Hello, everyo…

June 2, 2012

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Hello, everyone! I have survived my first year at Sarah Lawrence college, and am now happily back home in Vermont. I have a few posts currently in the making, and they should be up soon! I’ll also be doing some sort of fan report of Berryz Koubou’s performance at AnimeNext. I just found out that I could go, so my plans are rather last minute, but just seeing the girls again will be so much fun! I hope to see some of you there.

In terms of this blog, I’d like to make a few (admittedly small) changes. First off: While reading through some old posts, I was shocked by the amount of vitriol in some of my posts. True, some of it was joking and funny, but I regret using words like “hate” so often. I don’t hate anyone in H!P, nor do I blame any girl for receiving disproprtionate amounts of screentime/solo lines/promotion. Do I still prefer some girls over others? You bet. Do I still find it disheartening to see the effort of some girls not pay off in terms of promotion? Of course. But I’m going to make it clear- in no way do I think the girls have control over such things. Idols should not be penalized for the decisions of their agencies.

In some ways, my enjoyment of Idols has changed. While I’m by no means a DD, I find it much easier to enjoy concerts and such now because I am so excited about every group. Even though I still have some clear favorites, I appreciate the things that make each idol special, whether it’s Risako’s ubiquitous pout, or Zukki’s… interesting hairstyles. It’s a lot more fun this way, and I think that’ll show through in my blog posts.

I’ve also been having some major nostalgia for classic H!P moments- old Utaban and HaroMoni episodes. Ayaka’s Surprise English Lessons (that perennial classic), and old Ayaya performances are all I want to watch right now.

…and when I’m not doing that, I’m busy falling in love with all of the new Idols that’ve joined H!P over the past year and a half! The 9th gen, 10th gen, and new S/mileage members all joining at once have given Hello! Project an injection of youth and fun that I hadn’t even realized was missing. I can’t wait to watch these new girls grow- and blog about them as they do.

Since this is something of an unofficial new start for this blog, is there anything you would be interested in reading about? Some of my favorite blogs do regular theme posts on certain weekdays, and I’ve been thinking of doing something like that at least once a week. Leave a comment to tell me what you think! (Or don’t- it’s okay, bloggers have natural telepathy, you know.)


A quick update

April 23, 2012

Hello, everyone who still checks this blog!
This is a quick note to let you all know that Aoi Usagi isn’t dead. It’s currently on hiatus until the life-suck that is college ends, which is in about four weeks.

If I’m in one piece at the end of the semester, expect some blog posts!


Land of Sayumi doll

October 23, 2011

Sayumi’s new PB, Sayumilandoll, is due to come out soon, and recently a few preview images have been made available in order to tempt our little wota hearts. I’m a huge fan of Sayumi, and her photobooks are always gorgeous, so of course I was pleased to hear about the previews. I was expecting Sayumilandoll to be somewhat typical H!P fare- Sayu standing around looking sexy in a bikini, looking forlorn in casual clothes, posing in the middle of the woods in improbably fancy dresses, and the like. I would have been perfectly happy with all of that- heck, I’m happy to see Sayumi’s blurry, overexposed blog photos. But on seeing the previews today, I’m pleasantly surprised. These images are so fun, so different from most H!P photobooks.

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This first picture reminds me a bit of synchronized swimming outfits.g

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Sayumi, the idol with a flamingo growing from her head.

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These are two of my favorites from among the preview images. And honestly, they don’t differ too radically from the usual formula H!P uses in its photobooks. Sayumi is still posing in a generally skimpy outfit, making a fairly straightforward expression. What sets these apart is their use of an interesting set and/or unusual make-up (and wigs). The soft whites of the first image set off Sayumi’s natural beauty, with the wig serving as the real kicker. We’re so used to seeing our Sayumi with black hair that the wig casts Sayu in a whole new light; we can’t just gloss over the picture and go on to the next one, because it is so unusual. Our brains can’t quite take in what our eyes are seeing. In the second picture, the theme is one we’re much more familiar with. What’s jarring about this one is the barrage of bright colors- the candy pink of the balloons (echoed in Sayumi’s liptsick), the lilac power puff, and especially the bright headband against Sayu’s dark hair. It’s almost so much that you don’t notice the inexplicable flamingo head in the background. It’s so different from the usual muted, romantic colors of a Hello! Project photobook.

A lot of people seem put off by these previews. The general consensus is that the images are too weird, too artificial, too out of the ordinary.

Excuse me? Hasn’t everyone also been upset over how “stagnant” Hello!Project has been lately? Anyone who thinks that a couple of wigs and some cosplay is too strange and daring by H!P standards needs to sit down and think for a moment about what they’re expecting from their idols. The fact that this photobook is so different is what makes it great.

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But where are her knees…?

One thing that really struck me with this PB was that it can appeal to a wider range of people than most H!P releases. The stand Hello! Project photobook is designed to give the owner of the book a feeling of closeness with the idol. It’s a way of carrying on the virtual girlfriend aspect of female Idols. Many PBs come close to mimicking a private photo albums- making the viewer feel like they’re looking back on a cherished summer vacation to Guam with his pretty girlfriend, or a few private moments in a rented cabin with his significant other. Those kinds of PBs appeal to wota more than any other demographic. True, a casual fan might still pick up a book full of Sayumi gazing languorously at the camera while lolling about on the floor,  but for the most part Hello! Project PBs are made for the wota almost exclusively.

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If you were a boy-obsessed 14  year old girl, would you really care about a romantic date in a field with Sayumi?

Sayumilandoll doesn’t bother with any of that stuff. Sayu becomes a strange, unknown creature, beautiful and fashionable and over the top. There’s nothing romantic and comforting about any of these images. While that may seem to make the PB less appealing, I don’t think so. Casual fans can pick the book up because Sayumi looks gorgeous. Stylish girls can pick it up because she’s fashionable and her make-up is done in a striking, modern way. Anime fans might buy it on seeing the Lum-like cover outfit, and of course the wota will buy it because, well, it’s Sayumi.

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I don’t want to read too much into one release, but seeing this makes me very excited about the future of Momusu with Sayumi as a front-girl. She’s a strong, interesting character; gorgeous, and relevant to more than just the wota demographic. In a way, Sayumi is one of the few Momusu members who can really pull something like this off. She’s one of the more universally visible members with her constant appearances on TV shows, and she’s appeared quite a few times in alternative fashion magazines (Kera especially has hosted Sayumi before). If it were Niigaki or Aika posing in a fluffy white floral headpiece, I might be among those people crying out that this release seems off. But because it’s Sayumi, I can accept it. And with Sayumi trying new things, it might be that we’ll start to see the other H!P members shake things up a bit, too- and if they do, it won’t feel as strange now that Sayumi’s lead the way.


Growing up with Idols

August 31, 2011
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In my last post I mentioned grabbing an old notebook at random from beside my bookcase in which to write. I keep all sorts of old things in that space- calendars (which I hate), wrapping paper from birthday presents, school things which I can’t bring myself to throw away, and all of my notebooks from freshman year up until graduation. After arriving at Ben and Jerry’s and ordering my sorbet, (but before setting out to write my Sumer Refreshment post), I opened the notebook and leafed through it.On discovering that I had picked up  my all-purpose notebook from Freshman and Sophomore year, I was immediately drawn in by the nostalgia. What interested me most were the page dividers. On each one I had doodled, scribbled, and generally left record of all of the dull and confusing math and science classes I’d ever been in.
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Y’know who else gets bored? Eri. Eri gets bored. But not Koha!
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Most of those doodlings had to do with Hello! Project. In my freshman year I had been a fan of H!P for two years. My scribbles were mostly about my most and least favorite members each group. On one page I explained that I hated Michishige Sayumi, that I couldn’t stand Sugaya Risako, and that Airi’s line-hogging annoyed me to no end.

On the next page, I wrote down ideas for various sub-groups, mostly in jest. One was Maxi-Moni, consisting of Yurina, Maasa, Koharu, Maimi and Erika. Another, somewhat less well-intended group was untitled but consisted of Matsuura Aya, Okada Yui, Saitou Hitomi and Goto Maki.

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Gee, wonder what this group oughta be called…
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On another page I had set up a challenge for myself: To remember all of Morning Musume’s singles in order. I didn’t do too poor of a job, and from Ai no Tane to Resonant Blue the only song I ended up missing was Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari (incidentally my least favorite Morning Musume song). Still other pages had little caricatures of my favorite members, charts drawing up proposed revivals of the old sub-groups (long before Tsunku had the idea!), and lists of those girls whom I considered the most talented singers.After leafing through all of the pages and eating half of my sorbet, I sat back. I looked around the shop and noticed that I was the only person eating alone. But most of the other people sitting around me looked sweaty and bored, while I felt pleasantly distracted. When I realized that, I sat forward in my seat and wrote these lines:”I have been a Hello! Project fan for five years now. For all of those years, Idols have been my main hobby. Whether I’m bored at school, alone at a restaurant, trying to fall asleep after a long day, or flying to a foreign country, Idols and their music have been my constant and sometimes best companion.”

I’d be lying if I said I had no regrets regarding the four years I spent in high school. But all in all, I had a lot of fun with friends, clubs, and school trips. Throughout those years, Idols were my soundtrack, my distraction, and my hobby. All of the songs on my ipod are more to me than just background music, and the videos I’ve favorite’s on Youtube aren’t just  entertainment. When I listen to Genki+ I am taken back to the plane ride to Greece during my junior year. Whenever that song comes up on my iPod I remember how excited I was, but also how close-minded. I was ready to judge and look down on all of my party-obsessed classmates. I also remember how much I opened up on that trip, how I was able to get along with the very kids I’d set myself up to despise. Whenever I feel myself starting to prejudge someone, I think of Genki+ and I remember to give them a chance.

Similarly, whenever I watch an episode of Ayaka’s Surprise English Lessons, I remember the time in my sophomore year when, lonely and shy, I set myself in the corner of the library and watched Ayaka teach Yaguchi how to say “I want to be naked on a deserted island.” To my surprise, a few kids came over to watch, and those kids soon became my friends.

Just a few days ago I packed up all of my things and moved to New York for college. I’ve been here a few days, and the uncertainties and feelings of timidity and the desire to prejudge are already upon me. I have to find a job, find all of my teachers’ offices to arrange interviews, and for the first time in my life do all of the little things that make up life without parents. Amidst all of the future uncertainties, one thing is solid. I know, without a sliver of doubt, that Idols will continue to be there for me. Even if all of my most beloved groups disband tomorrow, there will always rise up another group of smiling young women with questionable musical talent. I’m not going to go into why I think the Idol phenomenon in Japan will never die (at least not in this post)- this post is simply meant as a reflection on my past and future, and all of the ways in which Idols have and will affect me.

I guess what I’m really trying to say in this post is a huge thank you. To Idols, to their producers, to their fans, to their questionably sane costume designers, their choreographers, and to everyone I have met as a result of this unusual hobby. True, more often than not I have found things to complain about. I will continue to rail against the evils of the Manobeast, and Tsunku will probably never be fully on my good side. I’ll probably never be able to look at S/mileage and not think of Wada’s xenophobia, and AKB48 will continue to confound me. But even that is all part of what’s so wonderful and fun. So thank you, Berryz Koubou, Morning Musume, C-ute, H!P Eggs, AKB48, Onyanko Club, and all the rest. I’ve had a lot of fun these past five years thanks to you. I look forward to every fluffy-skirted and squeaky voiced moment that you will provide me with in the future.

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Thank you!

International Wota Summer Refreshment Program!

August 15, 2011

As some of you may know, International Wota has been hosting a series of posts dedicated to Summer refreshment, Idol style. Since this has been a hot summer, I decided that as long as someone else was paying, I might as well go out, get myself a refreshment, and think about Idols while enjoying it.

To that end I grabbed an old notebook that was laying about next to my bookcase and headed into the only significantly large town in Vermont. Being a Vermonter, a few things are near and dear to my stomach. Maple syrup, cheese, creemees (soft serve to the rest of you), apples, and perhaps our state’s most famous export, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I love Ben and Jerry’s ice cream enough to ignore that I’m lactose intolerant, but today I was feeling like a good girl, so I bought…

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Sorbet! One scoop of Berry Berry Extraordinary and one scoop of Lemonade. Delicious and refreshing, and no stomach-ache later!

After sitting down to eat my guilt-free sorbet,  I opened the notebook and proceeded to write a long, heartfelt something-or-other concerning how much of my history has been inextricably linked to Idols. The idea was good, and I’d still like to turn it into a post, but there was nothing Summer-y,  nor anything refreshing about it. So I scrapped it, and spent a few weeks oscillating between conviction that I’d get my Summer Refreshment post done THAT VERY HOUR, or never get it done at all and be forever ten dollars in debt to Ray, a prospect which terrifies me. The solution to my terror came as I was staring at the cover of Buono!’s mini album, Partenza. Staring, in fact, at Miyabi’s legs. Her pants, to be even more specific. What a great change of pace to see an Idol in pants for once, how intriguing, how… refreshing.

Look at almost any random photo of an Idol. If she is from H!P, she will be wearing a poofy, glitzy tutu-monstrosity with dead birds and beanie-babies glued all over it. If she is from AKB48, she’ll be wearing a bikini. If she’s from any of the other dozens of Idol groups currently on the market, she’ll doubtless be wearing one of those two, or a school-girl uniform. Of course, you say. Why not? Idols thrive on their appearance of cute, attractive femininity. What better way to show that off than in a skirt, dress, or few centimeters of bathing suit?

For that very reason, seeing an Idol wearing pants is extremely refreshing. The look is so rare, so casual and slightly boyish that it can cast the Idol in a new light. Pants make you do a double-take, whether they’re part of an official costume, or a casual snap-shot from a blog entry. In appreciation of that fact, I dedicate my Summer Refreshment post to the Best of Idols wearing Pants.*

First off are the pants that sparked the idea for this post. On further inspection we find that these are, indeed, capris. No matter. Miyabi’s legs look long and slim, especially next to Airi’s giant maxi skirt. As a note, Momoko also wears pants in the alternate outfits for this mini-album. Jeans, even!

Speaking of jeans, Takahashi Ai is our next Idol in Pants. Ai’s blog is a great spot to find these kinds of pictures, since Takahashi’s love affair with denim has been recorded extensively in her near-daily outfit snaps.

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Ai-chan’s jeans tend to be slouchy and boyish. While Ai’s choice in legwear doesn’t rectify the impression she’s been giving off lately that she is G-dragon’s less feminine twin, she still looks great.

Ai’s partner in crime also occasionally dons pantaloons, as seen here:

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See how excited Gaki is? That’s because she can now do a deep-knee bend and a cartwheel without fear of flashing Ai. Not that Ai would mind…

Speaking of giant lesbians, there is one woman whom stylists put in pants at any opportunity. I almost considered not including her in this post, because it would be too easy. Luckily I came to my senses in time to provide you with these excellent images of Yoshizawa:

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Ignoring the fact that she looks vaguely clown-like with those shoes and socks, here we can see Yoshizawa doing what she does best- looking absolutely cool and princely, with just enough of a feminine edge to make EVERYONE question their sexuality. Here, have more:

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I hate jeans with holes in them. I think they’re silly. But those jeans… are good. I like them VERY much.😀

Ayaka got the picture a long time ago, when she taught Yossy a very useful phrase:

She does, Ayaka. She does.

Let’s keep speaking about giant lesbians for a minute, and move on to Sayumi. Unlike Yossy, it’s nearly impossible to find pictures of Miss SugarPinkBunnyPrincess in pants. But they do exist, and I, dear readers, have found one for you:
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This is one of my favorite pictures of one of my favorite Idols, so if you were planning on scrolling past it quickly on the way to the rest of the post, I must humbly request that you stop and look again. And then again. For a full minute. Or else.**

Now that we’ve moved on to bikini shots, let’s consider the group that’s turned the bikini shot into high art; AKB48. One member of that group in particular is extremely fond of jeans. So fond, in fact, that back in 2009 she felt the need to share her love of jeans in her “private video.” I’m talking, of course, about Miyazawa Sae.
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(Apparently 2009 was also before they invented charisma. OOOOOH.)

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YEAH!

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The rest of AKB48 have worn pants rather more rarely. The most significant instance of it in my (admittedly lacking) memory would be this stage, Himawari-gumi’s first:

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Back when AKB still had the image of Idols you could Meet, I think jeans really suited them. The casual, girl-next-door vibe of denim worked in their favor. They look so relatable. When all is said and done, I think that the relatability factor is what I love the most about seeing Idols in pants. Take away their piles of glitter and enormous costumes, and they’re just girls…

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…albeit extremely beautiful ones. I am practically piddling myself over Koharu’s modeling career. Even more chances to see those legs in gorgeous, tailored pants!

Before I sign off on this post, let me leave you with a few videos that feature Idols in pants, in all of their leggy glory; from the classics, to the new, to the downright horrific:

The moment when Yoshizawa’s fate for the next five years was sealed. Also the last time real men were allowed in a Momusu PV.


Sayaka in paaaaannnntsss…

And now, the truly horrific, only in this post because the lovely Murr reminded me of its existence…

The murdered stuffed animals attached to their hips like war trophies, and Reina’s entire everything (those leggings, those “Say YEAHS”… Uuuugh),  are only saved by how unequivocally sexy Kamei and Gaki are in their jeans. Yum.

This post has been ridiculously fun. Expect to see a part 2 in the future!

Finally, enjoy the last few weeks of your Summer!

*Full-body jumpsuits, overalls, and male Idols are not included. Unless they look REALLY good.

** Or else what, you ask? Well, if you’re a little girl, Sayumi will come and molest you like she has Riho and Mizuki, and if you’re not a little girl, she WON’T come and molest you, and you’ll be sad (this joke was entirely tongue-in-cheek.😉 )


Berryz Koubou at Sakura-con: Day Two- In which I learn wotagei and cry some more

July 10, 2011

Oh maaaan this post has been a long time in coming! I’d like to say that it’s because I’ve been out enjoying my summer to its fullest, but in truth I’ve mostly been working or hanging about doing largely uninteresting things.😛

So with that said, let’s get right into the post. I promise to finish these up before the summer ends!

A note: As with the last post, this one will include few pictures or videos. You can find fan recordings of the concert all over the place now, so if you’re interested, please go check them out! One video that I found amusing was called “Documentary of Sakura Con: An Epic Berryz Kobo Adventure,” if you’re interested in looking something up!

Berryz Koubou at Sakura-con: Day Two- In which I learn wotagei and cry some more

Event: The Concert

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This day was the least packed, event-wise. I woke up early and headed pretty much directly to the Artists’ Alley. The area next to the Alley had become a sort of unofficial congregation point for anyone who was at the con solely for Berryz, and even though the concert wasn’t for another 6 hours or so, many people were already waiting there. I didn’t see the point in staying in one spot, waiting for a concert a half day away (and being held in another room on a different floor, for that matter), so I wandered around the convention for a while. Conventions can be very interesting (in both a bad and good way) if you’re not into anime. I was dressed up in lolita fashion (a Japanse street fashion based on Victorian and Rococo style), so at least I felt like I fit in, looks-wise! I mostly killed time by searching out breakfast and other lolitas to chat with.

As an aside, I should mention that the con staff started to get nervous and edgy about the BK fans during Day 2. I think the staff started to freak out over us the day before, when over 300 people were lined up solely to buy Berryz merchandise an hour before the Dealers’ room opened. Because of that, whenever groups of Berryz fans (easily identified by their t-shirts and uchiwa) were spotted congregating, they were split up and sent elsewhere by the staff. Some were threatened with being kicked out of the con, or even with having to deal with the police should there be any misbehavior… All of which was entirely unfounded, since the fans were generally orderly and well-behaved (at least until later).

More time passed, and the fans began trying to congregate around the concert hall about an hour or so before the concert was due to start. I was there and starting to feel very excited/nervous. I was going to see Berryz Koubou! In person! I spent the time drifting from group to group, trying to keep the door to the hall in sight.  The staff threatened all of us with banishment, but eventually relented and let us begin lining up early, much to my relief.

Certain hotels were affiliated with the convention, and people who stayed in those hotels were eligible to receive wrist-bands. People with wrist-bands were given a spot in a priority line, and would be the first to get into the concert hall. I didn’t have a wristband (because the hotels affiliated with the con were expensive!), but I did end up at the very front of the regular line… where I proceeded to freak out quietly. Every time another group joined the priority line, I freaked out more. I told myself that they didn’t deserve to be in that line, that most of them were just going to the free concert, didn’t even know who Berryz were, and other fun things like that. None of which mattered, but I needed something to focus on while I sat in line and clutched my Saki-yellow glo-sticks.

Then, after an extremely nerve-wracking hour, a voice came on over the loudspeaker (or maybe it was a man with a megaphone. I was in a nervous haze and don’t remember). The voice explained to us in no uncertain terms that they were going to start letting people into the concert hall. They also explained that we would Walk Nicely. They explained that if we did not Walk Nicely, we would Talk with some Police Officers who would Arrest Us. Very melodramatic.

After all of the priority seating people were led in, it was finally my turn! The concert hall was set up with a section of chairs somewhat far from the stage, and then an open, standing area essentially leading right up to the stage. Non-priority people were pretty much supposed to sit in the sits, but I (and many others) slipped out of the line and into the standing area in the front. There were tons of people there already, but somehow I managed to meet up with my friends. We were on the left side of the hall, about five people in length away form the stage. To my left and right were some of the Japanese fans, including a very quiet Saki fan who, with the air of a master showing a novice an ancient trade secret, pulled two glo-sticks out of his bag. I say glo-sticks, but they were practically light-sabers. They made mine look like pencils! After I admired them, he nodded serenely and put them away just as quietly as he’d pulled them out.

A chant began, which everyone quickly took up. My heart was beating faster and faster- I was afraid that I was going to hyperventilate unless the girls came out soon! Then a video screen came on and everyone grew quiet as the girls spoke about the earthquake and their efforts to raise relief funds. After letting the message sink in, the girls came out and lead everyone in singing Ai wa Katsu. That just so happens to be one of my favorite car-singing songs, so I sang along with all my might. And, of course, midway through the first verse, I was crying again. The girls were just as beautiful as I remembered them, and hearing their voices so loud and clear over the singing of the crowd was like a dream.

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The concert began in earnest with Special Generation. I had previously been exasperated with how often that song is performed, but I get it now. The energy in the room was insane. The quiet Saki wota next to me was suddenly shouting and laughing and jumping, and everyone else around me was lit up from all of the lights and power coming from the stage. As the concert was moved forward, the feeling of connection between the fans and the girls onstage never stopped. I tried to spend time focusing on each member, but gave up halfway through Special Generation. Everyone looked simply radiant. Miyabi, Saki and Chinami looked like they were having the time of their lives, Maasa and Risako looked confident and powerful, Yurina looked sweet, and Momoko looked professional.

The setlist was a great mix of old classics like Happiness ~Koufuku Kangei~ and newer songs like Icchoume Rock (which Miyabi performed with so much power!). I had so much fun chanting, although toward the beginning the Saki fan had to explain some of the more intricate chants to me.😛 The highlight, which has become infamous now, was during the second MC when Chinami disappeared backstage, then reappeared in the fish dress from one of their recent tours, then proceeded to speak English at us! At one point she faltered and the crowd immediately began shouting “kawaii!” and whatnot at her, at which point she smiled and said “thank you” in the most adorably self-assured way. The concert finished with All for One and One for All, the perfect surprise, and finally a long chant of “Berryz Ikube!” (which would’ve been longer if the con staff hadn’t kicked us out to prepare for the next event)

After the concert, things turned a little crazy. I ran out of the concert hall pretty quickly. I was feeling overwhelmed and just wanted a chance to be alone to savor the immense energy and excitement I felt. I made my way out of the concert hall and toward the big open foyer in front of registration. There I sat by a pillar and, inevitably, cried some more. After just a little while of that, I started to hear a thunderous chanting coming toward me. It got louder and louder, and then suddenly the foyer was filled with a veritable parade of screaming, chanting, laughing and crying Berryz fans. Everyone was clearly wound up after the concert and still on a Berryz high, but I found the actions of the crowd to be somewhat mortifying. They were only confirming the opinions that the con staff had of us as dangerous and mob-like. I sat and watched the craziness for a little while, then as it began to disperse, went and met up with another group to go out for dinner. We ended up going to the same restaurant that Berryz reportedly ate at when they first arrived, and through no plan of our own, at the same table!

After dinner I met up with some other friends who had for their part made friends with some of the Japanese fans. The two groups were drinking together (and driving their waitress to distraction, I might add. By the time I showed up she wasn’t even trying to hide how frustrated and horrified she was, which was pretty funny since the group wasn’t being that rowdy). I hung around with that group for a few hours, just soaking up the feeling of being with other fans and chatting with friendly people in English and what little Japanese I speak. Watching the Japanese fans get tipsy was also pretty funny! Then we parted ways and I headed back to the hotel, where the energy that had propelled me through the day suddenly gave out, and I all but dragged myself into bed.

My major take-away from the second day of the convention was finally feeling the true connection between the girls and the fans. There is simply no way to feel it when you’re just watching a concert on your computer. You might recognize it to some degree, but the only way you can feel it yourself in its full power is to go see the girls onstage. Watching Berryz onstage made me understand why a fan would fly halfway across the world to see a bunch of teenagers perform pop songs. The girls exude a kind of magnetism and energy that is practically intoxicating (or maybe it is, if the behavior of the rioting fans is any indication).

Having seen Berryz live, I know for sure now that I simply must see them again. Seeing them on the computer is okay, but it’s a hollow substitute. More than anything now I want to go to Japan and see everyone again in concert.

Up Next: Day 3- in which I meet the girls face to face, and Saki cries with me.


In Which I Respond to Isilie and Reaffirm Myself as a H!P Fan

June 29, 2011

I don’t read a lot of blogs. I am a bad member of this fan community that way. But one blog that I always read and always love is Itsumo Genki. If you haven’t already, you should go read Isilie’s latest post there, in which she ponders the stagnation of H!P (its de-evolution, in her own words). The post affected me strongly, and after I read it, I began typing out a response. Well, that response ended up being… VERY long. Rather than take up all of Isilie’s comment space, I’ve fiddled with  my response a bit, and am now posting it here. I’ve tried to make this reply understandable even if you haven’t read Isilie’s post… but seriously, why wouldn’t you want to? Go read it! (And then come back.)

Isilie’s post made me very sad, for a lot of reason: because it put to words some of the worries I’ve been mulling over lately; because I don’t think I could have said it quite as gently and clearly as she did; and because I value Isilie’s opinions as a fellow blogger, so it makes me sad to see her at something of a low point in her fandom.

That said, my opinions on most of the points she made don’t match up with hers.

The first point that I take umbrage with is the idea that H!P groups ought to stop performing certain songs. To quote Isilie, “Some songs should just retire, not because they aren’t amazing, classic songs, but because H!P just isn’t the same place anymore.” I must disagree.

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I look forward to the times when H!P covers itself. Because I love all of the girls so much (with a few REINA exceptions), it’s a pleasure to see them succeed, fail, or even just meet expectations when performing another artist’s songs. It shows another facet of them, aside from their personally sculpted idol persona. Some song choices play into that persona, of course: Momoko singing Momoiro Kataomoi, Gaki singing Boogie Train, etc. But as Isilie mentioned, other choices are surprising. Maasa singing The Bigaku? Who would have expected that? But it gave us a chance to see her perform with a kind of sparkle and energy that is such a deviation from her usually my-pace character. Shin Mini Moni, the youngest bunch of performers in H!P, performing a sultry T&C Bomber number? I loved it. I would never have known that Karin could bend her voice in such amazing ways had I not seen that performance.

That said, I agree that there are times when covers flop. When the first BK vs. C-ute concert was announced, I envisioned a section in which the groups would cover each other. I wanted to see how the girls could transform, if the crazy girls of Berryz could badass it up in Tokaikko Junjou, and if C-ute could let it go and be crazy and fun with something like Piriri to Yukou. When no such thing happened on a major scale, I was sad. Disappointed. I felt like an opportunity had been wasted.

But now I think that might’ve been a mistake. Imagine today’s BK singing and dancing to Kiss Me Aishiteru. They’re a versatile group, but their recent experiment with sexy has made it clear that their strength lies in their fun, out-there ability to sing about monkeys with conviction. And C-ute. They’re great at the kind of cool, strong dance tunes that they’ve been putting out. Momoiro Sparkling was cute, but seemed so tame and dull when compared to the fierceness that we’ve grown used to C-ute hurling at us. Experimentation is great, but some groups have a niche, and H!P seems most comfortable letting them stay within that niche.

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Compare this…

But when the groups go outside of that niche, and fail… isn’t that all part of their growth as artists? Even the most ear-rending performances are valuable in that way. Take Risako. A few years ago, 12-year old Rii performed Matsuura Aya’s famous ballad, Hajimete Kuchibiru wo Kasaneta Yoru. She sounded awful. Terrible. She looked confused, and nervous, and, frankly, like a 12-year old child singing a song far outside of her comprehension. Five years later, she again performed the song, and look at her progress. She made that song into something that she could tackle. Maybe her singing still isn’t Aya-level, but that’s not her strength as an Idol. We as fans would never have been able to truly appreciate Risako’s handling of the song in this latest concert if we had not seen her fail at it so miserably when she was young.

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…to this.

And then, Isilie takes on the factor that fans try and fail to scrutinize- The Tsunku factor. Why, we wonder, has his music lost its popularity? Why continue to give Aya boring ballads when her upbeat songs sold so well? How the heck is he picking his auditionees? And just how much control does he have?

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The simple explanation is to recognize the fact that the T-man is insane… locked-in-a-padded-room-muttering-and-chewing-toothpicks insane. But there’s got to be more to it than that. There has to be SOME thought process behind what Tsunku does. He is supposed to be a businessman, a producer, a mentor figure. He has to make choices that, at the very least, make money.So, why do his decisions so often seem mind-bogglingly stupid?

At least on the outside, he has all of the power in H!P. But more and more often lately we as fans have been questioning his control. We know that he does choose line-distribution. Sayumi (who seems to provide the most insight into the inner workings of H!P lately) has made that clear. And yet, if he does, then some of his other actions just do not add up. If he chooses line distribution, then why not give lines to the two members who were supposed to help H!P expand into the rest of Asia? Tsunku allegedly has the power to have give Jun and Lin lines in H!P songs- and for some reason, chose not to. From a purely business standpoint, that was not a good choice. No girl can magically become a top-earner without any sort of push. And yet it seems as though that was what he required of them.

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God, it was fun finding pictures for this part…

Why? We just don’t know his motives. Pressure from higher ups? Maybe. Racism? Doesn’t seem so- he had Jun and Lin over for noodles rather often (according to his hilarious blog). Crack? A popular theory, but not likely.

Now we see the same kind of silly business being repeated with the 9th generation. Tsunku has his clear favorite in Riho, but how can he expect the others to become anything in the public eye if he doesn’t give them a chance to sing? Of course singing doesn’t count for everything, but a quick solo line or two might be enough to catch the ear of a new fan. Tsunku has to know that- he isn’t dumb. But if he does know that, he doesn’t seem to care.

All of that would make Tsunku seem predictable, and frustratingly so. Of course Reina and Ai will have 75% of the solos in the next single. Of course he’s going to pick one boring, seemingly talentless girl at his next audition. And yes, that would render him dully predictable… if he weren’t so damn crazy at the same time. We see his craziness all of the time- having C-ute put out passionate love songs one minute and cutesy summer songs the next, occasionally throwing the less popular members of the groups a memorable solo line, and especially in whom he chooses to be H!P’s next generation. Who could have expected that Riho would be so creepily talented, Zukki would be so entertaining, Ikuta so easy to root for, and Mizuki so lovely? If you give him credit, Tsunku could have, and did.

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Seriously, LOOK at her! SO cute.

I’ve stopped stressing about Tsunku’s motives. I’ve come to accept them as part of what’s so fun about H!P. He is part of the unpredictable craziness that we love most about Hello! Project. We never know when he’ll graduate someone, what the next song will be like, or who his next favorite will be. We don’t know if he’s just a character, or a scapegoat, or a god-figure looming over all of the project. Sure, we can formulate a pretty good guess based on his seemingly predictable past actions, but there have been so many unexpected moments that it would be silly to write the T-man off as a one-trick pony.

My love for H!P is stronger than ever. Do the low sales lately get me down? Absolutely. Do I think that H!P is in a strange limbo, both trying to move forward in the face of competition and trying to relive its glory days? Yes indeed. Is it stagnating, as Isilie posits? Perhaps. But none of that is going to stop me from loving every single moment of it. Even when I’m sobbing my eyes out over a performance of Ame no Furanai, I’m enjoying myself. I’m glad that I’m a H!P fan, and that means that I’ll take the bad with the good.

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Where else would I find images that make me burst into tears and laugh happily at the same time?


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