After finishing my reviews for Aquarion, I decided the time had come to try out the only Shoji Kawamori show I'd never watched: AKB0048. It's a science fiction action mecha idol show by Satelight. Yes, you read those genres right. Let's go on a science-fiction adventure into AKB0048.
This series is based in a future where humanity has left Earth due to a war that left it uninhabitable. In the years since, dozens of planets humanity has colonized banned entertainment of all sorts, including music.
As expected though, Japan will not stand for not having idols! A rogue entity named AKB0048 participates in guerrilla concerts across known space, bringing their music to even the worlds with entertainment bans.
We follow the story of three girls from a small mining planet as they attempt to become the next generation of AKB0048, along the way they're joined by long lost friends, sisters, and other hopefuls.
This show's premise is about as ridiculous as it sounds, and the show really, really doesn't care. Instead of trying to justify most of it, the production staff just decided to have fun. It's completely over-the-top, the action is completely absurd, and the premise in general is bonkers, but they don't care. It's a kind of feel-good ridiculous that is almost admirable amidst a sea of increasingly cynical and post-modern stories.
You'll also find that basically every girl in the show is a living trope. No, you read that wrong. I said living trope, not lifeless trope. Just like the premise, there's a certain feel-good, simple quality to seeing such basic character archetypes here. Just because something is cliche doesn't mean it can't be endearing.
Switching gears: the soundtrack is about what you'd expect out of an idol show. It takes several songs from the real life AKB48 idol group while having several original songs as well. It can be a bit too J-Pop, idol, and Engrish for my taste sometimes, but generally I was impressed with the level quality the soundtrack had. "About a Hope" or "Kibō ni Tsuite" was a good recurring feature to the show in particular.
I've watched a handful of idol shows like Love Live!, Wake Up Girls!, and the like, and they've all had their good points. I strongly believe AKB0048 takes all the best parts of an idol show and mixes it with some of the best parts of a science fiction epic.
We all really do like to beat down on shows that use the feel-good plots about friendship, rivalry, and the power of ___, but AKB0048 was the first show in a while now where I just enjoyed watching it for these very things. It was uplifting, feel-good, and all those cliche things that a guy like me shouldn't like.
All those feel-good elements of an idol show were mashed up with the incredible spectacle of a science fiction action/mecha show. The science fiction added a certain amount of wonder, over-the-top-ness, and absurd epic to an idol show, which normally doesn't have any of the above.
To drive this home, the concerts tend to be massive set-pieces of the show. They're big, they're loud, and they make every effort to out-do the last one they animated in some way. They really were a treat to watch sometimes, particularly the two final episodes in both seasons.
Yeah, okay, the show is catering to a certain instinct in the otaku audience. It's cute girls doing cute giant-action-filled-mecha-set-piece things. Hey, it really isn't that bad. The girls are surprisingly not very sexualized in the show (when it happens, they play it for laughs, make your own mind up about if that's all right) and there's plenty of more depth to it than some of the usual fanfare you'll see. Still, it is a "moe" show in definition.
Further, this whole show is based around AKB48, the real world counterpart to the anime's organization. You can tell, even if you aren't a fan of AKB48, that it's paying lipservice to the group in some jarring ways sometimes. I found it a bit disconcerting, others felt it was pandering to the max. You decide.
My biggest issue with the show lies in how the CGI severely drops off in quality proportional to how long you watch a scene in it. For a few seconds and during intense sections, you'll accept the CGI because it's necessary and it isn't that bad. By about the fourth second, you'll start to see the whole scene deconstruct in front of you because it starts looking bad. This is especially bad when they use "CGI extras" as I call them. Any character model that isn't a main character is very simple and kinda badly made, so it looked terrible whenever they appeared on screen.
There's quite a bit of flak pointed at this for its "moe" tendencies and the like, and that's a valid criticism on occasion, but I think AKB0048 transcends this due to its nature.
I find AKB0048 to be to the idol genre what Super Dimension Fortress Macross (also by Shoji Kawamori) was to the mecha and romance genres. Macross is a celebration of all the things that are great about the mecha and romance genres, while injecting the two into one show. AKB0048 takes all the things that are great about the idol genre and injects everything that makes science fiction and action watchable into it.
It's an unabashedly feel-good show that you watch when you need something "happy" to watch. Unless you're game for some cheesy feel-good television, you'd best stay away. It's ridiculous and over-the-top, but sweet and endearing at the same time. Despite what people might say, this sort of a show is important to have every once in a while to remind us that things aren't all doom and gloom.
This is part of Anime Marathon 2014, a continuation of Anime Marathon 2013 by popular demand. I'm on a mission to review every anime I can for the TAY community and anyone else that wants to read. I can never guarantee when these reviews will be posted, but I'll do my best to keep it consistent.