You should read (or watch) Oshi no Ko [推しの子]


This picture is a lie. The smile, the wink, the star in her eye, the candy colors suggesting sweet innocence and youthful energy. They are all lies. The girl in this picture is Ai Hoshino and she is an idol. In the Japanese entertainment industry "idols" are essentially pop stars, usually part of a themed group. They are called idols because these young women's job is to be idolized. 

Idol fans are demanding and unforgiving. They crave an object of worship, an embodiment of innocence, cuteness, and dare I To fans, idols are both more and less than human. In exchange for their adoration, idol fans demand a perfect lie. It is career suicide for an idol to have a public, romantic relationship. The illusion of purity would be forever shattered. If your idol belongs to someone else then she cannot ever belong to you. Heaven forbid an idol have a child, let alone two children, out of wedlock, at the age of 16. 

This is the predicament that Ai Hoshino finds herself in. Oshi no Ko begins as the story of a beautiful liar who hopes that if she says "I love you" enough, maybe one day she'll be able to mean it. While that alone would be a tantalizing enough premise for most stories, Oshi no Ko dreams bigger. It rapidly becomes so much more. Taking aim at the entire Japanese entertainment industry, Oshi no Ko examines the ugly machinery behind the beautiful lies sold to us in manga, anime, tv, film, music and even stage plays. All while telling a character drama so enthralling that I literally could not put it down. 

I read all of Oshi no Ko that is currently available (119 chapters, ~12 volumes) in 2 marathon sessions, and then I started watching the anime. To put this in perspective there are some things you should know about me. I co-host That Time I Got Reincarnated in the Same World As an Anime Podcaster, our quasi-spinoff Heroine Addiction, and I co-host and run another podcast called Words About Books. I mention this both as a plug, and to point out that I read a lot (several books per month, sometimes per week), and I almost always make "content" based on what I read. Hell, I'm doing that right now.

Once you've consumed enough media it becomes difficult to get sucked into a story. That is, unless you're Isekai-sensei-sama, who has remarked on more than one occasion that he's grateful for his ability to enjoy things (as opposed Kermit and Myself). This is one of the reasons critics tend to rate popular films lower than audiences. Most movie goers do not watch 300 films per year and so, what has become mundane to the critic is a treat to the audience. It's also why critics tend to value "artsy" films more highly than audiences. Originality is a welcome change for the critic. Whether I like it or not, I've fallen into the critic camp over the years. It is exceedingly rare that I encounter something that I find genuinely exciting.

I'm not saying Oshi no Ko is entirely original. It's not even close to the first anime to explore the exploitive nature of the idol industry. It just combines an honesty that is unusual for Japanese stories with humor and high drama that could border on cheesy at times. The writing can be overly blunt. But in a society where simply stating your opinion directly is considered rude, I find simple and to-the-point to be transgressive. I worry, though, that my excitement is a critic's excitement. A "this isn't teenagers fighting demons with magic powers!" that general audiences won't relate to. Ordinarily I would write about some plot points or story elements that struck me as particularly brilliant and I would make the case for why. I'm not going to do that this time, though.

Typically, I don't care much one way or the other about spoilers. I'll warn people when I'm about to spoil something out of respect for their wish not to be spoiled, but I don't think most stories are original enough for spoilers to matter. For example, the protagonist in your favorite shonen anime is going to grit his teeth while blood drips over his closed eye. He will then dig deep, perhaps while saying something about limits and how he doesn't acknowledge them. He will then unlock a new, visually interesting, power and win the fight. I do not consider it to be show-spoiling if you happened to know that the name of that power was Super Saiyan, Hi no Kami Kagura, Sage Mode, Gear 2, or whatever else beforehand. 

I find myself anxious about giving any spoilers for Oshi no Ko, even with a warning. Like I said, Oshi no Ko is not the first anime/manga to explore the dark side of the idol industry. Some of it is predictable, but I was caught off guard at times. There are twists in turns that left me saying "no!" out loud. I care more about these characters than I care about most manga characters. I both want them to succeed, and want them to live happily ever after and, at times, it's impossible to see how those two things could coincide.  

Along with my heartfelt endorsement of this series, I will offer only one slight spoiler. You should read at least to the end of the prologue before you make your final decision on whether to continue or not. You will know when you have reached the end of the prologue. It is best to go in knowing nothing else.

I know that this story won't be to everyone's taste. There are objective criticisms to be made, but I hope you're able to enjoy it the way I have. But hey, even if you don't, I'll still love you. 


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