“Good evening. Terrace House is a show about six strangers living together, and we observe how they interact with each other. All that we’ve prepared is a beautiful home and automobile. There is no script at all.”
This is the introduction quote that would grace every episode. It’s what gave the show a Chicken Soup for the Soul quality to it. If there’s no script, there’s no need to have theatrics, scandals, or bad faith actors. After all, you’re a fly on the wall. But if you’ve watched any of the seasons, you know that it always ends with a desperate wish for the show to end.
Whether it be a sex scandal between housemates, housemates who are clearly aware of being performers on the show, or housemates who are too dependent on the show to leave, it always ends up being a huge dumpster fire by the time the finale hits. Because the cozy vibes you came for quickly dwindle once you realize how much drama is influenced or instigated by the show’s staff.
OPENING SEALED DOORS
Terrace House ended its run on May 19, 2020. Not because of declining ratings or feeling like the concept has gone stale. Not even because of one of the commentator’s tax evasion issues. But because of the show’s role in the death of a houseguest.
This is the closest I get to writing about real life issues here, and I’d like to apologize in advance if this winds up being more of a Terrace House analysis than an Oshi no Ko review. But if you follow my logic, you’ll understand why this ties directly to the latest episode of Oshi no Ko. Terrace House: Tokyo 2019–2020 was meant to be a return to form after the past two seasons were focused on Hawaii and Karuizawa as the houseguests go back to the city life.
While the logic was to have the show culminate in the 2020 Olympics, COVID delays halted both the event and the show’s production. Shortly after the delays, professional wrestler Hana Kimura had taken her own life while in isolation after having to contend with the cyberbullying she faced as a result of her storylines on Terrace House.
One scene that escalated the constant, non-stop harassment happened during the episode “Case of the Costume Incident,” when she was in a dispute with cast member Kai Kobayashi over a mishap of washing her wrestling costume. The fight was said to be the result of the staff urging her to act violently for the camera by multiple sources. While the production company came forward about provisions they made to allow cast members to take recommendations with a grain of salt, the staff’s manipulation made it clear that they wanted to misrepresent Kimura’s behavior and stage any interactions with her as to make sure they keep adding fuel to the fire.
It’s not an oppressive environment that forces houseguests to misbehave, especially considering that most participants are well-aware of the show being a marketing tool for their brand. Most of the older houseguests and almost everyone on “Aloha State” were definitely there as influencers. It’s deliberately set this way because the promo is what makes the show “wholesome”. Watching people seek out their dreams and potentially find love has made the show a therapeutic alternative to American reality shows where bad behavior gets you everywhere.
But if you’re a mismatch for the show, the writing on the wall will be to prod at you with a stick until you do something exciting. Any microaggression is immediately billed as an indictment on a person’s soul, and there’s no amount of defending yourself or apologizing that will fix it. Non-disclosure agreements also made it difficult for many of the housemates to discuss any behind-the-scenes events. While being evil on American reality TV is an expectation, playing the villain on Terrace House is a stain on your career and causes people to question your ambitions.
It’s actually much kinder in Oshi no Ko because there’s no round table panel of entertainers hired to slander you. For instance, Natsumi of “Boys & Girls in the City” was automatically painted to be vindictive and unhinged by the panel after many of her interactions were seen as confrontational, culminating in a fight that turned into a massive spectacle on the show. Her sanity is still being questioned because the show was a mismatch for the kind of pressure and likeability that was required to play ball.
If you stay on the show for too long without being exciting, you’re seen as a freeloader who needs to leave. If your career goals are too plain or if your love story is too slow, Ryota Yamasato will mock you for being boring or a herbivore. If you do anything bad on the show or if you seem promiscuous, you can bet that there’ll be a huge discussion afterwards about how there’s something morally wrong about you.
It’s impressive that Oshi no Ko managed to gain the same kind of notoriety as other smash hit anime while having a scenario play out that condemns the production company of Terrace House for their treatment of houseguests. Of course, by this point, Terrace House is a damaged brand, so I suppose they’re an acceptable target compared to needing to dance around portraying mafia ties to entertainment.
LOOKING INTO IT O_O
With all of this in mind, you start to see the inspiration that Terrace House had on Oshi no Ko. Most chapter discussions about Akane or this particular arc in Oshi no Ko often look to Terrace House, its treatment of houseguests, and the circumstances of its cancellation as a frame of reference because of how much of Akane and the other participants’ experiences are mirrored in all of this.
It’s hard to watch this episode because of the horrors that Akane faced in her desperate struggle to be seen as relevant to the show and because it hits close to home as someone all too familiar with what happened on Terrace House. Having to see what targeted harassment is like from Akane’s perspective makes it all the more agonizing and horrifying to see hate campaigns play out on social media.
With the way Twitter is, you’re celebrated for being unashamedly trashy and treated like a monster for not meeting sociopathic peoples’ standards for morality. Earnest, apologetic people are torn apart for wearing their hearts on their sleeve, while unapologetic opportunists can doubledown on bad behavior and just be Twitter’s enemy for the day.
The way Twitter is nowadays with its mediocre moderation rewards its users for wishing death on others. You’re expected to see the LTG image almost every day on Twitter as soon as any opposing opinion stokes fantasies of self-harm or vigilante murder. Factor in the dramatic responses to how others are perceived based on viral clips or entertainment, and you have an environment where scratching someone’s face on a reality TV show is treated like a violation of the Geneva Convention.
So knowing the public’s engagement with a site where there are public debates over who deserves to be killed or subjugated are regularly had, you can immediately factor in the kind of mental anguish Akane had gone through. Without the ability to just shut off her phone to avoid hatred, the intense severity you could expect from the site starts leaking out into her own personal experiences at school and at home.
Although there was a hopeful outcome with Aqua preventing her attempt, I’m wondering what resolution that Aqua could have for this. Given that the producers of Terrace House are currently in legal trouble for this, I’d imagine that, to further dip into fictional aspects of Oshi no Ko, Aqua will use the last few episodes of the reality show to rehabilitate Akane’s image.
As for the rest of the episode, I found it to be powerful how the episode managed to mirror Akane and the Hoshino sibling’s experiences with being involved in entertainment. The concept of “egosurfing” that winds up introducing Akane to new, unhinged voices telling her she’s awful is introduced by Kana in scene beforehand that’s focused on the kind of egosurfing we all do on occasion. On the lighter side, it was funny to see Kana pretty much sum up SEO considering how much being an entertainer often means being your own marketing agency.
The juxtaposition between the nervous yet overly-optimistic egosurfing that Ruby was doing with the anxious doom-searching that Akane was doing was intense. Similarly, flashing back to MEM’s advice on online apologies right around the point Akane’s apology backfired made it all the more upsetting to see. Even worse is the fantasy she has of basking in the warm glow of an audience immediately cutting to her rain-soaked face as she’s standing on the crosswalk railing.
As a whole, it’s hard not to feel terrible for Akane for being surrounded by people who consistently failed her. She’s a struggling actress who just wants to be in serious productions, but she got roped into a shallow reality show by her handlers for promotional purposes. In the process, her manager’s boss gets mad when the serious actress doesn’t stand out among internet celebrities and social butterflies, and pushes both her and her manager to take on the bad advice she was getting on the set.
On top of being roped into a show where she constantly has to see her fans and handlers call her boring and uninteresting on television, she isn’t well-equipped to handle the one big controversy that everyone was cheering her on to get involved with. And to add salt to the wound, she has people who announced they stopped being fans because they see her reality show appearance as opportunistic promo material that takes away from her acting ambitions.
What you’re left with is a race to the bottom between her irritable, crappy handlers and the reckless fools on-set to see who can give Akane the worst career advice. As Akane is learning the ropes of what she should be looking out for as an aspiring actress, she’s forced to learn about the entertainment industry the hard way.
It’s another instance where Oshi no Ko is in the right for tackling the standard mismanagement you can expect from industries more focused on short-term money-making strategies than investing in your talents’ safety and wellbeing. Whether it be pop groups, TV dramas, or reality shows, I’m appreciating that Oshi no Ko has taken more consideration in addressing how talented people are often stifled by the environments they’re forced in because they have to play ball with whatever short-sighted nonsense is deemed to be financially successful.