Author: Arina Tanemura
Genre: Drama, Romance, Magical Girl
Publisher: Viz Media (US) / Hakusensha (JP)
Release Date: November 3, 2015
Original Magazine: Melody
Chikage Deguchi believes you’re romantically popular only three times in your life. At 31, she’s only lucked out once, as a teenager. Since then Chikage’s been in a romantic rut, and it’s not something she’s proud of — especially since she’s still a virgin. When word gets out about her lack of romantic experience she’s ready to throw in the towel, until an experimental drug gives her a chance to re-do her teenage years — as an idol!
When I first heard Idol Dreams licensed I was thrilled to see a series coming out in English with a protagonist closer to my age — well past her high school years. At the same time I was skeptical — maybe even a bit disappointed initially — to see Arina Tanemura at the helm. An unfair criticism to be sure, but I just couldn’t picture Tanemura’s frilly shoujo aesthetic paired with an older office lady. I want a story about adults! Thankfully that criticism falls to wayside because, well, the “magical girl” office lady story she’s crafted is pretty entertaining.
While to me this doesn’t necessarily ring as a “magical girl” story as much it does the potential to be an idol story, Idol Dreams has me hooked. The first chapters gives us a perfect glimpse into Deguchi’s pre-switch life, and quickly establishes why she would want to be so much younger: she’s yelled at work, not particularly fashionable, and boyfriendless. While I have a gut level “meh” response to so much of Deguchi’s self-esteem being tied to her lack of a man, who hasn’t wanted to be younger at some point, for some reason? I was worried the idol storyline would turn out to be generic — why couldn’t Deguchi just go back in time and re-live her normal life? — but even that aspect is compelling. The competition is fierce, but that seems like just the thing to push Deguchi into becoming the person she wanted, and wants, to be.
Of course this wouldn’t be a shoujo manga without love interests, and Deguchi has two: as a 15 year old idol there’s her male rival Hibiki, and as an adult there’s Tokita, Deguchi’s old classmate as well as the man responsible for the experimental drug. The latter, given the situation, becomes a bit of a confidant for Deguchi’s (re)adventures into puberty but he also obviously carries his own flame. It’s hard not to like Tokita as the underdog romantic option, even if he is the stereotypical blonde choice. Of the darker haired variety is Hibiki, the misunderstood musical prodigy. He’s a hard worker with a hidden sweet side, but he’s not particularly memorable at this point, really. While romance is a part of the story, so far Idol Dreams really does feel like it’s focus is on Deguchi finding and eventually liking herself.
It’s pretty obvious from the get go that Idol Dreams is missing some of Tanemura’s signature style markers: less screentone, less frilly, less busy. It feels purposeful, and it’s revealed in the end notes with the author that the pull back actually is intentional. The editor apparently requested “less screentone” less “gags” and essentially less “everything that makes it a Arina Tanemura series.” Diehards may hate it, but I’m glad to see Tanemura adjust for her audience. Even with those things lessened Tanemura is obviously leaps above other shoujo artists, so we’re still left with beautiful art, just less cramped and busy.
I really enjoyed this first volume of Idol Dreams. It’s a fun, quick read that may pull some people that aren’t normally Tanemura fans. Give it a look if you’re on the fence.