2017’s fall anime season is jam-packed with idols, but one series in particular stands out thanks to both its name and premise. SideM is the third anime series under the iDOLM@STER brand, which began in 2010 as a video game franchise. The original video game involved the player acting as a producer and working to raise a group of girls into successful idols. Since then, it’s grown to international fame, and branched out into various spinoffs each featuring a different cast of characters.

The original girls starred in their own anime series in 2011, known shorthand as iM@S2011. Then, in 2014, another branch, CINDERELLA GIRLS (CG), got an anime as well. Despite sharing an overarching name, the two shows focused on completely different characters and followed unique storylines. There were some similarities in plot beats and artistic quirks, but otherwise they were largely their own shows told in their own styles.

SideM follows this tradition to an extent. Despite emulating iM@S2011’s art style and CG’s general story formula, it still retains one huge difference from its predecessors. It has an all-male cast. Where the first two series focused on female idols surrounding a male producer, SideM doesn’t even have a single named female character. It’s a bold move considering the foundation the franchise built itself on. That, and the general popularity of the girls from the previous anime series.

So how well does SideM handle such a different kind of idol from its predecessors? Not to mention the fact that the success of the past iDOLM@STER anime lay on its strong characters, emotional depth, and quality visuals. How does SideM compare on those fronts as well? Let’s take a look.

The Thing About an All-Guy Cast

The biggest appeal of the original games was that the presumably male player could romance any of the female idols of his choosing. iM@S2011 reinforced this with a pleasantly bland male producer whom any viewer could project himself on. CG was certainly less about romantic notions between idol and producer, but the target audience remained the same. With SideM, though, things had to change.

side m imas producer
iM@S2011’s Producer | Image: Twitter

Perhaps the easiest route would have been a direct flip — with male idols, just put in a female producer. Instead, the anime subverts such expectations with yet another male producer. Given this all-male cast, SideM seems to be catering to a very different sort of audience now. It’s become less about seeing yourself with a character, and more about imagining characters with each other. This might make it sound as though there’s an abundance of fanservice between these male characters now, but that’s not quite the case. It’s just a very different kind of storytelling when compared to the past two series.

All the idols between all three anime act as cute and charming as ever. That is the main selling point, after all, regardless of target audience. But girl idols being friends with each other and then acting cutesy with a male producer is definitely viewed differently from guy idols doing the same thing. Again, romance is never actually addressed in-show, whether directly or in subtext. But it’s hard not to imagine what the series has in mind, especially given the general popularity of male ships among fans.

It’s a different approach for the franchise altogether. Honestly, I’m not certain how well it works. Having a male producer for male idols isn’t detrimental by any means, but it reveals a different thought process from past series that doesn’t quite align with the image iDOLM@STER has made for itself over the years.

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A Fine Balance

As far as a general “iDOLM@STER anime” style goes, SideM embodies it pretty well. The series follows appropriate iDOLM@STER traditions, both in art and story. For example, below you can see a recurring art quirk amongst the iDOLM@STER anime adaptations.

There’s another recurring theme in formula and style. All three iDOLM@STER anime introduce the entirety of their huge casts within the first episode or two without any concern for the viewer’s ability to remember them all. Later episodes in the series then focus on certain characters to develop them and help the viewers grow to love them. But where iM@S2011 only looked at one character per episode, CG and SideM took a different approach.

SideM takes cues from CG and splits its massive cast into subunits early on. This way, individual episodes can focus on a handful of characters at a time. It’s an excellent way to offer fun interactions between idols, and offers more naturalistic development than iM@S2011’s path allowed.

iM@S2011 leaned too heavily on its Producer for its cast’s character development. As a result, many of the original girls only grew thanks to conversations with the player-insert character in the anime. Fans who had hoped for more organic development through interactions with the other idols were duly disappointed.

SideM remedies this problem with its subunits and, once again, following CG’s path, with a more economical use of the Producer. Male producer surrounded by male idols aside, SideM’s Producer is notably more emotionally mature and distant from his clients than iM@S2011’s. By acting as more of an observer who steps in to nudge others in the right direction, the Producer is less of a plot device, and the idols act and grow more naturally. In short, SideM focuses more on the idols’ characterizations and relationships than iM@S2011 did for most of its run. Always a plus in an idol-themed anime.

Breaking Tradition

iM@S2011 had the luxury of an all-star team of animators working on its performances. This led to some outstanding cuts with expressive character animation and carefully detailed movement. CG had several strong moments as well, particularly in more important sequences such as its opening and significant concerts. SideM, unfortunately, has yet to live up to either of the series’ highlights.

Granted, its opening makes great use of creative colors and angles. Additionally, a couple shots from of its concert scenes recall the strengths of the best of iM@S2011. But SideM’s greatest weakness is its awkward use of computer-generated imagery in its dances. Generally speaking, CGI isn’t a problem in anime, let alone idol ones. But iDOLM@STER series had traditionally never fallen back on them. Even CG at its weakest opted for close-ups with minimal movement instead of conspicuous CGI.

SideM cgi
Backlight can’t hide the awkwardness of SideM CGI | Image: Crunchyroll

SideM tries hard to cover it up with backlit lighting and long-distance shots, but it still looks uncomfortable at best. I do want to emphasize that CGI is far from the doom of this show. However, it’s admittedly a little disappointing to see it in a series that had otherwise always been associated with high-quality, entirely hand-drawn performances.

CGI aside, SideM also suffers from fairly frequent off-model shots during non-concert scenes. This normally isn’t too big of a problem, as basically every anime in history has them. But when you’re already struggling so much to keep consistent artistry by only your third episode, it is a little concerning. In comparison, iM@S2011 and CG didn’t let their wonky art slip through until at least halfway into their first seasons.

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Its Own Path

So all things considered, does SideM live up to its predecessors’ legacies? Frankly, directly comparing the three, I don’t think so. Artistically, it’s weaker. Characters have good chemistry, but at this point they just seem like guy versions of previous, more popular iM@S idols. The storyline at times follows CG a little too closely, except without any real emotional investment. In short, it doesn’t do enough to set it apart from the stronger past series, aside from starring boys.

As its own series, though, it absolutely has its strengths. Its art may be weaker than the past iM@S anime, but it still stands leagues above other idol shows. Disregarding other iM@S idols, its cast is genuinely charming; its songs are catchy; and above all else, it bursts with passion for its subject matter. If you’re looking for just an everyday anime about guys, songs, and friendship, you could do worse than SideM. It’s a decent show with the iDOLM@STER name, no doubt about it. But it’s an even stronger one without it and the burden of the franchise’s past success.

Featured image screenshotted from Crunchyroll.

5 Comments

  1. -

    December 1, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Critiques are always good but at least know some facts first before doing so.
    “The biggest appeal of the original games was that the presumably male player could romance any of the female idols of his choosing.” Is false, since all the games are to make sure the idols you’re producing are able to become a top idol just like they wanted it, there isn’t any romance to it. There are some idols that seemed like they do have a crush on the producer but nothing advances from there. (there are idols that are only 10-14 years old are you sure you wanna romace those)

    “SideM takes cues from CG and splits its massive cast into subunits early on. This way, individual episodes can focus on a handful of characters at a time.” From the original game SideM focuses on producing idols in units not as individuals like the 765pro or 365pro. Although SideM do have solo songs now, it started of as units even until now.

    This last one is just an opinion but “But SideM’s greatest weakness is its awkward use of computer-generated imagery in its dances. Generally speaking, CGI isn’t a problem in anime, let alone idol ones. But iDOLM@STER series had traditionally never fallen back on them. Even CG at its weakest opted for close-ups with minimal movement instead of conspicuous CGI.” Yes they did do a new approach, personally speaking i don’t really mind and knowing the im@s series it will improve later on. I’m guessing the started this new approach because of how succesful their mobile rhythm games are that uses 3D models as well so they’re trying to implement it in the anime.

    And finally to me personally this is my go to comfort Anime, it’s not overwhelmingly dramatic but at the same time not too unrealistic either. ^^

    Reply

  2. anon

    November 29, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    I don’t even know why I read this haha. The fact that you basically called them “genderbend im@s”. Just say you don’t like SideM because it’s a group of guys amongst a franchise that should only be about female idols and be done with it.

    Reply

  3. anon

    November 29, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    there are a few incorrect facts in this just makes me wonder if you know what your saying

    “the iDOLM@STER brand, which began in 2010 as a video game franchise.” no the first imas game was in 2005

    “The biggest appeal of the original games was that the presumably male player could romance any of the female idols of his choosing.” again no you have never been able to date the idols some have crushes on you sure but the end game is not to date them but to get them to the top.

    also about the male producer
    Alot of SideMs fans are actually male just saying
    but i also think it furthers the point that imas while it does use harem elements was never meant to be a harem anime 2011 producer is called broducer by most fans for a reason

    Reply

  4. anon

    November 29, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    SideM has been a thing since 2014 and in the game the producer is ambiguously gendered and there is little to no romance in it. They weren’t split into units, SideM was set up to put the boys into units from the very beginning (see: Jupiter). The game focuses more on how characters in their specific unit interact with each other. That’s why episodes in which all the units are interacting are everyone’s favorites because it is rare to see them interact outside of their units.
    As an extra: the anime was created because of how moved the anime producer was seeing the main 6 units (out of 15 who were voiced at the time) have their 1st live back in 2015. So of course the only ones fully 100% enjoying SideM with no problems are the fans. There are different mediums of im@s and its animes are essentially one big video game advertisement in the first place. They give you a basic feel of the characters so that you will play their games and find out more about them yourself. However, I am glad that SideM is finally getting some attention from anyone no matter what.

    Reply

  5. anon

    November 29, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    strange you are the only person iv seen so far with this opinion but then again alot of the people who say it feels like imas are also the ones that say cg did not

    Reply

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