Like many others, I initially ignored The iDOLM@STER thinking that it would just be service for fans of the game by Namco. But now that I’ve seen it, I can say that not only can you watch it without any external knowledge of the franchise, but you can also just enjoy it immensely for what it is.
On the technical side of things, the iDOLM@STER is magnificent. A-1 Pictures clearly had a huge budget to work with, and they put it to good use. There was not many obvious moments of quality drop despite the large cast, and it is even more impressive when considering the sheer number of different outfits that were animated for the fourteen regular characters. The time when the animation really shines is, of course, during the dancing sequences. While it is unfortunate that there aren’t more of them, the ones present in the show are stunning. Of course, the concerts wouldn’t nearly be as good without there being music present, and The iDOLM@STER is literally overflowing with different J-Pop pieces (with some really good ones if you are into that kind of music). Every ED features a different piece sung by one of the girls and the episodes also usually feature a couple of insert songs that compliment the show very well. If you can’t stand J-pop though, stay away from this show because the music is a very big part of The iDOLM@STER franchise as a whole.
Despite its large cast, The iDOLM@STER does a respectable job of characterizing all of the girls and making sure they all get enough screen time. The girls are all likeable, and with a few exceptions, all are fairly well developed. The other character, that always seems to be forgotten among the throng of aspiring idols, is the producer who helps the girls all along the way. Though he stumbles a lot in the beginning, “Broducer” (as he has been nicknamed by the fans) eventually becomes a reliable, trustworthy character because of his genuine desire to see the girls succeed. Unity is a big theme for the show and this comes across very well from all the character interactions. Though they may fight occasionally, the girls and Producer-San are always there to help each other overcome the problems that they face making it light and heartwarming.
The show is structured so that each girl gets approximately one episode where they are the main focus (there are a few exceptions), and usually revolves around them overcoming some personal problem while the other episodes focus on the idols as a group. But while all these episodes are entertaining, some of them suffer from being too silly and lacking depth. Especially when compared to the last six episodes where the show introduces some serious drama and concludes it in a satisfying and heartfelt manner. Fortunately, while the earlier episodes do pale in comparison to the final two arcs, they are almost all enjoyable as a result of their excellent execution. The iDOLM@STER excels at presentation, and it owes much of its success to being able to take simple stories and make them into entertaining story arcs.
One thing that is important to keep in mind is that this show is lighthearted and not a realistic look at the talent industry. But while this show is not a look at reality, it is an idealized depiction of the Idol industry, and to an extent, an idealized look at life as well. Here, hard work is rewarded with success. Problems are overcome by kindness and optimism. In this ideal idustry, producers take care of their idols and aim to make them successful as well as happy. Friends take care of each other, offering a hand when someone stumbles. This sincere depiction of an idealized world is what makes The iDOLM@STER such a charming and inspirational show.
Of course, those looking for a serious show dealing with issues of the talent industry would do well to look elsewhere because this would merely disappoint. But if you can enjoy it for what it is, The iDOLM@STER is a sweet, enjoyable, and is absolutely is worth your time, especially if you are a fan of the slice-of-life genre.