When watching recent episodes of Wake Up, Girls, a series about a struggling Sendai-based idol group of the same name, I could not help but think that I was watching a show that made the experience of watching idols feel much more like watching a sport than pure entertainment. While the sense of conflict around anything I-1 Club related is clearly exaggerated for dramatic reasons, it adds a needed element of comparison that makes the rest of the show.
The sense of this show being something other than the self-indulgent career-threatening work I called the first episode came when watching the scenes involving I-1 Club’s training sessions. As girls are brutally culled for making mistakes and replaced by ever more young girls hoping to one day get to the top of the pile, it is important to note that they are simply numbers. There’s no room for individuality in I-1 Club, and it’s for a perfectly good reason; to ensure that every performance is entirely predictable and at the level that their fans will pay money to watch.
At the head of I-1 Club is Shiraki, who micromanaged the group from a small outfit to the national media power that dominates the entertainment scene. It’s was hard to get a true sense of just what kind of character he was until the music producer Hayasaka Tasuku began to talk about him as he was about to assist Green Leaves. Shiraki then becomes a charismatic figure whose record of success makes those around him simultaneously want to please him and fearful of being rejected by him. They owe their own successes to him after all.
To get a grasp of just how competitive Shiraki is, one only had to look at the reaction to the attendance numbers in Sendai. There were just 3 no-shows. Yes, they could have been illnesses or some similar reason for not showing up, and I-1 did get their money for the ticket, but it could be the first sign of flagging interest. That Wake Up, Girls performed on the same night to a minimal audience is a sign that there are enemies to I-1. This type of siege mentality he tries to build among the prospective members also makes them loyal to him.
Where Wake Up Girls starts to resemble a show like Giant Killing is on the day-to-day stuff. Hayasaka’s arrival as a producer roughly corresponds to the position of managing a sports team. Since he sees this group as a mere stepping stone to greater things, he has to make an impact by radically changing things. Removing Airi from the group may not be the best thing for the group long-term, but making moves that appear bold has the greatest risk-reward. If it doesn’t work, he can point out it was never going to work no matter what he did. If it does work out, he can say he turned the fortunes of WUG around, thus proving he is a brilliant producer.
That’s the part of this series that I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve continued to watch it. WUG exists in a world where bigger entities want to destroy it. In the meantime, they have to deal with personalities who want to use them for the benefit of their own careers, they have to deal with the ever ambiguous “distractions” within the clubhouse and there’s one important fact that I think this show does a good job in not playing up. Since the girls in the idol groups are ultimately the reason the major players have the fame and money they do, why only once has anyone on the inside of the machine given a damn about their feelings?