Image Source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

In the anime 18if, one of the dream-controlling witches is an idol who contracted the Sleeping Beauty Syndrome after she was stabbed by a fan enraged by a passionate scandal in the tabloids. This episode is a representation of the darkness of the idol industry in Japan.

The idol industry in Japan is a money-making monster almost completely unique to Japan (though South Korea’s is similar). Idol groups in Japan are teams of young girls, usually under 20, that sing and dance on stage. However, that’s not all they do—they appear on talk shows, do handshake events, appear in swimsuits in magazines, star in plays, and even appear in movies. There are tons of idols in Japan, including those registered at official record labels like Sony and Avex and independent idols that work as so-called “underground” idols—idols that perform at little clubs and make their money through ticket fare and goods sales.

Sometimes, the word “idol” is translated as “pop star,” comparing idols in Japan to singers like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. However, the circumstances surrounding the female idols is completely different. The first difference is romance. When pop stars like Britney have romance gossip, it’s the talk of the town. In fact, it’s a plus, with fans making cute couple names for celebrity pairs.

However, in Japan, having a romantic relationship is considered an irreversible mark of shame. Many idol groups forbid the girls from having boyfriends at all. The most famous incident of an idol repenting for having a boyfriend despite her position in AKB48—an idol unit that forbids romance—is Minami Minegishi, who shaved her head and tearfully apologized to fans on camera for having a relationship in 2013.

Forbidding idols from having romances creates the perfect image of a woman for the fans, especially the male ones. Like Murasaki Shikibu in the Tale of Genji, there’s an idea that you are “raising” the idol you’re a fan of as time goes by. For example, a fan might buy a large amount of the same AKB48 CD so they can get serial numbers to enter in on the AKB48 General Election website to vote for their favorite girl. The more CDs purchased, the more chances to vote. This is why when Ririka Sato, a member of the AKB48 sister group NMB48, announced her engagement to a fan despite being only 20 years old, there was a huge fan backlash. Fans claimed that she had tricked them, and said that because they had “poured money” into her, so it was wrong of her to do so. They felt a sense of ownership over the young girl because they bought CDs that raised her up to be a star, ranking high in the election. Sato left the group soon after.

In 18if Revenge Is Anything But Empty

Despite this shame put upon the women in the idol industry, there is a rampant culture of older men in the business putting female idols through what is called “makura eigyo,” literally “pillow business.” Makura refers to the pillow on the bed, which is a euphemism for sex. Minako Komukai, a former model and actress, revealed in a column in a magazine that she has seen many models and idols selling their bodies to men in order to further or protect their careers. Rejecting an advance could have serious repercussions, including a loss of jobs or reputation. On the other hand, be found out having a sexual relationship with someone, and a fan might do something nuts, like threaten or attack you. The standards for idols are put so high that it’s a common joke amongst netizens to say that “idols don’t poop,” referring to how perfect the idols are in the eyes of the fans.

Image Source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

Emi Nitta, the voice actress of the witch in this episode, ironically (or unironically, possibly) went through a similar experience to her character. The voice of the Love Live! character Honoka, she also had a successful solo music career. Everything was on the up-and-up until the Weekly Asahi Geinō magazine reported that Nitta appeared in a porn film in the past. After this occurred, Nitta’s Nico Nico live streams were indefinitely postponed, security was increased at her events, and she stopped posting on her Twitter account altogether. She just recently left her agency she debuted from, and joined a brand new agency Difference.

Image Source: アニメ『18if』公式アカウント@リリィ on Twitter

The obsession with purity and ownership over women in the idol industry is something that is constantly debated, especially outside of Japan. While it creates the image of the perfect woman for fans to enjoy, it also puts pressure on the personal freedoms of these young girls. However, for the rules of these idol groups to change, the male-centric society surrounding them needs to change first. And in 18if, the witch of the day takes that into her own hands as a dominatrix, teaching the very men that abused her the harshness of the idol world and the ideals that surround it.

18if is currently streaming on Crunchyroll with subtitles, and with an English dub on FUNimation.

Comments (2)
  1. Just a correction. Riripon’s surname is Sutou, not Sato. Additionally, I’ve read that he wasn’t really a fan, but he met her at a restaurant her mom works at.

    While I do agree that the “ojisan” appears to be the main demographic of idol fans, there appears to be less of a harsh treatment of idols by management when scandals appear after Minegishi’s actions. That however does not deter the fan reaction. However, you have idols like Sashihara Rino that go through a scandal and can revive their career. It’s some sort of twisted give and take between management, the fan, and the idol themselves. While some can see the system as flawed, others can see the system as something that can be manipulated to make a star.

    Furthermore, with idol groups like Nogizaka46 and Keyakizaka46, that sexualization of idols isn’t really as apparent with these groups which reach to a more female demographic.

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