CONTENT WARNING: Not Your Idol and this review covers themes of sexual assault
VIZ Media and Shojo Beat’s Not Your Idol’s series debut by mangaka Aoi Makino was heartfelt and deep. It’s main theme confronted rape culture, misogyny, and everything that goes with that through the eyes of Nina Kamiyama. A high school girl, Nina is also a former member of the popular idol group, Pure Club. But, gone are the days of mini-skirts and photoshoots. Instead, Nina decided to stop presenting as a girl. By shunning her femininity and starting to dress as a boy, Nina hopes to fade into the background as she recovers from a traumatic attack at a handshaking event. While the last volume touched on Nina’s PTSD, it focuses more on describing the world she’s in, how her fellow students view sexual assault and harassment, and ultimately, how she is adapting to her new school and her first crush. In Not Your Idol Volume 2, we get a larger discussion about Nina’s PTSD, more cultural commentary, and in all of it, we also see her blossoming relationship with Hikaru.
Not Your Idol Volume 2 pushes its labeling as a psychological suspense series. The last volume ended with a question: is Hikaru, Nina’s first crush, the person responsible for her assault? Picking up immediately after the last volume, this one begins with a dramatic confrontation between Nina and Hikaru. While her friends are pushing her not to trust him, Nina knows that he isn’t the one who attacked her. But beyond that, as the two hide in the first club Nina ever performed in, they connect with each other and Nina details her emotions and her fears. She does so in a way that doesn’t only showcase how she is processing her trauma, but also in a way that takes Hikaru’s questions and feelings into account.
The way Makino writes the two characters in this moment at the beginning of the volume is emotional. The two speak openly but they also speak with empathy. While Hikaru is thoughtful towards Nina, she is also concerned in turn. The two characters hold each other’s emotions in themselves and it helps shape their relationship.
But while the opening of the book is about understanding, the rest of the Not Your Idol Volume 2 is not. When some of Nina’s actions while a part of Pure Club are spread throughout the school, she has to endure hearing things like how disgusting it is for women to choose to show their bodies. She begins to once again internalize the misogyny. In doing so, she’s a victim again, as she reels from having to feel like her attack was her fault. That said, Nina is still safeguarding her past identity as an idol. She hides it, but her romantic rival is trying to dig it back up and in the process retraumatize her.
This volume has even harder conversations than the first. Makino dives headfirst into subject matter that directly confronts how women and girls internalize the world around them and blame themselves for their assaults. In addition, the manga also presents a position that some women act out because they are forced to. In other words, mean girls are mean girls because they have to be. They choose to leverage a patriarchal system and believe that they have to play by the “rules” society sets for them. While this manga began by throwing Nina into a petty love triangle, the meaning behind it has come to fruition as it investigates the way women perpetuate harmful rape culture themselves, and towards themselves.
While I am trying to avoid spoilers for Not Your Idol Volume 2, it has to be noted that a character is sexually assaulted. While it happens off-panel, we see the trauma that results from it and this can be triggering. The trauma is palpable and Nina’s attempt to help is awkward, but for a reason. Nina is trying to console someone who hates her, but at the same time, is so similar to her that she can’t help but feel for her.
In addition to all of the emotional elements of the volume that tackle a hard conversation, the romance between Nina and Hikaru is beginning to flourish, and oh, so naturally. Even when surrounded by the trauma, Not Your Idol Volume 2 is able to offer up a budding romance that succeeds because both parties care about each other. As a whole, this series is doing important work and can open the conversation for young women everywhere to discuss important issues and trauma they may be carrying. Because of that, Not Your Idol Volume 2 is phenomenal. While those who experienced trauma akin to that in the book may want to proceed with caution, this is a title that is not only beautifully written and illustrated but more importantly, necessary.
Not Your Idol Volume 2 is available in bookstores on September 1, 2020.
Not Your Idol Volume 2
Not Your Idol Volume 2 is phenomenal. While those who experienced trauma akin to that in the book may want to proceed with caution, this is a title that is not only beautifully written and illustrated but more importantly, necessary.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.