At a certain idol production agency, a new division is created, and several promising elementary school girls are selected to be in this division, while a hot-blooded staff member is selected to be the group’s producer. Among the girls of this division is Arisu Tachibana, a girl who doesn’t like to be treated like a kid, and who does not get along as well with the producer due to a rocky first impression. Nevertheless, the producer is determined to set the stage for these young idols to shine, and even Arisu cannot help but hold out hope that he can bring out the best of everyone.
Here it is, a week late since Crunchyroll took a while getting the English license set up, but we get two episodes to catch us up to the Japanese broadcast, so it’s all good. First of all, while there was a previous anime for The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls, you do not need to have seen it to jump into this anime. This is basically an “alternate universe” spinoff, with the same girls but a different setting and no continuity with any events in the previous anime or with any other Cinderella Girls media like the mobile rhythm game. That said, as a longtime fan of The iDOLM@STER and in particular the Cinderella Girls sub-franchise, I was very familiar with the girls and was definitely looking forward to this anime. And after watching both episodes, let me say: this anime was even better than I hoped it would be.
Let’s start with the first episode, featuring Arisu, who is actually one of my absolute favorites out of all 190+ girls in Cinderella Girls. The episode does a great job of framing the kind of backstory she has: one where her parents are often out working late, and she feels like she has to “grow up” and hates being called by her given name for how childish it sounds. As the first episode, there’s a lot of setup going on here, showing how the other staff in the agency don’t particularly want to work with a bunch of kids, while the kids themselves had been training and taking lessons without any promise of actual idol work. The choice of the Producer character is particularly notable: iM@S anime have had a great track record of strong “Producer” characters, and for this anime they have a guy who wouldn’t feel out of place in a shounen anime; it’s almost fitting that the Producer for these kid idols is in some ways a kid at heart himself. However, he is also an established worker at the agency and familiar with idol production, and shows confidence in his job, even when he seems to only be getting basic work for the girls. And while it is clear that he has a ways to go earning the trust of some of the girls, especially Arisu, it does set up a good baseline for their professional relationship.
The second episode changes the focus to Nina Ichihara, a girl who really likes wearing animal kigurumi (basically animal pajamas). At first it seems like an adorable gimmick for the youngest of the girls, but then the story continues: she struggles with taking a publicity picture without the kigurumi, and later on loses one of them; it turns out her attachment to the animal kigurumi is a coping mechanism for her own family life with busy parents. Overall, this is a great character-focused episode that really highlights the strength of this series, carried over from past iM@S anime: strong character writing that gets you to really care about these girls. The fact that these girls are just kids might just seem like a gimmick, but I think it provides a unique perspective in that they have more to overcome in order to become idols. compared to the usual teenager or adult idols—both in capability, emotional maturity, and how others see them.
There is a lot more that I can go into with these episodes, and I may even do a longer post in the future breaking down various details that I found as a longtime Cinderella Girls fan. For now, I can definitely say that this was easily one of the best new anime of the season and one I will be greatly looking forward to every week.
The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls U149 is streaming on Crunchyroll.
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