How to raise your own idol star

How to raise your own idol star

Have you heard of "THE IDOLM@STER" (The Idolmaster), the mega-popular game and anime? For readers who aren't familiar with the series, I'd like to take the opportunity to explain some of its massive appeal.

First, I think I should introduce myself. My name is Kazuki Nishiura, and I am a producer with 765 Production-"THE IDOLM@STER's" fictional talent agency. As a producer, I'm still a novice, but please feel free to call me Nishiura "P" (Producer Nishiura) anyway.

In recent years, idol girl groups such as AKB48 and Momoiro Clover Z have been enjoying enormous popularity in Japan, reaching the status of national icons. The same phenomenon extends into the worlds of anime and video games, which are also home to many idol performer-themed works. "THE IDOLM@STER" made its debut shortly before this trend really became apparent.

The first incarnation of the game came to arcades in 2005, and cast the players in the role of a producer for idol stars. The player could choose his or her favourite character from a group of 10 would-be-idols, then guide her through various mini-game challenges, such as singing and dancing lessons and auditions, making her into a top idol star over the course of a year or so.

The first home version of the game came later, arriving on Xbox 360 in 2007. It was after that that the cross-media "THE IDOLM@STER" assault began in earnest, with releases of character song CDs, live concert performances by voice actors from the game and more. The game has been made into a TV anime-twice. A third version, "THE IDOLM@STER CINDERELLA GIRLS," is in the pipeline for broadcast next year. Add to that the feature-length animation "THE IDOLM@STER: Kagayaki no Mukougawa e!" (THE IDOLM@STER MOVIE) released earlier this year. Versions of the game have been adapted to four different game platforms and three types of cell phones. The game has also been made into comics and novels, and there are character goods galore.

While I am tempted to introduce to you all of the above, I will focus on the releases of character song CDs and "live" concerts.

As of this writing, the number of idol hopefuls appearing in "THE IDOLM@STER" has topped 200, and several hundred related CDs have been released. What's more, some of those CDs have achieved a staggering sales. For example, one week in 2012, THE IDOLM@STER CDs accounted for five of the top 10 CDs on a Japanese weekly hit chart. In the Japanese anime tradition, an anime's "character songs" include not only the theme song and other songs that appear in the game or anime, but other songs sung by the characters as well, usually performed by each character's voice actor. Character song CDs can contain original songs as well as covers of famous songs (as theoretical collaborations between the character and the original artist) and often feature audio drama skits.

"THE IDOLM@STER" has no plot beyond the central goal-producing would-be-idols aspiring to become top stars. So character development and the stories of each character unfold mostly on those character CDs, and that's one of the charms of "THE IDOLM@STER." I believe this tactic is the reason that the series hasn't lost any of its glamour in the 10 years since its creation and will lead to its further development in the future.

I think it's also fair to say that this mode of storytelling has paved the way for subsequent idol-producing games and anime.

"Live" performances are one of the big attractions of "THE IDOLM@STER" the game, where it all began. In the game, characters perform live concerts represented in 3-D graphics. They move with such spirit, in the game and the anime. It's a real shame I cannot show them to you here. What's really great is that the voice actors for each character hold "real" live concerts, too, where they dress in the characters' costumes and sing the songs the character sings. At these concerts, the world of "THE IDOLM@STER" is perfectly re-created in reality.

And those voice actors invest tremendous affection in the characters they play. The voice actor for my favourite character, Ritsuko Akizuki, is Naomi Wakabayashi. Wakabayashi reportedly started wearing glasses regularly, even though she had never done so before, because her character wears glasses.

In concert, Wakabayashi appears as Ritsuko Akizuki herself-not just "in costume," sporting pigtails and wearing the right outfit and glasses, but also singing, dancing and speaking in character. Everything about her is Ritsuko Akizuki, right down to the voice.

Until I encountered "THE IDOLM@STER," I had never felt such a strong link between two- and three-dimensional worlds. I had never imagined that this sort of content would be loved by so many people.

Yes, to us "producers" who love "THE IDOLM@STER," the work is inseparable from reality. For example, on a character's birthday, producers celebrate by sending birthday wishes to the character and her voice actor on Twitter and other social media. It's that close to our everyday lives. Needless to say, I share the love for the work felt by so many other fans, and I'm lucky enough to work in the "THE IDOLM@STER" section as part of my job at Animate.

Hey you! I've seen you looking this direction. If you want to become a "THE IDOLM@STER" producer, there are only two requirements: you have to love the idol girls and you must behave as a gentleman (or lady). 765 Production is waiting for you!

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