Released Year : October 8, 2012 to September 26, 2013
No of Episodes : 50
Genre : Kids,Music,School
Plot : Ichigo Hoshimiya is a regular, ordinary middle school girl. But when her best friend, Aoi, invites her to join the idol training academy, Starlight Academy, her whole world is turned upside down. As she encounters all kinds of rivals and learns what it takes to be an idol, she uses her Aikatsu Cards to challenge countless auditions. (Source: ANN)
Our Review : Oh, how I love this series…
Aikatsu is a cute idol anime, about a young girl called Hoshimiya Ichigo who, after seeing the performance of a famous idol, Kanzaki Mizuki, decides to join the special school for idols, Starlight Academy, together with her best friend Aoi, to become an idol like Mizuki.
Aikatsu can be comapred to Idolm@ster or Love Live, given they are all idol anime. However, Aikatsu is aimed at young girls, not older guys (I am very positive guys are the target audience for ‘moe’ idol shows), so Aikatsu has a different ‘feel’ to it than other idol anime – even though it mostly involves adorable school girls singing, dancing, training, and making friends.
Aikatsu isn’t a fan-service oriented anime at all. Instead, it feels very innocent and light-hearted – and it’s not afraid to be very silly and ridiculous. In this show, the girls not only sing and dance, but they also scale mountains in order to prove themselves to wear certain brands of clothes on stage, chop down giant fir trees in order to ‘save the magic of Christmas’ and partake in obstacle courses that involve them being blown away in severe winds or falling into mud. There’s a lot of ridiculous stuff in Aikatsu – but that is part of what makes the show fun.
Another good thing about Aikatsu is that, even though it’s a rather long-running series, and every episode ends with the girls performing some kind of concert with CG graphics, the episodes never feel like filler, and they never feel reptative (at least, to me). Each episode is structured in a very similar way – but each episode feels ‘fresh’, as they focus on different aspects of being an idol (e.g. practising autographs, going on a radio show, communicating with fans). There are also several slice of life elements thrown in, and the series focuses greatly on the friendship between the three main girls, Ichigo, Aoi and Ran. Aikatsu is full of fun and cute moments, and it doesn’t drag or get repetitive.
Along with the varied content of each episode, the characters are all rather fun – even if they’re not particularly new or special personality-wise. The main character, Ichigo, is the sweet and clumsy girl who can be found in a lot of shoujo anime; her best friend, Aoi, is something of an idol ‘nerd’ and acts as the intelligent and mature character; and Ran is an independent and strong-willed girl, who at first seems quite cold, but deep down is very loyal and caring. The series focuses mainly on the friendship between these three main characters – to good effect, as you really see their friendship developing throughout the course of the series, in a natural way, which makes certain episodes rather emotional. Moreover, because the series revolves mainly around these three girls, it makes the whole show feel very focused, and the side characters never detract or take too much screen-time and attention away from the main girls.
The side characters, too, are enjoyable. The other idols, Mizuki (an elegant princess-type who works hard, and is the ‘top idol’ in the Aikatsu universe) Otome (a cheerful genki girl), Yurika (a somewhat tsundere vampire-styled girl), Sakura (demure and graceful) and Kaede (a big-sister type, experienced idol, who likes magic tricks) are all fun, and add some ‘spice’ to the series. They are all introduced in staggered points through the series, with about eight episodes between the inclusion of each girl, which means – with the steady influx of new idols – the anime doesn’t stagnate, and it is fun to watch the series and wonder what type of new idol girl will be revealed next. Each girl has her own mini-arc of about two episodes, where some of her back story is revealed and she overcomes some trial to receive a super-special shiny outfit to use onstage, which leaves ample time to focus on the three main girls – at the same time giving the more periphery idols enough personality for them to be truly entertaining, instead of just ‘being there’. The only complaint I would have about the extra idols is that Kaede was introduced very late into the series (around episode 35), even though she appears in the opening of the very first episode – and she doesn’t seem to get as developed as the other idols.
The other side characters, such as Ichigo’s family, the headmistress of Starlight Academy and the rock band ‘More than True’, also add to the entertainment on the show – especially the dance teacher, Johnny Bepp, most likely modelled on Johnny Depp – who often talks in weird, warped English lines for comedy. I could probably watch a whole series just about that character, he was so much fun.
The animation in Aikatsu is fairly standard for kids’ anime, I guess – large eyes, adorable character designs, multi-coloured hair… I know people could critique the use of CG in the early concerts, as it does look noticeably very different from the regular animation in the first few episodes, but the CG does get better in the middle of the anime – and I quite liked the CG for the dance performances, as it meant the girls could wear some very, very intricate and elaborate outfits, that probably wouldn’t have been possible (or would have taken too long/cost too much) to animate regularly.
The character designs are all enjoyable, and fairly standard (though I really liked Yurika’s twin drills, and her vampire fangs) – but the clothes are probably my favourite part of the design. The girls wear a wide variety of outfits, and (as I mentioned before) the CG allows for some of their performance clothes to be very spectacular – even if some of them are slightly over-the-top. The fact the girls unlock new outfits as the series progresses is also quite exciting, and also helps stop the show feeling stale; I actually got really excited to see the girls gain more outfits, and wondered what outfits they would wear during the insert songs at the end of each episode…
The songs, too, are mostly cute, enjoyable pop numbers – though there are a few slower paced songs. The songs were fine – and, as it is an idol anime, there were a fair amount of them; a new song being introduced every four or five episodes.
But, my absolutely favourite about Aikatsu, would be that, despite being an idol show for children, it actually feels a lot more ‘mature’ than Idolm@ster and Love Live. This is because, even though Aikatsu is filled with far more ridiculous and unbelievable things than the latter idol animes, Aikatsu has a very, very good way of approaching the topic of ‘working independently, and finding your own way in life.’ Although the girls in Aikatsu are all close friends, they are all idols, and – as the second ending song suggests – they are all ‘rivals’; competing for the most attention and the most fans. The girls, despite being friends, often work alone; sometimes are split up into different idol groups; and they are unable to always be together. However, unlike Love Live and Idolm@ster, where the main character inevitably dissolved into tears in the finales of both series with the cry ‘I won’t let my friends go their own way; I don’t want us to split up!’, Aikatsu takes a more mature, and more selfless, approach. When the girls in Aikatsu decide to go at something alone, trying to become more independent, they are only ever supported and cheered on by their friends – never held back. Even though the girls in Aikatsu become dejected that their friends will move on without them at some point, to further their own careers, it is always handled gracefully, and with mature understanding – not whining, tears, and a selfish ‘think about how much I’ll miss you!!! You should halt your career because of my needs!!!’ attitude that Idolm@ster and Love Live both had.
Aikatsu could be criticised because it is not only an idol anime, but a way to market ‘Aikatsu cards’ – a popular arcade game in Japan, where buying cards in real life can be used to unlock more outfit in the arcade game. The fact Aikatsu is trying to sell you stuff is never lost, as the girls constantly chant ‘Ai-katsu, Ai-katsu!’ whilst running and exercising (a ‘subtle’ reminder to ‘buy Aikatsu cards, buy Aikatsu cards…’) However, despite the fact this show was plainly made as a means to advertise and sell /stuff/ to young kids, the show is still able to stand on its own two feet as a genuinely enjoyable, and actually rather mature, children’s show.
(Apart from one episode, where Ichigo suddenly gets fat, even though she doesn’t even look that different from usual, and then everybody mocks her… That one episode wasn’t particularly great – and probably could be viewed as somewhat offensive. But other than that one blip, the rest of the series was very sweet-natured.)
It won’t appeal to everybody, but if you like shows with cute girls, made for cute girls, with a strong focus on friendship, featuring an amazing and diverse outfit designs, and with some surprisingly mature writing despite its sillier moments, then you should watch Aikatsu. It’s a very, very fun show, I looked forwards to watching it every week, and whenever in a bad mood, it always cheered me up. It's by no means a /great/ show, but for what it is, it's incredibly enjoyable.