chapter 134 thoughts!
My immediate first thought going into this chapter and seeing how it picks up from last week's cliffhanger is that while I thought last week that this conflict served as an excellent character beat for both Ruby and Kana, I feel less positively about it as the catalyst for long term RubyKana conflict. Maybe that's hypocritical because I like the similar AquKana conflict back during the LoveNow aftermath and this is basically just a roided up version of that but… IDK, I guess it helped that the AquKana conflict is very clearly a romcom style miscommunication and it ends up leading to one of my all time favourite and funniest character moments for Aqua, this… isn't that. In general I really hate the old tried conflict trope of "Character A betrays or is otherwise cruel to Character B For Their Own Good and refuses to communicate about it" so this was kind of irritating to see…
It also really doesn't help that Kana is going SO above and beyond in being cruel to Ruby here in comparison to the AquKana conflict where her short-sighted lashing out was being mostly played for laughs but still came back to bite her. There's just something a bit excessive in how deliberately and pointedly cold and mean to Ruby Kana is shown being here and I guess it just feels a bit icky to me though I obviously can't make a proper call on all this til we see its conclusion.
I also have to question like… why is everyone around them just letting this happen lol. Memcho not intervening I can at least make sense of because she's been shown to be feeling off her game and a bit out of her element so I could see all that combining to make her uncertain of what to do but… uh, is Miyako not paying any attention? Admittedly the timeframe here is a little vague so we don't know exactly how long this has been going on but it's been happening at least long enough for Ruby to be going to school and fretting about it to her friends. So the idea of Miyako either being unaware of this or not intervening in this is really baffling to me??? Especially off the back of chapters 124 and 126 making a point of how badly Miyako wants to reach out to Aqua and Ruby and support them as their mother - the only way I can justify this to myself is if Miyako somehow doesn't know this was going on but how would she not know??? Like, we see Gotanda and his assistants fretting over Ruby crying after her scenes! If they're well aware something is wrong, why not Miyako? She's Aqua and Ruby's manager! This is a Strawberry Productions produced movie! We've seen her on set before! Is she just… not here now that it would be inconvenient for the plot?
(The answer to that is 'yes')
Uh all that up there does make it sound like I disliked either this or last chapter but I actually really loved them both for reasons we'll get into soon! I think they're both strong individual chapters and as points in RubyKana's shared arc I actually do really like this conflict, what it says about them both and where it seems to be taking them. There are just a lot of small, piled up contrivances pushing this conflict along and I think they annoyed me so much BECAUSE I otherwise think this is some really tasty character work for both girls and I'm otherwise enjoying it.
My bitching aside, I do really like the talk that follows this. I've been revisiting a lot of the earlier material recently via friends re-reading or giving the series a try for the first time so I've been back in that space of Ruby being particularly starstruck with Frill. It's sweet to see their present day dynamic where Ruby is fully comfortable with Frill just as her friend and trusts her enough to share her worries with her.
aw hey minami we thought you were dead
This entire scene really got my brain gears whirring and I can't help but speculate a little about its placement. At first I was just nodding along, thinking this was just Industry Exposition as usual but… isn't this odd? We don't see how Ruby phrases this question so maybe she was vague but from an authorial standpoint, why is Akasaka having Frill talk about love instead of dislike or hostility, which is what is actually going on between Ruby and Kana? Reading over that scene again and again, I can't help but wonder… is this supposed to be taken as some commentary on what's going on between Ruby and Aqua? Is Ruby developing confusedly romantic feelings for him purely because of their 'playing the roles', so to speak, of Sarina and Gorou? After all, the only other similar 'showmances', so to speak, that this could be referring to are AquKana and AquAka, neither of which quite fit the bill, especially when Frill talks about immediately snapping out of those feelings once the show is over — which didn't happen in the least for either pairing. Is this a hint of something to do with Ruby's feelings? Am I reading too much into this??? I mean, I almost definitely am, but I do that every week so…
Hopping over to Kana, the scene between her and Memcho itches my brain less mostly just because it's reiterating things communicated last week. I've said all I'll say about it feeling weird to me that Mem isn't making a move to intervene here but I do like the talk she and Kana have about their human jealousy towards Ruby. Honestly, I have a lot of respect for their being able to push it aside for so long because… honestly, none of what Kana said is wrong!
The second generation of B-Komachi exists for Ruby. Strawberry Productions got back into the idol business entirely so Ruby would have a group to be part of. Kana and Mem were recruited so Ruby would have unitmates to perform with. It doesn't revolve around her to the extent the previous generation did Ai, but in a very real sense Kana is correct when she identifies herself and Memcho as 'extras' for B-Komachi, who exist for Ruby's sake. Not only that but Ruby honestly treated them really badly while she was in black hoshigan mode! Yes, we as readers know what was going on in her head and why but think about how all that probably seemed to Kana and Mem who had no idea: From their POV, what happened was that they broke into mainstream success at last and Ruby immediately left them in the dust, prioritizing her own growth and success in a way that had a very real impact on the fan response the two of them got while they were busting their asses and trying their best to keep B-Komachi going in her absence. I don't think they would be wrong to feel honestly kind of used and hurt!
Obviously this isn't me saying that Ruby is a bad person or that she deserves to have Kana snap at her like that or whatever but… I dunno! It just feels good to have Mem and Kana finally address those feelings and admit to them without it compromising their genuine love and care for Ruby, which is one one of the main ways that the current gen of B-Komachi has surpassed the previous one. Kana especially touches on something I discussed last week in that I think her half of this shared RubyKana arc is going to be about confronting and besting her 'inner Nino', so to speak. Like Nino, she has those same tangled up feelings of admiration and envy, but Kana is capable of confronting them and identifying them. Most importantly, she loves Ruby enough to not let them take her over completely.
ANYWAY FORGET ALL THE REST OF THIS STUFF BECAUSE THIS WAS SECRETLY AN AI POST THIS WHOLE TIME MFS!!!!!!!! oh god this chapter review is already so long and now it's about to get even longer.
Anyone who's read any of my OnK meta before will probably know that I have always stood by one thing that I won't compromise on: Hoshino Ai was just a normal girl. She was a normal girl who suffered abuse and neglect and hated herself as a result, who was exploited by the entertainment industry because she was pretty and vulnerable, who didn't understand people but spent every waking moment of her too-short life reaching out so she could try and love them. The idea of Ai being fundamentally mysterious or unknowable, that the so called 'real Ai' had some horrible dark secret or that the supposedly 'true' Ai really was as horrible as Ai thought herself to be have never resonated with me. The 'real me' that is so horrible that Ai can only speak of her with black stars is nothing more than the flawed, hurting, abused human behind Ai of B-Komachi. I've said this all along and yet there's always been a little part of me worried that Akasaka was going to pull a fast one and betray that idea and rupture the heart of this character I've come to love so much.
To that end — I cannot tell you how insanely fucking cathartic the ending of this chapter was. To have Ruby at last come face to face with her mother as a human being and recognize her for who she really is. That this key final puzzle piece of the real Ai is centered on her pain and her loneliness and her raw humanity, that Ruby describes her as just a normal girl who was always crying and in pain… I genuinely don't have words to say how incredible it felt to finally, FINALLY have someone recognize Ai's suffering. And not just anyone, but one of Ai's children, one of the people she loved more than anything else in the world.
The imagery and framing here is so insanely powerful. Ai taking the place of Ruby's reflection, the look of weary, resigned pain on her face. How small Ai is when Ruby sees her. The barrier of the glass between them; even now in this moment of understanding, the unbreechable barrier of Ai's death keeps Ruby from truly reaching her. It almost feels skeuomorphic in how literal the visualization of this moment of connection and empathy is. Ruby literally sees herself in Ai — she sees Ai in herself. It's pure empathy made as real and tangible as it gets. At long, long last, someone has squinted past the blinding light cast by Ai of B-Komachi and seen Hoshino Ai alone in the shadows where she's been this whole time.
Break next week…! That was to be expected — Jump Festa 2024 will be taking place next weekend and there will be a OnK panel with the seiyuu for Ai, Aqua, Kana and Akane in attendance. We're confirmed to be getting some season 2 news as well, so there's that to look forward to!
Chapter 134 thoughts!
Frill! I’m always happy to see her, she’s still one of my favorites despite her small role in the series. It’s interesting to know more about her acting perspective, and she easily fills in the role of explaining acting industry knowledge to Ruby that I suspect Kana will no longer be doing.
It hurts to see that Ruby can’t see what Kana is doing there, but I figured she wouldn’t. Ruby could tell if Kana was outright lying, I’m sure of that, but her telling her suppressed truth is a lot harder to read otherwise.
(Honestly the only people that I expect will understand is Aqua and the Director. Maybe Akane but she’s not knowledgeable enough on the inner workings of old B Komachi to see the parallels believably imo)
Like I said though, I’m still pretty worried about how this is going to affect Kana’s career, especially her exit from B Komachi. I still don’t see death flags for Kana, but I think she will suffer for this.
But also this has pushed Ruby’s character forward in such a good way to me. I always felt like it was her role specifically to understand Ai entirely, rather than how Aqua is interpreting her through his own trauma. After the unofficial Ai rehearsal I was sure of it, but then her character… kind of went all over the place for a minute. Still, I really like this present direction for her and it feels very earned. Excited to see where it goes.
God this arc is going to make me even more sad about Ai.