Second Impressions - Oshi no Ko
It's fair to say I went into this episode flying as blind as you realistically can having just watched 90 minutes of a series. That this episode would represent a complete tonal shift was a given, but not having read the manga I had no firm idea of what that might actually looks like. In the end the result wasn't too far off what I had imagined, but it still leaves me with a lot of unanswered questions. In a vacuum this episode was still quite good, but it's the answers to those questions which will determine whether Oshi no Ko is a series I can commit to in any sense.
As teased at the end of the prologue, we time skip a decade or so, to find Aqua and Ruby in their final year of junior high. Ruby (Igoma Yurie) starts off as the POV character, but that's fairly short-lived. She's grown up, as expected, obsessed with following in her mother's footsteps. Aquamarine (Ootsuka Takeo) is horrified by this and bound and determined to prevent it. So much so that he scotches an idol competition Ruby has gotten to the finals of by sending a withdrawal text from her phone and calling her posing as the guy rejecting her. Meanwhile. Ichigo has dropped out of sight and Miyako is managing Strawberry (now totally out of the idol game) on her own.
Aqua's intentions make sense to me here, given that no one despises every atom of the idol trade more than I do. That said, even I can see this was a highly unethical and deeply scuzzy thing to do. Aqua has grown into quite a pill, generally. He's quit acting, though he is working as Taishi's apprentice. His interest in show biz is mainly to get close enough to whoever might be his father to ID them and enact his revenge. Meanwhile, Ruby gets scouted by an "underground idol" manager (if you imagine regular idols only scummier, that's this section of the idol pie).
There's one very crucial element to this dynamic that underpins what's happening here. Stipulate to the whole reincarnation thing - because if you don't, what's the point - and the key is that Aqua has had the experience of being an adult, and Ruby has not. She went straight from being a child - and one who didn't have anything close to a normal childhood - to being a baby. That's exploited quite cleverly, to give Akasaka his deserved credit. Aqua and Ruby each embody the defects attendant to being an adult and a child, respectively (not that there isn't crossover). He's joyless and has no noble aspirations, and she's naive and self-centered.
And here, dear readers, is where the rubber meets the fork in the road. Where does Akasaka go with all this? It's obvious that he has a jaundiced view of the idol industry, which anyone with a shred of sense would. But it does play a bit snippy and personal here. The larger question hinges on the Ruby-Aqua dichotomy, though. Is Aqua being set up as the "you have to remember how to dream" exemplar - which would then imply a certain celebration of Ruby's idealism? Or is Ruby headed for the hard fall a person in her position almost inevitably would be? That makes the most logical sense - I mean, the idol industry is every bit as horrible as Aqua says it is. But if it's that straightforward, I sort of don't get why Oshi no Ko exists in the first place. What story would it be telling, exactly?
The thing, so far at least this is good enough to keep me interested in finding out. That whole sequence with Taishi and Aqua trying to make dramatic speeches and Taishi's mom (Saitou Kimiko, six years younger than the guy playing her son) continually interrupting was really funny. And there are definitely some intriguing elements to this dynamic Akasaka has set up. But ultimately, if he sells out and Oshi no Ko winds up as yet another "good people on both sides" apologist take on the idol mafia, that will be a deal-breaker for me. You can tell a story which extolls the value of dreams without doing that - but it would really be threading the needle in near-miraculous fashion.