The Infinite Zenith

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

Wake Up, Girls!: Shadow of Youth (Seishun no Kage) Movie Review and Reflection

“And why should such songs be unfit for my halls, or for such hours as these? We who have lived long under the Shadow may surely listen to echoes from a land untroubled by it? Then we may feel that our vigil was not fruitless, though it may have been thankless.” —Denethor II, Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King

It’s almost been three years since I’ve written anything related to Wake Up, Girls! — my last post on the entire series was at the anime’s conclusion, where, despite their loss at a national-level idol competition, WUG is signed to produce an album. By December 2014, a two-part movie for Wake Up, Girls! was announced, acting as a sequel to the anime series. The first half is dubbed Shadow of Youth and follows WUG as they attempt to make an impact in Tokyo to sell their first-ever album. Struggling to promote their music in Shadow of Youth, the girls turn to Hayasaka with the goal of having him write another song for them, but he declines. Resolute on selling their albums, WUG also take dedicated lessons in Tokyo to further hone their skills, and despite the difficult training sessions, each member of WUG resolves to stick it out, deciding that the effort to make it big in Tokyo is preferable to returning to Sendai. WUG also participate in an idol performance, but their group’s relative obscurity means few of the attendees stick around to watching their show, and in a bid to boost their album’s sales, the group resort to selling CDs in person in the streets of Tokyo. With things looking bleak, Hayasaka returns at the last moment and decides to write one more song for WUG. Screenings of this film began in October 2015 and grossed around 115 000 Canadian dollars: in a somewhat ironic twist, the obscurity that WUG faced in Wake Up, Girls! is mirrored by the relative lack of interest in the movie amongst English-speakers. I’ve only had a chance to watch the movie recently despite its release more than a year ago, and discussion on the film is non-existent.

While other venues for anime discussions have skated over Shadow of Youth, watching Wake Up, Girls! again is reminiscent of my old remarks in my earlier discussion, where I note that everything must start from somewhere. The anime captured this exceptionally well, showing just how much sweat, tears and blood goes into making something worthwhile At the time, I was wrapping up a year of open studies and gearing up to enter graduate school. I was also enrolled in my supervisor’s iOS course, and had sat through a guest speaker’s presentation on start up companies and the effort involved in making one survive. While intriguing, I wondered if I was the right sort of person for a start-up and figured that working a larger company would be more stable. In a strange turn of events, I’m now working at a start up company. Like Shadow of Youth, it’s been an illuminating experience as I learn about both the business end of things, as well as furthering my own knowledge of software development: far from the idyllic path that folks have in mind when they begin, working at a start up is filled with uncertainty and demands one’s absolute best. Wake Up, Girls! captured this in its anime, and continues to succeed in doing so with Shadow of Youth. Whether it be encountering an audience completely unfamiliar with their music and a market unsympathetic to their situation, Shadow of Youth reminds audiences that nothing worth accomplishing ever comes easy. It is WUG’s spirit and determination to stick it out, to make the most of a situation in the hopes of achieving something much greater than any one member, that has gotten them this far, and with the first movie wrapping up, the girls are set for that second wind. It’s a surprisingly fitting parallel for working at a start up: requirements of working hard, making the difficult decisions and determining what’s best for the entire team apply to new companies the same way they apply to WUG.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the three year span since I first watched Wake Up, Girls!, so much has happened that it’s almost dizzying, and in that time span, I’ve forgotten all of the characters’ names, save Mayu. In this post, there will be the customary thirty screenshots, although I note that the image distribution is a little uneven, so some scenes are covered in more detail than others. With this in mind, this talk on Shadow of Youth is geared to be about the big picture rather than more minute details.

  • While it’s likely an exercise in futility to remember everyone’s names again over a fifty-minute timeframe (the runtime of Shadow of Youth), for reference’s sake, from left to right, we have Miyu Okamoto, Airi Hayashida, Nanami Hisami, Minami Katayama, Kaya Kikuma, Yoshino Nanase and Mayu Shimada. While their names elude me, I still recall each of the characters’ defining traits (works at a maid cafe, has no special skill set, is the youngest of the group, has an Adam Richman level appreciation of food, is the oldest of the group, is the leader of the group and has the most experience of anyone, having performed for I-1 Club previously).

  • An anime whose characters are memorable for their traits is one I’ll tend to remember, so even after all this time, I’m able to drop right back into the heat of things without necessitating too much revisitation of the original anime. Here, WUG are negotiating the group’s future with a spirited representative who appears quite interesting in watching their progress: he aims to give them assistance, likening it to bringing an M1A2 to a fight, although the analogy flies over Minami’s head.

  • Entrepreneurs and salespeople have a remarkable talent for making it sound like the impossible is merely improbable to accomplish: the polar opposite of my personality, these folks are exceptionally good at reading people and communicating. The positive energy is a very powerful motivator, and I’ve found that high energy is a powerful motivator for me; if I know where things are going and what needs to be done, I’ll do my best to get it done. Such is seemingly the nature of the individual helping WUG: he promises to help them promote their brand, but also counts on WUG to deliver.

  • Wake Up, Girls! was criticised during its original run for having poor quality animation, but by the time of the movie, the studios producing Wake Up, Girls! have found their groove: the artwork is of a high standard, and here, the group is in the streets of Tokyo speaking about their futures. Miyu feels that they’re closing the gap between themselves and I-1, but that’s akin to a small start-up saying that a giant like Google or Amazon should start sleeping with an eye open.

  • Kouhei and Junko have some additional business to tend to, leaving WUG free to explore Tokyo. They find themselves in amazement at how hectic things are, but also enjoy the sights and sounds. Here, Mayu stops to admire a handbag in the shape of a baby chicken. From what I’ve heard, the voice actors for Wake Up, Girls! were sourced from ordinary folks in an audition, and each of the anime’s characters take their given name from their respective voice actor’s name.

  • This here’s the Kaminarimon, the outermost gate at the Sensō-ji temple in Asakusa. It’s famous for its large lantern, and the present structure is not the original: the original Kaminarimon was constructed in 941 at a different location and moved in 1635. The structure has burned down on at least three different occasions, and the modern-day structure was constructed in 1960. The lantern itself is 4 meters in height and has a mass of 670 kilograms. Despite its size, it is surprisingly fragile: the most recent restoration was done in 2003.

  • This past week saw one of the more intense cold spells of the year, with a daily high of around -20°C before windchill (-4°F for my Imperial system-using readers), and coupled with snowfall, made for the worst driving conditions I’ve seen for quite some time: commutes took upwards of twice as long to complete, and roads remained quite icy throughout the week. Arriving home later in the evening from work every day of the week meant I’ve not the energy to blog, accounting for why there’s been a few posts for this month so far. However, the temperatures began rising again yesterday, and road conditions have returned to normal now, just in time for the first full moon of the new Chinese lunar year. I celebrated with family today at the Café Hong Kong, where fresh scallops and crunchy shrimp noodles were among the things we had for dinner, perfect for a chilly evening.

  • Tasuku Hayasaka is a top-tier songwriter who is occasionally contracted to work with I-1 Club. Despite his harsh methods and blunt words, he grows to care for WUG over the course of Wake Up, Girls!, and is genuinely happy that they’ve made so much progress during the course of their careers. By the time of the movie, he refuses to lend his talents to the group: playing in a different field, he is gauging whether or not the raggedy-ass band that is WUG has what it takes to truly play in the big leagues. This forms one of the overarching conflicts throughout Shadow of Youth.

  • Back in Sendai briefly, the girls prepare for the next leg of their journey: Kouhei arranges for each of the girls to take special lessons to further their skills, working with the organisation bvex. Mayu returns home briefly, and it is plain that by this point, her relationship with her mother has improved dramatically since the anime.

  • On average, a train ride from Sendai to Tokyo is around two and a half hours in length: it is by no means a trivial commute and so, WUG will lodge at accommodations in Tokyo during the course of their training. While the topic of trains is floating about, I note that Canada’s own passenger rail network is ill-suited towards serving the nation owing to the size. The largest rail company in Canada is Via rail, and there are actually no trains from Calgary to Toronto, the nation’s largest city: one must drive up to Edmonton first, and from there, it’s a three-day journey by train. The only viable option to get across Canada is by air, and even then, the distances are non-trivial: flights between Calgary and Toronto have a duration of around four hours.

  • It seems that Airi’s training has gone modestly well: the weakest of the girls in her singing and performance, she’s assigned to the entry-level classes that give her a chance to learn and master the basics. In spite of her lower skill level, she is highly dedicated towards her training so that she’s not holding the group back as a whole. Back during Wake Up, Girls!, she came close to the verge of being dismissed by Tasuku, but the group’s overall resolve towards helping her, coupled with her own efforts, led Tasuku to reconsider.

  • While the others are getting on alright, Kaya and Miyu are utterly spent from their training. I’m brought back to memories of the first several times where I lifted weights, and was so sore from the regimen that I could not move my arms or walk straight for at least three days following a session. It’s been some seven years since I started lifting, and these days, while I still become a little sore after a lift, the soreness usually goes away within a half day or else can be dispersed with a cool-down day, where I lift much lighter weights to get the blood flowing (and remove any remaining lactic acid buildup).

  • By evening in their hotel room, the girls converse on how they’d like to perform for WUG: Yoshino suggests that it’s ultimately about the execution of their music, rather than the music itself, that makes the difference to audiences. The lighting in this scene seems to mirror the emotional tenour amongst WUG: it’s light where the girls are, and dark everywhere else. Note that Minami is absent from the proceedings; she’s fallen asleep in the bath from exhaustion.

  • “7 Girls War” is the opening song for Wake Up, Girls!, and also doubles as the final song that they performed during their competition during the anime. Upbeat, simple in composition and earnest, it’s a song that captures the entire essence of WUG, along with each of the eccentricities and uniqueness for the members. It’s also a song that, when loaded into AudioSurf, matches most of the songs from DragonForce in terms of intensity; playing 7 Girls War in AudioSurf creates a downhill, high-energy track.

  • When Miyu wonders if they’re dreaming, Kaya pulls her face to ascertain that this is reality. Kaya’s appearance is reminiscent of Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Fū Inubōzaki and Yanagi Takiyama of Glasslip, befitting of someone who projects a more mature air relative to that of her peers.

  • Whether it be on a small stage or a great venue, WUG continues to perform with their sincerity and fullest effort. This lends itself to the page quote, which is sourced from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King (rather than the movie): it is fitting for Wake Up, Girls! in the knowledge that even in light of the difficulties that everyone faces, music speaking to happiness and resilience is precisely what is needed to lift people up during troubling times.

  • When I’m asked about what I look for in a good song, I respond that a good song is one that evokes a very clear set of emotions or imagery in my mind’s eye, or otherwise tells a phenomenal story. A song that is successful in doing this is a solid one in my books, and it is for this reason that a lot of North American pop music does not cut it for me: speaking about the superficialities of life, it would be an insult to consider such cacophony as music. “Where Are Ü Now” and “Shake It Off” come to mind, being repetitive to a fault and doing very little in crafting a story or mood.

  • Junko’s strongest attribute is her ability to set folks straight whenever things look ugly for WUG: she deduces that the fellow responsible for promoting WUG was in it for Tasuku’s music rather than genuinely helping WUG and yells at him here after learning that WUG’s falling short of their sales expectations. Owing to how multi-layered things are in reality, the situation that WUG find themselves in cannot be easily defined in terms of black and white. In order to rectify this, Kouhei decides that they will have to move the thirty thousand albums on their own.

  • Kouhei’s conversation with Tasuku for assistance proves fruitless: when asked why the latter had agreed to help them previously, he only replies that he has no answer. From an external perspective, the rationale was that he was providing the girls a chance to prove themselves and get their foot in the door. Now that they’ve begun, he reasons that they must depend on their own determination and resourcefulness in order to continue.

  • Things continue to fall for WUG: their reception is tanking, and producers are seeing dwindling interest in their performance. Nowhere else is this more obvious than at their latest performance: WUG are slotted into an intermission period and the performance venue empties out, leaving only a handful of viewers to watch. In the aftermath of the performance, the atmosphere is gloomy, and the girls are dejected in spite of their efforts to remain optimistic.

  • Even when faced with failure, WUG promises to endure: following Yoshino’s lead, the girls pick themselves up again and attempt to sell of the remainder of their albums. The single is titled “Kiss me honestly”, and from my perspective, it almost seems hypocritical to say that I wasn’t too fond of that song even after I note that I’m behind WUG. It sounds very generic, and the lyrics don’t speak well to me, lacking the same earnestness as “7 Girls War” and “First-rate smile”.

  • I do not have “Kiss me honestly” in any of my music rotations, and that Wake Up, Girls! manages to capture the difference in style and quality to this extent even out of their universe is an indicator of the effort that went into making Wake Up, Girls! plausible for the audiences: I may not like the song itself, and this is mirrored in-universe, but the group as a whole is one that I want to root for.

  • As a character-driven anime, Shadow of Youth continues in Wake Up, Girls!‘ approach in reinforcing the idea that it’s the characters’ unity, rather than where they are, that makes a difference, and so, whether it be Sendai or Tokyo, much of the group’s dynamics remain unaltered. This particular element also means that my screenshots are focused on the characters rather than the setting: in shows like Sora no Woto, the setting can be utilised to speak volumes about what the characters are feeling far beyond facial expressions and body language, hence my decision to include them.

  • Despite their difficult situation, WUG take a moment to consider everything they’ve done so far, and begin singing Taichiagare, the first song they’d ever performed as a team. In a cold venue with few viewers, this song is where it all started for everyone. Unlike in Wake Up, Girls!, live performances of this song were done in front of a large audience who enjoy it. The girls’ smiles show that even now, there is hope.

  • In the eleventh hour, Tasuku arrives. Impressed with their persistence and determination even in the face of adversity (he likens them to rabbits who’ve not been chased off by the intensity in Tokyo), he makes an announcement. There is a song for WUG that will give them a second chance and asks them to perform at the Festival of Idols. Titled “少女交響曲” (lit. “Girls’ Symphony”), the song is a return to the style that WUG is most suited for performing at this Festival of Idols, set for August 18, 2015.

  • A cursory glance at my site’s archive shows that at this point in time, I pushed out a post on Non Non Biyori Repeat and tracklists for a pair of then-upcoming Locodol albums that I’ve not had a chance to listen to. My motivation for picking up Locodol actually stems from watching Wake Up, Girls!: after this anime ended, I was interested to see another idol group start their journey, and in the end, I found an immensely enjoyable journey that represents a completely different take on idols than the one that Wake Up, Girls! presented.

  • In this festival, I-1 will be competing for the first time, having previously acted only as the hosts for the event. It brings to mind a joke I shared with the senior black belts during the kata tournament back in December: I was set to help out with the tournament, but one of the black belt participants were not able to attend. I said that I’d be happy to participate as a “hidden boss”.

  • With the first half of the film over, I need to hustle on watching Beyond the Bottom; strictly speaking, there is no rush, since it seems that there are no other reviews of either movies out there on the intertubes for the present. However, owing to my schedule, it is probably prudent to enjoy these movies now before things get any crazier: I’ve got several milestone posts lined up for March, and outside of this blog, there will be a plethora of things to do once the weather warms up and I am able to make full use of that complementary parks pass. Regular programming will resume on Wednesday with the next Sora no Woto post.

As Shadow of Youth serves as the exposition for the two-part series, there is not much in the way of new music or performances. Instead, Shadow of Youth accomplishes the vital goal of setting the stage for what is to occur in the second half: while Wake Up, Girls! aims to present the more realistic, gritty side of things with the challenges and set backs WUG faces, all of the accumulated effort the girls have made in the first movie will have been for something useful. Coupled with the second movie’s title, Beyond the Bottom, the implications are that these efforts will pay off. Reality, in spite of being renowned for its unforgiving nature, can also provide some uncommon luck for those who work hard: WUG was given a new opportunity to produce an album despite having lost the competition, and here, have another opportunity to prove their great worth to the market. I am quite curious to see where the second half of the movie will go — it should be no surprise that I will be providing a talk on that here once I cross the finish line for Beyond the Bottom.

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