Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis
Mima Kirigoe has been in the idol business for a few years and her producer thinks its time for her to grow out of her innocent image. Although she's concerned about taking on a racier status, Mima is willing to try, especially since she's facing stiff rivalry from Eri Ochiai, an up-and-coming idol. But not all of Mima's fans are on board with her transformation, and one, calling himself “Darling Rose,” is determined that Mima will remain pure and innocent forever…no matter what the cost.
Perfect Blue is best known as the film by the late, great Satoshi Kon, but years before that it was a horror novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Written in 1991, Takeuchi's novel is now available in English for the first time, courtesy of Seven Seas. It's effective and chilling, and at the same time very much not the story that Kon fans remember from the film, although it's easy to see how Kon used Takeuchi's original to build his own, similar story. It is perhaps best to look at the film and the novel as two completely separate beasts, because Takeuchi's book doesn't deal with questions of trustworthy versus untrustworthy perceptions of reality. It does, however, ask important questions about the commodification of female “purity” and just what it means to be both an idol and a fan, raising concerns that feel just as valid in 2018 as they were in 1991.
The story follows Mima Kirigoe, a young woman who has had a moderately successful solo idol career for about three years. Mima's never had a number one hit, but she's got decent name recognition and a solid, if small, fanbase. Now that she's a bit older, her manager is starting to think about ways to make her image match her growing maturity, especially since a new self-proclaimed rival has appeared: Eri Ochiai. Eri, who claims to be sixteen but clearly isn't, outwardly simply thinks that she and Mima share a fanbase, but the truth of the matter is that she thinks that Mima's so-called pure image is annoying. While she doesn't overtly say it, there's a strong implication that she finds Mima hypocritical and perhaps too old to be banking on a virginal ploy. As we get to know Eri more, it becomes clear that this is both the result of her own need to stand out, but also her inborn cynicism – Eri is deliberately marketing herself as something she's not (a flirtatious sixteen-year-old who plays at being sexy) and she cannot believe that Mima isn't doing the same.
This sets the two up as parallel characters, although not quite foil figures. Mima isn't so much “pure” and virginal as she is devoted to her career, and she's not terribly interested in having a life outside of it. Eri, on the other hand, proclaims at one point that she's “in love with sex,” and she has multiple partners over the course of the book. While she's cruelly invested in Mima's downfall, it's more the result of her own selfishness than Mima's perceived dishonesty, no matter what she thinks. Eri is the stereotype of the spoiled pop princess, and she cannot see anything beyond her own wants and desires.
The question of Mima's so-called purity is ultimately the one on which the novel turns. The idol industry has long had a problem with the commodification and idealization of the notion of “purity” equaling “virginity” or “child-like disinterest in sex,” which is unarguably unhealthy and unrealistic for a teenage or adult woman. Because Mima's early career was built on this, one of her fans, a man calling himself “Darling Rose,” cannot see her as anything but his improbable ideal of the pure virgin, and this is compounded by the idea that, as a (male) fan, he somehow has ownership of Mima. Not only does this fail to take into account the fact that her public persona and her actual self may not be at all similar, as is the case with Eri, but it also makes him think that he has a right, or even a duty, to keep her from changing that beloved image at all costs. This leads him to stalk and ultimately plan the death of his idol, so that she may remain unchanged forever.
Interestingly enough, this is not new in terms of literature. Danish literary fairy tale author Hans Christian Andersen frequently engaged in the killing of his pre-pubescent and pubescent heroines in order to maintain their innocence and purity – it's why both the Little Matchgirl and the Little Mermaid die at the ends of their stories; the works of Samuel Richardson and Thomas Hardy follow his example. The difference here is that Takeuchi is using Darling Rose to shed light on how the idea of perfect purity and innocence can be corrupted, using his male gaze to discuss issues of perception and performance and how they can be used against the very people who rely on them to make their living. He then enhances Darling Rose's obsessions with classic horror tropes such as the unknown stalker, the villain who won't die, and, in what feels like a wink-and-nudge moment, the fact that the girl we see having sex is going to die first.
Unlike most of the light novels released in English, Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis is not particularly kid-friendly. Devoid of illustrations, it can get very graphic in its horror depictions and has one fairly lengthy sex scene, putting it much more in the realm of adult horror fiction. None of that should deter fans of psychological horror, however, and this is a very good example of the genre. The terror creeps along, slowly gaining speed until Darling Rose reaches his breaking point. Takeuchi stops before he can explore the idea of how Mima's sexuality is being exploited and commodified as much as her innocence was before, but in part that makes the book that much more horrifying – because now that she's no longer in the realm of untouchable, who knows who might come for her, claiming ownership of her because she sang something that they thought was just for them?
Overall : A-
Story : A-
+ Good use of creeping horror/terror, interesting exploration of idol “ownership” and fictions of purity
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