The conceit (or at least, one of the main ones) of AKB0048 is how each idol character in this far distant future is a “successor” of the present day AKB48 idol group. Now I know next to nothing about this idol group, but I’ve been watching anime for 3o years so I know some things about some of the shows I’ve watched, and in this post one of these things came together in a way that amused me a fair bit.
In this episode the highly regimented schedule of the successors and their understudies allowed for a day off. Predictably this is a piece to flesh out character details and personalities, showcase traits, and have characters play off each other. What brings the episode together is how the conceit of successors is highlighted.
The most interesting to me is the case of Itano Tomomi, who is basically succeeded by a human genome project LOL.
The level of commitment to produce successors to Tomochin is such that the family marries men who have a resemblance to the original so that the daughters will more or less look like Tomomi. This blew my mind. Science fiction in the service of pop idolatry – this is why they brought in Kawamori LOL.
Then there’s Yuuko who’s goal is to continue the tradition of the Center; in this case she goes beyond the idea of merely succeeding an original idol, but also performing a role within the group.
Before I go any further, I ask why do the show this way? The easy answer is that the show is in the service of popularizing the current roster one way or another. The other answer is something I find far more interesting. It has to do with the nature of anime franchises.
First, it’s not easy to create original characters that will stick, especially with such a large cast. With the successor conceit each anime character has a base from which to play off from, to fill in, take cues from, and distinguish themselves from. The show doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, it makes variations on the wheel design. Second, this precisely describes how franchises re-release iterations of itself.
I’ll let the images do some of the talking. Let’s take Yuuko and her center obsession:
The Center is the leader of the idol group. She holds the song together, if my understanding is correct. Now consider this set of images:
The differences are obvious. Fans of each character can clearly distinguish one from the other. The similarities however, are obvious as well and go beyond “teenager who pilots a/the Gundam.” Every time there’s a new Gundam TV show or film with a new story, the role is played by a teenager who has an absent/troubled/dead parent who may or may not have had a hand in making/keeping the Gundam. Except for Flit Asuno, we never see them grow old, just as we don’t know the circumstances of Aachan’s graduation.
We can say that each new show succeeds the original in the franchise, just as each new lead character succeeds Amuro Ray as the pilot of the Gundam. Bright Noa all but validates this in Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (episode 05).
On the other hand, going back to Tomochin, the successor lineage is genetic (all in the family). I hesitate to use the Asunos of Mobile Suit Gundam AGE because they’re all in the same show, but there’s a strong example. Perhaps similarly, and distinct from how lead protagonists succeed Amuro Ray in Gundam, look at this:
The image doesn’t even have Zeheart Galette yet, but you get the picture. There’s a villain in almost every iteration of the franchise that cannot be just a villain. He has to be a masked villain – some version of Char Aznable.
This is exactly what AKB0048 does for the meatspace idol group. It gives them the anime franchise treatment. The originals are not, and should not be replaced. Instead, the narrative builds on the base of their personalities to portray anime-specific characters. It’s kind of like remembering love too.
And who does this remembering love schtick early, often, and well? It’s the guy who came up with these (except Ishtar):
And yes, it’s Macross’ Kawamori who is the primary force behind AKB0048.