Not Your Idol
Story & Art: Aoi Makino
Publisher: VIZ Media
High school is hard enough when you’re an average teenage girl. What if you’re a former celebrity, undercover after being assaulted by a stalker at a meet and greet event? Such is the case with Karen Amamiya, the most popular member of the teen idol group Pure Club, and the lead character of Aoi Makino‘s Not Your Idol. After her arm is slashed by a hooded fan after a show, she chooses to go back to a “normal” high school existence, chopping off all her hair, dressing in a boy’s uniform, and taking back her real name, Nina Kamiyama. Lying low isn’t easy when a girl from another school was recently abducted, bringing up all kinds of fears that Nina has been trying to squash ever since she chose to leave stardom. Then a boy in her class, Hikaru, recognizes her as Karen and tells her that her feminine charm as an idol helped his sister come to terms with being a girl after her own experience with sexual assault.
So much of the first volume of Not Your Idol centers on Nina’s anxiety stemming from being a girl, the belief that her gender makes her a target for harassment and objectification. All around her, she is reminded of her past and her fears. A female classmate named Miku goes out of her way to wave off her own minor brush with harassment; she even bad-mouths women who are supporting a new women-only car on the train, saying that they are too ugly to be groped anyway.
As Nina grows closer to Hikaru, she is able to acknowledge that not all boys and men are out to hurt girls. But her assailant was never caught, and when she remembers that he took down security with his incredible judo skills, she fears that maybe Hikaru, who is very dedicated to his judo practice, may not have her best interests in mind. After all, the reader hasn’t actually seen evidence of his sister yet. The first volume ends with Nina taking a gamble in an effort to learn how to trust again.
The teenage girls for whom this manga is intended are likely to be familiar with the mixed messages the female students in Not Your Idol are being fed by society: Girls are weak and should be protected. Conversely, girls dress provocatively on purpose, to draw attention to themselves — it’s no wonder they get objectified, or worse. This is the double-edged sword of womanhood, the inescapable double-standard that no girl signed up for, and which no girl can escape. Nina’s childhood dream was to be an idol, to wear pretty clothes and make people smile. In an instant those wholesome desires were crushed, and she is now grappling with the kind of self-loathing that many victims of assault deal with, and that insidious question: What if it’s my fault?
According to Hikaru, his sister told him that her assault happened because she is a girl. After finding videos of Pure Club, she says “Idols forgive me for being a girl,” i.e., idols embrace femininity and flaunt it, allowing girls to take joy in their girlishness. Nina’s female classmates exemplify the turnover from girlhood into womanhood that high school encapsulates; some fear the gaze and power of men, and some embrace and manipulate that gaze to their own ends. Though the story itself is a thrilling page-turner of a drama, it already has a lot to say about how the intended readership sees themselves, and how they struggle to balance and come to terms with the multiplicity of femininity.
Aoi Makino’s style, both as an artist and a storyteller, is very much in keeping with standard shojo sensibilities. Nina is a visually intense character with her hacked-off hair and figure-camouflaging uniform, drawn very differently from her idol counterpart, Karen, who is all smiles and miniskirt. Hikaru is the typical shojo-styled prince, good-looking and kind, who always knows exactly what to say — which makes the possibility of him being Nina’s stalker all the more unnerving.
Though Not Your Idol is a high school thriller, it does have moments of sweetness and levity, keeping it from being an anxiety-ridden nightmare. Nina’s journey to overcome trauma and make peace with herself is one that readers will be eager to follow, especially with the first volume ending in such dire circumstances. That first volume will be available in print through VIZ Media on May 5, 2020, with the second book set to follow in September. The series is still ongoing in Japan.