Allow me to start off with a euphemism. I am not exactly the biggest fan of the Japanese pop-idol group AKB48. This presents me with a problem. With 12 number-one singles since 2009, the popularity of AKB48 in Japanese culture is to the point where I can enter my local 7-11 and buy anything from "AKB48 the lunchbox" to "AKB48 the flamethrower." Their popularity is so great that the question is no longer "Do you like AKB48?" but rather "Which AKB48 singer do you like?" To which I answer: "The one who dropped out to do porn." (This is not exactly the most well-received response.)
With popularity like this, it was only a matter of time before they spread into other mediums of entertainment. (An AKB48 dating sim was released in 2010 on the PSP and an Idolm@ster clone is coming to the 3DS later this year.) Thus last week, the all-consuming mass that is AKB48 began its conquest of the world of anime with their new show AKB0048.
The plot of AKB0048 is rather straight forward. In the far future, humanity has spread across the stars; and to prevent any wars or other conflicts, many planets have banned all forms of entertainment that can "sway the human heart." This includes music. Thus SAKB0048—spiritual successors to AKB48—invades these worlds to sing pop songs hundreds of years out of date to the music-starved masses.
The main characters are three 13-year-old girls who want to join AKB0048 because of an underground concert they snuck into as children. Luckily, AKB0048 just so happens to be holding open auditions for new teenage trial members—because, after all, you have to get them young before they learn words like "easily exploitable" and "15-year non-negotiable contract."
The first episode of AKB0048 should be watched by all future generations to define the word pandering. Of course, what's insane is not that it panders, but rather that it somehow panders to every possible type of AKB48 fan at the same time.
For fans of the music, practically the entire soundtrack is either vocal or orchestral remixes of AKB48's most popular songs.
For the moé fanboys, we have character designs so cute that the light reflections in their eyes—as well as their hair—are heart-shaped! Every action the three main characters make is practically designed to evoke a forlorn "moé" from even the most hardened otaku. In fact, SAKB0048 is found written in the book of Revelation as the 5th sign of the Moepocalypse.
Little girls watching are given a show filled with things they think are cool (unicycles, cute outfits, and magical girl wand tasers) and a story about little girls (like them) who become musical superstars. One of the three mains states she wants to be an AKB0048 member because they're just so cute and that she wants a ribbon in her hair just like them! (Yes, apparently in the world of AKB0048, wearing ribbons in your hair is illegal.) Of course, the girls in AKB0048 dress an awful lot like the actual singers in AKB48 so "cute" may not exactly be the best adjective to describe them. The greatest coup for men in Japan is that they have managed to convince Japanese women that "cute" and "sexy" are the same thing. Japan: where a miniskirt (read: belt) and tight blouse are considered "cute."
But what's most amazing is that AKB0048 even manages to pander to the old school anime fans. The writer and director for AKB0048 is none other than Shoji Kawamori, the creator of Macross, Escaflowne, Arjuna, and Aquarion. Seeing him attached to this project is shocking. It's like if Lauren Faust, writer/animator of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends and the Powerpuff Girls, suddenly made some totally cash-in project like, say, My Little Pony... wait a sec, bad example.
Sprinkled through the background are numerous references to past Kawamori anime but sadly, despite the writer's pedigree, the first episode of AKB0048 was little more than a "Run-of-the-Smill Japanese Melodrama in SPAAAAAACE." Every scene was cliché: a love confession, chasing after a train, the finger-tip-touch-almost-hand-grab, the over-strick dad (and mother secretly helping her daughter on the side), and oh so much over-emotional crying.
And as the credits roll on the first episode, we are treated to a voice over. Allow me to paraphrase. "I love my friends, I love my family, but most of all, I love AKB0048!" If nothing else good can be said for AKB0048, at least they're 100% transparent—not even trying to hide what they want your priorities to be.
AKB0048 is currently airing on various regional networks throughout Japan.