It’s kinda funny how life can throw some interesting twists at you.
As some of you may already know, I became a Hello! Project fan at an awkward time, missing out on Morning Musume’s first (and to date only) appearance in the United States by less than two months; salt would be further rubbed into that wound when the first major news to greet me would be the announcement of Koharu Kusumi’s graduation. Since then, it’s been a bit of a slow burn for the lineup known as the Platinum Era, as I gradually watched this particular roster graduate one by one from a distance over the past 3 years, until one remained to lead a new set of generations into the next chapter of Musume history. And while I’m certainly enjoying the current crop of personalities and look forward to their bright future, I still can’t help but lament the what-ifs and what-could’ve-been of not being able to experience what other fellow American fans were able to back in the magical summer of 2009.
Likewise, my plans for a weekly update schedule for this blog had been sadly pushed to the wayside, as real-life concerns over employment and money had all but sapped not only my ability to write and update, forcing me to postpone ideas and commentary on the many happenings that have occurred between April and now, but also my ability to enjoy such happenings, once again putting my fandom in doubt.
Unexpected twists can come with an unfortunate, shocking tone, such as Koharu’s sudden and fast-tracked graduation process, or Aina Otsuka’s second chance at H!P stardom being derailed by
“basketball reasons” contract disputes.
On the flipside, unexpected twists can also come in the form of pleasant surprises just as things look bleak. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the curious case of Reina Tanaka.
To be honest, Reina was never my favorite Musume. Sure, I don’t hate her in the sense that some people actually do–in fact, I quite like her, in the same way that I’ve liked every member to some degree–and I’ll always respect her place in history, not only as a lead singer of the group for most of her tenure, but also as the young, determined hopeful who was so hungry for stardom that she lied about her age to get a head start. Yet at the same time, if you asked me to rank my favorite all-time Musumes, she wouldn’t be in the top 10, or probably even top 20. She’s always occupied this middle-of-the-road status for me, earning my admiration through her performance ability and “yankii”-inspired cuteness, yet not quite clicking for me the way that Takahashi or Kago or Junjun have.
So naturally, when that fateful announcement came in November of last year that she would be finally graduating from Morning Musume and Hello! Project, I wasn’t fazed at all; rather I had been anticipating it ever since the Niigaki/Mitsui double grad and subsequent search for a new rock band fronted by her were announced. And even though I finally started to get a proper appreciation for her singing voice and skills towards the end, I was admittedly passive in keeping track of her final days in the group, distracted by my own aforementioned employment issues and lack of general priority towards her.
Still, thinking about her time in the group in retrospect, it’s certainly an admirable impact that she’s left behind. As much as some Momusu fans were turned off by her constant presence at the front line, I’d counter-argue that she was quite deserving of her lead status, as she was without a doubt one of the better singers to grace the roster. Her voice wasn’t always the most powerful but she knew how to hit every note properly and confidently; she wasn’t always the best dancer but she still managed to have stage presence.
So despite my own passivity towards her, Reina’s departure was certainly saddening for me, not only in the scope of her status as an all-time H!P legend, but also as a maddening reminder of the awkward timing of my entry into this fandom. I was once again faced with the reality that the Platinum 9 that graced the streets of Los Angeles four years ago might forever escape me. Sure, Sayu is still around, but with current Momusu still generally too young for international travel and the other eight Platinum Era girls primarily focused on doing their own things in their respective homelands, it was gonna take a financial miracle to make things happen for me…
…the key word being “was”.
You see, I live right outside of San Francisco, where an annual event known as the J-Pop Summit Festival has been happening in Japantown since 2009. It had been, for the most part, an interesting but largely unremarkable thing for me personally in all the years I had been attending, with American-born pop star Kylee being the biggest act so far to perform at the festival. This year, however, saw the bar raised quite a bit with the announcement of international sensation Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and a big show in Union Square in the heart of downtown SF; certainly more interesting than years past but still not enough to get me truly invested…until the (nearly last minute) announcement that a certain newly-formed rock band would be also making an appearance!
As awesome as it is to see photos of a (albeit technically former) Momusu member at landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the fame of such places kinda numbs the novelty. Seeing her in Japantown and Union Square, however, amongst buildings and streets that generally only locals are familiar with…it’s quite a jarring and surreal experience. But no matter the location, nothing beats seeing these people with your own eyes; much like Erina Mano in 2010 and Berryz Kobo last year, JPEGs and YouTube videos do not do Reina Tanaka any justice. And between the autograph sessions, seeing her walk around the festival booths, and getting a prime viewing spot right in front of the Peace Pagoda stage, it was certainly difficult to keep my eyes off of her.
As for the rest of the band known as
ЛоВендоYA LoVendoЯ, they’re no slouches either. The audition managers certainly made some good choices, recruiting three women who are as beautiful as they are talented. Marina Okada has a great, hefty voice that fits well with both the music and Reina’s semi-squeaky vocals, while the guitarists, the adorable and ever-so-smiley Yuki Uozumi and Marin “are you sure she’s not a robot” Miyazawa, are the real deal with their instruments. And while their style of rock isn’t necessarily my favorite, I couldn’t help but jam out to their songs anyway, and they certainly hit one out of the park with “Joukyou Monogatari”, a funky, appropriately Santana-esque take on an old Sharam Q song (Carlos Santana being a local guitar legend around these parts).
Of course, the weekend wasn’t without any hiccups. Their Day 1 show in Japantown suffered from technical issues with microphones and backing tracks–although in a way these errors kinda helped make the show more entertaining, especially when Reina attempted an improvised English talk session with the audience while the stage managers worked out the sound kinks (spoiler: she hasn’t improved much since that infamous Hello! Morning episode). It was certainly more enjoyable for me than the Day 2 show in Union Square, where not only were they restricted to just three songs due to other acts taking up time, but I also couldn’t get a decent view of the show due to a large crowd showing up early for the other acts. Plus the fact that, come autograph time, I found myself unable to say anything to any of the band members…but at the very least I managed to channel the spirit of Masaki Sato with my constant calls for “TANASA-TAN” (as well as my knack for getting separated from my group several times), and hey, Yuki did smile and wave when I called out to her later on.
(Also: the fact that I prioritized an idol-fronted rock band over an incredibly talented/accessible beatboxer and a biracial, bilingual local singer is yet another unexpected twist to my life)
Despite such setbacks, the overall experience was the most enjoyable I’ve ever had at Japantown, let alone J-Pop Summit. It was also the jolt I needed to forget about my troubles for a bit and learn to love H!P-related talents once again (and just in time too…been reading a lot of good buzz surrounding some upcoming releases). And while the awesomeness of the weekend could be summed up by the personalized autographs I got with my CD…
…I think the most important thing to come out of it is how I now feel compelled to update that Nine Smile graphic at the top of this post, as I begin the quest to exorcise an old demon….
One down, eight to go.