Tanemura Arina is a veritable legend in the shoujo manga genre, with well-known works such as Kamikazu Kaito Jeanne and Full Moon O Sagashite lending high accolades to her name. Although her latest work, Idol Dreams (31 Aidoriimu) is serialized in the lesser known bimonthly melody magazine from Hakusensha, it still promises to build upon her already strong reputation. Published under Viz’s Shoujo Beat label, Tetsuichiro Miyaki, known for his work on Twin Star Exorcists (Sousei no Onmyouji) and Tanemura’s previous manga The Gentlemen’s Alliance Cross (Shinshi Doumei Kurosu), provides the English translation.
Meet your heroine, Deguchi Chikage. At age thirty-one, she’s single, shy, and utterly unremarkable, a complete change from her studious and popular sixteen year old self. A bad turn of events at her high school class reunion leads to her old classmate, Yumiko, airing Deguchi’s relationship status out loud in front of her one-time crush, Haru. The damage doesn’t end there, as the next day Deguchi overhears her coworkers mocking her unambitious life and runs off only to see Yumiko and Haru walking hand in hand, having hooked up after their class reunion. Defeated and distraught, Deguchi tries to end her life then and there before another classmate, Tokita, saves her life with an unbelievable proposition. His pharmaceutical company has developed a illicit drug that can dramatically reverse the effects of aging, but only for five to six hours. Grateful for the chance to relive her youth and heedless of the side effects, Deguchi quickly seizes upon the chance and finds her body changed back into that of a fifteen year old.
From there the twists and turns don’t stop as Deguchi, using the pseudonym Akari, finds herself snatched up by a modeling agency to replace a last minute no-show for an ad shoot with the lead of the popular idol group Valentine, a young prodigy named Maido Hibiki. When the ad gets rave reviews, it seems like like Deguchi’s idol dreams are just beginning.
Although the conceit of Idol Dreams is something that requires a truly impressive suspension of disbelief, when you consider the soap-opera levels that most shoujo manga achieve with melodramatic plot twists and turns, it doesn’t seem quite as out of place. Fortunately, Tanemura’s skill in storytelling and pacing doesn’t leave the reader much time to linger on it, pushing straight ahead into Deguchi’s adventures as she tries to reclaim the glory of her youth.
What’s interesting about the story that Tanemura tells in Idol Dreams is that, unlike most shoujo manga where the romantic endgame is practically written in neon letters at the start of the series, it’s not quite clear what direction she intends to take with Deguchi’s love life. While it seems likely that Tokita’s old flame for Deguchi will transform into something more despite his attachment to his current girlfriend, Deguchi’s connection to Hibiki and her concern for the young idol certainly isn’t something to be ignored. The fact that Deguchi’s transformations are only temporary is also an interesting conceit. It’s a rare and welcome sight to see a shoujo manga that focuses on the aspiration of a woman in her thirties.
Even with her creative twists on the genre, you can see Tanemura’s long years of experience with shoujo manga showing through in some of the over the top dramatic gestures her characters make. Yet at the heart of it she keeps them true to themselves and doesn’t cast their depth and motivations aside simply for the sake of drama. She even seems to poke fun at herself and the shoujo same-face syndrome with even Deguchi commenting on how Hibiki’s design bears a striking resemblance to her old flame, Haru.
However, Miyaki’s translation once again seems to suffer some of the same pitfalls seen in Twin Star Exorcists. While the majority of the volume reads well, aided in no small part by the excellent lettering and adaptation of the sound effects, there’s still quite a few hiccups where characters don’t quite speak in a way that suits them. Prodigy though he may be, it’s a little awkward to hear the fifteen year old Hibiki shouting out “as if you’re undulating” when he coaches a frantic Deguchi on how she should sing. Deguchi’s well-liked coworker Hanami also utters a stilted “don’t furrow your brow” on page three, which makes it difficult to grasp just what sort of character she’s meant to be.
Despite the pitfalls in translation and ridiculous nature of the manga’s premise, Idol Dreams delivers well on Tanemura’s original prompt: a magical girl manga for adults. Especially for older fans of the genre, it promises to be a unique take on familiar tropes and speaks well to that nostalgic desire to be young again.