Story & Art by Aoi Makino
Translated by Tetsuichiro Miyaki
Lettering by Inori Fukuda Trant
Design by Jimmy Presler
Edited by Nancy Thistlethwaite
Not Your Idol centers on Nina Kamiyama, a former idol who was physically assaulted at a handshaking event. While Kamiyama has left the idol industry, she is still haunted by her horrifying experience and has cut herself off from other people. That is until her high school classmate Hikaru Horiuchi learns of her secret, causing a dramatic turn of events to unfold.
Based on the premise alone, it’s unsurprising that Not Your Idol covers some heavy topics, the foremost being Kamiyama’s own trauma. With Kamiyama’s attacker still roaming free, she is constantly on edge. Kamiyama’s unrelenting anxiety is conveyed through her stress induced hallucinations, her daily life full of triggers reigniting her trauma. It’s heartbreaking to read, and it’s easy to sympathize with Kamiyama’s struggle. Despite leaving the idol world behind, her scars won’t disappear.
The manga also doesn’t shy away from criticizing the idol industry itself. We see in Kamiyama’s flashbacks how her agency prioritized the reputation of Kamiyama’s idol group over her own well-being. The most horrifying of these situations is after Kamiyama’s assault, where instead of worrying about Kamiyama’s condition, her manager is more concerned with placing blame for the attack and building a strategy for future events. One flashback makes the analogy that idols are everyone’s “toy” and that’s sadly not far from the truth. Kamiyama was being manipulated into being a flawless and perfect idol, at the expense of her personhood.
That said, the series also looks at why Kamiyama wanted to become an idol in the first place: to make people happy. Kamiyama dreamed of being an idol ever since she was a child, and she loved being able to brighten the lives of those around her. While the conditions she was working under were clearly unhealthy, Kamiyama still feels remorse for giving up on her passion.
Another critical aspect of Not Your Idol is its exploration of identity. Following her assault, Kamiyama decided to take on a more masculine appearance. While this is done to protect herself, it’s also meant to hide the vulnerability she felt by being feminine. That said, the series emphasizes that Kamiyama isn’t defined by her change in appearance. When Kamiyama develops feelings for Hikaru, she begins to struggle with whether she can learn to trust other people and if she can still identify as a girl despite not conforming to society’s perceptions. On the other hand, Hikaru does not view Kamiyama differently because of her appearance, admiring her for her strength and the impact that she’s left on people like his sister. Kamiyama does not need the validation of other people for her identity to be genuine, and that’s a great message for the story to have.
Additionally, the series also criticizes society’s perception of femininity, primarily through the distasteful opinions of Kamiyama’s classmates. During a series of groping incidents, several students downplay the severity of sexual assault, blaming the girls in the class for having provocative appearences. While frustrating, the most virulent criticism comes from Kamiyama’s female classmate Miku. Miku has a very conservative perspective on gender roles, satisfied with conforming to traditional feminine behavior in order to preserve her high social status. When a groping victim criticizes her disregard for women’s safety, she chastises them and accuses the victim of treating men like criminals. Miku’s cruel and manipulative rhetoric clearly places her in the wrong, but it’s also a fascinating contrast to Kamiyama’s perspective. Each girl represents a different ideology, creating tension between the two.
Not Your Idol has a fantastic narrative that’s further supported by its beautiful artwork. Makino usually depicts the series with soft and minimalist imagery, but the manga seamlessly shifts its tone during heavier moments. During Kamiyama’s traumatic breakdowns, there is a greater use of black backgrounds and dark shading. It helps coincide with Kamiyama’s own mental state, further immersing the reader in the scene. Makino also places a lot of focus on the eyes of characters. In particular, Kamiyama’s eyes drastically change complexion depending on the situation. It helps convey her feelings of anger, happiness, and uncertainty to an even greater degree, providing a solid layer of emotional subtext. Not Your Idol’s artwork is just as well-thought out as its story and that allows its charm to shine through.
Not Your Idol is a beautiful yet tragic manga that delves into the struggles of trauma while challenging gender norms. While it’s not for the faint of heart, the series’ compelling narrative will draw readers in as they witness Kamiyama’s struggle. The story is delving into delicate subject matter, but it’s an area that is tremendously valuable to explore.