Idol Thoughts: Is it possible to have an “accurate” Request Hour?

I will probably write more about AKB48’s Request Hour after the top 200 songs are performed later this week, but this year deserves some special notice because, for the first time, they are doing a request hour 1035. This is every single AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, HKT48, JKT48, SNH48, SDN48, solo and unit songs, ranked by fan votes. Since performing all of these songs live is pretty impossible, everything up to 200 is put on YouTube. This is a fascinating look at AKB48 for anyone, so I’d consider taking a look.

The first thing that’s pretty easy to notice is how much the 48 groups have changed in terms of structure. The low ranked songs from 2006 – 2009 are almost all stage songs. The low ranked songs from 2010 – 2014 are usually the B-sides to singles. Any AKB fan could tell you that the focus has moved from the theater to other venues, but this is a clear reminder that stage performances have taken a backseat.

However, the main thing I was complaining about is that this ranking does not seem to be about quality at all. I know that must seem incredibly obvious, since this is a fan ranking, but it got me wondering if there was a way to “fix” this.

Essentially, voting for Request Hour is a second Senbatsu Sousenkyo – it’s a popularity contest for members, hidden in the trappings of voting for songs. People tend to vote for the songs that feature their favorite member most heavily, which is why Itoshiki no Natasha ranked so highly for quite a while (because Sashihara Rino fans were voting it up high). There are always some very highly ranked stage songs because of that very reason.

However, is there a way to have a more accurate fan vote focusing more on quality of songs? Fan voting is always going to have an element of bias towards favorite members. I’ve listened to many more Watarirouka Hashiritai songs than I have listened to no3b songs, for example, because I much prefer Watarirouka as a group, and that’s the case. Newer songs are going to have an advantage because current fans will have more likely listened to them than older songs. Older fans are smaller in number, and many of them may have moved on from 48 groups.

Further, there is an incentive to vote for recent songs because of the changing lineup of members in the groups. Say your all-time favorite member graduated. You might vote for the song featuring your current member, because you know that at least they will be there to perform the song.

I don’t think there’s a way to get away from this affecting the rankings, especially the top spots, as long as you have fan voting. However, ranking every song gives an interesting opportunity to see all the songs voted higher. I’m not sure if AKB will do this again next year, since they are making a big deal that this is the 10th anniversary of AKB48. However, if they do it again, the “fix” that might make things more interesting – allowing each vote to vote for multiple songs.

Now, I doubt that AKB48 will do this. Since votes are limited to fans who either members of a subscription or for fans who bought a copy of the most recent single, there are financial stakes in the request hour. That said, there are financial stakes for the fans, too. If you are going to buy a single and have a limited number of votes based off of what you are willing to pay, you aren’t going to throw away those votes

However, if you got a ballot that allowed for, say, 10 songs without repeats, you might be inclined to vote for songs you like to listen to in addition to songs that feature your favorite. Weighting these might make the results even more reliable; have fans rank the songs 1 – 10, and weight it at 10 points for 1, 9 points for 2, etc. I know this is how a lot of foreign fans tend to weigh voting systems, but it works pretty well. So that way, fans could definitely vote for their favorite member’s biggest song, but they might be inclined to give their #10 vote for a song they just like to listen to.

The biggest issue with this list is the lowest songs have too many ties; I’m assuming they’re songs that got 1 vote, then two votes. This system could help break those up and get a more solid ranking, as well as allowing for more popular group songs get further (Party ga Hajimaru yo and Wasshoi B do not belong in the 400s, I’m sorry).

No system is going to be perfect for getting an accurate ranking of 48 groups songs, especially if you want a ranking that is about quality rather than who is in the song. However, allowing for more songs per voting system might give people the perceived ability to vote for more songs, and get a more varied and more interesting Request Hour.

Thoughts for Kawaei Rina and Iriyama Anna

Honestly, it’s hard to know how to start an article about this. This is probably the most shocking thing I’ve ever had to write about.

At a handshake event in Iwate prefecture, Kawaei Rina and Iriyama Anna were injured. They were attacked by a man wielding a saw, who has since been apprehended. Luckily, every report I’ve seen says that there haven’t been any major injuries, and that they’re certainly not life threatening.

That said, this is incredibly difficult to process. Kawaei Rina is one of my favorite idols, and I’ve been worrying about this ever since I heard about it. Yet, all of this is beyond favorite members. I have both Kawaei Rina, Iriyama Anna and the injured staff member in my thoughts. As well as the rest of the AKB48 members; this has to be incredibly scarring and mentally distressing for every 48 member, if not even every idol. Ultimately, as we discuss all the repercussions of this event, I think it’s important to stress that it should be the well-being of Kawaei Rina, Iriyama Anna and every other 48 member that we take into consideration above all else.  I have everyone in my thoughts, and hoping for a speedy recovery.

That said, it’s hard to know what AKB48’s management is going to do. I imagine that they are discussing possibilities right now. The first thing I considered was that this will mean an end to handshake events and other such things. From what I’ve seen, it looks like SKE48’s event and NMB48’s after-show high touch event were both cancelled. I don’t think this necessarily indicative of what will happen in the future, but it is telling about how much this is going to affect things.

The thing is, I can’t see them ending handshake events. AKB48 is built on the cornerstone of “Idols you can meet.” Even as AKB48 has become increasingly popular, to the point where they dominate sales charts, they have continued these meet and greet opportunities. It might be cynical, but completely ending these events would have a very negative effect on AKB’s sales, and I doubt that they would want that. Also, the vast majority of fans aren’t doing anything like this. This is one guy out of the hundreds of thousands of fans who have gone to see AKB.

That said, they have to do something. What I see them doing is increased security measures. More security guards will be there. There will probably be bag checks instated; the fact that there haven’t been any bag checks in the past is almost unbelievable to me. One measure that might be considered is a metal detector system; Japan doesn’t have a major gun problem like the US, but if they are able to check for knives or saws that might make things better.

The thing is, this doesn’t just hurt the two members in question. Obviously that is the most important thing we should be worrying about, but that’s not it. This disrupts the entire illusion of safety that idol events have. I know that I never even conceived of this being a possibility. Idols and fans aren’t going to feel safe until they see that some measures have been taken, which is why I think it’s going to have to be more increased security.

This type of event has the potential to completely shake up the idol world. And for good reason; safety is the most important thing for these girls, and if that’s threatened then we need to reevaluate how these events are run. Fans might be disappointed; I think some were disappointed that SKE’s event was cancelled. But that really doesn’t matter, because the well-being of the members, both physical AND mental, trumps all fan disappointment.

Again, I have Kawaei Rina, Iriyama Anna and the staff member in my thoughts.

Idol Thoughts: Team 8 and Professional Endorsements

Since my last Idol Thoughts post, AKS announced that AKB would be getting a Team 8. This announcement has (understandably) gotten a lot of interest and buzz, because a lot of what Team 8 is going to be is very unprecedented. 47 Girls in an audition, one from each prefecture? This is going to be an odd generation. “Idols who come to meet you?” It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out (I doubt one of them will fly to Minnesota to meet me, though). So understandably, these are the things people are talking about. However, the one thing that I think is very interesting and perhaps hasn’t been talked about enough is that Team 8 is officially sponsored by Toyota.

Idols aren’t strangers to commercial endorsements. Last week I wrote about how Morning Musume getting a major CM deal with au was a major sign that things were going well for MM. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to do commercial endorsements. They get public awareness up for your idol/group and get some new funding. Corporate sponsorship CAN do some good things. I’ve been watching the show Chuck lately, which was in danger of cancellation for quite a bit of its run. However, fans reached out to one of the show’s major sponsors, Subway, and made a concerted effort to show that they were spending money at Subway. Some of the endorsements were slightly obvious, but it allowed the show to be on the air for longer than it would have been.

However, I have some reservations for the Team 8 announcement. This is the first time a company has sponsored an audition for AKB (or really for any idol group that I can think of). I don’t imagine that AKB is strapped for cash; they have a lot of members, but idols don’t get paid THAT well, at least as well as Western celebrities do. But this level of corporate endorsement has me a bit nervous. Toyota is from Aichi prefecture; does this mean that Aichi is the prefecture that will produce the next AKB frontgirl? Even if Toyota doesn’t say “the girl from Aichi should be the center,” I’d imagine there’s some level of pressure to have her be up front.

At the most innocuous this will be just something they say during press releases and put on the website, that this is being sponsored by Toyota. However, I just wonder if this is going to affect either the members that are chosen or how those members act. Idols aren’t some bastion of artistic integrity; I know that idol groups are formed by companies. However, will this affect the creative choices that do get made. I’m not saying it will, but I am saying that I am a bit hesitant on this.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments and I’ll post that as a part of my “Your Thoughts” post next week!”

Review Monday: AKB48 “Party is Over” + SKE48 “Escape”


Last week I reviewed the title track and main B-Side to the latest AKB single. Now it’s time to take a look at the other tracks, the individual group ones!

AKB48 – Party is Over

Song: This title makes me NERVOUS. Since AKB48’s first song they ever performed was “Party ga Hajimaru yo,” the idea of doing a song talking about the party ending immediately makes me a bit anxious.

Still, if this song is indication of the party that’s ending, it’s a party that I’m glad is over. This is not a very good song. I’m hardly a big fan of a lot of slow songs, but I do like a good ballad if there’s emotion to it. This is slow, emotionless, and drags on far longer than it should. The instrumentation is quite nice, and I wish that there could be a more interesting song for this type of instrumental, but there isn’t.

I feel like the biggest tragedy here is the intro of the song; it sounds really cool, like it would be an interesting idol song… then nope, you’ve got Party is Over. I even had hope for the song once it changed styles, but then the verse went on too long and with an uninteresting melody. Again, there’s potential in the arrangement and instrumentation, but this song is the definition of dragging.

The chorus is better, and hints at a more interesting song, but that’s the one part that goes far too quickly. There’s also an out of place dubstep break which is OK on its own, but baffling here.

Like always, AKB48 songs are polished and this is no exception. There are elements here that, used in a better song, would be fine. This is just not that good of a song. Add to that that this is really not my type of song, and I can’t see myself listening to this for fun. Ever. 3/10

PV: Despite my feelings about this song, the PV is quite nice. It’s not really a PV based on a story, but it’s well shot and generally fits the tone of the song.

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The dance shots look great. They aren’t silhouettes but the dark outfits and the light background make a very striking appearance which adds a whole lot to the PV. It’s overall a really nice looking dance shot.

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I know I’ve railed against flat lighting before here but, H!P, this is how you do flat lighting. It’s used to create a somber mood that fits the song, but it also looks  good. It feels like it was intentionally shot this way, to give it that mood. The background does a lot to make it look interesting, too. So I don’t necessarily hate flat lighting  techniques, because when it’s done well and with a purpose it can be really nice. It’s just not always used well.

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The whole PV was shot very nicely in terms of framing. I like the use of the set/props as well as how they never seem to be afraid to use asymmetry in a shot. Too often most PVs center the idol, whereas this one tended to have some interesting shots. There’s only one shot I really thought was particularly poor, and that’s this shot of Kawaei Rina.

partyisover7Because generally putting the chin on the bottom of the frame and the top of the frame right at the top of the head isn’t the best technique. But this shot isn’t used that much (and it’s Kawaei Rina, so I’m inclined to let it slide).

The only thing that baffles me is the editing; at some points it feels like they’re just trying to fit in all these shots. There are some weird cuts, it goes a bit too fast for the song at times, and there are occasional fade in/fade out transitions that don’t really make much sense.

Overall, though, this is a really lovely PV that just happened to be put with a less than lovely song. 7/10

SKE48 – Escape


I tweeted about this which got featured on Idolminded, but I’ll say it again. I am still disappointed that this isn’t a cover of the Pina Colada song.

Song:  This is another cool, electronic song, which fits my image of SKE48 well, especially since they use to make a dance-heavy PV, which is nice.

This is the type of song where, in a different year, I  might find interesting and refreshing. However, in a year where both Kamonegix and Mosh & Dive exist, this is not quite as impressive.

I like the arrangement with keyboard/piano in there, but for the most part it’s not quite as good as it could be. I feel like it could use more bass or a heavier drum beat in back of the higher pitched stuff.

The melody is fine, but a bit basic; in the chorus it mostly rests on one note. It’s not terrible, but it’s not memorable or particularly interesting.

Nitpicking aside, this is a fun track that fits SKE48 very well. I’m just not as enthralled as I could be, given what the 48 groups have put out this past year. The use of the piano ina cool song like this stands out, and I like this song,  but it’s not extraordinary. 6/10

PV: Escape feels like a completely different PV to, say, Party is Over. Here the entire focus is on the dance shot. There are very few shots that don’t involve dancing. And it works. The song is tailored to be more of a dance track, and this is what people are generally going to be interested in, so I’m inclined to be OK with it.

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Overall, the dance shot is shot well and edited well. I do think the lighting is a bit too dark and could use more contrast to avoid being just dark, but it felt like they were going for that with the PV. There are sections where there are more lights, so they do play around with it some, but the lighting doesn’t play up any chiaroscuro/exaggerated shadow type things. Which is a bit disappointing, honestly.

escape2 The shots with the keyboard were pretty fun, and basically the only thing breaking up the dancing.

Overall, it’s hard to say too much about this PV because it’s basic. It’s essentially there to service the song and the dance, which it does, but  it’s hardly a remarkable PV by any stretch of the imagination. 6/10

Review Monday: AKB48 – Kimi no Hohoemi wo Yume ni Miru + Mosh & Dive

” Suzukake no ki no michi de “Kimi no hohoemi wo yume ni miru” to itte shimattara bokutachi no kankei wa dou kawatte shimau no ka, boku nari ni nan nichi ka kangaeta ue de no yaya kihazukashii ketsuron no you na mono” is the title of the new AKB48 single. Yeah. So with that out of the way, let’s review the new PVs that have come out! I’ll be reviewing the main single PV as well as Mosh & Dive. Next week I’ll look at the group exclusive PVs.

Suzukake no ki no michi de…..

Song: You know, for being a giant gimmick, I enjoy the long title. I think the sentiment in the title is nice, and while it’s not necessary it’s a pretty title. I’ve been actively trying to memorize it, so I can rattle it off at people in the future for fun.

The title is pretty much the most memorable thing about the song, though. The winter/Janken singles have always been AKB’s least interesting, song-wise, so this isn’t too much of a surprise. However, in a year that started with So Long and Sayonara Crawl, Suzukake stands as one of the more fun songs of the year, if a bit unimpressive.

Of all the songs in AKB’s main single output, this actually reminds me of some of the more rock-inspired stuff. Probably the closest comparisons come to Give Me Five, with a bit of 10nen Zakura. The “suki!” shouts are also straight from Oogoe Diamond. I like this type of song, though; the energetic guitar-based slightly rock-inspired AKB song. Give Me Five isn’t my all-time favorite AKB song, but it’s fun to listen to. I imagine that’s how this song will go down, as well. People will remember the long-title, but when they listen to it they’ll remember that it’s not a bad song at all.

So yeah, in a year where the AKB48 singles haven’t impressed me that much (except for Koisuru Fortune Cookie), this is a good song. It’s not AKB’s finest, but who expects that from the winter/Janken single? 7/10

PV Oh here we go, another long drama version. Honestly, I don’t think this adds a lot to most PVs. It’s an easy thing to advertise; “this comes with a 22-minute PV” but it doesn’t necessarily add much meaning to the PV.

Basically the plot is that in 2003, the members buried a time capsule as students, and this is their reunion 10 years later (which is honestly the plot of the song 10nen Zakura) after they’ve gone separate ways and started new lives.

Going on a bit of a rant here, but long drama versions of PVs for AKB have stopped being interesting or something that’s exciting. No one’s surprised anymore that a single song has a 22 minute PV. Instead, it’s become a crutch for some pretty lazy PV making. You might be wondering how a 22 minute PV, which surely took a lot of time to make, could be considered lazy. Well, what I ask you, is what about this drama PV in particular couldn’t be told within the context of the song, or, at most, with a minute or two of prologue/epilogue? The story isn’t particularly complicated, and it doesn’t even focus on all the members. Instead, they drag out the whole thing across the PV, which lends itself to a not particularly interesting PV in general.

The short version of the PV shows the issues this has. The short version has essentially three types of shots that comprise the majority of the PV.

The main dance shot…

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The bad dance shot which they, according to the story, did at school…

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Aaaaand close-ups.

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There are a few past flashbacks and clips of them just standing around, but other than that not much happens. Which isn’t a terrible thing; the first Janken senbatsu PV, Chance no Junban, was a fairly straightforward PV and I think it’s just fine. But when there’s been so much filmed, the fact that none of it gets into this short PV is irritating. They also threw in some hints to the overall story, but nothing that gives it a context.

None of the elements that went into this PV are bad. The dance shot looks fine (I quite like when the members are in silhouette and whenever the background is multicolored), the close-ups look fine. The story is even moving, focusing on Oya Shizuka a lot more than I thought it would. But it just doesn’t have to be in this 22 minute long PV.

Also, you’d think that for a long PV it would focus more on more members. The majority of the screentime is on Jurina, which is understandable. Kitahara Rie, Oya Shizuka, and Oba Mina get some screentime. Kameida Emika gets a speaking part, and Hirata Rina gets a speaking part in English (which is the most delightful part of the PV).

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But other than that, the members who aren’t immediately popular and recognizable don’t get that much time. I mean, Emika and Hillary don’t get THAT much screentime, and they ranked 2nd and 3rd in the tournament! Usually I don’t rant about the popularity structure in AKB48; for the most part, it generally works. However, the Janken tournament is about giving any member a chance at making it into the AKB48 senbatsu (despite accusations of it being rigged), and this is a bit frustrating. Not entirely unexpected, but frustrating nonetheless.

Ultimately, the pieces of this PV are fine. It’s well put together, like AKB’s PVs generally are. However, putting it into a long form PV when it really should have been shorter ended up hurting it. 6/10

Mosh & Dive (leftover senbatsu)

Song: Initially I’m a bit disappointed; I like AKB’s Christmas songs quite a bit (Yoyaku Shita Christmas is still the best, though) so I was hoping to hear another one!

Disappointments aside, I definitely like Mosh & Dive! It’s a dance track with some good guitar in there, but it feels like a lighter song than something heavy like UZA. A lot of AKB’s “cool” songs (read: the rock-inspired, often dance focused tracks with a lot of guitar) tend to be heavier and darker. Stuff like UZA, Beginner and River are loud and intense. That’s not a terrible thing, but it’s not what I’m always in the mood for. Mosh & Dive goes for a lot lighter singing, an often poppier sound in the chorus, and it generally feels like a lighter cool song. The verses are not quite as good as the chorus, but they’re still pleasant enough.

This is a type of song that I don’t know if I hear a lot of from idol music, but it’s one I’m glad to hear now. I’m not blown away, and I still kind of wish there was a Christmas song on this single, but I’m not disappointed in Mosh & Dive, itself. 8/10.

PV Uh, guys…

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What are you even wearing? The short outfits are fine, but those plastic coats? I usually avoid the mosh pit when I go to concerts, but I don’t think that’s what you wear there. Is it to avoid getting beer spilled on you? OK that’s actually a pretty legit excuse.

Questionable outfit choices aside, this is a decent, serviceable PV. All the girls are made up well, especially Minegishi Minami. Something about Miichan’s short hair, that hat, and her makeup make her look fantastic.

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While the PV is just a collection of dance shots and close-ups, it’s shot well and lit well. I like how the lighting embraces color in this one, as well as in Kimi no Hohoemi wo Yume wo Miru.

I also like that the PV is shot with a camera that’s moving. It would be easy to do the majority of this with a still camera, but this gives it a really excellent sense of movement.

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The only thing I was unsure of with this was the large words thrown on the screen, but I think it fits pretty well. Stylistically it matches the rest of the tone of the PV, and I like that it adds a little bit of flavor to an otherwise standard PV.

Mosh & Dive doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it’s relatively well-crafted and is a nice, easily enjoyable PV. 6/10

Join me next week as I take a look at the AKB48, SKE48, NMB48 and HKT48 songs/PVs on this single!

Idol Thoughts: Do Idols Need Talent?

Recently I was browsing Maji De 2ch, a blog that posts translations of 2ch threads (2ch is basically an anonymous board that was the inspiration for 4chan. You can talk about anything but there is often discussion on idols). I like browsing the various sites that do 2ch translations, just because it’s often very interesting to hear about things that Japanese fans talk about.

The post that caught my attention was this one. Essentially, it’s reactions to a talk that Sashihara Rino did, where she said that, if you aim to be an idol, you don’t have to learn how to sing or dance.

(Translation from  the Maji de 2ch Page)

“Girls who can’t dance are cuter. They make you want to root for them”.
“Most idol fans these days are old men, right? These old men actually find the girls who can’t do anything cuter, and they’re happier when they tell a girl that ‘You’re totally no good!’. I think people are more attracted to idols who are giving it their all despite being really bad at it”.
This, understandably, is a fairly controversial statement about the nature of idols. So, what do I think?
…Sasshi’s partly right. BUT this is oversimplifying things.
Sasshi’s statement basically says that idols that can’t sing and dance are cuter, but they should be giving it their all. Which is a fairly key concept that I think would be easy to miss.
One of the defining features of the idol industry, in my opinion, is that it’s based on watching idols grow. The vast vast majority of girls who become idols have never done much of anything in the entertainment business before. Some may have modeled, or did commercials, but the point of the idol industry, especially the female idol industry, is that it’s a temporary stepping stone to another career. Therefore, it’s not necessarily a good thing for an idol to be polished from the getgo, because that’s not the point  of idols.
However, there  are some other things that I think need to be taken into consideration.
1. A fan might be drawn to an idol’s performing talent. 
People become a fan of an idol for a variety of reasons. Some like the cute girls, some like personality, some like this kind of “can’t do anything” type. However, some people like the talented girls.
For example, I don’t follow foreign fans of Hello!Project as much, but Tamura Meimi of S/Mileage has been getting buzz lately because of her vocal talent.

Meimi’s been a good vocalist for some time, but given some time to improve and given songs that show of her vocal skills, she’s been getting buzz, at least from Hello!Project fans.

I’d say this is similar with girls like Ishida Ayumi, as well. I became a fan of hers both because of her dance skills and because of her drive to become a good dancer.

This isn’t exclusively Hello!Project. AKB48 has had various singing contests and things, which allows girls like Iwasa Misaki and Takeuchi Miyu to shine. Natori Wakana is also a strong singer who gets notice for her voice. Would Iwasa Misaki have been able to rank at #33 last year (just out of the Undergirls) if she didn’t have her vocal skills and her brand new enka career? There’s no way to know for sure, but vocal skills can definitely help girls.

However, as a counterpoint, I don’t think JUST singing and dancing are the only things that can make a girl stand out. They’re the most popular talents to have, for sure, since being an idol means a lot of singing and dancing. However, AKB’s Matsui Sakiko is a very skilled pianist, which has allowed her a great deal of press.

2. Girls have to actually try and practice once they get in.

Being initially unpolished is fairly acceptable among idol fans. No one is going to expect a new trainee to AKB to be the best singer and dancer the group has seen. However, very few girls can make it if they don’t try, or don’t seem like they’re trying. Girls like Shimazaki Haruka are few and far between, and that type of push is a big gamble. One of the most popular things to show of idols is videos of them practicing, working hard. That’s the key here; practice and hard work are fairly essential, once you’re an idol. So while I’d say you don’t have to be inherently talented to get in, you have to at least try.

3. It’s all how a girl is marketed.

This is the big one. Inherently untalented idols can be popular IF they are marketed well. I mean, look at Sasshi herself. She’s not exceptionally talented, but plays this up, and plays up that she likes idols.

An idol who isn’t the most popular in her group but who does this exceptionally well is S/Mileage’s Nakanishi Kana. Kana, when she joined especially, isn’t particularly good at singing or dancing, and is kind of clumsy. However, it seems like she tries really hard and always looks happy about the whole thing. Recently, in S/Mileage’s latest single ‘Yattaruchan,’ Kana got a prominent role by having a spoken part that became the most notable thing about the song.

However, one of the most memorable instances was in the dance to Choto Mate Kudasai. In this, Kana purposely messes up, and jumps the wrong way. It’s a little thing, but it puts her front and center. It says that she and management are aware she isn’t the most talented, but they want to show her off anyway. This is important.

Ultimately, while I think that being talented can be an advantage, that ultimately it is mostly how a particular idol is marketed.

What do you think? Do you like talented idols or idols who aren’t very good at singing or dancing? Do you agree with Sasshi? Comment below and I’ll write a Your Thoughts post next week!

My Top 15 Songs of 2013 (So Far)

It’s hard to believe 2013 is about halfway over! And so, it’s a good time to look back on the year in idol music, as well as pick some of my favorite songs of the year.

The idol boom has been going on since late 2009/early 2010, and I keep expecting idol groups to suddenly start disbanding or fade into obscurity. However, things are going better than ever, all things considered. AKB48 broke records and sold massive amounts with Sayonara Crawl, Momoiro Clover Z keeps climbing up, and even Hello!Project groups are doing very well. Indie groups are growing more popular, and gaining traction. Groups are becoming diverse, with alternative acts like BiS, Alice Project and Babymetal growing in popularity. Honestly, I can’t think of a better time to be an idol fan, based almost entirely on how many groups there are out there. There are a lot of groups I’m not even putting on this list but are really good groups.

And so, my top 15 songs of the first half of 2013. Note that this is just songs that have been on a release through the end of June; Koisuru Fortune Cookie’s going to end up pretty high on my full list of the year. Honorable mention goes to Oomori Seiko’s Mahou ga Tsukaenai; not quite sure I’d classify her as an idol, but I love this song to pieces.

15. Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya – Juice=Juice

Can I put a song on this list for one sentence? If so, that sentence is “just listen to that saxophone!” Because seriously, I love every second that a saxophone plays in this song.

In all honestly, I wasn’t sure about how I’d feel about Juice=Juice. I didn’t follow any of the Eggs/Kenshuusei that made the group, and I hadn’t seen the hype about Karin. I thought (and still do) the name was silly to a fault. The early pictures had all the girls in white and it looked kind of boring. And while I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever be a super fan of Juice=Juice, I am a huge fan of Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya.

While I was just being silly with what I was saying about the saxophone, that’s actually pretty close. The sound’s so unique, and I can’t think of another idol song like it. Underneath, Watashi ga Iu Mae ni Dakishimenakya isn’t that unique of a song. It reminds me strangely of Melon Kinenbi’s Amai Anata no Aji but sped up. The structure feels kind of similar, as does the tune (though I definitely don’t mind H!P bringing back Melon Kinenbi songs). I don’t think Juice=Juice is anything like Melon Kinenbi, mind you, but the overall song isn’t completely new. However, the entire thing put together with the saxophone arrangement, it feels fresh and interesting.

So yes this song is pretty much on my list because of the sax.

14. Kawasaki Junjou Ondo – Kawasaki Junjou Komachi

As I’ll be writing a bit more about later, I love songs where there’s a lot of genre fusion. While I like standard idol pop songs, there’s something really interesting about putting together genres like that.

Kawasaki Junjou Komachi is a group you probably haven’t heard of, unless you follow Tokyo Idol Festival and/or read my TIF posts religiously. But I found them from doing my TIF research posts, and was initially unimpressed by their concept of promoting Kawasaki, mostly because another group I wrote about had a very similar concept. However, Kawasaki Junjou Komachi really shines with their music and performances, the music being a really excellent fusion of traditional sounds with a modern pop sensibility, complete with a rap section. I don’t know Japanese instruments enough to tell, but it sounds like they’re using a lot of traditional instruments in there. In addition, it’s really catchy and fun to listen to and the vocals are really mature and lovely.

I think another reason I’m so impressed by Kawasaki Junjou Ondo is just how good it is for a local indie group. Lots of great music comes from indie idols, and I don’t want to put down indie idols. However, this is the type of song I would be very impressed if I heard it from a big, major label act. If KJK is able to continue this really great mix of traditional and pop and have this general level of quality, I predict they could grow and grow in popularity.

13. Brainstorming – Morning Musume

Late last year and early this year was when I first started to like Morning Musume again. I became a fan of Ishida Ayumi, I started liking (but not necessarily loving) the music, the other new members grew on me. I didn’t like the Help Me! PV, and the song was good, but I didn’t quite love it. However, because of Ayumi, I decided to listen to and watch Brainstorming as soon as I could. And I couldn’t get enough of it.

I think the biggest strength of Brainstorming is how fired up it works to get you. The instrumental works together with the vocals very well to make sure that there’s always something going on. Even in the slower solos (i.e. the solos Sakura does), there’s stuff going in the background. While Morning Musume has used dubstep influenced sound in Renai Hunter, and I really enjoy that song a lot, here the sound feels really integrated.

While I’m one of those people that misses old school Morning Musume a lot, really one of the strengths is in the arrangement. One of the biggest thing that makes me dislike a song is when the instrumental falls flat, and feels empty. Here, that’s not a problem, with so much going on in the back. However, nothing feels extraneous. There’s a lot going on throughout the song, but it feels warranted.

It’s also a great song for the group; it features a lot of the members doing shorter solos and mixed group bits. I don’t want to be one of those foreign fans who always complains about the line distribution, but varied groups like Morning Musume work at their best when everyone gets at least a little to do. Brainstorming really utilizes the members in a really great way.

Ultimately, this song is what brought me back and got me really excited about Morning Musume again. I actually preordered the single, because this is just that good.

12. Haste to Waste – BKA48

When I first heard there was going to be a unit of the members who scored low on the Mechaike special, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it would be something silly and not quite serious. And there are slightly silly parts. However, it’s a pretty standard mid-tempo song with a good deal of guitar and piano in there. A really good standard song, mind you.

Listening to the song and knowing the lyrics, though, it feels right that this is the BKA48 song; it’s silly, but it’s about being happy even if you aren’t necessarily smart. The thing that interests me is just how strangely epic the chorus feels. Perhaps it’s the lyrics mixed with the song, but it feels like it should be the theme song to the anime/drama about Kawaei Rina. Which I would definitely watch, by the way.

Honestly, this song isn’t necessarily the most interesting song on this list. But it’s solid, has a catchy melody, and I really love the lyrics. Especially the line that actually mentions Haste to Waste, taken word for word from the Mechaike special.

11.Sekaichuu ni I Love You – Rhymeberry

When most people got interested in the new Rhymeberry single, they really liked the song R.O.D.. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a great song. However, I was really taken by Sekaichuu ni I Love You, just because of how different it is. It’s 30s era swing/jazz (not sure if this is sampling or not) mixed with rap. I’ve never heard something like this before, and if you know of any other songs even remotely similar please tell me.

The instrumental is really entertaining; I love hearing all the instruments featured, especially the clarinet (which I play), but the piano is really what shines here. Miri, Hime, and Yuka all shine and they are really improving their skills. They really sell the song, too, putting a lot of energy into it, which is a marked improvement from their last single (where the live version is a lot better than what was recorded). There are also some fun lines in here; I appreciate the Han Solo reference, and I always giggle at “Dope the shit!”

I think I mostly like this because it’s such an experiment. It’s fresh, new, and something I personally have never heard before, which is really rare for music.

10. Walk my Way – Yokoyama Rurika


Yokoyama Rurika – Walk My Way by oshiruka

I think every time I talk about Idoling!!! I mention that I want to follow them more. Which still stands. I think they’re a really solid, interesting idol group with some great music, but I just don’t follow them. I heard about Yokoyama Rurika getting a solo single, but I didn’t need to read it. One thing changed my mind. Hyadain.

When I heard that this was a new Hyadain song and that it was good, I raced out to listen to it. And oh yes, it is good. The thing about this song is that it really works because of Rurika’s really strong vocals. From what I’ve heard Hyadain really wrote a song for her strong voice, and you can hear it. Hyadain, like always, writes a really strong melody, but here it fits Rurika perfectly, and her strong voice compliments the strong instrumental, or rather the instruments compliment her. This isn’t a very subtle song; this is something that’s meant to be belted out. That’s why Rurika’s voice fits it perfectly.

Steve from Selective Hearing wrote a very good analysis of Walk My Way here, and I suggest you all read it because I’m not going to write something this great about the song. One thing I can say is that, as a Hyadain fan, I love almost everything he does. His music really fits my tastes. However, since he writes almost exclusively for idol acts, I rarely get to hear music by him from an artist with a voice as strong as Rurika’s. So this song is really a treat for me, and I know it’s something I’ll listen to quite a bit.

9.Maji Kansha – Team Syachihoko

If you haven’t noticed, I really love Team Syachihoko. I wanted to put all four songs from their latest single on here, but I was able to narrow it down so that I’d have a more varied list (though another one of theirs is coming up).

One of the things I really like about Stardust groups is just how energetic their songs are, but that’s a bit of a curse as well; there aren’t many Stardust group songs I’ll break down crying while listening to, whereas I’ve cried at many AKB48 songs. And while I don’t think Syachi is going to move into serious ballads any time soon, I have to say I love their first song that seems a bit more serious, which is Maji Kansha.

I’m a sucker for strings and idol music; it’s actually something you could probably notice in this list. So when I first heard the swell of strings of Maji Kansha during a livestream of a Team Syachihoko event, I was hooked. The thing about Team Syachihoko is that if you’re looking for a polished performance with strong vocals, you’d best look elsewhere. However, the thing that I personally love about Syachihoko, that you can definitely hear in this song, is that they really work hard and push themselves. Their voices might not be strong enough to carry a song like this, but they give it their all.

It’s a really lovely song in general, and one I think could become a favorite to perform at Syachi concerts. It’s definitely the most normal Syachihoko song, but that, in itself, makes it the most usual. In a really good way.
8. Bokura no Eureka – NMB48

The easiest way to describe NMB’s summer singles is in comparison to other 48 groups. Whereas Nagiichi was much like songs like Ponytail to Shushu; happy and upbeat, Bokura no Eureka feels a lot more like Manatsu no Sounds Good. It’s a bit darker, more serious in tone, but still retaining a summer feel to it. Bokura no Eureka is a bit slower, very strings heavy (yes I do love that), and it just works.

NMB has had more mature sounding songs before (i.e. Virginity), but I didn’t really expect this song when I saw that it was an NMB48 summer song. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s so unexpected that makes me love it so much. It allows for something like their full PV, where the NMB girls are on a deserted island; even though it’s a summer song, and has fairly typical lyrics, it has a lot more emotion to it. It’s a bit darker, slower and more serious than I expected from this track, and I have to say I love it.

7.Megitsune – Babymetal

Babymetal keeps surprising me and taking themselves to new levels. Every time I hear a new Babymetal song it’s exciting, because I never know what it’s going to be like. Megitsune is a new direction for Babymetal, now incorporating traditional instruments and themes into their metal/idol pop hybrid. It completely works. It’s still one of the most ‘metal’ songs Babymetal has put out (though perhaps not as metal as Ijime Dame Zettai), utilizing Suzuka’s strong vocals and a lot of drums.

It’s kind of amazing, really, that all these elements work so well together. I’m constantly impressed by how innovative Babymetal’s music can be, in incorporating Suzuka’s voice, Yui and Moa’s shouting, the metal sound, while still being accessible to people who may not necessarily enjoy metal music. I know I never really listened to metal before Babymetal. And perhaps I wouldn’t be so fond of this if I was a metal afficionado. However, Babymetal does a really great job of creating accessible music for everyone that blurs the lines of genre in a really fantastic way.

6. Den Den Passion – Dempagumi.inc

2013 is shaping up to be the year of Dempa for me; I’ve known about them for a while, but I really got into them this year. Den Den Passion does one of the things I wish more idol groups did, and really plays off the fact that this is a group effort. Especially in the chorus, there’s a lot of vocal overlap, which fits really well. I really like what they did with the vocals in this single; the voices in the chorus often sound almost vocaloid-esque, or a high-pitched Perfume, but in a way that really fits Dempagumi.inc.

That’s the thing that I really love about this single. Everything about it fits dempa’s identity as a group, which, as a fan of the group, is something I love. The quick pace, the high pitched vocals, the focus on the group, the entire song feels very dempagumi. Even the rap section really fits the song (perhaps it’s the edited vocals in that section). Sometimes when writing reviews for this blog, as an exercise, I try to imagine another group tackling a song. This is a song that I can’t imagine anyone other than dempagumi doing.

It’s frenzied, energetic, and fun. While another song on this list convinced me to start following demmpagumi.inc (spoilers), Den Den Passion helped keep Dempagumi.inc as one of my favorite idol groups out there. It’s not one of their strangest offerings, but it’s a worthy addition to the dempagumi discography.

5. Te wo Tsunagou – Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku

Who else has spontaneously started crying during an idol song? Because uh, that’s the first thing I did when I listened to Shiritsu Ebisu Chuugaku’s latest, Te wo Tsunagou.

Ebichu is another one of the Stardust idol groups a long with MomoClo and Team Syachihoko. However, for whatever reason, Ebichu hasn’t quite clicked with me in the same way as these other two groups. However, I can’t deny how great their music can be (especially since they work closely with Hyadain a lot), and Te wo Tsunagou is just incredible. Instead of taking the usual energetic route that Stardust group often does, Ebichu does a really great job with a sweet, heartfelt song (though they have done some of this before, to be fair).

The song starts off on a great note with the strongest vocalist in the group, Kashiwagi Hinata, singing a capella. She sounds really lovely, and is a really great start to the rest of this song. This song has a really great pace, helped out by the strong percussion in the background, but ultimately it’s just how earnest this song feels, both with the song, the vocals and the lyrics, that makes me really love it.

This song isn’t quite as unique as the others on this list. It’s not even as unique as the other song on this single, Kindan no Karma, which is a much darker song. However, this song does pretty much everything right in being a really lovely, heartwarming song. As groups search for the next gimmick or style, this proves that what you need more than anything is a good melody, charismatic performers, and a strong arrangement.

4. Ijime Dame Zettai – Babymetal

I remember distinctly the first time I heard this song. This had been a very long awaited song for Babymetal fans, so I was very excited. I was doing a project for a class (auditioning people to be in a project I was managing), but I had to listen to this as soon as I saw the PV had been posted. It was completely worth the anticipation. I sat alone in the room I was holding auditions in, mouth open, completely in awe of what I was listening to.

I’d argue that Ijime Dame Zettai is the most metal of the Babymetal songs; you could potentially make a good case for the song Catch Me if You Can, but I’d argue the chorus gets too pop-y. IDZ, on the other hand, is pure metal, without the pop influence of other Babymetal songs, and it’s just good. One of the things that I love about IDZ are the slower sections; the piano-heavy section at the beginning, the slower section right at the beginning of the second verse, and the section before the big guitar solos. These do a really great job of pumping up the more intense sections, and making them exciting. All the guitar solos in this are incredible, as are the rest of the instruments; they do a really excellent job of pumping you up, and having a lot of energy.

Suzuka’s vocals, while they’ve since improved again for Megitsune, made a really big leap from Headbanger to Ijime Dame Zettai. She sounds amazing here, her strong voice really fitting the great instrumental. Yui and Moa take a bit of a backseat from their already limited roles, but their presence mainly serves to remind you that yes, this is actually Babymetal you’re listening to.

This isn’t metal-pop. I’d go so far as to say this is just metal, with pop performers. Suzuka sounds great, the instruments sound great, and everything about this track is phenomenal.
3. Shuto Iten Keikaku – Team Syachihoko

Figuring out which two Team Syachihoko songs made this list was a bit of a difficult decision, because the whole single is pretty amazing, but it came down to Maji Kansha and Shuto Iten Keikaku. Let’s just get it out of the way: I’m biased towards Team Syachihoko. They’ve quickly become my idol group of choice, and I can’t think of a song they’ve done that I haven’t liked. However, this is because they have really high quality music, and this has continued with their national major debut single.

This song was cowritten by Japanese hip hop artist SEAMO, and that’s pretty obvious. Even if there’s only one actual rap section (done wonderfully by Haruna), you can hear the hip hop influence throughout the whole song, which features a lot of spoken parts and a whole lot of attitude. According to wikipedia, one of SEAMO’s influences was MC Hammer, and I do get a bit of an 80s/90s hip hop vibe from this. This is honestly not a song I expected to hear from Team Syachihoko, but they really put a lot of effort into this song, with Chiyuri rolling her R’s and Nao putting in a lot of energy. All the girls really fit in this well.

The lyrics are one of the most fun parts of the song, featuring Syachi’s plea to make Nagoya the capitol of Japan. It’s a silly topic and the lyrics are silly, but Syachihoko actually sells it pretty well. There’s a pretty good translation on the PV on the official Syachihoko channel, so I recommend you check that out.

Otherwise, all the parts come together for a really fun and entertaining song.

2. W.W.D – Dempagumi.inc

W.W.D stands for “worldwide Dempagumi,” a very fitting title given Dempagumi.inc’s recent announcement of performing at Japan Expo USA this August.

W.W.D is weird. And this is coming from someone who loves weird music. Can you guess who wrote this song? If you guessed Hyadain, yep you’re right. However, while some people may criticize W.W.D for being kind of disjointed, in actuality it really fits the group. The song centers around the group of six girls, their individual stories and how they all came together to become one group. Therefore, the fact that the song has so many different styles in it actually makes a lot of sense, because it’s reinforcing this narrative found in the lyrics. I’m really glad they decided to work with Hyadain to write this deeply personal song for Dempagumi.inc; Hyadain is the master of writing very eccentric songs that somehow work, and W.W.D is one of those songs.

Because this song is based off the histories of the girls in dempagumi.inc, they perform it really well. The girls all have an interest in Akihabara culture, and as such really play up the shouted parts well. Groups in the past have called themselves ‘otaku groups,’ but you really believe it with dempagumi.inc. This song is so weird, but Dempagumi.inc manages to sell the slow/serious section as well as the energetic sections. They do well with a song that I imagine would be difficult for most idol singers to get.

If you don’t like your music weird, I doubt you’ll like W.W.D.. In fact, I have a feeling it’s the type of single that would be very polarizing. However, I really like Hyadain when he’s at his wackiest, which he is here. Combine that with the personal stories of dempagumi.inc, and you have a classic idol song on your hands.

1. Hai to Diamond – Momoiro Clover Z

If you read my review of Momoiro Clover Z’s album 5th Dimension, you’ll already know how much I love this song, so I’ll keep this brief. Hai to Diamond is incredible. It’s not necessarily the most idol-y song out there, but it’s a really beautiful song featuring orchestral instruments, many different sounds, and some really nice performances from Momoiro Clover. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, written very well and arranged even better. It’s gorgeous, epic, and has been an instant favorite ever since I heard it.

This is one of the most beautiful pop songs I’ve ever heard, and I know I’ll keep coming back to it again and again in the future.

AKB48 Senbatsu Election 2013 – Results + Analysis

The time has come again for a crazy senbatsu election. This time I spent the evening/morning hanging out on the Selective Hearing live skype viewing party. I had a lovely time doing that, so thank you to everyone who did that. So I watched, slept, and now when I woke up it’s time to blog. Still, overall, I had a lot of fun. One of the commenters in the chat (I forgot who, sorry!) said this (idols in genera) is a spectator sport and reality TV all in one. Which is quite accurate. This took place in Nissan Stadium, which is normally for athletics, and definitely had the feel of a big sporting event. Even though it started at 3:15 AM my time and got done at around 7 AM, it was a fairly intense experience, and one I’m glad I had. Even though indie groups have taken a lot of my interest recently, these big events will always be really fascinating.

For this post I’m using these results from Melos no Michi as reference, as well as cross checking that with last year’s results as seen here on Stage48. So here’s some of my thoughts on this election day.

Sashihara Rino takes #1

In the chat I was in, a bunch of people were joking “oh Sasshi #1,” liking the idea but doubting very much it would happen. Slowly, as Kashiwagi Yuki and Watanabe Mayu were named, we began to wonder if what started out as a longshot could happen, and we really all started pulling for Sasshi.

Sashihara Rino getting the first spot is really major for a couple of reasons. She’s the first girl to get #1 who’s not in AKB48, actually, and she’s also the first girl implicated in a pretty major scandal. Last year, her getting #4 was a bit of a surprise to me, but soon after she had her scandal and was moved to HKT48.

This whole election was really encouraging for fans of the sister groups of AKB48, but Sasshi taking #1 was really a big part of it. I also really hope that this will be one step closer to eliminating dating rules, or at least starting to get less strict on scandal punishments. Fans want Sasshi, and they have spoken.

At the end, when Sasshi was going around the stadium in a giant float, one of my fellow commentators mentioned that it really didn’t feel like a Sasshi type of thing. Which is fairly true. Sasshi isn’t really a typical idol to get #1 in something like this. When they were discussing what kind of single the next one would be, the word thrown around on stage was a “weird” single, which is something I can look forward to. Move over traditional idols, the weird but imperfect idols are here to stay, and I’m quite excited for it.

Shinoda Mariko announced her graduation

When Mariko announced she was graduating, I honestly thought it would be the biggest news of the evening (but Sasshi winning beats this). It’s honestly not something I expected, even though Mariko’s the oldest member at 27. Last year, during her election speech, she kept mentioning not losing to the younger members, and I really assumed that that meant that Mariko was here to stay. Even though she’s the oldest, she’s the one I least expected to graduate after Takahashi Minami, mostly because of this stubbornness. All good things must come to an end, though, and Mariko announced she’s ending things on a bang, looking to graduate at the Fukuoka Dome concert in July (since she’s from Fukuoka).

With all the members who left this year, and now Mariko leaving this year, the AKB48 senbatsu is looking very very different, and I imagine next year will be even more different.

SKE48 in Kami7, NMB48 in senbatsu

Like I said earlier, the sister groups really shined this year. It was noted in the chat that only 30 members out of the 64 were actually in AKB48; this year, the sister groups’ influences grew. Six girls from HKT48 ranked, even though they’ve only released one single, seven from NMB48 (eight, counting Ichikawa Miori), and seventeen from SKE48 (eighteen if you count Oba Mina). This is a massive showing for what’s the AKB48 election.

The biggest news, other than Sasshi, is that five girls that didn’t originate in AKB48, Suda Akari (who I had no idea would rank so high), Matsui Rena, Matsui Jurina, Yamamoto Sayaka and Watanabe Miyuki ranked in senbatsu. In the previous years, it was only the two Matsui girls who ranked in senbatsu, but now they’re in the top 7 (known as kami7), a huge achievement.

Above all, the increased rankings of girls not in AKB48 shows that they’re not just the sister group to the popular AKB48, but that they’re really valuable groups in their own right, and have a good deal of their own popularity. Unfortunately, some of the girls who’ve always ranked highly, like Takahashi Minami, Itano Tomomi and Kojima Haruna, got pushed down a bit. But that shows that the sister groups are really able to go far.

Personally I’m really happy; I like NMB48 and HKT48 a lot in particular, and while I have three oshimen in the 48 groups I’ve more and more started to consider myself as Watanabe Miyuki oshi, and Oota Aika’s my other main oshimen. There’s a lot of really great stuff going on in the sister groups, and it’s great to see it getting recognition.

Miyazawa Sae focusing on SNH48

Earlier it was announced that some of the foreign exchange members were going to be AKB48 members as well. However, Sae decided to take that back, and focus full time on promoting SNH48.

I understand in theory why she’s doing it; she really wanted to make SNH a group in their own right, and I imagine she’s really frustrated because of all the roadbloacks that she’s faced in becoming a member of SNH48. However, it doesn’t change the fact that this might not be the best move. My friend Dani, in her first message to me about the election, immediately said that “Sae committed career suicide,” which is pretty apt.

The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to support these foreign groups. Nakagawa Haruka’s focusing completely on JKT48, and seems to be doing well there. However, the politics between Japan and China have been so tense that Sae has been barely able to do anything with SNH48 simply because getting a working visa has been tough. I don’t know if she’s still been able to get one, which means she won’t be able to do much of anything. I know that Sae and Mariya had to watch the first public appearance of SNH48 from the audience, because they couldn’t work.

I appreciate Sae’s convictions, but if you can’t get a work visa there’s only so much you can really do. I know it has to be REALLY frustrating, but this is something that Sae really can’t change and is out of her control.

I really hope things work out for her, but I’m pretty nervous as well.

Vote inflation

I keep thinking AKB48 is going to have some giant sales decline, but Sayonara Crawl keeps breaking records left and right (recently outselling Speed’s White Love). And it shows! This year three members got over 100,000 votes. Ichikawa Miori’s votes almost doubled from last year, and she only increased one place. The 16th ranked member in senbatsu, Suda Akari, received 43,252 votes. To put this in perspective, Maeda Atsuko received ~4500 votes when she won the election in 2009. AKB’s popularity has increased a LOT, but it really goes to show that we’re dealing with so many more votes. Even if a girl’s position goes down or stays the same, she could have still had a decent increase in the elections.

Just something to keep in mind; so many girls are getting way more votes than they did last year, regardless of their actual ranking.

Hirajima Natsumi Ranking

Nacchan didn’t rank highly, but I’m really happy she ranked at all. Since she’s a member who’s graduated, and left because of a scandal of all things, it’s really nice to see her fans gave her so much support. It will be really interesting to see how this works with her in the Future Girls. I know I’m not the only one who wants to bring Nacchan back!

My personal thoughts
My two oshimen are Watanabe Miyuki and Oota Aika. While I wanted Milky to beat Sayanee in the race for NMB48’s top member, I was really happy to see her ranking increase (and her votes more than doubled). The big disappointment of last year was seeing Oota Aika drop so low, and so I was really glad to see her jump up 9 places and get 10000 more votes than last year. I’m really proud of the both of them!

So overall, this was an exciting, surprising and really entertaining senbatsu election. All these lineups look pretty interesting, and I’m excited to see what happens next for the 48 groups.

AKB48’s 5th Senbatsu Election

I’ve been in a bit of an 48 group rut lately. I love my favorite members still, and I still pay attention, but they’ve had trouble holding my interest. I think this is, in part, due to events out of their control.  I found So Long as a single to be lackluster, the announced SKE graduations of my three subsequent oshimen make me want to avoid SKE48 (Yagami Kumi, Ogiso Shiori, Hata Sawako), and while I find a lot of promise in HKT48, Suki Suki Skip didn’t grab me like Hatsukoi Butterfly. But also, AKB is at the point where they are in a bit of a cycle. Every year there’s a Sakura/Graduation single, the summer election single, the election results single, the ‘cool’ single and the Janken single. The three main events are the senbatsu election, the janken tournament and the Request Hour Setlist Best 100 concerts. The most recently added event, the janken tournament, has already been going on for three years. While girls have come and gone, the framework is largely the same. AKB needed something to shake things up.

And shake things up it did. There are now new rules for the senbatsu election; while the markers for senbatsu, undergirls, next girls and future girls remains the same as last year, there are new restrictions on membership. Now, to even be a candidate for the senbatsu, every girl has to apply. They have to be a current member of AKB48, SKE48, NMB48 or HKT48, they can be one of the foreign transfer members (Miyazawa Sae, Takajo Aki, Nakagawa Haruka, or Suzuki Mariya), or they can be an OG member who was in a group for over four years.

Obviously these are some big changes, and here are some thoughts I’m wondering about.

OG Members, Who Will Come Back?

Possibly the most exciting of the new rules is the one that former members of AKB48 (and related groups) who were in the groups for four years or more could come back and apply to be a candidate. Obviously, this four year limit really limits the number of girls who could come back (no 8th generation kenkyuusei, for example!), but it raises a few options.

First off, I think the least likely to come back is actually Maeda Atsuko (and Masuda Yuka); Acchan, at least from my perspective, left on her own accord and is trying to make her own way beyond AKB48. Her graduation, after reaching the long term Tokyo Dome goal, felt like a really fitting close, and it really did feel like she wanted to make way for the next generation of AKB members. Same with Masuda Yuka; while she was a big part of the 48 groups, even before her scandal it really felt like she was ready to move on into her own career (missing key AKB events to rehearse for her stage play), and I can’t see her coming back.

My personal hopes are for Ohori Megumi and Urano Kazumi specifically, but also any of the members who were transferred to SDN48 and graduated in the mass graduation. Meetan and CinDy are my particular favorites, they were in the 48 groups for a long time (CinDy was an original member!), and it would be really great to see an SDN48 member participate, even if they don’t necessarily make it very far at all. I’d like to see Hirajima Natsumi, as well, but I’m not sure how many girls who left due to scandal would decide to come back.

Who of the Current Members Will Apply?

This is very interesting to me; while in the past every member was an automatic candidate, this year the girls have to be proactive and opt into the senbatsu election. One question I’ve seen pop up is “who wouldn’t go into the election?” which is a tough question. Senbatsu results have long been a marker of a member’s popularity, and it’s hard to see any member decide to not go for it. I can possibly see some members not really bothering, if their likelihood of not getting in is slim (such as most of HKT48’s kenkyuusei), but there aren’t any risks in giving it a shot. So it’ll be interesting when the candidate list comes out, to see if any prominent members decide to step down for this single (though it feels unlikely).

What About the Kenkyuusei (and Miichan?)

One theory I saw on a comment on Tokyohive (and a good one) is that part of the reason for allowing former members with a long tenure in is to allow Miichan the opportunity to participate, and that this year it actually restricts against kenkyuusei from taking part. This is all a theory, but is based on some slightly ambiguous wording. The first rule is actually written so that it’s an “AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, HKT48 enrolled member.” Does this exclude Kenkyuusei, who are technically not full members of the 48 groups (Miichan, who was in AKB48 for longer than that four years, could thus join)? This is something that I hope will be clarified, because if so it would be an interesting move , focusing on the full members. Kenkyuusei rarely make it very far (notably last year, at the time kenkyuusei Muto Tomu was the center for the future girls unit), so it’s probably not going to matter. The only girl I could reasonably see affected by this would be HKT48 kenkyuusei Tashima Meru, who’s quickly become HKT48’s center and most likely continued ace of the group.

Foreign Members?

Back during the big team/group shuffle, I mentioned that the 48 groups seemed to be giving a bigger focus on the international groups, JKT48 and SNH48, by sending over four members. Which is true. However, allowing these four back in brings up the question: why aren’t foreign group members allowed in the election.

My first thought is practicality, because they’d have to come and promote the singles, but JKT48 has come to Japan before, and that same thing would have to happen if Miyazawa Sae, Takajo Aki, Suzuki Mariya or Nakagawa Haruka choose to apply.

So despite their emphasis on promoting JKT48 and SNH48, these groups feel like they’re secondary to the Japanese groups. I have no idea how well JKT48 and SNH48 have been doing, financially (I’m not as aware of the systems in place for gauging that as I am with Japan) but this move seems to imply that JKT48 and SNH48 are not quite equal with their Japanese groups, which makes me wonder if they’re not doing quite so well.

In any case, I think when the candidate list comes out it will be interesting to see what happens with this unique senbatsu election.

 

Proud to be MD: Why I Go Oshimen

Last week I read the very well done article on Pure Idol Heart about being an idol fan and picking a favorites. If you have yet to read what Paul wrote, look here. It’s well worth a read if you’re at all interested in thinking about the nature of being an idol fan.

Personally, I agree with what Paul writes, in theory at least. I think you should like who you like, despite the predominant idea in idol culture that you should pick an oshimen. Being a DD, someone who likes everyone, is all fine and good, I think. However, I consider myself to be an MD (Minna Daisuki) which means that while I like pretty much every idol in groups I like, that I support one as my oshimen.

However, one reason I pick an oshimen, and this is a bit of a confession to make: I have a hard time following/supporting idol groups without a firm favorite member.

I’m not quite sure why this is the case, but there are some idol groups where I can get behind them as groups, but since there isn’t an idol that stands out to me that much as an individual I just can’t have that group be one of my favorites. This was a problem for me with SKE48, for a while; I had an oshimen in the group I was a fan of, Yagami Kumi (who, for the record, I think is super fantastic), but since she wasn’t at the level of my other 48 oshimen SKE48 became the 48 group I followed least, even though I think they’ve put out really great stuff. However, now that Kuumin is leaving SKE48, I expanded my horizons, and after a couple of missteps (mainly becoming a fan of Ogiso Shiori… who then announced her graduation), I’ve become quite a fan of SKE’s Hata Sawako. So we’ll see if Shawako is enough to make me follow more of SKE48.

This also came into play with Morning Musume. While I have a blog post planned about my on and off again relationship with Hello!Project and Morning Musume in particular, in short I’ve thought about completely quitting Hello!Project for some time now. However, recently my interest in Ishida Ayumi has grown to the point where she’s one of my top current idols. I’m now actively supporting Morning Musume (through merch purchases, mostly; I bought Ayumi’s birthday shirt), and this is entirely because of one girl and the fact I think she’s amazing.

I also think that having an oshimen is helpful in larger groups that have a lot of merch. While Momoiro Clover Z, for example, is really great about having merchandise for Hako Oshi (MomoClo fans who support the whole group), not every group may have that, and it might be easier (and financially more viable) to support one member. For example, for a while I supported the second generation of S/Mileage as a unified whole, and while those are still four of my top five current Hello!Project members (2-5, Ishida Ayumi being #1). However, this made me resistant to getting merchandise because four girls is kind of a lot on my college student budget. However, once I decided on being a Meimi fan, I felt more able to get merch.

The idol industry also supports the whole “you have to pick an oshimen” idea through songs like Team B Oshi, which not only tells you to pick an oshimen, but to support Team B. (Interestingly enough, it also says that changing oshimen, also known as oshihenning, is OK, but only if it’s to that individual girl. Most idol fans look down on someone who oshihens a lot.)

That being said, while having a specific oshimen is important to me liking an idol group, I think the “Minna” part of my Minna Daisuki thing is important, as well. Occasionally I see people who only like one girl and one girl only, disliking almost everyone else. While that’s your choice, it still feels like that would make liking that idol group frustrating and flat out not fun, especially if you’re not a fan of the group.

One thing of note, however, is I think that the oshimen dynamic changes depending on what group you’re supporting. If you’re an AKB48 fan or a fan of those groups, so much rides on the senbatsu election and the Request Hour Setlist Best 100 election, so that not choosing an oshimen would pretty much disqualify you from this part of the AKB48 fandom. Larger groups or popular groups, where there are elections or rivalries within the groups, it’s hard to not have an oshimen because they encourage you to support your particular member of choice. On the other hand, I feel it’s a lot less vital for smaller, indie groups (like the ones mentioned in the Pure Idol Heart article), and that it’s honestly less important to focus on one girl in particular. The biggest factor, though, is the word of “support,” whether that means one particular girl or your favorite group.

Ultimately, though, it is your choice, and regardless of what other people feel you should enjoy idols however you want to. Because really, idols are meant for fun.