Editorials · On Characters

An Idol and Her Stages: The 12 Hero’s Journey Archetypes and The IDOLM@STER (2/2)

The IDOLM@STER
Miki Hoshii is better than your favorite girl. Any other “best idol” is WRONG.

* This post is a strict continuation of my post from a few days ago, The Idol’s Journey Part 1 and reading the first portion is strongly recommended on my part. However, if you’re interested in scrolling towards your favorite idol and her corresponding hero, then by all means, go on ahead!

Although The IDOLM@STER hits many, many high notes in its constantly evolving, spiral narrative, I have long-held the belief that the first episode is the most important of all. Though I freely admit that the first isn’t the most enthralling of the twenty-five, the episode introduces us to each one of the aspiring young women with a rather unique take in anime. Instead of using the usual third person view, we are introduced to each of the idols via an interview ala “found footage” style. While watching each of the girls interact with each other is entertaining as hell and was clearly awesome, what mattered most were the questions that the idols were being presented by the Producer. Of the several asked, one in particular stood out to me the most:

What is an “idol” to you?

This is it, the final, existential question (in the context of the show, at least) asked towards each of the girls. Were this any other anime series, it would be a simple gesture, but here its the ultimate question of identity. It’s through this that the girls let loose and give away to us their goals and their fears, essential to each hero archetype, and allow us to observe them and their growth. While several of the young women change drastically and open several new goals for them to pursue, their answers are the respective paths that they take towards stardom. Their answers set them on their journeys and distinguish themselves from one another.

When a set of thirteen different girls dress up in gorgeous outfits and sing to gloriously animated dance routines, it’s easy to forget that each of the thirteen are in their own right, a hero. We forget that underneath that dancing, singing, and lounging around the studio, that they each their own set of dreams. And most of all, we forget the basic meaning of the word “idol”: that they’re people we look up to, role models worthy of our attention and our praise. They’re heroes, taking their journeys across different sets and stages, one step at a time.

Azusa Miura
The best part about writing? Cramming in fetishes.

Azusa Miura: The Lover

The Lover seeks the bliss of true love and the syzygy of a divine couple.

Like the Destroyer, the Lover can oftentimes be misunderstood. Their goal is almost exactly what you’d expect and is relatively simple: to fall and remain in love with something or someone. However, the love of the Hero is akin to Eros, which Jung described as a desire to make one whole. The gift of Eros is not only erotic love and the passionate bonds which connect us to the world (stay with me here), but also the source of personal power, not from position or authority, but from within. It’s the power of charisma, the power of someone who becomes engaged with life, unafraid to be true to his or her core nature. It’s clarity.

In her first interview with the Producer, Azusa confesses that her reason for becoming an idol is hopefully find and fall in love with a certain ‘fated person.’ Her goal at first is simple: to find love and it comes off as no surprise that someone as lofty as her is romantic. Azusa falls hard for the concept of fate, the “truths” of fortune-telling, and also retains a pining for romantic love and from these; we can conclude that she loves to guide. And throughout her episode we see these things in action: she runs a fortune-telling booth, guides a foreigner to the harbor, and delivers an engagement ring back to the runaway bride. She commits to the people she meets, and her carries through with loving earnesty.

Every Lover Hero, no matter the story, is always destined to find one thing: commitment. Through committing to something we ultimately find out who we are. And this is what Azusa finds, commitment not to another lover, but to her job. And while it’s true that she still searches for a mate, that’s ultimately not what her love story is about. She falls in love with her career.

Ganaha Hibiki
The Okinawan pet lover sure is fantastic.

Hibiki Ganaha: The Creator

Creators, fearing that all is an illusion, seek to prove reality outside of their minds.

Energetic, inspired, and most of all, creative, the Creator hero is goal is to simply create. It can be anything they choose; and what they choose to build are oftentimes as spiritual as they are physical. They simply take a hold of their dream and allow themselves to know what they really do with it, then using their knowledge to experiment and let those dreams come true. Knowing this, their greatest fears are rather obvious: inauthenticity and miscreation. Their journey isn’t just in the act of building something but also learning how to take both care and use of the objects that they create. And just as importantly, with the Creator’s first, genuine creation comes a sense of identity and self-understanding.

Hibiki’s episode deals with the Creator’s shadow side: confronting inauthenticity and the consequences of neglect. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Hibiki’s “creations” are her pets: they’re her joy and pride, her closest companions, and also her greatest products, raised and taken care of for years and years. However, after her dog Inumi is set to be replaced with another, less talented one, things quickly take a turn for the worst as Hibiki’s neglect for her pets after becoming an idol finally manifests. The most difficult challenge that a Creator faces is losing their ideas, inspiration, or even their creations and then learning to care for that which is lost. It is when Hibiki is stranded, alone, and desperate that she hits a different kind of inspiration, a self-revelation, and finds a genuine identity situated between a caring pet owner and an aspiring idol. The Creator creates several items along their journey, but in the end, their greatest creation is always a sense of self. Every hero has a gift, and Hibiki’s is identity.

Akizuki Ritsuko
A glasses tilt and a wink; expect this to be a thing

Ritsuko Akizuki: The Ruler

The Ruler’s quest is to create order and structure and hence an effective society in which the subjects of the Ruler can life productive and relatively happy lives. This is not necessarily an easy task, as order and chaos are only a hair’s breadth away.

Hah! This one’s obvious!

Although the task of governing and establishing a harmonious, prosperous kingdom (or even just a life) is rather daunting, understanding the Ruler hero is actually very simple. Their goal is harmony. Their fear is chaos. And likewise, their progression as characters follows the same scheme. Their three stages of development follow an expanding need for order and control, and they must challenge themselves to not fall into the ever-so-dangerous role of the ogre tyrant. However, these stages are all positive; at their best they promote the growth of those around them and even society as a whole.

Ritsuko’s role as the Ruler hero is really quite easy to see. Although the 765Pro President, Takagi, is the company head on strictly a business level, Ritsuko is the one who truly runs the show. She organizes each of the idol’s events, schedules their appointments, and works hard to ensure the success of 765Pro even before the Producer shows up. Her hard work and dedication both to the idols and their careers allows for order within the studio. However, being responsible for one’s self is also the duty of the Ruler; Ritsuko’s career as an idol producer sometimes blurs with her social life and aspirations, creating tiresome, long days at the office. However, when the Ruler does decide to pursue her dreams, they benefit the immediate world around them. With Ritsuko’s formation of Ryugu Komachi, she starts off the very beginning of 765Pro’s ascent into stardom.

Remember: the Ruler’s gift to the world isn’t order nor prosperity, as great as those gifts are. It’s responsibility, both for those they govern, and for one’s self.

Kikuchi Makoto
Ginga Bishounen, Kikuchi Makoto.

Makoto Kikuchi: The Magician

The Magician’s quest is not to “do magic” but to transform or change something or someone in some way.

A common misconception is that the Magician is a supernatural being; that they hold all the cards and can use the swing of the wand to distort reality. In reality, a magician casts illusions, not magic, and it is from that vein that the Magician Hero, in this case Makoto, stems. The Magician seeks to change or transform something, not to undo or recreate. There are no easy miracles: just odd spots allowing for change. In the first episode, Makoto first reveals to the producer that most of all, she wants to change. She wants to become more girly, more feminine in her construct, and to come to embrace that side of her personality that was kept in shadow by her father.

Makoto’s path as the Magician Hero is gradually built upon, little step by step, throughout the series. In her we can see a glimmering desire for femininity and a search for more male fans; she wants others to see that softer, more gentle parts of her exist. This is why Makoto loves to change her outside appearance to reflect that, always fully embracing frilly, “traditionally girly” (and I use that with the lightest of intent) in order to express that. However, the Magician hero’s greatest challenge is developing a mastery of the art of changing physical realities through first changing mental, emotional, and spiritual ones. Just as with all famed illusionists of the our time, the Magician hero’s greatest works are psychological rather corporeal, evidence of “magic” is found in the psyches of others, not the real world. Likewise, Makoto’s greatest challenge is to not to completely dispose of her masculine identity or overshadow it with her love for frilly, girly things, but rather to fully embrace all that she is.

A great magician can change even the greatest of problems into their greatest beneficiaries. Ah, but a wise magician can transform even themselves.

Shijou Takane
Whoop whoop.

Takane Shijou: The Sage

The Sage is a seeker after truth and enlightenment and journeys far in search of the next golden nugget of knowledge.

To put it simply, the sage is a scholar, and like all scholars, searches for truth in all natures; from chemical formulas to rustic texts, the Sage explores the world in search of hard-won wisdom. Their best hope is that they play from a position of purely objective honesty and try to discern with a clear head truth and untruth. However, because such a high level of knowledge cannot be attained by everyone, the Sage is often misunderstood and sometimes seen as awkward. Similarly, a common feature of the Sage hero is, in order to keep their well-earned knowledge to themselves, is a tendency to be secretive. This reluctance to open up to others can sometimes lead to more misunderstandings with their allies. This is exactly what happens with Takane: always secretive and steeped in mystery, Takane is an easy mark for the gossip of Kuroi.

Takane’s episode is a rather interesting take on the quest for truth. While Takane searches for the truth behind Kuroi’s paparazzi scheme, the remaining idols search for the truth behind Takane. Threatened with gossip about Takane’s switch to a new studio, the other girls hasten to question her. Meanwhile, Touma finally learns of 961Pro’s underhandedness and threatens to leave. Takane’s search for knowledge affects the world around her and gets everyone moving on a wild goose chase for the truth. In the end though, Takane, dressed as a police detective (which is important on a not-so-subtle-but-still effective symbolic level), undresses the truth behind Kuroi’s schemes and gives knowledge to public. And this embodies the final challenge of the Sage and the final test of wisdom: whether to share this hidden wisdom or to constrict it, both for the benefit of society as it is.

Hoshii Miki
Always go with the megane. Always.

Miki Hoshii: The Fool

The goal of the Fool is perhaps the wisest goal of all, which is just to enjoy life as it is, with all its paradoxes and dilemmas.

The Fool is unique. Much like the storyline of tarot, the Fool is the beginning and the end of each rotation of the hero’s journey, the alpha and the omega, and is distinct in every sense of the word. The philosophy of a Fool, to enjoy life, is ultimately the wiser than any of the other heroes’ ways of life. And somehow at the same time, the Fool is so amazingly blunt, dumb, lazy, irresponsible, and full of shit. She breaks rules all the damn time. And while I can’t say that any archetype reigns superior over the others, since all twelve heroes are a reflection of humanity as a whole, it’s up and by far my favorite of all. On top of this, the Fool is notable for pissing off every single one of the other twelve hero archetypes. The Fool pisses of the Sage, because she doesn’t give a shit about wisdom or planning. She pisses off the Ruler, because she always tells the truth no matter how hard the Ruler tries to seal it. She pisses off the Warrior, because she ultimately doesn’t have to work for anything to succeed. The Fool looks at the Destroyer, going through a self-destructive crisis, points at him, calls him a pansy, and then laughs uproariously. And even then, even if she’s hated (and she never truly is), the Fool just doesn’t give a fuck because life is experienced fully in the moment and celebrated for its own sake, one day at a time.

If you have watched the IDOLM@STER, then you know that there’s only one character truly fits this bill: Miki. And who can really argue that this isn’t her domain? Upon first sight, she’s extremely lazy and laissez-faire; she barely tries to get through the day and not only that, but barely has to try. And this gives way to the first stage of the Fool: life is only to be lived for the fun of it. While death does not scare the Fool, commitment terrifies them half to death, because they see commitment as a chance to longer feel free and alive. At the beginning, Miki is really just a lazy ball who has trouble  expressing any form of commitment to her job. She has yet to find her passions, her Eros, and is unable to commit.

When a Fool finds Eros and learns to commit, they transcend their days as a Trickster and transition into the Jester, the Wise Fool. At the highest level of appreciation of life itself, the Wise Fool experiences the joy in all life and becomes nearly translucent, but at the same time, transcendent. This is exactly what happens to Miki: after discovering her passion, her Eros, she works damn hard to reach out towards it and embraces it at every twist and turn. And man, underneath that lazy, tired skin is so much hidden talent and wit, and when they’re expressed to the fullest extent she becomes more radiant, more stunning, than any of the idols in the agency. She falls in love with the Producer, in love with her job as an idol, and never let’s go because ultimately, life is too fragile, too short, to be spent sleeping on the couch for cheap pleasures.  She then lives for her passions and commits to them, but never complains once because to reach a Fool’s enlightenment, one must appreciate the journey, the Hero’s journey, no matter how arduous or futile.

I said before that everyone get’s pissed off by the Fool at some point, and while that’s true, the Fool is hardly ever truly hated for it. It’s hard to truly hate the Fool because they bring such an exuberance and liveliness to every situation no matter how grim or serious they should be. Miki Hoshii is neither the punching bag nor the scorn of 765Pro; in fact, she’s rather the opposite, a magnetic personality which draws the interest of many others. In the days of old, the wisest of Rulers always hired a Jester to puncture their hubris with wise, all-knowing criticism and to allow an outlet of forbidden behaviors, laughs, and insights. They gain a comical, but universal, perspective of life and have earned the right to the ultimate, cosmic joke: the great treasure we have sought outside ourselves, both far within and far away, were never scarce or faraway. When I look and reflect on the greatest comics (and this also pertains to bloggers) of our time, I realize one thing: that the worst (you know who you are) only use comedy to degrade, and the greatest (UNMEI KAIHEN, Louis C. K.), use it to celebrate the medium of life itself, with all its flaws, paradoxes, and all those silly bits of hilarious, fallible-but-beloved humanity.

What it all comes down to is enjoying life and celebrating everything, from victory to failure. I’d say that the Fool is ultimately the point of life itself.

Stray Snippets

  • Much of the hero archetypes for the hero’s journey are fully explored by Carol Pearson in her book, Awakening the Heroes Within. It can be soul-searchy at times (expect a lot of Jungian psych), but it never delves into the territory of a pithy self-help book. It’s a rather fascinating read, especially when it’s applied to myth, literature, or film.
  • In the book itself, there’s actually test called the HMI (Heroic Myth Index, ridiculous name, I know) to designate what kind of hero you are. It’s a fairly interesting form to fill out if you have the time.
  • Wrote over 5000 words on The IDOLM@STER over the course of 5 days. Life is good.
  • I’ll get around to ranking my favorite idols one day.
  • MIKI HOSHII IS THE POINT OF LIFE ITSELF, GET AT ME BROS
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2 thoughts on “An Idol and Her Stages: The 12 Hero’s Journey Archetypes and The IDOLM@STER (2/2)

  1. Really interesting article (although sorry, I don’t Miki as magnetic at all).
    I wonder how Kotori and the Producer would fit in this analysis

    1. Kotori and Broducer don’t fit in as cleanly because they just lack the amount of focus that the screenplay gives to the girls. However, Broducer would probably fit into the Ruler archetype for the same reasons as Kotori.

      I don’t find Miki as magnetic at all

      Pfffft. PFFFFFFFFFFFTTTTTT

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