(This post is the second of my 12 essays for the 2016 edition of 12 Days of Anime, a joint project between many anibloggers. For more info about the project, check out appropriant’s introductory post here, and check out the full blog spreadsheet here if you’re interested in the work of everyone participating!)
The dystopian worlds we see in fiction don’t usually leave much room for characters to dream. The Sybil System of Psycho-Pass determines your future job; freedom is perhaps an illusion in the post-apocalyptic world of Shinsekai Yori. We see characters struggle in each of these stories and hope for a brighter future, but it’s hardly the same as a certain group of girls with a vision of becoming school idols to save their school. But amidst a backdrop of entertainment bans and militia rule, AKB0048‘s opening episode fights against this reality, daring to envision a song of hope and life.
The episode opens by showing us the world that main characters Nagisa, Yuka, Orine, and Chieri live in. Their planet isn’t much different from a standard dystopia in appearance, shaded in brown colors and dominated by industry and military presence. But even as this backdrop remains, our characters aren’t bothered by it, excitedly discussing the brilliance of the AKB0048 group they’re traveling to see. Their enthusiasm and joy is rewarded as they arrive for the concert, and continues even after a militia arrives to shut the concert down. In this moment, the seed of a dream is planted as the girls stand united and promise to join the AKB unit together.
Even after years have passed and the characters have moved on to new stages in their lives (with Chieri returning to her home off planet), their dream of joining the AKB ranks remains steadfast. Nagisa and Yuka attend a school teaching about the necessity of bans on entertainment, but gossip freely about an AKB audition announcement. Orphaned Orine works alone in a factory away from the other two, but she also finds joy and wonder at the thought of auditioning for AKB. Nagisa, Yuka, and Orine stand committed in their vision of a brighter future as they send in an audition tape together, but actually achieving that dream is not something they can achieve without sacrifice. Nagisa stands in conflict against her father and his work as an entertainment department head; Yuka must sacrifice friendships and relationships precious to her to pursue her dream; and Orine will lose one of the only sources of stability left in her life after the death of her parents. Though the trio remained positive during the audition process, their excitement over passing the first round of auditions is dampened as Nagisa begins to question whether her dream is something she can actually achieve.
But despite the opposition they face, the barriers they face in their personal lives and the world they live in, Nagisa and the others don’t give up on their dream. They can’t accept that change isn’t necessary, that everything is ok and fine in the world they live in. Even despite the immense challenges and knowing the painful reality of the sacrifices necessary, Nagisa, Yuka, and Orine want to believe in their dream more than anything else. There’s nothing to be found in their world, no hope to be found in this dystopia. As the winds of fate blow, Nagisa struggles and fights and faces the reality of what her dream will truly mean for her. And finally after a long night, she makes her decision.
Nagisa chooses to run. She, along with Yuka and Orine before her, ultimately makes the decision to move towards their shared hope. Without knowing whether their vision will ever truly become reality, and aware of the dangers that often face AKB0048 members, the three affirm their joint decision to leave all of what they’ve known for the chance to join AKB. In a stunning and emotional final sequence, Nagisa chases after the shuttle leaving their home, declaring her love for all of what’s shaped her life up to that point. And Orine and Yuka respond in turn by reaching out for Nagisa as well, united by their love for one another. All of what they’ve dreamed of, and all of what they’ve fought for and strived to reach, is captured in the emotion of this moment. Through their shared efforts, joyful in moving forward and sorrowful in leaving home behind, they continue together onward towards the next step in achieving their dream of performing together in AKB.
AKB0048 doesn’t shy away from challenging the hopes and dreams of its main cast in its opening episode, nor does it hide the dystopia of their home. But with all odds against it, their hope endures, fights, and reaches out for something greater, for a light far in the distance. Their optimism, and ultimately the optimism of the show itself, is relentless and ultimately lifts them to the stars in the sky above.