Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
At thirty-one, Chikage Deguchi feels like her life choices have lead her nowhere, and her feelings are only solidified after a disastrous middle school class reunion. Wishing she could just end this life and start over, she tries to commit suicide, but is stopped by former classmate Tokita, with whom she reconnected at the reunion. He tells her about an experimental new drug his pharmaceutical company has developed, which can regress a person's age by fifteen years, and in a bid to get her to reconsider suicide, he offers it to her. Now with the ability to transform into her younger self for hours a day, Chikage is presented with the chance to live her life over again. Will it be worth it? Or does adulthood hold some good things too?
Most of us can probably remember a time in adolescence when we made a choice at a metaphorical fork in the road. Do you regret yours? Chikage Deguchi does, and she has carried the memory of the boy she let get away in her heart, continuing to work hard but feeling ultimately unfulfilled by her life. She sees her middle school graduation, the last time she felt attractive to the opposite sex, as her fork in the road, and as she's gotten older she has become increasingly convinced that if she could go back, that's the point where she'd change things. She doesn't quite get that opportunity when she's offered an experimental drug to turn her body back fifteen years, but she does get the chance to become an idol with a boy who looks suspiciously like her first love in this magical story for grown-ups from shoujo mangaka extraordinaire Arina Tanemura's series for older readers, which feels sort of like an adult variation of Fancy Lala or the author's own Full Moon.
Fans of Tanemura know that she's never been one to shy away from dark or sad themes, and Idol Dreams' first volume is no exception. Heroine Chikage is clinically depressed, although largely unaware of it in any concrete form, and her transformation powers are given to her when her former classmate Tokita tries to save her from committing suicide. That it was a series of small events that pushed her over the edge – all involving social humiliation – indicates the level of emotional insecurity she harbors, as well as her certainty that she took the wrong road all those years ago. Chikage is unable to see that she is not the pariah and loser she feels she is, and unlike with younger magical girls who age up to become idols, she needs to age down in order to find the inner strength she is lacking. It's an interesting twist on the story, one geared towards an older audience that resonates in a very different way than a more traditional take on the tale, and even though Tanemura has (at her new editor's request) cleaned up her artwork and eliminated the goofier mascot aspects of her work, her skill with facial expressions and sweeping, beautiful lines keep this recognizably one of her magical girl works, which I would argue is her strongest genre.
The shifts needed to make this an adult magical girl (so really a magical woman) story are mostly within the heroine. Where younger magical girls have a mix of maturity and childish carefree attitude that typically draws the older hero to them, Chikage is fairly weak and insecure as an adult. Transformed into “Akari,” however, her thirty-one years of life are able to come to the fore as she mediates teenage disputes with a grace and maturity she doesn't know she's capable of in both forms. Interestingly, it is this maturity (and total oblivion to popular teen culture) that draws the younger romantic prospect to her, while her more childish side is what seems to attract the older one. Ultimately this is likely to boil down to a choice for Chikage, which may present itself as which suitor she chooses but will really be about her own happiness with herself. Right now she thinks that she needs love to be a complete person; her transformation may show her that she had everything but self-confidence all along.
While Idol Dreams is absolutely enjoyable for teenage readers, it is likely to have a different meaning and appeal for older fans who grew up with Tanemura's (and other) more traditional magical girls. It's rewarding to see an older character take up the magical mantle in a reworking of a popular plot, and in some aspects using the genre to take on insecurity and emotional problems is more universally relatable than the more typical josei or older shoujo that focuses strictly on romance and career. Getting older doesn't always mean growing up, and we all get to adulthood at different times and by our own methods. Idol Dreams certainly deals with romance and career fulfillment, but by using the idea that Chikage still longs for something magical, such as the pedestal pop culture puts the high school romance on, Tanemura allows us to envision a different, more metaphoric view of what it means to be grown up. It certainly does have its issues, such as the indication that getting the guy is the ultimate standard of femininity (as put forth by the other adult women, which is interesting in its own right), or the vaguely unsettling notion that if Chikage pursues love as Akari she's kind of emotionally preying on the fifteen-year-old Hibiki, but on the whole this is Arina Tanemura at her best. If you're a fan of her earlier works, a magical girl buff, or just looking to see a genre reworked for a different age group, Idol Dreams is worth picking up...and will probably be worth sticking around for.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B+
+ Interesting take on the magical girl genre, often relatable in terms of thinking (anxiously) about the past. Sets up a story that could have good emotional heft.
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