31☆アイドリーム (thirty-one idream)
Shoujo – Comedy, drama, romance, sci-fi
3 Volumes (ongoing) of 4 Volumes (ongoing)
Once a popular girl in school, 31-year-old Chikage is now an ordinary office worker. She goes to her high school reunion only to be humiliated in front of everyone, including her crush. On the brink of suicide, Chikage agrees to take an experimental drug that reverts her back to age 15. She intends to enjoy her second youth — and ends up as an idol?!
It’s very rare to have an anime or manga protagonist not in their teenage years. It seems even more rare for manga that targets females. (Well, outside of BL and Harlequin titles, but most of those are technically josei.) So almost any series starring someone who has already graduated from high school is bound to show up on my radar. Idol Dreams, however, is not fully a story about an adult woman.
Chikage ends up being humiliated at her high school reunion. An old friend, Tokita, sees how Chikage wishes to go back to her glory days and gives her an experimental drug called I-Dream. (He just so happens to be one of the developers.) Each dose allows Chikage to turn 15 for a few hours. On her very first outing, she ends up being mistaken for a model. Young Chikage meets the idol group Valentine’s Hibiki, a boy who looks like her first love (Haru, who also was Tokita’s friend). Chikage ends up agreeing to work as model under the name Akari.
In Idol Dreams, author Tanemura takes what would be two rather familiar, perhaps dull tales and combines them. A girl suddenly being recruited as an idol and immediately working with the most popular male celebrity? Eye-rolling. An “old maid” looking for love? Not very exciting. But thanks to the potion, we get the added element of Chikage’s two lives. Will she abandon her disappointing real life or return to it? Is I-Dream safe? The answers are a long way off, and there is plenty of room for more conflicts and issues to arise.
However, Chikage’s worlds tend to run independently of each other. A lot of developments in Chikage’s life hardly affects Akari and vice-versa. Chikage can easily get younger with a pill, and she doesn’t disappear or abandon her work like many “suddenly younger/older” stories. In each chapter, either Chikage or Akari takes center stage, not Chikage-Akari or even Akari-Chikage. The third volume, for instance, is split almost evenly between Chikage chapters at the beginning and Akari chapters in the second half. I don’t really feel like the age-swapping protagonist is living a double-life. The idea may be good, but I don’t think it’s being executed well. Idol Dreams is a bi-monthly and not a monthly series, so I wonder if that contributes to the disconnects between chapters.
As Tanemura hints at in one of her author’s notes, older readers will probably like Chikage’s story more while younger fans will want to follow Akari. That’s not really surprising. Older readers can probably appreciate the frustration of not having all your dreams fulfilled; younger readers probably still fantasize about suddenly being swept into the world of celebrities by the current teen heartthrob. I have little doubt that when one of Chikage’s selves takes center stage, the “other Chikage” fans will feel like the story is slow. If you want to read about a woman struggling with the fact she feels alone, you are going to be annoyed by a girl suddenly hanging around celebrities. On the other hand, if you love reading stories about an ordinary girl now getting to work with superstars, you are going to be bored to death when two adults eat at a ramen restaurant. Idol Dreams may sound like it has wide appeal, but it is only engaging about half of its readers at any time. Perhaps if the story switched Chikages more often, this would be less of an issue because Idol Dreams would remain Chikage‘s story, not 50% faux-Chikage living every young girl’s fantasy.
The only bright spot about this “two-in-one” approach is that the story hasn’t yet devolved into silly antics of Chikage hiding her secret identity. I’m sure those are coming, but the manga is pretty light on comedy. The series is not, for those who may be wondering, as dark as, say, Full Moon o Sagashite. The mood is kind of in the middle: sometimes it focuses on negative emotions like regrets and unrequited love, but there’s also the more stereotypical lighthearted chapters of Chikage trying to master a dance routine. The tone switches depending on which Chikage is the focus. Again, this makes Idol Dreams seem like two separate manga in one.
But maybe you like the series’ two-in-one approach. Well, there’s another factor to consider, especially for English readers. Idol Dreams is bimonthly with a whopping five chapters per collected volume. The fourth volume is scheduled to be released in Japan in November 2016, and even if Viz Media puts out Idol Dreams 4 in early 2017, it will still mean a good year until the next volume. Sure, series like Kaze Hikaru are also on a slow release schedule, but at least the volumes are out there to be translated if Viz Media wanted to. You could read several “girl meets celebrity” as well as “single woman finds love” manga in the time between volumes of Idol Dreams.
There’s also no telling how many more volumes of the series there will be. Tanemura adds in the author’s comments she isn’t even sure whether Chikage will end up with Hibiki the idol or high school friend Tokita. So the romance is up in the air. In fact, both of Chikage’s forms are actually stuck in their own love triangles. Chikage is unaware of Tokita’s old feelings for her, and she was in love with their friend Haru. Meanwhile, Akari hangs out with Hibiki and helps out his bandmate Ru. Throw in an idol who likes Hibiki and Tokita’s girlfriend, and the stage is set for a lot of broken hearts. Tanemura mentions she plans to only focus on the main characters of Chikage, Tokita, and Hibiki instead of the supporting characters. So why does the manga need a double love triangle? It’s like Idol Dreams wants to be a reverse harem with part-time harems. It’s bizarre. At least sticking with the main cast should shorten the series, but Tanemura isn’t known for long-term manga anyway.
The manga isn’t helped by the fact that the three main characters are all types who want their cake and to eat it too. Chikage, of course, gets to live her ordinary life as well as a more glamorous one. She also can talk normally to taken men but not to single ones. Chikage says it’s because she hasn’t been around many guys, but we know she went to a co-ed school and had two close guy friends. I guess she completely lost a lot of social skills over the years? Meanwhile, Tokita insists he deeply cares about his girlfriend, but he obviously has a more-than-friendly interest in Chikage. Hibiki is more of a tsundere, becoming relatively friendly with Akari but still calling her ugly. He makes a couple of passes at her while insisting they’re jokes. So because no one is straightforward, the love triangles just get even more out of shape. I am also frustrated by the fact I would normally really like Chikage. She just wants to eat at her favorite restaurant and not be blamed when someone else screws up at work. But she has her moments that are so off-putting, like her suicide attempt or the end of the third volume. Tanemura mentions she has used a lot of her experiences for Idol Dreams, so many it feels like she’s living through Chikage? I know Tanemura is single and is able to sing…
As for the art… I expected when I planned to review Idol Dreams I could pretty much copy my comments from her other works. Yes, she has left Ribon and is working at a magazine targeting slightly older readers, but the difference is more than I was expecting. Tanemura explains at the end of the first volume that her new editor basically asked her to abandon her style. So while her characters have features of the characters in her other works, almost nothing else art-wise screams Tanemura. Sure, there’s the looks of distress and large smiles, but Idol Dreams is just not what Tanemura fans are used to. It almost feels like a progression from a shoujo work to a josei, especially since so many main characters are adults. (Although the adults still look on the young side.) So if you are expecting the next Sakura Hime or Full Moon, you are going to be disappointed. The art is clean and is full of lovely shots, but it’s just plain different: brighter, less busy, and less goofy SD character images. I’m sure anybody who reads Idol Dreams and then goes on to Sakura Hime or any of her other works will probably be surprised at how dissimilar they are.
No honorifics are used. I noticed one or two typos over the volumes. Chikage’s favorite drink is left as cream soda, even though it’s a drink very different from what “cream soda” is in America. (It’s explained in one of the author’s notes.) The second button tradition is explained in a footnote. One minor character speaks in non-standard English to reflect his Osaka accent.
The English title, I imagine, is also supposed to be a pun on “idle dreams”. Because, of course, Chikage pretty much has given up on her dreams. Otherwise, it’s strange since Chikage never really wished to be an idol and didn’t want to do be in the commercial in the first place. I kind of like the original Japanese title better. It’s a pun on “31 Ai (Love) Dreams” and “At Age 31, I Dream”.
Otherwise, not much else to say.
Idol Dreams is not bad, but it kind of has this aura of a self-insertion fanfic. Chikage gets a sudden horde of guys interested in her while she gets to be both the straitlaced office worker and an upcoming idol. Add in the fact that this manga’s release is going to slow to a crawl, and I have to say pass on Idol Dreams. Instead, decide whether you want a story about a woman in the working world or a girl in the idol world and go read it instead.
The second volume includes an interview with Tanemura. It talks about Idol Dreams as well as her (unreleased in English) series Neko to Watashi no Kinyobi. If you don’t know what that’s about, I’m sure most of you will be in for quite a shock. Quite a bit is revealed — some will say spoiled — about that manga (also known as The Cat’s and My Friday). If you don’t want to know too much about the story in case it’s ever licensed, don’t read these sections. Perhaps Viz Media should release that series while fans of Idol Dreams wait for the next volume.
Viz Media has released most of Tanemura’s manga catalog.