January 16, 2015

AKB0048: "Miracle of the Waves"

Well thanks to this pop starlet science fiction mash-up I have learned that the Japanese phrase for "sexy poses" is "sexy poses". A Japanese-accented pronunciation obviously, but nonetheless a borrowed bit of language - like "anime", come to think of it. It makes me wonder: what did the Japanese strike before they struck sexy poses? Was no one living before the Meiji Restoration sexy? I find it hard to believe that the Japanese independently invented every aspect of human sexuality and sexual practice, including some the rest of the world had to learn from them, but never got around to inventing the sexy photo shoot.

So there's this pop idol thing, a genre I suppose, called "gravure". It's basically provocative photo shoots of young woman in bikinis or lingerie, overtly sexualised but generally non-nude. It seems to be an industry requirement: if you're a teenage pop vocalist, no matter how great your talent, sooner or later you're going to have to strip down and get sexy for promotional calendars, DVDs and glossy collectors magazines and books. Gravure is also a borrowed word, in this case derived from the printing term 'rotogravure'.

Why all this talk of half-naked pop starlets? This, the 10th episode of AKB0048, is the episode where our heroes are sent to the planet Atamistar for their own gravure photo shoot.

So there are basically two things going on here. Firstly there's some great plot and character development. Tsubasa's back story gets partially revealed, as well as her plan to re-introduce the discontinued position of Center Nova in the AKB team. Suzuko reveals she doesn't want to graduate into the band properly, and instead wants to join the management team. Chieri and Nagisa get some valuable one-on-one time as well.

The second thing going on here is boobs. Lots of boobs. Fan service, that weird phenomenon where animated character flash their underpants for an obsessive male audience, is in abundance here. There are also boobs. Jokes about boobs, dialogue about respective characters' boobs, and individual AKB members stressing out about the size of their boobs. Also boobs.

I understand that this is a standard part of the Japanese pop industry, whether I approve of it or not, and I acknowledge that, as an adaptation of that pop industry AKB0048 was going to tackle gravure sooner rather than later. That doesn't mean I will enjoy it when it comes. This episode is by no means as offensive or awful as "The First Handshake Event", which told us that pop stars have a responsibility to be nice to all their fans - even the ones threatening to murder them, but it's still pretty awful. It leaves Season 1 with seven good episodes out 10 though, so with the series as a whole scoring 70 per cent I'm still pretty happy.

Oh, did I mention the boobs?


  1. I had problems with all of the episodes where the reality of idol culture intruded, but this was possibly the worst of the lot.

    As you say fanservice is, like it or not, more or less par for the course.

    But I still have problems with it when the characters are 11-14 years old, even if they're drawings and not real.

    1. I honestly never realised the characters were supposed to be that young. I think my brain had a short circuit where I saw them do the skeezy aspects of being a Japanese pop idol and upped their ages in my head by 3-4 years. Probably for my own sanity.

    2. It's explicitly stated that Sonata (the bunny eared blond) is 11 and too young to audition.

      Chieri and Nagisa are 13.

      The brain short circuit is a neat trick, one I wish I could copy... :)


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