The Japanese idol industry is a fraught thing: on the one hand, it’s given a lot of young performers a chance at fame, provided great music across a wealth of subgenres, and brought fans together in love for their faves; on the other, it’s an infamously mechanized machine that, like the American boy band craze in the 1990s, churns out stars in pre-approved molds, abandons them capriciously, and frequently produces horror stories that make Lou Pearlman seem like a swell guy by comparison. It is, in short, complicated.
When it comes to idol anime, they’re often stories with large, archetypal casts that let the audience pick their favorites and tie in multi-platform components, including live performances. The past few seasons of anime have seen shows that keep one foot in this model while also grasping at crossover appeal: Revue Starlight as an anime is primarily focused on the theatre world of the Takarazuka Revue, but also includes stage shows and an idol gacha game; ZOMBIE LAND SAGA brought a horror comedy theme to its proceedings, and so on.
And then there’s If My Favorite Pop Idol Made It to the Budokan, I Would Die (usually shortened to “Oshibudo”), an odd duck of a rom-com featuring an underground idol (Maina) and her only fan (Eripiyo) that manages to both be a very affectionate parody of idol fandom and one of the only anime about idols willing to be at least somewhat frank about the shortcomings of the phenomenon beneath the often strictly marketed surface.
Oshibudo‘s savviness is one of its strongest charms: not only does it carefully navigate the potential pitfalls of an idol/fan relationship by basing its will-they-won’t-they tension on Eripiyo’s haste to pull back at the slightest possibility that she might be overstepping Maina’s professional or personal boundaries, but the writing is full of deceptively subtle writing like the fat, slobby otaku stereotype actually being the most mature character with the healthiest relationship to his fandom and an established queer couple within the main idol group who have to navigate the potential conflicts between their relationship and professional lives.
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Crucially, Oshibudo spends as much time getting to know the idols themselves as it does their fans. Those scenes begin to emphasize the distance between the product a performer is marketing (and being marketed as) and their real selves, and all the ways that both protects and makes them vulnerable. That it manages to touch on those subjects as much as it does while also keeping a light, comedic tone is impressive, though it has its limits. The show might be willing to have a subplot about an idol worrying that false rumors about her having a boyfriend will tank her career, but it’s not willing to push hard enough to condemn the system that perpetuates those fears.
Part and parcel with that is Motoi, a character meant to embody the creepy subset of possessive fans who actually think they have a shot at marrying their favorite celebrity; while it would feel like the elephant in the room if the show failed to address the problem at all, the amount of karmic slapstick thrown his way fails to balance out how relatively unchallenged his sleazy discussion of his fave is — especially when coupled with the softer touch on industry commentary.
Still, that sour note isn’t enough to undo everything that Oshibudo achieves. While those looking for something as hard hitting as Perfect Blue might come away disappointed, the show’s foot-in-the-door style of commentary still puts it in rare company. It’s ideal for any viewer who’s ever been curious about idol anime but put off by more emotionally-polished fare and is a solid character comedy in its own right.