Anime Review: Oshi No Ko

If you have followed the anime industry in Japan, and with it have paid attention to Japanese voice actors and the pop singers who do the opening and closing songs of the shows you like, you may have come to the realization that the Japanese music industry kinda sucks, and maltreats people (something that was also previously covered in Key The Metal Idol and Perfect Blue). This past season we got Oshi No Ko, an adaptation of a manga from the writer of Kaguya-Sama: Love is War and also the artist of Flowers of Evil, which gives its own take on this, which I think gives a different spin on some of those beats.

There will be spoilers below the cut. There is some real benefit of going into the show – at least the first episode – completely unspoiled, but if you’d rather not, that’s perfectly okay.

Oshi No Ko is what I’d describe as a black-comedy mystery thriller. It follows the two fraternal twin children of pop idol Ai Hoshino. One, the girl – Ruby – is the reincarnation of a cancer patient who was a big fan of her, and the boy – Aquamarine (or Aqua for short) – is the reincarnation of an OB/GYN who was introduced to Hoshino by said cancer patient… and who was murdered in advance of delivering these two fans by a deranged fan. The first episode, which is 90 minutes long, goes up to the birth of the children, the death of the doctor, then their reincarnation and ultimately going through several years of life while the two learn of the world Hoshino works in, one which forbids her from acknowledging them as being her children, and which has somewhat stripped Ai of the confidence to decide if she knows what love actually feels like.

Ruby & Aqua from Oshi No Ko
From Left, Ruby & Aqua.

All of this comes crashing down just over half a decade later, when that deranged fan re-enters Ai’s life, breaks into her apartment, and stabs her to death before killing himself in custody. Both Ruby and Aqua are heartbroken, but Aqua – who the same guy murdered – suspects that this killing was planned. While Ruby follows in her mother’s footsteps as an idol, while keeping her parentage a secret. Aqua sets out to find the person he thinks orchestrated these murders, their father which will take him into the Japanese acting world.

The show is wonderfully animated and paced, and does a really solid job of giving a sense of real pathos. Ruby and Aqua are mentored both by peers, like child actress Kana Arima mentoring both on the acting business and on her own failed music career before Ruby tries to get Kana to join her revived music group, and other wunderkind child actress Akane Kurokawa helping Aqua improve as an actor (and also potentially building a psych profile of Ai which could help him find the man who had her killed).

Akane in particular meets Aqua on the set of a reality TV dating show, where an incident on the set unleashes a wave of online bullying which nearly drives her to suicide – a plotline which I think is handled fairly well. The arc did get some criticism for its similarity to the circumstances behind the suicide of wrestler Hana Kimura – particularly with the fact that it ends with Aqua saving Akane’s life, something the real-life Hana didn’t get. However, I don’t think the way the plot is handled lessens the depiction of online bullying and how it can hurt people – just because the character in the story was stopped from taking their own life doesn’t downplay that the character was nearly driven to suicide.

The series also does a pretty good job of balancing the comedy with that as well. It has the sharp banter that you’d expect from the creator of Kaguya-Sama, but balanced with an almost bone-dry slapstick, with plenty of time in between the comedy and the drama to prevent whiplash and let both breathe. This is good, because there’s a fair amount of ground between the drama and suspense portions of the story, so the comedy has to cover the heavy lifting between the two – when there isn’t exposition on the industry to pick up the slack.

Oshi No Ko is available for streaming on Hidive.

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