The Yakumo Arc (Volumes 5 & 6)
ZINGS (fresh-faced Kazuki Yoshino and unmotivated Yuya Niyodo) have won one of the top Up Next Idol Awards (thanks, no doubt, to the fact that Niyodo is being aided and abetted by the peppy ghost of idol star, Asahi Mogami). One of the outcomes is that Niyodo is given a supporting role in a TV detective drama Haraheraide-tective Squad, playing second fiddle to Yakumo Nanase – better known as the chivalrous ‘Black Knight Idol’. Yakumo might have won the main Up Next Idol Award but it turns out that he’s been a long time building his career. He also has no idea how to act and turns to Niyodo (of all people) for advice, even addressing him as ‘Master’!
Asahi, however, is over the moon at the prospect of appearing in a TV drama and encourages the ever-reluctant Niyodo to attend one of Yakumo’s concerts to see how he interacts with his fans. There they soon realize that his ‘Black Knight’ persona affects everything he does and especially his ardent fans, who call themselves ‘the townsfolk’ and dress accordingly in fantasy cosplay. But when they meet up later for a photoshoot, they find Yakumo shocked by an anonymous note tucked into a congratulatory bouquet, warning him: ‘Stick to being an idol.’ It turns out that he knows which fan has sent the note… and he has some more revelations about his career as an idol to share with Niyodo (and Asahi).
In Volume 6 (2022), good-natured Yoshino (who’s already appeared in a TV drama) gets roped in to help Yakumo and Niyodo with their acting and we get to meet Yakumo’s faithful fan, Black Strawberry, the one who sent the note in the bouquet. This leads to some serious discussion between Yakumo and Niyodo (with help from Asahi) about what the fans’ reactions mean to the performers, leading to some soul-searching by Yakumo. I told everyone that I needed to change to stay relevant as an idol, he muses, but I hadn’t truly accepted what that meant… how painful it would be to disappoint people!
Black Strawberry started following Yakumo in his courteous Black Knight persona and just can’t accept him appearing on the screen as anything else, let alone a foul-mouthed detective. Which leads to some soul-searching for her and her role as a fan – even as Yakumo is wondering if he’s doing the right thing in playing a part so different from his on-stage persona. We also learn more about the eccentric writer/director of the TV detective drama Toru Umezu-san, who might be a little strange but whose heart is in the right place – and is obsessed with food and eating right. (His past hits apparently include Peptide Detective Story, Strawberry Murder Club and Reports in Da House.) What will happen when the TV series hits the screens? Will it gain new fans for the two lead actors – or make their existing fans walk away?
Phantom of the Idol © Hijiki Isoflavone/Kodansha Ltd.
Phantom of the Idol is now well past the material adapted for the TV anime series. If there were any fears that it might not be able to progress beyond the initial premise, they’re swiftly dispelled here; Hijiki Isoflavone proves that they’re capable of sustaining interest in the characters while at the same time delivering a very readable story. Anything to do with the everyday life of idols (and their fans) will always be of interest to anyone who loves J-pop or is interested in seeing how the music business works in Japan and here Phantom doesn’t disappoint. Isoflavone is skilled at achieving a good balance between creating a believable picture of life on and off-stage for the young performers – and making some not-so subtle digs at the industry and the performers’ managers. However, this is not [Oshi no Ko] and therefore retains its Teen 13+ rating as the seamier side of the idol industry isn’t up for scrutiny or criticism. Like its heroine, Asahi, Phantom lacks cynicism and even when it’s showing Niyodo at his most unmotivated and uninspiring, we still feel just a little sorry for him, plunged into this crazy world of all-singing, all-dancing extroverts.
Both volumes have significant bonus stories which range from fun in Book 5 (Asahi goes on a shopping trip via Niyodo with her fellow band member, Yura, and tries out a lot of delicious food) to a more serious and touching flashback to the early days of CGrass and Setouchi in Volume 6, which is a touching look at aspirations and dealing with loss. And Hijiki Isoflavone’s portrayal of the characters’ expressions is spot-on, sometimes crazily OTT (especially with Niyodo’s faithful fans) but often expressive and conveying so much more than just the words issuing from their mouths.
Max Greenway continues to translate for Kodansha and the translation notes at the end are helpful as ever; Michael Martin’s lettering deals expertly with all the dramatic moments, SFX and social media etc. There’s also Afterflavone: the mangaka’s thoughts on achieving a TV series and two pages of their fully illustrated reflections involving their editor H-san as they look at the progress of the series up to the end of Volume 6.
We’ve almost caught up with Japan now as Volume 7 came out this summer and isn’t scheduled by Kodansha until April 2024. But there’s plenty to enjoy in these two volumes of one of the most likable manga about the entertainment industry around at the moment – and also there’s the splendid sight of Niyodo in a suit for fans of the reluctant star!
Our review copy from Kodansha was provided by Diamond Book Distributors.