A fitting title after my brief absence from writing. 😉
I’m sure many of you have seen it by now. It was like something out of the WWE playbook: the show of the night reaching a climax, the audience at a fever pitch as the performers prepare to hit their finishing moves…then suddenly the company boss music interrupts everything to announce an unexpected stipulation and throw a wrench in everyone’s plans. Of course, I’m not talking about Monday Night Raw but rather C-ute’s single release mini-concert event earlier this week at the Sunshine City mall, where initial panic slowly became sighs of relief and celebratory hugs as Tsunku, complete with his own version of “Crazy Kanzen na Otona”, left a recorded message announcing this year’s big plans for C-ute, namely a performance at Budokan in September as well as their first international appearance in France…though not before leading the girls on about what exactly Up Front management has up their sinister sleeves.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The girls were panicking and preparing for the worst, with one of the first things out of Chisato’s mouth as the music hit being that dreaded S-word known to cut deep like a sword: SOTSUGYŌ (graduation). With even young Mai Hagiwara finally starting to approach adulthood, is the prospect of graduation becoming a more dominant thing amongst not just fans’ minds, but the former H!P Kids as well?
This past February’s announcement of a brand new Trainee-borne H!P unit, which was eventually named
Drink=Drink Juice=Juice, was followed shortly after by increased speculation that an existing group might be on its way out soon, specifically any group not named Morning Musume. The speculation isn’t completely without merit: 2012 saw four big graduation announcements, and several current H!P members–who are now hitting their early 20s–have been in the game for over ten years, much longer than the expected idol lifespan. At the same time, however, such speculation flies in the face of H!P’s current marketing push that’s been going on since late 2011, and a look into who’s still around I think shows that graduation or disbandment isn’t such a good idea right now.
As Tsunku’s announcement has proven, this group’s time in the spotlight is far from over. Quite possibly the strongest stage performance crew in the collective currently, their hard work has finally seen payoffs recently with live YouTube streams, three of their four most recent singles selling like hotcakes, tour dates increasingly seeing sellouts, and now Paris and Budokan waiting for them. The girls themselves are looking and sounding better than ever, and after having survived being pared down from an 8 member group to a quintet years ago, their bonds with each other have also strengthened to the point where should any one remaining member leave it’ll be over for the whole group. Sure, Maimai’s nasally singing voice still needs work, and alternating hyper eurobeat tracks with slow ballads can be jarring, but at this point the only thing stopping C-ute is themselves…stepping away now would definitely be–dare I say it–a SHOCK.
A stronger case can probably be made for Berryz reaching the end of their time soon. Once the more prominent of the Kids groups, they’ve since been overshadowed and haven’t seen the same buzz boom that C-ute is currently receiving. Their personalities have mellowed out as they’ve gotten older, yet still give off an aloof can’t-quite-take-them-serious vibe. It’s very unlikely that they’ll be totally wowing non-fan audiences anytime soon, but I still don’t see it wise for them to call it quits just yet. Their fanbase remains dedicated, their sales are still holding steady (the three most recent singles ranking amongst their best sellers), and they’ve pretty much become H!P’s international representatives with their multiple appearances in America and Southeast Asia. The girls themselves don’t seem ready to quit either, with the participation in Satoyama/Satoumi units and Momochi continuing to be Momochi (I’m convinced Tsugunaga is an idol lifer). Barring any members’ personal decisions coming up, I can’t imagine this Workshop shutting down yet in the next year or two.
S/mileage? Really? Yeah, I once saw someone actually suggest that S/mileage might be on their way out because they “haven’t had success in years”. Let’s see: consistent sales, a Ustream show, the fact that the group’s only been around for a few years, young 2nd gen members who have yet to reach their peak…yup, this group’s 2013 is definitely, absolutely doomed. DOOMED, I TELLS YA!
Sugar Water Purple Juice=Juice actually replacing anyone? What does their arrival actually mean? Well, if they’re here to replace someone, they’ve done it already: in case y’all have forgotten, Erina Mano just graduated. As you all know, soloists just don’t sell as well as groups do in today’s idol market, so it was only natural that H!P’s last remaining solo act would be replaced by a fresh new group that could probably push more numbers. As for what the advent of this new group means, it’s most likely a further expansion on H!P’s current offense-oriented hustle, trying to mix in some fresh new blood with the veterans…and of course a good way to finally get everyone’s favorite Egg into a proper debut without completely overshadowing the new Momusu and S/mileage members.
So what kind of fate should we expect of the H!P Kids now that they’re no longer kids? Yes, they’ve been around for a while and are considered “old”, but considering how idol culture places so much emphasis on youth it’s easy to forget that the ages of late teens and early 20s aren’t actually old at all, especially in a country where people are expected to live into their late 80s–even Melon Kinenbi managed to last into their late 20s off of a much smaller fanbase. Hello Project is on the move with lots of new talent, and I think it’s imperative that they keep older talents around to guide them and keep things balanced. I’ve always thought that the collective was at its best when there was a strong variety in ages, personalities, and units, and right now is the perfect time to foster such variety again.
Of course, with Up Front management being what it is, it only makes sense that everyone, both the fans and the idols, be prepared for anything.