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.