BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!! and the value of letting female characters suck

By: Brock K. May 8, 20240 Comments
Soyo glaring at a smiling Anon

Spoilers for BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!!

When the Summer 2023 anime season started, I didn’t have high expectations for BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!!. While I had grown to love the BanG Dream! franchise, It’s MyGo!!!!! was centered on a new band that I had no attachment to, especially as a member of the western fandom where our mobile game is two years behind the Japanese version, and there was limited access to the hard launch of MyGo!!!!! via their concerts where the characters’ voice actors perform as pseudo-idols. To my shock and awe, this show ended up being a standout, not just in the BanG Dream! universe but in the realm of idol/music anime more broadly. What really stuck with me was the way all of the characters, with one in particular, were allowed to showcase the full breadth of human emotions in a way that this genre doesn’t always allow. 

BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!! is the latest installment in the BanG Dream multimedia franchise, which chronicles the lives of groups of Girls Bands as they navigate school life and the ups and downs of being in the music industry both from an indie and professional lens. What sets MyGo!!!!! apart is that it focuses on an entirely new cast of girls and relegates the girls in the mainline series to cameos, making this the perfect introduction to newcomers. 

The setup for this series is that Chihaya Anon has moved back to Japan partway through the school year and enrolls at Haneoka Girls’ School. She gets fascinated with the idea of joining a band in order to be popular, and decides to try and recruit people into following her dream. The series chronicles the struggles that come with being in a band with other humans and the interpersonal friction between five girls. 

promo image of the five MyGo girls in a crowd

What I just described to you is a very common premise within this genre and especially for a Bushiroad property (D4DJ: Groovy Mix, Revue Starlight, Cardfight! Vanguard!) but what makes It’s MyGo!!!!! so good is how it takes this very conventional premise and doesn’t approach it in the glossy, idealized way it’s played in many other series, including the main BanG Dream anime—all the more interesting as they come from the same writer. Nothing exemplifies this series’ thesis statement that being in a band with other people can be difficult and suck more than the character of Nagasaki Soyo. 

Nagasaki Soyo is a first year student at the elegant and prestigious Tsukinomori Girls’ Academy. When we first meet Soyo, the show positions her as the motherly girl within the group who’s a bit mysterious, a character similar to Love Live’s Tojo Nozomi and D4DJ’s Yano Hiiro. She tries to play peacemaker and be helpful to Anon when she can. However, hints begin to drop immediately that there is more to Soyo than we initially see. The girls Anon recruits—Soyo, Takamatsu Tomori, and Shiina Taki—all used to be part of a band called CRYCHIC before its messy breakup (an emotionally, and literally, stormy scene that serves as the anime’s opener). Throughout the first half of the series, Soyo often glances at pictures of the band on her phone or mysteriously talks to another former member of CRYCHIC. It seems a bit odd, but there’s nothing to dissuade the viewer from thinking there’s anything off about Soyo. And then the other shoe drops. 

After the new band’s (rough) first performance where they play a song that was important to CRYCHIC, Soyo is uncharacteristically furious and storms off. She then begins to spiral as we learn that she is desperate to put CRYCHIC back together. We’re talking “searching ‘how do you know if you’re blocked after sending like forty unanswered texts’” levels of desperation. She confronts Togawa Sakiko, the girl who dissolved CRYCHIC, and Sakiko brutally criticizes Soyo for claiming she’s trying to make everyone happy again when she’s really just interested in herself. 

Soyo making a calculating expression

Soyo then abandons the MyGo!!!!! girls, telling Taki that she’d only been using this new band in order to bring CRYCHIC back together; Soyo goes so far as to cruelly say that she didn’t care what happened to new members Anon or Rāna, as she was only using them to fulfill her own desires. Gone is the Soyo we had known throughout the show. She has abandoned her high breathy voice and accommodating personality and is cold and to-the-point. It’s a captivating twist to behold, especially since the rest of the series embarks on the Nagasaki Soyo Redemption Tour, where she rejoins the band on her own terms. 

What made Soyo stand out to me within this series is how she’s given the full range to be as mean and cruel as she wants to be while still being one of our lead characters. One of the things that I’ve noticed the deeper I’ve gone in the idol gacha genre, and specifically with female idols, is that villains are not a thing that tend to exist. Within the BanG Dream pantheon of characters, most of the girls are generally happy-go-lucky and those who aren’t tend to be tsundere like Poppin’ Party’s Ichigaya Arisa or distant and cold like Morfonica’s Yashio Rui. While these characters can be cruel, they’re never outright mean and it’s generally portrayed as either a result of whatever plot is going on or played up for comedy. They never stray too far from their archetype to be outright unlikeable.

The sole exception to this is RAISE A SUILEN’s Tamade Chiyu or CHU2. For two seasons, CHU2 is the main antagonist of the main BanG Dream anime. She was determined to surpass Roselia and Poppin’ Party as the best band. She employed tactics such as trying to swipe a band member from a fellow band and using her wealth and privilege to pay for a level of professional quality few other indie bands could measure up to. CHU2 was mean to her bandmates and didn’t care for their personal desires or wishes so long as they followed her creative vision. While this is villainous behavior, what sets CHU2 apart from Soyo is in the framing. CHU2 was never seen as a real threat by Roselia or Poppin’ Party because CHU2 was 14 years old, and the show made it clear that this was a character who was a feral gremlin overcompensating for her insecurities by being shitty rather than just being a mean person. She’s still a cute archetype, albeit a different one. This is the upper level of awfulness this franchise is usually willing to go: after all, these characters need to remain likeable and thus marketable, to keep audiences on side so they stay invested (emotionally and financially) in the game and its spinoff media.

close-up of Chu2

Even moving beyond the realm of BanG Dream, villains are very rarely a thing that this genre does. While there may be an oppositional force of some kind, there’s never a villain—someone who actively tries to tear down the protagonists with malicious intent and is treated as a serious threat. Take the grand dame of this genre, Love Live, for example. Characters like Ayase Eli or Kurosawa Dia serve as antagonists meant to cause struggle for our heroines as they put together their girl groups, but they aren’t causing harm, and enjoying it, to our protagonist in the way a villain would. In the main series where the Love Live competition is a central factor, the rival units tend to be framed as just friendly big sisters to our main girl group. The one exception being Superstar’s Wien Margarete… who is swiftly redeemed and now a member of Liella and a friend of Kanon’s. 

An interesting case is the side story that is Group 3.5 Nijigasaki. You see, the game Love Live! School Idol Festival All Stars had at least two main villains: Mifune Shioriko and Zhong Lanzhu. I didn’t play much of this game, but even I can attest that Shioriko was a good villain. She was cold and calculating and held nothing back in her attempt to take down the School Idol Club, even beating Yuki Setsuna in the school election. Lanzhu, meanwhile, successfully broke up the Nijigasaki School Idol Club for a period of time. When the time came to take these characters into animation for Nijigasaki’s second season, however, both girls were very visibly defanged. Shioriko was just an insecure girl who didn’t feel like she could be a school idol and Lanzhu was a friendly rival who felt like she couldn’t play well with others. The writing gets cagey and dials back the villainy of both girls, smoothing off any unsavory traits in favor of sweeter, more marketable, but less distinct versions of the characters.

Shioriko derisively remarking that someone with potential "still" went on to become a school idol

So where does that leave Soyo? What I find most fascinating about her is what her personality becomes after she’s “redeemed” and back in the band, because even after a big emotional climax and some character development she’s still an asshole. She’s no longer the helpful older sister who’s accommodating to everyone like she was in CRYCHIC and MyGo’s first run. Soyo is being herself for the first time in her life… and she’s just kind of a mean person. She makes snide comments at the other members and goes out of her way not to put herself out for others. By all accounts, Soyo sucks… and the girls accept that from her. 

We know from her flashbacks that Soyo as a character has always put others’ needs before her own, be it caring for her mom when she’s drunk or adopting a new personality so she can get along with other girls at Tsukinomori. Even in CRYCHIC, she was still wearing her mask; while it was a happy time for Soyo, she wasn’t herself. What makes Soyo so dynamic and interesting is the only time she goes back to the sweet, sisterly Soyo we knew in the first half of the series is when the band is performing on stage. I can’t make it clear enough how rare this is. 

It’s no secret that the idol industry, and by extension the gacha idol industry, markets a specific type of femininity it deems acceptable and with that comes a set of personality traits. Now, while mean idols do exist in anime (the other group in If My Favorite Pop Idol Went to the Budokan comes to mind), this specific subgenre is reticent to  do that because the voice actresses often serve as pseudo-idols; that inherently means these characters have to be marketable and tend to rely on stock character tropes to fill out these bands. If you make a character everyone in the fandom hates, the chances are not as high that she will become a moneymaker off of merchandise and people trying to get her card in the gacha games. One need look no further than the other girls in the BanG Dream franchise to see proof of this. 

Soyo sobbing

So what is this series trying to say with Soyo, and the big departure from the formula that she represents? In other genres of  anime, characters like Soyo are not uncommon. And yet, why is she the only mean girl in this subgenre I can name? It’s especially striking when characters in male idol series are not held to the same standard, such as Nayuta in ARGONAVIS (BanG Dream’s brother series). In a post-series interview translated by @hanamukes on Twitter, Ayana Yuniko had many things to say about the creation behind It’s MyGo!!!!! One of the biggest things that she talks about was that this season was  always intended to be a serious drama per a producer’s request, and the grounded storyline was born of the conflicts that Ayana was having with people in her own life. 

In particular she says, “It’s not so much me wanting the public to know about my personal feelings as it is about wanting to express that this kind of thing can happen to anyone, and that even I don’t know how I would approach overcoming it.” Soyo’s role was born out of Ayana needing a character who was still fixated on the past and willing to do whatever it takes to bring it back. She also says, “She’s the type who says things to people-please and not step on toes, while also not speaking her true feelings. She’s just naturally like that, and she’s not aware of her own harshness. After the Haruhikage incident, she becomes quite peevish…” The more dramatic tone and style for this season’s writing allowed all of the characters, but Soyo in particular, to move beyond their archetypes and be fully-fleshed out real people with flaws and all. 

The focus on organic drama and interpersonal strife in BanG Dream! It’s MyGo!!!!! gave us Nagasaki Soyo, a rarity within the BanG Dream series and the gacha Cute Girl Idol subgenre overall. She’s given the full range to be a messy and complicated character that moves beyond the archetype she’s given; she can be mean and petty in ways that aren’t just cute, but real and relatable. Her peppy, big-sister vibe is a facade that’s ultimately ripped off, and the “real” Soyo is manipulative, selfish, and lashes out at other characters as a result of her own inner turmoil. Even after her “redemption” arc, she does not magically become a friendlier person—her sharp edges are shown to be her true self rather than a phase she needs to grow past. And she is still  loved by her friends despite it. It’s MyGo!!!!! thus suggests that Soyo is ultimately fine and valid the way she is, and that girls who kind of suck can be lovable too. It’s something that I found very beautiful and intriguing, and her character and arc being so compelling shows the potential this subgenre can have when its writers allow these female characters to be fully three-dimensional. Here’s to hoping that the second season Bang Dream! Ave Mujica will be able to apply this same writing style to that group of very complicated young women, thus signaling a change in the subgenre.

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