Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis was written by Yoshikazu Takeuchi and first published in Japanese in 1991 as Pāfekuto Burū: Kanzen Hentai. It is a horror story that focuses on a young pop idol being stalked by a psychotic fan. The book was finally translated into English in 2018 and served as the inspiration for Satoshi Kon’s classic animated movie, Perfect Blue. The novel is followed by a spin-off anthology titled Perfect Blue: Awaken from a Dream which is due to be released in English later this year.

Mima Kirigoe has never been the most popular of pop idols in Japan, but she has still gained a small following of loyal fans. While she has never had much trouble with these, one has recently been causing her distress. Though largely harmless, he has been repeatedly calling her home and promising to “protect” her, and has recently been seen trying to gain access to her studio.

His persistence worries Mima a little, but she has bigger problems. Eri Ochiai – a new pop idol with a risqué image – has decided that Mima is her rival and has dedicated her life to ruining Mima’s career. Mima’s manager has decided that it’s time that she had a change of image to combat this and has suggested that she produce a photo book that presents her as being older and sexier. Mima really isn’t sure about this as she has built her career as being a traditional teen idol, yet as Eri ups her game she sees no choice but to take part.

However, this new sexy image for Mima drives her stalker over the edge. In a bid to save Mima by preserving her innocence, he sets out on a mission to kidnap his beloved idol. Is there any way that Mima can hope to survive when she does not even know what her stalker looks like?

Okay, let’s address a few things before I begin. I decided to review this novel because I am a huge fan of Satoshi Kon’s animated work. The movie Perfect Blue was released in 1997 and is a true masterpiece. It’s not the easiest film to watch due to its subject matter, but it’s a complex character study that focuses on the theme of identity. The film was so influential that director Darren Aronofsky bought the rights to it in order to incorporate key scenes from it into his beautiful psychological thriller, Black Swan.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis only shares a passing resemblance with this film, in that some of the character names are the same and both feature the core concept of a pop idol stalked by an obsessive fan. The film is an excellent thriller and is something that I would recommend to anyone, while the book is purely a horror story. However, it should be noted that the film did receive an 18 certificate when it was released in the United Kingdom, which brings me on to my second point.

The back cover of this book states that it is suitable for older teens, but I would contest this. The content of Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis is certainly not suitable for young adults and so I would certainly only recommend it to readers over the age of 18. It features violence against women and children, sexual abuse, graphic sex scenes, torture and gore. And all of this is squeezed into a mere 208 pages of large print. It is definitely not a novel for young or sensitive readers, and I think its content is certainly grotesque enough to put off a large number of adults as well.

Unpleasant content aside, it’s very clear what Takeuchi-san was trying to achieve with this novel. The story is an exploration of how seedy the otaku subculture of Japan can be. For those of you unaware, the term “otaku” is often used in the West to describe an anime fan, yet it has very negative connotations in Japan. The term refers to someone who is obsessive to an unhealthy degree, much like the negative portrayal of people like the Bronies. While it is good to like things, otakus can take this to creepy levels of fandom – such as when adult men become disturbingly obsessed with cute, teenage popstars.

While this feels creepy on its own, Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis takes this to the Nth degree. The novel focuses on what would happen if an otaku took his obsession too far, deciding for himself how the focus of his affection should behave and becoming violent when she deviates from this path. While the initial premise is still believable, the novel soon takes this into slasher film territory as a terrified girl is chased around an abandoned recording studio by a killer who just won’t die.

The novel lacks any kind of subtlety, relying on gross-out moments and really heavy exposition to carry story. I think part of the problem here is translation. Perhaps this is one of those stories that would read better in Japanese, as the dialogue feels unnatural. It’s very clunky and repetitive, with even mature adults like Mima’s manager coming across as very childish. At least, I truly hope that it’s a fault of the translators. If not, it would mean that the author actually penned the following line:

The best thing about him was his dick. Not only was it huge – maybe on account of all the drugs – it possessed unrivalled stamina.

Seriously, what the Hell? Why does this sentence even exist? Why would anyone ever even think this? Does drug abuse really do this to a person? I can’t read this sentence without dying a little inside.

I know it’s not good to compare a book to a film adaption, but I think that part of my problem was that I was subconsciously doing this the whole time. The film is a cult classic for a reason – it’s deep, complex and has an excellent twist. Compared to this, Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis just felt shallow. I spent the entire novel waiting for a twist that never came. The ending of the story was a bit of a surprise, but not for the right reasons. The final few chapters are where this book completely transitions into a horror story and the stalker’s actions become staggeringly unlikely. The novel is not beyond the realms of realism until this point, but then it suddenly throws the supernatural switch.

The novel also didn’t do anything to develop any of its characters. The stalker – referred to only as “the Man” – was purely insane and Mima didn’t really undergo any kind of metamorphosis either. She kind of learned to accept that she was evolving into a new type of idol, and didn’t have to remain as she was due to her fans, but there was no sense that she was ever really in any doubt that this was inevitable. The secondary cast also lacked anything really memorable. Mima’s assistant, Rumi, and her manager were both likeable, but there wasn’t any more than this to them. The character with the most potential to be interesting was Eri, but she didn’t appear in the story that much and was too unpleasant to be sympathetic.

I rarely find myself saying this to people but, if you’re curious about Perfect Blue, the film is the superior version. While the animation is a little dated now, the film has some beautiful visuals and explores the complex theme of identity in a very subtle way. The book isn’t a pleasant read, with a clunky translation and heavy-handed message. On the whole, it’s not something that I’d recommend.

Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis can be purchased as a Paperback on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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