From season to season we’re showered with idol shows: students in idol clubs, aspiring idols, idols who do sports, and idols trying to balance work and school. This time around in Phantom of the Idol, it’s an idol who doesn’t want to be an idol and is haunted by another idol. It sounds kind of silly, I know, but it somehow works well in this case in large part because of the contrasting personalities involved. Niyodo Yuuya is the perfect representation of the reluctant participant with his tired approach to life, while his co-idol Kazuki Yoshino is the picture of positive, if a bit oblivious, energy. The ghost who enters into Yuuya’s life is Mogami Asahi, a beloved singer who passed away at the height of her fame. Together, they navigate ZINGS’ rise in popularity and their own questions about what it means to be an idol while staying true to themselves.
The WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) catchphrase seemed like it was everywhere when I was a student in the 90s, not only at the church events I was dragged to multiple times a week but even in other public spaces like school and town–you’d see the logo on bracelets, or slapped on someone’s water bottle and backpack. As an easily impressionable student, I thought the question a fairly harmless one that encouraged us all to think more carefully about our actions and how they impacted others. But now, decades later and decidedly separated from my religious upbringing, I wonder what actions I avoided that I really shouldn’t have.
“WWJD” implies making the “right” choice and avoiding the “wrong” route. By placing someone else onto this pedestal, especially a “perfect” someone, you set yourself onto a strict path with specific expectations of who you want to be without taking into consideration all the possibilities just as fulfilling elsewhere, if not more. You might make less mistakes in life, but you’ll also lack the understanding that comes with the experience, or the chance to turn that mistake into a new opportunity.
About a quarter of the way through the season, ZINGS meets an already established idol group, Cgrass. One of their members, Hikaru Setouchi, embodies everything Yuuya is not: exuberance, thoughtfulness, and diligence. We also find out he’s a Mogami Asahi fanatic. It takes Setouchi very little exposure to Yuuya to realize that many of his recent performances and fan interactions are not only reminiscent of his favorite idol Mogami, but completely identical down to the phrases and body language. For a superfan like Setouchi, this isn’t just insulting; it’s downright unforgivable. In his eyes, there is no one who lives up to the pinnacle that was Mogami Asahi, much less an inconsistent performer like Yuuya Niyodo. In his outrage towards Yuuya, Setouchi overlooks his own tendency to do as she would have done, act like she would have acted. By continually asking himself what Mogami would do in any given situation and then following that assumption, he sets himself up for a lonely future where nobody truly knows him, most notably himself.
Setouchi’s history with depression is clearly laid out, as is his movement out of it, though I would argue given his fixation on Yuuya and even more fervent imaging of Mogami Asahi that he never fully recovered. What started as an inexplicable loss of interest in school progressed to avoidance of the outside world. When he first discovered Mogami through her music, he was seemingly filled with the energy he had lost. She motivated him to take the first step beyond his door, and then pursue a path where he could be like her, someone who inspired and brought joy to others. But now with her gone, he’s elevated her to unreachable heights while simultaneously holding those impossible standards for himself and others.
So while I applaud the good that Mogami Asahi did for Setouchi, I also want to caution against taking that appreciation too far to the point of neglecting himself of other possible enjoyments. By the end of “Stage 7,” Setouchi realizes that in his fear of forgetting Mogami, he stopped himself from liking anyone else. It’s played off as a joke, but Yuuya suggests that it’s okay to idolize more than one idol, a sentiment (or “sin”) I completely agree with. As we continue through to the end of the summer season, I hope we’ll see a bit more growth in Setouchi. The same goes for Yuuya. He’s made it this far out of his uncanny learning abilities and his ghostly assistant, but I think it’d be totally fine for the ending to accept that music performance isn’t what he wants.
Watch Phantom of the Idol on HIDIVE.