How Accurate Is 【Oshi No Ko】 About the Japanese Entertainment Industry? An Interview With Aka Akasakaby Kim Morrissy,
It's not hard to understand why the 【Oshi No Ko】 anime and manga series has been a huge hit. The story is full of fascinating insights about the Japanese entertainment industry, all wrapped up in a thrilling suspense plot. The manga is the work of two highly acclaimed manga creators: Aka Akasaka (Kaguya-sama: Love is War) and Mengo Yokoyari (Scum's Wish). In our exclusive interview with Akasaka, he reveals how industry realities inspired 【Oshi No Ko】 and other fascinating insights into the manga's creation.
What inspired the original idea of “reincarnated as your favorite idol's child”?
Aka Akasaka: During my debate with my assistant about ways to create manga, we were discussing ways to create a story based on “strong desire.” At that time, one of the assistants and I talked about wanting to be reincarnated as an idol's child. That is a famous joke in Japan, often tweeted as a set piece when news of an idol's marriage breaks. I wrote the idea down in my book of story ideas. A while later, I started to hear more and more grumbles and complaints about the entertainment industry through the live-action version of Kaguya-sama and new streamer friends of mine. I thought this was the right time to create a story about the entertainment industry, and I realized that I could utilize the idea I had back then.
How much of the story's overall plot did you have in mind when you started drawing the first chapter?
Aka Akasaka: For me, the plots of the first act and the final act were a set. Then I pondered what kind of events I wanted to add in between. I had the impression that Japanese entertainment manga in Japan often used dramas, movies, plays, variety shows, etc. as themes. Today, however, the entertainment industry has changed dramatically. Talents [entertainers who frequently appear on TV in Japan] can no longer ignore the internet, YouTube has become super popular, movies are watched with subtitles, plays are increasingly based on anime and manga, and there has been an instance of a suicide stemming from a reality show. Considering all those facts, I then decided to take a contemporary subject, something that is happening in the real world of Japanese entertainment today. That was the first concept.
Given that the manga's early chapters move through time very quickly, what kind of things did you keep in mind when drawing Ai and the children?
Aka Akasaka: The main part of this series starts from Volume 2 in the original work and Episode 2 in the anime. Since the magazine in which the manga is serialized is targeted toward adult readers, I indicate that it is an adult story at key places in the story.
How did you both come to know each other and what led to working together on this manga?
Aka Akasaka: I originally appreciated Mengo-sensei's talent. A mutual friend gave us the opportunity to meet up when I told them about it. So I knew Mengo-sensei's skills and talent. When I came up with the concept for 【Oshi No Ko】, there was a story about the entertainment industry in one of Mengo-sensei's works. So I read it and immediately decided to contact Mengo-sensei.
To what extent do you (Aka Akasaka and Mengo Yokoyari) exchange ideas when developing the manga's plot?
Aka Akasaka: Mengo-sensei has made a hit with Scum's Wish, which isn't based on an existing story or a separate writer's script. She is capable of writing interesting manga without me. When I am stuck on a story, I often consult with Mengo-sensei. I go out to dinner with the editor and Mengo-sensei. We call these “prep meetings,” but we mainly just shoot the breeze. Basically, think of it as me having the flow of the story in my mind, and whenever I get stuck, I consult with someone.
How does working on 【Oshi No Ko】 compare to your previous manga?
Aka Akasaka: Fundamentally, I believe myself to be a writer in the vein of 【Oshi No Ko】. The comedy style in Kaguya-sama is just a particular formula that originated from the editorial department's request. So, for me, that series is something made from that particular formula. However, I have also included Kaguya-sama-style comedy in the 【Oshi No Ko】 series to make it easier to read.
What is your process for designing new characters? Were there ever any disagreements on how a character should look?
Aka Akasaka: For the main characters, I draw a rough sketch and send it to a lady in charge of storyboards. However, at times Mengo-sensei draws an entire character even without me providing the finer details in writing. Sometimes, the process is more interactive, like I became fond of the character and increase the frequency with which they appear. I like that style of character creation. If there is a problem with the character design, we discuss it and change it. However, it was only once that we actually made a change. That was when I modeled a character off a real person, and the design looked too much like the person in question. 【Oshi No Ko】 uses pieces of real-life stories in its plots, but it is not a documentary, and it definitely does not intend to attack real people. I adapt events that could happen with the trends and rules of the current entertainment industry in the storylines. This work is fiction.
What kind of research did you do on the entertainment industries depicted in this manga?
Aka Akasaka: The lines of coverage of research for 【Oshi No Ko】 are very extensive. We go around hearing real stories and personal estimations from top talents, underground idols, people who work at TV stations, real producers, managers, editors of gossip magazines, YouTubers, scriptwriters, and many others. What is revealed in this process is a great deal about power balance and logic, and there are quite a few instances of dissatisfaction, like “A is taking B lightly, B is taking C lightly, and C is taking A lightly,” that are chalked up to specific circumstances and rules. Sometimes, I think that if they work with this understanding, the talents and the people around them can work without stress. I have heard that the entertainment industry in the U.S. and Japan are completely different. In the Japanese entertainment industry today, there is no union for talent and writers, there are no guarantees, auditions are disregarded in casting, opportunities are given based on the balance of power between companies, and basically, you can't go against the office manager…those sorts of things. And they continue to happen. If you, American readers, can enjoy reading 【Oshi No Ko】 with the knowledge of this unique Japanese situation, you may deepen your understanding of this story.
What inspired you to portray the idol world in such a dark and dramatic way for a fictional work?
Aka Akasaka: There was an instance of a cast member being attacked by a fan who saw a picture of the first news of a movie release. When that happened, the person came across as very tough, but after we became friends, they confessed that they were badly hurt emotionally. When I found that out, I realized that talents hide their true colors for the sake of their works and for their fans who are supporting them. With the spread of the internet, we live in a society where fans' voices are heard directly. I want people to know how young talents are being hurt, exploited, and suffering. I think that this work also asks the question of how people should deal with and treat those talents. I guess it is correct to say that when I wrote about reality, it naturally became darker.
Even though the wordplay is slightly different in the manga's English version, overseas fans are also in the habit of calling Kana “Baking Soda”-chan. What do you think of this joke transcending national borders?
Aka Akasaka: I never imagined that the term "baking soda-chan" would become so widespread, even at the time of the release of the Japanese version. I am very curious about how people in the U.S. understood the joke using Japanese words, jūbyо̄ (ten seconds) and jūsо̄ (baking soda).
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