I wonder if you’ve realized that I change a bit every day
I’m at my most beautiful when I sing by your side
– Wake up my music

One of the main conceits of Aikatsu, and most other Idol anime series by extension, is the pursuit of glory in holding the coveted title of top idol. The apple of everyone’s eye, the spotlight of the entire world shines upon a single girl, bestowing the opportunity for her to open her heart on stage and live out her dream for everyone to eventually follow. In episode 31, “An Idol on Mother’s Day,” the cold open introduces Masquerade, a legendary idol group whose statues grace the halls of the Starlight Academy, acting as a guidepost for Ichigo and her friends to pursue in their respective careers.

When she goes home for mother’s day, Ichigo offers to help around the house alongside her brother Raichi. The gesture is heartfelt and sincere, but the real gift is the wisdom imparted to Ichigo in return by her mother. Much like the kinpira that she has made for years while raising her two children, Ringo Hoshimiya’s perfection of her culinary craft lies in countless repetition and muscle memory. Ringo compares this to Ichigo’s idol activities, through which the art of performing choreography and vocals rely on similar approaches.

[Mezashite] Aikatsu! - 31v2 [720p][3DE0224B].mkv_snapshot_16.06_[2017.05.14_12.53.41]

The sunlight gathers in my chiffon blouse
The beat of my heart signals the way

The comparison is apt at first, but takes on a further meaning when it becomes ever more apparent that Ichigo’s mother is one half of Masquerade, the very group that all idols at starlight aspire to become. Fitting to the theme of Ichigo’s upcoming audition, nostalgic memories, mother and daughter share a stage by themselves at a nearby park. Ringo talks about her childhood love of music, how she sang for herself, how she met her husband in her later years. The two sing Masquerade’s Wake up my music together, the song evoking nostalgia in context of the moment that they shared and Ichigo’s connection with her mother through music and aikatsu.

It’s a crucial moment in Aikatsu because Ringo manages to subtly nudge Ichigo and the audience in the right direction without fully giving her identity away as the legendary idol Miya. She is merely Ichigo’s mom, slowly but surely opening Ichigo’s eyes to the wide world of Aikatsu and its infinite possibilities. Ichigo aces her crucial audition, and heads further down a path of stardom that she can call her own. She sees her mother as the owner of a bento shop rather than the owner of an untouchable all-time record of CD and concert sales.

Ringo goes so far as to even confer upon Ichigo the starlight tiara, an accessory that hasn’t been used on stage in over 10 years. In the eyes Orihime, Starlight Academy’s headmistress, and Angely Sugar’s lead designer Asuka Amahane, the tiara represents the birth of a legend in the industry. Aikatsu cards are the lifeblood of an idol, but to Ichigo, the tiara is merely a treasured keepsake that was given to her from her mother, for good luck. This parallel is so carefully crafted, and allows both Ichigo and Ringo to have that wonderful mother-daughter relationship that contributes to Ichigo’s career decision in the future.

[Mezashite] Aikatsu! - 48v2 [720p][DF4E4A31].mkv_snapshot_06.16_[2017.05.14_13.54.59]

Standing to your left, our hearts beat as one
Together, we can spread love across the world

By episodes 47 and 48, Ichigo ends up competing once again in the audition of her life, that of the coveted crown of Starlight Queen Cup. The title of starlight queen is evocative in of itself, representing the highest level of achievement and ability as an idol in the prestigious academy, which extends to the idea of top idol. While the show reinforces the pursuit of greatness, the starlight queen cup is simply one of many ways one can achieve that.

Having formed the unit Soleil, Ichigo, Ran, and Aoi all find themselves at the precipice of their respective careers leading up to the prestigious competition. Aoi soars to greater heights as an actress when she lands the lead role in her own movie, while Ran slowly takes over the modelling world as she inches closer to becoming the muse for her fashion brand of choice, Spicy Ageha. Ichigo, even after progressing considerably in her Aikatsu following the mother’s day audition, is once again overwhelmed by both the weight of the Starlight Queen Cup and that of her own career going forward. She even returns to the Masquerade statues, offering a prayer as if it were a shrine.

It is at this point in the series that the show reveals Ringo’s secret to Ichigo, with impeccable timing to boot. With both Ichigo and Mizuki, the two favourites to win the cup, showing signs of faltering just before the competition, Ringo and Orihime reprise their roles as Masquerade, resurrecting the unit for a pair of once-in-a-lifetime performances of the titular Wake up my music.

Following Ringo’s reveal, she has one final heart to heart with Ichigo, telling her that she wanted her daughter to make the decision to become an idol on her own terms. Where the mother was spurred by a fateful meeting with her eventual unit partner, the daughter was entranced by her role model, Mizuki, and was showered with love and support from her friends and family. Ichigo, who is normally portrayed as a hyper-klutz, is able to admit in her newfound wisdom that she probably would have given up on Aikatsu altogether if she had not made the decision herself to pursue aikatsu.

The ability to nurture and foster a child’s independence is the hallmark of an effective and loving mother. If it weren’t for Ringo’s insistence to have Ichigo forge her own path, Ichigo would not have reached her level of stardom by the end of the show’s run. Within the context of Aikatsu’s tightly structured first season, Ichigo follows this development to its logical conclusion and takes the road less travelled, flying off to America for a year. She leaves Starlight Academy, the home of idol drams, also leaving her keepsake with her friends: a wooden spoon that turned into a mic, and in mama Ringo’s case, the other way around.