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Kago Ai in Torrance, California! January 29, 2011

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Hello! Project, Jpop, Morning Musume.
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2 comments

Yup, this post is about a month late in being written. Sorry about that. I didn’t really want to write it up right when it happened since I feared it would most likely get lost in my “12 Days of Tsunku-mas” posts (just like my goodbye to Eri, Junjun and Linlin did :(). Then the ninth generation happened. And Takashashi was announced to graduate. I also might have forgotten about it.

But, hey, better late than never, right?

So, I literally found out about this event the night before it was to happen. Luckily, since I was on winter break from classes at the time my schedule was completely free and I had no problems making it down to the event.

The event itself was the grand reopening of a KDDI mobile shop in the Torrance, California Mitsuwa Marketplace. Mitsuwa Marketplaces are a slightly odd entity. There are a few of them down here in Southern California and usually half of the building is dedicated to a large Japanese supermarket, while the other half stores a food court and several small shops. They’re a great place to spend a lunch with the food courts usually being quite reasonable, and the supermarket right there to grab some snacks and drinks.

The event was slated to start at 1:00 and I ended up getting there about a half hour early. They had managed to set up a makeshift stage for the press conference in what looked like an unused shop in the “shopping district” part of the Mitsuwa. To be pretty honest, it was actually rather impressively put together. While waiting I also had the chance to meet a few interesting people! I met a fellow from Hello!Online and the couple who threw the Hello! Party back when Morning Musume came to Los Angeles. It’s always a joy to meet fellow Hello!Project fans! 😀

When the event actually started Kago still wasn’t present. Four different representatives from KDDI corporate, the newly opened KDDI store, Kyocera (the manufacturer of the phones that KDDI is selling here in the states) and Mitsuwa Marketplace. The messages from the representatives of Kyocera and Mitsuwa were actually the only parts of the event that were in English. Once these four were done with their speeches Kago made an entrance from the side of the building.

It's easy to tell I was the one who took this picture due to my signature style.
I call it "blurry." =D

I’m not entirely sure where she was during the beginning of the conference. She had to be waiting outside to enter due to the incredible punctuality of her arrival, but I personally find it hard to believe as the weather that day was pretty horrible (fairly moderate rain, a rarity here). Ahh, mysteries!

Well, once she was present she stood up on stage and bantered back and forth with the MC about something for a few minutes, and then stood with the various representatives to cut the ceremonial red tape to open the store. After this, the representatives sat back down and Kago got back up on stage to talk with the MC again. This time she seemed to be promoting a new Android handset that KDDI will be vending there. From what I could gather (mostly from the flyers present) this was apparently the first Android handset to support Japanese language input. One of the demos she did of the device was playing a little game called “Touch the Numbers” where the goal was to unjumble twenty-five numbers mixed up on a 5×5 grid by touching them in order. It was fun to watch her play, but I’m slightly at a loss at how that was an effective demonstration of the phone’s key feature.

Not long after the phone demo Kago said her goodbyes (partially in English, which was pretty cute) and walked right back out the entrance that she came in. She was probably only present about twenty minutes or so between the time she arrived and left.

After her departure a pair of staff members came out and started to distribute signed autograph boards for those in attendance who had little tickets. I knew they were giving away those tickets in return for filling out a survey, but since the purpose of those tickets wasn’t clear before this I had never bothered to fill one out. Oh well. =\

After the distribution of the autograph boards they started a raffle. Everyone in attendance was invited to take a try at the “Touch the Numbers” game, and if you managed to do it in under 35 seconds you were allowed to pull a card out of a box and see if you won a prize. There were actually some really nice prizes available, including a $1000 Mitsuwa gift card, a Wii, and 25 of those Android handsets among other things.

When it came my turn to try the game, I found it not too difficult, but I still was slower than Kago by about a second! >< I managed to pull the blank ticket, which meant I won the consolation prize of a set of branded pens, lanyard and a light up bouncy ball. Really not too shabby considering that the pens and lanyard are actually quite nice!

I ended the afternoon with a nice lunch of tonkatsu curry from Miyabi-Tei in the food court, washed down with a bottle of Gogo no Kocha milk tea. Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon!

If you guys want to catch a short video of Kago there you can here, here, here and here.

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Mano Erina – Seishun no Serenade January 20, 2011

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Hello! Project, Jpop, Mano Erina.
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4 comments

On the 26th of this month Manoeri will be releasing her 9th single! Luckily for us the official PV err, MV is already available on Youtube! Check it out!

Save for one part, I really like this song and PV. Mano seems to be on a roll with getting a bit nicer PV’s compared to the rest of the H!P groups. While this one might not be as creative as “Genkimono de Ikō!” it is still quite pleasant (although, I must say I found the lack of spandex-clad middle-aged men being struck with whips to be a glaring omission). The school backdrop is interesting enough to look at and fits well into the “seishun” part of the title. Also, see if you guys can spot the vintage Momusu posters scattered throughout the set!

I really like her costume as well, as it is an interesting mishmash of styles. On one hand you have a copious amount of zippers and steel-lined belt holes which combined with the cut of the jacket conspire to give it a very strong or tough appearance. In contrast to this you have the very bright candy-apple red fabric, along with the soft hood and puff balls hanging from her belt moving it back towards “cute.” Combined, I think those elements work well together but I think it might have been a little better suited for a slightly more aggressive song.

I have to say though, I did find the costume to be slightly reminiscent of another famous one…

Mano Jackson

I know they aren’t that close, but I couldn’t shake that comparison from my head after watching the PV! I’m pretty sure it’s just from the diagonal black stripes and zippers, but still! Mano Jackson? ><

So, what was that one part I’m not so keen about? Well, it starts at the 3:09 mark, but trust me, I doubt you missed it. I don’t even know what to call it. Besides weird, that is. Personally, I think it almost ruins the song. You have a very pleasant, happy little diddy, and then that thing thrown in the middle. I could see something like that working significantly better in a song like her previous single Genkimono de Ikou!, but not here. It just doesn’t fit.

WAHAHAHA-!

Hey, on the bright side of things it did make for a fantastic gif! 😀

Idol Retrospective: Wink – Samishii Nettaigyo January 14, 2011

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Idol Retrospective, Jpop.
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13 comments

Tonight, I’ll be taking a look at 1980’s Japanese idol group Wink’s performance of Samishii Nettaigyo (淋しい熱帯魚), as suggested by bode1967.

Wink (derived from the English word “twinkle”) was formed in 1987 with Suzuki Sachiko and Aida Shoko. The two members had actually met in a beauty contest sponsored by “Up to Boy” magazine. Apparently, this duo was so popular at one time that they had their own chain of stores called “Winkers” that sold their merchandise!

The particular song I’ll be looking at is Samishii Nettaigyo, translated it means “Lonely Tropical Fish.” This song was originally released on July 5, 1989 and reached #1 on the weekly Oricon chart, charted for twenty-five weeks, and made it to the #7 spot on the yearly chart for 1989. After it’s release Wink went on to win the Grand Prix Award at the 31st Japan Record Awards, and the All Japan Cable Broadcast First Prize. The popularity of this single even allowed Wink to appear on that year’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen. It’s easy to see that this single was a really big deal at the time!

The actual performance I will be looking at is possibly from Music Station (as an uploader of another, slightly more rough, copy of this performance has surmised), and this uploader states that it took place on the 7th of July, 1989. The actual reason I chose this particular performance should become apparent pretty fast:

Yup, that may very well be the greatest stage ever devised for a musical performance.

I really love bright, vibrant colors, and that may very well be the pinnacle of brightness and vibrancy! The background illumination is pretty impressive as well, changing from solid, to black, and then to multicolored. It’s apparent that a lot of thought (or at least construction! ><) went into the creation of this stage and it shows.

Suzuki and Aida's lolita-style costumes are fairly intriguing as well. Their color scheme seems to compliment their stage quite nicely, as well as being visually distinctive enough to allow the audience to immediately tell them apart. The one singular aspect of their costumes that really stands out to me is the combination of a tutu over a pencil skirt. You can also see a similar combination of layered skirts being worn in this song's official PV. This stands out so much to me, because frankly, it’s a little odd, but also quite distinctive. Now, I know absolutely nothing about 1980’s Japanese Lolita fashion (or modern Lolita fashion, for that matter) so this *may* not have been so odd at the time, but is still an interesting detail to take note of now.

In stark contrast to the bright happy colors of the stage and costumes are the girls’ very serious, reserved demeanors, in fact it’s almost ironic. For myself it’s actually rather jarring to see idols with such little emotion on stage. Modern idols like Mano Erina have made a name for themselves based heavily on their infectiously happy or “genki” personalities. Even Moritaka Chisato displayed this same trait in her live performance of Kono Machi that is of the same vintage. Now, it’s true that a more serious song like this would not lend itself to the cheerfulness commonly characterized by those other idols, but in comparison they are still rather stoic. According to Wikipedia, this duo’s more serious nature and rejection of a “cutsie” image helped them stand out and gained attention for themselves. This I can certainly understand, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen an idol group perform in quite the same way as Wink did.

Their dancing is a typical para-para style, but has a very laid back feel to it which seems to match their demeanor. I couldn’t help but notice that they don’t match up exactly with their timing. The fact that there are only two of them right next to each other on stage, and that they are doing the same moves (albeit mirrored) accentuates any small timing differences. Also, I probably just being a bit picky about it, as it really doesn’t detract from the performance.

The song itself is quite nice. Musically, it’s a rather slow-tempo song, but I wouldn’t quite call it a ballad. Suzuki and Aida are quite talented vocally, and their voices are a pleasure to listen to. I would actually recommend watching the official PV to get a better listen to their voices, as the audio on this live performance really isn’t the greatest.

Interestingly, this song was actually covered by the Hello! Project group W, a duo consisting of Tsuji Nozomi and Kago Ai on their 2004 debut album Duo U&U. The performance below took place on August 13, 2004 at Omiya Sonic City during the “2004 Natsu First Concert Tour ‘W Standby! W & Berryz Kobo!'” tour.

Now, W does a good job at keeping the song quite similar to the original version, but the attitudes of the girls during the performance are completely different. While they are singing Tsuji and Kago keep a straight face like Suzuki and Aida but as soon as there is an instrumental section you can see them break out the smiles and exaggerated dance movements. W was a rather light hearted group, and Suzuki and Aida’s style of performance doesn’t really suit them. Overall, they did a commendable job at an authentic feeling reproduction while instilling a bit of their own spirit into it.

Overall, I can’t really make up my mind on what to think about Wink. On the positive side of things their music is unique in sound, and they have very nice vocals. On the negatives, I find their stage presence to be a bit sterile, and I prefer my idols a little more upbeat. Now, it’s true that in the writing of this article I only listened to a handful of other songs from them, so my opinion is far from expert! Wink is definitely worth checking out though, especially if you are interested in a very unique, more serious type of idol sound.

A bit more on Takahashi Ai’s graduation January 10, 2011

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Hello! Project, Jpop, Morning Musume, Takahashi Ai.
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3 comments

Last night’s post was a bit of a knee jerk reaction, but I must say that most of my points still hold up. While her graduation was inevitable, and I am sad to see her going now, I still think the timing of this announcement is really quite premature.

When I discovered this news I was actually browsing around on Twitter, which is a very rare thing for me to do, and I stumbled upon this post by the Hello! Ranking staff:

WAIT. WHAT? NO!

As soon as I saw that my heart sank. You know that feeling in your stomach you get when something truly awful happens? Yup, right there. I immediately tried to verify that post wasn’t some horrible prank and then went into panic-mode and texted my one good friend who also likes H!P. We talked a bit on AIM and then I wrote that post I made here last night.

I was pretty bitter last night, and I’m still not exactly happy now, but the thing is, it’s not exactly like no one saw this coming, and nor is Ai-chan is being cut short. She’s been leader for longer than any other member, and she’s even been in the group longer than anyone else sans Risa. She leads nearly every single, and has really been in the forefront for a large portion of her time in the group. It would be a disservice to her to say she’s had a good run. She’s had a great run, arguably even the best run so far of any member in the group’s history.

This brings up another concern, though. What the heck will Morning Musume be like without Ai-chan? Undoubtedly the group will adapt, as it will have to, but it will still be a strange sight. This really isn’t a new situation though, as this has happened before when Abe Natsumi left, as Isilwentari has pointed out, and that certainly didn’t spell the end of Morning Musume then (even though many people said it would). Another thing to think about is what will happen to Takahashi’s lines? For a song like “Onna to Otoko no Lullaby Game,” where her and Reina together share the majority of the song’s lines it would be almost over bearing if Reina kept her portion of the lines, and Takahashi’s were distributed among the remaining members. Something to think about.

Thanks to Turbos86 over at Hello!Online we have translations of both Tsunku’s comment on the graduation, and Ai-chan’s official message about it.

This is the comment regarding Takahashi Ai’s graduation from Morning Musume

Thank you for your continual support as always.
As announced directly herself on the stage of January 9th’s show at Nakano Sunplaza,
5th generation member, Takahashi Ai will be graduating from both Morning Musume and Hello! Project in Morning Musume’s concert tour this fall.

When the proposal for Kamei Eri’s graduation was made last year,
I told Takahashi Ai, “It’s about time you should consider the timing of your own graduation and what you want to pursuit afterward” as an advice.

The 5th generation members will have joined Morning Musume for 10 years.
Takahashi Ai is the 6th leader and has been in this position for 3 years and 7 months.
Takahashi Ai holds the record for being the longest in the group and the longest to hold the leader position.
Looking back, she has honestly carried the responsibility for all this time.

(In no disrespect to all former members and leaders of the group…excuse me)

I have talked with her about various things, such as her activities afterward
As announced in the new year concert, her graduation will be in Morning Musume’s Autumn concert tour,
this was the right time to make the announcement.

Since there are still more than half a year to go,
the 9th generation members have to familiarize themselves with Morning Musume’s music
and dances, to become self aware that they are part of the group.
Takahashi plans to properly finish her job as leader in the mean time.

Please be looking forward to what will become of Morning Musume.

Takahashi Ai will continue to be active in music, theater, and live events after her graduation.
Details will gradually be released.

Also, after Takahashi Ai’s graduation, Niigaki Risa will assume the leader position of the group,
and become the longest active member of Morning Musume

2011.01.09
Morning Musume Producer
Tsunku

That really is a fairly nice message, but the one thing that bugs me is his feelings that this was the “right time to make the announcement.”

Now, I know others are happy that this was announced so early, as this gives them the opportunity to cherish the time they have left with Ai-chan in the group, and I can sympathize with that position. For me personally, I’ll worry over this long before I should. I’m already a little on edge over something that’ll be happening almost a whole year from now, for gosh sakes!

Another thing that bothers me a bit is that there have been a LOT of changes to Morning Musume’s roster over the last few weeks. Eri, Junjun and Linlin have just graduated, the ninth generation were revealed just a week ago, and now Takahashi is to graduate? That is a whole heck of a lot to take in. I really wish they would have at least given us a little while to get used to the ninth gen. before announcing her graduation, as it really does put a bit of a dark cloud over the whole thing.

Make no mistake though, I’m almost entirely sure the reason this was announced so early was to spur goods sales. This is going to be a sentimental year for all of her fans, and I know they’ll be plenty of opportunities for them to turn that sentiment into something a bit more tangible, something I’m sure I’ll be guilty of as well… ><

Something that really intrigues me about Tsunku's comment is his assurance that Ai-chan, "will continue to be active in music, theater, and live events." The theatre part is especially interesting, as we know that she has always dreamed of being a part of Takarazuka, and while maybe she hasn't actually joined that group, maybe she’ll move her career more into musical theatre? While that may not be my cup of tea, I’d certainly be happy for her as I’m sure that would be something she would greatly enjoy.

Here is Takahashi’s official comment:

It has been decided that, I, Takahashi Ai, during Morning Musume’s concert tour this Autumn,
will be graduating from Morning Musume and Hello! Project.
At the time when Kamei Eri, JunJun and LinLin’s graduations were decided,
Tsunku-san told me, “It’s about time Takahashi should think about your own graduation’s timing!”
which has gotten me thinking.

I will have been in Morning Musume for 10 years comes this August,
So I thought it will be a good time! to graduate in the Autumn Morning Musume concert tour.

As there are still around 9 months left, I will do my best as leader until that time to shape up this new Morning Musume.

I will be affectionate to the newly added 9th generation members as I try to teach them various things, everyone please rest assured.

This too reasserts the fact that it was a positive decision by Ai to graduate at this time. I do admit that Tsunku’s comment sounds a bit like, “When the heck are you gonna leave?” but I don’t think one can really try to infer that much out of a translation. 😉

I must also admit I’m really excited for Risa. I always slightly feared that Ai and Risa would graduate together, which would have taken this chance away from her. Heck, if there ever was a girl better groomed to be leader I can’t imagine it. There’s no doubt she’ll be far more proactive that Ai was, and her love and passion for the group is second to none. She’ll make an amazing leader, and will hopefully be given a fair while to make a legacy for herself. In the meantime, though, I’m sure she’ll have her hands full helping Ai get the ninth gen in line! ^^

So, honestly, I really should try to look at the glass as half full. Even though Ai-chan leaving the group will irreversibly tear a huge hole into the Morning Musume line-up I’ve grown to love, she’ll still be with us for the majority of the year, and her leadership will be replaced by someone who could be no more deserving or competent for the job. I imagine I might have to say that to myself quite a bit over this year. ><

How do you ruin a year? January 9, 2011

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Hello! Project, Jpop, Morning Musume, Takahashi Ai.
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6 comments

That’s a good question for you. How could one possibly ruin a year?

I was pretty darn excited for Morning Musume this year. Four new members who all seem pretty solid, how could one not be excited?

So, how can one kill such excitement in an instant? Announce that Takahashi Ai will be graduating at the end of this year’s Fall tour.

I don’t hide the fact that I’m pretty fond of Ai-chan. I really like her. A lot. I also knew that this was going to happen. It had to, eventually. But why now?

Seriously. Isn’t four new members enough of a roster change for this year? We haven’t seen any new members since 2007. It’s a big enough deal in and of itself. Also, why the HECK did this have to be announced only NINE DAYS into this year? This news is going to be hanging over my head for the next twelve months. How can I enjoy the new generation if I’m constantly counting down the remaining months/singles/concerts Ai has left?

Now, I admit I’m being a bit melodramatic. The year hasn’t been entirely ruined. I still am really interested in seeing the ninth gen. and what they’ll bring to the group. I really am, but the magic, that sense of enthusiasm, has certainly been curbed by quite a bit. I just figured (horribly incorrectly, I might add) that after that last mass graduation we’d be safe for a little while… 😦

Morning Musume 9th Generation Revealed! January 2, 2011

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Hello! Project, Jpop, Morning Musume.
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5 comments

For the first time since 2007 a new generation of members have been added to Morning Musume. The four member ninth generation consists of Suzuki Kanon, Sayashi Riho, Ikuta Erina, and Fukumura Mizuki.

This is also the first time since the start of Morning Musume that there has been a 12(!!!) year difference in the age of the youngest and oldest members. Ai-chan is literally twice as old as Suzuki Kanon and Sayashi Riho, heck those girls were literally toddlers when the fifth gen joined Momusu! To be honest I am still a little weary about having such young members in the group. Since I became a fan of Morning Musume during their 9-nin era with Koharu I am much more used to having all of the girls being much closer in age, and frankly older. I rather like Morning Musume’s more mature image, and find it hard to believe that Morning Musume now has members that are younger than those that are in Berryz Kobo and C-ute! The Hello! Project Kids groups! The madness!

More seriously though, I am pretty psyched that Sayashi Riho made it into the group. She was by far my favorite during the auditions (you can catch clips of it here and here if you haven’t already seen them). She seems like she already has a fair amount of talent, so I’m really looking forward to what she’ll have in store for us in the future.

I’m also rather pleased to see Ikuta Erina make it as well. She seemed fairly well rounded during the auditions, and I imagine she’ll make a good member. What I am a little surprised about is that Mogi Minami didn’t make it. It’s not that I thought she was so talented that it would be a shame if she didn’t make the cut (like with Riho), but with Tsunku’s seeming fixation with underdogs I thought that if she had somehow managed to come this far there must be something pretty special he sees in her.

I’m also pretty surprised to see a Hello! Pro Egg make it into the group since none were featured on the audition special. I’m glad that some of them are getting something out of their Hello! Project involvement, as I’ve always felt a bit bad about how for most of them their big role is that they get to be back-up dancers in the Hello! Project concerts.

As for Suzuki Kanon? I admit I’m rather indifferent. I certainly don’t dislike the girl, but she didn’t really stand out to me during the audition special. She might grow on me during the following year, though. It’ll be interesting to see.

“Interesting” I think will be the keyword for Morning Musume in 2011. This is a huge shift in the roster, with nearly half the group being not only new, but significantly younger than any of the previous members. That being said, I am massively anticipating their next single. I really want to see how these new members will integrate into the group. Like I said, it should be an interesting year at the very least 😀

Long live 9-nin Morning Musume!

No, seriously. No more graduations, please. At least not for a while, okay?