So today April 1st 2014 is my blogs sixth birthday. Yes April 1st. No it’s not a joke. The blog might be though. Anyway I thought I’d look at where my idol fandom is now. Well it’s a good chance to take stock.
It was Morning Musume that introduced me to idols and they are still a group I love. My all-time favourite idol Takahashi Ai may have left but my love of the group hasn’t diminished. After all they are more than the sum of their parts. It’s the constant changes that have kept them going and without their changes they would probably have disbanded about 2002 and I’d have never found out about them. No Momusu means no C-ute, no idol interest, no wife, no great trips to Japan Expo in Paris. Ah life without idols would be so much duller. I may take the pee a little at times but make no mistake I love idols. They are a wonderful wave of sunshine and happiness in what would otherwise have been a quite grey life. Idols are the essence of uncorrupted youth. Beautiful, cute, happy, fun, talented, hard-working and inspirational. People of all ages can look at idols and be impressed. The western fanbase is an interesting mix of young girls and older men. The young girls see idols as positive role models and enjoy them because they are not marketed on sleazy sexualisation. In western culture so much is about sex. A young girl wanting to be a singer is basically sexualised at every turn (Charlotte Church actually spoke about this at length a few months ago in an interview). Being sexy isn’t a bad thing and plenty of idols can be sexy but when it’s reduced to the level of “look at me I’m a big bad whore” then it just seems crass (hello Miley Virus). That’s not to say idols aren’t looked at in…fanciable ways. I mean the type of magazine shoots they do can sometimes be sexy but usually with a sense of fun and cuteness too. It takes the harder and less-appetizing edge off. Plus the idol culture is one of respect and support for the idols which sort of changes the way they are looked at too. Idols can dance sexily and look amazing but it never obliterates their personalities. It never becomes what they are known for. You never hear of idols being described as “raunchy” for instance. You never see news articles saying “Yajima Maimi the raunchy, outspoken leader of C-ute was yesterday pictured – with her new shaven-head – having an argument at 3am outside a night club with her professional footballer boyfriend”. You don’t get papparazzi photos with accompanying articles talking about the idols “cavorting with hunky men in their latest video”. Idols actually seem to have more balanced media personalities. They seem multi-layered like actual people instead of one dimensional sex objects. So it’s easy to understand why western teen girls (and women) like them. Who wants to be seen just as a sex object? Why would a girl want to sign up to that kind of system of value? A system that puts so much value on sex. A system like “can you give a guy a hard-on? Yes? Then you have worth. No? Useless. Next”. Why would girls with brains want that? Idols are fun, innocent, happy and beautiful. The total antithesis to much western entertainment. Meanwhile men like idols because…of all the same reasons. Who wants to like someone who acts like a whore and uses sex as the be all and end all? What man with brains would like that kind of thing? Of course non-idol fans would make claims that men are only interested because they like young girls and it’s creepy (some of the comments on the Guardian website after a recent well-balanced article on BABYMETAL show the attitudes of some non-fans). To me it’s actually totally the opposite. It’s anything but creepy and sexual.
So yes. The gist of that ramble (I apologise) is that idols are an incredibly happy and positive thing and I am so grateful that a person I no longer speak to (long story) introduced me to them. I think my first love Momusu have been obliterated over the years by my love of C-ute but even so I have been loving Momusu’s singles over the past year or two. One Two Three, Ai no Gundan and Wakuteka Take A Chance for instance are amongst my favourite Momusu singles of any era. However since the day I first saw C-ute’s pv of Forever Love my love for C-ute has grown. In fact since that moment I have forever loved them (that doesn’t quite work does it?) It’s great to see that as Momusu’s sales start to rise so do Cute’s. With C-ute it’s especially pleasing as it’s something the group has worked hard for for a long time and it’s success thoroughly deserved. This group is fantastic and all five members are great together. The fact they seem to have a lot of female fans in Japan pleases me a lot as I imagine there is nothing more flattering than the support of your peers. Their last single excited me. The group rarely do a bad single but this one was the most immediately catchy one they have had in a long while. It was also accompanied with your typical excellent C-ute pv…
So my love of H!P is mostly focused on those two groups at the moment. Although Juice=Juice have potential. Unfortunately my early love of S/mileage has long since died out and Berryz continue to confuse me. I don’t like many of their singles and their popularity with western fans surprises me. The last single I liked was Cha Cha Sing and that was released in 2012.
In terms of idols Ai-chan will always be number one but of the currently active idols Nakajima Saki is of course clear number one. Yajima Maimi and Michishige Sayumi are neck and neck vying for second place. I do like a lot of other idols though. Haruna, Ayumi, Eripon, Oda Sakura (she’ll be fantastic one day), Chinami (the only Berryz that has ever interested me) and Maimai (who since meeting her in Paris has risen up my list). However it’s interesting to me that if somehow Nacky, Maimi and Sayu all suddenly graduated I don’t think any of the others would really step up. I’d probably put Haruna fourth at the moment but she’ll never be my number one. If the other three weren’t there nobody in H!P would be number one. I’m not quite sure what it is that really grabs me about certain people but I know for instance that Maeda Yuuka or Junjun had number one qualities and would easily have stepped up there. But other idols like Haruna or Eripon just don’t have that extra something to me. Something hard to grasp and certainly hard to explain. Fear not however because there are two Hello! Project trainees that have massive potential. The kind of potential I saw in Yuuka way back before S/mileage were formed. Those two idols are Tanabe Nanami and Hamaura Ayano.
Nanami (left) and Ayano (right)
I have always said that my favourite idols are based on more than just looks. After all most idols are pretty. However with Yuuka before I knew anything about her I really liked her. I guess you can’t look at someone without projecting something onto them. At the same time when you do find out more about the person they do need to live up to your expectations or otherwise surprise you pleasantly. Yuuka lived up to my expectations and so far so are Nanami and Ayano. I still don’t know lots about them though but through the H!P trainees tv show Hapi Pure Onedari Entame I have been getting to know them better and I like what I’ve seen so far. Nanami and Ayano are often pictured together and seem a good fit with each other. If Tsunku creates a new unit and doesn’t put them in it it will be the most disappointed I’ve ever been in him. I don’t tend to criticise Tsunku as without him we wouldn’t have any of the H!P idols, groups or songs we love so people constantly criticising him is as hilarious as it is absurd really. Even when second gen S/mileage was announced and people were complaining I was on Twitter saying that Tsunku tends to get things right mostly and the secdond gen might be good. I was saying that as a huge S/mileage fan at the time too. Well I was wrong of course. The second gen are shit. In fact my favourite second gen member fits nicely into this paragraph on trainees as it’s Kosuga Fuyuka A.K.A. the girl who quit. Okay it was apparently on medical grounds but even so good job! Actually she seems a really likeable girl and I’d probably put her as my third favourite trainee. It’s good to see that quitting S/mileage didn’t close the door for her. There’s still a chance of becoming a fully-fledged idol again.
There’s a lot of trainees with potential and Tsunku did hint that a new unit may come this year so it will be interesting to see what becomes of the trainees. They do at least have a single to their name. Well it’s a single V actually but it’s still good to see them doing things as a group in their own right. The single V was released at the end of February.
Away from H!P another idol group I like is Momoiro Clover Z. I prefer their first album to their second however. Seeing them live in Paris in 2012 was a joy. A few years ago when I got into idols the thought of seeing them live seems so remote. Since then Momusu, MomoClo and C-ute have been to Paris and I have been privileged enough to see them all. It’s something rare that can never be taken for granted. That heightens the senses and makes for great experiences. Anyway with Momoclo I’d say Mouretsu Uchuu Koukyoukyoku Dainana Gakushou “Mugen no Ai” is my favourite single and one of my favourite idols songs of all from any group. Roudou Sanka, Z Densetsu ~Owarinaki Kakumei~ and Otome Sensou are all great singles too though. But in terms of the members, although I like them all none have that special something that makes me particularly interested in them. So MomoClo have become a group whose singles I tend to love but whose members I tend to simply enjoy watching in pv’s but who otherwise I don’t really follow.
By far the biggest challenger to H!P’s dominance in my affections has come over the past year or so in the form of the lovely Sakura Gakuin and it’s sub-units. As H!P has tended to focus on cooler songs recently it’s been nice to find a young group doing happy, cute and fun songs. Sakura Gakuin have some great singles. Wonderful Journey, My Graduation Toss (BABYMETAL leader Suzuka’s last single with the group) and Ganbare particularly stand out. They also have four albums now. The fourth was only released in March this year so I don’t have an opinion yet really. The third album is excellent though. Often I find idol albums can sometimes be a let down but their third album Sakura Gakuin 2012 Nendo ~My Generation~ is great from beginning to end. There is no dip in quality at all. Sakura Gakuin’s albums come with limited bonus dvd’s and each year they have a classroom test which is usually included in one of the dvd’s. It’s a bit like the old classic Momusu idiot girl test. It’s always a joy to see and I am looking forward to seeing this years. Sakura Gakuin’s line-up changes as once the girls are approaching 16 they leave “school” and move on. Original leader Muto Ayami is just embarking on a solo career. Fellow first gen member Matsui Airi does a lot of tv adverts, second gen leader Suzuka Nakamoto is busy with BABYMETAL (who of course started off as a sub-unit of Sakura Gakuin meaning some of their singles are on the first three SG albums and fellow members Yui and Moa are still in SG. One of them will probably be the new leader this year), and Sugimoto Mariri also seems to do a lot of modelling. The other person to have left, first gen member Miyoshi Ayaka I have to admit I’m not sure about but I have the impression she is busy with adverts and the like too. So it’s good the girls who leave still get looked after well by their agency.
Sakura Gakuin’s Ganbare
Sakura Gakuin has two members I would call potential number 1 idols. First and foremost is the hilarious, energetic and super cute Horiuchi Marina. She was the current leader but will graduated March 30th. She is the kind of girl who I would support through buying merchandise quite happily if only merchandise ( and money) was easier to come by. But in the hypothetical Nacky, Maimi and Sayu graduation situation Marina would be a number 1 type. I’d put her up there with Maimi and Sayu already.
The other member is Taguchi Hana. A big eyed, long-haired young Nacky lookalike . Very eye-catching. The fact she’s a big fan of wrestling amuses me a lot. The little vandal. Thinking of an idol watching men wrestle with each other in her spare time just is funny. Most idols talk in their blogs about their pets, families, loving strawberries and sweets and so on. Only Hana posts pics like this…
I guessnow Marina has graduated Hana will take more of my focus. However Yui is adorable and little Ooga Saki is very funny and sweet. Sakura Gakuin are like the H!P trainees in some ways. There’s so much potential there. Except Sakura Gakuin are realising it now. Having said that, even though they are actively releasing singles and albums and doing live shows it’s still hard to find pictures of them or too many tv appearances. It’s quite frustrating really. But they are a group full of cute idols and potentially very interesting idols. Being so young often it’s a case of wait and see with some of them but that’s part of the fun. One thing that happened recently that I meant to mention on this blog is that some fans did a birthday book for Hana (it was her birthday March 4th). People could send messages to be included in the book in Japanese or English so I sent a message too. A few days after her birthday Hana posted a picture of the book on her blog…
It was really nice to know that the messages fans sent was received.
I think a special mention should go to the fantastic and unique BABYMETAL. A brilliant concept perfectly executed. I’d love Sakura Gakuin to have as much success as BABYMETAL but I certainly don’t begrudge BABYMETAL a moment of theirs. I love their songs and they are great performers. I hope they stick around for a long while to come. The worldwide success of their album should hopefully ensure they do.
Headbanger. Possibly my favourite BABYMETAL song.
So that’s mostly what I’m into right now. Although I probably should have mentioned the lovely cat-botherer Shoko Nakagawa who I have liked for several years. Her latest album is out this week and she is heading to Paris for Japan Expo this summer. Shokotan can still deliver the goods and her personality is very interesting and likeable. Her concerts look like great fun too and there always seem to be lots of females in the audience.
Well that cat looks…happy? No?
But what of the future you don’t ask? Well I guess the next year or two will see lots of changes. I think C-ute may well not have many years left in what is generally a young industry and Sayu will probably have to be lolicon from afar too. But I’m very confident that there will be plenty more to keep me entertained from both them and many others. This blog probably won’t still be going though as I’m running out of space. Well six years and not far off 600 posts will do that I guess. Nevertheless my love of idol culture shows no sign of slowing down. Idols still give me as much happiness as they ever did. Idols I salute you. You make very many people very happy and change lives in many wondrous ways without even knowing it. So thank you. Oh and on a personal note I’d also like to thank anyone who has ever left comments on this blog (especially nice ones). It’s always good to hear that people do read my posts and they haven’t just been sent from Google image searches (although there’s nothing wrong with that either). But anyhow onwards to the future. To fun and happiness and great music! Bring it on!