A common, but under-examined aspect of the human experience is paralysis. The feeling of “I can’t do that.” The inability to move on, the shock of freshly re-opened trauma, the crushing mundanity and idleness of simple insecurity.
I recently lost part of my primary writing tool. This, coming off a rather difficult week of responses (sometimes disingenuous, sometimes genuine) to a certain piece and broken air conditioners in the midst of a heatwave, has not made for a productive, fun, or at times even tolerable writing environment, and I have felt quite drained.
As a counterbalance, I am trying to indulge my spur of the moment flashes of inspiration more. So I feel like it may be, if not productive perhaps, at least interesting and fun for me (and what should my writing be if not those things?) to look at something that has helped me overcome that drained-ness.
Which brings us to The Idolm@ster. The 2011 anime has been something of a constant background presence in my life over the past year. I have been working through it very slowly despite its short length. Not out of a lack of enjoyment but just as a mundane consequence of juggling other obligations. On some level though, perhaps I don’t want my time with these characters to end.
One of those characters is Chihaya Kisaragi, a personal favorite, and the focus of this piece. Chihaya has an interesting air about her that I’ve found fascinating since I started the show. I’ve talked recently about my love of outwardly-cool female characters who carry within them a deep, almost elemental sorrow. But I’ve struggled to articulate why I find the character archetype so compelling. I think episode 20, which is about Chihaya, has given me at least part of the answer. (Full disclosure! It’s actually as far as I’ve watched. I will feel a little silly if I post this and then episode 21 completely tops it, but hey, that’s the risk you run.)
The plot is fairly simple and I’ll summarize it here briefly for the benefit of the reader. The unscrupulous president of 765’s rival company 961 gets a hold of and leaks information about Chihaya’s past. Namely, that she had a younger brother who died when she was a child. The tabloid article’s writer near-explicitly blames Chihaya for her brother’s death, reopening an old rift between the idol and her parents and causing her to choke when she tries to sing. To greatly simplify (and rob the episode of its emotional impact, which is a borderline crime. The perils of criticism!) she is eventually coaxed back onto the stage by the pleas of her fellow idols, and by her own recognition that she sings as much for herself as she does for the spirit of her late brother or for anyone else. And furthermore, her realization that that is okay.
I do not, in any way, mean to compare the magnitude of my problems and Chihaya’s, but what this episode really drove home for me is that what I love about these characters is that they persevere. Our traumas change us, but what characters like this seem to say is “Yes, that may be so, but they do not destroy us.” As someone who is pretty deeply insecure about….well, everything, I admire that level of weathered strength. I do not envy it–those are two different things–but there is something genuinely inspiring about seeing someone who took such a rough, malicious public beating stand back up and continue her life’s work not because she has anything to prove to anyone but because she wants to.
There’s a deep confidence to it, but more importantly, a luminous joy. One hammered home by the wonderful magical realism present in the episode’s final moments. Her dignity and her passion are never in question. What Chihaya may realize is that ultimately; no struggle can keep a singer from her microphone forever. Her voice swells again, and the song plays on.
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