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?


This is why being a fan is so fun

January 2, 2011

Waking up at 4:30 am to hear the news about the Ninth Gen. So. Much. Fun. Being a fan of H!P is one of the more formative things in my life, and it’s the intense moments like this that keep me hooked.

As a whole, I’m highly anticipating this generation. each girl brings a huge wallop of personality to a Morning Musume that many complain is too stale and complacent. I have the feeling that these girls will make the most of even the slightest chances tossed their way, snatching every moment of the spotlight that they can. That should make for an entertaining (and thus profitable) Morning Musume!

Suzuki Kanon

My feelings for Kanon mirror those that I have for Sekine Azusa and Lin. My initial confusion and disgust with this girl has transformed into a burning curiosity. I simply must watch her. I’m desperate to see how she grows and changes. Her goofy acting bit is already on its way to becoming legendary amongst the fans (a movement has sprung up to nicknamed her “Moshimoshi” or just “Moshi,” after her cell-phone skit. I like it). Kanon is, without a doubt, my initial favorite among the 9th generation.

Sayashi Riho

To not put Riho in MM would’ve been idiotic. Takahashi will have to graduate at some point, and there needs to be someone with enough swagger to fill some of her roles. Riho has that swagger. My Gaki, does she. I really want Riho to become the new Bitch of Morning Musume- a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners bitch, just like Miki back in the day. It would be so interesting and fun to see some real conflict happening again.

Ikuta Eri(na)

I’m both surprised and not surprised about this one. I knew that Aina wouldn’t get in, simply because nothing stood out about her. Kanon and Riho were, in my mind, shoo-ins. But then came Mogi and Ikuta. I knew that if anyone else were to get in, it would be one of those two. But which one? Ikuta made much less of an impact than poor Mogi did, but Mogi’s impact seemed to have been mostly negative. In the end, I’ll have to wait and see about Ikuta. I want to see her performing all of the old classics as her personality begins to shine through!

Fukumura Mizuki.

Aaaah, an Egg! Finally, finally, things are happening with the Eggs. her addition to the group balances out the 3 auditionees nicely. She’s more experienced and comfortable onstage. She’s clearly an emotional girl who loves being an Idol. She cried twice during her introduction concert, and she turned on the waterworks again for this occasion. I can’t blame her. Being an Egg must seem occasionally hopeless. I’m fairly sure that Mori Saki or Aoki Erina (oh gaki, another one!) won’t be debuting any time soon, and I’m sure the other girls know that their chances are slim. To see some movement amongst the Eggs (with Mizuki and now Yuu) must be so uplifting. As a fan, it’s certainly promising.

I will make a separate post about Kikkawa soon… because OMGYAYKIKKA!


Generation 9: The Kids Strike Back

December 27, 2010

I’m pretty sure that title was meant to be a Star Wars pun. Um.

HEY! There are 9th generation auditions going on, you know! let’s talk about them, okay? OKAY!

For those of you not in the know, there are currently five finalists aged 11-13 vying to become Morning Musume’s 9th generation. We’ll learn the winner(s) on January 2nd.

Like many out there, I want to see all of these girls in MM. I like to have Morning Musume’s membership be in the double digits, and having a great big clump of new girls in the group could be adorable. I’m getting a very 5th generation feeling from these girls. They’re all very young and show glimmers of talent, and like the 5th gen, they seem to gel well and generally get along. It’d be adorable to see them stick together in the beginning, just like the 5th gen did before they gained their confidence. Further, if five girls entered Momusu, each girl could be matched with a mentor, just like in the old days! So cute!

The five girls are Ikuta Erina (Why? Why did she have to have that name?), Sayashi Riho, Mogi Minami, Suzuki Kanon and Otsuka Aina. Below I’ve reviewed them individually based on my initial reactions to what brief footage of them I’ve seen, then calibrated their chances of getting in using sophisticated measures that are much too complicated and important to explain here.

Sayashi Riho

Just like everybody and their mother, I’m rooting for this girl like she’ll explode if I don’t. She is hands down the most talented dancer, singer, and performer out of the five hopefuls. She also happens to be very pretty, which never hurts. If we were to compare her to anyone in the 5th generation, she’d be Ogawa Makoto, who was the clearly talented, fun one during the audition (only to be eclipsed by Takahashi later on). I love her for her confidence and competence.

Her clear superiority could make her a shoo-in, but it could also hurt her. The last time I can remember Tsunku choosing the initially talented girl as a winner of any audition was when he chose little Suzuki for H!P Kids. Since then he’s chosen girls who have one or two talents and many, many flaws. Eri was painfully shy, sang without emotion and could barely talk on TV shows, but was a good dancer.  Sayumi was cute, and, well, was crap at everything else. God even knows what Koharu had going for her. She liked rice and umeboshi, which seems to be a trend within H!P, so maybe Tsunku was just thinking of the caterers when he picked her. Nobody saw Mitsui as the obvious choice for 8th gen. Yuu and the other girls were each individually more talented at singing and dancing and other Idol-riffic things in general. But it was Mittsi who Tsunku chose. Personally, I’m tired of mediocre girls being chosen. I’d love to see a girl who has clear talent being chosen right off the bat. It worked out well for Airi, didn’t it? In the end, we just don’t know how Tsunku will see Riho. Hopefully he’ll realize that she could be an unstoppable, wallet-draining, wota-seducing force.

But I doubt it.

Chance of getting in: 6/10

Chances of joining AKB48 if she loses: 10/10

Mogi Minami

The one that everyone seems to hate. If we continue the 5th gen comparison, Mogi would be Konno. Clearly far behind the others in terms of talent and basic life-skills. But in the end, everyone wanted to root for Konkon and see her persevere, and that’s the feeling I get for Mogi. She has the potential to become the most awesome little-sister character ever, because all you want to do is pat her head and comfort her and make her stop crying. I bet she and Takahashi will get along. and during graduations, they will probably fall apart from dehydration.

As far as her luck with getting in the group… again, Tsunku’s insane and will probably turn her into the next Koharu. Mogi is young and \clearly tends toward the negative. Tsunku might like her simply because he likes the malleable, impressionable types. Rather a lot like Koharu, actually.

Chance of getting in: 7/10

Suzuki Kanon

I. this girl. What. I mean, she. It’s like there’s this thing and I don’t even know what. And how is it that this happens there to eleven. Electric chocolate pudding?! SURREPTITIOUSLY!!! Wuh… ?????

Um. Let’s try that again. Something about Kanon is really, really disturbing to me, but at the same time, I find myself drawn to her, and it’s confusing me. I can tell that she’s a weirdo with a funny, quirky personality, which has me rooting for her. But her dancing is almost… grotesque. When she’s practicing alone in the beginning of the second clip, it’s just kind of gross to watch her dance. And yet, she has that weird deep voice, and she looks so ridiculously chipper when she’s recording Aitai Lonely Christmas that I can’t not laugh.  She is this mixture of repulsive and alluring that entices me to no end. I know that if she ends up in Morning Musume I’m going to end up adoring her, just like Forehead Girl Sekine Azusa and Linlin. But right now… uh… buh… hu wuh rah?! Whrr? HUBHUBHUBHUB!

Because Tsunku appears to like messing with my brain, this girl is probably going to be his favorite. I really want him to pick her to be in the group, if only to give me another chance to figure her out.

(Oh, in terms of 5th generation similarities, this one is another Konno. She acts weird, she looks weird, but she also happens to have the biggest boobs of the five… JUST LIKE KONNO. I am so brilliant).

Chance of getting in: FLUBFLUBGAPPLESNAPEelevensixtyfour/10

Otsuka Aina

Is it bad that I think of this girl as the “other” one? She doesn’t stand out at all. There’s nothing bad about her. She’s not unattractive, nor is she very pretty. She’s not bad at dancing, nor is she wonderful. She isn’t mind-boggling like Kanon or weepy like Mogi. She’s a pretty good singer, but not so great that it really makes her shine. In terms of 5th generation, she’d be Niigaki Risa. She was the youngest one and most people weren’t really sure why she was there. A fair amount of people hated her, but others pointed out that she had a solid voice and wasn’t bad at dancing. Risa eventually blossomed into the wonderful girl that we now treasure, so who knows what will happen with Aina?

I assume that Tsunku will see something in Aina that I don’t (like a personality…) and at least consider her.

Chance of getting in: 6/10

Ikuta Erina

The eldest of the group, coming in at a whopping 13 years old! Ikuta (I will never, ever be able to call her Erina) is the worst singer of the group, but I can’t help but like her a bit. She’s somehow ethereal, a little bit removed from the reality of the situation. Her dancing hovers between long-limbs-flying-everywhere awkward and cool and elegant. In terms of the 5th generation, she reminds me of Takahashi Ai. True, Takitty was much better at singing and dancing that Ikuta is, but they both carry themselves with a similar elegance and mystery.

I can’t get into Tsunku’s mind about this girl. I want to say that he’ll choose her because she’s a little bit different than most of the existing Momusu members, but I’m also feeling like he’ll not choose her because she’s too delicate.If only the T-man were more open to my repeated attempts at reading his mind. This would be so much easier…

Chance of getting in: 4/10

The choice of who will make up Morning Musume’s 9th generation will drastically alter the future of the group. This is a great opportunity for Tsunku: he has a chance to make some real changes within Morning Musume. I sincerely hope that for once, just once, he stays out of his drug-induced lunacy long enough to make a lucid decision.