Enter Haruka Amami.
The first minutes of the original Idolm@ster anime immediately introduce us to its main protagonist, Haruka Amami, as she commutes from her home to 765 Production.
The minute Haruka stumbles, the camera shifts, and we suddenly realize that what we’re watching isn’t so much an episode as much as it is a documentary about Haruka, and later on, Production 765 as a whole. From here on out, Idolm@ster cleverly uses this framing to explore each idol’s characteristics and how they contribute to the team overall. We not only gain insight into the personal life and impact of being an idol on each girl’s perspective of the industry, but we’re also given a glimpse as to what unites each girl’s dream to become the best idol: passion.
This is especially seen with the introduction of Haruka, who is imperative to this vision: as a character, she’s well balanced in skill and personality. She’s not excessive nor is she musically gifted. She is however, incredibly passionate, with the charm of being able to inspire people wherever she goes. The combination of these things make her the perfect stand-in for the audience as they go through, hand in hand, into the life of what it means to be in the idol industry as much as it is to be away from it. Her arc also culminates into one of the most powerful ones in the show, as it deals with the realistic crisis of balancing passion and talent in an cutthroat industry where only the most marketable survive.
Enter Jupiter. Originally an idol group in Idolm@ster, Jupiter is seen often competing with Production 765 due to the diabolical schemes and manipulation of their Producer. Originally presented as a trio of characters in a side story, they start to feel like natural parts of the world of idols as we spend more and more time with them through Haruka and Production 765’s adventures. Even after the climax of their arc do they still play an important role: they end up becoming ironically tied to Haruka’s arc in the show, where they spur Haruka to meditate upon why she wanted to become an idol in the first place.
It is is only fitting then, that Jupiter becomes the gateway for the spinoff, The Idolm@ster: Side M. While Side M does not require one to have watched The Idolm@ster, it enriches the work deeply. The prequel episode of Side M, titled ‘Episode of Jupiter’, uses our familiarity with the Jupiter trio to not only flesh out what’s happened to them in the time they’ve left 961 Pro to create their own group, but also to as a means to get to know some of the most titular characters of the soon-to-be-focused 315 Production. It’s also an incredibly well-created overlap with the Idolm@ster movie thematically and directly.
All of these callbacks are typical of any Idolm@ster spinoff, as seen in Idolm@ster Cinderella Girls, but what makes them work well here is how intimately they’re tied to the crew that we may already be familiar with. Haruka in a way, has passed on her baton to Jupiter, and in strange way, they’ve given back to her. This drives the start – or debut – of Idolm@ster and carries on its spirit (albeit a different form) as Jupiter also comes to their own conclusions about balancing passion with the reality of working in the industry, and ends up joining 315 Production.
Enter Tendou Teru.
Tendou originally starts off as a freelancer lawyer, recently fired from his job and emotionally lost from how to recuperate. To Tendou, justice and the ability to make someone happy at the end of the day are everything. Coerced in a drunken state to join 315 Production as an idol, he wakes up the next day, confused but not apprehensive. After discussing with the Producer as to why he was even chosen for such a career when he lacks any formal training, the Producer responds.
I figured someone like you could bring smiles to a lot of people. Wanting to make someone smile is important to both being a lawyer and an idol.
It is only when Tendou goes on a trip to visit one of Jupiter’s concerts (at a time they have not joined 315 Production yet) that he begins to understand the Producer’s words. Much like how Haruka inspired Jupiter to define their own way of living as an idol group, Jupiter lights up the beacon in Tendou’s heart through their shared passion.
This still begs the question: Why introduce someone like Tendou when Jupiter exists as an easy transition into the world of Side M? The thing is, Jupiter had already made their debut. Jupiter may have been the gateway for previous Idolm@ster fans, but Tendou is still the narrative protagonist. He is the last gateway, thematically tying the knot as a character whom, like Haruka, isn’t necessarily gifted or excessive, but has the simple charm of being able to bring people together and inspire them.
Through Idolm@ster and Side M, it becomes clear that the ‘protagonist’ of each idol story has been passed the baton in some way or the other. They were at one point, an audience inspired by an idol group, and now they have become the protagonist of their own story, ready to do the same. It couldn’t be a better way to tie each string into the rope that connects Idolm@ster overall: achieving one’s dream, spread through the culmination of one’s hard work and passion.