If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die ?
It was bound to happen eventually, and in fact OshiBudo's whole premise has been flirting with it since the beginning: The anime finally reaches a point in this episode where its worship of the consumer culture inherent in idol fandom just isn't nuanced or examinatorial enough. It's right there in the nomenclature, as a huge chunk of this episode sets out to idolize the relationship between idols and their wota fans in a way that borders on unhealthy. Similarly, the technical pressure and limit-pushing that idols endure simply in acting in their roles is on display, but brushed aside as more silly antics in line with the tone the show's been going with since it started. I'd said that OshiBudo had successfully threaded its odd thematic needle before, but this one, for me anyway, was the first place it genuinely misfired.
The overarching plot holding this episode's halves together regards voting for a popularity contest between the members of ChamJam. Eripiyo and Kumasa's inherent quests to put their Best Girls over is naturally one focus, but the show also uses this opportunity to visit the idols themselves again and examine how they feel about all this business. Perhaps expectedly, they're all gently competitive about it at most. OshiBudo's idealization of the idol role means it can't opt for more cutthroat behind-the-scenes manipulations you might expect these women to stake their careers on. To be sure, we do get to see several of them consider their motivations for becoming more popular and ponder strategies for doing so, but it's presented in a fairly lite, cute way. Most of the issues that befall the members of ChamJam in the first phase of the campaign, a sports festival, are presented as pure slapstick, a tonal choice that permeates much of what happens to people in this episode. It extends as far as several light-hearted jokes about Reo breaking both her legs in last year's version of the event, which makes for comical absurdity in the moment, but then reels you back as you consider that wrecking their bodies for performances is something actual idols actually have to do.
That aforementioned absurdity is a frustrating element of this episode. We're enough episodes deep with these characters that we can enjoy their comical antics, but the show's focus on depicting both the idols and joking about their fans means it's simply too close to the ground to get away with only that kind of fanciful dismissal of the lengths all these people go to. I'm not saying I need the show to go all Perfect Blue in its depiction of the entertainment industry, but in-between the clever analysis of the metagame of popularity contests, OshiBudo could also aim its satirical elements at questioning a performer breaking her legs for the audience's amusement.
Issues like this are aggravated by the sincere elements the story does get right. It's overly-idealized, sure, but the thread connecting Reo and Maina believing in their #1 fans is articulated well, making clever directorial use of muted dialogue and not waiting too long to reveal it to us. And it's a neat thematic idea to see that the now super-popular Reo was once in Maina's shoes, demonstrating how, at least in this version of the idol industry, a connection and support from one's fans is a sincere aspect of achieving one's dreams. It's perhaps telling that the unhealthily-romantically fixated Motoi is left out of the sports festival proceedings in the first half. That guy contributes so little to the overall theming of this episode that I'm becoming increasingly convinced the show doesn't even need him.
The side-eye-able issues in that first half pale in comparison to the problems inherent in the second half of this episode. First of all, I'll alot myself one pedantic question on this show's plot and call out the seeming impossibility that Maina genuinely has zero fans besides Eripiyo (and Rena now, I guess). It's another one of those absurd gags the show revels in, and in this case it's presented as an obstacle to be surmounted for Eripiyo to go to bat for her fave in that vote-off. And the methodology feels...unpleasant. Eripiyo starts up multiple additional jobs in addition to her bread-flipping gig, working round the clock to make enough money to buy CDs with tickets to vote. It's definitely supposed to be another expression of the selfless love for Maina I discussed Eripiyo having last week, but in this case the express consequences of her efforts are far more concerning than anything she's dealt with before. There are plenty of jokes to be had about otaku being broke from buying so much merch, sure, but do we really need to expand that to glamorization of working yourself to the bone simply to participate in a fandom?
There are several bits in this section that the show definitely thinks are funny or charming, but knowing that this isn't far off from some people's actual behavior just moved it into the ‘concerning’ column for me. It's excessive to see Eripiyo measure all the money she makes from her grueling hours entirely in the number of CDs she can buy; It's a tacit admission of the consumerist core of idol culture, presented in a silly way that ends up tracking as simply cynical as a result. OshiBudo seems to want to appeal to audience members this deep in real-life idol fandom that can relate to this excess, but viewing it as a more casual outsider, it comes off as just really dark. It's distracting, as Kumasa and Reo have a part demonstrated in this episode's points, his somewhat healthier level of fan-support and simple belief in her success showing that even if you have little beyond your fandom, you don't need to destroy yourself over it. But Eripiyo, ostensibly the ‘hero’ of this story, is shown as walking a much more dangerous road, one where she puts her health in jeopardy and is injured (breaking her leg as a coda to this episode's attempt at a running gag), with her only reward being the success of someone who, despite her secret feelings, has barely acknowledged her and is indeed discouraged from doing do by the industry. That's not selflessness, that's self-destruction, and glamorizing that even through jokes can make OshiBudo hard to watch whenever it intersects with any reality you're familiar with.
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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