The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made It To The Budokan, I Would Die
How would you rate episode 1 of
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die ?
What is this?
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die is available streaming on Funimation every Thursday.
How was the first episode?
I'm of two minds regarding Budokan, largely because it's a very internally earnest production that nonetheless articulates some inherently tragic social trends. Basically serving as the pop idol fandom version of Genshiken, this episode offers light comedy, plenty of slice of life lounging, and even a light dash of potential romance. At the same time, it seems to more or less unconsciously articulate the inherently broken nature of modern parasocial relationships.
Idol fandom is essentially a one-way friendship; a publicly promoted idol becomes a figure of personal emotional significance to you, but all of your interactions are mediated by commerce, and your favorite idol is not a real person, but an actor performing a role. “Relationships” with idols can never be equal, and can often be damaging on both sides - both to the fans, who are substituting genuine human engagement for a simulacrum of intimacy, and to the performers, who are often forced to endure a sense of “ownership” fostered by their imagined closeness to their friends. And this frequently unhealthy, at times predatory dynamic isn't limited to traditional idoldom; youtube celebrities and other parasocial online relationships work in much the same way, blurring the lines between artist and audience in a way that isn't necessarily healthy for either.
While watching this premiere, I couldn't help but have all that larger social context bouncing around in my head, as the episode giddily reflected on the “special” (ie unhealthy) relationships shared by idols and their most loyal fans. I kept hoping the show might actually acknowledge the very real distance between fan heroine Eripiyo and her favorite idol Maina, but instead it consistently blurred that distance, implying Eripiyo's worship really had won over Maina's heart. As a goofy romantic comedy centered on a bunch of nerds and their favorite idols, that framing makes total sense. But by placing that conventional romantic comedy format in the context of a relationship that cannot help but be inherently unbalanced, while maintaining all the tonal cues of an easy-breezy romance with no baggage whatsoever, Budokan created a sense of tonal disconnect for me that made it hard to actually enjoy this episode.
That said, Budokan's cast are charming enough, and this episode was brimming with beautiful background art that really captured the scorching brutality of waiting for an event in the sun. Budokan's seeming obliviousness to the charged nature of its own premise made it difficult for me to connect with it, but if you don't think that'll bother you, Budokan offers a lighthearted premiere with fun echoes of Genshiken, strong art design, and a hint of romantic tension.
The crux of the matter is that this episode really creeped me out.
I realize that this sounds like me starting a conversation in the middle, but that really is what my rating on this episode boils down to. I can absolutely see where it might be either a commentary on obsessive fan culture or on the relationships between idols and their superfans, and really, either of those approaches would work very well within the framework that this opening episode sets up; in fact, they could even work well together, especially since Eripiyo appears to be Maina's only (major) fan and may be inhibiting her from gaining others. But the episode itself doesn't try to work within any sort of larger narrative, and in fact almost undercuts both of these potential routes by having Eripiyo feel like Maina is creeped out by her only to we the audience witness what sounds awfully like the prelude to Maina confessing feelings for her fan at the tail end of things. That's not without precedent in romance, but “girl falls for obsessive stalker” really isn't my preferred flavor.
It's a shame, because there are some positives here that could be developed. The fact that Eripiyo appears to be Cham Jam's lone female fan (or at least, lone obsessive fan) says volumes about the culture surrounding young female idols, or could, and on the same note, that Eripiyo isn't shown as any better or worse than the more stereotypical male fans just because she's a woman is also a plus. Her behavior isn't excused by her gender and she's still fully capable of being creepy – and to at least a small degree, she's aware of that fact. She frets a bit that she looks too invested in Maina or that she's preventing her from having more fans, and towards the end of the episode she also realizes that she may stink after having waited all day in the sun for her chance at a photo op, ruining her chance to get close to her idol because she doesn't want to gross her out. And even without Eripiyo, it's fairly clear that Maina's the outlier of Cham Jam even according to the group's producer; the fact that she gets actual salmon and salmon roe as her signature “flower” certainly doesn't look like the move of someone promoting a future top idol. Plenty of things in nature are so-called salmon pink – she's just being passed over for her more outgoing bandmates. That, too, could be explored, and help eliminate the creep factor.
Unfortunately, that doesn't look like where this episode, at least, is interested in investing its energy. All the cute character designs and peppy songs aren't enough to make the slavering hordes – or the fact that these teenage girls have to cater to them – palatable to me. Maybe those are the realities of the industry. But I'd rather read the Perfect Blue novels to see them.
The pop idol stan has long been a staple character in idol series of all types, but series which specifically focus on the stans, rather than the idols, have been few and far between. This new entry seems determined to address one question: does a stan of a girl group being female make that individual any less creepy? Based on the first episode, the conclusion seems to be that the character of the fan rather than the gender is the more important factor.
A good chunk of the episode focuses on the activities of the most obsessive side of fandom. A lot of those parts are stuff we've commonly seen before: the handshake and photo op gimmicks, cheering at concerts with light sticks, fierce debates over who is Best Girl, suffering while waiting in line for a coveted priority position, and so forth. This is often played for humor, with one of the funniest moments being the struggles that the fans undergo to endure sitting in line, but none of that is mean-spirited. It's also the least interesting aspect of the episode despite the humor. Things get a little more interesting when both the writing and characters get more analytical about their situation and the suggestions are made that for some – especially protagonist Eripiyo – the fandom may be an escape from a boring work environment.
The episode gets most interesting when Eripiyo starts analyzing her own fandom. She's pretty much fallen for Maina, the shyest and least popular of the main members of the girl group, but after two years of obsession with Maina she's finally starting to realize that maybe the intensity of her support is burdensome for the girl, and Maina certainly isn't giving her any signals to the contrary. Hence by the end of the episode she's starting to distance herself a bit – even physically in the case of the photo op. The big twist at the end of the episode is that she may be reading Maina all wrong; it's not Eripiyo that Maina is uncomfortable with, but her own feelings.
This is, basically, the standard otaku dream scenario, where an idol comes to cherish the devotion of a fan enough that she may fall for that fan. However, I don't think I have ever seen that done before with a yuri subtext. I am actually somewhat interested to see how far that aspect might be developed, as Eripiyo does not seem to consciously classify her devotion as romantic. I'm also a little interested to see what direction the series goes now that this possibility has been opened up. Hence I'm giving it a middle grade for now think there could be more potential here.
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