Gender and Oshi no Ko: How Does the Anime Represent Female Characters?

Gender in Oshi no Ko
Credit: Doga Kobo

Gender in Oshi no Ko
Credit: Doga Kobo

Oshi no Ko is one of the most talked-about Spring 2023 anime due to its dark themes, critique of the idol industry, and strong character arcs. But how is Oshi no Ko doing when it comes to the representation of female characters?

Does the anime live up to its reputation as a dark look at the entertainment industry and does it do its female characters justice?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for Oshi no Ko below!

RELATED: When Do New Oshi no Ko Manga Chapters Come Out?

Oshi no Ko: A Valid Social Critique Through a Problematic Premise

Oshi no Ko features a number of compelling female characters and raises important questions about being a woman in show business, especially if trying to balance family life and a career.

However, these concerns are initially introduced through a creepy premise that might alienate some viewers.

In the first 20 or so minutes of the first, movie-length episode, we follow the perspective of Goro, a gynecologist.

Goro, who is about 30 years old, is a big fan of idol Ai Hoshino after a young patient introduced him to her work before passing away.

Following his viewpoint is rather uncomfortable, as his interest in 16-year-old Ai occasionally veers into creepy territory.

To make matters more problematic, Goro is murdered and reincarnated immediately after... as Ai's son.

Oshi no Ko: Valid Social Critique Through a Problematic Premise
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Credit: Doga Kobo

Given how isekai anime like Mushoku Tensei have gone from there, it's natural for anime fans to get worried.

Far too many works feature grown men getting reincarnated as babies with all their adult memories intact, and how this is handled often makes for sexist narratives.

Thankfully, Aqua Hoshino -- as Goro is now called -- doesn't have much interest in romance.

Instead, he only cares about making Ai happy. That being said, he remains a problematic character for reasons we'll analyze below.

Thankfully, the most worrying aspects of Oshi no Ko and the unfortunate reincarnation story aren't the main focus for long, so the story's real themes can shine.

Ai Hoshino's Character Arc

Ai Hoshino's Character Arc
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Credit: Doga Kobo

Ai might seem like a typical anime character with her gentle manners and impossibly cheerful personality.

But Oshi no Ko does a great job of depicting what lies behind this facade, making her one of the most compelling characters.

Oshi no Ko doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities of juggling motherhood and a career, especially a career in entertainment while still a teenager.

Ai is determined to have it all but she entertains no illusions about the idol industry.

She knows she can only be successful if she lies skillfully, telling her audience what they want to hear.

This explains her gentle, almost impossibly perfect mannerisms, which would seem like poor writing in any other character.

Ai Hoshino's Character Arc 2
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Credit: Doga Kobo

Throughout Episode 1, we see that it's almost impossible for an idol to win; the pay is lower than one would suspect and female idols typically retire in their mid-20s at the latest, with few career prospects beyond that.

Moreover, idols are under constant scrutiny online and offline, and they often have to deal with fans' inappropriate conduct.

Most idols' contracts prevent them from publicly dating, let alone having a family, so Ai is continuously striving to safeguard her children and her life with them from the public eye.

Through Ai, the struggles of a young female character balancing a family and a career are portrayed so compellingly that if the entire show focused on that, I would gladly watch it.

Ai's inability to tell her children that she loves them, in particular, was a heartbreaking detail that depicts the tragedy of having to embody a lie for one's livelihood; a not-often-discussed experience Ai likely shares with many women.

From a feminist viewpoint, Ai Hoshino's death leaves us with mixed feelings.

Ai Hoshino's Character Arc Death
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Credit: Doga Kobo

On one hand, violence against women is a very real phenomenon, and we could see something like this happening in real life.

As such, it's important to address it, and Oshi no Ko does so in a compelling and heart-wrenching way.

On the other hand, Ai's story was extremely interesting. With Episode 1's ending, she's essentially fridged, with Aqua -- the most problematic character in the show -- becoming Oshi no Ko's protagonist.

Arguably, one of Oshi no Ko's main themes is violence against young women in the entertainment industry.

The anime doesn't shy away from the fact that this violence can, and often will, go too far.

Regardless, the death of Ai -- whose story deserved an entire season, rather than a single episode -- feels like a missed opportunity for what might have been an amazing female-driven story.

Aqua's Character Arc

Aqua's Character Arc
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Credit: Doga Kobo

From a feminist perspective, Oshi no Ko's bigger crime might not be Ai's death itself, but the promotion of Aqua to main character in her stead.

While the weird reincarnation bits are left behind soon, Aqua is still pretty horrible.

As we've already established, isekai'ed men aren't the best protagonists for a show that centers on women's issues.

Aqua does become increasingly distinct from Goro and feels more like an actual teenager as the anime progresses. However, he still makes some questionable choices.

To protect his sister Ruby, who dreams of becoming an idol like Ai, he secretly sabotages her chances to join a group.

Aqua's Character Arc Ruby
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Credit: Doga Kobo

He then proceeds to manipulate other female characters into joining the idol group of Strawberry Productions, the agency of his and Ruby's foster parents, where he deems his sister will be safer.

While he means well, and the idol industry is established as a dangerous and cutthroat place, this is very patronizing.

Moreover, although Aqua's quest for revenge is understandable, much of it is driven by an unhealthy obsession with Ai.

The fact that he spends days and even years digging into Ai's personal information has made some fans uncomfortable.

Overall, Aqua's most worrying characteristics are downplayed and Oshi no Ko doesn't tend to dwell on its problematic aspects or repeat them.

But some fans would understandably wish Ruby got more focus instead.

Have an opinion on this article? We'd love to hear it!

What About the Other Female Characters in Oshi no Ko?

Oshi no Ko Female Characters
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Credit: Doga Kobo

While not as compelling as Ai, all female characters in Oshi no Ko are interesting in their own way, and they all illuminate the anime's themes.

Most of them have their own distinct goals. Due to Oshi no Ko's subject matter, most of these dreams and aspirations revolve around show business, but they do feel distinct.

Ruby is a bit underdeveloped right now considering her character's huge potential.

Right now, she's following Ai's footsteps in the second B-Komachi group but doesn't have much of an arc beyond that.

Kana Arima, a child actor the twins used to know as toddlers, is a cool side character who already shows character growth as she realizes how unforgiving show business can be.

Oshi no Ko Gender Akane
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Credit: Doga Kobo

Some of Oshi no Ko's later episodes focus on Akane, an actor who participates in a dating reality show alongside Aqua.

When she fails to perform in a memorable way, she gives in to her agency's pressure and tries to overcompensate.

This horribly backfires, and online communities bully Akane relentlessly, bringing her close to suicide.

At this point in the show, it's unclear if Akane will later have a role in the series other than being used to showcase the dangers of cyberbullying, but she does have potential, and we hope to see more of her.

Moreover, the other female characters' support of Akane was very heartwarming, especially given how everyone has been conditioned to be competitive.

ALSO READ: How Oshi no Ko Portrayed Cyberbullying

So, How Does Oshi no Ko Present Women? Our Verdict

How Does Oshi no Ko Represent Women
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Credit: Doga Kobo

Oshi no Ko might start from a creepy premise that could lead some viewers to skip it, but it does depart from it quickly, to highlight very real social issues women might face.

Despite this theme, Oshi no Ko doesn't focus on female characters as much as it could, with the manipulative Aqua getting much of the screen time.

Ai's arc made for an unforgettable, heartbreaking, and violently realistic premiere.

Her demise felt like a punch in the gut, and in some ways, it can be viewed as a missed opportunity, given how complex she was.

That being said, Oshi no Ko doesn't fetishize women's suffering. The narrative is on Ai's side, and any crude fanservice you would expect from such a show is thankfully avoided.

Gender and Oshi no Ko
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Credit: Doga Kobo

Even as more girls, including Ruby, Kana, and Akane, try to enter the entertainment industry with all the heartbreak it entails, Oshi no Ko doesn't seem willing to repeat Ai's tragedy; so far, their stories are tough, but not devoid of hope.

Overall, Oshi no Ko isn't perfect, but it's good food for thought about modern entertainment, fans' obsession with stars, and the current social media landscape, with a focus on how these affect women and girls.

If you are willing to overlook the male protagonist's questionable behaviors, most other pitfalls associated with female characters' representation are thankfully largely avoided.

Discover more of our insights and the latest anime news by following us on Twitter @epicstreamanime.

READ NEXT: What Does Oshi no Ko Mean? The Anime's Title Explained

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