the_sun_is_up: Asuna from Negima shrugging in a dorky manner. (negima - that's how i roll)
Creamy Mami is a weird show. Contrary to what's implied by the premise, the show is only about 50% idol-singer stuff. The other 50% is made up of The Random Supernatural Slice-of-Life Adventures of Yuu Morisawa. In the first 26 episodes alone, Yuu meets an alien devil, an evil shaman lady, two ghosts, two princes, a tiny black stag that brings bad luck, a lost angel in a jester outfit, a magical man on a comet who brings dreams to children, an artist who lives with a unicorn in an alternate dimension, and a Zashiki Warashi. You might be wondering what any of these plot-detours have to do with Yuu's singing career; the answer is usually "nothing whatsoever."

And Creamy Mami isn't the only Magic Idol show to take this approach. The Full Moon Wo Sagashite manga spent a lot of time focusing on the shinigami characters, their backstories (only one of which had anything to do with pop stardom), several love triangles, and Mitsuki's backstory with her boyfriend at the orphanage, while Mermaid Melody melded idol-singing with Sailor-Moon-ing and let the fight between good and evil carry the plot, and Lilpri used a similar tactic with its "rescue Fairyland by collecting MacGuffins" plot.

All of which leads me to this conclusion: A Magic Idol Singer's story cannot carry the plot of a multi-episode series on its own; it needs help.

To understand why, compare these idol singer stories to other performing-arts series like Swan or Skip Beat: both Masumi (a ballet dancer) and Kyoko (a tv actor) are artists. Each one is constantly honing her craft, seeking out new teachers and mentors to expand her horizons, entering high-stakes competitions, running herself ragged practicing late into the wee hours, and even traveling to foreign countries in search of a new challenge. These girls bleed for their craft.

By contrast, the idol-singer fantasy is all about not working hard or bleeding; it's about effortlessly soaring to the top of the pop scene in a single bound. When your heroine's singing ability, her dancing ability, and her songs' lyrics/music were all obtained through magic (as in Creamy Mami and Lilpri), then there's nothing for her to practice, nothing to create, no rungs of a ladder to climb. Full Moon Wo Sagashite avoids this better than most — Mitsuki writes her own songs, and often must work within parameters mandated by her agency — but it still resorts to plenty of unrelated shinigami-nanigans. It's hard to wring a multi-episode plot out of a premise that revolves around instant gratification.

Furthermore, you kind of can't show your idol singer heroine practicing or honing her craft that much because from what I've read, idol singers are kind of... supposed to suck. This article notes that "the idol’s lack of sophistication is endearing," like a moe girl tripping and falling on her face is endearing, and this one doesn't mince words when it snarks that "the Japanese industry has always told us that consumers like barely-trained, not-too-good-looking, off-pitch idols." (Sidenote: Inspired by the latter article, I went on Youtube and watched a bunch of Girls Generation vids, followed by a bunch of AKB48 vids, and HOW IS THIS EVEN A COMPETITION!? At the very least because of GG's amazing mile-high gams. And their significantly less stupid outfits. And their superior dancing skills.) And to be fair, we see plenty of that on this side of the Pacific: lousy singing didn't stop Britney Spears, Katy Perry, or Miley Cyrus from making it big.

Anyway, the point is that the Magic Idol's story can be told in the space of a single episode: girl gets magical powers, girl gets discovered, girl instantly becomes famous and successful with minimal effort. The end. Maybe you throw in a jealous female rival, a bishie love interest (or several), a few festivals and competitions, and some spicy scandal, but that's about it. If you don't want to limit yourself to a one-off OVA like Fashion Lala, then you have to pad the story with other things. Hence, bring on the aliens, ghosts, fairies, mermaids, and grim reapers. They may have fuck-all to do with being a pop singer, but at least they'll hold the audience's attention.
the_sun_is_up: Aliciabeth from Claymore succumbing to zombie-ification. (claymore - drowning)
The Magic Idol Singer genre is primarily a realm of lightweight escapism: It takes a career that only sounds great in theory (being a pop singer), scrubs away all the ugly, seedy, soulless, and exploitative elements of the job, and presents us with an idealized fantasy of what we wish pop stardom was like. For the first several episodes, Creamy Mami fits this bill; it's just a big ball of fluff. But then in Episode 13, it gets... interesting.

Okay, actually it gets creepy and gross, but it does so in a way that's very interesting to media over-analyzers like myself.

At the start of the episode, Yuu ducks into a House of Mirrors at the local amusement park, transforms into Creamy Mami, and runs off to her latest gig. What she doesn't yet realize is that her magic combined with those mirrors to create a doppelganger of her — an eeeeevil doppelganger. Soon enough, the evil fake Mami is wreaking all sorts of havoc and tarnishing the real Mami's good name.

What kind of devilish mischief is she getting up to you ask? Well, first she announces in an interview that she's in love with her production company's president, Shingo, and then she poses for a bunch of titillating semi-nude photos. You might be wondering what's so bad about that. Well my friends, it's time to talk about Contractual Purity.

Remember when Miley Cyrus posed for those semi-nude photos in Vanity Fair, and everyone freaked out because she's supposed to be this pure, wholesome Disney child? Well from what I've read, Japanese idol singers have it even worse than that, partially due to the whole moe aesthetic, which was a thing even back before the term "moe" was coined. The Japanese idol singer, in general, is supposed to be perfectly pure, innocent, and virginal. Some singers even have contracts that forbid them from dating, such as that chick from AKB48 who shaved her head and tearfully apologized to her fans after she was caught breaking the "no boyfriends" rule. That happened this year by the way. Why did she feel the need to grovel like that? Because she ruined her fans' ability to fantasize about her being an innocent virgin with not a single sex-related thought in her head; therefore she had utterly failed as an idol.

Of course, being a fluffy and conservative kids' show, Creamy Mami is not going to rock the boat on this issue. The show is very much in agreement that the fake Mami is eeeeeeevil for sullying her purity-sue image with hints of sexuality. Just look at this conversation between her and Toshio, the heroine's love interest who's smitten with Mami, at an autograph signing:

Toshio: If possible, I hope you don't appear on those [Playboy-esque] magazines again. I really don't like that.
Fake Mami: Oh that. I wondered if I should have gone halfway or not...
Toshio: Huh?
Fake Mami: That's right, I actually wanted to strip down even more. But the cameraman said this is the first time and so...
Toshio: It's not that. As a fan, I want to appreciate Mami-chan's innocent image.
Fake Mami: Oh jeeze! That's such an old way of thinking!
Toshio: It may be a little old but... we as fans...
Crowd of Male Fans: (loudly chanting) That's right, that's right.
Fake Mami: Could you all please behave. I'm not your doll.

She's right, she's not their doll. But the show clearly expects us to disagree with her and to sympathize with Toshio. We're supposed to agree that Mami owes it to Toshio and the other male fans to stay pure and not do anything that might shatter their fantasies of her. We're supposed to disagree with the fake Mami's (accurate) claims that contractual purity is an out-dated idea. And we're supposed to agree with the real Mami later on when she begs the fake Mami not to "destroy fans' dreams."

That last line — "I'm not your doll" — is especially telling, because fake Mami is asserting her independence, and the show clearly thinks this is a bad thing. That article from the Atlantic notes that in addition to being pure and innocent, idols are supposed to be submissive and obedient: the goal is to make each fan feel "like he or she has the power to make them more popular. To maintain this illusion of control, members of the group can't do anything to show they are independent from fans." The fake Mami isn't villainous just because she posed for cheesecake shots and admitted being attracted to a man; she's villainous because she acted of her own free will and refused to be bossed around by her fans' entitlement complexes.

Writing this post has made me realize: The whole "little girl uses magic to become an idol singer" concept is so fitting, and in such a twisted way. After all, what are idol singers but post-pubescent girls and women who pretend to behave like pre-pubescent children. What better way to create the perfect idol singer than to take an elementary-schooler and give her the body of a teenager? If she's still mentally at an age where she thinks boys have cooties, you won't even need those "no dating" clauses to keep her in line.

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