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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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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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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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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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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