The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: Wake Up Girls!

Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! Review and Reflections At The Halfway Point

“Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more, and don’t get so worked up about things.” —Kenneth Branagh

Mayu and Shiho initially find it difficult to act in their assigned characters for the television drama “The Dreaming Duo”, where Mitsuki and Yoko are share dreams and come to realise their love for the same guy. However, with inspiration, Mayu begins to act more fluidly for Yoko’s role, inspiring Shiho to do the same as Mitsuki. While the two agree on their relationship being a strictly professional one, the distance between the two lessens as the two work on their drama, which finishes shooting on a high note. Later, Junko arranges for a Sendai tour with WUG to inspire local fans. A scheduling conflict prevents Minami from attending, and during a performance that evening, Nanami steps in to substitute for Minami. While she falls on stage, her actions earn her endearment from the audience. After WUG announces their plans to release a new album, Ayumi gets lost at the inn and comes across WUG’s zoo costumes. Mayu accidentally spills tomato juice on one and assumes it’s Yoshino inside, deciding that it’s best to visit the hot springs and wash it off before staining occurs. Ayumi manages to escape, but is inspired by Mayu’s words about idols and their duty to bring smiles to their audiences. The next morning, she tells Mayu of her intentions to become an idol and Mayu wishes her luck. This is where things stand at the halfway point in New Chapter!, a series that has managed to retain its charm owing to its sincere narrative and honest characters.

The past three episodes predominantly deal with Mayu; she’s the most experienced of WUG members and, despite being one of the more soft-spoken members, has numerous insights into what expectations are in entertainment. This sort of maturity and professionalism initially caused her to butt heads with the other WUG members during the first season of Wake Up, Girls!, but time has allowed even the taciturn Mayu to open up. By New Chapter!, Mayu is sharing how she feels about her schedule and is expressive about concerns she may have with her duties, in turn allowing the others to support her in their own way. Similarly, having recovered her sense of purpose as an idol, Mayu sees their duty as putting smiles on the faces of their audiences, and that the WUG’s presence can be projected by each and every member. Capable of reassuring others in WUG, Mayu’s definitely been a source of inspiration to those around her, and also outside of the group; Ayumi is star-struck whenever she meets Mayu in person, and a part of this is that Mayu is remarkably kind, humble and approachable. Having found her joy in being an idol once again because of her time in WUG, Mayu is able to put her heartfelt feelings into her performances that, together with the others in WUG, have allowed the group to retain a loyal following, and from an external perspective, these same aspects within the anime have allowed Wake Up, Girls! to similarly retain a loyal following in reality.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • For the record, if The Dreaming Duo were real, I would likely watch it. In this drama, the normally-quiet Mayu plays the spirited, energetic Yoko, who is on the basketball team, and Shiho, who usually is more forward with her opinions, is Mitsuki, a reserved student fond of the arts. The roles are opposite of their characters, and while they initially have difficulty adjusting, the directors notice the improvement once both begin empathising with their respective characters.

  • The dynamic between Mayu and Shiho is similar to that of Mythbusters‘ Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman: Shiho outright tells Mayu that their working together will not be a sign that their relationship has mended, to which Mayu accepts. I was reading an article about how Savage and Hyneman do not get along with one another outside of work hours, but nonetheless are successful in working together as professionals. Like Savage and Hyneman, Shiho and Mayu respect one another’s work ethic, follow similar processes in getting things done, and value getting the job done well over their own egos.

  • Mayu’s busy schedule means that she misses preparing for breakfast on at least one occasion, but here, her teammates step up to the plate and help her out. The dynamics amongst WUG are give-and-take, and in between her work on the set, Mayu also participates in the other activities that WUG typically engage in.

  • I’m not sure what I’m looking at here; one of the stills shows WUG recoiling from shock and horror after touching something unknown for a television programme. This sort of show is a bit less common on this side of the planet: when I was in Japan, a great number of their channels were running game and talk shows. Japanese shows tend to be a bit flashier and text heavy, giving a much more excited sense compared to similar  shows in North America, which by comparison feel a bit more austere.

  • Shiho is momentarily recalled to I-1 Club when Moka sustains an injury, but as it turns out, the injury was relatively minor, allowing her to return to her usual duties. As the two embrace their roles further, they begin gaining a feel for the characters and occasionally offer suggestions to the directors to create a more natural scene. While the directors are initially appalled, the scriptwriter approves of the changes.

  • When the principal photography is complete for The Dreaming Duo, Mayu has a chance to speak with one of the project’s managers, who admits that the decision to cast Mayu and Shiho were originally motivated by a want to draw in more viewers using well-known names, but they ended up getting more than expected through both girls’ dedication towards their roles.

  • Ayumi, Itsuka and Otome find themselves tiring out on a walk for their physical education class and begin losing resolve upon hearing the distance remaining in the walk, but when Ayumi learns of WUG’s plans to do a bus tour of Sendai, Ayumi immediately gains a second wind. Of the three, it seems that Ayumi is the most interested in WUG, and she runs into Mayu herself while playing an extra in The Dreaming Duo.

  • Minami is tied up with a food show and is absent from the proceedings for most of the WUG Sendai tour. Kouhei does his best to keep the show running, and the day begins smoothly. On board the bus, Ayumi and her friends encounter some high school students from Tokyo who’ve become fans of Minami, and they quickly hit it off with one another. The remainder of the folks on this tour are male fans of WUG, and I will note here that, while their antics are a riot, I usually do not feature the vociferous WUG fans from the family restaurant because there’s not much I have to comment about them.

  • The first event on the WUG Sendai tour is a SCAVENGER HUNT type event, where participants must find each of the girls, dressed up as an animal, and collect a stamp from them. Each of the girls end up encountering difficulties in striking a balance between being out in the open and being well-hidden enough so the event is fun for the participants. As an aside, Wake Up, Girls! Zoo! was a spin-off that I ended up watching a ways back. Light-hearted and fun, each episode was a riot, and I also greatly enjoyed the theme song, as well.

  • Ayumi grows weak-kneed when coming face-to-face with Mayu herself. Her tendency to be star-struck has hilarious consequences within New Chapter!. Today’s post marks a three-streak, one of the longest I’ve had this year; in spite of a weekend packed with activities, I somehow managed to get a post out each day. Of course, this pattern won’t be the norm: posts take at least two to three hours to write, and this is why I won’t be writing about Far Cry 4 as of yet, even though I finished the game just yesterday.

  • Today’s events included going out for dim sum and then taking a short walk under the warmer weather: things have warmed up a little over the past week. The last time I had dim sum at this particular restaurant was back in February, and while dim sum appears unassuming, it is quite substantial – we ordered the usual suspects today (炸蝦角, 蝦餃, 燒賣, 鳳爪, 叉燒包 and 腸粉), plus a sticky fried rice. I’m especially fond of 炸蝦角 (jyutping “zaa3 haa1 gok3”), a deep-fried shrimp that goes great with mayonnaise. Dim sum is, in the words of Adam Richman, a Hong Kong institution, and that one can get Dim Sum in Calgary rivalling the quality of Hong Kong Dim Sum is downright amazing.

  • I’ve seen this technique used before in the Hai-Furi OVAs, and of late, constraints in New Chapter!‘s animation budget have become quite apparent. There are photograph-like scenes such as this, re-use of footage seen earlier and numerous stills while the characters are engaged in conversation. In spite of obvious shortfalls in animation, New Chapter! more than delivers the spirit and fun; from a certain point of view, the choppy animation can be seen as a bit of a visual metaphor for the rough-around-the-edges-but-sincere nature of WUG.

  • WUG performs First Rate Smile, a song that Tasuka wrote for them as their debut piece. Upbeat and energetic, the song is later given to I-1 Club to perform, as WUG is tasked with an even tougher song (Seven Girls’ War, the opening song). For the longest time, First Rate Smile could only be heard in the I-1 Club incarnation, although with the Wake Up, Best! album that released in March 2015, a full year after the first season aired, audiences finally had a chance to listen to the WUG version of First Rate Smile.

  • Upon seeing the disappointment in the audience at Minami’s absence, WUG decide to ask Nanami to perform in lieu of Minami on account of her sharing a similar stature, but Nanami stumbles and reveals to the audience that she’s not Minami. Far from drawing the audience’s ire, this action results in the audience cheering for Nanami, as well. Soon after, the real McCoy arrives, with Junko having exhorted transportation crew to get them to the hotel ASAP.

  • At the time of writing, WUG’s real-world equivalent have released numerous albums for the music of Wake Up, Girls!, and performed at several venues where they became a sleeper hit: their real world performers seem to embrace adversity, and as one article on ANN succintly puts it, the group turns disaster into dreams. Born of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake, the project was initially to help with rebuilding Sendai. It was on the verge of failure and turned to recruiting voice talent in the Sendai area. The experiences and tribulations that the production team saw fed into Wake Up, Girls!, and in retrospective, it would seem that the reason why Wake Up, Girls! is so authentic and genuine is because it is inspired by real events.

  • New Chapter! is no Murder on the Orient Express, a recent film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic – Miyu finds Mayu after she accidentally spills tomato juice on Yoshino’s polar bear costume, a consequence of Ayumi hiding inside it after getting lost, and the girls must promptly remove it before the stain becomes a permanent feature. The reason why tomato juice is so difficult to remove is because of the pigment lycopene, a long-chain non-polar hydrocarbon. These molecules are hydrophobic and will cling to other similar non-polar molecules, such as those making up plastic containers or the fibres in clothing.

  • The guide to removing tomato juice stains are numerous, and the precise method will depend on how old the stain is. In the case of a fresh stain, the combination of water and detergent will be sufficient. After Mayu takes Ayumi to the baths, her fear of getting discovered leads her to hide. By a stroke of luck, the other WUG members arrive, and in the chaos, Ayumi manages to escape, leaving Mayu to wonder what really happened, but before she gets clear, Ayumi overhears Mayu speaking to the others about what being an idol means.

  • Future assignments will leave the girls with less time spent performing together, leading Miyu to feel depressed, but when Mayu reminds everyone that they’re WUG regardless of where they are, spirits lift considerably. One of the things about being an idol, then is also being able to help one’s teammates and oneself smile: if the point of the business is to give a bit of happiness to viewers, then those doing so must first learn to find their own happiness. Mayu is able to appreciate this, and her presence in WUG is a reassuring one.

  • The next morning, WUG participate in signing autographs for their fans. The tour ends up being a successful one, and it seems that Mayu is quite unaware that Ayumi was responsible for the previous evening’s escapade. Seizing the moment, Ayumi declares that she wishes to be an idol – from our perspective, we roughly know what idols in Wake Up, Girls! must experience. I’ve heard that Ayumi and her friends will form their own group, “Run, Girls, Run!”: their presence in New Chapter! seem to be about the positive impacts that idols can have as role models.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this before, but ever since Wake Up, Girls! first season, Mayu’s been my favourite character. While still relatively off the beaten path, discussions about Wake Up, Girls! that I’ve seen have been quite positive. Time is moving at breakneck speed: we’re very nearly halfway through November now, and we’re rolling into December very soon. This anime season has passed by quickly, and I’ve found the other shows I’m watching to be enjoyable. With this post out the gates, I will be turning my attention towards Yūki Yūna is a Hero: Hero Chapter now – I’m curious to see both whether or not I can make an episodic review work, as well as what Hero Chapter entails.

With the next major goal being the production of a full WUG album, I’m looking forwards to seeing what directions New Chapter! will be taking. By this point in time, WUG has become accustomed to truths within the industry, but their cumulative experiences allow them to appropriately address whatever challenges come their way. The togetherness that is central to WUG’s strengths during performances have become somewhat of a crutch for WUG, and having foreseen this, Junko and Youhei have arranged for the girls to perform and work independently to increase their self-reliance. At the halfway point, this appears to be effective: the girls have definitely become much more resilient and adaptive. Mayu similarly reminds everyone that WUG will be WUG as long as everyone believes in one another, regardless of whether their working alone or performing together. While where all of these lessons and learnings will end up remains open for speculation, one thing is likely to be true: WUG will definitely find a way to overcome adversity that will invariably come their way as the series moves into its final episodes, and it will be enjoyable to watch how WUG goes about solving problems in with their own unique approaches.

Wake Up, Girls! New Chapter! Review and Reflections After Three

“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” —Arnold Schwarzenegger

To encourage that the girls spend more time together and better learn about one another even as they take on different jobs individually or in teams, Junko arranges for the girls to live with one another in a rental home. Minami and Kaya are assigned to a talk show where they must describe the various dishes presented to them, and while Minami struggles to be more imaginative with her description of the food items, Kaya begins worrying about her weight. She begins jogging and avoiding meals, leading Minami to wonder if Kaya’s come to dislike her, and one evening, Mayu and the others decide to tag along. They learn of Kaya’s situation and come together to support her, encouraging Kaya to eat regularly and be open with her problems. Later, Nanami and Miyu make an appearance on a comedy show, but lack the wit to deliver humour. Yoshino is assigned to a modelling job but is described as lacking the aura of a model, and Airi comes across as being too mechanical in her news show. Despite their difficulties, everyone manages to make the most of their assignments when they learn that Kaya’s taken up blogging to write about her worries. Inspired, Miyu hosts her own web show, and the girls realise they can play to their strengths. Minami begins describing her food in song, and Airi applies her own brand of comedy towards delivering her news segment. Yoshino accepts a photo-shoot assignment and presents the best side of her character, as well. With things looking up for the others, Mayu is offered a role in a television drama with Shiho Iwasaki of I-1 Club.

Despite having had at least two years of experience as idols, New Chapter! presents WUG as still being relatively inexperienced as entertainers. These challenges arise from the group as having come to depend on one another during their performances – until now, everyone’s largely worked together as a cohesive unit and are at their best when they can perform as one. However, they had been somewhat idle in between major performances, as depicted in Shadow of Youth and Beyond the Bottom. Junko’s assignments thus provide the girls a chance to interact with one another at a much more personal level, as well as to take on individual assignments that drive them towards improving their ability as idols. In spite of their inexperience initially getting the better of them, the girls’ resourcefulness allow them to acclimatise and use their strong points to assist their performances. The willingness to introspect and look inwards is a reminder of how far each member of WUG has come, and are willing to go in order to improve: by the end of New Chapter!‘s third episode, most of the team has settled into their positions and have worked out the rhythm that works best for them. Similarly, in Kaya’s case, she is reminded that the team is there to help her, and she can rely on them to support her. The increased cohesion in WUG after three episodes illustrates that New Chapter! is continuing on a good pace, and while the destination might not be clear this season, what is apparent is that the journey in New Chapter! is likely to be a meaningful one to follow.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • WUG is back in full swing this season, and while it might be a bit quieter, I will continue with my plans to write about New Chapter! after every three episodes. Having said this, I don’t have any background in the entertainment industry and won’t be able to offer any unique insights as to what WUG experience; posts on New Chapter! will likely remain in the smaller format of twenty screenshots.

  • The girls quickly settle in to their new accommodations, with Nanami managing to convince her parents to allow her to live with these arrangements. One of the things about New Chapterthat I will need to look at more closely is just how much time has elapsed since the girls joined WUG; the anime first aired in 2014’s winter season, and it’s presently autumn of 2017, suggesting a gap of roughly three-and-a-half years, but calendars in-show mean that it’s likely closer to two years. So, even Nanami, who was thirteen when Wake Up, Girls! started, would be fifteen now.

  • Junko proves to be incredibly well-connected, helping the girls get positions that will bolster their experience as performers, and I can attest to the importance of having people who have exceptional marketing skills and connections. Being able to sell and generate excitement for an idea is essential: having the best product in the world is of limited use if the market is not aware of them. Going through Wake Up, Girls! now, I realise that my perspectives on the world has changed considerably since the days when I began watching this anime.

  • After Mayu butchers the cutting of potatoes whilst cooking, the others step in to help out. The dynamics of New Chapter! show WUG as having a very close-knit, supportive dynamic. With their interpersonal challenges largely resolved, one of the questions that remains for New Chapter! will be what new conflicts or challenges await the group. Because Wake Up, Girls! began as an anime, there is no source manga or novel to compare it against, which makes the plot progression a bit more exciting owing to the unknown.

  • While many things have changed, one thing in Wake Up, Girls! that has remained quite unchanged is Minami’s enthusiasm for food. One might consider her to be the female equivalent of Man v. Food‘s Adam Richman, although she initially lacks Richman’s talents for describing food. I’ve been a great fan of the show Man v. Food, and at present, Richman’s stopped his eating challenges, citing depression and health risks as the reason for his departure. Since then, he’s lost sixty pounds and have done food shows in other formats. While Minami’s thoroughly enjoying the program, Kaya finds it a little more difficult – although her outburst elevates ratings, the food she eats contributes to weight gain.

  • As a result, Kaya takes to jogging by night and avoids meals with her friends. While it’s not quite at the level of a eating disorder, Kaya’s predicament is nonetheless one that she finds difficult to handle on her own. One evening, the others decide to accompany her on a “visit to the convenience store” and learn the truth when they find Kaya with some beef jerky, as she’s succumbed to hunger.

  • The second episode thus acts as a reminder to viewers that, in the time that the girls have spent together and performed together, they have come to be supportive of one another and only offer constructive criticisms. Kaya makes a speedy recovery: within the space of a half-episode, her issues have been swiftly resolved.

  • Things begin picking up for the girls: Nanami and Miyu are tasked with appearing on a show called “Iwashi Palace”, while Yoshino is assigned to the “Fanfan” photoshoot. Kouhei’s also managed to find a news segment type show for Airi. Each position will test the girls’ resolve in unique ways, motivating the page quote: one of the weaknesses about my generation, the Millenials, is a seemingly-lessened ability to withstand and face adversity. When I asked members of the older generation what resilience is, they simply responded that it’s not giving up when things get tough and continuing to put in an effort with the aim of bettering a situation.

  • By my admission, I’ve never really been good as a public speaker until around post-secondary: the necessity of doing presentations for undergraduate coursework in my health sciences degree forced me to learn my own methods for delivering talks. However, it was not until I worked in my supervisor’s lab where I really began developing a signature style. Inspired by his highly visual slides and concise delivery, I gave highly distinct presentations during the final year of my undergraduate program, and that particular approach was refined as I entered graduate school.

  • Presently, I am able to give short speeches and talks on-the-fly, with zero preparation time if needed; my usual style is to open up with a comparatively light and fluffy introduction, possibly with a joke or similar, before delving into the material. When practising for both conference presentations and my thesis, I would write a set of notes and then follow those notes, improvising as I went. This approach is inspired by how Jay Ingram gives talks, a consequence of having worked with him on the Giant Walkthrough Brain project. Back in New Chapter!, Nanami and Miyu find their time on Iwashi palace off to a rocky start.

  • Itsuka, Otome and Ayumi initially find it difficult to promote WUG at their middle school: female students find WUG to be somewhat uninspired, while male students are more interested in virtual idols, likely a parody of Miku Hatsume, an extremely famous personification of the Vocaloid software. Curiously enough, the software was originally intended for professional use, but the visualisation caught on in the anime community, leading to widespread popularity.

  • On a note completely unrelated to Wake Up, Girls!, time seems to be making fools of us once again: October is very nearly at an end, and with it comes the arrival of Halloween. This year, Halloween lands on a Tuesday, one day after my own Battlefield 1 One Year Anniversary; as per tradition, I will spend Halloween handing out candy, gaming and watching It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s an old classic, and despite technical limitations being apparent in its animation, this holiday special is as timeless as A Charlie Brown Christmas. This year, I will be embarking on my journey through Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus: I caved and purchased it on release day.

  • After an unsuccessful photoshoot with Funfun, Yoshino considers throwing in the towel and prepares to decline a second job, but when Junko mentions that Yoshino is to be replaced with a member of I-1 Club, Yoshino reconsiders immediately, feeling honoured that the company handling the photo shoot considered her as a first choice and will only defer to an 1-1 Club member as a backup, as well as the fact that turning down the offer might be to give I-1 Club more exposure over WUG.

  • In Wake Up, Girls!, I find the anime to be surprisingly disciplined with its fanservice moments. The only other moment that comes to mind comes from the first season’s second episode, when the girls are contracted to work in a sleazy locale. Junko is on station to pull them out trouble, and later, she continues doing her bit in keeping an eye on jobs to ensure that WUG do not find themselves in similarly compromising situations.

  • Inspired by Kaya’s blog and Miyu’s web show, each of the characters will figure out how to play to their strengths. Yoshino’s photoshoot is off to a shaky start when she trips, but the photographers here are more supportive, encouraging her to simply be herself during the photoshoot. Yoshino takes this to heart, and the results show in the photographs resulting, with one particular moment standing out above the rest that captures her enjoyment of the moment.

  • While initially presenting her dialogue with a stiff approach, Airi eventually loosens up and delivers her segments with a style she’s more comfortable with. While viewers consider it rough around the edges, they also find it more enjoyable for its uniqueness, leading Ayumi’s classmates to comment on WUG in a positive light. Despite being the most plain and unextraordinary of the WUG, she’s also the most hard-working, understanding the hurdles she must overcome owing to her lack of prior experience, and by the events of New Chapter!, she fits right in with the group, keeping up with even the more challenging performances WUG participate in.

  • A part of making an enjoyable food programme is to make a spectacle of the food. The other two fellows seem to have a bit of a stale routine when compared to the likes of Adam Richman, who presents himself in a manner befitting of the food challenge’s theme and otherwise finding unusual metaphors for describing particularly enjoyable foods. Varying between the stylised and direct, Richman’s strength is being able to consistently make his shows interesting. Manami finds her own approach: an enka performer, she’s also got some talent in singing and later turns this to her advantage, impressing the food show’s hosts.

  • Things are advancing fairly rapidly in Wake Up, Girls!, with the girls settling into their new routines and accommodations. While Junko mentioned setting up a national tour of sorts for WUG back during the first episode, that’s not materialised as of yet. With upcoming events, one would image that it is probably something that will come to be a bit later in New Chapter!.

  • While it’s impossible to speak for other Wake Up, Girls! viewers, I’m feeling that Mayu has been somewhat shafted with respect to screen time, but at the end of the third episode, it looks like that this is about to change on very short order: Mayu is to perform in a drama with none other than Shiho, the I-1 centre who replaced Mayu and was herself replaced by Moka Suzuki. Shiho would be reassigned to the idol group NEXT STORM, vowing to bring the group to prominence to prove her own worth as an idol. Mayu regards her cordially, suggesting that she has no hard feelings towards Shiho, and it will be interesting to see how the two work together in their upcoming assignments.

  • With this after three post now at an end, we’re very nearly at the end of October, as well. There is only one more post coming out this month, dealing with Battlefield 1 (mentioned earlier). Looking ahead into November, I’m going to continue writing about Wake Up, Girls!, and in addition, be dividing my time between Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus as well as Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Hero Chapter, which I have plans to review episodically. Folks interested in hearing my thoughts on Washio Sumi Chapter can do so here. For now, it’s time to sign off and turn my attention towards making my way through The New Colossus, which I’ve heard numerous good things about – if this game is half as good as people make it out to be, it will have been well worth the price of admissions, which I hope will go towards the development of solid single-player titles in a market oversaturated with multiplayer games.

It is likely that I am one of the few viewers out there, both in the English-speaking community and amongst the entire pool of people who watch Wake Up, Girls! that view this anime in a favourable manner. I will continue to say that, while the anime is a little rough around the edges in terms of animation, and that New Chapter!‘s artwork will still take some getting used to, the strength of the underlying messages and journey that each member of WUG undertakes makes the anime one that I find to be worth enjoying. Ever since I began watching Wake Up, Girls!, I’ve taken a gander at other anime dealing with idols. While well-regarded by viewers, giants such as Love Live! and Idolm@ster simply don’t work for me owing to the size of their franchises – the large number episodes is not feasible for me to catch up with, and a large number of characters in conjunction with relatively limited time they are around makes it difficult for me to empathise with anyone, especially where emphasis is placed on music rather than personal growth. Conversely, the more intimate, smaller-scale setting of something like Wake Up, Girls! and Locodol proved to be enjoyable, and at the end of the day, I place a much smaller importance on the idols themselves and their music. Instead, I value character development and enjoy watching maturing responses to challenges as a result of their experiences to a much greater extent. Thus, while I’m unlikely to delve into the idol genre, Wake Up, Girls! (and Locodol) remain exceptions because of their focus on the characters’ path in rising above their problems.

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.