Part 10 of my final impressions countdown.
4. Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls S2I’ll be honest: at the beginning of the season I would never have imagined this being so high up on my list.
Over the last six months I went out on a whim and decided to watch all of The Idolmaster & Love Live, not because I have any love for the idol industry but that enough people have recommended them as legitimately good shows, which they mostly are, even if I have no real interest in the songs or declaring a favourite girl. S1 of Cinderella Girls had the potential to be just as solid, but largely fell flat due to the characters being one-dimensional, while the plot and direction was unfocused, trying to re-enact the trajectory of the original anime in half the amount of episodes. Thankfully, it didn’t dwell on mediocre drama for as long, but conversely, things had the habit of just working out for the girls regardless of effort. It felt very convenient.
Thankfully S2 builds on the premise and manages to add its own personal touch to the genre. Gone are the steady gigs serving as glorified exp grinding for the girls to increase popularity, or cigar-chewing villains existing as annoying hurdles to jump over, like Donkey Kong throwing barrels their way. Instead the great challenge appears from a new executive producer, Mishiro, who comes in with an entirely new vision for the company, downsizing the facilities and planning on breaking up every unit and starting over from scratch. However, despite her cold and merciless personality, the show quickly makes it clear that while she is a threat to the girls security and positions at 346 Productions, she also isn’t some malevolent force, and while unwilling or unable to relate to them on a personal level, is clearly doing what she feels is in the best interest for the company. The result is this great dynamic in which the producers and idols view her as a boogie monster, if one born out of their own self-interests. It rarely becomes a case where one side is wrong; just that both have lessons to learn.
This leads to the heart of what Cinderella Girls S2 is about. Rather than being purely about showing Mishiro their talents as a unified group, everyone is forced to make compromises while attempting to stay true to their goals. While the character drama of previous seasons existed entirely to help strengthen bonds (both for the individual units and the overall group), here pushing people outside of their comfort zones leads to a sink or swim approach, where new talents and outlooks are encouraged in order to survive. The series morphs into a story about necessity breeding adaptability, and how it affects the girls in various ways. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t, but it always leads to them drawing on strengths and talents previously untapped, ultimately coming off wiser in the process. Whether with New Generations & Love Laika taking hiatuses to allow for separate projects, Ranko learning to no longer hide behind her chuunibyou personality or Riina, Anzu and Kirari coming to terms with insecurities concerning their idol personas; the theme of people moving apart while still trying to retain the bonds they have becomes central to the story. Even small side-arcs, such as Nana recognising that her bunny image is central to her happiness even if it burns bridges with her upper management, turn out surprisingly poignant.
I honestly would have never expected such nuanced and surprising character drama to come out of this franchise. By being bold enough to shatter the status quo, it becomes something far more relatable and earnest. Other shows out there may make more of an impressions in terms of comedy or performance, but as a human interest story the idol genre has its work cut out to surpass this season.