Oshi no Ko is a Dark Look at the Entertainment Industryby Reuben Baron,
In an introduction video before the American premiere of the first 90-minute episode of Oshi no Ko at Anime Boston, members of the creative team discussed their reactions to first reading the manga. They describe the series as “shocking” and “controversial,” something they wanted to look away from but couldn't. Based on the movie-length pilot/prologue, these descriptions are accurate — and that's probably as much as you should probably know about it before watching it when it streams on April 12 on HIDIVE.
Oshi no Ko is a lot. It would be easy to split this long premiere into four separate episodes (certain perspective changes and time skips make logical breakpoints), but there's logic to releasing all this story simultaneously. A strange mix of otaku wish-fulfillment tropes and their exact opposite in the form of Perfect Blue-style horror and social commentary, some viewers will almost certainly reject it as just too much, but by the end of these 90 minutes, any skepticism is decimated by surprising emotional involvement and the desire to know where the hell this story will go.
The first big challenge with Oshi no Ko is the protagonist Goro Amemiya, a gynecologist who is creepily obsessed with the 16-year-old idol Ai Hoshino. The show knows his obsession is creepy; one of his co-workers flat-out asks if he's a lolicon. Goro, for his part, maintains his fandom is chaste and inspired by the memory of Sarina Tendouji, a terminally ill 12-year-old Ai fangirl who was his patient before she died — a story that makes him more sympathetic in theory but the telling of it doesn't exactly make him sound less weird.
Plot twists pile up when Ai enters Goro's hospital and reveals she's secretly pregnant with twins. The day she goes into labor, Goro is murdered and reincarnated as her baby boy Aquamarine. Despite being a baby, he maintains past life memories and fully developed language skills — as does his twin sister Ruby, who soon becomes apparent is Sarina's reincarnation. Both kids' feelings about their idol mom are overwhelmingly Freudian, and viewers' mileage will undoubtedly vary on how this section of the pilot balances being funny and disturbing.
Yet amidst what seems like the strangest fetish anime of the season is also some pointed commentary on the entertainment industry. Goro's opening narration of the episode starts off as a “This is a work of fiction” disclaimer before discussing how all idol performance is fiction and being a fan is to enjoy being skillfully lied to. When Aqua and Ruby get a little bit older, they attempt to help Ai get into acting. Aqua himself was also discovered as an uncanny child actor, allowing for further commentary on how the industry chooses which talent to promote. I can already tell Aqua's hyper-talented yet envious young co-star, Kana Arima, will be one of this show's standout comedic characters.
Aqua and Ruby steadily help their mother's star rise for most of the episode — until the man who murdered Goro shows up at their apartment and murders Ai! This obsessive fan found out that his idol secretly had children, and rather than respecting her illusory stage persona as Goro/Aqua did, he takes this as a personal betrayal. Beyond just holding shock value, Ai's death is heartbreaking, a credit to the strength of the character writing.
By the end of the episode, the murderer has been found and pronounced dead, but justice has not truly been served. Aqua realizes the killer couldn't have done this alone. Someone had to be feeding him information for him to follow her every move so effectively. Now a teenager, Aqua has become dedicated to finding the accomplice and getting revenge for the murders of his mother and his past life. It's a great hook for the series, and if what comes next is as twisted and clever as this prologue was, it will be hard to look away.
Update (04/09): Anime Boston 2023 Sponsorship disclaimer added.
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