Idol Pretender

You never know what you'll come across on TV Tropes some days. After some checking around for new manga to look into, I found a series called Idol Pretender that I figured would make a good bit of negative review material. I based this on the premise alone (a guy turns into a girl and becomes an idol), and now I feel silly for not giving the series a chance at first. Idol Pretender is actually pretty awesome in a lot of ways, starting with some issues early on before finding its groove in the last few chapters.

The series is about Eita Chinami, a young man trying to win the affections of Yuika Kitano, a girl who's obsessed with manly men. Thus, his strategy to win her heart is to beat the living crap out of every punk in his school. Things go wrong, however, when his best friend Oguri points out a bad fever and tells him to go take some medicine at their dorm. Eita accidentally takes the wrong medicine, a beauty supplement Oguri bought on the internet, and it has a strange reaction with his illness that results in his body turning into one of a girl. Needless to say, he doesn't take it well. He has to take the medicine again to go back to normal, but said medicine costs 300 million yen. Oguri, however, has a solution; become an idol and earn back the money! Oh, and Yuika is also trying to become an idol as well, as if things weren't complicated enough.

Idol Pretender is a romantic comedy that eventually adds in two more series regulars, and it's a surprisingly fresh line up here. Along with the gender bent Chinami, there's his bisexual or pansexual love interest Yuika, his crossdressing and beauty obsessed best friend, a crossdressing male idol, and a crossdressing female idol. There are jokes early on with Chinami trying to go against her entire personality, but the series ends up going in a far more interesting direction that it would initially seem. Instead of cheap jokes based on how odd the characters are to society norms, it uses them to make a point about gender, identity and relationships. This really elevates what would otherwise be a mildly amusing farce.

Oguri delivers a line early on that cements the series thoughts on gender in relationships, stating that it doesn't really matter in one's personal identity. What someone wants to be is what they should be, and it applies to every character in the series, except maybe Chinami. The series can't seem to make up its mind if she's being affected by the medicine or she's realizing feelings she ignored as a man because of her one-minded pursuit in being as macho as possible. There's never a clear answer here and it bugs me, but it's done flawlessly with every other character. Every cast member has an arctype to them, but occasionally break a little from it, with the exception of the girl crossdresser. Oguri in particular stands out, coming off as the resident pervert character at first, only to prove himself chivalrous and kind. Even his crossdressing is treated just as something he likes doing and not because he's a deviant. Yuika ended up being the biggest surprise for me, due to a running joke about her being a violent drunk. Every one of those scenes is comedic gold.

The gags are a bit hit and miss. The series doesn't quite reach loud laughter levels, but it pulls out enough funny scenarios to get some chuckles. Yuika and Ogura end up being the comedic high lights, along with the drag idol Aoi. Along with relationship gags and overreacting, the series throws in random gags to keep things flowing, paying off more often than not. The reactions and dialog of the characters really makes it work, despite not breaking much new ground in manga comedy. Thankfully, the series is pretty universal in its humor, avoiding references and sticking with character based shenanigans. It helps keep up the pacing, and avoids that otaku barrier many comedies have.

The art is very nice, throwing in some really great expressions and making sure to keep the story flowing from panel to panel perfectly. The style itself leaves a little to be desired, though. It's a very run of the mill cute style, not quite generic moe, but also feeling very been done. Hiroki Haruse's style feels like it's just imitating other popular styles, lacking that special spark. The colored pages look especially off, but it works fine in black and white. Everyone is easy to tell apart as well, so the style does what's necessary. It may just be me wanting a little bit more. I should also mention the series has a lot of nudity gags, but it does that faux Barbie-doll nudity thing at all times, so it never really feels like its trying to be erotic. Surprisingly tame for a series based around a gender bender (that almost always devolves into bad sex gags).

Idol Pretender is short but sweet. It gets some laughs and has a nice message about identity and sexuality in the modern world, working through a likable cast and very clean art. It's only fifteen chapters, so I'd give it a recommendation for anyone looking for a solid comedy and doesn't mind outside the norm gender politics. The series never really gets preachy, and it never gets particularly dirty. It's just nice, really.


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