being left behind, and her unhealthy reaction to it, emerge naturally from her fundamental character and the things she's experienced. Not every episode is equally strong, and not all of the characters end up as textured as you might like, but the overall balance is very much in Cinderella Girls' favor. On both the general and individual level, Cinderella Girls' conflicts here are incisive and heartfelt, a compelling portrait of the trials of one kind of career artist.

As mentioned before, Cinderella Girls is still “only” solid in its aesthetic variables. The direction here actually seems less inspired than the first half; the show leans hard on its flower and clock motifs, but fails to bring much personality besides that underlying soft-focus fairy tale tone to most of its conflicts. It's perfectly competent, but not much more than that. Meanwhile, the animation seems similar overall to the first season, but less balanced. While Cinderella Girls' first season had a pretty even mix of everyday character animation and performance scenes, here pretty much every animation highlight is constrained to the last few episodes. The animation is still lively throughout, but there are fewer of those great pieces of incidental character animation that have been a series hallmark.

The music is also a bit less of a standout, though this may come down to a preference in how the show employs its songs. While the background tracks are generic role-fillers (melancholy strings, perky piano keys, etcetera), the actual idol songs are also rarely the focus. The show often cuts from a performance as soon as it starts, or has characters performing at a low volume in the background while the action is elsewhere. These choices make Cinderella Girls far less of a music-driven production than you might expect, though the show does pull out some great tracks for the major scenes. It's perhaps reflective of the way the show's actual cast are fighting for a more identity-focused concept of idol stardom than one entirely based on image and song, but it's a choice that occasionally leaves the show a little less holistically emotive than it could be.

Overall, Cinderella Girls' second season represents a dramatic narrative improvement over both the original series and its own first season. While the aesthetics may still not match the original Idolmaster, the much stronger storytelling makes Cinderella Girls ultimately feel just as impactful, and even more emotionally rich. Cinderella Girls rises above its inconsistent first season to stand as a strong and heartfelt idol drama.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : A-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B

+ On both the individual character and overall narrative levels, Cinderella Girls' story is sharp and emotionally rich.
The direction is fairly neutral here, and animation only inconsistently great. The choice to downplay the music itself possibly limits the impact of some emotional beats.

Director: Noriko Takao
Series Composition:
Tatsuya Takahashi
Noriko Takao
Script:
Yuniko Ayana
Chiaki Nagai
Tatsuya Takahashi
Michihiro Tsuchiya
Go Zappa
Storyboard:
Toshifumi Akai
Takahiro Harada
Ayako Kurata
Koji Masunari
Ryouji Masuyama
Manabu Okamoto
Tomotaka Shibayama
Hiroyuki Shimazu
Kentarō Suzuki
Noriko Takao
Episode Director:
Toshifumi Akai
Takahiro Harada
Ayako Kurata
Miyuki Kuroki
Ryouji Masuyama
Manabu Okamoto
Tomotaka Shibayama
Tsutomu Yabuki
Takeshi Yajima
Music: Hidekazu Tanaka
Original Character Design: Annindōfu
Character Design: Yuusuke Matsuo
Art Director: Miho Sugiura
Chief Animation Director: Yuusuke Matsuo
Animation Director:
Synod
Satoshi Furuhashi
Takuya Kawai
Tomomi Kawazuma
Yuusuke Matsuo
Kazuaki Shimada
Shingo Tamaki
Satomi Tamura
Yuusuke Tanaka
Kaoru Wago
Shinya Yamada
Yūkei Yamada
Art design: Kazushi Fujii
Sound Director: Akiko Fujita
Director of Photography: Yūya Sakuma

Full encyclopedia details about
[email protected] Cinderella Girls (TV 2)

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