“Zings is supposed to be just you and me, Yu-kun.” Kazuki Yoshino to Yuya Niyodo.
Poor Yoshino. As the long-suffering other half of idol duo ZINGS, he’s manfully carried many a show when his disaffected partner Niyodo has lost the plot on-stage or has suddenly sparkled with unexpected pep and vigour, almost as if he’s been possessed by someone else. Because, of course, Niyodo has been possessed by the ghost of Asahi Mogami, the recently deceased girl idol who loves performing so much that it’s just far too soon for her to give up and pass on to the next world! But up till now, Niyodo has not told Yoshino his secret – after all, who would believe such a strange story? Enter Chikage Yura, the onetime leader of Asahi’s idol group now working for the same agency as the two young men. She’s been doing spiritual training and she’s sensed Asahi’s presence around Niyodo – so, why not spill the beans? Yoshino is devastated. So devastated that he’s unable to perform, leaving Niyodo to carry on with the activities promoting the group such as TV appearances etc. The invitation to appear on a prestigious daytime cookery show with celebrity chef Takako Kume and Setouichi, the lead singer of CGrass and Asahi’s Number 1 fan, is too good a chance to miss (according to company president Hitomi Shinano). But Setouichi and Niyodo already have a very awkward relationship, so will they be able to prepare a ‘Weekend Citron’ (that’s lemon drizzle to us Brits) on live TV together or will it all fall apart?
Meanwhile Yoshino is languishing at home, unable to get over what feels to him like a major betrayal, in spite of the encouragements of his two strong-minded sisters. Perhaps a visit from Niyodo bearing cake will help to improve his mood (Niyodo bearing cake?!). But as the two young men come to a kind of understanding about the Asahi situation, the latest signing to their agency and the catalyst for all their recent trouble, strong-willed Chikage Yura, is undergoing a crisis of her own. Having decided to launch herself as a solo singer, she’s suddenly realized that she doesn’t know who she’s singing for anymore. Is there any way that Asahi can persuade her best friend (were they best friends?) to regain her self-confidence in time to go on stage?
“Thank you for buying Volume 4,” mangaka Hijiki Isoflavone says cheerily to the readers at the end of the volume. “Who knew it would last this long?” and goes on to explain that when discussing the direction of the story after Volume 2 with their editor, they wanted Yoshino-kun and Niyodo to ‘squabble, get a little closer – but neither of them knew how to fight!’ There’s no doubt that the mangaka’s skill at depicting awkward but endearing relationships is one of the highlights of this series. There’s plenty of manga and anime about idols around at the moment, especially [Oshi no Ko] which depicts the harsh realities behind the glamour, suggesting that teenagers being chosen to perform is a kind of child exploitation. Phantom of the Idol, while less extreme, is good at showing the day-to-day routines of being an idol and the way that two very different young men (neither of them naturally outward-going) try to adjust to the rigours of the performing life. The story continues to play down the fact that Asahi’s death is a tragedy (Yura has not yet fully accepted it) as the titular Phantom is so positive and upbeat (unlike the other three!) that it’s easy to forget that she’s never going to be able to perform on stage in her own right ever again.
Hijiki Isoflavone’s art style is as likable as ever and as they’re especially good at facial expressions, there are some really enjoyable interactions in these chapters, especially with Niyodo’s most committed fans, the Niyodoids – and in the scenes where company president Hitomi (really coming into her own and showing her mettle here) deals out some hard but realistic advice to Yura.
Max Greenway’s translation for Kodansha continues to convey convincingly the lively (and often heated) conversations between the members of the main cast. Two pages of helpful translation notes are again included as well as five 4-koma strips. Volume 5 is slated to be available now (April 2023) with Volume 6 bringing us up-to-date with Japan due out in July 2023 (the series is on-going in Zero-Sum in Japan, so there’ll be a Volume 7 at some stage).
Phantom of the Idol continues to deliver a different and entertaining look at the world of the idol on (but mostly off) stage. Niyodo, probably the most apathetic and unmotivated idol ever depicted in manga, is a constant joy to watch as he muddles through – and the cookery show with Setouichi is genuinely funny.