If you love your child, send her out into the world

Coming back from an unexpected hiatus to comment on another unexpected hiatus, yes?

2015 has been a pretty eventful year for Hello! Project, and I would love to comment on all the big things that have happened, such as Tsunku stepping down as producer due to cancer complications, or the Great YouTube Reddening, or saying one last goodbye to Berryz, or DID YOU SEE ZUKKI IN “OH MY WISH” HOLY FUCK SHE LOOKS SO GOOD…or finally get around to a series of posts I had planned relating to Sayu and last year’s New York concert. Instead, I’m here to talk about an upcoming graduation (!) that is bound to leave many folks heartbroken and questioning the direction and future of the group that she’s leaving.

It definitely ANGERS ME how much MILEAGE I'm getting out of this photo

It definitely ANGERS ME how much MILEAGE I’m getting out of this photo

Sadly, this won’t be about Kanon Fukuda, who had announced her graduation earlier this year and will be leaving S/mileage Angerme in a few weeks. “But who’s better than Kanyon?” you might ask, whether or not you intended to invoke memories of the late WWE/WCW superstar Chris Klucsarits. This, to the surprise of everyone, is actually about a 9th generation Morning Musume member. AND NO IT’S NOT ZUKKI YOU HEARTLESS PRICK

On October 30th, 2015, Riho Sayashi shook the idol world by announcing her intention to graduate from Morning Musume at the end of this year.

...and now this smug little thing is on her way out too

…and now this smug little thing is on her way out too

I’m just as shocked as you are, especially with how soon her last day with the group is relative to the announcement. I mean, why so soon? Aren’t we supposed to be given a longer heads up nowadays so Up Front can milk our wallets dry with merchandise we could have more time to come to terms and emotionally prepare? And why is the group’s ace leaving while the group’s current momentum is still hot, and just as she herself is about to become legal hit her idol prime? This suspiciously fast-tracked process raises a lot of questions and is bound to confuse and frustrate many a fan. And yet, as the news brewed in my mind for the rest of that day, I thought about the official statements given, the observations made by other fans, and some of the things Hello! Project has done during her tenure, and I had come to the conclusion that this could actually be the start of something really big and interesting.

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On to the next one…

By the middle of next year I will be able to say that I’ve come to known three distinct versions of Hello! Project.

It was around this time five years ago, in the final weeks of the summer of 2009, that I had unexpectedly become a fan of this particular company of Japanese idols. Fueled by a vague sense of familiarity with some of its faces, I found myself hungry and eager to indulge in the many years’ worth of silly TV appearances, huge discography of strangely-crafted pop music, and overwhelming roster history, essentially playing catch-up to all the things I missed out on, driven by a weird bout of fake nostalgia for something I never actually experienced. This is the first version of H!P that I knew, the version that Japan once loved but was long gone by the time I had (re)discovered and accepted it, the version that drew me in to become a fan in the first place.



My official entry into the fandom was marked by the shock surrounding Koharu Kusumi’s graduation announcement, which eventually led to learning to love what was left of H!P at the time: an older and more refined Morning Musume roster that struggled to escape the shadows of both their predecessors and another idol company that was finally hitting its stride… the dichotomy of the H!P Kids groups, one establishing itself as a long-term stable act with anime tie-ins and overseas appearances just as the other was recovering from the loss of two members… and the rise of five promoted Trainees Eggs, one a soloist (and so far the last H!P has seen) and budding actress, the other four coming together as a strange new group claiming to have “the freshest legs”. This is the second version of H!P that I knew, the version I bonded over with other remaining fans through a rough patch and subsequent renaissance, the version that further defined and shaped my fandom identity and experience.

It’s now the latter half of 2014, and the transition out of that second version–and into a new era–has already begun.

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The Kobo Dropout: how an idol group helped me finally appreciate a hip-hop classic (amongst other things)

It’s amazing (SO AMAZING) how context and personal associations can influence–and change–one’s enjoyment of music everything.

Yo Nacchi, I'm happy for you and I'ma let you graduate, but Momochi's gonna be the greatest H!P member of all time!

Yo Nacchi, I’m happy for you and I’ma let you graduate, but Momochi’s gonna be the greatest H!P member of all time!

2004 was a key year on both sides of the Pacific as far as my music interests go. In America, hip-hop heads were witnessing the release of The College Dropout, the anticipated debut album from then-hot-producer-turned-hungry-yet-unproven-rapper Kanye West that would open to rave reviews, tons of radio airplay, and an auspicious start to what has become a long and notorious career in the mainstream spotlight. In Japan, Hello! Project had turned half of its H!P Kids roster into a new group called Berryz Kobo, who debuted with their own hip-hop flavored release in “Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai” to start off their own decade-long run at J-idol stardom.

Unfortunately circumstances would not allow me to enjoy either artist’s rookie year. Before I could even get around to acquiring a full copy of my own, the hype and airplay of West’s album inadvertently became the haunting soundtrack to a summer gone wrong, following me on a horribly disappointing Las Vegas roadtrip (during which my “friends” actively gave me a hard time and hindered my plans to explore the town) and tempering the feelings of unrequited love towards a girl I met online who had just moved into my city but ended up with someone else. And while I would later become a huge Kanye fan through his subsequent work, this first album would long be associated with that depressing summer of 2004–like seriously, it was pretty bad, it took years for me to get over those events. As for Berryz…well, I simply had no idea they existed, as any attempt to get me to become an idol fan at that time would likely have been scoffed at, me being “too cool” for such “soft sugary pop shit”.

Both problems, however, would be rectified by a series of interesting coincidences and converging events eight years later.

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The Art of Creative Critique (AKA why I remix)

Shameless plug time? Yes, shameless plug time.

Around early November last year I completed and posted this little thing:

A remix of C-ute’s “Kanashiki Heaven”, which I cleverly renamed “Kanashiki Amen” in honor of the main sample I used; the remix was borne out of a desire I’ve had since the beginning to put my own spin on that particular C-ute song as well as an excuse to utilize that legendary “Amen Brother” drum break in some kind of composition–and with the remixed title merging together the way it did, you could say it was a match made in…heaven.

The end result is a contrast to the original, as I chose to replace an intense high tempo rock sound with a somber mid-tempo funky groove beat that matches better with the song’s vocal flow and sad lyrical theme, and swap out busy layers of instrumentation for scratched rap quotes that punctuate the rhythms and make reference to the performers, their lyrics, and the new beat. It was quite fun working on this, especially with the stereo separation of each singer’s vocals, the samples used, and random experimentation leading to the subtle inclusion of a video game theme right after the second verse, but admittedly it was a bit frustrating as well, with inspiration sometimes hitting roadblocks along with the tedious nature of certain aspects of remixing (sample morphing, sound volume checks, etc.).

More than simply having fun with a song I like, however, this remix was also a statement. Taking advantage of my access to a means of music production, it was my way of saying “I’m impressed by what you’ve done, but here’s how I would’ve done it”. “Kanashiki Amen” was a personal celebration of the awesomeness that is “Kanashiki Heaven”…but at the same time it was also a critique of the song.

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Rocky Logic: heightism, gender expectations, and other crap normal people don’t care about

Hello! Project (and the Japanese idol scene in general) is kinda funny in that, amongst all the mindless pageantry and silly shenanigans the girls get into, it can still make a person think about how things work on a deeper level. Usually this is due to more newsworthy happenings, such as scandals or graduation/audition announcements or other milestones, but occasionally something as mundane as a normal release by a second-tier group can spark some interesting thought. Case in point: “Rock Erotic”, one half of the latest single by Berryz Kobo which features a music video that strives to live up to the song’s title. With corset dresses, lyrics that reference “magic fingers”, and even some of the members taking on male roles and wardrobes to accentuate the eroticness of the dance routines, many Berryz fans–and even some non-fans–were certainly abuzz with excitement.

Me being me, however, I couldn’t help but obsess over the video for a bit of an unexpected reason: particularly focusing on how the male roles just so happened to get assigned to the taller members of the group…which leads to the first edition of a new segment I like to call J-Triumf needlessly overanalyzes and misinterprets a music video!

(Disclaimer: the following commentary does not guarantee any particular level of needlessness, overanalysis, or misinterpretation; your mileage may vary)

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Team Fortress 2: the Morning Musume update

I wasn’t a fan of Morning Musume back in 2004-2005, so I can only imagine the disenchantment and confusion that may have affected the fanbase at the time when it was declared that the 7th generation audition would produce no winners at all (and would later be re-rolled to give the world Koharu of all people). Fast-forward to 2013, however, and the situation has been flipped a bit: the sudden cancellation of the 12th generation audition seemed to prompt less disillusionment and instead many sighs of relief, owing to the fact that many people just aren’t ready to see 今のモーニング娘 (today’s Morning Musume) get disrupted by new members while they’re still on the rise.

You can definitely count me in as one of those who, after getting over the initial shock, was satisfied by this development, as I love the group as it is now. Not only that, the reaffirmed stability of this lineup also means I can go through with yet another crazy thought exercise: the members of Morning Musume re-imagined as the classes from Team Fortress 2!

Time to meet the Musumes…

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