In late August, the mobile rhythm game Uta no Prince-Sama: Shining Live celebrated its one-year anniversary. The game lets players tap to the rhythm of songs, read stories, and participate in events, all in support of eleven handsome 2D idols. But, the game isn’t standalone. It is only the latest installment in a franchise spanning more than eight years. So, what has kept the interest of people around the world in these idols and the songs they create?
Let’s delve into the history, features and potential future of UtaPri!
Shooting For the Stars, From the Start!
The first iteration of the series came into being in 2010 as a joint project between Nippon Ichi and Broccoli. The game started as a dating-sim visual novel. You play as an aspiring composer (Haruka) at Saotome Academy and must choose one handsome would-be idol to make your musical dreams come true. Barely seven months later, a fan disc was released, Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ -Amazing Aria-, and another two months after that, a second fan disc, Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ -Sweet Serenade-. Then came another five or six games and the series seems to not have an end in sight. But despite its incredible success, none of these games have been localized for the Western market. This is unfortunate, but understandable as it is only in the last few years that otome games have been released at a somewhat consistent rate.
Instead, many Western fans were introduced to Uta no Prince-Sama through its first anime: Uta no☆Prince-sama♪ Maji Love 1000%. The season had thirteen episodes and was released during the Summer 2011 season. Another three seasons were added between 2011 and 2016, and there’s even a movie planned for 2019. The anime encouraged the release of merchandise like keychains, figurines, and jewellery. The anime songs were also very popular amongst fans, with 108,000 copies of Quartet Night’s song God’s S.T.A.R selling in Japan. Unfortunately, Western fans were blocked once more from supporting the boys, as the songs were only available on the Japanese Itunes store.
I took this picture at an Animate store when I was in Japan earlier this year. There was an entire wall full of UtaPri merchandise!
Interestingly, looking at fan reactions to the anime series, a number of them, especially Western fans, express frustration towards Haruka in the anime. This tends to be a common problem with otome games that are developed into anime series. Studios seem to put otome heroines on pedestals and have the male characters fight over them, rather than portraying the heroine, well, as a heroine. For example, game Haruka’s personality is developed within the individual routes of each guy in the games. We see her strength, ingenuity, and creativity as she overcomes various personal and professional challenges. But, in the anime, it’s difficult to balance Haruka’s character development with that of the large cast of idols. Every character fights for what screen time they can get. It’s difficult to balance her character traits out with the other boys, so instead, she gets the short end of the personality stick.
Shining Live Anniversary!
In 2017, mobile developer company KLab worked with Broccoli to release the Uta no Prince-Sama: Shining Live app. The application was released in August and took away a majority of the dating sim aspect of the series. Instead, there is a general main story which shows the everyday life of the eleven idols, specifically how they prepare for concerts or promote themselves. Players also tap to beatmaps to raise the bond with the idol to unlock special voiced options, some of which are romantic and directed at the player. The rhythm aspect of the game is also extended to events where players compete for rankings to get UR (ultra rare) and SR (super rare) event cards. These cards can then unlock new dialogue options, stories, and outfits.
The game was released in English and Chinese in January 2018, and by early March, the game had reached 3 million downloads worldwide. The game has created a vibrant online community with fans sharing their gacha/ photoshoot pulls on YouTube and Twitter, fanart on Tumblr, and creating groups to support their best boy on Facebook. Fans have even come together to donate money towards flower stands at events to show their support and unity
What Makes it Special?
Uta no Prince-Sama is not the first idol otome game, nor the first rhythm game to be made. So, why is it that it’s withstood the test of time? My personal theory is that it is a combination of the catchy tunes and fantastic characters. Watching the boys sing and dance almost makes you feel like you’re at an actual concert. You can’t help tapping your foot to the beat of the song, and maybe even shake a few dance moves. The songs are unique, reflecting each idol’s individual style, from heavy rock to soulful ballads. It’s near impossible not to get caught up in the emotions of the songs, and the incredible design of the music videos.
Adding to this connection is our knowledge and love for the personal side of the idols. The hilarious personality traits and actions of the idols are heart-warming and fun to watch. From Ranmaru’s eternal love for bananas to Camus’ obsession with all things sweet – the interactions between the characters feels like watching a family. On the other hand, the idols aren’t all smiles and rainbow, all of them have been shaped by their past, some more traumatic than others. The audience is spurred to action to cheer for these boys and genuinely wish the best for them.
I gotta admit, there is some really fantastic marketing at play too. The idea of rooting for your best boy and supporting him by buying songs and merchandise, or spending in-game money to get his card is a sure-fire way to keep the money flowing into this franchise!
Towards 5000% Love?
The future of Uta no Prince-Sama looks bright. With the movie in 2019 and the current popularity of the mobile game, there is no doubt of the game’s success in Japan. So, to finish this article, I will be taking a slightly eurocentric approach. Ultimately, I can see how the series could stumble a bit if it doesn’t build a stronger relationship with its international fans. For the mobile app, the worldwide version has yet to gain access to past events or photoshoots, and the dating sim games are not available to us whatsoever. The Shining Live game is not particularly special in itself, idol games are springing up left, right and centre. The series will definitely face some competition with the worldwide release of popular idol game A3! in the near future. Right now, what will ensure its legacy is focusing itself as a global brand.
Are you an Uta no Prince-Sama fan? Let us know who your best boy is in the comments!