AKB0048 prepare to hold a concert on the snow planet of Thundristar. With Minami still injured, Kanata is appointed to take her place - much to Minami's dismay. Before the concert begins Nagisa and her friends sneak out of AKB's spaceship to explore a nearby town. They find a group of small girls - all fans of the band - who remind them of their old childhood.
This is pretty much exactly the kind of episode I want from AKB0048: a little bit of pop star soap opera, but mainly a bizarre combination of cheesy pop concert and sci-fi guerilla warfare. It also ties things back to the series' first episode with a strong focus on the four main leads. I think this is a good thing: I feel like between this episode and the last I'm finally getting the show that was initially promised.
Writing an anime episode must be bloody hard work to do right. Take out the opening and closing credits and you've got about 20 minutes to tell a three-act narrative. Sure, it's easy to just tell a 20-minute chunk of a big serialised story, and that's what most animes do, but that's the easy way out. It's a much bigger challenge to actually allow an episode to hang on its own merits rather than those of the episodes before and after it. I think "Emotion Relation" manages just that. It sets up a new location, re-introduces the characters succinctly, sets up two primary storylines and runs each of them to a satisfying conclusion.
So for Nagisa, Chieri, Yuka and Orine it's all about travelling to a planet just like their own homeworld, and seeing themselves in the young girls they meet there. There's a sense of 'full circle' about things; it's all rather heartwarming and sweet.
Meanwhile Minami can't handle the idea of being replaced by Kanata, and drags herself from her hospital bed to perform in the concert rather than give Kanata a single chance to replace her. This is pretty much the root of all show business stories: the older veteran fearing that the young upstart is going to take their place. It's slightly messier than the four girls' storyline, since it seems to want to have its story go in two directions at once. On the one hand it's a fairly savage indictment of Minami's fragile ego, and certainly her abrupt demand that Kanata take of her concert costume and hand it over does not reflect well on her character. On the other hand there's some bizarre lip service given at the end to the idea that the show is most important, and that Kanata shouldn't feel put out or offended and being pushed out of the frame. That doesn't sit well with the rest of the episode, since it's clearly ego that's motivating Minami.
All up I really loved this episode. It's got drama, character development, and then pop concerts on floating platforms, lightsabres, power-armoured soldiers, giant robot dogfights and snowmen. Visually it's full of colour and strong animation. It's also nicely succinct: at the episode's conclusion we can see the masses starting to rise up, and anti-AKB posters being pulled down in the street. We don't need to see the conclusion of the uprising - seeing it begin is enough for the episode's needs.
So nine episodes in, and seven of them have been enjoyable. That's a quality ratio of 78%.