Hot off the heels of the recently concluded Kaguya-sama: Love is War comes Aka Akasaka’s next big work. Oshi no Ko is a story about those who struggle in the idol and entertainment industry in order to reach stardom. Today, we’ll see how its opening act begins with its first volume.
Lies are Truth
At the very beginning of the story, Oshi no Ko and its main talking point is established. Those who like entertainment are implicitly and knowingly being lied to, and it is therefore the idol’s job to lie to their fans as best as possible. What appears onstage for fans to see is just an elaborately constructed illusion, and thus an idol must do their utmost to maintain that illusion in spite of the cognitive damage it causes in the long term. 16-year-old protagonist Ai Hoshino is yet another one of these “professional liars”, and she’s got two big problems—she’s carrying twins.
Ai wasn’t a particularly popular idol to begin with, but teen pregnancy would naturally spell a death sentence for her career and future. Still, out of a desire to attain a family and true happiness, she remains determined to both keep her forthcoming children and maintain her career as an idol. However, it’s not as simple as it first appears. After her children are born, reality hits Ai and she realizes that her lack of popularity is the cause for not bringing in adequate money to provide for her family. Determined to give her children the best in life, she does her best to keep them a secret from the public while also trying to bolster her career.
Oshi no Ko does not shy away from the many unsavory truths surrounding the idol industry. Most talent, including Ai herself, are poached at a very young and tender age. They’re trained to be merchandised and objectified, to a point where their own personal happiness is often thrown out entirely. Personal relationships and want for family is seen as taboo, as an idol must keep the illusion of being pure and chaste. Despite all of this, plus the everyday mental and physical struggles that idols must overcome, few make it to what could be considered true stardom. Even with these open secrets about what really goes on in the idol world, idols gather very little sympathy and are seen as expendable playthings by the wider public.
It’s thanks to this one-two punch of Ai’s charisma and the daunting climb up the ladders of the idol industry that make the first volume of Oshi no Ko such a good read. I found myself regularly asking questions about how Ai would maintain her seemingly invincible facade, and the answers always left me surprised or satisfied.
Lies are Love
The second major talking point of Oshi no Ko is more of a philosophical question. How much does one need to lie to themselves before they perceive that lie as truth? If one eventually does perceive that lie as a truth, was it ever a lie to begin with? If so, can a person’s love for someone always be real, no matter the circumstances surrounding it? It’s a big, complicated question and one that Oshi no Ko rightfully leaves rather open-ended. Most importantly, it gives a lot of texture and nuance to the parasocial relationships fostered between idols and their followers.
“Ai” means love in Japanese, so maybe it was a foregone conclusion that Ai’s own character arc would center around what it means to love someone. That being the love for her fans and job, for her children, and for herself. Reading through the story, it’s kept ambiguous whether Ai is really all that good of a person or not. It’s also left up to interpretation whether the life she’s leading is really healthy or not, too. Being an idol, at least according to the story, means being someone who willfully and knowingly manipulates the masses.
This idol-fan relationship is defined as one of unhealthy codependency. Idols need fans to support them monetarily and to bolster their ego, and fans likewise want their idols to maintain an untouchable image, no matter how unreasonable that becomes. It’s not long before this relationship becomes an emotional death spiral for both parties involved, and by the end many idols end up calling it quits because of this.
Ai herself is no such exception to this, but her saving grace winds up being her children, Aqua and Ruby. With this, she’s given a proper emotional foothold in the face of the many frustrations throughout the industry. Though the question then becomes a rather haunting one for her: is her love for her children real, or is she just using them to her own benefit just as she may be doing to her fans? I won’t spoil what the answer to that is here, but I will say that it’s a question that gives Ai herself a lot of character depth and informs many of her actions and thoughts in interesting ways.
Lies are Weapons
Oshi no Ko gives many grounded and complex viewpoints of the entertainment industry, even just within the runtime of the first volume. Much of the time, an idol or entertainer may not succeed due to practical reasons. Many times it’s just business-sense, an entertainer can’t get ahead simply because their name isn’t marketable or desirable. Other times, it may be industry nepotism, wherein talent is unfairly cast aside due to others having an in. With all of these in mind, how is new talent meant to break into such a seemingly impenetrable barrier? Through manipulation, of course.
A big aspect of the storyline is social awareness and emotional maturity, or rather, how one can best manipulate that for their gain. While a person’s words are important, what’s more important is the unseen intent behind those words. How the unconscious self interacts with the conscious self is used to create a great sense of tension throughout the entirety of the first volume’s run. Not so much in the how, but the why. What actions a character chooses to take is still important, but it’s the emotional implication behind those choices and feelings that really anchors Oshi no Ko into being something still full of humanity. Even despite how lofty and unattainable the positions of the characters were, I was never left with the feeling that they were anything less than highly relatable.
Art and Drawing Quality
Although not drawn by Aka Akasaka like his previous work, Oshi no Ko bears a strong resemblance to Kaguya-sama: Love is War. This is seemingly a deliberate choice, as much visual symbolism is carried over in order to convey the story more effectively. The stylization and character design is generally quite pleasant, and also rather unnerving when the story’s tone calls for it. Ai’s children in particular, Ruby and Aqua, are hilariously expressive. For how engrossing the story generally was, I was still pleasantly surprised by how often I paused just to further take in the artwork.
I have pretty much nothing but positive things to say about the first volume of Oshi no Ko. It’s about as good as a prologue can possibly be. For how much I’ve talked about it, its greatest surprises are still something I feel are best uncovered by the viewer. Not only is it a strong standalone story, but it serves as an absolutely incredible foundation for the acts to follow. Aka Akasaka has not lost his edge in exploring the depth and nuance that drives interpersonal relationships, and by the end of the volume I was only left wanting more.
OSHI NO KO IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
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Many thanks go to Yen Press who provided a review copy of this title.
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A hobbyist who took up the pen to write about their favorite pastime: games. While a lover of many genres, Isaiah Parker specializes in Platformers, RPGs, and competitive multiplayer titles. The easiest way into his heart is to have great core gameplay mechanics. Self-proclaimed world’s biggest Sonic fan. Follow him @ZinogreVolt