Note: Although it technically began back during 12 Days of Anime with my post on the first episode, this post marks the beginning of my (hopefully regular) writeups on AKB0048, a scifi-idol series from 2012. Check back often as I continue to write about this series (and other shows) going forward!
Sometimes, a small change in perspective makes a whole world of difference.
AKB0048‘s opening episode was filled with the optimism that AKB represented to Nagisa, Yuka, and Orine. As young teens growing up on the dystopic Lancastar, AKB represented a shared dream of a world of song in the stars beyond their industrialized home, a hope that they might be able to stand with AKB and fight against the DES and entertainment bans. But in episode 2, we get our first look at how AKB isn’t just an image for music freedom – AKB represents a wide variety of ideals for many people across the galaxy, and the group faces a diverse set of challenges as a result. And through Chieri’s reappearance on the journey to the second auditions, we learn for the first time that the fights and challenges facing AKB’s idols don’t always come from the enemy.
One of these key images is the AKB0048 unit as a standard high-profile idol unit. Episode 1 showed AKB as a group fighting against entertainment bans through “guerrilla concerts”, but through Sonata,
Linda Suzuko, and Makoto we begin to see AKB in a more “normal” light compared to the bright hope they represent on Lancastar. Each of the three new girls are superfans of AKB in their own way – Sonata chases after a spot at the auditions even after being rejected, Suzuko has memorized a wealth of knowledge about the group and its members, and despite her moments of panic and low self-esteem Makoto is clearly passionate about the group as well (perhaps moreso when she’s on her own, since we see her passion in her appearance in the OP). But Makoto also briefly touches on something not yet considered by the Lancastar girls: every one of them traveling to the audition together is each others’ rival, and they’ll all be competing against each other for spots with AKB’s 77th Generation.
The girls don’t think much of Makoto’s comment at the time; but as Nagisa finds the still-disguised Chieri while searching for her onboard, Chieri confronts Nagisa with the harsh reality of life competing as an AKB trainee. Passing the audition isn’t just a free pass for Nagisa, Yuka, Orine, and Chieri to perform together – they have to fight against one another to earn the right to become a successor, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll all make it through that process without pushing each other out of the way to do so. Though still unidentified by Nagisa, Chieri suggests to her that she should turn her friend in to ship security to make her path towards becoming an AKB idol easier; and when Nagisa protests this, Chieri presents her with a cold reality: “I can’t imagine someone who hasn’t yet realized it’s a competition among rivals could possibly become a member of AKB0048.”
Nagisa is shaken by Chieri’s words, and the previously buoyant mood of the 7 girls traveling to the auditions is weighed down by the truth of what they all face. Nagisa laments aloud how she had only seen the hope brought to others by AKB, sharing that she “just wanted everyone to pass… I just wanted everyone to smile. That’s all I had thought about…” But their melancholy isn’t something they can dwell on forever, as DES arrives to raid the ship capture them before they can reach the AKB auditions. Nagisa and the other Lancastar girls know they have to do everything in their power to evade capture and hinder the DES presence; but with forces collapsing in on their location, Nagisa chooses to put the others above herself, pushing Orine away in front of her so that she might be kept away from the clutches of DES. Nearby, we see Chieri wince in sorrow and anger as her friend from years ago is painfully dragged into the air by a DES soldier.
But before DES can take Nagisa away from the others, Chieri’s kirara lights up as AKB arrives to fight DES and escort the girls to the audition. As they begin to evacuate, Nagisa watches and marvels at the spirit of the AKB idols and their drive to fight together. She is reinspired to be optimistic for her dream as she admires AKB fighting around her: “These people aren’t just cute girls who dance and sing. Even that time.. They’re always putting their lives on the line and working together. This is what we look up to.” But even though she rediscovers her spirit to keep looking forward, Nagisa can’t help but remember what she has left behind – as she hurries with the others to evacuate, she realizes that her hair ribbon, the only thing keeping her tied to her family and her home, has been left behind. Not wanting to let go of her home, Nagisa heads back to retrieve it.
Nagisa lets down her guard in this moment as she retrieves her ribbon, and only evades capture by the DES due to the presence of the now-undisguised Chieri, who berates her for her foolishness. Chastising her for being unable to protect herself, Chieri once again questions Nagisa’s drive to join and compete in the AKB auditions, telling her that she has no chance of becoming a successor if she can’t put aside her friendships and bring down her rivals. Chieri’s commitment to her own values is not completely ironclad – she chooses to endanger herself by pushing Nagisa out of the way of a falling chandelier – but she remains firm in what she believes, imploring Nagisa to abandon her beneath the same chandelier that she saved Nagisa from. Despite what it means for her to do so, she keeps warning Nagisa that she is a strong opponent to face, and by not choosing to abandon her she is making a choice that she will regret.
But it’s here that we see just how committed Nagisa is to fighting for a brighter day with those alongside her. She stays with Chieri and refuses to give up on her promise from years prior, despite the reality that she and the others must fight and compete against one another. The unified spirit of AKB remains alive in Nagisa’s heart, and she shares her own perspective with Chieri: “Members of 00 might be competing with one another. They might be rivals, but what about that battle just now? If all they do is fight, there’s no way they could have such good teamwork. They trust and help each other… That’s the kind of 00 I want to be a part of! […] I’ll join 00! With you, Chieri! I promise!” And at Nagisa’s words and her promise made to Chieri, Kirara begins to shine for the two of them. The light of idols glows in their moment together, as Nagisa commits herself to the teamwork and unity born out of each girls’ individual drive towards becoming an idol.
Shortly thereafter, AKB idol Yuuko arrives to escort them to the other waiting girls and AKB members. As they are evacuated by AKB on a shuttle together, Nagisa and Chieri both ask their own questions of Kirara, creating a moment of contrast between each of their thoughts and insecurities. Nagisa wonders whether Kirara left her behind on Lancastar, thinking “Kirara didn’t follow me. Even though I was there, too… Did it choose Chieri?” And Chieri questions why Kirara lights up for Nagisa’s passion but not her own: “It never shone for me, even though we’ve been together since that day. Why Nagisa?” This moment is a final reminder from AKB0048‘s second episode that each prospective idol carries their own weight, goals, and insecurities alone. But it is also this same episode that has showed us that trusting in and sharing those things with their fellow rivals helps them all shine brighter as a unit together. Though the future steps facing Nagisa, Chieri, and the others will place them against one another, it is all for the ultimate goal of being able to stand stronger together as teammates fighting for hope and freedom across the galaxy.