The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Wake Up, Girls!- Seven Idols Movie Review

Read the opening paragraph in your mind with Michael Caine’s voice

A long time ago, Green Leaves Entertainment was a production company that managed the careers of magicians, photo idols, fortune-tellers, and other entertainers. However, with the last of their clients having left, the company now sits on the brink of bankruptcy. In a last bid to survive, president Tenge decides to produce an idol group from the Sendai area. She sends out the manager, Matsuda, to scout out talent. While initially having difficulties, he eventually assembles a small group of girls and encounters one Mayu Shimada, changing Green Leaves Entertainment’s fortunes. Despite initially hesitating to participate, as the girls become acquainted with one another and practise towards being idols, Mayu gradually rediscovers her own desire to be an idol and sets out to find her own happiness.

  • Despite having a runtime of fifty minutes, I was only able to accumulate twenty images’ worth of thoughts, primarily because I’m one episode from finishing the TV series at the time of writing. This is Kouhei Matsuda, whose timid personality and inexperience as an idol manager makes it difficult for him to effectively make decisions that help boost the group’s career.

  • Kaya Kikuma was originally from Kesennuma, living with her aunt after her parents died when she was young. After her childhood friend went missing on a fishing vessel three years ago. Kaya left for Sendai, working in various part-time jobs, never really feeling at home until joining Wake Up, Girls!

  • Miyu Okamoto has a job at a maid cafe in Sendai and is the first person to be successfully recruited by Kouhei as a member of the Wake Up Girls. She is willing to participate in almost anything and enjoys being the center of attention whilst respecting others in the group.

  • Junko Tange (left) is the president of Green Leaves Entertainment and Kohei’s superior. A chain-smoker with a brash personality, she often harasses Kohei both physically and verbally on the job, but eventually works to help Wake Up, Girls! become successful.

  • Mayu Shimada (left) helps Airi Hayashida (right) practise for the Wake Up, Girls! audition. Mayu was once the centre for the idol group I-1, while Airi is simple girl with no particular abilities, but with a lot of drive and is a hard worker.

  • From left to right, the first six members of Wake Up, Girls! are Kaya Kikuma, Airi Hayashida, Miyu Okamoto, Nanami Hisami, Minami Katayama and Yoshino Nanase. To complete the character introductions, Nanami Hisami is the youngest member of the group and constantly practices singing, acting, and playing the piano in hopes of becoming a successful idol. Minami Katayama is recruited after Junko saw her winning a local folk song singing competition and performs at a local home for senior citizens. Last but not least, Yoshino Nanase is a former child actress and a model who, owing to her maturity, is considered to be the group’s leader.

  • Now that the character introductions are complete, we may begin discussing the movie in earnest. After their initial formation, the group initially encounters all of the hiccoughs associated with being what is equivalent to the entertainment industry’s equivalent of a start-up company and has trouble finding places to perform and practise.

  • The kind of challenges associated with a start-up are great, and not two days ago, I attended a lecture on the logistics behind start-up companies. The speaker stated that the most solid start-up companies have people who work well together, and are willing to put in their full efforts for their company’s growth, even if things are rough. Personally, I think that working for a start-up would be better once one has a bit of experience in related positions.

  • Airi is seen practising after hours to ensure that her performance is up to scratch for their eventual debut. From the lecture, I don’t think I can work full-time at a start-up company owing to the uncertainty right from the beginning: granted, the payoff is big if the start-up produces a successful product and catches the attention of larger organisations that subsequently buy out the company, but initially, things will definitely be difficult. However, at present, I am involved with doing iOS consultation for a local start-up company. As my first industry-related experience, I resolve to give this all I’ve got.

  • As the oldest member of Wake Up, Girls!, Kaya is quite mature and motivates the other girls, while occasionally challenging Junko’s business decisions.

Released as the prequel to the currently-airing Wake Up, Girls!, “Seven Idols” portrays the origins of the Wake Up, Girls! group, formed as a last ditch resort to prevent Green Leaves Entertainment from going under. Originally, I hadn’t even heard about the movie until I was halfway into Wake Up, Girls!, although thankfully, the series doesn’t really leave out too much. However, for completeness’ sake, I decided to go check it out. This was time well-spent: I enjoy origin stories very much, as they typically explain how an individual or groups of individuals reach their current state. There is a commonality in all of these origin stories in that, at the beginning, the individual or group would typically be gingerly testing new waters and cautiously wander into the unknown. Through trials and experience, their resolve is tested, and at the end, they come out a little stronger and more determined than before. Now, Batman Begins is probably the gold standard as an excellent origin story: Wake Up, Girls! is able to meet this standard, executing the story quite nicely. Amongst the different aspects shown include Matsuda’s initial efforts to find prospective idols, how the group’s name came about, how the girls eventually become closer as they practise together, and Mayu’s own background, involving a nasty incident with I-1’s manager that eventually led to her firing and subsequent refusal to participate in Wake Up, Girls!. These elements are all explored by the TV series proper in much greater detail: “Seven Idols” is a movie that aims to instigate interest in the TV series.

  • When I kicked off the series, Mayu was already a member of Wake Up, Girls!, although the movie illustrates the difficulties they initially experienced trying to get her on board. As such, Wake Up, Girls! with only six members feels a little empty. In retrospect, I probably should’ve looked harder and watched the movie before starting the series; part of why this movie talk is shorter than the usual thirty images is because I’m now aware of events that have longer-term implications, but are going to hold back on until I do the full-series reflection.

  • Tears are shed by the girls throughout the movie and TV series: understandably, the prospect of failure and disappointment is overwhelming, but this is the nature of the beast. Reality is harsh and unforgiving, and success does not come easily, even if effort is involved. This is a lesson I have learnt time and time again, and in Wake Up, Girls!, the girls go through hellfire on their way to becoming a recognised idol group. Their persistence and determination are admirable: I’m inclined to say that Wake Up, Girls! is able to dispel some of the myths surrounding the idea that entertainment industry is glamorous and show a more (albeit watered-down) difficult and gritty side to things.

  • After seeing the rest of Wake Up, Girls! practising in earnest, Mayu returns home and watches her old I-1 footage. She suddenly realises that she couldn’t let go of being an idol, and the emotions finally brim over, leading her to reconsider Kouhei’s request for her to join Wake Up, Girls!

  • While the girls are able to record a CD, dramatic circumstances lead the girls to wonder if they’ll ever get to debut properly.

  • Comparisons have been drawn between Tari Tari‘s Wakana Sakai and Mayu: while both characters were highly proficient in their respective fields a long time ago, transpiring events led them to depart in the hopes of moving on, and in both cases, it takes an emotional moment to finally realise that they were running away from their dreams. After these realisations, Mayu joins Wake Up, Girls!, although it won’t be until the TV series proper that Mayu is finally able to overcome her past.

  • The single most intriguing element about Wake Up, Girls! was that auditions for the girls’ voices were held in the Sendai region: every voice actor lends her name to her respective character in the anime: seven voice actors were selected from over two thousand candidates, and the successful candidates would both provide their voices to the anime, as well as the songs.

  • Kouhei distributes fliers for Wake Up, Girls! prior to their first real performance at a local music show during the Christmas season. For my future discussions, I will refer to the idol group Wake Up, Girls as WUG for brevity, and continue referring to the anime as Wake Up, Girls! in full to minimise ambiguity. Generally speaking, show titles are italicised, while group names are not. However, it does grow a little wearisome to continue typing that much when an abbreviation is available for use.

  • WUG, of course, has nothing to do with the AUG. Here, the girls prepare for their first ever performance after serious practise, shivering under the cold winter’s night. Lacking a group uniform at this point in time, WUG appears little more than a raggedy-ass group. For me, that is their appeal: as the underdogs, it is quite rewarding to see the girls’ efforts yield something, even if it is not precisely what they were hoping for. Nothing ever comes for free, and as the girls gradually realise the true nature of the entertainment industry, this concert will act as their starting point, setting in motion what will happen in the TV series.

  • Kuniyoshi Oota is an idol otaku who is very devoted to WUG, having been a longtime fan of I-1; he follows message boards and tries to be a beacon of optimism against the bitter, cynical remarks within the community. This aspect of Wake Up, Girls! adds a sense of realism, showing the impact of the internet on individuals’ reputations. After falling out with I-1, Mayu’s reputation is tarnished, with anonymous online commentors leaving unfounded, derogatory comments about Mayu. Kuniyoshi continues to express hope, wishing all the best for Mayu in his own manner.

  • The song WUG performs is surprisingly well-done, and although this scene does have some questionable material, the song itself is solid. However, the dance choreography is suspiciously well-done for a group that is performing for the first time (although a sharp-eyed viewer may notice some inconsistencies here and there).

All of the characters are given fair exposition, giving their dreams and aspirations a more substantial meaning than superficial or cliche claims. This motley, raggedy-ass team initially is motivated by their own ambitions and lack unity, even questioning whether or not their efforts will be worthwhile. However, the girls eventually realise that the outcome will never be known if they do not even try, and make an effort to train more seriously. The group’s unity is catalysed further when Mayu sees the other girls train; one evening, she comes across her old videos and sees the joy that she once had. This is the turning point: with everyone’s spirits in place, and Mayu agreeing to join Wake Up, Girls!, the girls get enough of their game together to produce a hasty, but heartfelt performance by a cold winter’s evening. Taken together, “Seven Idols” appropriately sets the stage for everything that is to happen in the TV series and will set the table for those interested in checking out the TV series: if one feels that “Seven Idols” is worthwhile, then the TV series will definitely be worthwhile. Conversely, viewers disappointed by “Seven Idols” only lost 50 minutes of their time, as opposed to wasting 12 weeks following a series they weren’t certain about. I’m now just past the tenth episode, and I can honestly say that Wake Up, Girls! acts as an excellent drama that pulls no punches in depicting the grittier side of working in the entertainment industry where the leading mantra seems to be go big or go home. Because of how engaging Wake Up, Girls! is, I was already half done the series when I decided to do a reflection, and thus, I will do a whole-series “reflection and recommendation” talk once the finale airs in lieu of my typical approach.

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