‘Tis the season for me to talk about The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls once again. This show does indeed have a Christmas episode, although the focus of episode 24 is not on festivities or romance like the usual anime Christmas episode. Instead, the focus is on a special Christmas mini-concert featuring New Generations, the sub-unit featuring the three main girls, Rin, Mio, and Uzuki. The episode focuses in particular on Uzuki, and while it might not have the usual elements of an anime Christmas episode, it has one of the best stories of human redemption I have ever seen. This episode is the climax of a buildup that lasts several episodes prior, starting in the second half of the show.
Warning: major spoilers for the second season of the show will follow. If you are watching the show and have not finished it, or plan to watch it unspoiled, please admire this Christmas Ranko (unrelated to this post) and then scroll quickly to another post.
In response to executive director Mishiro’s decision to disband all projects in the idol division and run things her way, the Producer of the Cinderella Project makes his own proposal to continue his department’s idols’ work. Mishiro allows him to proceed with the project, but she demands results by the winter period or else the Producer’s department will be in jeopardy. At first, things go fairly smoothly as the Producer’s project gains traction while Mishiro continues to do her own thing.
However, a conflict of interest arises when Mishiro offers to put Rin in a new sub-unit, Triad Primus, alongside two of her friends, Nao and Karen. On Rin’s part, she is torn as while she values her time with her New Generations friends, she also feels that there is something about Triad Primus that would allow her to further grow as an idol performer. And as she talks about her feelings with Mio and Uzuki, Mio, wondering as well if there is an opportunity for growth outside of New Generations, makes her own decision to take on work as a solo artist.
Uzuki reacts to all of this outwardly with smiles and encouragement. She convinces Rin to join Triad Primus and supports Mio’s solo work as well. At the Producer’s suggestion, she takes on additional work of her own, forming a unit with one of her senpai, Miho. Because the additional work has cut into practice time for New Generations, though, she (and Mio) are unable to perform at the fall concert, but Uzuki puts her all into helping behind the scenes. On the outside, despite everything that has happened, she seems to still be smiling and cheerful.
However, on the inside, she is dying.
After the fall concert, at a photoshoot with Miho, Uzuki finds herself losing focus, and at the Producer’s suggestion, decides to take the day off. This leads to her deciding that she still lacks the basic skills to keep up with the other idols, and thus she decides to return to her training school for more basic lessons. At first, the Producer allows her to do this, but after monitoring her for some time, he decides to give her a push and organizes a New Generations mini-concert on Christmas Eve. After initial protests that she is not yet ready for another concert, Uzuki gets confronted by Mio and Rin, who want to perform with her again, but feel that she is hiding the real reason why she is avoiding idol work.
And then, she really breaks down.
She confesses that she no longer has any confidence in herself as an idol performer, after seeing everyone around her find success and shine in their various new endeavors. Having kept herself going by the hope that if she did her best, she would find that light herself, now she doubts that her best will be good enough to do so. Her inadequacy is compounded by how her supposed standout trait, her smile, is something that anyone can do, and that there really is nothing special about her at all.
All this leads into episode 24, where, after some comfort from her friends, she walks back into the 346 Pro office, just a few days before the concert, still very much unsure of herself and lacking in confidence. Meanwhile, Mishiro suggests that the Producer outright fires Uzuki, not just because Rin’s concern over her is affecting her Triad Primus work, but also on the basis that Uzuki just is not performing up to standards, and that she will ultimately hold the Producer’s project back. Mishiro even offers to fire her on his behalf, though she agrees to at least wait until after the concert to make a judgment.
In many ways, Uzuki represents the state of humanity before Jesus’s birth. Humans were created by God with great potential, bearing His image in them, but because of sin, that image has been obscured, like, as Mishiro describes it, a star hidden by clouds. Not only that, but humans have no way on their own of unclouding their sin and bringing back the glory of the image of God within them. Some might have been aware of their inadequacy, but others have definitely taken to just “doing their best” instead, leading to groups like the Pharisees creating extra-biblical law systems to follow rigidly. Overall, though, humanity is condemned with no way of saving themselves, and God, being a just God, would be perfectly justified in (literally) firing humanity, as they have failed as workers for His kingdom.
But while Uzuki might have given up on herself, and Mishiro has definitely given up on her, the Christmas story of Cinderella Girls is about a Producer who has not given up on Uzuki. Likewise, the Christmas story of humanity is ultimately about a God who has not given up on His people.
On the day of the Christmas live, Uzuki and the Producer stop for a talk, as Uzuki confesses that she still feels no confidence in herself, and is scared that she will never find the light she has sought after all this time. The Producer, however, tells her that even if she has no faith in herself, that he has faith in her, and asks her if she will believe in how he believes in her.
The Christmas story can be seen as God’s plan for a humanity that has lost all hope. Instead of forsaking us as sin-tarnished failures, He saw the beauty of His image in us, still buried deep within, and took action to bring that out once again. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to be born on Earth as a man, so that through His life, we could learn how to live righteous lives, and through His later death and resurrection, He could cleanse us from sin and break its power over our lives. We could regain the potential we lost to sin, and shine with the glory of His image; all we had to do was believe in Him, who never gave up on us even when we gave up on ourselves, to lead and empower us to reach that potential.
The end of the episode brings Uzuki to the stage by herself to open for her unit’s concert. Having regained some of her confidence, she still finds herself a little hesitant, until she sees her friends and fellow idols in the audience to support her. Finally, she starts singing her solo song, S(mile)ING!. It is a simple and cheerful song, but one that still manages to have plenty of emotional impact as it reflects upon her journey up to this point.
It is my favorite moment in anime from the past year, and one of my favorite moments overall, for everything that this performance represents. It is not just a song of her past, but also the new present she finds herself in, and the new future that lies ahead of her, thanks to those who believe in her. The line above in particular has great meaning to it: the love she has for music and for her fans is more than enough for her smile to shine brightly. Likewise, for Christians, remember that all the special talents in the world mean nothing if you do not have love (1 Corinthians 13); however, if we do have love for God and for others, that is all God needs to work with to let His image in you shine through.
Whether you are just remembering what God has done for us, or are seriously wondering if God has any use for someone with no standout traits or seriously tainted by sin, remember that God created us in His image, and He still sees the beauty of that image in all of us. And because He saw not just what we were, but what we could be, He sent His son to save us. If we choose to believe in God and submit to letting Him be our “Producer”, we all can shine a light on the world with all of our love.
featured image by あしたばてんぐ | reprinted with permission