This post is the sixth 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!
(This post refers specifically to the first season of Cinderella Girls and most specifically to episodes 7 through 11. Commentary on how the second season relates to the themes discussed in this post is possibly to come in the future)
The glass slipper doesn’t quite fit for Cinderella Girls.
Cinderella Girls has much to live up to as the spinoff of 2011’s iDOLM@STER. A series renowned for its dynamic cast and gorgeous animation, iM@S asks the question “what does it mean to be an idol?” and shows us many unique answers over the course of its 25-episode run. The time spent with the 765-Production idols covers nearly their whole journey from fledgling idol troupe to arena-filling superstars, and it gives each of the girls a chance to shine in the spotlight and share their own reason for becoming an idol.
But Cinderella Girls isn’t that same show – it’s not as focused on each idol as an individual, and the office complex for 364-Production doesn’t have the same welcoming feel of the small 765-Pro office. An initial arc focused on Uzuki, Rin, and Mio may be great for getting an initial picture of our “primary” characters, but it leaves the rest of the cast sidelined for many early episodes. The producer for 364-Pro is generally uptight and stiff while working with the girls and doesn’t have the same charm and leadership of the 765-Pro producer early on. And Cinderella Girls doesn’t ask the same question of what it means to be an idol, and struggles to find its footing without that question guiding us through the early episodes.
But around the 6th and 7th episodes of the show, something new begins to blossom for our characters, a new question to ponder and reflect on. Mio, Rin, and Uzuki have experienced what it’s like to be a star while performing with Mika, but the much smaller scale of their following performance has left the trio feeling disappointed and frustrated. Mio feels she might be better off abandoning her dream of being an idol entirely after her failure, and Rin feels like her trust has been betrayed by the producer. Contrasted with Love Laika’s thoughts on their performance at the same event, the difference in perception is clear – Love Laika kept their focus on successfully making it through the performance and was better for it. But New Generations was focused on smaller details instead of the overall experience as Uzuki’s thoughts and regrets indicate. Mio’s focus on numbers made her feel like a failure, and Rin’s trust that production would guide everything smoothly have left her feeling burned. But Uzuki understands that things don’t always go well and that she can only focus on what she herself can work to change and improve. Her positive response to the producer is the first answer we hear to the new question of Cinderella Girls: “what will it take to become a star?”
From this new question, Cinderella Girls begins forging its own identity and path forward in a new story all its own. With the empathetic producer alongside her, Mio realizes that continuing forward means not turning away from problems as they come; and with a revitalized Mio and producer in front of her, Rin chooses to place her trust in the Cinderella Project once more. The following episodes don’t keep this question quite as prominent, but it remains near as new idol units are formed and new journeys are started.
These idol units are the core for this new path forward in Cinderella Girls: though each idol is unique, the idols in these units share common points in working towards becoming stars. In episode 11, we watch how Miku and Riina are challenged to adapt their niche idol appeal to a broader base through their contradictory pairing in Asterisk; while in episode 8, Ranko struggles to break out of her shell so as to better define and express her own personal style in the only solo unit. By placing these idols with similar career paths in units together, Cinderella Girls covers more ground on finding what it takes to become a star, and further separates itself from the original iDOLM@STER‘s focus on individuals in asking what it means to be an idol.
But as if to directly contrast that separation, these idol unit episodes are the first moments where Cinderella Girls truly shines in the fun legacy of The iDOLM@STER. There aren’t any iconic moments like Azusa’s bridal adventure or Hibiki’s hamster running miles for help, but these scenes give each character times to truly shine in their own way. Whether it’s Ranko stealing the show for yet another scene, Anzu surprising everyone with her vast knowledge and excellent math skills, or Miria casually interpreting Ranko’s chuunibyou speech, these characters come alive in their own ways as the cast grows closer in their units and the Cinderella Project as a whole. It may have taken awhile for Cinderella Girls to find its footing and reach this point, but by avoiding the occasional cartoonish absurdity of the original series (no Kuroi conspiring to bring down the idols in the background here) it may very well stand as the best fun the series has to offer.
Ultimately, Cinderella Girls was destined to be contrasted against the legacy of The iDOLM@STER regardless of how much or little it changed from the original series. At times, it struggles to match that legacy as it wanders searching for its own purpose – but with that purpose found, Cinderella Girls successfully writes its own story forward and stands as a worthy successor to the iDOLM@STER name.