If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 7 of
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die ?
This episode of OshiBudo has a lot going on for me to discuss, so I've got to put up-front the bit that most amused me, personally: About five minutes in, the main plot of this installment just goes on pause, stopped cold, so we can engage a couple of minutes of side-silliness starring everyone's bratty little sister, A-ya. It's a quick, ridiculous number about her chewing out her fans for her lack of popularity, desperately trying to change her image, then changing back immediately after getting thoroughly owned over it. It's a hilarious exercising of the energy that makes A-ya such an indispensable side-character in this series (she's obviously climbed way up in my personal ChamJam ranking) and speaks to the broader appreciation OshiBudo can cultivate for its wider cast. These couple minutes are another instance of the show clearly having fun with itself, a talent I think it's effectively cultivated.
That sensation permeates the rest of this week's episode, making for an entry that was pleasant to follow even as it was digging a bit deeper into analysis and criticisms of its central industry dynamics than it has before. A-ya antics aside, the actual story deals with wrapping up the popularity-ranking plotline, with Eripiyo's leg healing just in time for her to make one final push. Hairy as I found the subject when this was the focus several episodes ago, it worked better for me this time around thanks to some key differentiations in framing. For one we're acutely aware by now that Maina doesn't actually wish for Eripiyo to push herself so hard or devote all her income to buying her merch. Characteristic difficulty the idol has in articulating that point, it still leaves me unable to view her as the direct source of Eripiyo's troubles, as opposed to the consumerist culture of the industry itself. As well, for all Eripiyo's ridiculous overwork gags and pratfalls she goes through here, she's not shown as actually being pushed to a dangerous brink or seriously injured this time. It makes it a lot easier to go along with the slapstick antics inherent in what happens to her.
That turns out to be important because, among all the silliness, OshiBudo uses this as an opportunity to dive in and revisit one of its themes that spoke so strongly to me when it first started. Eripiyo remarks that working so hard for Maina's sake made the labor sincerely fun for her, that idea of selfless motivation driving fans to push their faves. At this stage in the story, it only makes me burn more with the question of exactly why Maina fandom is all Eripiyo has in her life. Yes it could be as simple as her being a fundamentally hopeless nerd, something the series hints at in the existence of all its ‘fan’ cast members. But with Eripiyo spotlighted as she is there's always the possibility of something more. The romance angle is definitely one to contemplate, since absent any confession from Maina about her true feelings for Eripiyo, our floundering fangirl's selfless self-flagellation comes off like her seeking motivation in place of a genuine emotional connection she doesn't yet have. Many of us turn to fandom to fill that kind of personable void, and the most major irony of OshiBudo's story seems to be that such an element is just inches away in Eripiyo's life, if that connection could just be made.
That issue is tempered by the unique social format of the idol/fan relationship, which also gets interrogated more than usual in this episode. Maina's still working her way up to relating to Eripiyo any iota of her feelings for her (she actually communicates the most for the first time using Kumasa as a go-between! The girls should keep up with that, well-adjusted and capable of communicating as he's proven to be), and this week directly recognizing some structural issues getting in her way: As an idol she can't ‘properly’ seek Eripiyo out and interact with her apart from events where the latter comes to see her. This lends her desire for her singular fan to visit a double-whammy effect, in that she's seeking that base validation as a performer, and as a method to interact with someone she loves. It presents a paradox that her character might have to overcome if this will-they/won't-they plot ever stops being dragged out, in that her wanting to see Eripiyo on her own terms without the implication of merch-buying could inform Maina quitting being an idol altogether, except that losing that role could potentially push her out of the ‘best girl’ status that Eripiyo's existence revolves around promoting. It's fascinating just as a possibility on the horizon for a story that might otherwise be pigeonholed into a fantasy of your favorite performer secretly being in love with you.
Questioning that commodification is mirrored, such as it is, in Motoi's role this week. There's enough thematic injection from him this go-around that I have to talk about it, infuriating though it is since he continues to be The Worst. What we see of the guy now is him actually reveling in Sorane's lessening popularity (based on a misunderstanding he himself caused and is secretly aware of) on account of it letting him feel more possessive of her. Aware of it or not, he's struggling with the same misplaced outlet for affection that Eripiyo is, except in his case his target is being further leveraged into that singular position against her wishes. Sorane is in love with Reo, seeing Motoi as little more than encouraging motivation as a fan, yet the idol setup that binds Maina from expressing her affection for Eripiyo also forces Sorane to give the time of day to this guy who's possessiveness of her motivates her struggles in said industry and feeds into his own unhealthy complexes. The system hurts everyone!
Thankfully, everyone in the show keeps dunking on Motoi, and alongside that, Eripiyo actually indicates her growing awareness of the issues in this idol/fan power dynamic. A late-episode point has her buying clothes as a gift for Maina at Motoi's suggestion that doing so prompts your chosen idol to wear them. However, she realizes on the eve of the show the inherent issues in engaging in an act like that specifically desiring something in return. Eripiyo's selflessness has always been a key factor separating her fannish antics from those of someone like Motoi, and as Maina has become aware of the limitations of the industry's impositions, so too does Eripiyo slowly seem to be coming around on how manipulations swirl in this setup she's found herself working within. Eripiyo even follows along that line to recognize that Maina's isolation in the idol system leaves her lacking her own outlet to open up to, something we the audience have seen the girl indeed struggling with for weeks now. It's absolutely tantalizing as a viewer to see the characters so close to a breakthrough in the thematics of this series, which would serve to inform and articulate on the points it's successfully made this episode.
Like I said, that's a lot to take in and break down in this episode of OshiBudo, and it worked because I was questioning its tone a lot less this week. It knows how to make things funny without feeling too harsh in its treatment of Eripiyo's self-imposed struggles or Maina's systemic ones. It's successfully funny where it needs to be, and with this fan-vote plot finally wrapping up, feels like it's made some points towards plot-progress, glacially as I'm already accustomed to this series going by. Really my only hang-up this time is with the Motoi stuff, and even he seems on the verge of learning his lesson by the end. This arc in particular has had me ping-ponging hard between my feelings on OshiBudo, but I'm satisfied with what it delivered here. And hey, this storyline also made me aware of how great A-ya is!
If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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