The Regular, Transformative Friendships of Aqua Hoshino

Halfway through episode eight of Oshi no Ko, Aqua makes an awful decision: he will become involved romantically with Akane and manipulate her for his own ends. It’s a sickening plan, especially when the girl in question just recently tried to take her own life. But by the end of the episode, something has changed in Aqua to turn his plan on its head. It doesn’t happen through some shocking scene or dramatic reveal, but rather through two seemingly “regular” conversations. But with unexpected friendship fueling these discussions, they prove transformative, and Aqua is led into a better decision—and maybe into life itself.

For Aqua, friendship is an irrelevant concept. He doesn’t have any friends nor does he want them—at least that’s what he believes. After their first day of school, Aqua explains to his sister, Ruby, that he hadn’t made any new friends because boys naturally take a little longer to buddy up. Later, after he joins a reality T.V. show along with Akane, he continually refers to his castmates in cold tones. They are his co-workers, not friends, and he keeps them at arm’s length.

We’re led to believe that Aqua is a cold, calculating type of character. I think that’s how he sees himself as well. He’s living this second life not as if it was a second chance, but solely in order to accomplish his mission, which is to find Ai’s killer and avenge her. He literally idolizes Ai. She’s no longer just his patient, friend, or mom—she’s his reason for being.

So with his mission in mind, Aqua moves forward without worrying about making friends–not that he would do so easily anyway. After all, he’s far more mature than his peers, having an entire, rather accomplished life under his belt. He’s also at a school that isn’t academically challenging, which must be difficult for him since even in his first life Aqua was a genius—being both a doctor and a graduate of Tokyo U.

But ever since he started high school, something has been changing in Aqua’s life. He begins to realize that he’s transforming from a grown man inhabiting a child’s body, into Aqua Hoshino himself. His two lives are merging into one.

What’s the difference now? Episode eight shows that the change isn’t driven by Aqua but rather by those around him, the people that he’s starting to care about and who care about him in turn. 

In other words, the difference is friendship.

It begins with Aqua asking Kana to skip school with him. She’s as shocked by his invitation as we are: Did he really just ask me out? Though he takes Kana to a baseball field rather than an amusement park or café, it’s telling that he asked her to accompany him at all. In direct contrast to how Aqua has operated this entire lifetime, he finally lowers his walls around someone, spending time with Kana as he processes his decision about Akane. He trusts her. He needs her. Kana has become his friend.

I’ve recently experienced a similar kind of unexpected, vulnerable friendship. When I left my last church, a week before COVID made its way to American shores, I was without the support of the friendships I’d built up over many years. Understanding the importance of godly community, my wife and I sought a place of worship for our family while equally looking for an intimate community. We joined a small group immediately after finding a church we liked, meeting online during the quarantine and then eventually in person. 

But truth be told, I really wasn’t expecting intimacy within the group. I’d been burned by small groups in the past where the deep community I had hoped to find never materialized or else dissipated after a time. Like Aqua, I brought my walls with me from my old life to this new one in a new church. And I wasn’t looking to bring them down. But this new community shared their lives with us, prayed for us, and served us. Just as Kana keeps her hand outstretched toward Aqua, these new friends reached out consistently. Before I knew it, my walls started to come down and I realized, to my surprise, that these were my friends.

The significance of friendship is of course not exclusive to Christianity. Anime loves to express how the power of friendship can save people and overcome evil. But Christianity also provides a powerful model in Jesus, who taught that the greatest love is to “lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” and then did just that on the cross for us all (John 15:13-15). Friendship must be valuable indeed if it’s worth dying for!

I saw some of that value firsthand when one member of my new small group took me under his wing. I’ve grown leaps and bounds by talking to him about faith and life. Like Aqua, I’m incredibly prideful (as I’ve been told!), but opening the doors of friendship has led to the humility it takes to listen to my friend and let his words have an impact on how I live. His wisdom has been vital to my spiritual growth.

Aqua also finds wisdom. He discovers it through a second friend—the very one he had decided to exploit.

At first, Aqua approaches Akane with a detached disposition. Having realized that Akane’s method acting is so good that she seems to know more about Ai’s heart and secrets than he does, Aqua decides to engage with her in a romantic relationship so that he can manipulate her into helping him to learn more about Ai. The first step is to establish that relationship. He starts moving along that path by kissing her on camera for the final episode of their reality show.

But there’s dissonance here between what Aqua convinces himself of and what he believes in his heart. He doesn’t just see Akane as a co-worker that he’ll “probably never see again” (as he once said) unless he seduces her. Instead, she has become someone special to him. She’s become a friend, evidenced by the lengths he went to in order to save her. At that point—her lowest, most needy moment—she had no serviceable value to Aqua’s plans to find Ai’s killer. Yet he still rescued her.

I think the moment things clicked for Aqua and he started to really care for Akane was when the two talked over yakitori and she revealed her servant’s heart. As she explains how she’s learned to grill the meat perfectly for others by practicing again and again, he realizes her diligence, kindness, and authenticity. Having had these authentic moments means that their conversation at the after-party—the point when Aqua should have clinched a romantic relationship if his master plan was to proceed—was instead an honest one. It was the type of conversation you would have with a friend.

And so, at the bar, Aqua doesn’t roll over Akane and push her into a romance. Instead, he listens to her. And when she probes him about their relationship—will it be a professional one just for public consumption or is it for real?—he makes the decision that proves that he’s changed.

Aqua decides to tell Akane the truth. He’s almost an open book, going so far as to explain that what he loves about Akane is her acting and intimating that he would like to use that skill. She agrees to continue to be involved with him in a work-only situation.

And so, just like that, lies turn into truth, manipulation is traded for honesty, and a dynamic that was lined up to be exploitative turns into a partnership. Their relationship has deepened, too, as Aqua gets another step closer to his goal. Best ending!

Although, of course, we don’t really know how the ending will turn out. Those of us who are patiently awaiting the official English manga releases don’t even know what will become of these two, much less how the story, still ongoing, will resolve itself. But for the moment, disaster is averted because Aqua opens his heart to a friend and decides to do the right thing. But more than that, in the end, Aqua actually gets what he wanted all along—Akane’s commitment to help him with her acting skills—but he gets it voluntarily, from a friend, rather than in a dishonest fashion.

Disaster still looms for Aqua though. He is creeping nearer and nearer to a bad end. His idolization of Ai is driving him toward precarious situations (I hold my breath each time he procures a DNA sample from a set) and perhaps even death. But in this episode at least, two friends have pulled him from the edge. Kana was there for him while he worked through his options and Akane inspired him to discover a route forward that was more honest and true.

Aqua’s second life has hitherto been defined by a singular goal. He has wasted the opportunity presented through this new life, avoided relationships, and done the dirty work to gain revenge. But a variable he hasn’t accounted for has changed everything for him. Friendship is softening Aqua’s heart, guiding his steps, and, in another unexpected development, helping him “become” Aqua Hoshino. His second life is just now truly beginning, birthed through friendship and giving hope for an encouraging and healthy future.


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