AKB0048

AKB0048 Type: TV Series
Episode Count: 13
Genre: Sci-Fi / Drama / Idol
Vintage: 2012

Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 14 Apr 2014

Grade: B+

The worlds of anime and J-pop idols collide… in space!

Plot Summary
These are dark times. In many corners of the universe, planets have imposed partial or complete entertainment bans, and there is an organized force in place designed to keep it that way. No music, no singing, and most of all no idols are allowed on these planets. Not even posters of idols are permitted. Nagisa lives on one of these planets. When she was a little girl, she and three of her friends snuck to a location where intergalactic idol group AKB0048 were holding a guerilla concert for their fans on this entertainment-deprived planet. There, a dream was born to become a part of AKB0048 themselves.

The Review
AKB0048 (pronounced AKB zero-zero-forty-eight) is far better than it has any right to be. When you consider the premise of the series, it sounds silly. Idol concerts are deemed a threat to society on some planets, so a military-style force is employed to keep them (and all entertainment) away at all costs! Somehow, AKB0048 makes it work, and amazingly, the result is a fun and enjoyable series.

The fandoms of anime and J-pop idols have always had some overlap, but with AKB0048, the line between the two is obliterated. Unless you have been cut off from Japanese pop culture for the past few years, you should know that this series uses the idol group AKB48 as its centerpiece. (AKB48 made their first major splash in North America with their song “Sugar Rush” from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph.) Not only that, to further drive this point home, most of the primary cast are played by actual AKB48 members, with a few from sister groups SKE48 and NMB48 as well. This element of the show is obviously lost in the English dub.

From a design standpoint, AKB0048 is a visual treat. Colors are bright and pastel for the most part, and character designs are cute. One touch in particular worth noting is that the eye and hair highlights on the girls of AKB0048 are all heart-shaped. The animation itself is a blend of now traditional digital painting and cel-shaded motion-captured CG for the dance sequences. The CG is obvious, but not distracting. Overall, AKB0048 has a soft, colorful image which complements the show well.

As I watched AKB0048, something occurred to me: amidst all of the space battles, this series is likely, at least in part, an analogue for the actual AKB48 and how it operates. Auditions, rehearsals, graduation of members… all of these things and more are covered in AKB0048, and probably have at least some basis in the actual day-to-day operations of the idol group the series is based on. Actually, even the battles may have their roots in the real AKB48, as the group does seem to be polarizing in the public at large; AKB48 has its legions of devoted fans, but also there are scores of detractors. AKB0048’s mission in space to perform even for their fans in places where they are not wanted could possibly be a reflection of AKB48’s own experiences. This is only speculation on my part, but it seems plausible to me.

One interesting aspect about AKB0048 is its theme songs. Though all of the girls singing are a part of the AKB48 pool, they are not one of the “official” AKB48 teams. The name of the group performing the opening and ending theme songs is known simply as NO NAME, which one could consider an AKB48 splinter group which existed only for this anime series. Over the course of the series itself, there are a few proper AKB48 songs incorporated into some of AKB0048’s performances.

AKB0048 has a very nebulous ending; just when you think it’s the finale, a whole new plot thread is revealed. This leads directly into the second season of the series, so if you want the full story, you’ll have to continue on to AKB0048 next stage. In all, AKB0048 proved to be quite a surprise. A series with a premise this silly should not be this good, but it is. It isn’t particularly deep in terms of character or story development, but this isn’t that kind of series. AKB0048 is an animated extension of idol group AKB48, and it’s a good, entertaining show.

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