Version 5.4 ~ Haruhi gave rock and roll to you.

12 January 2014: Wake Up, Girls! seems better than I was led to believe

This is just like the Mushishi special!

Most of the initial reactions to Wake Up, Girls! seem to be profoundly negative. In particular, they caused me to expect poor production values, unattractive art, and terrible voice acting. Now that I've seen the one-hour prequel movie and the first episode, I find most of these complaints to be somewhat overblown and likely inspired (at least in part) by the running joke Yamamoto "Yamakan" Yutaka himself has become. I consider myself "Yamakan neutral" with regard to the typical attitude serious anime fans seem to hold towards him. I enjoyed some of his pre-controversy shows (e.g., Kannagi), disliked some (e.g., Lucky Star), and generally feel all his "saving anime" baggage is silly, undeserved, and irrelevant.

Minami and Miyu
Minami is the current Best Girl due to [spoilers].

Nevertheless, all that baggage is there—and troubling enough that I felt the need to preface this blog post with a paragraph dedicated to it—simply to get that elephant out of the room. With regard to Wake Up, Girls! itself, I found it charming enough, funny enough, and charismatic enough to characterize as a good start. It certainly doesn't deserve to be the butt of all the associated jokes, particularly in a season with lower-hanging fruit such as the (oddly popular?) trashy romp which I'm told is about a ghost who won't let a poor girl pee.

I wonder if Mayu's tragic past is worse than Chihaya's?

With regard to the production values and character designs, I suspect most of the harshest critics only watched the first episode and skipped the short movie that preceded it. Although the movie itself is not without its technical problems (e.g., the irregular shadows during the swingset scene), and is a notch below typical movie quality standards, it looks pretty damn good by television standards—definitely good enough to avoid complaining about.

Miyu, Minami, Airi
Slopppy character designs from the first episode.

The first episode, though, is a big step down from that movie. Watching it immediately after finishing the movie is quite jarring because the character designs go so off-model compared to the movie's superlovely standard. It's pretty rough for a first episode—bad enough that some criticism is warranted—and worse coming straight off the movie, but not so bad to justify calling the show as a whole "ugly" unless the viewer disregards the movie entirely or presumes the episode-one standard will remain the norm.

This was not as energetic as the Kare Kano version.

The voice acting itself is not bad either. One of the Wake Up, Girls! gimmicks is that this new series about rookie idols trying to break into show business features characters voiced by rookie seiyuu. The results are not as bad as you might fear, and the voice actresses on a whole come across all right, in my opinion. Shikabane Hime also featured many rookie seiyuu with mixed results. Although some of the voice actresses in Shikabane Hime were inexperienced, I think their most important scenes were well done. Comparing the two shows, I give the rookie seiyuu in Wake Up, Girls! the edge over the rookie seiyuu in Shikabane Hime, so I think they'll be fine.

Kaya and Mayu
I can hear John McEnroe now: "SKIRTS FLEW UP!"

The most cogent complaint about Wake Up, Girls! is that its fan service is awkwardly executed and rather out of place considering the tone of the rest of the show. In particular, immediately propositioning a stranger who straddles your crotch after being propelled by anime gravity seems sort of inappropriate. The already infamous pantyshot dance feels so unnecessary that I can't even call it gratuitous. Because so much attention was devoted to it, and because it was presaged with a snippet of conversation warning the girls about it ahead of time, I can only assume shakycam cell phone footage of their exposed unmentionables will be a plot point in a later episode. Either way, it didn't feel like a scene that belonged in the show.

I'm not sure Kaya and Takane can be ramen buddies.

Incidentally, both the proposition and the conversation occur in the prequel movie, not the first episode itself. (Although excerpts from the pantyshot dance do appear in all their shakycam glory in episode one.) Is it actually necessary to watch the prequel movie? Sort of, yeah. If you're going to watch Wake Up, Girls! I don't see why you wouldn't start with the movie. Besides occuring first chronologically, it also looks a lot better and it introduces all the characters who otherwise just get thrown at you in episode one.

Needs more Gunbuster pose.

If you're just giving the show a try without "committing" to watching it, why not start with the movie anyway? Too long? It's not even an hour. How about you just, like, quit watching midway if you get tired of it? Besides, if you start watching the series and decide you like it enough to keep watching, you're going to want to watch the movie anyway, so you might as well start now. Besides, it has a lot more Noriko. Noriko from Gunbuster. That Noriko.

Watch the movie to fully appreciate this idol otaku losing his serendipitous shit.

After you've watched enough anime, the mere act of watching any more anime takes on additional concerns. Can you handle yet another harem comedy starring Potato-kun who still remains too stupid to live? Is there any reason to give this season's imouto travesty a try when all the previous ones were hot garbage? (This despite their defenders' insistence that there was real substance somewhere behind their favorite installments showcasing the anime fetish that just won't go away.) Can you suffer the attack on your reputation and taste if you don't join in the chorus of opinions coming from other anime fans who implicitly have more credibility than you do?

Nice hat.

As it turns out, none of that matters. I'm not suggesting anime fans need to eliminate these influences and biases before judging shows. Regardless of how you get there or who steered you on the way, your opinion is still just your opinion—enjoy or don't enjoy what you want as you will. However, I do believe it's necessary to remind ourselves every once in a while that these external factors do exist and they do affect how we approach this particular hobby. In the case of Wake Up, Girls!, it does matter that it is a Yamakan vehicle, but only if we let it. The show looks like it could be pretty good if judged on its own merits. I, for one, look forward to more of its all-singing, all-dancing idol shenanigans, even if Wake Up, Girls! doesn't save anime.

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