The Spring 2023 Anime Preview Guide
Oshi no Ko
How would you rate episode 1 of
Oshi no Ko ?
Community score: 4.7
What is this?
Gorou is an OB-GYN at a remote rural hospital. Four years ago during his residency he became a fan of idol Ai Hoshino when a young, terminally ill patient shared his enthusiasm, so it's hard to hide his shock when sixteen-year-old Ai shows up, twenty weeks pregnant with twins. Gorou's efforts are for naught when an obsessive fan of Ai's kills him, but his story isn't over yet: he's reborn as one of Ai's twins, and his sister may also be someone he once knew!
Oshi no Ko is based on Aka Akasaka and Mengo Yokoyari's manga and streams on HIDIVE on Wednesdays.
How was the first episode?
This first episode gets a perfect score from me—and it's the only anime of the season to get one. However, before we get into why this is, I think it's important to mention there should be a big asterisk next to that. It's rather unfair to compare any other anime premiere this season to Oshi no Ko. Aside from Demon Slayer, every other one I've covered had a mere 22 minutes to set up their characters, plot, and setting. Oshi no Ko has nearly four times that. But more than that, this first episode is basically a self-contained film—so much so that it's been playing in Japanese movie theaters since March 17 (and still is, even today). We're basically comparing apples to oranges here.
Of course, runtime alone doesn't automatically imply quality; what's important is how you use it. And when it comes to Oshi no Ko, not a moment is wasted. We spend sizable chunks of time not only in the head of our protagonist, Aqua, but also in the minds of Ruby and Ai as well. By the end of the episode, we are well acquainted with these characters—are able to understand their hopes and fears, their joy, and their pain. We empathize with them and want them to succeed not only in life but as a family as well.
Along the way, we get several fun adventures—from the reincarnated pair convincing the person saddled with them while Ai is working that they are good to watch their mother's first guest role on a TV show. The episode also gives a fair bit of insight into the real Japanese entertainment industry—showing a few of the hard realities and clashing forces that go on behind the scenes.
But where the show does its best work is in the area of tone. While a lot of the episode centers around the silliness that is Aqua and Ruby's new life—you know, them being adults in baby bodies—we're constantly being reminded of the fact that the world is not a nice place. Highlighting the darker aspects of how the music and TV industries actually work—not to mention the running theme of lies and their necessity—isn't there to undercut the comedy but rather to prepare us for the third act twist that sets up what the entire anime will be about going forward.
When it comes down to it, this episode is about two things: making us care about our heroes and showing just how dangerous and cutthroat the world they're entering truly is. To say it succeeds in both would be an understatement. With this episode alone, Oshi no Ko is already hands-down the must-watch new anime of the season.
Show business is a lie. It's one that people want to be told, of course, but a lie just the same. More Perfect Blue than Love Live!, Oshi no Ko's first episode seeks to both expose the lie for what it is and to lean into it. Ai is fully aware that she's merely putting on a show for her fans and that she doesn't actually love any of them. Aqua and Ruby, her twins whose second lives this is, have more difficulties distinguishing between the “real” Ai and the “idol” Ai, with Aqua, who was much older when he was murdered than Ruby was when she died, showing much more of a grip on reality. But the dangers always come from the people who can't bear to believe it's all a show, and that's where this episode is at its strongest: you can act and you can lie, but there'll always be someone who doesn't understand.
One of my favorite craft writers (as in, writes about how to write), Nancy Lamb, says that authors must always be cognizant of their promise to the reader. What is the writer promising the story will be about? Can they, and do they, stand by that? Attempts to obfuscate plot twists can sometimes wind up feeling like a betrayal of the audience, which is how I felt about Oshi no Ko when I read the first volume of the manga. Being prepared for the anime version makes me much more forgiving overall. In part, that's because the anime smooths out a few of the manga's rough edges to adapt a single volume and most of its contents into a film-length first episode. It's a decision that makes sense, as you'll see at the end, but it's a risk nonetheless. Overall, I feel that the show does a good job.
It's at its strongest at the very end, although plenty of excellent moments are sprinkled throughout, such as the babies at the concert or the reaction of Aqua's snooty little co-star when he out-acts her. But the denouement is remarkable for its use of silence rather than sound. Sound can be very effective, but we're used to it being used to manipulate our emotions in key scenes. Eliminating it makes the critical moment and what follows after hit much harder. It also mimics how some of us process trauma – a moment of frozen stillness, with sounds fading away as you seek to distance yourself from what's happening. Whether or not you knew it was coming, it's hard to argue that it was very well handled.
Whether or not Oshi no Ko speaks to you may come down to how you feel about idols, at least in this first episode. It has a lot to say on the subject, and if the genres switch going forward, it still stands to be an underlying theme. Sometimes we want to be lied to – but maybe, this episode suggests, that's not always a wish that should be fulfilled.
Looking at it from the outside, I imagine plenty of folks were confounded, even frustrated by the amount of press spilled over this show for the months leading up to it. I'll admit, there's a side of me that will see something that is simultaneously hyped to hell and obfuscating about its premise, and just want people to stop playing coy and spill the beans. After all, if the only thing worthwhile about the show is a twist it can't survive spoiling, could it really be that good? Does this deserve a feature-length first episode? I'm happy to report that Oshi no Ko justifies the runtime, the mystery, and all the hype.
Admittedly, that claim seems dubious during the first third of the premiere. Both the original premise (an idol-loving OBGYN tasked with helping his favorite idol through a teen pregnancy) and the surprise twist promise (said doctor being killed and reincarnated as said idol's baby) sound positively unbearable. That, however, is kind of the point. The first act pulls you in with a tawdry, shocking premise that almost feels like a car crash in slow motion before skillfully twisting all that sensationalism into something emotionally powerful and unique. It happens gradually, so much so that it takes a while to re-calibrate and realize that what started off a step removed from fetish fuel has organically turned into an engrossing, thought-provoking drama.
It's a 90-minute magic trick where, every time you start to get a read on what kind of show this is, something shifts your attention, and suddenly you're watching a totally different story. First, it's a bizarre, frankly uncomfortable comedy about fully-cognizant babies navigating the Freudian nightmare of being infants to their past lives' favorite celebrity. Then it shifts into a shockingly frank exploration of the entertainment industry – acknowledging not just the professional politics of being an entertainer but the philosophical nature of “lying” for fame and affection. Just as you're getting comfortable with that, it punches you in the gut with genuinely heartwarming bits of character writing borne from that earlier bit with the babies. Finally, it rips the rug out from under your feet with one final twist, finally revealing to the audience what kind of show they're watching and priming you for whatever comes next.
It's wild, insanely ambitious, and pulled off with some incredible artistry. Despite what you'd expect, there are relatively few on-screen performances, but the ones we see look fantastic, perfectly capturing the stunning charisma all the characters see in Ai. The designs – especially Ai and her kids' eyes – are adapted wonderfully, capturing the charm of Mengo Yokoyari's originals while polishing them perfectly for animation. Despite shifting genres no less than four times, there's a strong sense of visual identity across every segment of the premiere, capturing whichever tone it needs to with ease and shifting between comedic, dramatic, or just straight-up bizarre atmospheres without missing a beat.
Oshi no Ko is something that, quite honestly, sounds terrible on paper. If you just read a plot synopsis or summary of this episode covering the manga's first volume, you'll be left baffled about how any of this could be anything besides a trainwreck. Yet seeing it in action, provided you have the time to watch a whole movie instead of a TV episode, can sweep you up until you're cheering or bawling at the screen. As the show itself might say, that's the magic of a truly lovely lie.
This is yet another instance where I have to try really hard to separate what the first episode of a series manages to accomplish from what I think the series as a whole is going to be because it's clear from the start of Oshi no Ko is that this beginning is not necessarily indicative of the way the rest of the story will play out. Its gargantuan running time of nearly ninety minutes is largely an effort by Doga Kobo to preserve the narrative's twists and turns to establish what its central premise will eventually become, which is an approach I can respect, at least on paper. However, the execution of that narrative left a lot to be desired. The funniest part about it is that I don't even think the series needed to go to such lengths to preserve the impact of the premiere's last few minutes.
Now, I'm not going to spoil what happens at the very end of the episode, given how much people tend to hate such spoilers here on the internet, though to be honest, I knew what was coming from the get-go, and I think that it's the only thing that got me through to the end of this unwieldy beast. Otherwise, you instead are stuck with the preceding 80-minutes that revolve around the first twist of the episode, which is impossible not to spoil: After the idol-obsessed doctor Goro Amemiya is mysteriously murdered, he finds himself reincarnated as one of the two twins of his all-time favorite teen pop-idol, Ai Hoshino, who he just so happened to be coincidentally working for as a gynecologist. Now living his life as “Aquamarine Hoshino,” our hero discovers that his new sister is also a reincarnated idol obsessive with ties to his former life, which leads to all sorts of Look Who's Talking-esque shenanigans as the two adults-trapped-in-baby-bodies navigate their new lives as the children of their beloved Ai.
Here's my biggest problem with this premiere: Despite being structured as one gigantic episode, nothing about it felt like anyone behind the scenes considered whether or not the story being told should be given the runtime of a feature film. Once the good doctor finds himself in his new body, the whole episode becomes an essentially linear chronicle of his and his sister's second chance at childhood, with plenty of attention paid to the details of Ai's idol career, the managerial side of her pop stardom, and how other entertainment industries intersect with the music business. The “reborn as a baby with the mind of an otaku adult” shtick is mostly played for the usual jokes about diaper soiling, breastfeeding, and creeping out all nearby adults by being precociously smart. These gags aren't all that funny and do not help endear us to either of the protagonists (it will never not be creepy to have these characters reason out the ethics of sucking on their mother's tits while pretending to be dumb little babies). Ai herself is fine as a character—her ditziness is charming. I can appreciate the story's attempts to explore her emotional motivations for wanting to be a mother at such a young age—but she's not given that much space to become a compelling character on her own.
In short, much of the story comes before the climactic revelation of the episode was never more than perfectly functional, and it was often simply boring. This might have been tolerable if the episode were edited down to even half its runtime, but this premiere is an hour and twenty-two minutes long, and I only began to get interested in what Oshi no Ko is trying to do in its final five. That is a problem, no matter how you shake it. Could Oshi no Ko become a legitimately compelling mystery/drama? Sure, I could see that happening. Aquamarine gets some compelling motivations in those final moments, and Ruby's character gets the most interesting characterization throughout (though there is no guarantee that Oshi no Ko will do anything with that promising material). This first episode only made me less interested in discovering whether that proves to be the case, though, which means that it failed to do its job as a premiere, which is a real shame.
Disclosure: Kadokawa World Entertainment (KWE), a wholly owned subsidiary of Kadokawa Corporation, is the majority owner of Anime News Network, LLC. One or more of the companies mentioned in this article are part of the Kadokawa Group of Companies.
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