Review: Idol, Burning by Rin Usami, translated by Asa Yoneda

A story of fandoms and what it means when your idol is everything Idol, Burning is an interesting glimpse at fan culture and mental illness. Akari is not neurotypical but she has found enormous freedom in fan culture through her love of Masaki Ueno, who is part of a boy band. Barely able to concentrate at school and often bound by all kinds of anxieties, Akari is able to live freely online, keeping blogs and social media about her idol, or oshi. This becomes such an important part of her life that she is barely able to live without him. If anything, she is living for him, with much of her time and money devoted to the fandom and the privileges that come with being one of the biggest fans. But when Masaki is accused of assaulting a female fan, he slowly begins to fall from grace. And whether Akari likes it or not, she is going to have to find a way to live without him.

This was an interesting glimpse into Japanese fan culture. I thought I knew fan culture and I thought I had seen obsessive fans before. One only has to go as far as any celebrity's social media and they will soon encounter fans that seem far more intense and far more interested that someone who simply likes the celebrity and their work. But this is next level. The culture Usami writes about is fans who are utterly devoted and exploited to the max by their idol's management. (For example, the more copies of the same CD they buy, the more rights they have to vote for particular things.) While most teenagers will grow bored of some things, in Akari we have a character who can only live for her idol, as her mental illness threatens to overwhelm her day to day life at every turn. The real strength in the book lies in the fact that Akari expects nothing at all from her oshi, and sees his life as totally separate from hers. There are no hints or suggestions of erotomania, a theme I was expecting to pop up at some point. I struggled a little with the timeline, which feels a bit non linear in places, but overall this is just as much an exploration of what it means not to be neurotypical as it is an exploration of the level of devotion that some people experience for their favourite bands and artists.



Ethan said…
This is such a fascinating subject, made only more enthralling by the ties to social media culture. I didn't realize the fandom was more intense in Japan. Great review!

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