Idol, Burning by Rin Usami

“Everything about him was precious. When it came to my oshi, I wanted to offer him everything I had.”

Rin Usami’s Idol, Burning gives readers insight into fandom culture and celebrity worship through the lens of Akari, a high-school student whose thoughts are always on Masaki Ueno, her oshi, a former child actor who is now part of the boyband Maza Maza.
Akari uses her money to go to concerts and to buy their merch and dedicates a blog to Masaki where she interacts with other fans. Her devotion to him never sways, even when rumors about Masaki having assaulted a fan begin to circle. Akari doesn’t really consider these allegations, saddened by the onslaught of haters on online spaces dedicated to Maza Maza. Eventually, she gets a part-time job so she can attend more concerts and buy even more merch. Her room becomes a shrine to Masaki. As Akari’s grades steadily fall, her parents and sister grow increasingly frustrated by her lack of interest in her studies, in life, in her family. Akari’s inability, perhaps unwillingness, to articulate why she is so disinterested in school or to make her parents and sister understand her struggles with her studies, is a cause of additional stress on the family unit.
Akari finds solace, from her alienation and abjection, in her oshi. Not being able to feel like she is normal, she finds comfort in Masaki, believing that they share a deep connection.
Akari is a rather empty character, a blank slate, which may as well be intentional given how easily she becomes obsessed with the life of another. Yet, her understanding of Masaki is incredibly skewed, as she fails to see him as a human, an entertainer, but endows him with divine qualities. Her treatment of her family is frustrating, as she doesn’t seem to care particularly for them nor does she understand that she cannot exist on devotion alone.
I kept waiting for the story to go somewhere, especially with Masaki’s ‘alleged’ assault, but it never does. While you can tell that the person behind this story is familiar with fandom culture, I found myself wanting a more in-depth exploration of it, rather than the surface-level one we get. I also found that the author’s words at the end are simplistic. It seemed that she wanted to make Akari a sympathetic character whose struggles in school may be a result of learning difficulties. But, beyond Akari recalling that a doctor said she was ‘not normal’, this venue of the story remains largely unexplored. Even when it comes to parasocial relationships the novel fails to go deeper. Beyond reiterating that Akari felt ‘saved’ by Masaki when he was acting the role of Peter Pan. The author also doesn’t really go into cancel culture or death of the author (or in this case singer). What happens when a public figure you admire is accused of something like assaulting another person? Akari never doubts him or thinks about it really, beyond feeling sorry for him and being saddened by him losing fans and gaining haters. The author merely comes up with a vanilla take on this (online bullying is bad, we should consider how the people accused of things like this feel, etc).
The prose is distant and restrained, and while I usually like this type of style, here it just compounded my disinterest.
I guess I was expecting a darker, more complex read. But Idol, Burning made for a rather surface-level read. If you happen to be interested in this novel I recommend you check out more positive reviews. YMMV.

My rating: ★ ★ ½
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