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Idol, Burning

Idol, Burning

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Oshi, Moyu/Idol, Burning was the winner of the prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 2020 and has become a phenomenon in Japan, with sales of more than 500,000 copies, according to the publisher. It has already won praise from Sayaka Murata, Toshiyuki Horie and Yoko Ogawa. The novel that lit the Japanese publishing world on fire: From a breathtaking up-and-coming writer, a twenty-first century Catcher in the Rye that brilliantly explores toxic fandom, social media, and alienated adolescence. The novel opens with Akari waking up to the news that Masaki had punched someone -- apparently, a fan. Yoneda also does a brilliant job reflecting how young people communicate with each other online. In her note from the translator she says “ I was surprised by how easily I seemed to be able to imagine how the social media comments in this book would sound in English. Each corner of the internet has a different culture and set of conventions, but the gestures, dynamics, and narratives that arise out of the collective are only too familiar.”

This didn’t feel strange in the original Japanese but it felt odd in English because repetition or use of titles instead of pronouns or names isn’t natural. Rin Usami writes as if under a spell—not evil, but a kind of magic. I can’t wait to read her next work, to see how the spell evolves. New writers should never feel they are boxed in. they should continually stretch and redefine the boundaries of the novel. [ Idol, Burning] is the right kind of magic." — Sayaka Murata, author of Convenience Store Woman and Earthlings

Featured Reviews

Phones and TV screens have kind of a grace built into their separation, like the distance between the stage and the audience. It was reassuring to sense someone's presence at a certain remove so that the space couldn't be destroyed by interacting directly, or the relationship ruined by anything I did.” An English proverb might have replaced this phrase, but I don’t think one would have worked the same way. It also keeps the Japanese feel of the original work. So in this case keeping the translation close to the original worked in the translation’s advantage. What's impressive about this novel is the author's ability to empathize with Akari's all-consuming love for Masaki while showing just how damaging this relationship is to Akari and everyone around her. The book left me heartbroken yet hopeful, and excited for more Usami novels to come." - NPR On the surface Idol Burning (推し、燃ゆ Oshi Moyu) by Rin Usami and translated into English by Asa Yoneda, is a story about a young girl obsessed with an idol from a boy group, but underneath it’s an look at mental health and a critique of the Japanese education system. This novella has sold over 750,000 copies in Japan and won the 164th Akutagawa Prize in 2020. When rumors surface that her idol assaulted a female fan, social media explodes. Akari immediately begins sifting through everything she can find about the scandal, and shares every detail to her blog—including Masaki’s denials and pleas to his fans—drawing numerous readers eager for her updates.

Rin Usami writes as if under a spell – not evil, but a kind of magic. I can’t wait to read her next work, to see how the spell evolves. New writers should never feel they are boxed in. they should continually stretch and redefine the boundaries of the novel. [ Idol, Burning] is the right kind of magic." Sayaka Murata But where it shines in its portrayal of the more toxic aspects of fandom culture, the narrative itself leaves something to be desired. The whole concept that this novella is supposedly predicated on—a girl coming to terms with her favorite pop idol maybe having assaulted a woman—isn't ever really the focus, and I understand why this detail is included in the book's summary, but the reality of the way this narrative transpires is much more mundane than fraught. This isn't a story about a girl being torn apart and forced to question everything she's believed in; it's more of a portrait of the insidious nature of obsession, and the ways in which it can lead you to become disconnected from reality. And of course, there's nothing wrong with that at all; I just think this could have been a more interesting project had there been a bit more tension and more of a shift within Akari's character throughout the story. The one place she finds meaning and fulfilment is in her obsession with her oshi -- while also remaining at least somewhat self-aware:She makes sure to go to the tour finale, the final concert -- going through all the super-fan motions, including loading up on more merch -- but afterwards is, of course, left at sea. A very sad story. Akari has a hard time in her real life, not enjoying any kind of positive relationship with any of her family members, and frustrated at school where she can’t keep up with the others. She appears to have some kind of learning disability. And yet she excels at being a fan. She obsessively follows and catalogues everything about her idol, Masaki, showing that she has intelligence and data gathering and analyzing ability. The online fan community gives Akari a chance to excel, but excel at something that could end and become irrelevant with the idol's retirement. Idol, Burning is a peculiar little book, even by the arguably odder-than-average standards of translated novellas. We follow a period in the life of Akari, a young woman in the grip of an all-consuming obsession with a singer and actor, Masaki: as she puts it, ‘believing in him was how I lived’. When her idol (or oshi, as she usually calls him) punches a fan, it ignites a scandal. Akari goes into a tailspin; her immersion in the fandom threatens to engulf the rest of her life. Yet this description makes the story sound much more plot-driven than it actually is. It’s strangely formless, even loose, for such a brief tale. There were other parts of the English that created Akari’s unique voice, but this stood out to me in particular. The most obvious translation choice was to translate the term 推し as “oshi” instead of “idol”, or more specifically one’s “fave”.

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