Idolmaster SideM: How Personal Branding Shapes Our Image || OWLS “Visions”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s first monthly topic of 2020, “Visions,” I wanted to engage in a side of me that I’ve been neglecting for some time: My interest in idol culture, and how idols can actually inspire their fans to strive to become their best selves.

Happy New Year! Since it is a new year, it’s a new you! This month we will be talking about various pop culture mediums that focus on envisioning “the future.” What type of future do we want for ourselves, our communities, and the world? Also, we will be sharing our goals and plans for the new year.

The New Year’s celebration is my favorite time of the year. I buy hard into that whole “New Year, New Me” business, so really, it’s all one big self-care holiday for me. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2017 anime “Idolmaster SideM,” stylized as “The iDOLM@STER: SideM,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Miyuki Kuroki, and based on the franchise rhythm game of the same name.

A Fresh Change of Pace

Talent recruitment and entertainment agency 315 Productions may be in its infant stage, but the calm and caring producer of 315 promises his idols a place on the world stage so long as they work hard toward their dreams. Specializing in scouting prospective idols who previously held other jobs, all have a place at the agency, whether a former lawyer, pilot, or even a surgeon. As these men—some in their mid thirties, others still living their high school days—grow to understand their new positions, they’ll have to make sacrifices and trust in each other if they are to achieve their dream of becoming top idols!

Is this really a story about grown men who are sick of their lives and willing to gamble away their careers to sing and dance on a stage? Wow, it’s no wonder I liked this anime so much. Idolmaster SideM is a tale of reinvention for its stunning ensemble of idols, each with an origin story more different from the last. In just 13 episodes, we hear from a whopping 19 different men and how their individual lives have aligned at the crossroads of music and fame.

Some accounts are far more detrimental than others, say, the pilot who left his job because his anxiety overcame him in a near-fatal crash vs. the quiet boy who just wanted to come out of his shell. Or the twins who abandoned their professional athletic career due to one being burdened by a substantial injury compared to the guy who went along with it cause his buddy did. Again, each story is different, but not one of their ambitions are to be deemed “lesser” than the other’s. In fact, it’s thanks to this variety of perspectives on seeking change and self-improvement that Idolmaster SideM allows itself to be light-hearted yet feel grounded and real—inspirational, yet with one foot in reality’s door.

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Creating the Idol “Brand”

What does it take to be an idol? Geez, one could go down all different routes to answer that one. To keep things relevant to this post, I want to focus on the concept of brands, AKA one’s identification or signature style. For example, my blogging brand (or so I hope) is marked by its connections to good vibes and clean aesthetic under the theme of an urban city cafe. How does an idol group go about designing their brand? The six young idol units of SideM quickly discover that there’s a lot more to it than color-coordinated costumes and snazzy photography. 

For idols, especially the bigger name groups like 315’s Jupitereverything down to the very way you live your own life determines how the group is perceived. If a famous idol were to be seen drinking a specific soda type or repping a certain fashion brand on a given day, their fans might perceive this beverage and that jacket as elements common to the idol’s life (even if purely coincidental), thus branding the idol’s group with these particular companies. Fans may eventually try to match their favorite groups by supporting these companies and buying their products, which feeds back into the industry itself. So yeah, brands matter.

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When it comes to envisioning their own brand, the ex-lawyer, pilot, and surgeon of DRAMATIC STARS struggle with what to wear during their first photo shoot. Jupiter’s black leather is too cool for them; High×Joker and Beit’s wild colors and textures seem too childish. So, they settle on wearing the uniforms of their respective careers in hopes of representing the most true versions of themselves. While it’s not the most pleasing collection of outfits, it’s certainly an original look that they feel most comfortable with being known for.


Tsubasa and I, and everyone from 315 Productions, have led different lives, and different circumstances brought us all here together. We all have our reasons, but the goal has always been the same. We’re chasing the same dream together!Teru Tendo


Connecting Brands to Reality

All this talk about idols and branding and representation got me to thinking about how I want to market my own personal brand. Between falling back into K-pop hell and observing how real idols create the personas they desire, to expanding my own platform with an Instagram, it’s definitely been on my mind. 

What do we, as bloggers, want our personal brands to look like? How can we achieve this vision of ours? Takuto is obviously not my real name, and unfortunately, I do not own my own cafe, let alone work at one. These were decisions I made to “create” the Takuto you know today. Everything from my blog’s theme colors to the way I interact in the comments (like how I use the ~ all the time) were choices. 

So, how do we do it, creating our “online selves”? Just like with the DRAMATIC STARS trio, it’s a tricky balance of being true to yourself while also pursuing the change you desire in life. The anime and manga I review inform you about my tastes in entertainment. Thus, it should be my goal to highlight the types of shows and series I personally love and collect through my posts (with exceptions to sharing an honest opinion), be it with words or pictures. And if I find my tastes changing, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to address any waning interests, or invite you to witness any exciting new finds either in my watch list, on my shelves, or even in my personal life.

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As bloggers, as writers, we have one goal: to connect with our readers. In that way, we aren’t that different from pop idols that strive to connect with their fans. If we hide behind fake interests or write a lackluster review over a series, they will be able to tell. They always do. If you don’t have anything to say about a given series (yet feel “forced” to review it anyway), perhaps you should dedicate that time and energy into a post you could absolutely gush over, be it for something you intensely love or extremely dislike.

However, we should also acknowledge that interests can also change—if a blogger wants to add a new segment to their site, try out a new platform outlet, or simply take a break from their normal content to just write about themselves, we should embrace their efforts and support them in all their new endeavors. I mean, unlike idols, you can become truly close friends with an internet content creator. Why would you not pay it forward while you can? In all that you do, be cautious, but be yourself—the best things will come from doing just that.

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We’re All Just Trying to Create

As creators of some kind of content, it can be easy to let the issue of personal branding slide under the rug. Little do we or they (the ones that get paid millions to stand on the world stage) realize the impact that even the most seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives have on the perceptions of others. Especially as bloggers, these are points that we don’t really ever lend coverage to, and I think that’s part of the reason why it might seem difficult to become a socially “successful” internet blogger. We’re a quiet people often hidden behind walls of text. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are impersonal people—in fact, I find writers to be some of the most relatable humans out there, but that’s a post for another day. 

In a roundabout way, Idolmaster SideM tackles very similar issues about perception and personal branding that internet content creators must deal with. Additionally, the series confronts the realities of what it means to be “associated” with a particular vibe or energy, as well as the physical and mental training idols must undergo to achieve that vision. It’s an awful lot, and at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to create something people can love. So, whether a complete novice or one of the billboard’s top hits, one thing’s for sure: There’s no such thing as a lazy idol.

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They are the ones that worked hard. All I did was talk to those brilliant people.Producer


Afterword

Frankly speaking, there’s a lot of “good” going on in Idolmaster SideM. Watching each of 315 Productions’ idol groups grow is a daunting task thanks to the short series run, but an incredibly fulfilling one despite the odds. Following these guys side-by-side as they stumble in practice and struggle with clashing personality differences is an endearing process. I can walk away from this anime saying, “YES, they’re all good boys!!” as I finally grasp the appeal behind male idol anime. Simply for its inspirational premise of throwing caution to the wind and saying “Screw it, I wanna be famous,” Idolmaster SideM is a certified “Cake” here at the cafe! Got any thoughts on the series or idol culture in general? I’d love to hear them down in the comments. 

This concludes my January 14th entry in the OWLS “Visions” blog tour. My good buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) went right before me with a personal post over the hit film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that you can read right here! Now, look out for Aria (The AniManga Spellbook) this Thursday, January 16th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Perfect Blue: Life is Anything But Glamorous || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 80-minute 1997 anime film “Perfect Blue,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Satoshi Kon, script by Sadayuki Murai, and loosely based on the novel “Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis” by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. 

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Fantasy & Reality

Rising star Mima Kirigoe has just announced her retirement from her Japanese idol group to pursue an acting career. While she tries to convince herself that this is what she wants to be doing with her life, others couldn’t be in greater opposition. Namely, her fans, and one deranged creep in particular who begins to stalking her. As the people responsible for her career change are gruesomely murdered one by one, Mima herself starts to teeter on the edge of sanity.

From the genius mind of Satoshi Kon comes the bizarre story of a singer-turned-actor desperately trying to escape from the delusional head space that is causing the lines between fantasy and reality to blur. The film is swamped in Kon’s signature quick-cut directing style, with creative transitions, wacky visual perspectives, and bright colors guiding the eye through this terrifying narrative.

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Kon’s attentiveness to defining the boundaries of fantasy and reality is exemplified in Perfect Blue. Sometimes we are shown Mima acting in a scene, while other times the stage is very much mirroring reality. Figures from Mima’s imagination haunt both her visions of reality and the viewer’s perception of it. You often find yourself asking, is this a dream? Or, perhaps, the nightmare that Mima’s reality has become?

Set at the dawn of the Internet Age, this psychedelic trip puts the viewer on a wild roller-coaster ride through the darker tunnels of human emotion. Paranoia, loneliness, and fear are thoroughly explored in this masterful film that demonstrates what the psychological thriller genre of entertainment can do when a gripping story is met with heart-pumping suspense and a clever directing style that shows you exactly what it wants, when it wants.

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Living in Duality

Perfect Blue begins at the end. That is to say, the end of Mima’s career as a pop idol, and the beginning of her acting career. Despite being a beloved icon on stage, her back stage life is actually a realistic mess. Her apartment is cluttered, and she’s so in-and-out all the time that the cheese she buys at the beginning of the film expires a few scenes later. Mima is, to be frank, just another teenage girl trying to make a living in modern day Japan.

As such, it’s no surprise that Mima’s idol career was suffocating her. Much like a high school memory, sure, she had fun. But maybe it’s time to move on now. She is characterized by a sense of modesty and passion for her work, although she’s perfectly fine with moving on to a new phase of her life. That is, until the industry starts to exploit her talents.

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Without going into spoilers, I merely can offer this small sentiment: We really don’t have any idea of how the industry works, unless we are actively a part of it. In the world of money and fame, it’s not about you want to do, but rather about what other people want you to do. Sure, a girl can give her verbal consent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she would be comfortable with being used for someone else’s gain. As an actor, you serve the director, and sometimes that can conflict with your own moral values as a person.

As the story goes along, Mima becomes a victim of forced maturation. This includes being thrust into horrific rape scene that, despite knowing it is fake, scars her poor young mind. She is also met with increased anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even a separation of self by means of superstition. This delusional mindset causes negative thoughts to rise, as in so long as someone is Mima, who really cares if Mima is Mima. How the mind repairs itself and subconsciously shields you for self-protection is absolutely incredible, and that underlying theme is what ties every red thread in Perfect Blue together in one complex, disorienting knot.

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Sensation, Perception, & Direction

Madhouse boosts Perfect Blue‘s production value with an unbelievable amount sensory detail work that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Flashing stage lights, rattling AC units, the motor noises of a 90s desktop computer, the gentle hum of a fish tank—it’s almost sensation in excess, which is just what this film needs. Transporting us to modern day Japan, the attention to detail enhances the setting, and makes the story feel all the more real.

Another gift of watching this film is getting to understand the iconography that makes it so famous beyond being just a really good movie. The bath scene where Mima curls up and screams, bubbles rising from the air of her trapped emotions is particularly beautiful. Seeing Mima hold a knife in midair against a flashing digital backdrop of own image embodies the epitome of suspense. And although creepy in context when paired with the scary music, the scene where Mima chases her dancing, skipping pop idol self through a hospital building conjures up true feelings of horror and hysteria.

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Speaking of music, Masahiro Ikumi’s music score for the film adds an eeriness that today’s horror anime just can’t compete with. When we’re not jamming out to light idol music from the 90’s (or listening to it in the elevator . . .), pounding sound board effects, uneasy remixing, and metallic screeching accompany a wailing chorus of uncanny cries. It sounds unpleasant, and it is. But, without Ikumi’s OST, I doubt Mima’s experiences would’ve felt as intense and life-threatening as they were.

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It’s A Maddening, Cruel World

Perfect Blue takes an introspective look at how fantasy can shape reality, and vice versa. In subtle ways, it asks the question that, as creators of some kind of content, what do we owe our consumers? Are we ever miscommunicating with our readers and viewers, and how would we know? Also, if our successes define us to some extend, how long will they cast shadows into our future?

The world is cruel, scary, and unfair. If it can take something from you, it will. And it won’t give anything back. But Perfect Blue also tells us that if any of these thoughts we are having bother us, then it’s all reality because these thoughts still shape how we feel in real life. Even the most seemingly sane people in our lives . . . We have no idea what they may be going through. Life is a performance, a stage, and if we don’t tell people about what’s going on, they might not ever know. 

In that way, Mima’s story is one about winning yourself back. What does it take to feel confident in my words and thoughts, and how can I get to that place—that’s what I got from Perfect Blue.

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A harrowing journey through a young woman’s psyche as she tries to escape from the fever dream that her reality is becoming, Perfect Blue effectively uses deception in anime to play with his viewer’s mind. The perception of reality cannot be trusted, especially as the psychodrama heightens towards the climax. But WOW is it a compelling mystery. You actively want Mima to figure out what’s wrong with her life—you want her to solve the case. And with a sucker punch ending that’ll hit ya right in gut, the whole experience comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Believe it or not, for a story that began with existential worry and cleverly crafted chaos, the ending of Perfect Blue provides an outlook that favors hope, confidence, and independence. And seeing the light of those perfect blue skies completes this wild yet captivating journey through the complexities of the human psyche.

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The truth is that today more than ever, I wanted to have a good time with you. — Mima Kirigoe


Afterword

While I would recommend this film to every fan of anime out there, it IS full of gratuitous sex and violence. So, if either of those are triggering to you, definitely steer clear for a bit. More than just thrilling, suspenseful, and entertaining, Perfect Blue ponders so many ideas, from how the internet will forever change privacy, to the savagery in the entertainment world. A compelling mystery by master storyteller Kon himself, “Cafe Mocha” certified Perfect Blue can truly make you feel genuinely scared for your life (especially if you watch this at midnight by yourself like I did, eep).

I’d love to hear what you think of this classic film down in the comments! Special thanks go to GKIDS for rescuing this long out-of-print title and giving it a lovely Blu-ray remaster—they really are the best! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go binge Love Live! . . . you know, to maintain my own sanity. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host