Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Perfect Blue: Awaken from a Dream
In this collection of three short stories, idols face their obsessive fans. Yukiko is stalked by a strange man in a half-ruined rabbit mascot suit, Yuma is almost killed by a man who believes they're in a relationship, and Ai and her obsessive fan somehow switch bodies in a nightmare scenario.
Less a sequel to the first Perfect Blue novel, Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis and more a series of short stories on the same basic theme, Yoshikazu Takeuchi's Perfect Blue: Awaken from a Dream is a continued exploration of the tortured relationship between young female idol singers and their deranged fans. Written both before and after the full-length novel, the stories are a mixed bag in terms of the skill with which Takeuchi uses his theme, and there's a definite sense of repetition across the three pieces in the collection.
Of the three, the middle piece in the book, “Cry Your Tears,” written directly before the full-length Perfect Blue novel, is the strongest. The story follows Yuma, a young idol operating under the “pure” idea of femininity. She's become famous for her song “Lariat of Love,” which required her to learn to do a cowboy rope trick with her microphone for her performances. She's got her share of obsessed fans, but trouble doesn't really kick in until a new sponsorship requires her to switch to a Lolita style. Yuma's loudly uncomfortable with the change in her look, and she's vocally creeped out by the wealthy store owner who mandated it for her new advertising campaign. She's secretly dating a male idol, Yukio, and there's a strong sense that she's not entirely pleased with the life she's currently living. Although she mostly accepts the necessities of being an idol, like handshake events, she's drained by it, and the fact that she's been abruptly forced to change her image isn't sitting well with her.
As it turns out, that's a valid concern. She has one fan in particular who is suffering from the delusion that the two of them are in a relationship, and he feels personally betrayed by the shift in Yuma's look. As his anger grows, he decides to kill Yuma in order to both “preserve” and punish her for the perceived betrayal. His actions escalate, but despite Yuma's fears, no one seems able to do anything to protect her. In both this story and the final one, “Even When I Embrace You,” the onus of saving the idol falls on the idol herself, and while it is satisfying in both cases, as it casts the girls as less helpless than some of Takeuchi's other heroines, Yuma's has a much more resonant effect. It brings things full circle in a way that Yukiko's self-rescue in her story does not, ultimately making it feel like the stronger of the two stories.
Yukiko's tale, “Even When I Embrace You,” is also much more supernatural in nature, as is the title piece, making Yuma's stand out as the only pure horror work in the volume. Like Yuma, Yukiko is somewhat uncomfortable with her status as an idol, and she has a difficult time convincing her handlers that she's in any real danger from a deranged fan. The nice difference here is that Yukiko does has some emotional support in the form of her manager Yoriko, who even before she fully believes Yukiko about the rabbit-suited stalker, is willing to do something to protect her charge's mental and physical well-being. That sort of unwavering support is unusual in these stories, possibly because of the horror genre, but this story does prove that it can still be used well, and it ultimately gives Yukiko the strength to pull through.
In his afterword, Takeuchi says that he feels that the entire presentation of idol singers has an element of stalking built in, and that's why he's so fascinated with it. Even though these stories were written before the rise of social media, he's definitely on to something with this idea. In Yuma's story, her stalker has a detailed record of all of her days, gleaned from a combination of news sources and fanzines, which still allows him to track her with impunity – something her agency is counting on. Idols are built up to appeal to fans, to allow for fan clubs to follow their every move and to feel a sort of ownership of the singer. In fact, in Yukiko's tale her fan club's inner circle is recruited to help protect her, and the member whose thoughts we are privy to confirms the pride and possessive love he feels for his idol. That this can give rise to the sort of murderous fans who plague the heroines of the stories seems largely ignored by the people in charge of the idols, which is disturbing to say the least; in almost all cases, no one listens to her until it is too late.
As might be expected, there are disturbing sexual elements to all of the stories, from the fan who transforms into idol Ai in the first story fondling her body to orgasm to the descriptions of rancid bodily odors when stalkers whip out their penises or lick the objects of their affection. The second two stories also feature violence, with Yuma's being the most explicit overall. While it isn't anything beyond the scope of most other horror novels, if you prefer your stories to stick to physical violence and eschew the sexual, this may not be the book for you.
Perfect Blue: Awaken from a Dream isn't as tightly written as the first of Takeuchi's works released by Seven Seas, but it does present an all-too-plausible look at the way encouraging fans to feel ownership of idols can backfire. While more contemporary works like A.V. Geiger's YA novel Follow Me Back may explore this in an age of social media, Takeuchi's stories still feel relevant, and encourage us to wonder if anything has changed as fans have greater access to the lives of those they worship.
Overall : B
Story : B
+ Strong second story, interesting exploration of the darker side of fandom
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