The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Wake Up Girls!

We Are Wake Up, Girls!- Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! First Episode Impressions

“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.

Wake Up, Girls!: Beyond The Bottom Movie Review and Reflection

“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.

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.

Wake Up, Girls!- Final Reflection

“Don’t be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.” —Dale Carnegie

From humble origins to their participation in the Idol Festival at Tokyo, Wake Up, Girls! is the classic “underdog” story, following seven girls as they venture out into the entertainment industry in the hopes of making the big time. Originally, the anime was intended to elevate interest in the Sendai region and promote tourism. Indeed, the fact that the seven girls in WUG were chosen from auditions serves to reinforce this idea, that Wake Up, Girls! is about both a group of idols and about encourgaging people to visit Sendai to boost tourism and economic activity following the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. From the story side, Wake Up, Girls! delivers a reasonably solid performance, combining a combination of trials and music to give each girl a reason for being, turning what was initially a curiosity or stepping stone into a passion. This isn’t immediately obvious from the first two episodes, which had enough anatomy lessons to led me to wonder whether or not the show was worth my time. However, the music was interesting, and as the series progressed, I began seeing more positives in the show.

  • I just want to make sure I have this right: the characters are, from left to right, Miyu Okamoto, Minami Katayama, Airi Hayashida, Mayu Shimada, Yoshino Nanase, Nanami Hisami and Kaya Kikuma. I know I have a lot of links to the Bane Auralnauts Outtakes video, but there are so many amusing moments that uniquely fit with my anime review style.

  • This end-of-season talk is unusual in that there are thirty images as opposed to the usual twenty: I do have quite a few thoughts surrounding the specifics in Wake Up, Girls!, and although the general details are covered by the paragraphs, the image figures will deal with more specific details or various thoughts.

  • I think Minami’s appetite might be compatible with Adam Richman’s Man v. Food Nation and would make her a strong performer in that sense. Early on in the series, I had trouble differentiating between most of the characters. Minami, Nanami, Mayu and Miyu are difficult to tell apart, either sharing phonetically similar names or having similar physical appearances. However, as time wears on, the distinctions between all of the characters becomes apparent, and after twelve, I can finally tell everyone apart.

  • I’ve opted to only include this scene concerning the sleaze in the entertainment industry. In episode two, a sketchy manager named Sudo decides to hire the girls. The girls take the offer but are forced to work in derogatory conditions at some inn, being subject to sexual harassment from the customers. President Tenge eventually steps in to rectify things, although the incident leaves the girls wondering if they would wish to continue in the idol business.

  • Miyu is the earliest to demonstrate commitment to being an idol; she realises that she enjoys entertaining audiences and as such, even in spite of the events happening at the inn, resolves to carry on. Later on, the girls are signed by local TV and radio stations to put on local shows and boost interest in the region.

  • Nanami, Mayu and Minami are assigned to the cuisines program, where they sample various foods and provide feedback to improve a restaurant’s number of visitors. This program is quite successful, bringing to mind the segments of Man v. Food where Adam samples food before taking on major challenges. There are some cases where the restaurants he visits serves big food, but aren’t part of the actual challenge.

  • Miyu, Airi, Yoshino and Kaya do the weather segments: of all the girls, Miyu puts forth the most enthusiasm, showing that the others are less excited about their current roles. However, as I understand, all work is like this: one must start from the beginning at some entry-level position and work upwards.

  • This is one of the WUG’s earlier concerts. I have limited recollections of the earlier parts of the series, as the slower pacing and events following episode ten overshadow much of what happens early on. Nonetheless, the stuff that does happen early on sets the stage of what is seen in the series, and there is no denying the importance of these first steps.

  • Mayu’s past involvement with I-1 is shrouded in mystery despite being shown briefly throughout the series and in the movie. Even Miyu is unable to talk Mayu into coming forward with what happened, and eventually creates a rift between the group me

  • Before Tasuku Hayasaka decides to become involved in WUG, the girls make very little progress and remain quite disorganised. In shows like K-On!, disorganisation and a lack of serious drive acted as the main source of contention for some, who felt that the musicians were putting on far better performances than they had any right to given their limited commitment.

  • WUG faces its first real challenge when Tasuku considers dismissing Airi for not pulling her weight. Despite the rift that develops, WUG is able to pull together and show their commitment to their cause, as well as to one another. After this incident, the girls are far more dedicated and being applying themselves more seriously towards being an idol group, caring for everyone in the team as well as their own contributions.

  • Despite having overcome one hurdle, Mayu’s past involvement with I-1 remains a volatile subject. To this end, Kaya suggests that everyone take some time off to regroup and rest before preparing in earnest for their next task.

  • WUG gets to enjoy a local fish unique to the region, and even Yoshino finds that the fish is highly delicious. The whole notion of downtime becomes vital: burnout, characterised by a diminished interest in one’s occupation and near-constant exhaustion, resulting in reduced efficiency and commitment. There are numerous causes and an equal number of countermeasures, although there are some times where a full on break is necessitated.

  • For me, having put my nose to the grindstone for the past five years, I’m planning on something big come summer 2015 as a sort of reward for having survived thus far. I realise that once I finish the next stage of my career, I won’t be able to travel as easily, and so, before that opportunity closes, I will travel to Japan with the aim of visiting Kyoto and Nara, where the nation’s history has its roots. The numbers have all been crunched for time and finance, so now, it’s a matter of planning where to go, when and how to fit this into my schedule.

  • Tohru Shiraki is the general manager for I-1, aiming to push them to the top and frequently pruning the ranks of I-1 to ensure maximum performance. His strict, no-nonsense approach produces results but makes I-1 resemble the elite special forces (e,g, the Navy SEALS, GRU and SAS). It is understandable that the armed forces maintain the level of discipline that they do for national security, although whether or not such discipline is necessary in a civilian occupation is a matter open to discussion.

At its core, Wake Up, Girls! illustrates how each of the members eventually mesh together and strive towards a common cause with unity and coordination, despite lacking these elements early on. Through their experiences, each of the girls in WUG mature and become a part of a unit, gaining a sense of purpose as they progress further into the entertainment industry. Of course, Wake Up, Girls! does not (and is not expected to) really capture the true horrors surrounding the world of show business, but the fact that these aspects (whether it be competition, sleazy producers, financial difficulties or the malice from other fans) are acknowledged into the show illustrates that being an idol isn’t all glitz and glamour. This aspect contributes to the realism factor in Wake Up, Girls!. There is one other factor that also lends a hand to giving Wake Up, Girls! a more plausible feel to it. In most anime driven by competition, the protagonists are able to come out victorious regardless of how skilled the other opponents are, and in some cases, the opponents’ skills are conveniently forgotten. This is not the case in Wake Up, Girls!: after putting on a stunning performance at the local idol competition and going to Tokyo, WUG puts on an excellent show but nonetheless loses to a team the viewers had never heard about before. This is the reality: as one advances further and further into a field, the competitors are all competent. It’s rather like the job search, where one applicant is striving to differentiate themselves from a pool of incredibly talented and capable applicants: in some cases, the difference between victory and defeat can be very minor. In Wake Up, Girls!, despite WUG ‘s solid performance in the finale, Yoshino’s injury catches up with her, and her performance takes a visible hit. It’s not significant enough to ruin their performance per se, but it is sufficient to set WUG as falling short of the “masterful” category.

  • A disproportionate number of images in the final three episodes are present because this is when Wake Up, Girls! truly starts to kick off. After Mayu gives the details concerning how she fell out with I-1, the other girls see her as finally opening up to them. After Kaya shares her story with Mayu, the latter reciprocates, and the full story is finally known to both the viewers and WUG.

  • Yoshino finally understands Mayu, and as such, WUG crosses the most significant of its internal hurdles. From here on out, WUG is unified in spirit and its challenges come from the outside.

  • Only Matsuda knows that Nanami was intending to drop from WUG to follow her dreams, but seeing Mayu’s honesty leads her to realise that WUG is what she wants to be doing, too, and she dramatically shreds a poster to the school she was hoping to apply to.

  • I think a span of a few months elapses here after the girls’ trip: one of the shortcomings in this series might be said to be the limited portrayal of the girls’ journey as a team now that they’ve finally ironed out all of their internal struggles. However, this style of execution could very well be illustrating that character-vs-self conflicts were the biggest impediment for WUG, and after settling that, the group has sufficient unity to really begin making its way onto a stage.

  • WUG wins at the prefectural/regional competition, putting on an impressive show that captures the hearts of both the in-show audience and viewers like me. Among the attendees are seniors from the home that Minami performs at, and the idol otaku mentioned in my last post. Despite never speaking directly with WUG’s members, their presence elevates the spirits, showing that quality is a quantity all its own.

  • After their success at their first competition, Tasuku gives WUG an even more challenging song to perform after their previous song is passed on to I-1: this is the series’ opening song and the song WUG will perform in Tokyo. Despite his harsh methods and blunt tongue, he genuinely cares for WUG and offers them sound advice whenever they need it, telling the girls that his approval means nothing compared to how their audience receives them.

  • It is particularly uplifting to see WUG perform as they do: at the eleventh episode mark, WUG has transformed from a rag-tag group of girls into a capable idol group, taking the initiative to train and practise where they can with the aim of performing well for their fans’ sake.

  • Effort and determination slowly begin to yield results as the girls gain larger audiences to perform for: compare and contrast this to the girl’s debut performance in the movie, which was held in a park by night with only a few audience members. I reached episode eleven on a snowy Thursday afternoon and enjoyed Waffles and Chix’s fried chicken poutine. The rich flavours of the gravy, cheese and fries is complemented by the fried chicken, and there is a hint of maple syrup that, taken together, constitutes the ideal dish for a cold, grey day in a winter that has far overstayed its welcome.

  • Viewers might be wondering why so many of the screenshots here depict all of the girls all at once. It was mentioned in one of the episodes that WUG is only WUG with all seven members present, and as such, I found that images felt largely empty without everyone being present (with the exception of a few of the turning points).

  • Animation faults were quite jarring in this series in some places, especially with regard to facial expressions. How disruptive is this, one asks? Some individuals may compare this to seeing a seemingly alive enemy player, then emptying a magazine into them or knifing them, only to find out that they were already dead in Battlefield 3. However, I don’t find the animation to be so disruptive as to detract from the entire show: by the Battlefield 3 analogy, I would compare the animation to how awkward it is when things clip through other things on a given map (producing things like a floating gun or a body stuck in a container).

  • Despite putting on a substandard dress rehearsal following Yoshino’s injury, thanks to Shiho’s intervention, Yoshino is able to perform again. Despite appearing cold-hearted, Shiho bears resemblance to Gundam 00‘s Graham Aker and Gundam‘s Char Aznable, who never would fight opponents unless they were on even footing. These tendencies originate from the honourable one-on-one duels that samurai fought, and indeed, fair fights mean that individuals are entering with the intent of putting nothing but their best forward.

  • The final idol competition is held on I-1’s home turf; WUG performs the series’ opening song, which sounds identical to that of the opening sequence with a new dance choreographed to the music. While I’m not particularly a fan of idol music, preferring things like DragonForce, Rammstein and Night Wish, the opening song has grown on me and so, I’ll give the soundtrack a try.

  • Some anime have what is commonly referred to as a “magic moment”: these are the moments that capture the viewer’s attention and convince them unequivocally that the show is was worth watching. Most of the anime I watch were chosen because I liked the premise and don’t have a magic moment because they’re consistently good throughout. On the other hand, the shows I watch out of vain curiosity may present magic moments that lead me to suddenly change my mind about the show. In Wake Up, Girls!, the magic moment was seeing the entire audience switch to green glowsticks and applauding WUG warmly for their performance after the quality became apparent to the audience: Wake Up, Girls! may be an average anime on its own, but sometimes, such a rewarding moment makes the anime meaningful to watch.

  • The girls share a tearful moment together after their performance is over. Owing to her injury, Yoshino trips and stumbles several times during the performance, but the results were reasonably solid. Before the winners were announced, a part of me realised that WUG probably wouldn’t win. Of course, outcome notwithstanding, I felt that they are winners nonetheless, having made it to this stage through perseverance and cooperation.

  • Despite losing the idol competition, WUG gets signed by a major recording company to release a CD, acting as a satisfying and well-deserved conclusion to Wake Up, Girls!. Having put in so much effort, it is welcoming to see WUG being presented with another unique opportunity, and indeed, despite my usual cynicism about life, sometimes, new opportunities are born when one falls a little short of their dreams. At the time of writing, I can say that I understand and appreciate things happening in this manner, having lived through something similar in the past few months. That is a story for another time, though: up next will be a talk on the Battlefield: Bad Company 2 multiplayer, followed by a full review on Gundam Build Fighters and The Pilot’s Love Song over the next two or so weeks.

It is quite refreshing to see things turn out in such a manner: although I personally was rooting for WUG all the way, my experience mean that I understand that life hardly ever gives out the Cinderella story. Recall the Calgary Flames during the 2003-2004 season, who had risen from the darkness, surprising everyone and defeated the Vancouver Canucks, Detriot Red Wings and San Jose Sharks en route to the Stanley Cup Final, only to fall short against Tampa Bay in game six and seven. Thus, where I hear people expressing disappointment that WUG was not able to win the Idol Competition in Tokyo, I believe that WUG never really lost. They had gained so much from being able to sing and dance together in front of thousands of people, and even capturing the hearts of skeptics. When the performance venue began lighting up with green glowsticks, I knew that, winning the competition or not, WUG had definitely come a long way from being a raggedy-ass team, and have become true winners. When the girls are signed by a major record company at the end, I could not help but smile: the girls may have not won first place at the competition, but another exciting opportunity has arisen for them. From an execution perspective, Wake Up, Girls! succeeds in delivering this message, but was constrained by its twelve-episode length: the series starts out very slowly, but after Mayu opens up to everyone, viewers never get to see the girls really mature as idols in much detail. Coupled with animation faults every now and then, Wake Up, Girls! has a similar feel to the idol group in-show: there are definitely rough edges, but nonetheless, the show’s spirit is able to reach the audience (at least for me, anyways) to deliver one of the more interesting dramas I’ve seen in a while.

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.