Surprise at the Summit: the fall and rise of a fan, part 2



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.

Considering her resemblance to a certain coach, I wouldn't be surprised if it actually were basketball reasons

Considering her resemblance to a certain NBA coach, I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually were basketball reasons

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.

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Don’t leave while you’re hot, that’s how Mase screwed up

A fitting title after my brief absence from writing. 😉

C-ute event reaction

At this point I’m kinda expecting Vince McMahon to show up instead

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?

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Onegai dakara ano hi…

I didn’t get much sleep the morning of June 30, 2010. I had decided the night before that I was going through with a crazy decision to drive down to Los Angeles on a whim, but as I went to bed doubtful thoughts invaded and wracked my mind all night. Should I just save my money and chill at home? Should I fulfill my still-fresh desire to see the City of Angels once again? It didn’t help that my previous journey to SoCal turned out to be one borne out of desperation and miscommunication, journeying for a chance to see Ai Kago only for her to no-show and incite wonder if she was ever supposed to be there at all.

A phrase that would become the bane of oversensitive pseudo-nerds and butt-hurt basement dwellers in 2012 served as the nudge that finally pushed me towards making the trip: You Only Live Once. That’s the motto that motivated me to finalize that hotel reservation at the downtown Clarion on Olympic Boulevard. I hastily packed by bags, stocked up on some energy shots and Vitamin Water, filled the gas tank of my still-smelled-like-new-at-the-time Civic Si, and hit the road.

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H!P All Stars – basketball edition

In the future, all basketball players will be required to wear plaid skirts

In the future, basketball shorts will be replaced by miniskirts

Fun fact: one of the strangest things I did to acclimate myself into the world of H!P in my early moments of fandom was developing a habit of imagining Morning Musume as a sports team, with its members playing different positions based on line distribution and their roles in the group for any given Sunday single. It seemed like a logical thing to do, as Morning Musume operates similar to a sports franchise with members coming and going to carry on the team name, and being an idol requires being in top shape like any athlete in order to keep up with all the singing and dancing and exciting. For some reason I initially picked American football as the analogous sport, maybe because it was football season when I became a fan and had a craving for it in lieu of no longer closely following the NFL due to being disheartened by how that league is run. But later on I realized that basketball was a much better sport to assign to Momusu, as the specialized roles of football positions didn’t quite line up with how these girls work while basketball requires all players to do a little bit of everything, just like idols. Plus basketball is a much more fun sport to watch, play, and think about.

What’s even stranger is that to this day I still do it! Not just positions but also playing styles, and not just with Momusu, but with other H!P groups too. It’s to the point where I actually once had a dream that Ai Takahashi was the starting point guard for the Utah Jazz (why that team I have no idea). Could you imagine her making plays and racking up assists like John Stockton? I can…and maybe you can too after reading what I have in store here.

So, in honor of the NBA’s annual All-Star Weekend coming up, I present to you my Morning Musume and Hello Project basketball all-star teams!

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My Life, Your Entertainment

Times like these always provide a good opportunity to stop for a bit and question stuff. Question the idols. Question the system. Question the fans. Question yourself, even.

THAT SHIT just might be CRAY

Much has already been made amongst idol fans regarding a certain AKB member’s recent hair-razing (see what I did there?) shenanigans, especially with international mainstream media outlets actually finding it newsworthy, but I never really had planned to comment too much about it, especially with this being a H!P-centric blog and my own minimal interest in the AKB world. Still, considering how the news itself and the reactions to it reflect on the idol industry as a whole, it has definitely encouraged me to once again take a look at my own place in the fandom and how I got here in the first place.

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Berryz Sisqo-bo: return of Return of Dragon?

Now that introductions are out of the way, it’s time to get into the full swing of things. This week marks the release of Berryz Kobo’s ninth official album, Berryz Mansion 9 Kai, and to commemorate this occasion, I’m actually gonna rewind to last year for a bit in order to instead take an interesting look at their eighth album, Ai no Album 8!

I purchased this album while attending the group’s second US appearance in New Jersey last June, and, still high off that whole experience, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the album from start to finish upon listening to it after I got home. The three singles from 2011 that I merely glanced over the first time became a joy to listen to this time around, while the new songs for the album served as the soundtrack for reminiscing over my adventures on the east coast. Listening to the whole thing would forever be associated with those fun times–to this day I can’t help but chant nonsense gibberish to the tune of C-ute’s “Shiawase no Tochuu” whenever I hear “Because Happiness”, just as we did during the concert.

But there was something oddly familiar about this album. Noticing that the last track of the CD was a soft piano-driven ballad, I took a closer inspection at the structure of the track order and the songs themselves and realized that Ai no Album 8 was eerily similar to an album I purchased 11 years prior that also was acquired in the month of June and became associated with fond memories: Return of Dragon by Dru Hill frontman Sisqo!

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Morning Musume Reloaded – the fall and rise of an old group and a new fan

WE CAN BE REBORN ALL THE TIME Oops, wrong idol group.

People lined up to see the Titanic sinking; instead we rose up from the ash like a phoenix...

People lined up to see the Titanic sinking; instead we rose up from the ash like a phoenix

It’s safe to say that my entry into H!P fandom was burdened by some horribly awkward timing. Not only had I just missed out on Morning Musume’s big Los Angeles appearance by a few months, but I came around at a time when many were ready to start digging the grave for this once-prominent idol group collective. The Elder Club had just graduated, meaning most of the girls that sparked my initial interest were long gone by the time I showed up. Their weekly TV show had been cancelled just a year before, meaning no more new chances at memorable moments like the ones done in years past. Their former “home away from home” in Utaban no longer respected them, preferring to dwell in ancient history instead. Momusu’s new songs of the time were an acquired taste: they were good, but sounded too much like each other and clearly lacked the instant spark of the classics. And fans were slowly but steadily jumping ship, some running off to the emerging South Korean scene, others to another idol family called AKB48 that was starting to gain momentum that year.

Throw in the graduation announcement of Koharu Kusumi, one of the more visible and marketable members of that era (and whose recent smack talk I may or may not address in a future write-up), and it’s no surprise that the end felt like it was near. Did I really become a fan at the worst possible time? Was I meant to come full circle in time to witness the collective’s final attempts at relevance?

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