Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index




to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Idol, Burning

Usami Rin

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Idol, Burning

Title: Idol, Burning
Author: Usami Rin
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 128 pages
Original in: Japanese
Availability: Idol, Burning - US
Idol, Burning - UK
Idol, Burning - Canada
Idol in Flammen - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Japanese title: 推し、燃ゆ
  • Translated and with a Note by Asa Yoneda
  • Akutagawa Prize, 2020 (II)

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B+ : well done, though heavy for such a short work

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Mail . 3/11/2022 Anthony Cummings
The Guardian . 30/12/2022 John Self
The Japan Times . 5/2/2023 Kris Kosaka

  From the Reviews:
  • "The potent mix of topical satire and psychologically incisive character study deepens into a moving portrait of family strife as Akari grows increasingly withdrawn from her mother and sister. But it’s a short book, and ultimately a slight one -- a marker laid down by a writer set for bigger things, rather than an apex of achievement." - Anthony Cummings, Daily Mail

  • "Usami so successfully depicts the consequences of pure obsession that when Ueno declares his desire to return to being a private citizen and Akari says “I knew it was the end,” we’re torn between sadness and relief." - John Self, The Guardian

  • "It is, in fact, a quietly brilliant exploration of an adolescent existing on the margins of society, chasing after a meaningful life. (...) Usami’s magic comes from her ability to distill the teen spirit (.....) The novel plays with ideas of who we worship, what we find meaningful and what brings us love, connection and purpose." - Kris Kosaka, The Japan Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

- Return to top of the page -

The complete review's Review:

       Masaki Ueno, a member of the idol group Maza Maza, is teenage girl Akari Yamashita's 'oshi' (推し)-- translated as 'idol' in the novel's English title -- and she is a true super-fan, having dedicated herself: "To follow my oshi with my entire body and soul; to interpret him and record it on my blog". While her older sister, Hikari, excels at her studies, Akari apparently has a learning disability and struggles in school -- eventually dropping out rather than repeating a year. The one place she finds meaning and fulfilment is in her obsession with her oshi -- while also remaining at least somewhat self-aware:

     "Oshi work is life and death."
     Fandom talk could get a little over the top.
       The novel opens with Akari waking up to the news that Masaki had punched someone -- apparently, a fan. The incident is widely commented on, and affects his popularity; it isn't a career-ending debacle, but presumably contributes to the eventual break-up of Maza Maza more than a year later, and Masaki stepping out of the spotlight and hoping he can become a simple "private citizen".
       Akari is hit hard by the news of what Masaki did, but stands by her oshi; her support is unconditional. The attacks on him, a constant calling into question of her idol, do naturally, however, take their toll on her. But she continues dutifully and supportively blogging, and as before she continues to work a waitressing job so that she can earn money to put towards buying Maza Maza and Masaki 'merch' (merchandize marketed to fans). (She acknowledges: "We're easy marks, I know. But that's merch acquisition syndrome for you".)
       Though her family is reasonably understanding, they are clearly disappointed by Akari's poor academic performance, and she obviously struggles fitting in -- clumsy at work, unable to keep up at school. Her obsession with Masaki is the one thing she has control over, and she clings to it desperately -- not least because, unlike all the other relationships she sees and is involved with come with expectations, while her fandom demands none:
It was tiresome being told I was being taken advantage of, when I had no expectation of getting anything in return. My devotion too my oshi was its own reward, and that worked well for me, so I just needed people to shut up about it. I wasn't looking for my oshi to return my feelings. Probably because I didn't even want to be seen or accepted the way I was now.
       In her oshi, she finds a (complete) purpose:
Letting go of everything I had -- time, money, energy -- in service of something outside myself. Almost as though by doing that, I could cleanse myself. That, by pouring myself into it, and taking the pain in return, I could find some kind of value in my existence.
       The announcement of the break-up of the group and Masaki's retirement is, of course, devastating, threatening to pull away this one thing she had been able to cling to. She makes sure to go to the tour finale, the final concert -- going through all the super-fan motions, including loading up on more merch -- but afterwards is, of course, left at sea.
       Throughout, her family doesn't really know what to do with her. After she drops out of school they push her to get a job, but she can't find any hold. When her grandmother dies, her family let her move into the now-vacant house -- but being left alone is the last thing Akari needs, and she can't even keep the house in any kind of order.
       Akari is fixated on Masaki: "I need to give him everything, I thought. It's all I have". Her very identity is, to her, defined entirely by her fandom: "Without my oshi, I really wouldn't make it. Wouldn't know that I was me". Masaki's retirement would seem to mark an obvious crisis-point for Akari, but really, she has been in crisis all this time.
       It's a convincing portrait -- but also very bleak, much of the time. (Usami does allow for a glimmer of hope in her conclusion, Akari literally not able to stand on her own two feet but believing in a future.)
       An Afterword and an afterword-like Acknowledgements, both apparently written for this English translation, provide some more insight into what Usami means to tackle in the novel -- certainly revealing, if also a bit distracting; the fiction is certainly strong and clear enough to stand on its own. ('A Note from the Translator' and 'A Note on the Cover Art and Interior Art' by the illustrator (Leslie Hung) are also included, so this is a really well-supported presentation of this text .....)
       Usami captures fandom and obsession very well, as well as Akari's struggles with fitting in in the world beyond the one she has immersed herself in, in family, at work, at school. Akari's struggles with reading and writing, and the inability of anyone around her to give her the assistance she needs is captured particularly well. (It is, however, a bit hard to believe that her family is so uncomprehending of her difficulties that they would let the teenager live on her own, without more support). Usami presents the material and the story well, and Akari's voice impresses in a fine if often dark work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 January 2023

- Return to top of the page -


Idol, Burning: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Japanese author Usami Rin (宇佐見りん) was born in 1999.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2023 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links