You may be wondering why I have a four part introduction to what idols are. That’s a fair question. But first we need to deal with the issue of western idols. So… American Idol and similar western idol-related shows? Put them in a box somewhere in your mind. Preferably a box made from uranium, diamond, or some other form of extremely durable material. Sorted? Good.
Now, close the lid on the box and lock it with at least three heavy-duty padlocks, then throw away the keys. Next, weld the lid shut. Now conjure up a helicopter or other suitable flying transportation vehicle and load the box on it, then have it fly out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Drop the box into the water and watch it sink. Finally, drop a nuke in after it. It’s the only way to be sure.
Okay, with American Idol put where it deserves to be, we can move on to the good kind of idols, by which I mean the Japanese kind. Now, I love idols. Adore them, in fact, which is why I’m writing a massive novella serial involving them, which currently weighs in at somewhere around 450,000 words. That’s ~5 novel’s worth, and it’s not even halfway done.
However, there are different types of idol and idol media, and it’s important to understand the differences before we talk about the specifics of my own work, so let’s do that first.
So… what is an idol? In general, they’re multi-talented individuals who sing, dance, act in TV dramas, do voice work for anime or games, and attempt to cultivate a loyal and passionate fan base in order to push them to greater heights. In short, idols can be a bit of anything and everything.
Idols come in male and female flavours, but with me focusing on lesfic, obviously I’ll be talking the latter here. Male idols are a big thing, especially in South Korea, but female idols are generally the more common and well-known variety in Japan. Before anything else, let’s break this down into the two main categories of idol: real life idols, and fictional idols.
We won’t be loitering here for long since these are the type I’m not all that into, with a couple of exceptions we’ll get to in Part 4. These are real people doing real events in front of real crowds. They earn money, have to deal with real world bullshit, and it’s honestly kind of a bum gig in a lot of cases.
Corruption and greed abound in the various companies, managers, and producers, the girls work long hours for minimal reward, and there’s certainly plenty of opportunity here for stark, serious drama in fictional settings. I do have some plans for work of that nature, but not right now.
Now we get to the interesting stuff. Fictional idols run the whole gamut of both genre and medium. There are games, both high-production console titles and consumer-gouging mobile garbage; arcade games (yes, Japan still has arcades); anime, often based on the aforementioned games and serving partly as advertisements for them; TV dramas featuring real people (often idols themselves) playing fictional roles; manga, again often based on existing properties. The list goes on.
There are even genre mashups and crossovers, such as the sci-fi Macross franchise, which features not only giant robots and interstellar war, but also idols as some of the main characters. Hell, there are even virtual idols, for example Vocaloid, and the more-recent phenomenon of Virtual Youtubers such as Kizuna Ai.
Then there’s Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. She’s uh… well, let’s just say she’s a genre unto herself. She kind of mixes real life and fiction. No one else is quite like Kyari. Not a fan of her music (with this one exception, which I adore), but I absolutely love the fact that she makes exactly what she wants to make. She’s nothing if not creative.
Some of what I just linked in those last two paragraphs is bonkers batshit insanity, and not something I’m into, but it’s also a part of what idols are, so it bears mentioning. Personally, I like solid narrative and characters in my fiction, so let’s get onto the real meat of this post: anime idols!
Now, before you run away, hear me out ;p Yes, anime often gets a bad rap, sometimes deservedly so. But just because some (okay, quite a lot) of it is crap, doesn’t mean it all is. Especially if you know where to look for the good stuff. That’s where idols come in.
There are, at its simplest, two basic types of fictional anime idol. There’s the grounded, realistic type where the girls are just regular people with hopes and dreams, and the story revolves around their trials and tribulations in attempting to achieve them. These have been around in anime for decades.
Then there’s the more recently popularised magical idols. Rather than being grounded in reality, these shows are more fantastical in nature, with transformations similar to magical girls, but instead of fighting evil they perform on stage against each other, becoming friends and rivals in the process.
2012 was probably the point where magical idols really took off, with the advent of the franchise known as Aikatsu (short for Aidoru Katsudou – Idol Activities). More and more shows began surfacing thanks to the incredible popularity of Aikatsu, and the genre of magical idols even overtook the massively popular magical girl genre. They’re still battling for dominance to this day.
In Part 2, we’ll look more in-depth at the two types of show and how they differ, followed by a brief explanation of CG vs Traditional animation, and finally my own fictional idol universe, which sits somewhere between the two types, hence why it’s important that you have a proper grounding in what idols are, and why I love them.