Wake Up Girls
Green Leaves is a small entertainment production company in poor financial shape. The Sendai area is far removed from the showbiz capital of Tokyo, so finding talent isn't easy. The president gets an idea from a TV broadcast. Idols are where the money's at, so she'll start an idol group... somehow.
She and her manager assemble six girls (the only six who applied) and set out to make the next big idol group. It's missing something though, so when they find an ex idol also living in Sendai, they're keen to have her join. Mayu quit her idol career for a reason, and resists joining. Can this project get off the ground?
Idols don't interest me much, however Wake Up Girls is more approachable than others in the genre. It's grounded, and more of a drama than anything. It's does nothing amazing, but accomplished most of what I wanted: drama, and a decent story with girls that aren't annoying.
Idol anime typically drown with too many characters, becoming too thinly spread. For a 12 episode show (plus movie) I think 7 girls are too many, but it's well balanced considering. Instead of the usual anime traits, the girls are realistic with distinct personalities I could see in actual people. If a girl complains or cries (which happens at least once per episode and gets a little annoying), there's a legit reason for it. Success varies with the background of each girl, but as a group I liked them.
Wake Up Girls is surprisingly well thought out with unusual attention to details. Mayu was formerly a top national idol, but isn't chosen as the leader of the group. Occasionally she gives advice, but is attentive to not overstep her bounds and usurp the leadership role. Such a thoughtful dynamic between characters is really rare. Many such small details add up to make this title better, but it's hard to describe any of them in detail (because that would be a long list).
My least favorite girl and the one I wanted most to succeed was Airi. Among the girls, she's the least remarkable. She became an idol to change herself, and commit to something she likes. Airi struggles with lack of talent in all areas, and it's hard to watch a girl try so hard and fail. But something about her made me cheer her on. Wake Up Girls explores the rise to success, but doesn't gloss it over with "they get better". The pilot movie makes success appear inevitable, but the TV series shows them differently. Their first performances are absolutely TERRIBLE. They don't laugh it off, and it visibly wears on them because they know how bad they are. This highly contrasts with the national celebrity (rival) idol group I-1. From the outside I-1 is a happy professional pop group, but from the inside they're immersed in a disturbing cult / boot camp for girls, treating them like machines.
The story and theme work out as expected. The girls join half heartedly, and each needs to decide if they'll stay, as each gets "her episode". It appears the big plot follows formal idol Mayu who quit I-1 and joined Wake Up Girls months later. This didn't turn out as damatic as I figured (which I liked), With her key story explored, the anime goes into a weird abrupt transition. The beginning episodes show Wake Up Girls as a terrible girl group, but in two episodes they're suddenly popular (locally). I loved seeing the club they had played at (50 times) go from 5 people to a full house, but I wish it would have gotten more mileage out of the build up. The last part shows Wake Up Girls poised to make their big debut. There are many points to tie up, but it does't do a tidy job of it. Wake Up Girls is just conclusive enough to make the anime complete, while leaving just enough open for a possibile second season - which I'd gladly watch.
There's a lot of other small points I could talk about, but this review is already longer than I'd prefer. It says something that I'd have so much to say about a series only 1+12 episodes. While there isn't anything amazing about Wake Up Girls, it takes an intelligent approach to idols, and has its heart in the right place - not just about teamwork, but reflections on the on the 2011 tsunami (which hit the regions this anime takes place hardest). Worth picking up (remember the movie comes first).
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