“This is just the beginning!” —Darth Tyranus to Yoda, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Released in December 2015, Beyond the Bottom is the second half of the two Wake Up, Girls! movies. After returning to Sendai, WUG begins regrouping and preparing for their next major challenge at the Tokyo Idol Festival. However, armed with Tasuku’s composition, the girls are excited to participate, even though they will require one other song in order to consider participating. In order to elevate their publicity, the girls take a trip around Japan, garnering the attention of folks around the nation, who begin to take notice and cheer them on. Meanwhile, Junko gets in touch with an old friend who, after watching WUG perform, is moved and decides to write a song for them. When returning from their trip, Nanami’s father picks her up and questions her desire to become a Hikarizuka performer. Left with lingering doubts, the tenants of WUG lead her to follow her original plan to be a Hikarizuka performer, but realising the connection she has with Mayu and the others, she decides to perform with WUG, having felt the most at home with this group. The I-1 club also undergoes a disruption when Shiho is ejected for having failed to exceed Megumi in sales numbers, and sent to a small-time idol unit. Understanding how Mayu felt when she had bested her earlier, Shiho resolves to put her current unit on the map. When the Idol Festival arrives, WUG meets with the other idols, and it is remarked that this meeting feels like a class reunion. WUG reforms their practise to account for Nanami’s arrival, and when the time comes for them to perform, the girls put their heart and souls into singing and dancing. Seeing the solid performances from the different teams leads I-1 Club’s manager, Tōru Shiraki, to smile and acknowledge Tasuku’s speculation that creating distinct idol groups was a part of his plan to further the popularity of idols in Japan. In the post-credits scene, WUG stands triumphant, having taken first place at the competition.
The second Wake Up, Girls! movie, Beyond the Bottom continues with following WUG’s journey as an idol unit. Having demonstrated their resolve to make an impact even in a world fraught with challenge and resistance, their determination has earned the respect of those around them to give them a chance, and even though the different members each face their own challenges, as a whole, the group’s overall cohesion and team spirit prevail. Beyond the Bottom also carries over its predecessor’s tendency to deal with multiple sub-narratives — while coming across as a little busy, these plot lines come together in a satisfying manner in time for the conclusion. Nanami’s conflict between her idol work and dreams to perform in Hikarizuka theatre underlines how individuals’ goals can shift over time, and how a group of closely-knit individuals sharing a common goal can be instrumental in helping one come to understand what they seek. For Nanami, her realisation comes when she’s alone at the station awaiting her Hikarizuka exam: the empty concourse halls are in contrast to the high spirits WUG are in prior to their travels to Tokyo for the Idol Festival, and it is this unity that leads her to settle on a decision. The other sub-narrative follows Shiho in the aftermath of falling behind on her sales target. Now experiencing the same as Mayu years before, she immediately picks herself up and resolves to pound I-1 for having discarded her as a center. While seemingly a demotion, Shiho is given a chance at a new start and understands this, motivated to demonstrate her own skill as an idol in leading a smaller unit. Curses and setbacks can be a blessing in disguise, and sometimes, a new perspective is what one needs to realise this. By the time of the Idol Festival, Shiho is ready to deliver a heartfelt performance worthy of the stage. These elements both add a bit of urgency to the Idol Festival, showing that each group has their own reasons in striving for the top spot, but ultimately, with WUG’s overall victory, it would suggest that there is a magic amongst WUG that allow them to perform exceptionally and stand out even in a market place saturated with talent.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Like the previous Wake Up, Girls! movie review, this post will have thirty screenshots such that more elements can be explored. My extensive command of Google-fu has yielded a conclusion — with this post, I lay claim to the internet’s only discussion with an extensive collection of Beyond the Bottom screenshots. Here, Kouhei announces WUG’s latest assignment back at their headquarters on a hot summer’s day, and Minami is seen talking into a fan with amusing results.
- I’ve long abbreviated the group “Wake Up, Girls!” as WUG (not the Steyr AUG bullpup rifle) and refer to them collectively as such because it is both consistent with how they are known in-universe, as well as for the fact that it saves me a few seconds in typing out the name, and also has the further advantage of minimising confusion as to whether or not I am referring to the show or the idol unit. The girls are also assigned to sell merchanise to promote their presence here, exhibiting a degree of excitement in doing so.
- In their first performance of the movie’s second half, WUG realises that they’ve come full circle and are now performing at the same venue where they first started their journey on a cold December’s evening. This time, rather than the occasional passerby as their audience, they’ve accumulated a small but dedicated following who genuinely enjoy their perfomances.
- While on break at another performance, WUG encounter the group of lead performers who remain in character as Japanese Samurai; they are impressed with the resolve that each of the members exhibits, and the leader advises the girls in trusting their own decisions in order to move forward, which foreshadows later events.
- I’ve made mention of Shiho Iwasaki in earlier posts, but have not gone into much details or even presented her visage. To rectify that, here she is: I-1’s former centre, she was dismissed after her sales were eclipsed by another rival’s. It is in Beyond the Bottom that she experiences what Mayu went through, but whereas Mayu was dismissed entirely, Shiho is reassigned to a smaller idol group, dubbed “Next Storm”. To demonstrate that she has what it takes, Shiho resolves to compete in the Idol Festival and take her team to the top spot.
- Here, Junko meets with an old friend who performed alongside her when they themselves were part of an idol unit, Saint 40, many years back. Her friend is presently an office worker of sorts but still sings at a local club; Junko remarks she’s lost none of her singing talents in the times that have passed, and for everything that’s occurred between them, they remain close friends.
- Kouhei and Junko plan a trip around Japan to bolster WUG’s presence that takes up much of August. According to my site’s archive, during this time, I was involved in bringing my Unity cell model into the CAVE and Oculus Rift as part of my graduate research. The summer students were wrapping up their own projects, and a major forest fire burning over in British Columbia blanketed the area in a heavy smoke. Exiting my last full summer as a university student, I entered my final year of graduate school refreshed and ready to roll.
- Upon learning that their ride around Japan is a dirty-looking van, the girls take to cleaning it, and by the time they finish, though they cannot alter the van’s performance attributes or design, the van looks revitalised. This action is a subtle hint at WUG’s modus operandi: they are able to find the positives and make the most out of whatever situation is presented to them. This attribute becomes invaluable for the team moving forwards.
- While travelling around Japan, message boards begin lighting up as locals begin watching their performances and interactions with people. The messages transform from pleasant surprise to genuine well-wishes as the girls move the audiences’ hearts and minds, and here, after Kouhei manages to stop the van for an elderly lady who’d dropped her apples, the girls step out to help her. By giving those around them a personal touch, WUG projects an image that they are a more personal, more relatable group than the manufactured, machine-like nature of much larger idol units.
- A part of being a small idol unit means the willingness to participate in a variety of jobs; one of the reasons that I tend to view Wake Up, Girls! favourably is because its depiction of WUG’s formation and growth is surprisingly similar to that of a start-up company, where the small team size means that staff are required to perform a variety of tasks in order to keep the company operational. In my experience, this is one of the main joys about a start-up: there is the opportunity to do new things each and every day, keeping things fresh.
- While in Hakata, Mayu decides to pay Shiho a visit. Located in the Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyūshū island, the city has a population of 216728 as of 2012 and is a marked difference from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. It turns out that while Shiho is not here by choice, she nonetheless embraces the idea of a challenge in bringing a small-time idol group against the giant that is I-1. This stands in stark contrast with Mayu, whose life fell apart when she was dismissed as I-1’s centre. However, thanks to WUG, Mayu’s rediscovered her passion, and the two’s interactions are cordial.
- The numerous performances take their toll on Yoshino, even as WUG continues to leave a profound impact with their concerts and manage to place first in a regional competition. Mayu notes that songs that they’ve sung have had an impact: I particularly enjoyed First Rate Smile, which sounds best in its WUG incarnation, and Yoshino adds that being able to participate in so much has allowed them to begin discovering their own identity, even if their identity has not been fully defined as of yet.
- When Nanami is challenged about her future, she begins doubting her time with WUG. Although considered to be an “illogical” addition to Beyond the Bottom, I counter that things can come out of left field at any given time in reality — life is not as straightforwards as the structured proceedings of a fictional work, and the difficult questions can arise at the most unexpected of times. As someone who has held interests in health and computer sciences, I struggled to decide which field was more befitting of me, coincidentally during Wake Up, Girls!‘ original run.
- Ultimately, with graduate school admission and scholarship offers appearing much earlier than the results from my medical school applications, I felt that it was perhaps a higher power suggesting to me that software development and application design would be the career I would be most at home in. I accepted my graduate school offer and set out on a journey to further my experiences in writing programs. While I’m now a little more certain as to what I need to do to improve as a developer, Nanami has a bit more trouble determining her own fate.
- My personal comings-and-goings in conjunction with the events of Wake Up, Girls! is the reason why I view the series favourably, even against lukewarm reception that pointedly outline the different flaws in the anime, ranging from its inferior animation quality to characters that were not memorable. I appreciate effort: while Wake Up, Girls! may not be as fluid as a Kyoto Animation show or have the same emotional impact as something like ARIA or Tamayura, it makes an honest effort to follow a small-time’s group journey into the big leagues, and this sincerity shows in the anime.
- Junko’s long-time friend agrees to write a song for WUG after visiting: when she watches them rehearse, she is reminded of her own time as a performer. This is indicative of the fact that she sees a bit of herself in the new idols, and thus, feels that her feelings can be properly conveyed by WUG. These elements together lay down the framework for a fantastic song that allow WUG to define their own identity.
- These folks are the Idol Otaku who support WUG’s every step, running the hidden cyber-operations that garner online support in message boards and forums, fighting to direct the discourse away from negativity and provide a non-trivial degree of contributions to WUG’s success. While seemingly trivial, the prevalence of the internet means that electronic communications have equal relevance with the actions executed in meat-space: as per Tom Clancy’s Threat Vector, armies now march on their bandwidth, as opposed to on their stomachs as they did back in Napoleon’s day.
- Armed with the new song from Junko’s friend, WUG become excited to begin practising for the Idol Festival — the girls get the sense that this song manages to capture everything about them, which arises as a consequence of Junko’s friend’s experience. Junko has one more surprise for everyone: new uniforms. However, Nanami is a little more apprehensive about her situation, being caught between a rock and a hard place concerning her need to reach a decision soon.
- While I’ve always regarded the animation and artwork in Wake Up, Girls! to be of an acceptable standard, improving in the movies over its predecessors, one of the things that continue to bother me slightly even in Wake Up, Girls!‘ latest incarnation is how the characters smiles are rendered. Appearing forced, or even a little strained at times, they impart a sense that the characters are not fully happen even when their words, actions and thoughts suggest that they are happy. I’ve learned to compensate for this discrepancy by making use of the dialogue and vocal tones, although in this particular scene, while Miyu is pumped, the others are a bit more concerned.
- After lifting weights this morning, I spent most of the afternoon playing Battlefield 1: the Winter Patch has arrived, and I’ve got a bit to talk about on that, but it’s a long weekend in my province, the first of the year. The skies turned grey as the day wore on, snow began falling and it’s quite foggy right now. However, the bit of time afforded by a long weekend means that I was able to get this talk out, coming right after a fantastic dinner with the family: besides lobster and white sauce on a bed of crispy noodles as the pièce de résistance, we had a whole steamed fish, chicken, shrimps and mixed vegetables, fried rice, pea shoots, sweat and sour pork and shark fin soup. With the snow beginning to increase in intensity as we settled down for dinner, it proved to be just the thing for keeping spirits high even as winter makes a comeback after a week of warm weather.
- Nanami speaks with Airi about her predicament: it is her dream to perform at a Hikarizuka theatre, but she also feels a commitment to WUG. Despite being the most unremarkable of the WUG members, Airi also is the most committed, valuing the group’s tenants and understanding them deeply. She suggests being forward and honest about her situation to the others so they’re aware of what’s going on.
- Thus, Nanami explains her situation to the others and receives support for her decisions. Of the blood, sweat and tears (an expression originating from the Bible and popularised by Sir Winston Churchill) that the WUG put into their work, sweat is in the greatest quantity, followed by tears. There is quite a bit of weeping in Wake Up, Girls!, and while facial expressions can become hilarious on subsequent inspection, whenever I behold the characters crying for the first time, it is quite moving, enough to get dust in my eyes.
- To emphasise that Nanami has grown close with her peers and friends in WUG, her departure towards the examination location for a Hikarizuka institute is a lonely one. Nanami is depicted as the only passenger at this terminal, and there is not another soul in sight. As her thoughts turn to the memories she has with WUG, the tears begin flowing freely. Nanami’s decision about her future is set at this pivotal moment.
- While setting off on the first leg of the journey towards their competition venue, WUG encounter Nanami, who reaffirms that WUG is the place she wants to be. With the entire team back together, they rehearse again with Nanami in order to ensure that their performance is a solid one. Time and time again, Nanami finds herself drawn back to WUG, rather similar to how the computer science side of my BHSc eventually became the dominant aspect of my career choice: this suggests that even against the challenges Nanami faces, her dreams have become more concrete with her time amongst this tightly-knit group.
- Prior to the competition, Mayu and Shiho meet up once again. Despite it being a fight for the top, in their own words, I sense no hostility in this scene. It’s a professional rivalry now, to do one’s best and strive for the top position, but there is also a great deal of respect for one’s competitors. This sets the tone for the remainder of the movie, allowing it to conclude on a high note.
- With Nanami here and ready to do her utmost, the others wonder if Nanami will have a costume available. Some forward thinking from Kouhei and Junko tend to that, and with this small matter resolved, the girls get set to rehearse. They do so in the same location as they had for the previous year’s competition, and have vivid recollections of their last practise here under the evening skies, during which Yoshino suffered an injury. A great deal has happened since then, and WUG gears up for their performance.
- Attired in light colours, the latest WUG uniform brings to mind the Peplos dress of the Ancient Greeks, although it appears much simpler in design and is modified with a large golden belt at the waist. The ornaments in the girls’ hair accentuate the Greek inspired designs, and the song they perform here is “Beyond the Bottom”; it has some very unusual acoustic properties that give it a much more ethereal nature compared to the purely upbeat songs they’ve performed previously.
- Their dancing and singing are very nearly in perfect synchronisation, WUG’s performance is captured in high detail. Back in one of the stands, Tasuku and Tōru share a conversation where the former speculates that Tōru’s methods in dismissing his top idols through competition are motivated by a desire to seed talent and spread the popularity of idols in distant corners of Japan, which in turn would bring further revenue to his company while realising his dream of making idols into a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry.
- Beholding the whole of the audience waving white glowsticks around in unison while cheering WUG on is an awesome spectacle; between the crowd chanting WUG’s name, the girls moving onto the runway as their performance ends and Junko’s friend agreeing to join Green Leaves Entertainment, the closing of the movie is a crescendo of activity that ends with a still showing the girls with a trophy, having placed first at the competition.
- The page quote comes from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, where towards the film’s end, Count Dooku retorts to Yoda that their showdown hasn’t ended yet before leaving, after being outmatched by Yoda in a lightsabre duel. A continuation set to come out somewhere this year, I’ll likely be following that in some capacity, and this knowledge means that Beyond the Bottom is not yet the conclusion, motivating the page quote. For the time being, however, the latest of my Wake Up, Girls! posts comes to an end. Upcoming posts will include a talk on my initial impressions of the winter patch for Battlefield 1 and Sora no Woto‘s eighth episode. If time permits, I will also aim to write a brief reflection on Croisée in a Foreign Labyrith before the month is over.
The end result of Beyond the Bottom is a rewarding one for WUG; well-earned, befitting of the movie’s title — with their performance at the Idol Festival, WUG has moved beyond the bottom of the barrel and have made enough waves to become recognised as the small idol unit that could. However, in keeping with the themes of Wake Up, Girls!, their success is not the end-all. Their journey is ongoing, and in December 2016, at the Wake Up, Girls! Festival 2016 Super Live event, it was announced that there will be a continuation to Wake Up, Girls!, dubbed Wake Up, Girls! Shin Shō (New Chapter). The new anime is set to air somewhere in 2017, and features new character designs that give each individual a more distinct appearance. While reception to Wake Up, Girls! generally remains lukewarm at best amongst English-speakers, with some folks regarding the series as “lacklustre” or “illogical and emotionally weak”, I disagree on the virtue that life itself can proceed in unusual ways. The harsh experiences and sudden reversals of fortune can indeed happen, and this series resonated with me in presenting a story where a group slowly makes their presence felt through a combination of teamwork, determination and resilience. Overall, I would give Beyond the Bottom a recommendation for all fans of Wake Up, Girls!, although this film is not for individuals unfamiliar with or else disinterested in Wake Up, Girls!. With the knowledge there is a continuation in the works, set for release later this year, I am quite interested to see what lies in store for the raggedy-ass band of idols known as Wake Up, Girls! in the upcoming anime.