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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How to Say Goodbye

December 16, 2010

As of today, Qian Lin, Li Chun and Kamei Eri have graduated from Morning Musume.

Having a favorite member graduate is, I assume, a bit like having a significant other break up with you without offering an explanation. You’re left gasping, hurting, and feeling other emotions that would be at home in a country song. For some time it seems as though the world must end. You find yourself asking questions that have no answer- “Did I do something wrong? Did I really show my appreciation for her while she was around? Was my glo-stick waving too understated?” You lose interest in the things which once brought you joy, be it mountain biking or dancing along to Mikan in your computer chair. Eventually, however, you are able pick yourself up and move on. You find someone new, someone who (hopefully) won’t doggone leave you all alone without no thing but your horse, your heart, and your lasso.*

So, what will moving on entail for those of us who are now reeling from the loss our girl, be it Jun, Lin or Eri? How will we move on? To whom will we move on? What does this departure mean for us as fans of Morning Musume?

I think that no one should have to move on from a significant loss on their own. Least of all we H!P fans. There are so many of us, and we’ve all lost a favorite before. I’ve gone through it once already (although not to this extent), with the loss of Yoshizawa Hitomi from Morning Musume back in 2007. Each graduation after that required a new recovery. Below are some of my tips on moving on from the graduation of a member. The list is specifically tailored for those who’ve lost their favorite member within a group, but the tips can apply to any moment of sadness over a loss within the J-pop world.

10 Ways to Deal with the Graduation of your Favorite:

1) Watch their graduation DVD.

This tip must seem a bit  duuuh-inducing, but when speaking online with a few other fans of Yossy, two mentioned not having watched her graduation DVD, for fear that it would be too saddening. While a graduation DVD is certainly saddening, it’s also healing. Being able to hear the last words from each of the members to your beloved, and watching her expression, is a moment of complete honesty between you and her.  It will be one of the most touching, emotional, and final things you’ll share with her as a member of H!P.

2. Get offline.

Immediately after watching her graduation DVD (or immediately after she graduates), turn off your computer and spend a little while alone. Your first instinct might be to rush to the online forums and talk with the other fans about how you feel, but I’d advise against doing so. Give your feelings time to develop on their own, without the input of others. Take a walk, lay on your bed listening to songs she’s sung, or just cry into a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

3)And then,  get online

These are your peeps. Talk to them.

Finished gathering your thoughts? Good. Now go share them! Wail with the others who know exactly how you feel, share predictions as to what she’ll be doing in the future, just find someone to talk to! Talking to others will help you feel less alone, and may also bring up other aspects or moments of your girl that you’ve somehow forgotten and can appreciate all over again.

4) Keep her voice on heavy rotation

I suppose you got the joke? Good. Now stop feeling smug. It wasn’t that tricky.

Create a playlist of all of her best performances/songs and watch or listen to it over and over again. Cry. Repeat.

5)Do not, by any means, become a stalker.

The person who took this picture of former C-utie Murakami Megumi has clearly NOT moved on. DO NOT DO AS THEY DO.

Do, however, pay attention to what your favorite does post-graduation. The H!O forum is a good place to start. Dedicated people will generally post with news of what their Idol is doing with her time, especially if she’s still active in the entertainment industry. This will help lessen the shock of separation. True, you’re not seeing your girl get picked on by Gaki anymore or hugged by Ai-chan, but seeing her on her own is a unique experience that may help you appreciate new facets of your favorite’s personality.

6) Don’t renounce the fandom.

So maybe you can’t BEAR to watch them perform Ame no Furanai without either of the Pandas, or will never look at MM the same without Kamei around to be completely bonkers. But you didn’t just love the group for that one girl, right? This is the perfect chance to remember what it was about the group that first got you hooked, to re-watch the old concerts, and to get to know the others members… Which leads me to the next bit of advice…

7) Pick a new favorite.

Maybe she doesn’t sing like Lin. Maybe she doesn’t steal bananas like Jun. Maybe she doesn’t laugh like Eri. But there’s always been one girl in the group who has caught your eye, a member to whom you’ve just not had the time to give your attention in between looking at your favorite girl’s photobooks. Well, now’s your chance. Don’t think of this as replacing the girl who graduated. That’s not possible. But don’t let your girl’s graduation stop you from learning to love someone else.

8. Do not be afraid to cry

However, try not to hyperventilate like poor Non here.

“I actually cried!” “OMG, I had to try so hard not to start bawling.” “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry, but…” Comments on graduation concerts tend to follow this vein. What in the world is so wrong with crying?  Your girl certainly will be. Who can forget that moment during Nacchi’s graduation when Nono simply could not speak for sobbing? The audience would periodically let out cries of “ganbare,” but she barely managed to force out a word or two, and had to be supported by Iida and Miki. The poor girl was so upset that she had to sit backstage during the next few songs.   She had everyone’s love and support the entire time; And you can bet that the fans never felt closer to Goto Maki than when she broke down and cried while singing “Namida no Hoshi.” Crying is healing, and sharing your tears with your favorite as she prepares to move on to the next stage in her life can be cathartic.

9. She’s moving on…

If this picture still makes you howl with despair, you really needed this post.

…So you should, too. Don’t dwell on her graduation for months on end. I don’t mean to say that you should forget all about her. I for one am still guilty of the occasional outburst of “I MISS MAIHA!” However, a graduation isn’t (quite) the end of the world. Don’t post on every single photo of hers with an “Oh god, why did she have to leave?!?” for years to come.** It’s just not healthy.

10. But don’t move on too soon

You don’t need to wake up the morning after her graduation and bounce out of bed, bright eyed and bushy-wotaed. Take your time to miss her. She was important to you, after all.

That wraps up my ten tips. Needless to say, there are more than ten ways to move on. I’d love to see some of your coping strategies. How did you feel when Koharu graduated? Were you around for the Konno-Ogawa double graduation? Did the mass Elder-club exodus make you want to tear your hair? How did you comfort yourself?

Graduations (and disbandings) are, without a doubt, the most dreaded moment within the J-pop fandom. One can hear wota groaning and wailing in the recordings of this most recent graduation announcement, and when the crowd was panned during Goto’s graduation from H!P, tears were flowing. People were shocked (and some are still reeling), when SweetS disbanded. But the graduation experience is part of being a fan. It is always sad, but it isn’t entirely a negative experience. When a favorite graduates we get to see her move on to the next phase of her life and career, and her absence allows us to explore the virtues and vices of the remaining girls. The experience is bitter, but we are left cleansed, and I like to think refreshed. It takes time, but in the end, a graduation is a thing to be celebrated as well as feared.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to some of Linlin’s solos… and cry.

* Does it show that I never listen to country? I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard that all country songs must make reference to a pet, a heart (achey-breaky or otherwise) and/or being left by a loved one. This was the best I could do.

** Is it just me, or do MeguKami fans seem to do that more than anyone else? Is it the abrupt nature of her “graduation?” Or the fact that it reeks of un-surfaced scandal? I tend to pick on them a bit, so I’m sorry, MeguKami wota.


Why the worst matter

July 26, 2010

(This picture somehow seems appropriate)

We all feel this way at some point. Every time she shows her face- be it in concert, the middle of a music video, or on TV, we cringe. We want her gone. We wish the cameraman would stop worrying about spending somewhat equal time on all of the members, and just stay the heck away from this one.*

She’s a different member for each of us, but every wota can identify her in a heartbeat: Their least favorite.

I’m fairly vocal about my least favorite members, and even my friends who aren’t H!P fans (IE all of my friends…) can at least point to Risako or Reina and say “She’s the one you don’t like, right?”

So yes, I can’t stand Reina or Risako. I don’t like ManoEri either, although she’s kind of a special case (in that I’m terrified of her). I’m not going to talk about why I dislike these girls in this post. I feel like I mention my reasoning in every other post I make, and for the purpose of this article, reasons actually don’t matter all that much. I dislike these girls, and that’s all there is to it.


(Pure, murderous intent)

Whenever my least favorite gets half of the lines in their respective singles, I rail and rant about the unfairness. “It should have been Maasa/Captain/Lin/Sayumi/insertunderratedidolhere!” I say, closing my eyes in despair at the unfairness of it all.

However, there’s another layer to my Idol-Wota relationship when it comes to the least favorites. I dislike them, yes. But that’s not all.

I recently re-watched Berryz Koubou’s 2009 Aki ~Medachitai~ tour, and the above video made me angry enough to leave a comment essentially detailing everything that I hated about Risako. Someone else commented and agreed with me, and at first I was all happy to have found someone who felt the same as I did. But something in their comment didn’t sit right with me. This was their original comment (sorry, I can’t find the video again, and I don’t remember my exact comment) :

” I know! I can’t even say how much I hate her. 😛 She’s the worst in the group and she’s getting all the lines! I can’t say how much better my life would be if she just left Berryz forever. She’s just plain gross!”

What? Leave the group? Berryz Koubou without Risako’s annoying, pouty, face? Inconceivable!

I may hate on Risako. I may scream with indignation whenever Reina thinks that, just for a change, she’ll wink during her solo line. But I would never, ever want to see either of their groups without them.

This is the part where you, reader, will sit back and say to yourself “Rebecca, I read your blog because it occasionally makes me laugh, think, cough up phlegm, or do all three at once. I enjoy your solid convictions against your least favorites. What up?” I will tell you what is up, dear reader. Least favorites are essential to keeping interest in a group alive. Without them, my favorite groups would be cool and groovy rage-free zones, yes, but also terribly dull.

(Do I really want her out of the picture?)

Not convinced? Stay with me.

Take C-ute. I have my favorite in Okai Chisato. I champion her, and I like to say that her sultry vocals can spread world peace. But C-ute is my least favorite of all of H!P’s main groups, and I barely pay attention to them. I surely devote less time to them than BK or Morning Musume (for the sake of arguments, I’m leaving out S/mileage. They’re too new). And guess what? C-ute is the sole group without one member that I dislike. True, sometimes I whine about Nakky’s duck voice, but she is just so pretty and good at dancing. Yeah, Airi has pretty much taken over the group’s singles, but damnit, she’s gorgeous and talented, and if anyone’s going to have a solo single, it ought to be her. Maimi is a freakishly gorgeous cyborg woman, and Maimai is turning into a beautiful young lady.

When I watch C-ute’s concerts, there’s no suspense. I don’t care who gets a line or when, because no one in the group makes me rage. In fact, I tend to skip over most of C-ute’s performances, because I know that they’ll be good enough, but lacking anything that I need to watch out for. After Erika and Kanna left, I didn’t worry about who their lines would be performed by because as far as I was concerned, it could be anyone and I’d be happy.

When I finished watching C-ute’s Shocking Live tour, I felt like I’d watched a good concert. I ate some rice pudding. I felt guilty about doing so even though I wasn’t hungry, then remembered that I’m Jewish and that eating and feeling guilty is what we do. I felt better. I went to bed.

Cut to Morning Musume’s Genki Pikka Pikka tour. My god. I was practically glued to the screen during group songs, flashing back and forth between Youtube and Project!Hello’s colorcodes, wringing my hands and wondering who was going to get Kusumi’s lines. I was on an emotional roller coaster. I cheered when Linlin sang “Torokeru torokeru yumegokochi” in Aishite Aishite Ato Ippun, groaned when Reina (and Ai)  got all of the graduated Nutjob’s lines in Resonant Blue. It should have been Sayumi- her voice would have been squeaky, but at least it would have been someone different. I commented multiple times to that effect, and with each new performance I felt something new- rage, happiness, relief, and at one point, extreme hatred toward all maxi dresses ever.

(I hope this fad is eaten by Lady Gaga and dies.)

What that concert was over, I stayed up late writing this article, then talked on the phone for an hour with my cousin (who is tolerant of my Wotaism and even occasionally indulges in some herself). I went to bed tired, partially annoyed, but more importantly, really excited to see the next Momusu concert. Who knows? Maybe the lines would be rearranged. Maybe Reina would lose her voice and be forced to sit to the side for the entire concert, desperately winking every time the camera swivels past her on its way to someone more talented (hey, I didn’t say that I wouldn’t mind the groups without Reina or Rii’s voices. Just their presence. 😉 )

So yes. I will continue to preach dislike of my least favorites. I might cry a little bit when once again, Saki is pushed to the back in favor of Risako. But you won’t hear me wish them out of the group. Hello! Project is all the better for their presence.

(…Yeah.)

*No, I’m not talking about Aika on a bad hair day ( Y’know. Most days).


My week, it has been made!

October 26, 2009

I have long admired those who supported the H!P girls through their regular purchasing of merchandise.

By admired, I mean that I was jealous of those devoted bastards* to the point of tossing stuffed animals at the screen every time I saw that someone had bought twelve zillion versions of Morning Musume’s new single, or nearly went oldschool and tore at my hair on seeing scans from Maasa’s photobook.

Now, I’m not saying that I didn’t buy the occasional CD, but that’s just it. That’s all I did. A single or two for my birthday, or BK’s latest album brought back when a friend went to Japan. I always felt like I wasn’t doing enough. I think a lot of fans feel like that after a while- that it’s not enough anymore to just sit there and watch.

About three days ago I decided that I wasn’t going to let myself off the hook anymore. I’m 16, I have a job and nothing to spend my money on. Thanks to the new HelloStoreUsa, I have now joined the ranks of those people whose webpages I used to bombard with stuffed toys: I have bought my first Official H!P T-shirt (please note the capitalization- this is serious)!

This is about as far as my writing skills can take me for now, so here is a picblizzard of my purchase!

LinlinT 001Choosing which shirt to buy was an easy decision: It had to be one of Linlin’s. Here it is, in all of its glory! By the way, the color is much brighter and more vibrant in real life. I have to say, though, I think that the smiley in the lower left corner fits Lin’s facial expressions better. Oh well!

LinlinT 009

Here’s the shirt being worn. By the way, I got the large size, and it’s huge. I tied it back with a rubber band in this picture, but wow, it really is large!

LinlinT 015It was at about this point that I started jumping about and down and squealing like a fangirl. I nearly broke my mom’s camera.

LinlinT 011

Here’s the accompanying wrist-band. I’m not sure I’ll ever wear it outside my house, but then again, it has Linlin’s name on it. I don’t mind looking like an 80s reject for her! (Seriously, why wristbands? Is it so the wota can wipe their sweat on a physical representation of their idol? Is that some sort of common wota kink that I’m missing out on?)

LinlinT 010Finally, the part of my purchase that made me squee the loudest! Pictures of Linlin! Wow. I mean, just… wow. Look at her, for Gaki’s sake! She’s just… so amazing.

In all, I’m incredibly happy with this purchase. Buying merchandise and supporting my favorite makes me feel like I’m somehow closer to her, an important thing for a fan who has yet to make the pilgrimage to Japan and won’t be able to do so for a while yet. The t-shirt is a reminder that the person I’m supporting is in fact, a real, physical being and not just some tiny animated figure trapped on my computer screen.

*No offense intended to all of you devoted bastards out there. Really. None. I love you guys. Now go back to fondling your piles of merchandise, you jerks.