“In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us.” –Carl Sagan
Since WUG’s successful performance at the Idol Festival, where they displaced I-1 Club in a competition to become the national champions, difficult times forces even I-1 Club to close one of their venues. Without any performances, WUG’s exposure to the world is limited, and the girls have returned to their old duties of being local idols for various media outlets. To break them from this rut, Junko announces that WUG is to produce an album within the next six months and later secures a performance for them at Song Stage. When they gear up, they learn their old uniforms have decayed in condition: Yoshino fashions scrunchies for each and every member to remind them of their origins. At the performance venue, Mayu and the others run into the current I-1 unit, whose centre regards them with hostility. While Airi nearly causes a delay in their live performance by rushing back to retrieve her scrunchie, WUG nonetheless performs well and later, the others reassure Airi that superstition prior to performances is a natural thing, gently reminding her to be more mindful of professionalism at the same time. On the way back home, Junko announces to an exhausted Kōhei that she is planning a national tour for WUG. Meanwhile, a group of students produce fan-inspired versions of WUG’s performances, drawing the girls’ and Kōhei’s attention. It’s been a while since I’ve written about Wake Up, Girls!, with the last time being for the second movie Beyond The Bottom. A series that has held a special place in my heart, Wake Up, Girls! makes a triumphant return to the anime form, with this second season being produced by Millepensee, which collaborated with Ordet on the movies.
Ordet themselves worked with Tatsunoko Production on the first season, and while this first season was characterised by deficiencies in the animation, Wake Up, Girls! and its narrative proved quite enjoyable, inspiring to follow. The new animation style that Millepensee brings to the table is a balance between the old and new: the characters look and sound as they did during the movies and first anime season, but with more fluid animation, it feels as though they’ve been given new life. It is most welcoming to see Mayu, Minami, Yoshino, Nanami, Airi, Miyu and Kaya return in this new form: their first performance is a smooth one, with camera effects and movements that far surpass what was seen in earlier incarnations of Wake Up, Girls!. The improved animation, coupled with new directions of Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! (New Chapter! from here on out for brevity), means that the second season is off to a fine start – Wake Up, Girls! has always added a healthy amount of realism into its story, and in spite of their successes, WUG has a ways to go in order to sustain their success in a market saturated with idols. By presenting plausible set-backs and challenges, it was remarkably satisfying to see how WUG overcame their tribulations, and New Chapter! appears to be continuing along this path, which corresponds with more surprises in this upcoming season.
Screenshots and Commentary
- A quick memory test for myself: from left to right, we have Yoshino, Minami, Airi, Mayu, Nanami, Miyu and Kaya. One of the biggest challenges I face when writing for Wake Up, Girls! is recalling who’s who: Minami and Nanami share very similar romanised names, as do Mayu and Miyu. Their character designs have also been quite similar, but with Millepensee stepping up to the plate for animation in New Chapter!, the characters look a bit more distinct from one another without losing their basic designs seen in the anime and first season.
- As the opening episode discussion, I’ve opted to go with the usual twenty screenshots, striking a balance between details and ease of writing on my end. Here, Junko reads about the declining I-1 Club in a newspaper article before addressing WUG. WUG’s president, Junko handles dealing with partners and associates, and despite her brash personality, she always manages to find ways of helping WUG get started with their goals. Kōhei is WUG’s manager and has the group’s interests at heart, having brought all seven idols together during the prequel movie.
- WUG is based in Sendai of Miyagi Prefecture. With a population of just south of 1.1 million, Sendai is only a shade smaller than Calgary, which has a population of 1.2 million. Nonetheless, Sendai depicted as a “small” town in Wake Up, Girls!, compared to the likes of Tokyo. The area was damaged during the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake, and I vaguely recall that the anime project was originally intended to recruit voice talent in the Sendai area and promote the region as a part of a recovery project.
- Itsuka Atsugi, Otome Morishima and Ayumi Hayashi are three new characters in New Chapter! – their family names mirror those of their voice actors (Nanami Atsugi, Yūka Morishima and Yūka Morishima, respectively). Junior high students who’ve been inspired greatly by WUG, they’ve taken to doing their own performances and uploading them to YouTube. At the episode’s opening, Minami and the others dub over the performance while watching it, and Kōhei remarks that the appearance of fan videos are a sign that WUG’s having some tangible impact on its viewers in inspiring them.
- After practise, Junko announces that she’s managed to get WUG a performance slot in the Song Stage programme, marking the group’s first live performance since the events of Beyond the Bottom. The girls are naturally excited and their first query is whether or not their old uniforms are in any shape to be utilised for their performance. However, their age (three-and-a-half years in real time) means that they’re frayed and otherwise don’t fit all that well, as Kaya quickly finds out.
- When Miyu inquires further, Kaya suppresses all further discussion. The oldest member of WUG, Kaya, reminds me of Glasslip‘s Yanagi Takayama in appearance and even shares Yanagi’s hobby of jogging. As a result of her age, she’s looked to as the de facto second-in-command after Yoshino, and originally did not take her role in WUG too seriously, but her time with the group has led her to be much more devoted and passionate. By the events of New Chapter!, even Airi has improved to the point where she can keep up with Mayu and Yoshino.
- Junko authorises new uniforms for the girls, to their excitement. In this first episode of New Chapter!, song producer Tasuku does not make an appearance. It is with his trying approach of management that leads WUG to improve dramatically, and while presenting an oft-indifferent air to the girls’ fates, he grows to respect their tenacity greatly, expressing disappointment whenever they fail and is genuinely happy when WUG’s performances are successful. Since the events of Beyond the Bottom, Junko’s gotten in touch with some old friends to help with writing and scoring music, so presumably, Tasuku will make fewer appearances this season.
- The page quote for our return to Wake Up, Girls! comes from Carl Segan, renowned astronomer and astrophysicist. While Segan’s dealing with humanity and the need for our species to advance in order to survive catastrophes that could end our civilisation, the quote finds equal applicability in Wake Up, Girls!, where WUG must find ways of surviving and making themselves known before fading into irrecoverable obscurity, and that this process is something that the girls themselves must undertake, as they can reasonably expect no assistance from the outside.
- Things fast-forwards to the day of departure, where Miyu is very nearly late for their train. The shinkansen line allows folks in Sendai to arrive in Tokyo in around two-and-a-half hours: the road distance is around 360 kilometers and would require a four hour journey by motor vehicle. The relative efficiency of the shinkansen means that one of the challenges I had while following Wake Up, Girls! was ascertaining whether WUG was in Tokyo, where most of their major performances are, or back home in Sendai.
- Owing to the separation in airing, Wake Up, Girls! is probably the longest running anime I’ve followed outside of OVA series like Gundam Unicorn (four years) and Gundam: The Origin (three years by the time the finale releases): I began watching Wake Up, Girls! back in 2014, and only had the chance to write about the 2015 movies this year. Interest in this series has been generally low, and while folks consider it to be somewhat unrealistic and unenjoyable (hence the lack of discussion), I found the series to be a heartfelt one.
- After finishing Wake Up, Girls!, I returned to the more idyllic approach that Locodol presented while working on the Giant Walkthrough Brain – Locodol never places Nanako and Yukari into difficult positions as Wake Up, Girls! does to WUG, rather similar to how working on the university project that was the Giant Walkthrough Brain felt a little more comfortable than working in industry at the time. Back in New Chapter!, Yoshino hands out scrunchies that she’s made from their old uniforms, allowing everyone to keep a small piece of their origins: the group’s marching band uniforms were first seen during the regional competition back during the first season of Wake Up, Girls!.
- While not quite as apparent while animated, the static nature of screenshots mean that the differences in art style are much more noticeable. While folks have criticised Wake Up, Girls! original run for poor animation quality, the art aesthetic was quite distinct and contributed to the rough-around-the-edges-but-genuine nature of Wake Up, Girls!. The new art style is an improvement from its predecessor overall, and it’s much easier to differentiate between the characters now, but it will also take some getting used to.
- Mayu and the others run into I-1 Club’s team on stage, whose centre meets them with a cold reception. While Wake Up, Girls! formally has no antagonist beyond the characters’ own doubts and internal challenges, the presence of I-1 does much to remind viewers that the business of being an idol is no doubt an unfriendly, competitive one. Despite being a veritable giant, they too are suffering, as their viewership declines forces their Sendai facility to be closed.
- Airi risks delaying WUG’s live performance when she forgets her scrunchie back in the green room, but with the encouragement of her teammates, she retrieves it just in time to begin the show, where they perform the group’s now-signature “Seven Girls War”. Used as the first season’s opening theme, they’ve delivered fantastic performances of it throughout the anime’s run: in their first performance in New Chapter!, WUG is outfitted with new uniforms that appear much lighter and conducive of movement than their previous ones.
- Some viewers are unaccustomed to the new character designs and miss the old ones; as I’ve remarked earlier, some time will probably be needed to get used to things. With this being said, one of the design elements that endured from the days of Tatsunoko Production and Ordet’s interpretation are the strangely-shaped smiles. On the whole, however, Millepensee has largely improved on the girls’ expressiveness in New Chapter! and their facial features seem much more natural, rather than forced.
- Millepensee makes use of CG to animated WUG’s dance sequences – they’ve evidently made an effort to replicate the visual features of the conventional scenes and make a seamless transition, but the differences are still noticeable. I believe Tatsunoko Production and Ordet stuck with traditional animation during their dance sequences, and while video artefacts are visible in Millepensee’s, their execution allows for much more dynamic ranges of motion, synchronisation and camera movements to be present compared to their predecessors.
- The end result is that the dances are actually quite fun to watch, really capturing the distance that WUG has come since their earliest performance on a December’s night in a park where the audience numbers could be counted on one’s fingers. While “Seven Girls War” is a fun song by all counts, one of the things that I look forwards to seeing in New Chapter! will be whether or not any new songs are introduced into the series.
- Strictly speaking, while I personally enjoy Wake Up, Girls! and have positive things to say about the series, I understand that this anime is not for everyone for its execution. Further to this, IdolM@ster and Love Live! are much larger and better-known than Wake Up, Girls!, so it is perhaps not too much of a surprise that there is limited discussions of Wake Up, Girls! out there. For WUG, they are faced with rising out from obscurity in-show, and in the real world, Wake Up, Girls! deals with similar challenges: I’ve heard that Wake Up, Girls! initially did not perform particularly well in Japan, but once WUG began finding their feet, reception to the anime warmed.
- Following their performance, Mayu and the others reassure a worried Airi about her decision to retrieve her scrunchie earlier at the risk of jeopardising the entire group’s performance. The team has had conflicts in the past with Airi, when Takusu forced the team to choose between dismissing Airi or becoming disbanded as a whole to test their resolve. Since then, WUG’s unity has remained unshakable, and the team will do what is necessary to ensure that everyone’s on the same page. When Mayu mentions superstitions for performers, I’m reminded of the rituals that players in the NHL and other professional athletes have prior to a game.
- En route back to Sendai, Junko forcibly wakes up Kōhei and informs him of her plans to take WUG on a national tour to elevate their presence. My plans presently for New Chapter! will be to write about it after every three episodes. This brings my first talk in New Chapter! to an end, and in the very near future, I will be aiming to watch In A Corner of This World and write about it, along with Girls’ Last Tour.
One of the elements that I’ve noticed about Wake Up, Girls! is its relative obscurity in the English-speaking community – it’s a bit of an irony that Wake Up, Girls! is about overcoming obscurity in their world when in the real world, there’s been very little talk about the series in other blogs and discussion venues. While expectations for Wake Up, Girls! has always been low, and reception mixed at best, I found in Wake Up, Girls! an earnest series about a group of youth pursing their dreams and dealing with setbacks to the best of their abilities. This is why even three-and-a-half years following Wake Up, Girls! original run, I am quite keen to continue with the journey that Mayu and the others embark on in pursuit of their dreams. I will be writing about New Chapter! periodically this season, returning after every three episodes to consider what New Chapter! has covered, as well as where the series is headed. In addition, with the addition of three new characters in the form of students who are also fans of WUG, one of the possibilities include seeing whether or not they will interact directly with WUG at any point in New Chapter!‘s upcoming episodes.