The Idolmaster – Review

Yep, big surprise, I reviewed The Idolmaster. As I’m sure you know if you’ve been reading the week in review posts, I was a big fan of this show – in fact, its final score ends up approaching Flowers of Evil/Ping Pong the Animation levels, so yeah, this was definitely a favorite. I was actually a huge fan of this show in spite of the fact that neither of its final emotional arcs really worked for me. I couldn’t buy into either Chihaya or Haruka’s drama, and both of their stories struck me as kind of contrived and hollow. But the execution of those stories was remarkable, and the show overall had such an incredible sheen and understanding of quick touchstone character work that I can barely fault the show for failing in its most emotionally ambitious moments. Idolmaster nailed the small moments, the ones where characters were just coming to understand each other through proximity and time, and that stuff does great work in justifying a couple melodramatic overreaches.

Plus, and this bears repeating many, many times, Idolmaster is so friggin’ beautiful. Holy crap this animation, holy crap this direction, holy crap basically everything about this show’s visual and aural storytelling. Christ, I wish I got to complain about storytelling quibbles in shows this beautiful more often. I wish the general problem was “this show is a visual masterpiece, but sometimes it’s not so good at executing on emotional setpieces.” It’s kind of funny to me that a couple years ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate this show, but would likely have been groaning about there being no heir of Gainax to take up the legacy of shows like Evangelion and FLCL. Well, Gainax’s children are here, and they’re doing the best they can. Hire a couple better writers and we’ll be right back in the golden age.

You can check out my extremely positive review over at ANN, or run down my pages and pages and pages of notes below!

The Idolmaster

Episode 1

Great backgrounds, strong incidental sound design, this nice documentary framing device

Strong pacing and direction in general. Strong animation. Actually interviewing her, emphasizing how far she travels for her work

Really strong opening in general

We meet Makoto, who’s the tomboy-looking one who we immediately see has the “actually wants to be girly” charm point

765 Production is the studio

Their elevator is busted

Now we finally get music

Really energetic animation. Excellent personality-filled, stylized key frames

Ami and Mami Futami

Hibiki Ganaha is the big ponytail one

Hamzou the hamster

We’re getting a huge number of characters immediately, introduced through these goofy office shenanigans

This animation style feels almost Gainax-esque. I wonder who they’ve got working on this

Iori Minase, basically the Nico-style one

Too many damn names aagghh

Takane Shijou’s the silver-haired one

Miki Hoshii is the blond. “My boobs are really big”

Going to voice lessons, working out of a cramped agency, etc. This one’s much, much more grounded than Love Live in certain ways

Yukiho Hagiwara – the timid one, can’t talk with guys

Some nice energetic transitions

The Umi-looking one. “I don’t have anything but singing, so I can’t take it lightly”

Great shot of her in the corner of a toplit frame

Takane is pretty chuuni in a funny way

This show definitely doesn’t shrug anyway from emphasizing boobs. Kinda leery in that Gainax way

Man, the animation is so nice

Iori was actually brought in because her dad runs the company, lol

Yayoi Takatsuki is the orange-haired pigtailed one. The oldest of six siblings, a poor family

This show sort of occupies a weird middle ground between perky glamorizing and reality. Not Love Live, but not real either

We don’t get to see the male president’s face

Really nice that the final “what does being an idol mean” question catches all of them in the place they were interviewed. Nice structuring of the episode, ending where it began

Ending with them finally getting a producer – it’s the cameraman

Episode 2

This show’s humor isn’t really as strong as Love Live

Damn, wonderful animation for the opening song

Maybe because there’s so many characters, this one leans a bit more on types than Love Live

Animation remains great

Azusa’s the older blue-haired one

This time they’re choosing outfits for their promo shots

The four younger girls getting anxious about finding their style. Pretty nice, grounded conflict

The insecurity and warmth of this episode was very genuine

And the ED shots are of Iori at home. Interesting

Episode 3

Holy shit this is a lot of energetic animation

Looks like this’ll be a partially Yukiho-based episode. The girl who’s afraid of guys

Looked it up, and yeah, a ton of the key animation staff here were former Gainax, concentrated on Diebuster and the Imaishi works. It shows

It’s nice that the show keeps finding ways to display how the studio is just scraping by. They’re excited and optimistic, but they are not well-off

They’re going on a trip and are going to sing on a stage

It’s a rinky-dink summer festival in the sticks

Some of these shots are framed so nicely!

Everyone’s disappointed the concert’s not turning out how they’d hoped

Yukiho’s freaking out

All of the idols have their own talents

Miki does standup about wanting to sleep, lol

Makoto and the main girl trying to cheer up Yukiho

Another great backlit shot as the producer tries to console Yukiho

Episode 4

Four of the girls are stuck wearing frog costumes

Hibiki, Takane, Haruka (the MC, gotta remember,), and not-Umi

Chihaya’s the Umi one

Hibiki can communicate with her hamster

Chihaya’s upset they removed the singing segment

She lives alone

So we get some idol song as they compete in a cooking show

The cameras are being creepers, and the show itself is emphasizing that

Chihaya’s very uncomfortable

Oh wow, Chihaya kills the whole mood by defending Haruka

Chihaya’s being forced to do demeaning work that has nothing to do with her passion, and she can’t fake energy for it. This is very good stuff – reminds me of Shounen Hollywood

Gorgeous shot of Chihaya singing, again backlit

I like the unique way this show portrays Takane as a total weirdo

Again emphasizing the creeper camera. Wonder where they’re going with it

A lovely shot as the producer hands Chihaya some bandaids

Really sad shots for Chihaya’s ED

Episode 5

Beach episode time, apparently

Everyone’s dying in the summer heat

Ami and Mami just continuously tying in rock-paper-scissors is cute. Those two work well

Iori freaking out Makoto and Yukiho with scary stories. Lots of little bits in every episode

Every episode has a couple title-announced idol songs

Chihaya jealous of the big boobs

The animation’s really holding together. It’s really something

Yukiho building a hole for herself, lol. The characters are building up nicely over time

Haruka trying to get Chihaya to enjoy herself. The friendship between these two is pretty central

More gorgeous backlit shots

The personalities play off each other well. Most of them aren’t that extreme, so they can work with a variety of the others without relying on one gimmick

This episode’s just entirely little slice of life moments, which is a little much. The show needs some conflict, though overall it’s certainly less purpose-driven than Love Live

Chihaya’s anxious. She thinks she should be practicing, because she’s still not getting singing parts. Chihaya’s story is the best so far

Them talking about their dreams before they go to sleep

A very nice piano song for this ending

A new unit has been created – Azusa, Iori, and one of the twins?

Episode 6

Ryuuguu Komachi is the unit

Ami is the twin in the group

Kotori, the green-haired production assistant, keeps having shoujo or JoJo manga daydreams

Miki feels insecure about Ritsuko not putting her in the unit, and then the producer distractedly promises she can

Producer’s overdoing it, and making things worse

The producer isn’t playing to his idols’ strengths, just shoving work at them

“You’re trying too hard on your own.” This episode is about the producer learning to trust his team, like they talked about at the end of last episode

Miki pushing herself based on a promise the producer can’t fulfill. But Miki’s actually very talented

These little dramas are pretty well-constructed

Miki saves the day

This is a very warm show

And then a gorgeous, full animation performance by the three-piece group. Holy damn

Episode 7

Iori being her Nico/princess self

Yayoi invites Iori and Hibiki to her place for dinner

Yayoi schooling Iori on selecting food at the supermarket

Yayoi is kinda scary-cheery. Her personality permeates the episode

Yayoi’s oldest brother feels resentment towards her, because he thinks she gets to do what she wants

The camera avoids Yayoi’s face after her brother’s outburst. Again, really graceful and effective direction

Iori’s stuck up, but a very good friend to her friends

The casual character animation in this show is just unreal

And Iori calls the producer, pushing forward her character journey too. Nice stuff

This episode manages to establish the context of Yayoi’s story while actually being an Iori story. Excellent work

Nice song here for the climax

The idol songs here are way more diverse than the Love Live ones

Episode 8

Azusa in a wedding dress. Makoto getting annoyed she has to dress like the groom

Azusa wants to get married. That’s her thing so far

Azusa gets mistaken for an actual runaway bride. What a waaacky mixup

Producer counts on Miki to buy them time

Azusa’s taking the whole thing pretty mildly. Apparently getting lost is her other thing

Wacky mafia goon shenanigans

Makoto leading the chase. “Are you guys detectives or something?” “No, we’re idols!”

This is a very fun silly episode

Azusa gets distracted helping little old ladies and lost kids

Makoto being a badass this week

The other bride ends up smitten with Makoto, lol

Now Azusa’s song kicks in as she wanders the town in a montage

Holy crap, Makoto has an awesome high-wire duel with one of the goons. Wonderful animation, fantastic sense of weight to the bodies and direction

And it all ends in a massive chase of Azusa in her wedding dress by the entire town

Episode 9

Opening with a murder mystery featuring the current three-piece idol group. The direction shifts nicely for this sequence

Uh oh, somebody ate Iori’s pudding. TIME FOR A MYSTERY

The show really does have a fun time jumping into different genres

Ami and Mami are on the case

Of course, this episode goes into Mami’s feelings on being left behind by her sister

The mystery isn’t terribly interesting or cleverly composed, but the direction is at least on the ball

Miki ate the pudding

But she ate it because the twins ate her dessert. Of course

Episode 10

The annual talent agency track meet. Hoo boy

All the other girls feeling envious of Ryuuguu Komachi as they prepare to go on-stage. Having one small group of the girls experience early success was a good idea for the drama

The other idols plotting against 765. Idols simultaneously competing and mugging for the camera, trying to win on personality

Aw dang, mean idols talkin’ shit to Yayoi

Jupiter, the idol boy group, arrives

Makoto and Iori fighting. A few mini-dramas this episode

One of the evil idols is smitten with Makoto, of course. Makoto just too cool

Makoto gets injured, Yayoi’s still down

Evil idol businessman tries to strongarm Producer, so Iori throws her weight around

“Get past the rest for me, Makoto.” “Iori, you always ask so much.”

Another very endearing episode

Episode 11

Prepping for their first concert. Yukiho and Yayoi can’t keep up with the steps, so they discuss simplifying things. The better dancers are against this, of course

Everyone’s stressing. Yukiho blames herself, Haruka falls asleep on her feet. Nice little bits of drama interspersed with resolve

“Haruka’s optimism might propel them forwards”

Chihaya helping Haruka practice her singing. Wonderful little moment

Haruka ends up missing her train and staying with Chihaya

Chihaya’s stuff is in boxes. Her home barely looks lived in

Her parents just divorced, so now she wants to live on her own

Nice low-key scenes between the two of them

And the other shoe finally drops for Miki

Episode 12

The Producer is upset because this is such a tense time, and gets angry at Miki. The assistant rightly says he needs to consider her feelings at a time like this

Miki gets her focus song as she’s goofing off avoiding work

Discussing what they might have to do if Miki doesn’t come back

Miki’s a free spirit

“I don’t want your apologies. I want to make up for lost time.” Chihaya gets angry, but she spins it positive, for the sake of the group. She’s more mature than Miki, but Haruka still catches her

Episode 13

Ryuuguu Komachi are held up by a typhoon before the concert

The other idols are forced to stall and pad their setlist until Ryuuguu Komachi can arrive. Trading song positions, etcetera

It seems like Miki is close to the best of them, but she’s flaky

And Yukiho just straight shouldn’t be an idol

All the girls trading off on songs, a couple of them at a time

Everyone’s losing it

“How about we worry about what we want to bring everyone, rather than what they’ll think?” Once again, Haruka’s optimism holds them together

Miki steps up, volunteering to do two straight songs

This episode is great. It’s awesome seeing these characters against the ropes in a way that really makes sense as a musician. Making compromises during unfavorable concert conditions, fighting to overcome the pressure

Miki stirs up the crowd by explaining the situation. Miki’s actually a pretty excellent character – extremely talented, but not always able to push herself

Excellent animation for Miki’s big number

Miki stumbles off the stage

And ANOTHER fully animated song. Jeeeesus

The big performance is a triumph. Great animation, direction, and the sound design works so well

This show definitely earned that ending flashback montage. Blood, sweat, and tears, jeez

Episode 14

That concert really put them on the map. We’re mirroring the first scenes of the first episode, but now there are 765 posters and Haruka has to disguise herself

And their schedules are absolutely swamped now

Yayoi has a cooking program

So the first half was them on the outs, now they’re becoming stars


They’re all dressed up in ridiculous fruit costumes. A nice unspoken joke

Jupiter, the boy group, pushed them off their cover issue

Looks like their boss is gunning to knock out 765 Productions. Kind of a silly villain

Apparently Kuroi, their leader, has old baggage with the president

“I couldn’t stand his methods for developing idols” lol. This is kind of a step up in absurdity for the show

Although it’s not really unbelievable that larger agencies would push smaller ones around

Miki’s the one who ends up calming the group down

The business is messy, but the fan support cheers them up

Episode 15

And now Chihaya, Haruka, and Miki are on a news show

Miki now calls the producer “honey” and blows him kisses on camera. Whoops

Makoto puts on a frilly outfit, and the entire audience deadpans. Pretty great

What the hell are Ami and Mami doing

These concept episodes really help liven up the show

“Hibiki would be fine against a bear.” “Bear? What are you talking about?”

Takane’s Ramen Chronicles. A suitably ridiculous segment

Chihaya’s worried she can’t relax, because, well, she can’t relax

Haruka smacks herself in the face. There’s that joke that actually happened

Miki uses “honey” on air. lol

Oh my god, this movie preview

A ridiculous giant robot movie

Dressing Makoto in cool dude outfits

Episode 16

Whoa jeez, serious grayscale opening. Chihaya episode, of course

And then Hibiki shows up

Hibiki arguing with her dog and hamster

ono, the bad guys are trying to destroy Hibiki’s show

Jupiter’s on the show!

This episode’s really energetically paced

The silliness of this enemy agency plot kinda undercuts some of this show’s strengths

Hibiki gets straight-up kidnapped and dropped off on a mountain

Wow, this bad dude sure is punchable!

Too many of the episodes come down to chasing for people. They need to think up more narrative ideas. This one’s particularly arbitrary

Hibiki talking to animals is always pretty great, though

Hahahahaha, her hamster slaps her



ono, Hibiki’s been neglecting her animals. THIS SADNESS


Wow, the bad guy’s idols are total idiots

Fun episode, but the point hits at a nice fundamental issue – the compromise between success and family

I should mention how every ED is different

Episode 17

An episode about Makoto’s insecurities

Discussing the likelihood of a high school student going to school on a horse, lol

Chihaya’s got troubles again. They’re very slowly building her story

It does kinda suck being famous for something you dislike about yourself

Another fight with Jupiter Productions

And then Makoto tries to cool off with light gun games

Makoto talking about her dad, how she never got to do what she wanted

We’re even getting a little producer development here

Makoto wants the producer to basically take her on a date

Song time!

Wow, her singing voice is great. Really like this song. The idol songs are pretty diverse

Makoto used to get teased for being so boyish. “Growing into it” hasn’t made her happy

Oh no, street thugs! Time for Makoto to spring into action!

She can’t help being the shoujo hero

Producer takes a hit in the face!

Producer talking about how Makoto’s image lets other girls feel like princesses

Episode 18

Ryuuguu Komachi are practicing for a secret show. Some great Ami faces

Chihaya drama being foreshadowed again

Talking about Ritsuko’s time as an idol

Another gorgeous backlist shot

Azusa’s got the mumps. So will Ritsuko have to replace her in the concert?

Without Azusa, they need to adjust their dance routines


They’re kinda leaning on the Ritsuko moe factor here

Kinda strains credulity that Ritsuko would be in even close to the physical shape necessary to just jump into their performance

More great expression work. This episode’s got even better character animation than the usual ones

Ritsuko’s fearful flashback is handled really well

She feels intimidated by the fan letters, the scale of it all, compared to how she did as an idol

More just wonderful animation even for the small scenes

Lots of goofy hyper-foreshortening in this episode. So many episodes have a distinctive visual personality

Episode 19

Time for a Takane episode! And the bad guys are gunning for her!

So apparently it’s actually the show director who’s ex-Gainax. Excellent

And with a KyoAni supervisor. Holy shit

Idol Dio hires a tabloid cameraman to expose Takane’s secrets

Takane sure does like food

They fabricate a story about her possibly moving to another agency

Takane wants to fight back

The other girls are suspicious of her

Chihaya visits a grave, and seems to run into her mother. Did her younger brother die?

Jupiter finally learn their boss is behind the dirty tricks

Takane is police chief for the day, somehow

Oh my god, Takane pulls a gun on the photographer. TAKANE

And then she flips him

“The key to victory is spinach”

“You need to trust us all a bit more”

So Takane’s from the moon, of course

Chihaya’s story breaks in the tabloids – her parents divorced because of her brother’s death, she “let her brother die”

Episode 20

Her brother got hit by a car when she was eight. She blames herself

“If I hadn’t been there, my brother would never have been in that accident”

“I have to sing. For my brother’s voice, also”

Jupiter’s getting mad

Now Chihaya can’t sing

A softly lit flashback to the sound of a music box

“My brother was my one and only audience member”

And so she quits

I like how the show continuously, casually demonstrates the ways the girls have to always “perform” their most idol selves regardless of what they’re actually feeling. And it’s not treated as some kind of either deceit or punishment – this is just their job

More wonderful shots using light and darkness

Haruka trying to cheer her up

Gorgeous match cuts

Haruka meets Chihaya’s mother, who gives her Yuu’s notebook to give to Chihaya

Her mother thinks she can’t speak to her without fighting. “She doesn’t trust me anymore.” Dang

More beautifully composed shots

Now Haruka’s doubting herself because of Chihaya’s angry words

“If you hold back when you’re encouraging someone, what’s the point?” Producer giving a really good speech here

This episode is gorgeous

Chihaya’s never sung happily as an idol – she sings out of duty

Great establishing shots

Just Chihaya in the corner to the sound of the sink dripping, held for five seconds

“I don’t want anything. Just leave me alone.”

But Haruka won’t leave her alone

“I know I’m meddling… but even so!”

More beautiful shots

The team wrote a song for Chihaya

Haruka keeping the group up as they wait for Chihaya

Wow, what a great moment. Perfect animation as Chihaya comes back

Chihaya choking on the stage

The whole team comes out to support her during her song

Dang this scene’s well-composed

Episode 21

861 pulling more stupid pranks. They really are a pretty silly villain

And now he’s meddling with their levels at the concert

Chihaya bit’s going a little far. I’m looking forward to the song, though

Gorgeous performance animation, as always

Evil villain laugh from the evil villain

This was a bit of a lesser episode – the 861 stuff was very silly, and the Chihaya addendum was unnecessary

They go to a fancy restaurant to celebrate

Dang, apparently the green-haired assistant (Kotori) moonlights as a lounge singer

“You trust your idols? How ridiculous!” This guy is lol

Episode 22

Christmas episode. Haruka wants to have a party, but it’s tough schedule-wise

Miki’s got a fancy commercial now

Basically everyone’s got a unique event on Christmas

This also kinda seems like a Producer episode

Miki and Haruka get roles in a musical, but it’s still undecided who’s lead and second lead. Wuh oh

Haruka got the lead, I guess

Wow, their schedule looks insane now

Now they kinda barely see each other. Success is a strange thing

Montage of all of them having their various Christmas events

Everyone gets together. And it’s a totally earned reunion – the cast has been divided significantly in this second half, for real reasons, and it’s nice to see the show regain the atmosphere of the carefree first half

Miki earned an idol newcomer award. Not surprising – Miki’s been clearly established as the best of them

The awkward sense of obligation to their fans, as they drift apart from their friends

They keep drawing attention to Haruka not giving Producer the wallet. Hrm

Episode 23

Starting off with some wonderful character animation from Haruka as we see advertisements and success stories for all the girls

I like how consistently this show demonstrates they’re not just an idol group, they all have their own careers

Haruka once again feeling weird about everyone being split up, and visiting the office to regain a sense of normalcy

Haruka’s energy and faith in the group has a lot less purpose when the group can’t get together

Nice scene with Haruka and Chihaya after practice. Chihaya trying to match Haruka’s sacrifices for the group, but Haruka not wanting that

Good framing through this sequence using the bridge

The drama of these episodes isn’t as engaging as the episodics, but there’s a nice warmth to their relationships

Really great shots throughout this episode. Great colors and lighting

Yukiho, Haruka, and Makoto debut a new song. More beautiful animation

Their sunday show is cancelled

“Let’s make it fun through the last episode.” Jeez

Aw jeez, Miki and Haruka still competing for a lead role

Great animation of Haruka nudging over to sit next to Miki

“Let’s both do our best.” “I don’t want that. I want this lead role. I want to prove this to honey. So don’t say that to me.” Miki is pretty great. Definitely one of the more interesting characters

Haruka’s not giving the play part her all

The producer stops by

Haruka almost falls through the stage, but Producer saves her, falling himself. DANG

Episode 24

“What you need to do now is work hard and meet your commitments to your fans”

The shot transitions of Haruka in shock are really good

Haruka wins the lead, basically because the part requires embracing the feelings of abandonment and insecurity she’s already experiencing

Damn this episode’s direction is great. Such excellent shot transitions. Again, every episode has a different personality

Noriko Takao is the director – the person they grabbed from KyoAni

“This might be the last concert we can all have together!”

Miki tells her she’s being selfish, which she is

Wow, this very quiet scene of Haruka breaking down is wonderful

Haruka just doesn’t know what she cares about anymore. She wanted to become an idol, but was happiest when they were a struggling idol family. Now that they’re successful, she’s not passionate

She runs into the Jupiter guy, who’s happy with a smaller agency even though they’re just getting by. He trusts his team now

Chihaya goes to Producer, wondering what to do

This episode leaned a bit too much on a too-thin dramatic core, but it was still emotionally effective

Episode 25

“When we’re all standing on the stage together is when I feel most like an idol”

Great lighting again

Producer makes it to the concert. This cast really has grown together so well

“Without any one of us, it never would have worked. All of us together are what make 765 Productions.” It feels remarkable when a show earns a speech like this

Dear lord this performance is impressive. Beautiful stuff

This show is an animation fan’s dream. Christ

Damn. This episode actually had me really hoping for one more song myself. This stuff is so beautifully animated