The IDOLM@STER is an anime I oftentimes find myself being pulled back into, and looking back, it’s not very hard to see why. The show itself was enthralling, refreshing, and funny (oftentimes all at the same time), and although it’s far from Grammy material, it hardly ever fails at standing out, especially with its top-notch production values and breathtaking dance sequences. On top of that, when the otherwise light-hearted idol show actually does decide to go for drama, it effortlessly hits several emotional highs without any stutters. Though far from perfect (the Team Rocket-esque antagonist Kuroii is a complete joke), the cheeriness and upbeat attitude never grinds throughout the 25 episode run, despite the heavily idealization of the idol industry.
But what makes The IDOLM@STER stand out to me most is the cast of characters and each of their individual episodes. While the Producer is an interesting character in his own right, each of the girls have a certain flair to their personalities and each have loving level of care given to them. But more importantly, each of the characters has a specific goal and encounter interesting obstacles specific to each one of the twelve Hero’s Journey hero archetypes. The idols each embody a hero and a shadow, and each of their episodes gives a challenge or “dragon” that the idol must slay in order to progress as a character. For you see, The IDOLM@STER isn’t primarily a continuing narrative about a group of idols achieving stardom, but rather about that their small, individual triumphs.
Although we oftentimes attribute the Hero’s Journey as either linear or circular in regards to myth, literature, and film, when applied to reality it is in truth, neither. The Hero’s Journey is a spiral, looping without end, but growing bigger and more momentous with each rotation. And this is what The IDOLM@STER truly is: a series of journeys and triumphs for each girl, all with a single goal in mind, growing larger and growing larger but always keeping the same shape. And from the ending, we can only assume that these girls go on to have even more adventures and successes, continuing their illustrious careers as idols.
The idols in The IDOLM@STER each take the form of a specific hero from the Hero’s Journey, who in turn represent different facets of our lives. Their stories are our stories at a conceptual level, repeating without end in scales big and small.
Yayoi Takatsuki: The Innocent
The Innocent, fearing abandonment, seeks safety.
The Innocent hero isn’t a one characterized by a lack of guilt, but rather by a lack of harm. In Yayoi’s episode, despite her family’s deep financial struggles, Yayoi’s household is still lauded as her personal paradise or haven. When we first enter, the atmosphere in the house is vibrant and Hibiki and Iori, the household guests, couldn’t be happier. Although Yayoi’s life is arguably tougher than most, she accepts it with grace, optimism, and sheer bliss and works vigorously towards supporting her family. To put it simply, she is happy.
However, optimism and happiness each give birth to the Innocent’s two respective cruxes: obliviousness and vulnerability. By overestimating the happiness of those in her household, she can forget about the feelings of those around her. While the Innocent’s optimistic nature easily affords the hero comrades, they oftentimes have trouble understanding them. This, in turn, leads to the hero’s greatest fear, abandonment, and further experiencing a reality shattering fall from grace. When Yayoi’s brother, Chosuke runs away from home, she experiences this drop and the once light atmosphere quickly gives way to panic. However, through experiencing this chaos, the Innocent, no longer completely naive, becomes the Wise Innocent, optimism without dependency and positivity without denial. Yayoi’s transformation is much the same: her journey is a graceful transformation from pure naivety into sheer optimism.
Chihaya Kisaragi: The Orphan
The Orphan, fearing exploitation, seeks to regain comfort in the arms of loving parents or allies.
Although the Orphan stems from similar roots, she’s the polar opposite of the Innocent. While the Innocent’s unbridled optimism earns countless allies, the Orphan’s reaction to the fall is negativity and cynicism. However, unlike the Innocent, who begins her journey childish or immature, the traumatic experience at early age gives the Orphan a level of precociousness and pragmatic realism at an early age. This is pertains to Chihaya Kisaragi and her past influences: the death of her brother gives her a cold aloofness further brought on by the constant arguing of her parents.
But in the end, what the Orphan wants and needs most is just a little companionship. Chihaya’s storyline explore her unwillingness to open up and how to accept help from others. Although Chihaya has a charm and elegance to her name, it’s hard not to notice her brooding, sometimes even sullen, demeanor at times. Independence and a refusal to be helped can sometimes give birth to loneliness and an unwillingness to receive aid from others and we see this when Chihaya loses her voice. She feels lonely, afraid, and abandoned without her talent, and that’s what makes her final episode so powerful: her friends join her on stage, fully ready to support her, and she allows herself to trust in them and sing. By first experiencing powerlessness, Chihaya is able to be received by others, while still keeping her level head. And these are the Orphan’s greatest gifts: interdependence without disillusionment, and realism with great empathy.
Iori Minase: The Warrior
The Warrior is relatively simple in their thought patterns, seeking simply to win whatever confronts them, including the dragons that live inside their mind and their underlying fear of weakness.
At first, the image of Iori Minase as a Warrior seems rather odd. After all, she’s the token Kugimiya Rie spoiled rich loli of the group (okay, that’s actually extremely poor analysis of her). She’s not rough, she’s not tall, and she’s certainly not ripped out of her mind. However, the goal of the Warrior is not to fight battles. Hell, the goal of the Warrior is actually even simpler. The goal of the Warrior is ultimately, to win.
Having been raised in a rich, competitive household, Iori develops a relationship with her family members opposite of Yayoi: she seeks out a career in the lucrative idol area in order to surpass her family. While it’s true that she flaunts her wealth, Iori wants to surpass even her wealth and become something more than money. In Iori’s episode we see her dressing in ridiculous outfits and garish attire because she wants to become something more. At first blinded by ambition and a fear of ineptitude, her gawky clothing in episode two reflects her pride and disillusionment. However, as we see her progress throughout the series, she later learns to confront the dragon inside her, her pride, and comes to adore her job as an idol not because it’s what she needs to win, but because it’s what she wants to do.
Previously I said that Iori lacks the stereotypical traits of a gladiator. And it’s true that she isn’t any of those things. What Iori is, however, is strong. It may take brawn to slay a dragon, but it takes strength to fight those inside of you.
Haruka Amami: The Caregiver
Caregivers first seek to help others, which they do with compassion and generosity. A risk they take is that in their pursuit to help others they may end up being harmed themselves.
Okay, this one’s easy.
The ultimate goal of the Caregiver is to give aid onto others and to heal and it’s not hard to see why Haruka fits so well into this role. Among the idols, Haruka’s the pillar of support, the almsgiver, who reaches out to others and raises the spirits of the entire group. Even when the chips are down, Haruka is able to rejuvenate the atmosphere and be the uplifting support that the group of aspiring idols need.
However, while the Caregiver is more than worthy to heal others, the Caregiver’s greatest challenge and dilemma is her inability to heal herself. What the Caregiver fears more than anything is selfishness. As the 765 Pro reaches their peak, Haruka is unable to practice with and care for the idols with whom she climbed with. After accidentally injuring the Producer and being berated by Miki for being selfish (which I view as the ultimate act of kindness and tough love), Haruka has a breakdown and takes a break to discover herself. In order to progress as a person, the Caregiver has to learn how to prioritize one’s self, and if they succeed, they learn generosity without the neglect, and compassion with consideration. As someone who must come to appreciate herself, it’s only appropriate that Haruka’s first episode is named Watashi, the Japanese variant of “I.”
Ami and Mami Futami: The Seekers
Seekers are looking for something that will improve their life in some way, but in doing so may not realize that they have much already inside themselves.
The Seeker is a unique hero, so to speak. Instead of helping others or winning battles, the Seeker’s goal is to rise to his or her ambitions, to seek out his or her destined object. This “destined item” can be either material or immaterial; it’s their search for something incredible or better for themselves. It’s their goal, their ultimate aspiration, which they seek out and oftentimes the lucrativeness of the object blinds them to ambition. The fate of the Seeker is arguably the destiny of all crime dramas, mysteries flicks, and film noirs: it’s a constant search for evidence, a fated object to string the whole case together. It’s only fitting that Ami and Mami, who have their episode modeled after TV mystery-crime-drama, go on a search for something. Telemachus searches for Odysseus, Gepetto longs to have a child, and Gon searches for his father, Ging. What do Ami and Mami search for? Pudding. The answer is pudding.
In order to fully understand the Seeker, it is necessary to know the origin of the word. The word “seeker” is derived from the Old English secan which means one who tries to find. Tries. The duty of the Seeker may be in the act of searching, but their call is not always finding. It’s the journey itself which counts, and more often than not, the Seeker finds what she was searching for inside herself. The Futami twins undergo a similar growth: their reckless ambition through the search leads to the criminalizing of several innocent bystanders in 765 Pro. However, they never actually find the pudding itself, and Mami reveals to the Producer that she wants to stand side by side with Ami, and stay with her together. Through this it’s obvious that the quest for pudding is really a sweet means for the two to remain together, and when the two are found culpable for eating Miki’s jello, we can only assume that they found what they were really searching for.
Not all who wander are lost.
Yukiho Hagiwara: The Destroyer
The Destroyer is a paradoxical character whose destructiveness reflects the death drive and inner fear of annihilation. They are thus careless of their own safety and may put others in danger too.
Before any of the confusion about why someone as sweet and timid as Yukiho is a perfect fit for something as grisly as the Destroyer archetype sets in, I’d just like to say that the Destroyer is up and by far, hands down, the most misunderstood character of all. This is because Destroyers are often wide and varied; on one hand you have a character like Spike Spiegal, arguably one of the most badass anime characters ever created (and also one who failed his journey), and on the other you have shy and timid people such as Yukiho. But most importantly, all of the Destroyers all have one, surprising similarity in regards to personality. Underneath all the self-destructive skin, they are surprisingly humble.
The Destroyer’s goal is ultimately metamorphosis, to grow into something better than themselves and to drop all things which no longer support their growth. Every hero needs something; the Orphan needs companionship and hope, the Fool needs liberation, and the Destroyer just needs to let go. To let go of anger, pain, and fear is the mission of the Destroyer and simultaneously the goal of Yukiho Hagiwara. Yukiho chooses the path of the idol to let go of her fear of men, and respectively, her episode focuses on her confronting both that and her fear of dogs. While living in fear can and oftentimes will keep others away, it also brings those braver than them towards them at their own allies’ risk. And this what happens: the Producer shares his story about his own cynophobia and like the many Destroyers before her, Yukiho becomes inspired, and willing to move on. She just decides to let go.
In more ways than one, Yukiho is the bravest of the idols.
To be Continued… Here!
- I’ll finish the second half of this article some time this week. but for now, au revoir!
- I’m a bit obsessed with the Hero’s Journey. Just a bit.
- If I feel like it, I’ll list my favorite idols of the series in the next installment.