“Floating is exhausting.” Yuya Niyodo at the pool calendar shoot. “Why do people want to see swimsuits so much anyway?”
Idol due ZINGS have asked the fans: what outfits should they be photographed wearing for their upcoming calendar? And, to Niyodo’s horror, seasonal costumes, starting with summer at the pool, have been requested. His ghostly companion, phantom idol Asahi Mogami, is thrilled at the thought and as Niyodo is in an especially negative mood, she tells him that she’ll show him how to sparkle in summer! The instant she’s taken control, it’s as if Niyodo has become a different person and the shoot is a success. But Yoshino, Niyodo’s long-suffering partner, is beginning to wonder what exactly is going on with these dramatic mood changes; could Niyodo be identical twins, he asks himself, secretly switching places?
ZINGS must be doing something right, though, as they learn they’re in the running for the ‘Next Up’ idol awards. And their manager has a new song for them: their first love song. Niyodo, of course, hasn’t a clue how to sing it. Asahi tries to coach him and when he asks her, “How do you define great singing?” she shows him a clip of her idol group “I’M” showcasing Chikage Yura, the group’s leader – and even the imperturbable Niyodo is impressed. But it turns out the group is currently on hiatus as, after the memorial concert for Asahi, Yura has gone abroad to study. So how can Asahi teach Niyodo to sing a love song with even an ounce of feeling? Undaunted, she persuades him to practise with her in a karaoke room and her clever ruse pays off, as she finds parallels that are truly meaningful to Niyodo, such as anxiously waiting on payday to see if the bank transfer’s worked and the money’s in the account.
Yet just as Asahi’s coaching is beginning to show results, she and Niyodo catch a news item on TV announcing Yura-chan’s return to Japan in which she announces that she’s decided to ‘graduate’ from “I’M”. Asahi is deeply shocked as she respects and admires her leader’s vocal talents – so she goes along with Yoshino and Niyodo to her onetime leader’s farewell concert. But as Asahi’s cheering along with the rest of the audience, the singer freezes for a moment, staring in her direction as if she’s spotted her in the audience. Could it be that Niyodo is not the only one who can see and hear Asahi?
Even though this volume kicks off with the calendar episode (which was included in the TV anime) what follows is all new material – and there’s much to keep the reader involved and turning the pages. From Asahi’s coaching of Niyodo in how to sing a love song to the unexpected appearance of Chikage Yura and the considerable complications she stirs up for ZINGS, there’s never a dull moment. A TV show appearance with CGrass brings back dedicated Asahi fan Setouchi (the leader of CGrass who’s still rather too interested in what’s going on with ZINGS) and the three dedicated (obsessed?) Niyodoids are never far away. In fact, the manga continues to emphasize how much the performers (and their managers) are at the mercy of the whims of the fans. This volume does much to show us how the relationship between Asahi and Niyodo is progressing and deepening; he’s come to trust her and is really benefiting from her advice, as is shown when the duo’s vocal coach hears him sing. Although the wistfully knowing smile on Asahi’s face speaks volumes as she says to him, “One day you might look back and realize ‘Oh, that’s what that song was about!’”
This volume also turns the spotlight on poor, confused Yoshino who not only has to put up with Niyodo’s two personalities without understanding why his partner is so grouchy one moment and then so sparkly the next – but also is becoming worn out with trying to carry the whole act by himself as he never knows when Niyodo is going to switch on or off. By the end of the volume, a major revelation has been made – and life for ZINGS is about to change. Will it be for the better… or the worse?
The translator for Kodansha is again Max Greenway who adds two helpful pages of translation notes and lettering is by Michael Martin. The mangaka contributes a lively ‘Afterflavone’ as well as two pages of bonus comic in which they chat to the editor H-san as well as the characters.
Even though this is the mangaka’s debut series, the standard is consistently high; even if some of the panels are rather over-busy, Hijiki Isoflavone really delivers on the characters’ expressions, bringing the whole cast to life in an involving way for the reader. Isoflavone is good at story-telling too and is not afraid to shine a rather harsh and sometimes unforgiving light on the fickle world of showbusiness for aspiring idols. But if that makes the series sound rather too serious, it manages to weave in genuinely funny moments (no easy thing) without unbalancing the narrative. Judging by this volume, Phantom of the Idol is going from strength to strength and I looking forward to reading Volume 4 (due out on February 14th).