“It was just a little while ago…that we were ordinary girls, longing to become princesses.”
So, a week ago, I wouldn’t have expected to write something like this. Over the course of this weekend, my good friend Sephallia and I binged through the entirety of The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls. I had been planning to get around to watching Cinderella Girls for a long time, as I had loved the original and was curious about the spin-off, but never managed to get around to it. Going into it, I had heard a lot of things. I heard some people say it wasn’t as good as the original. I heard some people say it was downright awful. But, after watching through the full anime, all 25 episodes, all I can say is this:
I love The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls
I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it, or if I was going to like it, given everything I had heard from so many people. At most, I thought it would be a nice way to spend a weekend and I would go on with my life afterwards. I was extremely wrong in that presumption. As of right now, it sits at #4 in my all-time favorite anime and it has the potential of doing the unthinkable for me, surpassing Madoka Magica for my #3 favorite anime. I haven’t had an anime capture me and grip me so much in a very long time and Madoka hasn’t left my Top 3 since I watched it in June of 2014. But, why? What is it about Cinderella Girls that captured me so much? Why did I like this idol show so much to challenge one of my unquestionable favorite anime and one of the most influential anime of my entire life? I feel there are a lot of reasons I could talk about for why I adore Cinderella Girls as much as I did, but I’m going to limit myself to a couple: The music, the characters, the emotions
Given I have both Love Live and K-On in my Top 5 anime, and I’m also a big fan of the original iDOLM@STER, Shigatsu, Hibike, and others, I like music anime. Music and Sound Direction is something I personally find very important in anime and it often will play a heavy factor in pushing a show over the top for me, which shows through the fact that I’ve done two write-ups on Sound Direction in Love Live with more planned. Cinderella Girls, for me, succeeds in both Inserts and use of OST to make it a marvelous experience on the ears. Given CG’s deep roots into a long-running music franchise, several instrumentations and orchestrations of songs from the series are used for backing tracks throughout the series. Many of these pieces are just absolutely beautiful and breathtaking even on their own, with some of my personal favorites being Star!! (Piano Instrumental Version), Message (BGM Version), and S(mile)ing (BGM Version). These, along with several others, act as absolutely amazing set-ups to heartfelt emotional scenes, with others in the OST setting up a casual SoL-feeling mood.
Of course, I can’t talk about music within CG without talking about the Inserts and OP/ED. I had heard both Star!! and M@GIC through starting Starlight Stage and I was instantly a fan of both tracks. Moving forward, the inserts continued to impress me with catchy rhythms and a wide array of different sounds, from the smooth sound of Memories, to the fast rock-influenced style of ØωØver!! -Heart Beat Version- , stretching even as far as the gothic style of –LEGNE- Adanasu Ken Hikari no Senritsu. I’d also be remiss to not mention how badly the first ED, Yuubae Present, was stuck in my head this morning. For me personally, the inserts in Cinderella Girls are some of the best I’ve heard and honestly beat most of the inserts from the original for me, with a few exceptions like Smoky Thrill and Yakusoku. They’re absolute earworms that will likely be stuck in my head for a long time.
Just like its predecessor, the iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls has a very large cast. In the case of the original, there was very clearly a top-tier for me of Iori, Chihaya, and Haruka that no other characters really came near for me. I didn’t feel that as much in Cinderella Girls. There were many more characters vying for my top positions and it was a much closer competition. For example, it took me 15 minutes to pick between Uzuki and Rin when doing a sorter to rank my girls, and really any of the girls in my Top 5 could have ended up at my #1. But, even past there, I found little moments with each character making me want to rank them higher and giving me even more respect for them in the long run, like Minami’s situation of taking command near the end of Season 1, Kirari’s motherly and elder sisterly attitude towards Anzu and other members of 346, Miku’s persistence to keeping her cat character even when Nana was being forced to drop her bunny persona, Miria’s “dependable sister” moment, Karen and Nao supporting Rin going to be with Mio and Uzuki in New Generations, and so many more that I could continue to name. It felt like each character was giving me a reason to like them and root for them on a personal level.
On another note, I really liked the Producer in charge of the Cinderella Project. He felt really human to me and I could relate a lot to how he felt in several moments, among which include his statements to Mio after the New Generations debut in Episode 6 and the regret he felt in his wording. His awkwardness in Episode 8 after the girls try to get him to drop his polite demeanor and be more casual with them was adorable for me, personally. It really made him feel much more human as a character and there were several moments that showed his persistence when it came to seeing the girls’ success through that reminded me of my own dealings with a certain friend of mine.
I’ve heard the term “melodrama” used often to describe a lot of the events in Cinderella Girls. When I sit back and look at it from an analytical standpoint, that statement is probably correct. Yet, at the same time, I don’t mind it. Some of my favorite moments in the entire series have resulted from this “melodrama”, such as Producer’s scene with Mio from Episode 7 when he shows her the pictures from the New Generations debut. The entire scene was really poignant and made heartwrenching for me by the narration of Imanishi(n?). The quote as the producer goes to find Mio through the pouring read goes:
“Once upon a time, there was a very straightforward, upright man. He always straightforwardly led the way. So that the Cinderellas would head down the right path, it was straight ahead. But depending on time and circumstances, sometimes even with the correct path, even with straightforward guidance, the results are a mess. In the end, several Cinderellas left the man. From then on, the man became a coward and he became a silent chariot that will take the Cinderellas to the palace.”
The narration in this scene was fantastic, set along the background of the Producer desperately rushing to Mio to try and bring her back. To break his own curse, he braved rain and storm to try and bring back one of his own Cinderellas. It was an absolutely beautiful scene and one of my favorites from the series. However, as much as I loved this scene, there was one singular scene I can say was my absolute favorite scene of the entire series.
The dialogue in this scene is far longer, but thanks to the wonderful people at DAISUKI, I can link to the clip from the full episode. The scene follows the producer and Uzuki as they talk about when Uzuki first joined 346 and why she joined. Producer’s words in this scene rung very closely to my heart. Uzuki’s struggle and Producer’s words…They remind me very much of myself trying to help a close friend of mine, who I mentioned earlier in the write-up. Both Uzuki’s and the Producer’s own words rung very closely to similar conversations we’ve had in the past, and this connection caused the scene to strike me emotionally on a deeper level. It brought the scene and Uzuki’s ensuing return with S(mile)ing to a whole new level for me and really made the scene special.
I can’t expect others to hold the same opinion of Cinderella Girls as I do. Just from talking with some of my friends and people on Discord, I can tell that my opinion of Cinderella Girls is very far off from the general consensus of the series is. Nevertheless, for me, Cinderella Girls was a very special series. It filled me with a joy, happiness, and satisfaction I can say it’s been a long time since I’ve felt from anime (and that’s saying something after how hyped I was around the time of JoJo Part IV Finale). It has honestly touched my heart and has solidified its spot among my personal favorite anime. To some people, it might just seem like a shoddy, bad spin-off to a respected music franchise. But, to me, underneath the criticism, hate, and general animosity towards the series, it’s a Cinderella.