January 16, 2015
AKB0048: "Miracle of the Waves"
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?