Tuesday Terminology: The Japanese Idol

Tuesday Terminology is a weekly segment to enlighten the masses with words, phrases, and ideals usually tacked on to today’s anime/manga scene.

This week’s topic: The Career path of the Japanese Idol

Nakagawa Kanon (The World God Only Knows)

Nakagawa Kanon (The World God Only Knows)

In yesterday’s Manga Monday, I mentioned the popular Japanese Idol group, AKB48.  Today, I’m going to briefly go over the status of “idol” itself.  In various anime and manga, most often those placed in the High School setting, one of the ideal career paths for young ladies is that of becoming an Idol.  Examples: Run Elsie Jewelria (To-Love-Ru), Nomura Tomoko (Great Teacher Onizuka), and Nakagawa Kanon (The World God Only Knows).  The following is a bit of history as to what this “celebrity” type is.  You just might realize some differences and similarities to “celebrities” of other nations.

Osaki Yuki/Katase Yuki, Gravure Idol/Actress (June 2008)

The history of the Japanese Idol dates back all the way to the early 70s.  The aftermath of raving over the 1963 French film,  Cherchez l’idole (translated as  Aidoru wo sagase), starring female musician Sylvie Vartan, brought out the now-used term of Aidoru (Idol).  The term was often tagged onto any cute female actress or singer (ages 14-16) or any cute male singer (ages 15-18) as they rose through media stardom.  By the 1980s, Idols dominated the music scene in Japan with as many as 40-50 new stars, each dimming their shining talents as time went on.  Even today, some of those celebrities are still popular as older actors/singers.  By the 90s, the number of female idols dwindled down due to the music industry focusing on the power of Rock and Roll.  During this time, male Idols began to see some rise.

Shinozaki Ai, Gravure Idol (June 2011)

Female Japanese Idols are commonly acknowledged as “the perfect female form” in society. As symbols of purity, but also as sex symbols, they became admired by both males and female alike.  Men are infatuated by things like their body measurements, favorite foods, hobbies and such.  Meanwhile, women are interested in imitating style and fashion of their favorite Idols.  Good examples of fashion-leader idols were Ayumi HamasakiHitomiRyōko Hirosue and Namie Amuro.

AKB48 Members performing at the Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles (July 2010)

By the mark of the new millennium, female idols were rising once again.  But this time, in groups.  1997’s Morning Musume group is one of the most famous idol girl groups to hit the music charts.  In 2005, Akihabara’s premiere idol girl group, AKB48, started their road to fame.

The idea of stardom by becoming an Idol has not changed: To become the ideal girl, nationally acknowledged by hundreds of thousands of fans.

From a storytelling standpoint in anime and manga (live-action series as well), female characters that follow the career path of becoming an Idol are usually tarnished by a shy,silent personality or a tarnished past of being ridiculed by others.  The work and effort to make the 180-degree turn of the character is commonly implemented in stories that have such character types.  The transformation from “nobody” to “somebody” is always a remarkable plot device for any story that wants to inspire today’s youth to pursue their dreams.

Koyama Mitsuki (Full Moon wo Sagashite)

My favorite Idol-themed series is Tanemura Arina’s Full Moon wo Sagashite.  It beautifully captures the dream of a 12-year-old girl who wants to become a singer. However, with a cancerous tumor growing near her vocal chords, the only hope she has of living is via a surgery that would ruin her dreams.  Intertwine the Shoujo drama and you get this masterpiece.


[Source: Wikipedia]


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