The point upon which all of this hinges is: humans are not built to be idols.
This post has been a long time coming. AKB0048 wasn’t my first idol anime, but it was the first one that connected with me on a deep emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level. There are a lot of reasons why this was so, and while the bulk of this post is intended to address AKB0048 and its treatment of idols on a thematic and what I’m calling a theological level, I hope it will also function well as a descriptor of why I love AKB0048 and how the series has shaped my interpretation and vision of fictional animated idols.
But first, a few important notes about where I’m coming from and about where AKB0048 is coming from.
I call this post a discussion of “the theology” of idols because I have come to a point where I am unable to entirely separate my interpretation of AKB0048 from my worldview as informed by my Catholic faith. As such, this is going to be a distinctively Catholic take on the show. While I have, at times, attempted to gain enough detachment to assess whether this weird conflation of my deeply held religious beliefs and my overpowering adoration for a piece of East Asian popular media is justified or simply me imposing my perspective for the sake of dodging cognitive dissonance, I’ve not had much success in that area. It may very well be both, to some degree. You all are likely better judges of this than I – dare I dare you to give me your opinion on this matter in comments?
As for AKB0048, the first three letters of the title give it away: this is no less than a advertisement for the real life girl idol group AKB48. At least two of the major production companies involved with AKB0048‘s creation (Starchild Records and GANSIS) have obvious ties to AKB48, and it’s likely that any other companies possibly hidden under the label of “AKB0048 Production Committee” would be related to the group in somehow, as well. Thus, AKB0048‘s very existence is indebted to the realities of Japanese idol culture. This is admittedly not a great starting point. The horrors of real idol culture are well-known (dating scandals, sexual abuse behind the scenes, acts of violence, death threats and online harassment, and the much maligned purity complex sustained by idol fans and the rules of being in an idol group), and I feel I must acknowledge this, if only to make clear that I do not remain willfully ignorant of the context out of which this show arises in the interest of preserving my feelings about idols.
Despite this awareness, my feelings on real life idols remain quite conflicted. It seems to be very easy for people to condemn idol groups and idol culture holistically – and while the final judgment may be shown to be correct in time (I rather suspect it well be), the selective gathering of evidence in opposition to idols bothers me. Why? Because, as I see it, such bias deliberately ignores seeing any potential good that may exist within the flawed structure (such as the genuine fun the idols may have along the way or the very real joy their performances bring to fans). Idol culture may be untenable generally, but I maintain that it is not evil at each specific point. As with most everything in life, it’s heterogenous – good and bad coexist, sometimes in paradoxical ways.
This serves as a pretty good platform to begin talking about AKB0048, and so we’ll begin with the episode that embodies this most fully, Season 1 Episode 6, “The First Handshake Event” (more commonly known as the “hater” episode). I had quite a bit of queasiness when I first watched this episode, as the handshake event is about as down-to-earth real as AKB0048 gets in terms of specific idol industry parallels. Superficially, the message of this episode seems to be, “Don’t let haters get you down! Haters are actually good for you because they can inspire you to do better!” There’s certainly a good argument for how this kind of thinking might be naive, potentially dangerous, and perhaps entirely impractical (or, worse, enables these kinds of people in real), but it’s a bit more complicated than that because show’s view on the audience. In the world of AKB0048, there are no enemies – only fans who have yet to be converted.
The hater episode also illustrates another point relevant to the way real life idols are scenes, which is that of ownership. The hater in Episode 6 lashes out at Orine because he sees himself as a custodian of the image of Sachiko, the idol Orine declares she wants to succeed. In other words, there is a particular ideal that the idol Sachiko must be for him, and because Orine does not align with that ideal in his mind, she is trampling on private property (or, perhaps, sacred ground). As I see it, the idol system actively encourages this kind of possessive behavior through a number of mechanisms – the primary one being the perpetuation of the idol purity complex.
This also intersects with the idea of image, as the elimination of romantic relationships and sexuality from the idol’s life allow them to remain pure and unsullied in the minds of the fans (that is, to remain ideal). And because an ideal is essential an conceptual object, not a person, this reduction of the idol’s humanity facilitates the fans’ ability to claim ownership. Because the idol belongs to no one specifically (and yes, in ownership seems to be coded to sex), she can belong to everyone generally – which provides enough vagueness that the individual fan can imagine that the idol does belong to him particularly. The benefits of this for the system of obvious: ownership equals investment, both financial and in terms of customer loyalty. The idol truly is truly an idol, a product manufactured for sale. As such, being an idol carries with it an element of inherent dehumanization, as the reality of human flaws, desires, and needs is sublimated into the image of inhuman perfection. Again, humans are not built to be idols.
But AKB0048 (the in-show group) differs in one important way from the real life AKB48: it is an ideological resistance group (and more! 0048 is basically a religious force by the end of the show), not a commercial outfit – and it’s here that the show begins to distance itself from the ugly realities of the industry. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that AKB0048 deliberately appropriates many of the discrete aspects of the idol superstructure to recontextualize them within its own setting, in the interest of molding them to fit its own ideal of what an idol should be. Haters, centers, dance lessons, elections, concerts, and more all become part of Shoji Kawamori’s proposed idol matrix, the crux of which is as follows:
0048 is the system by which the good of idols is maximized and the bad of the idol system is minimized.
This is a bold move by Kawamori (who is credited as Original Creator/Concept and Chief Director), but not an unexpected one from the man who has been obsessed with the efficacy of pop idols as methods for spreading peace for decades. What is more surprising, though, is the extent to which AKB0048‘s thematic concerns end up aligning (although imperfectly) with a pretty recognizable theology. Note here that I’m not arguing on the basis of creative intent – but even if they’re coincidental, the parallels are there.
One of the major theological implications of the Genesis creation story and “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26) is that, as beings who reflect the image of the Creator, we have been instilled with a deep and abiding desire for God. The practical upshot of this teaching is that every human desire is in some way a desire for God. To wish for good things that bring us happiness and joy is not simply a quest for the thing itself, but for the goodness within it. And, as God is the ultimate Good, the pursuit of these minor goods is nothing more than a subset of the human search for this God of Goodness. Taken a step further, even the want for things that are not good (in other words, sinful things) is bound by this truth. Every sin is a perversion of humanity’s need for God.
How does this relate to idols? The bible verse I referenced in the title of this post is from Exodus 20:3-5.
I am the Lord your God […] You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath […] for I am the Lord your God am a jealous God.
In other translations of the Bible, “graven image” has been translated as “idol” or “false idol.” The moral theology here is pretty easy to grasp: don’t worship other things as God because such devotion should be reserved for God alone. This, of course, includes offering pop idols the kind of absolute devotion that ought to be given to God. But the interesting thing here is that the nature of the idol-fan relationship strips away many of layers in other twisted pursuits of goodness, leaving the (False) Image of Perfection and the onlooker alone.
Yes, I propose that idols are the most approximate simulation of humanity’s need for God we’ve yet created for ourselves.
And this is doubly true, I feel, for fictional idols due to the distance their non-realness affords them from the reality of the industry. A human being can make a mistake, through negligence or intent shatter the foundational illusion of perfection on which their idolhood stands. But a fictional character? They can truly be perfect, as they are not subject to the weaknesses of free will that living human beings are. Humans are not built to be idols, but we certainly harbor the capacity to create them. In our quest for God, we have created inferior substitute after inferior substitute until we arrived something so very near the truth that it seems to point directly to it.
This is the beauty of AKB0048. It is, yes, something born out a hopeless quest to replace God, and yet it is simultaneously a wondrous reflection of that desire for Him. Shoji Kawamori’s vision for the idol has created fictional beings so very close to the Real Thing that I cannot help but stand in loving awe. It’s akin to witnessing an archer land a shot at the very edge between the innermost ring and the bullseye. The very core of Christian theology rests on the belief that born out of the ugliest of events in human history arose the most beautiful. I see a similar impulse in AKB0048, which asks, “What is the greatest good that you can find in something as dangerous and wrongheaded as unhumanizing people for the sake of propping them up as near-gods for the gratification of others?”
The answer: by ripping away the artificiality and the exploitative nature of the industry and replacing it with an pseudo-divine quest to bring love to the universe, idols can be transformed into a force of supreme goodness. Idols become a simulacrum for God.
Well, they almost do (and here is where the discussion of AKB0048 proper begins) – as I said, the parallels aren’t perfect. Within the context of the show’s universe, it’s really Sensei Sensei, the formless, indeterminate being who creates the lyrics of 0048’s songs who occupies the role of a Godlike being. The idols for 0048 and NONAME really serve more as prophets and saints, vessels who willingly take on the task of conveying the benevolence of the spirit of love and hope to the people. Music has long been recognized within a multitude of religious traditions as a method for communing with the divine, and although the J-pop tunes of AKB48 bear little resemblance to Gregorian Chant, their status as a channel for uplifting grace remains.
The pinnacle of this calling is a sort of ascension (and I use that word deliberately, as the perpetuation of the individual will and consciousness aligns the disappeared Center Novas with a far more Christian conception of heaven than something like the Buddhist Nirvana), where the idols who have most fully embrace the generous giving of themselves live on in perpetuity, singing for the sake of those who remain behind. And notice that the conditions for meriting entrance into that realm is not predicated on desire, but on action. “A life-threatening battle and concert,” that is, a situation which necessitates that the Center Nova be willing to give up everything for the sake of protecting the light of hope, is one of the setting conditions – but, as Yuko discovers, she must actively embody the person of a Center Nova in order to activate the Kiraras and open the gate. She must give it all up.
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Notably, though, the effects of the Center Novas aren’t relegated merely to a steady pulse of song beneath the fabric of existence. Rather, their memory continues on in the minds and hearts of those who remain behind, inspiring others to following in their steps. For all her efforts to become a center Nova, Yuko’s real desire all along was the join Aachan on stage and sing along her. As brilliant as Yuko’s will to protect and serve was, she never quite achieved the purity of purpose that Aachan (and later Nagisa) demonstrate. So she falls just a bit short. A person, although they may inspire us along our path to the ultimate goal, can never quite serve as our primary focal point. It’s a childish, selfish desire of Yuko’s – her undoing, as it were, although I continue to love her dearly anyways.
Next, and while there’s been some contention over this, I don’t think it’s a debatable point that that the acquisition of the Center Nova status is positioned as the very pinnacle of any idol’s involvement with 0048. And yet, it is discontinued – out of fear. This I find resonates well with the distrust of self-sacrifice modern society has incubated. When an idol becomes a Center Nova, she disappears, subsumed (willingly!) into a grander purpose not comprehended by those left behind. It’s a death by two standards: a death to self and a death in the eyes of the world. Two characters—Tsubasa and Michan—even run away from the terrifying gift that the Center Nova becomes.
But that is a very grand kind of self-gift, and most of the personal losses suffered by the members of 0048 don’t scale this way (although that’s not to diminish their significance). Of these, the one that stands out to me most is Yuka giving up her sweetheart Mamoru in order to pursue her dream of becoming an idol. In the first episode of First Stage, Mamoru flatly tells her he’s in love with her but won’t be able to continue loving her is she joins 0048 – an arc resolved in episode 12 of First Stage when he tells Yuka he now only loves her as a member of 0048. Likewise, Nagisa sacrifices being with her family, and many of the other girls have given up other things for the sake of pursuing idolhood. The endurance of personal tragedy gives way to galactic heroism; the sacrifice of self paves the way to reach people (and the way successors are defined by their adherence to the spirit of the original members of AKB48 reminds me of the Christian quest to conform the self to Christ).
But I think I’ve unintentionally conflated self-sacrifice (the giving up of something) and self-gift (the giving of something). It’s the latter of these that AKB0048 focuses on most, as the core idea behind 0048 is that they are idols who “go to see you” (a bit of a twist on the real life group’s initial conception as “idols you can meet”). 0048 goes out – for what? To spread love, hope. Entertainment becomes the kind of catch all metaphor for these kinds of positive abstracts, as well as being the mechanism of transmission. But it’s all something given, and given, and given. Most accurately, I suppose you’d call it self-gift by way of self-sacrifice. As Nagisa says in the final episode of the show, “But even if you hate us… please don’t hate music or entertainment!” In other words, the messenger is willing to be killed as long as the message gets through, as long as love’s goal is achieved. Hm.
Self-gift through self-sacrifice is the kind of giving that does not require reciprocation. It’s unconditional love, as 0048 proves again and again by singing even to those who regret them. And this, you know, is an impossible thing for human beings to do. To give and give and give… humans are not limitless, not self-sustaining. AKB0048 manages to get around this issue by pushing idols to their maximum good and minimizing their bad. In real life, the dehumanization of the idol is a moral evil in the service of profit. But AKB0048 liberates the best of idols, the inspirational and generous power their carry by being super-human ideals. Humans are not built to be idols, so to become an true idol a human being must find sustenance outside of themselves (be it through God or through the power of fiction).
In other words, AKB0048 invents a form idolhood that allow idols to “un-humanize” themselves in the positive sense rather than be dehumanized in the negative. The will to good and see people, the will to sing of hope, the will to become a true Center Nova, is free. Catholic theology teaches that true freedom is the “freedom to good” (virtue) as opposed to the “freedom to do anything” (which nearly always results in vice). Nagisa, Yuko, Takamina, and the rest make choices to limit their “freedom to do anything,” which results in a detachment and an increased “freedom to do good.” Human nature is to indulge the self, but the pursuit of achieving the will of the divine is a recursive cycle that enables the individual to move beyond haters or weapons or personal weakness.
What does it mean to be an idol in AKB0048?To be an idol is to share love and hope with those who need it. Why is AKB0048 the best idol show about idols? Because it sees beyond the grime of idol reality and takes idols to their most inspiring and beautiful peak.
I will speak of hope / … / if you are lost in your tears / instead of consoling you / shall I tell you of the sky / which will soon grow light
These lyrics are from the first opening, “Kibou ni Tsuite,” and to me these are important as a kind of ethos for AKB0048. There is a sense of “looking beyond” in these words – an extension beyond the physical reality to something more. To me (and I’ll close with this), this is critical to the way AKB0048 communicates its messages about idols, love, and hope. In Kawamori and Mari Okada’s hands, AKB0048 goes big. Tonally, atmospherically, and in scope of imagination. Next Stage Episode 10, “Shouting Paradise,” features a scene where 0048 sings with a bunch of space gorillas to defeat the mechas of DES. It’s absurd, but it’s grandiose and expansive and magnanimous – “great-souled.”
To be an idol in AKB0048, it’s not enough to just be pretty or good at dancing or good at singing. You must have a great soul. If seeing great souls in others isn’t enough to inspire us to hope in the power love, I don’t think anything will be. And that’s what the idols of 0048 bring. That is why they go to see us. Not just so that we can hear their songs of love, but so that we may witness their all-encompassing, unconditional love for us and the gentle generosity of their great souls.
Am I putting AKB0048 on a pedestal? Of course. But becoming a beacon of hope is what it means to be an idol.
 All Bible quotes are from the Revised Standard Version.
 If there is one real worry AKB0048 presents in terms of real life implications, it would be as a propaganda piece that preaches idols can find perfect personal fulfillment within the idol structure.
 Ghostlightings’s write-ups of the first season’s episodes are far less effusive than this piece; I agree with him on many points.
 My first piece on AKB0048 came from a vastly different place than this one. It’s interesting to see how things have changed since then.
32 thoughts on “No False Idol Shows Before Me: The Theology of Idols in AKB0048”
I’m happy you finally got to write this. I’ll come back and reread this once Ive gotten through AkB0048 myself.
That said, I’d like to ask, could you elaborate on this re: “desire for God = all desires in some way as a matter of practice”?:
“One of the major theological implications of the Genesis creation story and […] (Gen. 1:26) is that […] we have been instilled with a deep and abiding desire for God. The practical upshot of this teaching is that every human desire is in some way a desire for God.”
I’m curious of the thought process.
(Sorry for the bad formatting, posting on my phone while at a meeting)
Heh, I thought I spelled it out well enough in the post, but apparently not.
Stepwise, it’s basically like this—human beings desire God, who is Goodness Incarnate. Because God created the world, basically everything in it in someway reflects that Goodness. The reason we desire things is because we’re fundamentally attracted to the the Goodness in them (even if it is imperfect or partial), which exists therein because of the were created by God.
Hopefully that explains it!
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Bookmarked this post for later consumption, after I’ve sat myself through AKB0048 and a bunch of other idol anime I’ve been saving up. As I expected, theres more to social broadcasting effects of idols than I previously presumed. Oh how I love to be proven wrong in these instances: MORE KNOWLEDGE.
My taste in anime however, is universal truth.
I guess you’d better like AKB0048 when you watch it then; the truth of your final statement might be called into question otherwise!
Interesting article. My personal impression after watching the show was that it draws heavily from Budhism. There is one character’s journey in particular that kinda reminded me of Gautama’s story: from pampered princess to enlightenment, something like that. But that interpretation doesn’t take into account the subject of “idols” in particular. Your idea is differently more encompassing.
BTW, when an idol becomes a Center Nova, they don’t disappear right away. Yuuko disappeared because, like you said, she fell a bit short. If a Center Nova awakens properly, they get to stay for a while. They disappear later on, as their empathy grows so much they just become part of All and disappear.
Which brings me to the end of the series. In the last episode, an idol becomes Center Nova. Ironically, it was a girl who had been pretty selfish at times. After my first watch, I couldn’t help wondering why she was chosen. It wasn’t until I marathoned the whole show (both seasons) in two days that I started to understand. As it turns out, it wasn’t so much that she was selfish. It was more like she was afraid she didn’t belong and wasn’t good enough, and was constantly lashing out. Once she overcame that fear, she started to become more bright, in more senses than one. The last step that propels her to Center Nova is being able to forgive and offer love to those who wronged her. Not an easy thing to do since the sin inflicted on her was so grave. Thus, the Center Nova is, imo, a personification of grace (empathy, compassion, love). I think that was the most interesting element of the show and what made me love it.
Anyway, it was a good read. I see you’ve written other articles on idols. I think I’ll go check them out now.
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AKB0048 definitely does draw from Buddhism a lot! As I said, I don’t think any of my interpretation exists in the show out of a specifically Christian intent. In my original series of notes for this post from 8 months ago (holy crap) I talked a bit about the overlaps between different faith traditions – the intersections between Christianity and Buddhism, etc. are fascinating.
I think you’re talking about Chieri there at the end, which is a solid point because Chieri Center Nova-ing always felt weird to me (but I never really resonated much with her in the first place, so that could be why).
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed the other stuff I wrote about idols, too!
A couple points, mostly rebuttals. First, a couple points I’d like to make to make it clear where my biases lie:
1. I am not religious.
2. I clearly don’t like AKB0048 nearly as much as you do. I think of it purely as a very strong ‘writing exercise’; that is, a piece of fiction created out of a pre-imposed structure stretched to create something beyond its roots. Whether 0048 accomplishes this is an argument for another time, but I don’t mean ‘writing exercise’ as a pejorative—much great literature is clever writing exercise, imo.
That being said, here’s what I’d like to say, listed out as clearly as I can.
Propaganda, fans, “pushing idols to their maximum good and minimizing their bad”, and the views of the audience. I’d argue that AKB0048’s position as a tool of propaganda may completely disqualify it from your (admittedly enticing) offer that the show “pushes idols to their maximum good and minimizes their bad”. You make a fairly convincing argument about the distinction between fiction and reality, but I have to ask: at what point does “pushing idols to their maximum good and minimizing their bad” differ from an intellectualized euphemization of “hand-waving the bad, indulging the viewer’s fantasies”? You might point towards a couple instances of meta-references to the idol superstructure, like the handshaking episode, but—regardless—a certain degree of apology is allotted therein. The negative (and propagandistic) aspects of a work can more readily be accepted should the work incriminate itself lightly. As long as the work doesn’t outright damn itself by whatever part of its propagandistic superstructure it’s advertising (e.g. a Xyndian film pushing for war can’t zoom in on the dying, agonized face of a Xyndian child soldier; but it sure as hell can cover the pain of a soldier who loses his arm fighting for Xyndia and yet continues to fight for the cause), artistic freedom allows for those negative aspects to be sculpted to the desired connotation of the artist. And this is a problem: yes, we have to be capable of distinguishing reality and fiction; no, we cannot completely disentangle the two. And while you argue 0048 is fiction and meant to ‘unhumanize in a good way’, I don’t see much of that so much as an ugly real life element recontextualized (and inadvertently glamourized) in the context of a ‘divine purpose’ that almost certainly does not exist in the superstructure. This is why the claim “[AKB0048] sees beyond the grime of idol reality and takes idols to their most inspiring and beautiful peak” does not work for me. Insomuch it sees “beyond”, it looks to me like it handwaves.
“The need for God”. I think it may be worth exploring the following. At what point do we make the distinction between a ‘quest for God’ and ‘a quest for the sublime’? The two are not mutually the same, and teasing out the threads between the two has always been difficult. Note that I don’t disagree that idols (both real and fictional) occupy a state of pseudo-divinity for many of their fans—they obviously, many times unfortunately, do. However, I think your post may wrankle fewer heads (mine included) if you attempt that distinction. To me, 0048 (and most fiction) isn’t enthralled in the quest for a god so much as it is for grandeur. Whether you make a difference between the sublime and God is up to you, though. Western literary and cultural bias may play a part in this.
Having said the two things above, I think your claim about idols becoming an approximation of the need for God rings only true for your specific reading of this specific show, AKB0048. As you’ve probably noticed, I don’t disagree with your formal reading of the show—there are certainly parallels to be addressed, and many of them Christian in structure. But to go beyond that, to say “I propose that idols are the most approximate simulation of humanity’s need for God we’ve yet created for ourselves” is, I think, turning a caterpillar into an elephant, and more tightly reflective of your own delight with idol shows than it is with any structural parallel between idols and the need for God/the sublime outside AKB0048’s. You could replace ‘idol’ with ‘poetry’, ‘community’, ‘architecture’, etc, and the statement would seem equally enticing to literati, the clergy, and architects respectively. And it would be just as misleading.
To be completely frank, I do think your turn of phrase about maximums and minimums is a way that you’re trying to justify the less savoury elements of the show /because/ of your admiration for it. Which isn’t meant as an insult—it’s fine that you like AKB0048 so much—but any kind of emotional writing requires a good deal of restraint and quadragintuple-checking. This was an interesting article to read, and certainly a novel take on AKB0048.
(Also, minor note. I think I’d much rather read a post that expands on AKB0048 insofar as it /is/ simulacrum of the divine/sublime. Hyperreality seems a much more salient point when talking about fictional idols.)
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First off, thanks for your thoughtful comment! I honestly didn’t expect this kind of response to the post – I’m happy, though.
Then, to your first point. I definitely hear what you’re saying about handwaving, and that was something I did consider while I wrote this post (and decided not to engage with substantially for a number of reasons, brevity [lol] being one). I don’t really think I have much of a counterpoint here, but I also am not sure of my ability to explain things any better. But I do think the point about “minimizing” (as opposed to “erasing”) is an important one. You’ve of course already touched on this wrt the show as a propaganda piece, and I wonder if perhaps the fact that I am something of a “secondary audience” (I cannot really being entirely induced into the idol system due to physical distance, and even time, etc.) is at play a bit here. Being somewhat divorced from the ability to be propagandized may ease my worries about having the wool pulled over my eyes, as it were. That’s not a complete thought, but that’s all I have there for now.
As to the second point, for me there is no functional difference between the sublime and God – as what is sublime is merely a reflection of God. And, as I mentioned in my original article, eventually the parallels do break down because what is 0048 pointing at beyond themselves? Well, at the very least I don’t think it’s Christian love.
And then to the third, I do think there are particular aspects of idols specifically (and I think I would need to do more research to confirm my suspicions there, probably) that differentiate them from poetry or architecture or even community. But, as I say, I’m not quite ready to back up that claim beyond the admittedly sketchy argument I proposed in the paragraph immediately before.
And yes, there is definitely still some blindness here, and I do appreciate your frankness wrt my justifications. This has been something that has been banging around inside of my head for over a year now, though, and so I was ready to get it out, double- and triple-checked or not. I wonder how I’ll feel about this piece in a year…
In an idol anime, it’s not only the idols who are fictional; it’s also the audience. There’s this grand idea that idols make people happy. But nobody really goes too deeply into this. What does that mean? In what ways does that work? As long as it’s regular idol shows, it’s okay. There are the industry shows and the community shows. The industry shows has faceless-crowd audiences; the community shows have people who know the idols in real life in small-venue audiences and go on from there. In the industry shows, I wouldn’t really be in the audience, but I assume the people who go there get what they want. In the comminity shows, I might be in the audience. But I’d be a marginal existence, really.
I’m not sure if I ever talked about myself. I’m an atheist who has grown up in a Catholic family, and who is still nominally part of the church – for my parents’ sake. For me, becoming an atheist was just a byproduct of growing up. I remember agonising about coming out, not because I thought my parents would reject me (I knew they wouldn’t), but because I was afraid I’d hurt them.
If we combine these experiences, then going to church and going to an idol concert might be alike: I’d feel left out. My experience was more like the community shows: we’d know the priest, we’d know the other people who went to church (not all of them, but enough).
I never really thought about it like this, but for me an idol’s smile is no easier a sell than a loving God.
The brilliance of AKB0048 is that they set the ideals as absolutes: it’s not just the people. There’s heart-shped shading in the hair. It’s a force of nature. It’s the entire world. It’s camp and self-aware and unappologetic. I have a hunch that Kawamori and Okada bring out the best in each other: they seem to have a compatible sort of playfulness. I still don’t buy the ideal, but the show’s a great deal of fun (episode 10 of the second season is one of the best episodes out there, not only of its show).
Interesting post. Must have taken you a while. 🙂
It took me like 6-7 hours of solid writing with only minor breaks for food (I’m counting screenshot hunting in that time, too).
As for the loving God or idol smile sell, I dunno what I can say there. Maybe it’s because I believe in a loving God that the idol smile is so easy for me to accept. Anyways, the force of nature thing is how I see God anyways, so that all harmonized up nicely, too.
I suppose I’d say “happy” is a pretty neutered term for what I think 0048 brings with them, but that’s neither here nor there. You know where I stand there, and I think accepting that idol make people happy is part of the suspension of disbelief the premise of the show asks you to make anyways. Dunno why I answered your comment in reversed, sorry about that. ^_^
There’s actually a point in there I was meaning to make, and it’s sort of there, but it mostly got lost. I watch Idol shows and enjoy them well enough, but I’m having a hard time with that sort of suspension of disbelief. Every idol show out there needs you to accept that idols bring happiness. AKB0048 goes a step further and presents an rather implausible dystopia, but a world with illegal entertainment is a natural fit for the idol-ideology. Suspension of disbelief is a lot easier for me like that; it slots in nicely into the allegorical SF. (Maybe that’s why I never think of AKB0048 when I think of idol shows, even though it’s basically an extended advertisment for an existing group.)
(I’m sort of a messy thinker and tend to forget what I mean to say or change my mind half-way through.)
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“strips away many of layers in other twisted pursuits of goodness” I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say here.
“Yes, I propose that idols are the most approximate simulation of humanity’s need for God we’ve yet created for ourselves.” I’m…not quite sure about this. This is the point in the article where it most feels like you’re projecting your love for 0048 onto Christianity. If I’m following your logic correctly, you’re saying that idols are this because they are created to be perfect (and maybe they are perfect in the fictional world) and they spread love, joy, and peace. No matter how much I love idols, I can’t say that idols come close to replicating that, especially in regards to love. The idol version of that is more of a distilled happiness that they bring to others through their existence, and while you do make a fairly strong point about the unconditional love the 0048 idols bring to the universe, it still feels like there’s a disconnect, since to be an idol is to be a human trying, but failing to be perfect. (Especially with the numerous moments in AKB0048 where the idols do fail, since they are only human.) I suppose idols at their best could possibly hope to attempt a replication, but it’s definitely not constant, and I do think 0048 goes through effort to emphasize that these girls aren’t perfect.
Of course, this could all just be me ignoring your arguments and superimposing my view onto my reading of your article. I do hold the opinion that anime depiction of idols is at its best when it shows the imperfect, human side of idols and how they struggle to reach and be an ideal, and that’s certainly different from yours, thus leading to me disagreeing with AKB0048 being the best idol show (along with differences in priorities in media, I suppose). I do appreciate the effort you put in this article, and I’m glad you were finally able to get around to writing it and enjoyed doing so.
First paragraph: Basically, the point I was trying to make was that because of the simulated personness of the idol (aka, the idol is ostensibly not an object by portrayal), the idol is able to become a much better approximate for God than, say, gambling, which may functionally replace God in an addict’s life without as directly tapping into the need for God that drives him.
Second: Actually, perhaps that somewhat addresses your point here, as well? And, also, there’s an element of performance at play here. The viewers may see the imperfections of the girls of 0048, but when they’re on-stage, those imperfections matter less and less until they glow and shimmer and multiply into images of themselves. The idol expands beyond herself when on the stage, or something like that.
Third: Yes, so for me AKB0048 is the best idol show because it most directly engages with what I see as the greatest possible outcome for idols (spreading love across the galaxy, giving people the strength to go on, etc). It understands the full potential of idols, as I see it. Idols will never be God. But as so far as they are an (imperfect) reflection of God, I find that to be fascinating. Of course, the difficulty is not getting lost in the allure of the illusion and forgetting the real thing is incomprehensibly greater than that illusion.
I would agree entirely except AKB0048 isn’t god, it’s the devil (or more specifically one of the principalities). The idols aren’t saints and prophets, they’re antichrists. (Well, a little bit of both, just like everybody else.) The only hope they offer is a shallow consumerism— we see this on what’s her name’s home planet where they show up with a bunch of smiles and cute girls, a “resistance” movement, but the only hope they offer is a distraction from the continued oppression of the workers who live on a world that has been polluted to the point of destruction by corporate greed. The center novas don’t lay down their lives for their friends— they sacrifice their own selfhood in pursuit of fame and glory and continued corporate profits. They can only reach center nova by kicking aside their competitors, enabling a system which makes massive amounts of money by abusing undercompensated child workers. Their job conditions are so onerous that they get only a single day off a month. And recall that all of them drop out of high school for this, to pursue a dream that, even if they reach center nova, will likely leave them unemployed by age 25.
I would say that the discontinuing of the center nova position is a sign of hope— that perhaps the principality known as AKB0048 does care somewhat about human lives, or at least it doesn’t wants its hands stained so publicly with blood.
Also, I think there is an interesting parallel you mentioned about ownership of the idols. People also try to have an ownership of god (see: fundamentalism) and defend their conception of god violently against outgroup members, just like the hater.
In summary, AKB0048 is why I became a Marxist.
(I’m kidding… sort of.)
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This is probably an equally (if not more so, I dunno) valid read of the show. When viewed solely as a capitalist enterprise, AKB0048 looks much less glamorous.
This is an interesting take that you don’t see everyday, one that I agree. As a fan of real life idols (Thanks to AKB0048), I do believe these silly cute girls share some of the jobs that religion has to fulfil, such as make people happy, give them hope and, perhaps the most important, to not give up in life.
There is no coincidence on why this kind groups were originated and work the best in japan, a highly competitive society where the whole is more important than the individual, this kind of stress would be impossible to deal with if there wasn’t something (someone) telling you to not give up, that your work will be rewarded. There is a reason why the real akb became well known in japan with the song “river” (because yes, they weren’t well known all the time, even discriminated, until late 2009), they just “resonated” with people after that.
There is one thing that I disagree tho, I don’t think this “freedom to good” is something that dehumanize humans, if anything is virtue what make us humans, thought this may be something specific for catholic religion so I may be wrong in that (I’m not religious but I grow up in a Jehovah’s witnesses family and, unlike most of the people on the internet, I do like religion and religious people). This is something that do bother me because, well, I just see these girls as highly virtous people, not as inhumane robots made for the sake of profit, they just have to follow certain rules given by their job (after all being an idol is a job, and being a job you have to do lots of things that suck). If you ask me is not that different with any kind of priest having to remain pure, it’s the same job but only for a limited time (unlike a real priest). Yeah, our nature is flawed, but that didn’t stop great people to accomplish greater goods in the past, if anything they inspired the less fortunate on their own journeys; just because we can’t do certain things doesn’t mean other people can’t too. Maybe the girls value more the “freedom to good” (that translate into money for them) than the “freedom to do anything”, such as dating or having sex which could end their carrers? Before anyone starts saying that is a sexist and misogynist practice, they need to remember that virgin women have been always valued far more through human story, this is also part of our flawed (or not?) nature and ultimately it depends on the girls if they decide to follow such rule. We like to talk of how “inhuman” the industry is but we never want listen to what the girls actually say.
And lastly, talking about the anime, I don’t see sensei sensei as “god” but rather the “voice of god”, who could be god then? well, all the nameless emotions scatered through the universe… no name. If I translate this into the real akb, sensei sensei is obviously the mastermind behind the group, Akimoto Yasushi, the guy who do understand what idols are supposed to be and what the marketplace (the “God” of business) want. This, again, may be wrong since I think more in a psychological (Jung’s collective unconsious) and economic (Smith’s invisible hand) way.
Have you tried to watch the akb documentaries? it’s surprisingly pretty much the same as akb0048 but without robots (I know half of the fun in akb0048 is in the robots tho), lot of questions about the relationship with idols-people are answered there (I specially recomend “the show must go on” and “no flower without rain”). Watching those 2 made me realize that akb0048 is indeed the most idol show out there, and it’s crazy to see it’s the most realistic one.
Yeah, I certainly didn’t intend to say the “freedom to do good” dehumanizes people – in fact, I believe that’s where humans find their fullest expression of humanity! – which is why I started to use the term “unhumanize” instead. It’s probably not a perfect word, but the distinction I was trying to make was between the fallen nature of man and the redeemed, image-of-God-like (and there’s more theology there), and yet “redeeming” seemed too strong a word. Imperfect expression, unfortunately, and probably the closest I came in this post to outright twisting Catholic theology incorrectly.
I have seen part of the one AKB48 documentary Crunchyroll has, but I’ve not yet finished. I’d like to see it someday, though.
yo, thanks for taking the time to finally write this!
you know, when we were discussing in around this stuff yesterday one thing i was tempted to bring up & never fully did was that we seem to have fundamentally different ideas about idol theology, & I wondered how much of that hinged on well.. you being a devout catholic and me more or less rejecting the idea of “god”.
Turns out yeah it’s pretty much the keystone to where our ideas split!
yeah, I don’t disagree with the reading of akb you’ve laid out here… but i do have issues. Mark covered some of it, but the thing that really gets me is that
okay so according to this akb is setting up its idol theology as an approximation of god. Humans are not built to be idols, but they strive for it anyway, and I guess should they be able to find this power beyond themselves they can become “true idols”
why is this considered a good thing? Why are they “true idols”? Why are the idols who fail to live up to this ideal “false idols”? I feel like the way this whole thing defines idols would make it so that most idols are not actually idols. Because they dare to have lives/boyfriends/things they like to do that aren’t wholly devoted to being a pure ideal. And I don’t think you actually think lesser of other idols who don’t strive to live up to this, but I think there’s a problem here where this idol ideal is being pushed forward as the correct one. Because, honestly I think lots of people believe in at least something very similar to this, and this is where so many of those issues we hear about w/ idol culture stem from.
the fact that the title of this essay says “no false idol shows before me” reinforces the idea that the theology put forward is the “correct” one. & people… well, they buy into that. And this is why we have the purity complexes, the slut-shaming, all that nasty stuff that we hear about when they don’t live up to this ideal that the industry has foisted as The Ideal. It’s not wrong to want to believe in that ideal, but it is wrong to put it forward as the True Idol aesthetic. Because in doing so, you place other idols as lesser, and force them to live up to this ideal in order to be seen as true. And that, most certainly is robbing them of their right to be human.
and this is where my godlessness comes back into the equation. I think idols, as ideals, as “god” even, should be allowed to be human. They don’t have to be, they can be what yuko strives to be and that’s also cool, but i don’t consider it a more true example of idolism or whatever. To steal from yahalloing up above
“I do hold the opinion that anime depiction of idols is at its best when it shows the imperfect, human side of idols and how they struggle to reach and be an ideal,”
this resonates with me greatly. The idea of someone who tries for something alongside their vices is far more admirable to me than some pure ideal of perfection. I’m just as likely to idolise someone who is like that.
gahhh there are so many ways to talk about all this i feel like i’ve only barely said a fraction of what i want to and quite badly at that. I hope this whole comment doesn’t come across as too aggressive or dismissive of what you’re getting at and I’m sorry for disregarding anything resembling structure when writing this reply
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Yes, the God thing is pretty big (and important)!
As far as this kind of “true idol” goes, I suppose I don’t really see it so much as a dichotomy of “true” versus “false,” but as a sort of continuum. I don’t think failing to achieve the ideal strips an idol of her idolness. Really I don’t. Real-life idols, idols from other shows who don’t measure up to this specific scale – they’re not “false idols” (well, beyond not being God, that is), they’re just somewhere else along the scale. But I don’t think we can get away from the fact that the ultimate goal of the idol as a concept is to achieve an unhuman ideal. And we can protest – as we should! – that humans shouldn’t be robbed of their right to be human even as they attempt to be an unrealistic ideal (particularly when it is in the service of corporate interests). That is, they should not be damned for being unable to be what they are not. But the reality of the goal exists nonetheless.
What I think ABK0048 does is leverage the power of fiction to say, “Okay. But what if idols could actually achieve the ideal they seek? What if they could actually become ‘true idols,’ who are actually everything an idol is supposed to be?” The existence of the Center Novas who disappeared posit this as a reality, without, I think, damning those (like Yuko) who fall short. [Sidebar: the only one who is condemned for falling short is Minami, and that’s because she ran away at the last second. And even she is given a shot at redemption! Although this could potentially be a big problem in this interpretation hmhm.] This could not happen in real life, but because it’s fiction, it can. The fact that this is placed into the context of what’s basically a supernatural calling (rather than a corporate one) distinguishes those who pursue the ideal of their own accord. By placing the desire to become an idol in the service of “bringing love to people,” AKB0048 legitimizes the agency of 0048’s personal decisions to leave behind things in pursuit of one goal – because that final goal ultimately makes them into infinitely self-giving figures. This, I think, is the only possible thing that could “justify” (and I put that in quotes because even now I’m uneasy using it) the self-sacrificing decisions idols make in pursuit of that goal.
So, if other shows are “false” (and I will note that was meant to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference), it’s because their visions of what an idol ultimately is wind up limited, whereas AKB0048 pushes the idol into eternity. If Yuko is the “most idol” (well, actually she ends up not being), it’s because she’s striving for that eternity. That ultimately she falls short because she merely wanted something as human as to sing next to a girl she admires, but continues on with AKB0048 anyways makes her a foil to Minami – she continues along the path even so. As you say, vices alongside perfection. Heh. Who knows. Maybe I’ve completely misidentified my own affinity for this show. Perhaps it’s not that I’m enamored so much with the end result as with the idea that the end result is achievable for those who ultimately are able to shed their vices. Acchan is portrayed as supernaturally attuned to being the Center Nova – it was “easy” in the context of the series for her. For the others, though, it’s not so much, though.
I think I can’t go on anymore for the time being.
I truly enjoyed reading this article and reading the comments so far. It gives me something interesting to think about. I haven’t actually watched AKB0048, so I can only comment on the topic of dehumanization, “unhumanization”, and making people into idols/deifying them.
I’ve always been oddly fascinated with how we, as humans, are apt to dehumanize people by deifying them (and how we do so just as much as we dehumanize people by demonizing them). The act is disturbing but at the same time, as you said, trying to deify a person/thing points to the desire for someone/something perfect and good (i.e. God). Overall, though the desire that prompts the act is good, the act itself is still unsettling (and sometimes terrifying) to me whether it be in real life or in fiction because in the end it all chalks down to an inability to truly see, understand, and love the person who is deified. We see them instead as an ideal or (in the case of demonizing) as a great evil or a creature and we have a loss of truth. (I admit that statement gets iffy when we’re talking about a person viewing a fictional character). Moreover, we are not aiming our admiration toward what we actually long for.
Admittedly, I haven’t thought much about the term “unhumanization” so I will have to arrange my thoughts on that topic…. I think I understand what the term would mean in a religious sense, if it means voluntarily giving up one’s former identity as a flawed human being to have the real, complete human identity that one was originally intended to have, akin to a skeleton gaining flesh. Back to the topic of making people into idols, I suppose one can even deify a person one views as unhumanized, which is also unsettling. I guess all I’m doing is circling around the statement that no matter what “humans are not built to be idols” and that trying to do so presents an overall loss to all involved even if there are a few minor gains along the way.
I probably have been speaking incoherently and going off-topic/off-tone or (more likely) just reiterating what was already said… so if that’s the case, I apologize. And if I’m misinterpreting what you said, please let me know.
As I said in an above comment, the “unhumanization” thing isn’t quite the right word for it, but I think I was trying to express the agency of trying to make oneself into an idol (as opposed to having it forced upon one). So yeah, I think you’ve basically got the gist of what I was trying to communicate here. I’m thankful that kind of came through.
As for the overall loss thing, I guess what I was trying to say in this piece was the AKB0048 tries to theorize a case where the end result is actually an overall gain. I suppose that means I think it succeeds in doing so successfully, but as you’ve seen in the comments, my interpretation isn’t watertight.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article, even if you haven’t seen the show!
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That’s intriguing… having that set-up turn out for good (though as you said, it may not be the case with everyone’s interpretation) is rare in the stories I’ve read/heard/viewed. So basically, those made idols (of their own volition) are able to attain that perfect ideal, thus becoming inhuman in the sense that they are more than human, not dehumanized. And all this turns out for the best and to everyone’s overall gain within the world of AKB0048…
I suppose what I have been talking/thinking about is our world outside of AKB0048, not the world of the show. Maybe what the show explores, “a case where the end result [of ideals being attainable and attained]* is actually an overall gain”, is something many struggle/refuse to accept even as a fiction (for better or for worse). Or maybe it’s just the implications of this scenario being inserted into our world, where being human means being unable to attain ideals, that cause one to be wary of it.
Or maybe not.
Meh… I don’t know what I’m talking about now. I should go watch the show first 😛
*I hope that insertion isn’t butchering what you mean.
This post brings to mind something you once told me with regards to Noragami – that you like humanising the gods. I wonder if the attitude you take towards idols (i.e. people attempting to reach divinity) is like an offshoot of that belief. God tries to reach out to us, and we try to reach out towards God. I wonder if we will ever meet one day.
As someone who is thoroughly, 100% human, I honestly can’t imagine the face of God that isn’t a reflection of my biases. If I try to see God, I end up looking into a mirror instead. Now, I know that according to the Bible, we were created in God’s image, but I can’t help but feel that God is way beyond my understanding. In the end, my image of God can only be self-serving. This thought used to make me sad, but I figure that even if I can’t understand God, I can still be the best human being that I can be.
…which is why I can’t fully wrap my head around this idea of a noble self-sacrifice for the sake of achieving an ideal. If we seek something outside of ourselves in order to achieve self-actualisation, isn’t that just another extension of our human selves? But I suppose you can also argue that even if we can never fully achieve the ideal, the point is that we have to keep trying. Hm. Hm.
By the way, I was one of those people who really wished that Yuuka ended up with Mamoru instead of sacrificing that love in pursuit of her dream. I wished that it didn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.
Well, as I believe, God isn’t “trying” to reach us. He’s already done so and continues to.
Noble self-sacrifice is a tricky thing – it can be abused, become nothing more than a method of smug self-satisfaction or righteousness. And, of course, there’s the matter of reality. I do like that AKB0048 gives us a world where an ideal can become a reality.
I wonder if the real idol group Sakura Gakuin isn’t doing something challenging. Their claim is that they are not only an idol group, but are creating ‘Super Ladies’. Since they allow girls to join as early as 5th grade and are automatically required to leave upon graduating junior high, they have set fixed parameters upon everyone, which may foster cooperation as opposed to competition. Furthermore the years in question are ones in which their charges can certainly be strongly molded, for good or otherwise. Once you get to the ages of the girls in AKB real or animated, it takes a lot to make real changes in ones personality or approach to life. I certainly hope that the directors of Sakura Gakuin know what they are doing.
I’m very interested in seeing the AKB0048 series after reading the article. I can’t say I’m that much of a fan of the real group, which seems a bit like a sweatshop to me.
Oh, wow. As far as real idols go, 5th grade to the end of high school is… yeah, I’m not fond of that idea.
I hope you do enjoy the show if you try it out! Hopefully I haven’t set expectations in an unreasonable place. :3
Just a quick correction, it’s from 5th grade to the end of JUNIOR high, not high school.
I think that it’s a deliberate attempt to mold them. They seem to have integrated themselves with a school and refer to their fans not as fans, but parents. Note that Sakura Gakuin translates to Sakura Academy. They’ve been around since 2010 and I think would call themselves quite successful. All three from their first graduating class, who are now 19ish, have been doing quite well. Two are acting and modeling and one has a solo singing career. Babymetal is also made from past graduates (there have been 16 to date) and are currently the most successful international Japanese group in history (ongoing 3rd world tour).
I have been following them for awhile and believe that they do have the best interests of the girls under their care at heart. In one of his speeches their ‘principle’ said that he expects to find many of them as future leaders in Japan with people surprised to find out how many of those leaders have Sakura Gakuin on their CVs.
I’m sorry to have gotten so long winded, but I didn’t want to leave the impression that I thought Sakura Gakuin was doing something wrong. I actually think that they may have gotten it right.
BTW, I have watched the first episode of AKB0048 and found it interesting, if a bit intense. I’m more of a Hidamari Sketch type, but I will press on as I have been hooked.
To start off here: I haven’t seen AKB0048, but a number of the things you brought up in the article (dehumanization, making people into idols, propaganda, the real life idol industry vs the image presented in fiction) are things I’ve been thinking about recently so here are some very disorganized thoughts.
First off, humanity has always had a fascination with being “more than human” for obvious reasons. Mythology the world over focuses on people/beings who are greater than humanity or have transcended it in some way. After all, humans are an immensely flawed species, so we seek something more than us to admire and inspire us. This is one of the reasons why religion has thrived and survived despite immense criticism even to this day. I agree with your thesis that idols tap into this same urge of humanity. Whether or not this is tendency is a good thing is a highly debatable topic that I don’t feel quite qualified enough to answer.
Many people above have pointed this out, but fundamentally AKB0048 is a creation of humans for the purpose of selling products. Now, this is true of every work of fiction and one of the challenges of creating/consuming media is to find and create meaning despite this. That said, portraying idols as a perfect ideal to be strived for is in itself, in my opinion. A lot of this argument seems to function as a large handwaving of the myriad problems of the idol industry by pointing out the inspirational effect they have on others. Now I don’t think you actually believe this, but I feel there are a lot of people who do and attitudes like this are deeply harmful. You somewhat point this out in the note “If there is one real worry AKB0048 presents in terms of real life implications, it would be as a propaganda piece that preaches idols can find perfect personal fulfillment within the idol structure.” Saying “it’s worth all the struggling and toil of being an idol to reach that platonic ideal” is one that directly plays into the benefit of the idol industry, and I would argue discourages attempts to be critical of it.
In one of your responses you say that AKB0048 is an attempt to answer the question of what if idols really could become true idols and achieve that ideal. Perhaps this is a matter of fundamental worldview difference as I don’t see that as a question with a lot of merit in answering. Not because it’s something that could never happen, as often things that are technically true can feel real emotionally, but more because i feel the answers to that question are very limited. The problem with the ideal of idol perfection is that it’s an ideal created by imperfect humans. The Bible says God created man in his own image, but, at the risk of sounding cliche, the reverse is also true. If a God truly exists, it would be impossible for man to truly understand them, so we create our own gods, and this is where the dehumanization and feeling of ownership comes into play. While conflicts over feelings of ownership of idols have not led to as huge of consequences as those of the divine, they can arguably be worse as they involve people who are fundamentally human beings instead of a higher, unknowable power. The dichotomy between having a fulfilling personal life and achieving the platonic idol ideal is one that comes up a lot, and I feel that it is very harmful, as it implies that those who aren’t giving up everything to be an idol are doing it wrong, and while it’s obvious you yourself don’t believe this, there are many who do and this is what leads to the myriad problems with death threats, slut-shaming, stalking, sexual abuse, and the purity complex that many idol fans have..
There’s also a whole other conversation to be had about how this ideal of total self-sacrifice to the fans is coded to general societal expectations of women but this comment has already gone on long enough.
Anyways I hope this comment didn’t come off as pretentious or condescending and I’m sorry for word vomiting without any semblance of proper grammar or structure.
I am not a Christian, but…I think we have an interesting commonality, in this, and I think I understand what you are driving at. I don’t know if you’d respond to a comment made more than a year after the fact, but I actually hope that you do. For reference, my username is Luminas. I could be considered Beneath the Tangles,’ another Christian anime commenting site’s, “devil’s advocate.” This is largely because I subjectively perceive the existence of “a demon,” or “the Devil,” inside me, similar in some respects to the Christian idea of “the Holy Spirit” moving them. What he suggests is that he is my mind’s attempt to summarize or coagulate everything I could determine about Satan’s personality, such as it were (rather than identity or purpose), into a form I could interact with.
This is not as hard to do as it sounds like it is, especially if you happen to watch a lot of anime, which displays it n rather precise and specific form. The “mythic” qualities of many anime, wherein the story seems to be reaching for something “more,” as AK0048 does, is one of the chief reasons I watch it. Much of Western media has lost something of the old “storytelling” quality in its efforts to more perfectly replicate reality.
Now onto why exactly I went off on this tangent, and what exactly it has to do with the process of turning someone into “an idol.” You describe the idols, in attempting to dehumanize themselves for the good of mankind, as essentially better being able to reflect the image of God. To be a pure representation of humanity’s desperate yearning for goodness and Grace. Mar’s “commentary” on this subject, while we were watching something entirely unrelated, was this:
Me: So…it doesn’t matter that we can’t see his face behind the mask?
Mar: Being able to see what he looks like would be irrelevant information. The mask conveys his intentions, what he has become, far better than being able to see his flesh would.
To become an idea, a conceptual framework, means to become something huge but to sacrifice those aspects that made you human. To become a Center Nova you must give up ever not being an idol, ever not being “a god” in the Greek sense or the Platonic sense. It’s an interesting and impossible trade-off for a human to perform, although there are long-dead humans who acquired a tinge of the seraph in them. (For how else can you explain how George Washington and King Arthur are now more than who they were?) And this is what the idols of the show seem to have done, both by being fictional and by literally becoming more than human within the context of the show. In a sense, it’s both the ultimate selfless and the ultimate selfish act. By drawing all of the world’s attention on yourself, you subject yourself to becoming only what they believe you are, and eliminate your Self.
Now, it’s my belief that you can actually perform this stunt “in reverse” as well. You can determine the characteristics of something Divine or “more than human” by deriving them from the coagulate characteristics of saints and human attempts to “show” the ineffable and inhuman. Maybe your personal approximation is not perfect, but the consistencies between minds are probably on the whole, true. But that’s a rant for another time. ;]
Also, sorry that none of that made a whole lot of sense without context. <___<; Hopefully the general point is made better.
[…] Idols as idols…and as God? iblessall makes a strong argument that the idols of AKB0048 are not only idols as described in the 10 Commandments, but an image not of idols, but of God himself. (Mage in a Barrel) […]
There is so much wrong with this.
“Superficially, the message of this episode seems to be, “Don’t let haters get you down! Haters are actually good for you because they can inspire you to do better!” There’s certainly a good argument for how this kind of thinking might be naive, potentially dangerous, and perhaps entirely impractical (or, worse, enables these kinds of people in real), but it’s a bit more complicated than that because show’s view on the audience. In the world of AKB0048, there are no enemies – only fans who have yet to be converted.”
This is a very dangerous kind of message because haters are not critics, haters are people who want to see you fail, you cannot become better for a hater because the ultimate goal of said hater is to bring someone down, also the “there are no enemies-only fans who have yet to be converted” is a lie, because there’s something called ignorance, and there are some people who will live by their ignorance, and will never change their minds, those people are called narcissists.
“But AKB0048 (the in-show group) differs in one important way from the real life AKB48: it is an ideological resistance group (and more! 0048 is basically a religious force by the end of the show), not a commercial outfit – and it’s here that the show begins to distance itself from the ugly realities of the industry.”
Are you serious? AKB0048 could have saved many people who were under the dictatorship of the D.G.T.O, yet they don’t, the only thing they do is play shows for their fans, now I ask you, how is this going to bring an end of the authoritarian forces of the D.G.T.O? It won’t, there’s a reason why wars can’t always be solved with peace due to ignorance, let’s also not ignore that they’re making thousands possibly tens of thousands of people suffer daily because of this, just taking a look at what AKB0048 is doing it’s clear to see that they only care for the people who would worship them, and ignore the people who don’t, so no it hasn’t distanced itself from the industry. it’s only pulled it in closer to the dark reality of the industry.
“Yes, I propose that idols are the most approximate simulation of humanity’s need for God we’ve yet created for ourselves.”
No, idols are trying to turn us away from worshiping God and trying to turn us into worshiping something else, the government, have you seen how many times idols have been used into pushing the government the collectivist culture on Japan for decades.
“And this is doubly true, I feel, for fictional idols due to the distance their non-realness affords them from the reality of the industry. A human being can make a mistake, through negligence or intent shatter the foundational illusion of perfection on which their idolhood stands. But a fictional character? They can truly be perfect, as they are not subject to the weaknesses of free will that living human beings are. Humans are not built to be idols, but we certainly harbor the capacity to create them. In our quest for God, we have created inferior substitute after inferior substitute until we arrived something so very near the truth that it seems to point directly to it.”
Worshiping something fake isn’t better than worshiping something that’s real, plus the only reason why fictional characters can be complete is because it’s fiction, there’s no way these fictional characters would ever be perfect in reality.
“I see a similar impulse in AKB0048, which asks, “What is the greatest good that you can find in something as dangerous and wrongheaded as unhumanizing people for the sake of propping them up as near-gods for the gratification of others?”
AKB0048AKB0048 First Stage 13-24
The answer: by ripping away the artificiality and the exploitative nature of the industry and replacing it with an pseudo-divine quest to bring love to the universe, idols can be transformed into a force of supreme goodness. Idols become a simulacrum for God.
Well, they almost do”
That’s the problem, there is only one person who was the perfect simulacrum of God, his name was Jesus Christ.
“In other words, AKB0048 invents a form idolhood that allow idols to “un-humanize” themselves in the positive sense rather than be dehumanized in the negative.”
That is still idolatry, even if you remove all this dehumanized things, you’re still worshiping something that may have the appearance, but not the knowledge, the sense of justice, or the nature of God.
“To be an idol in AKB0048, it’s not enough to just be pretty or good at dancing or good at singing. You must have a great soul.”
A great soul doesn’t ignore thousands of people who are suffering at the hands of an authoritarian government.
“Am I putting AKB0048 on a pedestal? Of course. But becoming a beacon of hope is what it means to be an idol.”
This coming from a Catholic isn’t surprising.