Sitting through 26 episodes of a series that’s completely outside one’s comfort zone is a difficult experience, and that’s how I felt when I had to sit through both seasons of the AKB0048 anime in this complete series collection. But when it was all said and done, I couldn’t help but appreciate AKB0048 for what it was and what it intended to do. For all intents and purposes, AKB0048 is a thorough and well put-together viewing experience for its intended audience. While it may share its namesake with a Japanese pop group of the same name, with constant references to its many band members and its catalogue of magical feel-good songs, this anime is no cheap cash grab to leverage off the brand of AKB48, as it uses the music and notion of a pop idol group to create a rather unique and self-contained setting. The futuristic world presented in AKB0048 is fully realized and aware, its characters having identities that are completely unlike the real-world celebrities that make up the group. It may constantly reference the the brand and its music, but this anime uses these real-world assets to create something that is wholly original, enough to stand on its own two feet and not even require prior knowledge or fandom of AKB48 itself.
AKB0048 takes place in a future where entertainment is forbidden in many parts of the world and beyond, and it is up to a rebel organization called AKB0048 to bring joy and upbeat pop music to the masses craving for unhealthy idol fandom and obsession, glow-sticks and all. The anime takes the whole pop idol fandom and turns it into something grandeur and epic, and at times it almost feels like Bleach levels of organizational politics. Several girls get recruited into this organization, and the anime follows the journey of a group of friends and rivals that go through the motions and trials of becoming a bonafide AKB0048 idol.
AKB0048 does a nice job of running through the ins and outs of what it means to be a member of a futuristic, and heavily militarized, pop group. It’s pretty much pop idol boot camp here, and a lot of it is pretty grounded in reality which can be interesting. In particular, there’s a few episodes that puts the spotlight on the fans, appreciating that they’re going to attract all kinds of people, including the creepy and obsessive “haters”. What’s cool is that AKB0048 doesn’t necessarily demonize the stalkers or the haters, but instead humanizes them because they’re people just like everybody else, and they’re part of the business.
Outside the singing and dancing, AKB0048 is does a lot of things, in particular meshing genres of magical girl, military action, and some heavy mecha shenanigans to create something that is like a cross between Sailor Moon and Sakura Taisen. It’s honestly a very well thought-out and put-together show. The cast is huge and yet they all manage to develop and shine naturally, and the transition between the character development, action, and bigger overarching plot development feels organic. The series is coherently paced and structured for sure, and it has a fleshed out mythos that really complements the setting and its characters well.
From the opening moments, you can easily see that AKB0048 was backed by a very generous budget. The production values shine in the visuals and soundtrack, it’s a very well produced anime that isn’t shy to take advantage of its budget and namesake. The music is great for any AKB0048, and thankfully even the English dub retains most of the original Japanese audio for the musical portions, with instances of the English dub cast attempting to sing being painful at best. Speaking of the English dub, it’s mostly decent but there are obvious misses, especially the male characters that were given little to no effort.
All things considered, AKB0048 accomplishes what it intends to do with success. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t fault it for going all out for its intended genre and audience. It may share its name and much of its material with a Japanese idol group, but this anime has an identity of its own.