Dreams come in all shapes and sizes, but the bigger ones are the hardest to get a handle on. Dream too big and your dream might be unachievable. A particular case from an anime that I hold near and dear to my heart has been on my mind for about a year now. I noticed that I have (and sometimes still do) fallen into a similar trap as the one in the anime.
WARNING: Spoilers for The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls (particularly the second season) are present beyond this blurb.
A brief refresher on Cinderella Girls (or explanation, if you’re new to the series and ignored the warning). The series follows a group of girls who are recruited by 346 Productions, a company dedicated to propelling these girls into becoming full-fledged idols. The girls each have their own “unit”—a group consisting of three or more members that compete for the top position.
This article focuses on a unit called New Generations, consisting of three members: Rin Shibuya, Uzuki Shimamura, and Mio Honda (with a primary focus on Uzuki). Uzuki, with her upbeat attitude, is the primary source of positivity for New Generations. She tells the group that they will be able to pull off their performances if they have faith in themselves. But after Rin and Mio start working on projects outside of the unit, their unit begins to slowly drift apart and doubt begins to take root in Uzuki.
This doubt in herself and her abilities sends her self-esteem to rock-bottom levels. As Rin begins simultaneously working for another unit and Mio balances her idol gig with a newfound passion in drama classes, Uzuki is left in awe and pain over the overwhelming brilliance of her fellow idols. It incites, and eventually solidifies, her belief that she is just an ordinary girl compared to them on stage—she begins to see herself as nothing special. Why bother putting in effort when it amounts to nothing? She decides to press on in spite of these doubts, and commits to starting from the basics and work her way back up until she feels comfortable enough to perform alongside Rin and Mio once again. She practices and practices every day, amidst phone calls and confrontations from acquaintances who are concerned about her well-being, until one day, she suddenly stops. She sits in the training room, hunched up, face hidden from the world.
My heart was shattered, mainly due to seeing part of myself in her. Low self-esteem has plagued me since day one, and it’s not fun. My first thought regarding most actions I take are negative; I end up having very little faith in myself. Criticism directed towards me feels like a mental attack and I often take it too far, often equating it to “Don’t ever try this again. You know what you did wasn’t worth a damn thing.” I don’t feel safe from myself—when I begin comparing myself or my work to others’, my mood turns sour fast. I will never put myself on a pedestal, but I have a serious problem with giving myself a pat on the back. Comparisons are the biggest pitfall for me, and I still keep doing it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase this.
In true-to-life fashion, Uzuki bottles her problems up. Despite the numerous phone calls and confrontations from the people closest to her wanting to know she’s okay, and them wanting her to let them know if she is not, Uzuki chooses to not say anything. She wants her precious friends to focus on their work, and most importantly, doesn’t want her problems to become a burden on them. The worst part of this is Uzuki believing she needs to do everything by herself and yet clearly struggles with finding ways to improve. She shuts down because she is not achieving this goal she sets for herself. This goal, unfortunately, is incredibly vague without a clear way to determine progress. Her goal to “practice until [she] can stand on stage with them again”, is immeasurable and based on personal conjecture. This feeds into her low self-esteem and prevents any further progress.
I’m going to be preaching to the choir here, because I am guilty of these same issues. Searching for a solution to your problem is good to an extent. It’s when you become overwhelmed by the process that you should branch out to other people, even if said problem is personal. But I understand Uzuki’s plight in that personal problems are problems I want to solve personally. I should know myself better than anyone else who knows me. But my reluctance to ask for help is because I’ve been helped throughout my life thus far, in ways both big and small, regardless of whether I asked for it or not. My parents pay for my tuition because I don’t make enough money to make ends meet. In all stages of my education prior to college, I had what is known as an IEP (Individualized Education Program/Plan) that gave me some leeway on assignment due dates and had someone, akin to a supervisor of sorts, in almost every class who would offer to help on class assignments and sometimes even take notes for me.
That frustrated me. I felt I had the inability to function as a human being at times. It was almost as if I had maids and butlers to cater to my every whim. I never asked for that. There was little room for the independence and responsibility that I wanted to initiate. I don’t feel I learned any of those back then. There were no big failures that I could learn from, which is terrible in some respects, because failure hits me harder than people advising me what I can do before failure occurs.
In recent years, I’ve been wavering on a core aspect of my life: my Japanese-language education. It’s been five years since I began learning the language as a starry-eyed high school sophomore with a big heart for anime and manga. I knew it would only get tougher as time passes on—it’s the same for learning any foreign language. But I’ve felt my progress become stagnant as I repeated one class level two times due to switching colleges and also not having friends I could try flexing my language skills with face-to-face. I felt the world passing me by as friends reach N2-level proficiency in all the time I’ve been studying and I listen to them discuss the amazing experiences they had during their trips in Japan.
Here I sit, without having completed any level of the JLPT and no trip to Japan taken. I did wonder whether there was any point to continue studying. I don’t consider myself to be the most studious student—I’m far from it. I understand first-hand that dedication to your craft is necessary for learning foreign languages, and yet I feel as if I still don’t put in the dedication and effort required. Sometimes I feel as though I’m clinging on to a glimmer of hope that has long since faded—that hope being fluency in the language.
Despite what I just stated, I did try my hand at translation. My friends complimented my work, with who is probably my closest Japanese-speaking friend telling me at one point, “Nah, your Japanese is on par with mine. Don’t think I stressed this before, but your translations are excellent.” And internet strangers, who didn’t have to say anything if they so choose, thanked me for these translations I worked on out of unfiltered love. That was highly encouraging and I began to think maybe all hope wasn’t lost. Perhaps it was still there.
Uzuki’s doubts are unclouded when Mio, and especially Rin, tell her that she never dragged them down in the first place. She didn’t have “nothing”. Her producer shows her around a venue where she previously worked at, telling her: “Even if you don’t have faith in yourself right now, I have faith in you.” This is particularly powerful to me because words of encouragement go far for me and many others. He also asks her to make a choice: “Stay here as you are... Or believe in new possibilities and go forth.” So she does, and gives a heartfelt performance signaling her declaration to move on and believe in herself again.
There was a message I took away from this entire thing that was not explicitly stated: “You are often better than you think.” I realized that I am unnecessarily harsh on myself at times, and it is frequently unwarranted. I don’t know if what I do is good until others tell me it is. It’s likely that these issues may not go away, but I hope to find ways to improve my self-esteem and become confident enough in myself. Above all, I am still baffled at how an idol anime of all things got me to cry my eyes out and have a character I can relate to on the deepest, most personal level. But I sure as hell am glad I experienced it.
A huge thank-you goes out to Dilkokoro, who took the time out of his day to proofread and make this article I wrote (while I was a blubbering mess of an emotional wreck) look more pretty than it previously was.
You’re reading AniTAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. AniTAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime-related. Click here to check us out.