Gorou Amemiya is a gynaecologist working in a small town in the Japanese countryside, but he has a deep passion for idols, one in particular by the name of Ai Hoshino from the group B Komachi. His love for them is no secret, as he often shows videos of them to patients, but he has never once expected to meet Ai, due to living so far away from the city. One fateful day, a 16-year-old girl, 20 weeks pregnant, walks into his clinic and its none other than Ai herself! She does not name the father, and her manager plans to keep her pregnancy a secret so she can continue her idol career after giving birth. Gorou agrees to keep her secret, and the pair grow closer over the course of her pregnancy. On the day she’s due to give birth however, tragedy strikes, and the pair become closer than either of them thought possible, and a new side of Ai’s ‘idol’ image beings to show itself.
According to the translation notes at the back, provided by Sarah Neufeld, the title of this manga hasn’t been officially translated into English, as ‘Oshi no Ko’ can mean multiple things, depending on the context. For example, it could mean ‘The girl who is my favourite performer’ or ‘the child/children of my favourite performer’. The multi-layered meaning of the title reflects the series really well. You start reading the book thinking it’s about following a doctor with an unhealthy obsession with an idol, but then the first twist happens, and we switch POV’s to Ai’s kids, and then in last quarter of the book ANOTHER twist happens and the story itself changes gears again, with the last chapter the text reading, ‘and so the prologue ends.’ Yes, the whole first book is just a ‘prologue’ for this story, a weird, drama-filled, exciting and potentially fantastic story of the darker side of idols whilst also highlighting its alluring nature. I’m going to try my best to talk about the story, whilst avoiding the true nature of both twists that happen in this book, but if you’re already interested in this series, I’d recommend you stop reading now and go into the manga blind.
The first volume is split into three different plotlines, the first being the opening act with Gorou. Although his role as Ai’s obstetrician-gynaecologist is actually small in the grand scheme of things, he has a huge impact on the story and serves as the main protagonist. Although his role and mindset change as the story progresses, his ‘prologue’ is an interesting read. As mentioned, he starts off as an intense idol fan, who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to help deliver the baby of his favourite idol, and the audience can’t help but feel uncomfortable for Ai as her most intimate moment is being viewed by someone who’s technically engaging in voyeuristic behaviour. By the end of the book, he’s in a new position to not only pursue a job he never thought possible previously, but also to see Ai as a human being, rather than just an idol, if only via the most supernatural and twisted means possible. Despite the second act (the longest part of this book) being more a comedy romp than the first and last acts, there’s still a lot to untangle from his growing new perception, as well as what he learns about the idol industry in his new role. The comedy won’t always hit (it didn’t for me) but it was interesting watching him develop regardless.
Speaking of idols, let’s talk about Ai. Through her attempts to be both an idol and a mother, you can see how the layers of the idol and entertainment industry are slowly peeled away until its dark underbelly is revealed. From the mean comments on Twitter that Ai subjects herself to, to the lengths she must go to to try and shake her restrictive ‘idol group’ image, and how the role of ‘mum’ is at conflict with that at times. But the story isn’t just interested in saying how dark and destructive the industry can be, but also how others use said knowledge to get what they want out of it. Ai, for example, has every reason to hate the role she must play; the manager has complete control of her life and she’s constantly being pushed into different boxes (idol, singer, actress, etc) to keep making money for her manager. But Ai never shows disgust or depression at the situation, she WANTS to be there. She’s fully aware of the industry’s dark side and she keeps smiling through it all. As she says, ‘lies are an outstanding kind of love’; it’s a warped but also fascinating look into her psyche, how she sees her role as well as the industry itself. She’s someone who LOVES what she does, despite the steep cost that it requires of her. The series, so far, seems to want to tackle the same themes as Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue, but instead of being a horror, it’s played as a comedy drama, with different viewpoints informing and expanding on Gorou’s and Ai’s as the series progresses.
The last part of the book is slightly different from the rest. At the beginning of each chapter, we’re given one page ‘interviewing’ various members of the industry from directors to actresses, all seemingly taken in the far future. At the start it’s a bit jarring, but later it’s like finding pieces of a puzzle that’s still being formed in front of you; once you read the final chapter, you realise that these mini glimpses into the future have an entirely new context and form part of the main story to this book’s prologue. It’s really well done, and it’ll be interesting to see if the mangaka continues to do this in future books, now that we’re out of the ‘prologue’ part of the story.
Aka Akasaka is the writer for this series, with illustration by Mengo Yokoyari, who does a great job; from the eye-catching cover of Ai’s poses with her inhuman eyes, to the final pages which have much darker overtones, everything is well drawn, and all the character designs are very distinct. As mentioned, Sarah Neufeld is the translator, and everything reads very well, switching from comedy to disturbing as swiftly as the art does, but I want to give a shout-out to the translator’s notes: there’s three pages’ worth that go into a lot of detail not just about certain phrases but also into facts about Japan itself, which I found really interesting.
Just by reading the first volume, I can tell that [Oshi No Ko] is going to be a very popular and talked about series when the anime adaptation comes out in April. Although the subject matter and the protagonist himself aren’t going to connect with everyone, with the first twist probably being the jump-off point for some, if you stay with this book, it has a lot to uncover. The positive reception it’s received in Japan is, so far, well deserved; do check it out.