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The Weight of an Idol, Part 1 October 9, 2010

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Hello! Project, Jpop, Morning Musume, Niigaki Risa.
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A couple of days ago I was perusing through H!O’s picture board and I stumbled across this here picture from Aichan’s blog…

…and I thought to myself, “Darn, Risa, you’re looking pretty fine there.”

Then something struck me.

No, not how exceptionally fine she looked, but rather how she has lost quite a bit of weight. You can even start to see her rib cage poking out a bit there.

Those of you who went to Anime Expo (or who have seen the pictures taken there) no doubt remember how, and it pains me to say it, awful Risa looked during the event. She looked as if she were malnourished.

Risa at AX

Now, I certainly understand that there must be a significant amount of pressure on these girls to keep a very thin profile, but I have a seriously hard time imagining that anyone would think she looked “at her best” during that event. There exists a pretty well defined line between thin and sick, and Risa was unfortunately on the wrong side of it back in the Summer of 2009.

Also Risa at AX

So, she looked awful over a year ago, and now she looks great? Sounds fine until you realize that she didn’t just put on a little weight to get to her current physique, but rather lost some.

Being a bit cyclic in one’s weight really isn’t much to worry about, as it happens to all of us, but what concerns me about Risa isn’t only how drastic these changes are, but the speed at which they’ve happened.

For a comparison take a look at the two photos down below. The one on the left is a promotional for Seishun Collection, most likely taken sometime during April of this year. The one on the right was taken from a post on her blog from yesterday (the eighth of October), a difference of roughly five months.

Truthfully, her current state isn’t what is drawing my concern. My concern is directed more at a fear that she’ll continue to lose weight and return to the state that she was in during Anime Expo. People never want to see their idols in ill health, and to me that’s exactly how she looked like during the event.

I guess an even greater concern would be the actual reasons behind her weight loss, gain, and subsequent loss. I won’t even begin to speculate about this as there is really no way that we could ever know, and after Eri’s revelation, the crazy theories flying around in my head are really of no comfort. I will say though, that I hope, and rather suspect, that it was all a result of a mismanaged diet.

One thing that I do want to make abundantly clear is that I am NOT saying that she looked (or was) fat when she had a bit more weight on her, nor that she was any less attractive. If anything she was probably at a more healthy weight then than she is now. I just wanted to express my concern for her over my observation that she seems to have a quite volatile body mass.


Days 2 and 3 of AX: AKB48 Panel and Reflections July 7, 2010

Posted by Nights4Saturn in AKB48, Anime Expo, Hello! Project, Jpop, Mano Erina.
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The only idol related thing of note to happen on Day 2 of Anime Expo was the AKB48 panel. Since this thing started at around 11AM me and the friend that I was going with were actually able to get some sleep that morning which was quite welcome.

We actually got into the convention center at around 10:45 or so and she went off to the Nabeshin panel while I headed off for AKB48.

Figuring that it would be ran like last year I took a seat near the back of the panel that was currently running waiting to move forward when it finished. Not so. It turned out that they now empty the rooms between panels and there was a already a line outside for the AKB48 panel. A long line. A line that went all the way outside nearly to the end of the building, I would say roughly 250 people in front of me, and by the time we started to move in, about 80 people behind me. While waiting in line I met a guy in front of me that got into idols through Kayo Aiko and became a big fan of Koharu, really nice guy.

Once we actually got into the hall I was really surprised by the fact that I was able to get a decent seat. The Q&A was set up in Petree Hall, the same place as Morning Musume’s panel last year, but reversed, as in the guests now sat at the opposite end of the hall. I ended up about 6 or 7 rows back on the right side of the table for the guests. All in all I would say about 20 to 25 feet away from the members.

As for the overall turnout off attendees and audience energy I found them both to be much lower than for Morning Musume’s panel for last year. I came nearly an hour before their panel and got a horrible seat where I could hardly see any of the girls, this time though, I came only 15 or so minutes before hand and I got a pretty decent seat. As for the audience energy I would classify it as “appropriate” rather than insane as for last year. A nice benefit of that was that I could clearly hear both the girl’s answer’s and their translations. =D

Once the panel started they played a VTR explaining what AKB48 was and gave a short history of the group and then pretty much went straight into questions. Most of the questions were pretty generic so I’m not going to try and summarize them all but I would like to touch a bit on the first and last people to ask questions. The first guy was a slightly older (maybe early 50’s or late 40’s) Western wota who gave the AKB48 girls a warm welcome, which really was quite nice. Then he spent the better part of a minute brown-nosing about all the times that he has seen them live at their theatre and about how they’re the greatest performers on the face of the planet all before he even got to his question. I know all fans want to express their gratitude to their favorite idols, but in a situation like this you really need to try and be short and succinct in your praise. I would put the limit at a sentence or so, even if you have to make it a long sentence, but anything much more than that just seems slightly inappropriate for the setting. The other person whose question I would like to bring up was the last person, who asked the girl’s if they liked any k-pop girl’s group. Now, I dunno about the girls of AKB48 (their manager answered the question, and I have no idea what he was answering, certainly not the question asked), but I’m pretty sure he did. The question just annoyed me because he seemed to be looking for answer he already wanted rather than simply trying to find out more about the girls themselves. Meh.

On day 3 of AX there were no idol related events scheduled but I actually managed to meet up with Charles, the fearless leader of Group 1 from AX ’09 (I’m going to have to flesh this out in the future =D), and his two friends named Aaron, both of which I actually recognized from the Mano event earlier. We hung out a bit around the HelloStoreUSA booth, and it’s always good time to talk idols with people. Fun stuff =D

So, what were my overall thoughts on Manoeri? I must say, I was really impressed. Her acting in Kai-Ki: Tales of Terror from Tokyo was not only far better than I had expected, but she also seems to just exude this great charisma in person. I’ve never really paid too much attention to her in the past, but I’m definitely going to keep my eye on her now.

This picture was actually taken by my friend right next to me at her movie screening. You can really get an idea of how close we all were to the stage, plus she looks pretty cute =P

As for AKB48? While I must say I really enjoyed their concert, something had been bothering me slightly about it, and it wasn’t until after their Q&A panel that it hit me. It all seemed slightly sterile. While their choreography and MC were all quite excellent, the actual performances seemed to lack personality, like I could have watched them perform the same setlist in Japan and it would have been the exact same show. I believe that the fact that they don’t actually use live vocals contributes greatly to this, but the performance itself didn’t seem to have any interactions or spontaneity between the girls. Now, I know why the producers would want to stamp such things out in a group as large as AKB48, but I couldn’t help but find it slightly disappointing.

Now, don’t let this discourage any of you from ever going to see them live as they do put an a fantastic show, just know that it is a different type of performance from what you would expect from a Hello!Project group.

So, that wraps up my coverage of Anime Expo 2010 and Mano Erina’s movie premier at Club Nokia. Really, a fantastic idol-filled couple of days. I really do feel lucky that in the span of a year I was able to see three of Japan’s major idol acts all within 30 miles of my humble abode. Los Angeles truly is a lucky city!

Note: So, I just realized that all the events that I’ve talked about so far actually took place on day 1, and not day 2 lol. I’ve updated the titles but I left the permalinks alone.

Day 1 of AX and Club Nokia: AKB48 (Part 2) July 4, 2010

Posted by Nights4Saturn in AKB48, Anime Expo, Jpop.
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Okay, so let’s talk about the second big event of Day 2: The AKB48 concert!

So, after Mano’s movie screening I went to go meet up with my friend that worked at AX’s ticketing booth. Now, he had told me beforehand that these were “Premium” tickets but he never really expanded on it any more than that. Turns out these things were second row. SECOND ROW. Now, they weren’t center (more like on the far right side of the stage), but they were second row, and they were amazing.

With my tickets secured I killed some time in the AX exhibit hall with a couple of friends I had made in line waiting for Mano’s event. Since we all had assigned seating there really was no rush to get over to the Nokia Theatre and line up early. It was actually nice to be able to go somewhere without worrying about a line! I think it was the first time something like that has ever happened to me at Anime Expo!

The interior of the Nokia Theatre itself really is pretty grand, a proper concert venue even. It completely trumped the stage that was set up for Momusu last year. The sound and lighting were really far better. Really, the only negative thing I could say about the Nokia Theatre is that my 6th row seats for Momusu’s performance last year were about the same distance from the stage that I was for AKB48’s concert due to the much larger gap between the seating and the stage.

There seemed to be some sort of delay before the start of the concert, as it began about 30 minutes after it was supposed to start.

As for the concert itself? Here’s the setlist from makistar via SacredCultivator:
1 – River
2 – Aitakatta
3 – Iiwake Maybe
4 – Kuroi Tenshi
5 – Seifuku Resistance
6 – Bird – Takamina, Rie (Mariko), Sasshi (Maimai)
7 – Heart Gata Virus – Haruna, Ami (Nozomi) , Mocchi (Maimai)
8 – Blue rose – Sayaka, Sae, Yuko, Miichan
9 – Boku no Taiyo
10 – BINGO! (English version)
11 – Oogoe Diamond (English version)
12 – Sakura no Shiori

13 – Namida surprise!
14 – Ponytail to Shushu
15 – Hikouki Gumo

To be honest I only recognized three of the songs: River, Ponytail to Shushu and Sakura no Shiori. I actually kind of enjoyed their live performance of River, which is odd because I really don’t like that song. It just grates on me. As for everything else? Pretty solid. Except for Sayaka, Sae, Yuko, and Miichan’s performance of Blue Rose nothing really stood out to me. I really liked not only the song Blue Rose, but the performance that went along with it was pretty good as well. I can’t say that the costumes didn’t help, as I was close enough to make out the definition on Akimoto’s abs without the help of the video displays =D

Something else that really surprised me was how well the girls had practiced their English for the concert. Each girl introduced themselves entirely in English, and you could actually understand most of their cute engrish to boot. Another pretty impressive thing was the MC after Blue Rose was entirely in English, and actually very entertaining. The same girls that performed Blue Rose discussed what tourist spots they’d like to visit and mimed various scenes from popular movies for the audience to guess. It really went over fantastically well.

As for the not so great parts of the concert? The lip syncing. You could actually distinctly tell when their microphones were turned up for their self introductions after Iiwake Maybe because their suddenly was feedback >< Also, Sakura no Shiori is very boring live because of this as well, as they just stood around their microphone stands essentially. For someone like myself hearing these songs for the first time I really can't comment on how they "should" have sounded, but I can't help but think that it was just a bit stale. Understand though, that I'm used to watching Matsuura Aya and Morning Musume concerts where everything is live.

Something else that I found a little disappointing had nothing to do with AKB48's performance, but with my section of the audience. Last year at Momusu's concert I was smack dab in the middle of all the other fans and the energy was intense. This time I was surrounded by Anime Expo volunteers who really didn't care about the concert and most likely came just because they got free tickets. To really get the most out of an idol concert you just need to let yourself go and enjoy it. Clap and shout along. Not to say that nobody in my vicinity was as into it as myself, but really, the only part of the crowd that really seemed to embrace the concert was the front center. Their encore chants really were impressive, not that I didn’t help!

So, overall I really did enjoy the concert, a lot more than I had even expected to. Heck, I didn’t even mind River! At a deep level I really do love idol pop, and AKB48 is definitely a good idol pop group. While I can’t say I’m a convert or anything, they’ve certainly piqued my interest.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up with my impressions on AKB48’s Q&A session and a general review of everything that’s happened over the last couple of days. It has certainly been a busy week!

I want to apologize for the lack of photos in this post. I was so excited after being able to meet Mano earlier in the day that it kind of slipped my mind, sorry!

Day 1 of AX and Club Nokia: Mano Erina (Part 1) July 3, 2010

Posted by Nights4Saturn in Anime Expo, Hello! Project, Jpop, Mano Erina.
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So, yesterday was THE big day with both Mano Erina’s movie premiere and the AKB48 concert, so without further ado, I’ll get right to the events of the day!

I had originally planned to get to get in line at Mano’s event at 8:00, so I thought that leaving at 7:00 would be a safe bet for a 25 mile or so journey.  Ehh, I was off by about 20 minutes or so, which really wasn’t too bad.

At least it kept moving, even if slowly

When I got there a short line had already formed down below Club Nokia of about 30 dedicated Mano fans.

A que of people to see Mano-chan!

Here’s a picture of Club Nokia from the line:

Sure, you may not really be able to see anything (its actually on the third floor), but I'm an idol fan, not a photographer...

A really cool thing that happened while we were in line was that Mano-chan walked in front of us to get into Club Nokia! I had made friends with the people standing in front of me in line and I was talking to one of them when we noticed that the people in the front of the line were getting really excited for some reason. We look over and lo and behold there’s Mano-chan smiling and waving at us walking over to the escalators to get up to Club Nokia with a small group of people who I assumed to be her managers. Very, very neat, it’s just a shame we didn’t even notice her until she was right on top of us ><

So, after a little while they move us up top and we wait there some more.

Now were queueing in front of Club Nokia!

That “Red Carpet Event?” Yeah, that never happened, at least for us general attendees. They might have done it for press, but none of us fans were there, that’s for sure.

So, we were started to be allowed in a little bit before 12:00 and all of us pretty much mobbed the HelloStoreUSA booth to throw money at buy some goods. I picked up a pretty nice visual book of her. I was originally going to pick up a 2L photo set, but I didn’t particularly like the only one they had left when I got up there. Oh, and they gave us a free keychain, that was pretty neat.

So after that I made my way into the actual theatre/club area of Club Nokia. They had set up a fair number of folding chairs theatre style in front of their stage for us. The chairs were really quite close to the stage, so even though I was a couple rows back it really didn’t make too much of a difference. Also, my friend suggested we sit on the right side of the aisle, which was a very fortunate decision as I’ll explain later.

Not long after we were seated some musician came out with some people dressed as ghosts and introduced the winner of a short horror film contest and showed the video clip of the winner’s film. It was about some teacher who hung one of their students who couldn’t count, and when the person in the video corrected the miscounting ghost they got strangled. Honestly, it really wasn’t too bad for a one minute film made by an amateur.

Finally, they actually started Kai-Ki: Tales of Terror from Tokyo. I’m not going to summarize the plots of either of the short stories the movie consisted of (there were two), but they weren’t particularly great, nor for that matter bad. The first short story contained nearly every horror movie cliche that you could think of, and the second’s plot was resolved in a rather unsatisfying way. I have to say though, both of them were very, very unnerving. The way many of the shots were drawn out really gave me a huge sense of dread. So, despite the cliches and plot holes they were still pretty scary, so I have to say in that regard the movie was a definite success.

I also have to applaud Mano-chan’s acting. While her performance didn’t blow me away, it was several orders of magnitude better than her performance in Hanbun Esper. I always thought she seemed slightly awkward in that series, but it added to the quirky behavior of that show, and as weird as it sounds actually fit in pretty well (compared to everything else that is, it’s certainly an odd series). So, I’ll admit I was actually kind of scared to see what she would be like in a horror movie, but she pleasantly surprised me. She was completely competent in her role, for the characters she was playing were about what you would expect to find in a standard horror movie, and she put up a standard performance. After seeing the amount of improvement she’s made in her acting skill between this movie and that series I’m actually quite interested in seeing her do another drama, even a more serious one. If she can keep up the same level of improvement that could be a very impressive performance. =D

So, after the movie ended the credits naturally started to roll and the ending theme, Returning Home, started to play, lo and behold Mano-chan comes on stage to sing it! It took pretty much everyone off guard, and for myself at least, it was a total surprise. It was actually a very sweet ballad-style song, and something that I think wouldn’t have been too bad if it had been released as a single. Hopefully it might be included in her next album or something.

After she finished her song, the musician/translator came out, several of the events sponsors, the writer, and some fashion designers(!?). Apparently the fashion designers made a couple dresses for Mano-chan, but I found it still slightly odd that they brought them out and especially odd that one of the questions from the Q&A was directed at them specifically. They were asked how Mano’s charm points had inspired the fashion, and they managed to answer it with varying degrees of success, but it was pretty apparent that they didn’t expect to be asked anything either.

It was actually rather funny, that despite the fact that they told us no photography was allowed nearly EVERYONE pulled out their cameras and taking pictures of Mano. Someone even managed to get a bit of her at the end on video:

As you can tell we were all really close to the stage, and by extension pretty close to Mano. I have to give her props, she really is cute in person. I dunno how seeing her in person would suddenly make her ugly or anything, but I was still quite impressed nonetheless.

After her Q&A she sang Sekai wa Summer Party and that was it. That was our mini concert. What the heck? A mini concert is like 5 songs. Two songs is an appearance, not a concert. Gah.

So, at the end the musician guy told us that there would be 25 autograph signings and to line up over on the right side of Club Nokia. This is where the luck of sitting on the right side of the seating came into play, as no one was in my way to get over there. It was actually pretty funny that it was my friend still that was pushing me over in that direction as I was still standing still and waving to her and saying goodbye… lol

So, when I actually get over there there really weren’t that many people in front of me (there were 10 in fact, as I found out when they counted us off). It was at this point I realized that, “Hey, I’m getting an autograph. HECK YEAH!” I should point out that the writer, Hirokatsu Kihara, was actually signing autographs as well, and that’s his signature on the postcard down below. I have to say, I felt kinda sorry for the guy, because honestly, no one was there to get his signature. I still tried to be as courteous and gracious as I could to him, but he seemed like he was still a good sport about the whole thing.

When I actually got to Mano, I handed her my visual book and she signed the cover, handed it back and offered a hand shake. It may sound stupid, but man, she had really, really soft hands. While we shook hands I told her she had a cute smile in English, which she looked at me for a second blankly as she tried to figure out what I said, then smiled again and said thank you. I imagine “cute” was probably the only thing she understood in what I said, but that’s good enough really. The person standing behind me in line waiting to get into the club and myself actually talked about what we would say to her when we got up there, and I am sorry for stealing your line. I actually checked if you had made it before the cutoff first, but once you suggested that I really couldn’t think of anything more fitting. She really does have a cute smile.

So that wraps up Mano’s event at Club Nokia. While her mini concert might have placed a little too much emphasis on the mini rather than the concert, the fact that I got to get her autograph and shake her hand more than made up for it for myself.

Since it’s 3AM in the morning, I’m going to call it quits for tonight and write about AKB48’s concert tomorrow.

Later Days!