The wildest anime of the year is built on entertainment horror stories

“What would it be like to be the child of someone famous?” asks an obstetrician not long before he is pushed off a cliff and reincarnated as his own patient’s child: his favorite idol, Ai Hoshino, pregnant with twins. Another fan of Ai also dies at about the same time and is reborn as the other child. Welcome to Oshi no Koan adaptation of a manga series by Aka Akasaka (known for the hysterically funny Kaguya-sama: Love is war) and artist Mengo Yokoyari.

For the twins, now named Ruby and Aquamarine (abbreviated to Aqua), the reincarnation angle is as if the fantasy about different celebs being “mom” came true quite literally. The result is surreally funny and even sweet as the two sink more into their new lives and become fully convinced by their own performances of the roles they now play as their idol’s children. But then Ai also dies, killed by a stalker. Aqua vows revenge and theorizes that the real culprit is in the entertainment industry.

Oshi no Ko uses the premise of reincarnation for both the wild dramatic potential of the revenge plotline, but also as a way for a few fans to see behind the curtain, with different perspectives and impossible hindsight. Aqua and Ruby are reborn with the social connections they never had before, and with the (ghostly) intelligence to maneuver this world from a young age, especially so we can quickly get into the real meat of the show: production logistics. Unpacking those details allows us to see both the joy of the craft and the amount of hard work and passion that goes into invisible elements. But there is also the other side: the emotional punishment of it.

For all his sensational bits, Oshi no Ko isn’t always a story you only watch or read because of the twists or huge revelations – for a while, those are actually quite few and far between. Instead, it remains focused on the detailed minutiae of the business and artistic decisions that drive the entertainment industry (and how different industries and media overlap), and the work that goes into cultivating fame. It takes into account audience reactions and how creating a public image reverberates in the lives of the characters.

Part of it is euphoric. For all its focus on the numbers game of entertainment, the show is also interested in the joy that can come from the combination of partying and self-expression. Ai’s star quality is symbolized quite literally by the colorful constellations that appear in her eyes. When her mother teaches Ruby to dance, the show takes on a compelling fantastic direction and vibrant colors, unlocking new methods of expression.

After the lengthy pilot episode, the show’s first season is split into arcs about different sectors of entertainment – not just the different types of performances and personas, but exploring how these things are staged.

That means getting into the detailed details of the company, breaking down where production costs come from and where they go, different camera setups and the technical details of performance. The show also looks at what can make a show terrible, such as the technical difficulties faced by an adaptation of a popular shojo manga. In another arc about adapting manga to live theater, a veteran author talks with an anguished expression about how awful and exhausting it is to work on a weekly series. Entertainment, in all areas, can burn you out.

Perhaps the most cutting material presented in the anime to date comes from the series image of a reality television set called a dating series LoveNow. Oshi no Ko acknowledges the layers of performance involved in this as well, and how they work with the producers to create storylines, though this time the people involved are playing a version of themselves.

An extension of this is that the people themselves become commodities – which also means that they are a commodity that everyone owns, and they must continue to function, continue to carry the image they have cultivated, or they will be punished. In some cases, this means young women, like Ai, maintain impeccable appearance by hiding their children from the public eye, any deviation from that leading to backlash.

The difference between Aqua performing in front of the cameras on a reality show versus his real life, chasing his mother’s killer
Image: Doga Kobo/Sentai Filmworks

A close-up of Aqua's eye, which is blue with the star twinkling out of it, while the rest of the image is grayscale

Image: Doga Kobo/Sentai Filmworks

Unlike the show’s racy, cute characters and bright colors, this is the reality of the business. Just as Aqua and Ruby’s past lives spill over into their present, so is the relationship between personal lives and fame Oshi no Ko is similarly porous – a later arc in the manga almost feels akin to the thematic content of Noin which mass entertainment is made by dredging up and marketing childhood traumas.

That thinner line between the actors and the roles they play is already there in one of the Oshi no Ko‘s more disturbing storylines, especially around LoveNow. Aqua joins the show’s cast, playing the role of a brooding teenage heartthrob as a favor to the producer, who promises a starring role over Ai. Much of the cast is comfortable with what is being asked of them in terms of playing a dramatized version of themselves, all of whom know how to craft their own story lest the producers or the tabloid press do it for them. them.

Akane, a theater prodigy, is less adept at creating that story, falling into one when she accidentally scratches another cast member’s face in what is then framed as a villainous moment, with the producers fanning the flames through their editing. The series often argues that the best entertainment is, in fact, a good lie, and the LoveNow incident stems from fandom possessiveness and the inability to separate what is constructed from what is real. Like it Perfectly blueit also emerges from how viewers and audiences have changed in modern times, and this is where the show’s interest in the often possessive parasocial relationships between performer and audience takes a more gruesome turn.

Akane in a dark room lit only by her phone screen while looking sad in a still of Oshi No Ko

Image: Doga Kobo/Sentai Filmworks

It’s here where the heat of the spotlight feels hardest, as the backlash from the audience is overwhelming and terrifying, showing the reaction from Akane’s perspective as she scrolls through insults and death threats on Twitter. The simultaneous feeling of being totally isolated and completely exposed is translated by the framing of Akane’s darkened bedroom, with the screen acting as the only source of light. Oshi no Ko treats this story with seriousness and justifiable anger, about the right of the public and media systems that thrive on endangering vulnerable people.

Akane’s case, following Ai’s murder, is illustrative Oshi no Ko‘s portrayals of the dark side of the entertainment industry. It often relates to various ramifications of skewed power dynamics and institutional misogyny, from the more mundane cases of age discrimination in auditions and casting to more specific cases of harassment, such as Akane’s. But not without balance. Akane’s Story, even with its known similarities to a real-life case, hopefully ends and, with the help of her cast, charts a path for her back to the show. The season itself brings out that hope, engulfing Ruby, Kana, and Mem-Cho’s idol performance onstage with hypnotic, emphatic spectacle. Some of the animation looks almost exactly like Ai’s performance from the first episode, serving as a reminder of why she, and later her daughter, could still join such a treacherous industry.

Even as it expands into other misery, the moral and artistic compromises that arise in the fault lines between creativity and business, Oshi no Ko is not a cynical show. Through its light-hearted and heartfelt moments, and through its often sparkling presentation, it sees the allure of performance, the liberation and joy in creating art, and the people like Aqua, Kana, Akane, Ruby and others who create these performances, just as good when it sees the practicalities of putting on a show.

But for all its love of entertainment, there’s also incredibly sharp anger at how easily it can fall into corporate-level exploitation and even horror. It recognizes that the fame the characters pursue is a poisoned chalice, a symptom of wanting to perform and express themselves rather than a benefit – the show’s poignant detail portrays both a love of craftsmanship and a complicated, restrictive set of rules that govern the artists should pursue. are enclosed. They trade privacy and autonomy for their fame, with each character going through their own kind of rebirth to suit the reincarnated twins while shedding a part of themselves so they can better function as entertainment. The show sees both the ecstasy of stardom and the uncertainty of it, one of the show’s best dramas comes from its depiction of this tightrope walk – the thrill of flying high and the danger of falling.