If you haven’t seen the video yet and don’t want its story spoiled, go and watch it first and come back. And really, you SHOULD watch it first, it’s brilliant and funny and this write-up won’t make as much sense anyway if you don’t watch it first.
The new PV from the AKB unit I know primarily as Mayuyu With Some Other Girls caught me by surprise in the way it comments slyly on the front girls system that works in AKB. Well, I don’t know if it should be called a system necessarily, but it’s indisputable that AKB management chooses which girls to push to the public and, as a result, these girls become the most popular and get the best work both inside and outside the franchise.
So how does this video pull it off? Four simple steps.
First, it bestows a horrible affliction upon Mayuyu, the star of the PV. Not her inability to wink – that’s just kinda stupid and infantile. The affliction is that she is given an Acchan Role for the PV’s story – meaning she becomes all Miss Angst In Her Pants and looks all dejected and alienated over something which we should sympathize with and find her loveable for. Except, like I said, that something is stupid and infantile. However, Mayuyu bravely makes her desolation and existential despair as convincing as Acchan’s in… Well, whatever AKB video you’d like to name.
We see Mister Powerful Old Guy From The Company sitting and watching the commercial being filmed and everyone’s nervous. This makes clear it’s a De La Soul moment: Stakes Are High.
So step one: parody the way AKB videos create sympathy for the front girl being pushed, no matter how silly or unbelievable her situation. Make sure this idol pouts LIKE A BOSS so that WE know that SHE knows that hers is a miserable lot in life. Even though she’s the center of attention for everyone involved.
Then we see that all the other girls in the group know how to wink perfectly well. There’s a gorgeous tracking shot that’s as breathtaking as Kubrick’s The Shining, where each girl winks at their stage mirrors as the camera passes their backs. If this doesn’t get you even a little bit excited then you need to re-assess your wota status. (It may actually make me want to learn their names too! Maybe.) But do we see any of these other girls try to manuever and scheme to take that solo winking shot? Of course not! Even though ALL these girls are wink-capable, they assemble en masse to rally Mayuyu and give her tips on how to wink… And how about that, she learns how to do it!
So that’s step two: point out how esprit de corps is used to keep the front girl in the front and the back girls in the back. If you’re all in it together and there’s no I in team, then you won’t be so crude as to aspire towards a role that someone else has already claimed… Even if you’re better equipped to do it.
And then there’s the climax of the video, which is just brilliant because you KNOW she mastered the wink and you’re rooting for her… And she totally fucks it up and your heart just about breaks. I mean, I know I’m being manipulated emotionally but I still don’t care – every time I watch it I still want her to succeed and she doesn’t and my heart breaks all over again. It’s brilliant!
But even better is how the climax resolves. Mister Powerful Old Guy From The Company watches this and finally speaks, saying that Mayuyu’s flubbed wink is “kawaii” (at least, that’s the impression I have, I didn’t get My Personal Translator to explain it to me yet). Everybody falls all over themselves to agree with him, relieved at this resolution, and declare an end to the filming. All that time and effort wasted, but at last a happy ending for all!
This actually reminds me of Stanley Kubrick again, an anecdote about the filming of A Clockwork Orange. During the “Singing In The Rain” sequence, Kubrick filmed the old man getting kicked, and apparently he was being kicked for real. Anyways, they do over sixty takes of the old man getting kicked, again and again and again. Finally, Kubrick shrugged and said, “We’ll go with the third take.”
And that leads us to step three: show that the power is in one person, one old man keeping quiet in the background, and what he finally says, goes. Which is exactly how the front girls system works, at least as seen from the outside: Aki-P and his AKB Illuminati (if there are any decision makers besides him) choose who to push amd what they say goes, no matter what, and everybody who matters (companies wanting spokesmodels, the media, the wota crowds) is going to agree with them – no matter what.
And then there’s the coup de grace, where Mayuyu is given her flowers for her work done, and she stands in front of us, smiling – and does a perfect wink.
You know what that is? That’s the front girl saying, “Fuck You All. I can do whatever the fuck I want and get away with it. You know why? Because I’m the front girl and you’re not.”
It’s an exhilarating straight-up power play, a Queen Shit Of Fuck Mountain moment. That perfect wink should leave us beaming for how wonderful she is – but in the context of idol industry commentary, it’s a frightening display by a self-aware enfant terrible. So it’s still wonderful, but mainly if you’re a wota sub looking for an idol dom. (And aren’t we all?)
So bravo to the makers of this PV for willing to poke the bear a little, and bravo to Mayuyu for doing such a great job with the material. And as for the other girls in the group – well, fuck em, it’s not like they’re Mayuyu, is it? We know who matters here – that was the whole point!