It’s late, and I just finished the epic, nearly 90-minute premiere of Oshi no Ko, and I’m convinced it’s probably one of the best works of anime I’ve ever watched. I laughed, I cried, I was lifted up and then utterly destroyed. My thoughts are similarly scattered, so let’s begin with the basics of the events of this feature-length episode.
Rural OB-GYN Dr. Amemiya Gorou is a huge fan of Hoshino Ai, transcendent center of the idol group B Komachi. He first heard about her through Sarina-chan, a terminal patient from earlier in his career. Sarina once wished she could be reborn as the child of an idol. So who should show up at his hospital but the 16-year-old Hoshino Ai herself—pregnant with twins, no less.
Despite her manager/guardian Saitou’s worries about it ruining her career (and his business), Ai is determined to carry her children to term and raise them while remaining an idol. As her physician (and biggest fan), Gorou is resolved to ensure he brings them into the world safe and healthy.
But the day she’s to give birth, Gorou is lured into the woods by Ai’s stalker and pushed off a cliff. He hears his phone ringing, calling him back to the hospital, but he dies in a pool of his own blood, having been dashed against the rock.
The next thing he knows, he’s reborn as Hoshino’s son, Aquamarine, beside his twin sister, Ruby. In order to keep her idol reputation pristine, Saitou crafts the cover story of the babes being his, and appoints his wife Miyako their mother, both in public and while Ai is working.
While just an infant, Aqua has retained his knowledge and memories of his previous life as an adult doctor. He soon learns that Ruby has as well, and concludes that she had a previous life as well. When the strain of caring for the kids gets to Miyako, she prepares to expose Ai’s secret to the world.
This is when Aqua and Ruby reveal to Miyako that they can talk and reason like much older humans, but play it as deities possessing their infant bodies. They warn Miyako not to stray from her “destiny” as their pretend mother and protecting Ai’s secret, lest she suffer “divine punishment”.
The ploy works, and henceforth Miyako isn’t weirded out by their ability to converse. The way Ruby acts and talks about Ai reminds him of Sarina, and he even uses that name to rouse her from sleep. Ruby, who actually is Sarina, dismisses it as mishearing, since there’s no way Aqua could know who she was.
As an idol suddenly going through teen motherhood, Ai notices the lightness of her monthly checks from idol work, but such is the nature of the modest agency for which she works. We get some salient details about the industry and how the profit margins are slim. Ai has to work hard just to get the $1500 a month she gets.
That includes little private shows for fans who won a lottery. Aqua and Ruby persuade Miyako to tempt fate and bring them along so they can watch their mother perform live for the first time. Ai is down in the dumps about seeing criticism online about her professional/fake smile, which is indeed a carefully calculated artifice.
That said, when Ai spots her kids in the crowd doing a coordinated idol dance with lightbars (they couldn’t help themselves), it puts a genuine smile on her face that gets her even more noticed, leading to more work. The kids also go viral online.
A year passes, and Ai has obtained an acting gig on a school drama. In the studio, the director immediately recognizes that the precocious Aqua has something and is eager to use him in a future production. He also acknowledges that despite being a sink-or-swim newcomer on set, Ai is talented and knows how to perform in front of the camera.
Alas, the realities of cold, hard business rear their ugly heads when Ai’s show airs and she’s barely in it. Aqua calls the director to complain, but his hands were tied; the higher-ups caught flak from their lead star’s people because Ai was making more of an impact. They couldn’t have that, and they’re the bigger fish in the pond, so Ai was almost entirely edited out.
That said, the director agrees to have Ai star in a small-budget film he’s writing/producing/directing … provided Aqua agree to be in it too. Aqua is paired up with one Arima Kana, a famous child actor who is not resurrected (as far as we know). She’s also a real piece of work, immediately getting on Aqua and Ruby’s nerves.
That said, it doesn’t take much shooting for Aqua to learn that Kana has tremendous acting chops for her age. It’s just that when he then says his lines, not bothering to try to compete in acting ability but simply interpreting the director’s vision, he not only wows the director and Kana, but sends Kana into a self-conscious spiral.
The film is a critical success, and it propels Ai to even greater stardom (and more work). When Aqua and Ruby are three, Ai enrolls them at preschool, where Aqua shocks the faculty by reading extremely thick, small-print literature. The kids are also tasked with putting on a dance performance for their parents.
This is where Ruby gets depressed. In her past life as Sarina, she lived most of her short life in hospitals, her frail body rarely did what she wanted, and she suffered falls and bitter frustration even as she dreamed of moving like Hoshino Ai. Even in her new, healthy body, Ruby fears she’s not coordinated enough to dance.
Ai has Ruby join her in her studio to practice dance moves, and tells her that if she’s afraid of falling she’s just going to keep falling. By standing up straight and having confidence in herself, Ruby is able to dance beautifully right beside her mom. Even Aqua notes that Ruby excels at both acting and dancing, still unaware that she was once the Sarina-chan he knew.
As Ai’s star continues to rise, she overhears her kids talking about their dad, and decides to call him to arrange to meet them, not wanting them to be in the dark about him forever. She also moves into a fancy new digs in downtown Tokyo, and celebrates with her kids, her manager, and Miyako.
As they all watch her popular TV drama, we get some internal monologue from Ai this time. She suffers impostor syndrome, because she feels she has no idea what capital-L Love really is. Her kind of “love” has always been an artfully-constructed tapestry of lies, ever since she was abandoned by her mother and put in a home.
But when she was first scouted by Saitou (and had no interest in being an idol), he told her it was okay to lie. Even if she considered herself a people-hating lier, he believed she still truly wanted to learn how to love, and so singing and dancing, pretending to love her fans and being loved by them, could help her with that.
After so many years of performing, it’s become nearly impossible for her to distinguish her lies from the truth of how she feels. So at this point, she hasn’t once told Aqua and Ruby that she loves them, because she’s terrified that it might sound like another lie. It’s a heartbreaking prospect.
Ai finally achieves the holy grail of idoldom: getting a dome show. But on the day of the show the doorbell rings, she answers the door, and the stalker is there. We had been shown the stalker still obsessing with her even after he’d killed Gorou, so in a way we I had been prepared for the other shoe to dorp, especially when Ai brought up someday possibly “paying for” all the lies she’d told throughout career.
But even though I knew the good times would not go on forever, there was simply no way to not be absolutely devastated by the sharp cut to the stalker plunging a knife in Ai’s chest, or the sheer amount of blood from her ruptured abdominal aorta, or that she’d forgive her stalker and attacker and even remember his name from handshake events (even though she’s terrible with names).
Or, of course, how she ended up saying goodbye to her children—Aqua in her blood-soaked arms and Ruby separated on the other side of the frosted glass foyer door. She’s finally able to tell them she loves them, and it’s the truth. I kept waiting for the paramedics to come and possibly save her life, but Aqua having been a doctor, I followed his lead in thinking she wouldn’t make it … goddamn it.
I was still blotting my eyes with Kleenex when the aftermath of Ai’s murder was described by Aqua. The culprit, thoroughly chastened and shamed by Ai’s heartfelt appeal to him even after he stabbed her, attempted suicide and died in the hospital. A huge outpouring of grief followed, but eventually dissipated, and within three short days, Ai’s tragic story had been buried in the news cycle by a sudden bout of unseasonable snow.
Naturally, Aqua and Ruby are absolutely ruined by the loss of the woman who wasn’t just their beloved mother, but their beloved idol. Ai’s manager and his wife Miyako adopt them, and the scandal of her having kids never comes to light. Ruby seems determined to fulfill the potential her mother believed she had to become an idol in her own right, despite knowing full well what a treacherous road she’ll walk by doing so.
As for Aqua, he determines that the stalker couldn’t have been a good enough detective to not only find his hospital and kill him, but also find Ai’s new home and kill her. Going down the list of people who could have possibly fed him this information, he determines the most logical culprit to be his and Ruby’s father, whose identity remains a mystery.
In the back of that funeral limo, just as Ruby resolves to become an idol, Aqua resolves to find and kill their father.
Fast forward about a decade or so, and Aqua and Ruby are now in high (or possibly middle) school. Her dream to become an idol is still alive, as is his determination to find their father. Ruby cheerfully tells their mom (in a photo of the three of them) that they’re heading off. In a post-credits home movie she recorded, Ai tells them her greatest wish is that they grow up happy and healthy. They both seem healthy. As for the rest … we’ll have to see.
This may have just been an extended prologue, but could easily have served as a wholly complete, joy-evoking, core-shaking, utterly heartbreaking feature film. Takahashi Rie gives the best voice acting performance of her career. It also had the look and feel of a high-budget anime film, setting a lofty standard I’m hoping Doga Kobo can maintain in the episodes to come.
My only worry, aside from the aforementioned fear of production quality dropping, is that the void left by Hoshino Ai will prove too large to fill, or the “revenge play” that follows won’t be able to match the emotional resonance. But for now, suffice it to say this is easily the anime of the season, the year, and possibly the decade, and absolute appointment viewing. That’s no lie.
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