There’s something to be said about how important it is for an anime to make a good first impression. When a new anime season begins, while decades ago there would only be a handful of shows vying for attention, this spring season alone has over 70 different shows competing against each other for your viewership. And of those several dozen shows, a significant number of them are new series that need to convince viewers to give them a watch. However, no premiere was quite as strong and as commanding as the premiere for Oshi no Ko, which has gone on to dominate the entire anime community in the two weeks it’s been around.
Oshi no Ko’s sudden surge in popularity is a bit weird to parse, as this series didn’t really have much of a foothold in the West before its first episode. The manga was written by Aka Akasaka, the same author behind the enjoyable and popular rom-com Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, but the first volume of Oshi no Ko was only released physically in the West this January, with the second volume releasing next month. Even then, it only began to be released digitally in English last April, so it’s entirely fair to say that most people probably didn’t hear about Oshi no Ko until around the time the anime premiered.
Chances are if they heard about the premiere, it was because of how it became the event of the anime season. The staff at the production studio, Doga Kobo, went so far as to turn what is normally meant to be a 23-minute episode into a feature-length 90-minute film. The premiere for this series was released theatrically in Japan in March, and after it debuted on HIDIVE on April 12, it was reported that its premiere was the most successful in the streaming service’s history and brought on more subscribers than ever before. It even did the impossible and dethroned Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as the “top anime” of all time in the scored rankings at MyAnimeList.net, the veritable hub of online anime discourse.
One can almost certainly make the argument that Oshi no Ko’s explosive status in the community right now is only temporary, but that doesn’t change the fact that Oshi no Ko is a huge success. But why? Is it because of its feature-length premiere that gave audiences more time than any other premiere this season to hook them? Is it because the story itself is just that good? Or is it because of a calculated gamble taken by Doga Kobo that may fail it in the long run? I’d wager that all of these are true to an extent, and even if the show falls apart in the end, I’d say that we have a strong “anime of the year” contender if only because of its first episode.
Said episode centers on a gynecologist named Gorou Amemiya, who is asked to help deliver the twins of his favorite teenage idol, Ai Hoshino. Before he is able to successfully do so, he’s murdered by one of her fans and is reborn as one of her twins, Aquamarine, or Aqua for short, and retains all of his memories of his past life. He also has a twin sister now, a girl by the name of Ruby, and the premiere follows this family of three as Aqua and Ruby grow up, doing whatever they can to help their mother make it in the idol industry while helping to keep the fact that Ai has twins a secret lest it ruin her career.
If this show sounds chock-full of the worst anime tropes and cliches, well… that’s correct, in the premiere. It’s frankly a miracle that Oshi no Ko’s premiere — and first volume for that matter — didn’t implode on itself for content that I would charitably describe as uncomfortable. There’s the obvious weirdness of watching an adult obsess over his teenage waifu, both as an adult and her infant child, but to then watch breastfeeding jokes take place is all sorts of weird. The show was walking a razor-thin line whenever it attempted to do comedy, but it is able to save itself by not making these gimmicks and shticks the sole source of entertainment in the show.
Oshi no Ko actually juggles a lot of balls with its premiere, featuring all three of its main characters going through their own struggles. We have Aqua’s shock at the fact that his old life is over and he has to adapt to this new one, but we also have the same thing happening for his twin sister Ruby. Ruby was also reincarnated from a previous life, but while Aqua’s life was relatively comfortable, her life was mostly defined by a debilitating disease that took her at a young age. Her time as Ai’s daughter allows her to live the life that she always wanted with a woman that she looked up to as a role model in her past life.
We also have ourselves a fairly realistic portrayal of the idol industry in Japan. Oshi no Ko offers a blunt assessment of what it’s like to be in these idol groups. The money is poor, a lot of talent spends money out of pocket to keep their careers afloat, there’s little upward mobility, and the few that do reach some kind of fame are very limited and don’t last for too long. It’s no Perfect Blue, but it isn’t trying to be a psychological deconstruction of the genre. It’s just trying to be honest. This honesty helps to inform Ai’s character as someone who on the surface is happy-go-lucky and jubilant, but she is unable to connect with her fans on a deep emotional level because of the lies she constantly has to tell them by denying her own children’s existence.
All of these plot threads and emotions are woven together seamlessly over the course of the 90-minute premiere. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have experienced a shockingly powerful climax that completely reveals what the long-term goal of the series is and how everything in that first episode all fed into this single revelation. It’s a lot to be sure, which is one of the reasons why Oshi no Ko needed those 90 minutes to tell its story. If audiences only watched the first 20-25 minutes of the premiere as a traditional episode, then they would have gotten the wrong idea about what the show is about. Without that extra time, I’m sure that audiences wouldn’t be singing the show’s praises as they are now that it wouldn’t be subverting one of the oldest tenets of the anime community: the rule of three.
The rule of three is a concept in the community where a person will watch the first three episodes of any anime to determine whether they will stick with it. Most anime companies know that this rule exists, so they’ll try to put their best foot forward with the first three episodes of their series by delivering an exciting or interesting concept and make sure the animation is pretty enough to sustain interest. Thanks to its feature-length status, Oshi no Ko has effectively had five episodes released — four stitched together as an oversized premiere and the second episode. The rule of three isn’t in effect here because you’ll know by the end of the premiere if this is the show for you or not.
It’s a bold risk by Doga Kobo to be sure since it’s banking on people liking what they see with the premiere. If audiences didn’t like it, then there would be no hope of them sticking around for a second episode. Plus, it was a lot more of an ask trying to get someone to engage with Oshi no Ko due to just how much time is needed to properly explain what newcomers are getting themselves into. To put it another way, if you were going to turn Oshi no Ko into an elevator pitch, it would almost certainly fail. To make things even more difficult, by making the first episode as long as it is, there’s a risk that someone may not even finish it due to its oversized execution. A good premiere can distill why a show is worth watching in a short amount of time. Oshi no Ko can’t.
It was a risk that the creators took when they decided to make it the way it is, but that risk paid off. Thanks to the stellar execution, solid animation, gripping emotional delivery, and genuine pathos on display, audiences flocked to Oshi no Ko. And you know what? The second episode was also pretty good! There’s not quite as much momentum as in the first episode, but the hooks are already firmly in and the show is ready to take off in new and exciting directions. It’s still way too soon to tell if the final product will be as good as that first episode, but all signs are positive. Even if Oshi no Ko does falter later on, at the very least we have a premiere that will go down in anime history as the most complete and worthwhile premiere the industry has ever seen.