Everyone’s favorite factory girl.
I recently finished AKB0048, as regular readers will know, and I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts regarding the series, in part because I was fairly surprised at how well the characters were handled. Honestly, this had all the makings of a fanserviced out shitfest, yet it turned out to be absolutely one of the better depiction of young, female characters I’ve seen this year. I’ve said it before elsewhere, but I’ll say it again here – seinen titles continue to please me a lot more in recent years when it comes to depictions of adolescent and young adult girls and women than do shoujo (or shounen) ones.
Thus, we arrive at Orine Aida, who, like the show, initially comes off as a grab for the hearts (and dicks!) of otaku men and boys, with her shy demeanor and noticeably larger breasts. Then comes the curveball – while her friends Yuuka and Nagisa go to school, Orine works in a factory manufacturing heavy machinery. And instead of it being, “Oh, look at the cute girl, she’s so clumsy and she’s trying sooo hard to be a good factory worker, but she keep tripping! Awwww, cuuuuute!!!”, Orine is extremely competent and good at her job, such that her older coworkers compliment her on her ability to learn fast and work hard. She’s categorically not clumsy, such a relief given how prevalent this has become as a “cute” trait*. It is also worth noting that she’s proud of her work and effort, and that the shy demeanor she demonstrates with her friends is largely absent when she’s on the job at the factory.
(Here, too, I want to point out that I thoroughly enjoy the short glimpse we get of factory life – the coworkers we see of Orine’s are all women, and they actually look like factory workers, not some pinup wet-dream version of factory workers. And while we only see them briefly, they are presented as hard-working and sharp, not as silly gossipy harpies who are busier trying to undercut each other than they are at doing their jobs. They’re very supportive of Orine, although they do comment that its very sad that she’s working at such a young age and has lost her family. Put somewhat differently, the factory is a women’s domain, and there is no indication that they need a man around to keep the wheels from flying off the bus.)
Orine’s circumstances (working since she’s lost her family) also point to Orine’s competence; here we hit up against another popular trope, that of the girl who is incapable of caring for herself, and she averts it, hard. While I’m sure that Orine gets some help (she’s thirteen, after all, and has friends whose families are either economically stable or quite wealthy), she’s pulling the lion’s share of her own care through her employment.
Admittedly, once they move into the idol world, Orine does come off as a bit more moeriffic – she’s practically paralyzed when she gets hate mail. However, as cheesy as the episode was, Orine does overcome her fear, to the point that she physically protects her own hater when push comes to shove, jumping into the fray with a light saber against heavy robots. And although we don’t see her record her audition video, we do know that it was better than Nagisa’s stilted, stage-fright-burdened one.
So while Orine does check off some superficial boxes on the moe checklist, she walks away as a real character, not a 2D fetish device. I liked a lot of the characters in AKB0048, but she’s absolutely my favorite. If only we could get an OVA prequel focused around her… Factory Girl Orine. That’d be pretty damn cool.