In a show that couldn’t be more different to Shoji Kawamori’s 2012 outer-space idol spectacular AKB0048, director Yutaka Yamamoto has found an equally succesful formula in the gritty realism of grass-roots storytelling in Wake Up, Girls!.
Wake Up, Girls! is not easily compared to the likes of Love Live or the Idolm@ster franchise either. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these shows, but I want to praise Wake Up, Girls! for shaking up the genre in its own way.
So how did they do it?
From the first couple of episodes it was clear that Wake Up, Girls! wanted to distance itself from the glossy, bubbly tone of your regular idol tv show.
After discovering that their manager had named the group after a “love hotel” (Japanese for brothel) of the same title, it became apparent to viewers that maybe this show wasn’t going to mimic the often sugar-coated portrayal of the idol industry that we usually see in modern seasonal anime.
The real bombshell came in episode 2 though. This saw the girls having to work and perform in a highly sexualized, uncomfortable and severely degrading work environment. In a context that would typically be used for outright fanservice in most shows, we got the exact opposite instead. It made for an unexpectedly compelling episode that was awkward to sit through, and I remember feeling incredibly relieved when the situation was resolved. This emotional response was the sign of a show that asks the viewer questions while it entertains them. I relish that.
Later episodes further explored the highly exploitative nature of the entertainment industry, which was a pretty ballsy move by Yamamoto. It would have been easy to pump out something glossy and generic to secure sales, but he refused to take the easy road.
Mayu’s arc is also worth mentioning, as it deconstructs the overwhelming pressure placed on young girls by their parents and employers. She reveals her past to Kaya, detailing how her previous manager in I-1 manipulated her, chewed her up and spat her out, and how her parents never forgave her for leaving the group. Episode 9 also dissected the obsession with purity and how such strict rules can have an awful effect on the girls they apply to.
The second half of Wake Up, Girls! was probably a little more character focused but still carried on with the themes that were established earlier while developing the characters. The show managed to tell a good story with a refreshingly candid approach and the result was pretty great. It’s a real shame the animation quality was not up to scratch though.
For the above reasons I’d really like to see more of Wake Up, Girls!. Season two looks like a possibility but it all comes down to sales so we can only hope.
Bring on more WUG!