Oshi no Ko delivered one of the best and most impactful opening episodes in years (though admittedly its extra-long length gave it an unfair advantage!), but because of the way it ended, episode 2 was the one which would really set the pace for its long-term direction. Seeing the latter convinced me that this series, more so even than personal favorite The Ancient Magus’ Bride, is deserving of weekly commentary, so expect me to be back every week for episode reviews.
One of the main reasons that the series continues to make a strong impression following a 10-year time skip is because it sticks true to one of its advertising points: that it will focus on the darker side of the idol industry. Indeed, maybe not since Key the Metal Idol in the mid-’90s has a series painted such a bleak picture of that scene. Ai literally lost her life to the darkest side of the industry (i.e., obsessive fans) while on the brink of conquering it; she was going to be the rare star to stand at the top while still (secretly) being a mother, after all. Even 10 years later, Aqua has not forgotten that one bit, which is why he’s determined to protect Ruby – who has a very real potential to break out as an idol herself – from the industry’s more exploitive side, even if that means crushing Ruby’s dreams. The end of the episode sees a compromise struck on this point, but as he and Ruby head for a performing arts-focused middle school, he seems certain to always be keeping watch over her.
The darker aspect shows up in other ways as well. Aqua’s investigation of an “underground” idol group that’s trying to scout Ruby digs up some ugly dirt, and Aqua and his adoptive mother (the wife of Ai’s manager, who now runs the business) aren’t exactly clean themselves for the underhanded way they get the current member of that group to talk and then judge her quickly over the fact that she talked. While there might be some vaguely villainous types in some idol series, this is not the kind of thing you would normally find in any normal idol show. (Of course, whether this could even properly be called an idol show is itself a matter for debate.) And of course, the passage of time has not swayed Goro/Aqua one bit from his quest to discover who his father was and kill him for (presumably) siccing that fan on his mother.
Significantly, the episode also gives some time to Ruby’s point of view. She knows that her brother has some plan that he won’t discuss with her, and seems to intuitively understand that her brother is, to some degree, looking out for her, but the passage of time has left her more inclined to try to reach out for her mother by following in her footsteps rather than drowning in a revenge scheme. The writing here expertly shows how her previous life as Sarina is influencing her in a couple of ways: becoming an idol is the ultimate expression of her ability to act in ways that she wasn’t able to do in her previous life, and a way to draw closer to a star who was both everything to her in the fading days of her previous life and her mother in the new one. She’s almost compelled to seek out becoming an idol despite the efforts of those around her to dissuade her. Hopefully, the series will continue to give at least some time to her viewpoints, because the stark contrast between how she see things and how Aqua sees things provides a richer narrative thread for the story.
There are a couple of other factors to consider here, too. On the plus side, Kana Arima – the child actor Aqua played beside in the movie in episode 1 – is back in middle school form. On the more mixed side, the lighter content sometimes seen in the first episode is also still around and sometimes effective, though the bits about the director’s mother interrupting at inconvenient times quickly outwore their welcome.
The music also deserves some mention here. Opening theme “Idol” by superduo YOASOBI, with an initial rap beat that flows into an up-tempo, electronica-fueled dance number, is a major winner on both musical and visual production fronts, but it packs much more impact if you actually understand the lyrics. (See here for an English translation.) Closer “Mephisto” comes from Japanese rock band Queen Bee, and its lyrics (see here for an English translation) also have some interesting parallels to the series’ themes and content.
As a final thought, Ai’s full name in Japanese order – Hoshino Ai – translates as “Star Love. Rather doubt that’s a coincidence, given her eyes.
Really looking forward to seeing how the rest of the series plays out, given how strong a start it’s off to.
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