The latest chapter in The iDOLM@STER franchise, THE iDOLM@STER MOVIE: Kagayaki no Mukouhe (Beyond the Radiance), came out this past weekend, and while it doesn't stray too far from the established story, it does open up some interesting possibilities. Just be prepared for some lengthy depressing moments.
A paternal relationship between a naïve, starry-eyed young producer and a group of young aspiring idols. That's the basic premise of THE iDOLM@STER and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Pornographic fan fic? I have no idea what you're talking about.
THE iDOLM@STER was originally an arcade game that played to two fangroups: Idol fans and anime fans. Players would take on the role of producer and lead a girl to stardom. The game was popular and successful enough to spawn a direct sequel, several spin-off PSP games, a couple of money-sapping smartphone games, multiple manga, and an anime series. The latest movie, Kagayaki no Mukouhe, is a direct continuation from where the anime left off.
Each idol of the 765 production studio has gone on to establish their own careers as idols. Now, before some of the girls move on to a Hollywood acting career, or as a professional singer in New York, they have the opportunity for one last bash at an arena concert. But for a gig this big, they're going to need time to practice and some backup dancers.
Each of the characters has evolved (relatively) since their humble beginnings and the movie does a good job of showing that they've changed and matured, while at their core they remain the same people. This also means that watching the anime series is pretty much a prerequisite.
For backup dancers, a "new" group of girls is introduced. While they haven't made an appearance in the anime or any of the console games, they're actually characters from the smartphone game THE iDOLM@STER MILLION LIVE!. Even so, the movie doesn't shove that fact in your face and no previous experience with MILLION LIVE! is necessary to enjoy it.
The addition of new characters also keeps the story interesting while developing the existing characters by showing how they react to having younger, fledgling idols under their care.
As an extension of the TV series, aesthetically, the movie looks mostly like a long TV episode. That's not to say the animation is poor, but you can kind of see where most of the money went to—there are several musical numbers within the movie where the video quality goes from good to great. It's not a huge point against the movie, but the difference is very noticeable from time to time and it left me wishing that the entire movie looked that good.
As with every story, there must be a turn where things go bad, and while plot points in THE iDOLM@STER aren't your standard anime world-ending threats or the ever cliché "death of a major character" (and I'm getting sick of that happening all the time), they do feel very real and affecting.
Without too many spoilers, for Kagayaki no Mukouhe, the twist comes with the new characters having to deal with the challenge of becoming idols and the established idols revisiting the problems they themselves had to overcome from the other side of the glass. While the problem at hand is very real and the movie does a good job of making you feel what the characters do, the situation drags on a little long and it feels like the movie is stamping its feet and wallowing in its own angst for a good portion of the second half.
The cast is pretty huge. There are already 12 individual girls, 2 producers, and now 7 new characters coming into the scene. This kind of leads to a problem where the story ends up focusing on only a handful of the characters, with the rest making comments from the sidelines. Of the 7 "new" additional girls, only 2 ended up making any real impression where I remembered who they were at all.
Also, as the existing idols have all pretty much had their character arcs within the anime series, there is little evolution for them despite the fact that they're the main characters.
Overall, The iDOLM@STER MOVIE: Kagayaki no Mukouhe was quite enjoyable, if a little long. The main story expands on the anime storyline and utilizes the characters well without betraying anything that came before, but with little to no character development for the main 12 girls, the movie ends up feeling a little on the fan service side – more a side story than a sequel or evolution. On the other hand, established fans will most likely enjoy revisiting their favorite idols, and the final payoff of the arena live is a definite must-see.
The iDOLM@STER MOVIE: Kagayaki no Mukouhe is currently in select theaters in Japan.
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