I admit that I’m not a big idol fan. In fact, I don’t feel like I’m a big anime fan either. It’s hard to feel like I’m part of a bigger crowd when I find myself retreating from dialogue than engaging in it. Or maybe my investment in this phenomenon is different from the loudest of fans.
This review is a critique of a short anime series that is an example of what many consider a “bad anime.” It’s too short, the animation seems rushed, and the characters leave something to be desired. Oh, and there’s that whole “all too real” thing going on, which some of the louder fans detest because anime is supposed to be fantasy. But instead of focusing on what makes this series hard to watch, I want to give it a chance to be real. I hope that by the end of this review, you will realize that I still have a lot of hard feelings about how this series was handled by production and so-called fans, but I still enjoyed it. Because if it’s going to be “all too real,” then it had better at least be genuine.
Million Doll follows four groups or individuals who belong to the broader idol community. Of the idols themselves, we have Yurino, Momona, and Rina — who are collectively known as itorio (stylized in lower case), a local idol group. We also have Mariko, an unknown idol who is contracted by an independent agency. These two groups have entered the idol industry by different means, yet both of them are relatively unknown. As many an idol series goes, their goal is to eventually go major, to be on the national scene.
But getting there has its obstacles. Whether for personal or financial reasons, the road to becoming an idol isn’t as easy as having fun singing, dancing, and acting like a fool on stage. Going major seems like a pipe dream when the big companies that produce hit idols — like the series’ own Hinami Kamakura — won’t pick just anyone. And as much as one would like to see both itorio and Mariko go major, the hard truth is that not everyone can be an idol.
So how do idols get noticed and launch their major careers? Why their fans, of course! Who’s going to see new idols when nobody likes them? And by “like,” I mean invest in them in time and money!
That’s where we find our two principal fan characters, Ryū and Sumire (Sūko). Both are avid wotakus who work tirelessly to promote their favorite idols. Ryū takes on a guerrilla-style strategy of passing out music samples on the streets, while Sūko prefers advertising her favorites by blogging (I’m sure you can guess whose side I’m on).
Both Ryū and Sūko had led the charge in making Hinami Kamakura a star back when she was still unknown, but both of them hate each other’s guts! According to Sūko, Ryū only cares about himself and often leaves behind his idols in favor of the newer ones. Meanwhile according to Ryū, Sūko is just a shut-in who doesn’t invest enough in things that matter like buying music or going to concerts.
It’s fairly easy to recognize that both of them have plenty of faults as characters: Ryū is a total creep with idols and Sūko has a narrow window of experience from her computer screen. I found that most people hated both of them for these reasons. But for me, I find myself identifying with part of who they are. And more specifically, I find myself identifying more with the flaws of their fandom rather than their strengths. And that alone makes me sick!
But never mind the major players of this short anime. That’s all fiction. Million Doll advertises itself as “all too real.” And regardless of whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, I think it’s high time we had a discussion about the phenomenon of fandom.
I admit that I’m kind of in the middle of being an insider and an outsider in all kinds of fan circles. I admit that fans can be really weird and do crazy things that even make me shake my head (to their defense, I probably did it too). But to the most avid fans like Ryū and Sūko in Million Doll, their inner circle is the most comfortable space. It’s their normal. Anyone outside of that space — including other fans — are strangers to them, and in some cases they are enemies. Had fans stopped to think that other people may just act like fans for something else, we may not have to snipe at each other and be jerks about it. But I get it. We all have our preferences and sets of reasoning, and those parts of our personality can be incompatible with others. That’s why it seems necessary that we have to hate things in order to establish a difference in our ideas. And by differentiating the things we like from the things we hate, fans (or should I say “fanatics”) will battle each other over these ideas.
But while fans (in general) will battle over something extremely specific, the idols are competing for something completely different. For example, the girls of itorio were lucky enough to stay together as friends, bringing happiness to people in their local community. But each one of them came from humble beginnings, facing the reality that their lives would be meaningless if they stayed in one place. Yurino’s example of following the shadow of her more successful older brother is a common situation, yet perfectly legitimate as to why she would rather strike out on her own.
But even though itorio wants to aim higher, they also realize that going major means they won’t be as intimate with fans as they are at a local level. And if that’s something they’d rather have, then perhaps going major wouldn’t be such a good idea.
Mariko has a different upbringing, but also faces these kinds of conundrums. There seems to be no doubt in her mind that she wants to go major, but her critics say that she’s not pushing hard enough to get there. Working with a small company prevents her from going major financially, but I wouldn’t say that she’s not pushing herself.
Fans may be the backbone of her cause, but Mariko knows why she wants to be an idol. She does it because this is what she likes to do, and it is a passion that she shares with her mother.
What Million Doll offers can feel too short for a romanticized drama of idols wanting to become stars, but I seldom think that that was the direction for this series. The anime is adapted from a web manga, and Japan’s media industry doesn’t exactly favor electronic media, compared to their paper counterparts. You might say that the series is its own underdog!
And remember: Million Doll is “all too real.” What we’re getting is not a Cinderella story of girls who started from the bottom to make it to the top. This anime focuses specifically on their beginnings, as if itorio and Mariko were starting as unknowns. So to that effect, the true fans’ love for them isn’t a given. It has to be earned.
I suppose you might be wondering why I bring any of this up in an anime review: from personal background, to thoughts about the industry, to ideas about fans. It was hard for me to watch this series alongside a very small group of fans when it aired in Summer 2015. Most people criticized it, and what they said was certainly fair. But even so, I found myself liking this series for something other than idols or anime. I liked it because I could relate to it. It felt real.
So with that said, I would like to end with the same conclusion that Sūko realized after all is said and done. And while I will still be blogging about anime after this, there are still many things I have to do outside of this realm.
So if you’re looking for an anime that may not be so popular but still genuine in its storytelling, watch Million Doll.