New Anime

Oshi no Ko – Episode 1

Hello folks, and welcome back to Wrong Every Time. Today we’ll be exploring the megasized first episode of a fresh production, as we check out the premiere of last spring’s Oshi no Ko. To be honest, I was perfectly happy to let Oshi no Ko come and go without any significant commentary on my end; the show’s premise felt too contrived and insular to really appeal to my interests, and beyond that, “an idol drama that’s also a critique of the idol industry” just feels unnecessary for me personally.

Not that the idol industry doesn’t deserve a takedown; on the contrary, “the idol industry is a predatory vessel that ruins the lives of its participants and trains its fans to treat artists as property” feels as provocative a statement to me as “water is wet,” an obvious, clear-eyed assessment of a self-evidently malevolent industry. My impression was that I’d be agreeing with the show’s negative statements while rolling my eyes at every “and yet, there’s something to that idol industry” concession, all while listening to music that I have failed to find interesting across a decade covering the genre’s most esteemed productions. Considering that “Perfect Blue is my favorite idol anime” is basically the anime version of “Die Hard is my favorite Christmas film,” it didn’t seem necessary to add my predictable commentary to the flood of Oshi no Ko reactions. Nonetheless, I’m sure I’ll find some points of interest within this unique production, and I always appreciate having a clearer impression of anime’s breakthrough successes. Let’s get to it!

Episode 1

“This story is a work of fiction. Actually, most everything in this world is fiction.” Our narrator starts off with an immediate rundown of the artifice inherent in the idol industry – “they lie, exaggerate, and thoroughly conceal anything inconvenient.” I suppose it’s just a matter of preference, but this insincerity is a major part of why idol music or culture just doesn’t interest me. I like my art to be raw and immediate and almost painfully sincere, and if it’s going to be light and upbeat, I’d still prefer that lightness to be reflective of something authentic as well

Of course, beyond that, I just don’t find the art produced by the idol industry particularly interesting. The lyrics seem generic and superficial, the musical backdrop fits into routine pop structures, and the whole ensemble has an overall “designed by committee” feel to it that feels antithetical to my relationship with music. It’s not just idols; I basically don’t listen to any music by artists who don’t write their own songs, because they’re simply not the artist’s thoughts and emotions being realized – to set aside the fact that lyrics designed for radio play by another performer generally lack any sort of intimacy or poetry in the first place

So yeah, you can probably see why I thought I’d be too much of a downer to offer people relevant commentary on this show. I can enjoy Idolmaster because the animators and directors are putting skilled work into realizing the characters’ experiences – it is them I am appreciating, not the fact that what they are applying their skill to happens to be an idol drama. But anytime a character starts waxing philosophical on the magic of idoldom, I emotionally tune out; that’s why I had to drop Love Live eventually, as it basically takes for granted a communal sense of awe at the majesty of idols

“The idol fan is one who wants to be skillfully lied to.” I can also totally appreciate some forms of media serving as feel-good comfort food; I just feel like the reality of how the sausage is made when it comes to idols is too bleak to ignore, and the output too simplistically saccharine to offer me any sense of validation anyway. I value lyrics, formal inventiveness, and authenticity in music very highly, and idol music simply does not, while the things it does value (dance performances, a committed stage persona) have no appeal to me

Apparently this group’s center is Ai, the sixteen-year-old leader of B Komachi. That’s another thing – idol performers are often so young that it’s clear they’ve been designed by producers, and why would a sixteen-year-old’s music resonate with me in the first place? I’m not really sure how I’d identify with or be inspired by a child singing about shining hearts

“It’s been four years since they started, and now it seems like they’re really taking off!” I suppose I can understand this sort of sports team-style appeal, where you’re rooting for your favorites to shine. It seems like for the dedicated fans, it’s often less about the music itself than seeing a character you find endearing gain success

Our protagonist is apparently playing this concert in a patient’s room. He’s a doctor at a small practice in the countryside

The nurse informs him that Ai is going on hiatus due to poor health

It was a patient he met during residency who changed his perspective on idols

“She’s about my age, but she’s so grown-up looking and great at singing and dancing!” See, this is a charming and relatable relationship with idols. I can perfectly understand how young people might find hope in seeing other people their age shine, and how watching them might serve as a reprieve from their own difficult circumstances. Earnest stuff like this is why I feel guilty getting into it regarding the idol industry in the first place

“Haven’t you thought about what it’d be like if you were born as a celebrity’s child?” Really seeding our twist here

And thus our protagonist started following Ai’s career in his patient Sarina’s stead

“Aren’t you just using Sarina-chan as an excuse to pursue your own desires?” I’m still siding with the nurse here. And yeah, the sexually tinged ownership aspect of idol culture is definitely another thing I can’t really get past. I suppose stories like this will become more universal and essential as we move forward in this era of streamers fusing popular media with parasocial intimacy, but frankly, the whole endeavor seems to me unhealthy for both artists and audiences. We are an increasingly lonely people, but believing your favorite youtubers are your friends is not going to fix that – it’s only going to create friction because you’re not actually connected, and thus as you or your obsession grow and change, you’ll likely foment a mutual sense of resentment. Works of art are fixed points that cannot be hurt by rejection; living people are ever-mutable, and vulnerable to the jeers of the crowd

There’s also the unfortunate side effect that this era of media by children, for children means people are exposed to less and less work of genuine professional merit. There are people just ten years younger than me who I can’t really talk to about art because they haven’t read anything, haven’t watched anything, have only spent time hanging out with their peers via youtube. It feels like the promise of no barriers to production is ultimately an ouroboros that will devour all quality art, replacing it with increasingly amateurish reflections of the amateurs young artists take as inspiration. The light novel industry already seems like a fine example of what the blind leading the blind for a generation will construct. Their prose is atrocious!

The doctor cannot deny that he would date Ai if she asked him. I feel like we’re supposed to see him as “relatably flawed,” but he’s not proving particularly endearing so far

Ai then shows up at his clinic, about twenty weeks pregnant with twins

“If it gets out you got pregnant at 16, your career and my agency are finished.” It’d be nice if this were a unique toxicity of the idol industry, but in truth this is par for the course across all sorts of entertainment industries – women are expected to be pure and available for their audience’s fantasies, simultaneously innocent to sex and objects of sexual worship

“Wait, if I die now, there’s a chance I’ll be reborn as an idol’s kid, right?” A distressing number of people in this world fantasizing about being birthed by their favorite idols. Kinda figured only Mr. Boop dreamed of such things

“Still, can you really stan an idol who has a husband and kids?” So does the fantasy really only work if you’ve got some hope of the idol hooking up with you personally? It feels like such an inherently unhealthy, possessive perspective – that in spite of ostensibly cheering for this performer, your support is entirely contingent on them maintaining this fantasy of loving you specifically. If you’re genuinely touched by an artist, you should want that artist to succeed on their own terms, not just remain a plaything for your fantasies. And this awful possessiveness extends beyond just idol drama – it’s one of the reasons so few anime are willing to actually commit to their characters being in relationships, particularly queer relationships, because it’s apparently essential to retain some ambiguity regarding whether these fictional characters would want to shack up with the lustful viewer or not. It’s frankly a pathetic, inherently art-averse perspective

The doctor at least seems to have a more reasonable perspective – he’d still support Ai even if she found love elsewhere, but he understands that having these kids would undoubtedly negatively impact her career

Ai never had a family of her own, and is thus looking forward to creating one with her children

“Idols are objects of worship, you know? They sparkle through the magic of lies. Lies are the most exquisite love!” Yeah, here’s where I figured the equation would lose me. A show about the magic of idols that accepts their appeal is built on lies must necessarily see something alluring or worth pursuing in that subterfuge, and I just don’t. I’ll be interested to see what argument the show makes in its favor, though!

Ai wants both the fabricated happiness of a stage smile and the authentic happiness of motherhood

I appreciate the inherent rebelliousness of Ai being unabashedly an idol and unabashedly pregnant; given how idols are generally portrayed, even this seems like a welcome pushback against their alleged permanent available youthfulness

The doctor chases a stalker outside of the hospital, and is ultimately pushed off a cliff. A field that promotes a sense of personal connection and ownership of artists will naturally lead to a whole lot of violently possessive fans. I feel like you’ve already embraced an unhealthy relationship with art by the time you consider yourself “loyal” to one or another artist or franchise – art can inspire us, but it should never stand in for our own independent identities. I don’t see anything worth celebrating in any form of stan culture

And thus he is reborn as Aquamarine Hoshino, bearing one of Ai’s star pupils

I actually appreciate that we just sort of handwave the mechanisms of reincarnation. So many isekai immediately get bogged down in the specific worldbuilding details of their scenario – you get the impression their authors would rather be designing games than telling stories. In contrast, great stories are generally more about people and ideas than worlds, and it’s clear Oshi no Ko is more interested in using this scenario as a vehicle for exploring other topics

His sister’s name is Ruby

“I’ve always been bad at remembering names and faces.” I get you, Ai

Ai begins her comeback, with her producer Saitou’s wife taking care of the kids in the meantime

I like the inherent absurdism of this baby matter-of-factly keeping tabs on Ai’s professional revival

“I’ve listened to their performances, and they’re neither good nor bad, just average. Well, this is the sort of stuff that sells.” Feel like I’m relating to this stage crew more than anyone else in the production

“That goes for the big shots too. They act like they’re making something great, but they only look at the numbers.” Of course, this goes for a lot of creative professions. The main reason I never pushed any further into working with the big anime production and streaming companies is that I just couldn’t stomach this idea – that my work would now be composed of scripting flattering, enthusiastic lies about productions I actually found routine or actively lousy. Most anime isn’t particularly interesting art, so if you want to secure a full-time position within the industry, you either have to get accustomed to lying or simply not possess discerning standards in the first place

This is also a big part of why youtube has replaced the bulk of anime criticism; general audiences aren’t interested in critique, they just want their feelings repeated back at them by an allegedly authoritative source, and so fans who would be happy with just about anything have largely replaced critics who push back against fandom’s unconsidered assumptions. Basically the only critique modern audiences will allow is “this is insufficiently loyal to the source material I already love,” and so that’s the only thing their preferred commentators will forward as criticism

Sorta funny that the only criticism audiences want isn’t actually meaningful criticism at all; after all, given how different mediums have different strengths, overweening loyalty to source material isn’t actually an artistic virtue

See, this is why I didn’t plan on writing about this show! It’s hard to reflect on a show about the cynicism of anime-adjacent showbiz without pushing into further cynicality myself, and I was thus quite happy to stick with the “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” policy until now

Damn, some nicely painted highlights for Ai’s return performance. This is one of the tricky things about idol shows, or music shows more generally – if you want the big performances to land, you can’t just have audiences look stupefied by routine craft, you have to actually go the distance and animate a genuinely impressive performance

Doubly so for idol dramas, I should say, since the actual music component is never particularly impressive. Look, if we’re here we’re here, and I’m saying my piece!

“I just had a diaper change, but I feel like I’m going to wet myself!” Aquamarine’s sister is apparently a similarly precocious idol enthusiast

Aquamarine learned his sister was a similar reincarnation when he caught her yelling at people for being wrong on the internet

“That baby just talked!” A very good punchline

“You liar! Why would you go and make babies!? You tricked me!” Our killer’s still in attendance to represent “the dark side of idol fandom,” or as I like to call it, “idol fandom”

“I feel like, as an adult, being breastfed by an idol would indeed be crossing the line.” Our protagonist displaying laudable restraint relative to some recent anime heroes

The company president’s wife is understandably upset about being reduced to a babysitter

She decides to reveal the scandal. “Uh, no good. What should we do? Should we kill her?” Ruby is proving to be a delightfully demented addition to the cast

And thus our babies reveal their preternatural intelligence, claiming to be the voices of gods protecting divinely blessed children. The obvious solution, really

“My future? I’ve never given it any thought.” Seems like we’re seeding the reveal that Ruby is the doctor’s other former patient, which is a little easier to guess given the show hasn’t introduced any other potential candidates

Yep, they don’t draw it out any further – the two of them are oblivious, but the audience is swiftly informed that she’s actually Sarina

“Being an idol is fun, so I wouldn’t mind going on like this if it was just me.” Ai swiftly slamming into the brick wall that so many artists face – having to compromise on their “starving artist” ethos for the sake of the people they love. There isn’t any money in art, but you can sort of scrape by if you’re just working to support yourself; however, if you’ve got a family, you eventually have to choose between chasing your dream and keeping your loved ones fed

“To give them lots of options, I’ve got to sell better and earn as much as possible, don’t I?” This is refreshingly candid without feeling self-consciously salacious; I find reflections like this more meaningful than the show’s thoughts on the “beauty of lies,” which feels like a more sophomoric sort of revelation

Granted, most anime don’t have anything meaningful at all to impart, so I suppose I should be grateful – but frankly, my days of cheering for scraps in anime rather than just watching art I don’t have to grade on a curve are solidly behind me

“B Komachi is one of the better-selling groups, and yet…” One of the most common misconceptions of fans is that artists are all swimming in cash, because anyone with a public profile is assumed to be wealthy by default. In truth, most people in artistic fields are only there because their desperation to create art is far stronger than their desire to live securely; it would be both easier and far more financially lucrative to stick with a normal job, but some of us can only find satisfaction in life through the execution of our creative passions

Their manager reflects on how idol groups are essentially screwed on both ends financially – they have to share pay as a collective, and then have even more trouble succeeding as solo artists

“Being first-class as an idol on its own is not enough.” Another common misconception: that if you reach a professional level of quality in your output, opportunity will naturally follow. In truth, professional-quality work is the ground floor for finding opportunities, and most people at that level will never see any money for their effort

“I’m not feeling up to this today…” And so Ai goes online, where some commenter is saying her smile “looks like a performer, not that of a human.” Well of course it fucking does! You’re the shithead who’s desperate for girls on stage to bless you with artificial cheer and smiles!

At her next performance, the online comments are superimposed over the cheering crowd. That’s also how it goes – one hurtful comment tends to stand out over any degree of positive reinforcement. But of course, you can’t actually admit to that, or you’ll just be encouraging the hateful onlookers

“You’re the ones who wanted something calculated.” Yep. They want to be lied to without knowing they’re being lied to; they want an authentic fantasy of being adored for all the nothing they’ve offered and accomplished. Does it really surprise them that these smiles aren’t sincere, that they might just be painted over contempt?

And here’s our meme baby dance, just as delightfully strange in its original context

Ai’s performance is thus energized by something genuine: her authentic love of her children

“So this is what they want, huh?” Get ‘em, Ai

We jump ahead a year, to Ai’s first TV drama role

Aquamarine’s bizarrely confident manner of speaking immediately catches the director’s eye, prompting him to hand his business card to a two-year-old

“There are three types of actors. The first is the star actor. Their primary role is to attract an audience. Given they also act as poster children, they garner solid performance fees. Next is those with real talent. Their role is to ensure the quality of the product on screen. Maintaining the programming block’s brand is their job. Lastly, you’ve got newcomer actors. Acting ability isn’t really expected from them. They get a passing mark if they can bring a sense of freshness to the screen. There’s also the goal of giving the next stars some experience. I suppose it’s an investment the entire industry makes.”

What a refreshingly frank breakdown of the Japanese TV drama landscape. I knew the TV drama and low-level film industries were more or less fully integrated into the pop celebrity ecosystem, but I hadn’t seen the overall balance of productions laid out like this before. I’m most used to engaging with the “media mix” approach to content (for once, ‘content’ seems the more appropriate term than art) in terms of anime franchises crossing into gacha games, musical releases, and other mediums – but I suppose it makes perfect sense that the same system applies to live-action stars, who are attempting to sell their faces and personalities more than whatever project they happen to be appearing in

“It would be a great success if even one of the newcomers here today makes it into the industry.” Yeah, this whole approach seems to involve a lot of throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks

I suppose the closest American equivalent would be the reality TV circuit, or perhaps Disney’s method of growing their own stars from TV to film via the Disney Channel. We don’t really have a similar low-rent TV drama ecosystem with potential stars constantly passing through

Impressive trick of animated redraws as the camera “zooms in” on Ai during the screen test. This show is very good at always flexing its animation to ensure Ai’s moments on screen pop like they should

“Up on stage, I need to look cute from every angle. Here, I just need to look cute for one person – the camera.” It’s certainly refreshing to watch an anime drama about the idol industry that actually engages with the substance of working in that industry. I was worried the show would settle on the self-satisfied revelation that the industry has a dark side in the first place, but the show is fortunately moving beyond that to frankly grapple with the day-to-day concerns of life in showbiz

In the end, Ai’s screen time is cut to a small introduction in a single scene. Calling the director, Aquamarine learns that the lead actress’ agency demand Ai’s screen time be cut, as she was drawing too much focus from the actual star. “The screen time a performer receives tends to be dictated by the power balance between companies, so just see it as an unexpected misfortune and accept it.”

Talent are seen as interchangeable, every product is simply a promotional opportunity for the next product, and the on-screen end result is an afterthought. All of this makes it close to impossible to make genuinely compelling work within the celebrity culture ecosystem – the more collaborative an art form, and the more it requires the collaboration of a major culture industry’s scaffolding, the more it will be beholden to the collective needs of the industry over the vision of its creators

In anime, the only way you can really escape this is if you own the production yourself, or if one of the relevant “brands” is so key to the work’s pitch that they’re able to retain creative control – so like, either the KyoAni method or all-star directors like Watanabe and Yuasa

“It’s fine to dream about the entertainment industry, but it’s best not to have illusions about the entertainment industry.” Excellent advice, and a necessary counterbalance to how often success in such fields is framed as a matter of just keeping at it and nurturing your talent

“This isn’t a place for art, but rather one for business.” Yep. If you want to create something reflective of your untarnished personal vision, you’re better off avoiding the entertainment industry ecosystem

The director agrees to give Ai a film part, just so long as Aquamarine also appears. This director’s relationship with Aquamarine is a graceful way to integrate our protagonist into the industry as well

“Casting is mostly determined by the higher-ups. The bigger the budget for a project, the less it can afford to flop.” Which is why you only see challenging or experimental work on a smaller scale, or from a name that has already proven to be a reliable draw. But even successful indies have to mind their reputations; one flop can sink either a company or a creator’s reputation as a bankable commodity

The director admits he only has casting authority on this film because it’s a low-budget project in the first place. The less risk, the more freedom

“In the industry, we call this bartering.” If you’ve ever wondered why someone who’s clearly not the equal of their peers in terms of talent is appearing in a production, you can probably count on some kind of deal behind the scenes ensuring their presence

We meet another child actress with a role in the film: Kana Arima

“Everyone says the way I cry in dramas is amazing! Because it is amazing!” She seems fun

“Back when we did the script reading, you and that idol didn’t have parts at all!” So it seems the director really is fascinated by Aquamarine, and is thus making a serious bet on him

Aquamarine correctly intuits that the director hired him because his natural adult-like behavior is creepy, and thus doesn’t attempt to feign any sort of performance independent of his usual manner. I’m enjoying both Ai and Aquamarine’s “strategy of acting” embellishments, as they attempt to step beyond the theoretical immediate needs of the performance to gauge the desires of their actual audience

Kana puts those tears she’s so proud of to work in asking for a reshoot, determined not be outshined by Aqua

The director reveals that the most important thing for an actor is communication skills. If people don’t like you, they won’t want to work with you – networking is your most essential talent, and that demands awareness and humility. This isn’t just true for actors; basically all creative industries are driven by networks of personal connections, not necessarily because people only want to hire their friends, but because the guarantee of “this person is easy to work with” is a much stronger assurance of a productive work environment than any resume could be

“I was just being the way I always am.” “Even so, I never once instructed you to do that. Reading someone’s intentions is one part of communication skills.” Yep – the less a director has to specifically articulate their intent for a performance, the more swiftly and naturally the production will progress

“Precious is the actor who can read intent that can’t even be put into words.” This is part of why directors frequently establish stables of actors they consistently work with, people who understand and gel with their artistic intent

“Rather than amazing acting, become an actor who can act just as envisioned.” So an excellent character actor – able to completely embody unique roles, rather than offering their own personality every time

Three years have now passed since the rebirth

“The film the director shot was reasonably well received.” Also appreciate all these reasonably sized victories – breakout successes are one in a million, mostly you’re just hoping for enough positive press to secure funding for your next project

“To sum up Ai now, she’s a major up-and-coming idol/media personality.” And yeah, even a talent like Ai’s doesn’t experience “overnight success.” What seems sudden from an audience perspective is pretty much always the end result of years of unnoticed labor

They’re apparently practicing for a preschool dance, a perfect opportunity for our stars-to-be to show their talents

Ruby’s frail body from her previous life prompts her to flee from this opportunity. Nice use of progressive split screens here to emphasize the all-consuming nature of her prior frailty, the camera lingering over the limbs that she cannot will to work properly

Her old body language is limiting her new body – because she’s so accustomed to falling, she’s always bracing rather than leaning into movements

This sequence is nice, but feels quite abrupt; Ruby’s been pretty much entirely a gag character so far, so while her being inspired by Ai’s dance moves makes hypothetical sense, it doesn’t feel like we’ve earned this emotional payoff. Because of that, the luxurious animation feels a bit out of place as well – like the animators are flexing for a random incidental moment

“On a whim, I decided to contact the guy I’d broken up with.” Yeah, I can sense some clear chapter breaks within this mega-episode structure. Just goes to show how important using the natural break points of both these sequential art forms is for maintaining dramatic flow; if this sequence came after an episode break or even a mid-episode eyecatch, it would feel significantly less abrupt

Ai’s fortunes continue to improve, and the family soon move into a fancy high rise apartment

The president’s wife helpfully explains the distinct significance of a group getting to perform at a dome, as they present massive logistical hurdles that demand a significant degree of attendant infrastructure and trust in the artist’s pull. I suppose it makes sense that stadium performances are approached so differently from club shows that they’re essentially a different category of live performance

“Before even thinking, I say whatever fits the situation. Even I can’t distinguish my real feelings from the lies.” A life of constant self-promotion sorta demands that; you need to be “on” at all times, to the point where it comes naturally, and there’s no visible sign of strain indicating a feigned performance

“I have no memory of ever loving someone or being loved. I wouldn’t be able to love the fans, and they wouldn’t be able to love me either.” Ai thinks this disqualifies her from being an idol, but it’s exactly the opposite. Getting personally invested in your relationships with fans is the threat here, as it naturally leads to hanging too much of your self-worth on the whims of a fickle audience. In contrast, being able to convincingly fake intimacy and love without any genuine emotion behind it is precisely what this job requires – it’s the only way to maintain a healthy emotional distance, and the only way to maintain the one-dimensional façade of perpetual cheer and thankfulness that fans desire. True intimacy would involve vulnerability, would require revealing the uglier parts of yourself, and thus would break the spell that idols are intended to cast

“Pretty lies are what people want.” Growing up in a foster home actually seems like ideal training for Ai, as she presumably has already spent time “performing” a perfect image for prospective adopters

“If you continue say ‘I love you all,’ the lie might become the truth.” Though this of course failed to come about, prompting her to start a family as her next attempt at genuine love

She realizes how much she cares for her kids only when the stalker returns, intent on “punishing” her for having them

Remarkable panning cut as Aqua steps out into the hall, with both the shifting angle and backward pan of the frame undoubtedly necessitating a preposterous number of redraws. The animation doesn’t quite sit convincingly within the CG backdrop, but it’s still an impressive effort

“You lured us with your constant ‘I love you’ crap. It was all a lie from the start!” Believing performers “owe” you anything as fans, that you have some genuine personal connection that comes with a certain level of obligation to value your feelings, is a profoundly toxic mentality that can only lead to disappointment or abuse. And I feel like this sense of entitlement is only getting worse in our current era – fans constantly speak of how they are “owed” a certain level of fealty or accommodation, talk in terms of “betrayal” when artists don’t cater to their whims, and assume a level of presumed intimacy with their parasocial fascinations that only fosters entitlement, invasive behavior, and disappointment

This is in some ways the natural result of growing up with the internet; even the current generations’ actual personal bonds are frequently mediated via online performance, so it becomes easy to blur the line in both directions, seeing your personal bonds as performance and your fan enthusiasm as a personal bond. But it’s an exceedingly dangerous line to cross, and I feel we’re only beginning to see the consequences of raising a generation to see the artists they respond to as genuine extensions of their social group. The very idea that an artist is “betraying” fans by not providing what they want is fundamentally ridiculous and toxic, yet it’s essentially the bedrock belief of modern fandom

And he wasn’t even correct here! Ai actually did remember this fan from her early events, but there is no reasoning with this sense of ownership. He actually flees when she gets too real with him, as he’s unprepared for anything that doesn’t further validate his feelings of grievance and entitlement

“Aw, I’d like to see you with your school backpacks… and on parents’ day…” The specificity of Ai’s regrets really sells her feelings. It’s an odd truism of character writing that the more specifically you articulate a character’s feelings, the more human they seem, and thus the more universally their emotions translate

“If an idol gets a romantic partner, it’s hardly surprising if she’s murdered!? Huh!?” It’s a sick culture, Ruby

“You’re just taking out your anger about not having a girlfriend on women!” Remarkable to think how much of the otaku media sphere has to dance around and validate this sense of ownership

“So if you’re famous, people can say whatever they want about you?” You don’t even have to be actually famous, just considered “unfairly visible” relative to whoever decides to hate you

The muffled sound design and dulled color design, combined with the emphasis on this early winter snowstorm, are doing an excellent job of conveying the sense of listless, flavorless disconnection that accompanies overwhelming grief

Aqua begins to wonder precisely how Ai’s stalker got such accurate information. So will we be moving in a murder-mystery revenge direction now? To be honest, that sounds a lot less interesting than the drama so far, more procedural than character-driven

Ooh, some more terrific paint-evoking cuts of animation for Aqua’s vow of revenge. Apparently this cut’s by amoji, a very new animator whose only non-Oshi no Ko credit I can find is a brief cut in Megumi Ishitani’s new One Piece OP. Clearly a talent to keep an eye on!

The stinger offers one last intimate moment in Ai’s early life with her kids. Glad to have the episode end on that note – on their undeniable love, not revenge

And Done

Whew, that was quite a gauntlet of a premiere! Well, even though I still can’t relate to the “sparkling brilliance” of idols on stage, I also can’t say this episode went too easy on the industry – we really dug into not just the inherent insincerity of idol stardom, but more importantly the profoundly toxic mentalities that such parasocial forms of engagement often provoke. I also quite appreciated the sequences ruminating over how the sausage is made, with Aqua and the director’s discussions proving some of the most satisfying moments of the episode. Aqua and Ruby’s situation is so fanciful that I frankly don’t feel particularly compelled by them as characters – they’re more devices than people, so while I felt sympathy for Ai, I’m significantly less engaged by her children’s trials. Instead, it was this episode’s general exploration of shapeless, entitled fury and loneliness that felt most resonant; a prayer for connection that leads us either to shine on stage or fall in love with those who do, a deeply human instinct that nonetheless prompts frequently tragic results. Sharing your passion with the crowd has always been a fraught, uncertain prospect, but the modern binding of appreciation and ownership has created a truly frightening artistic world.

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