Voting is under way in this year’s AKB48 General Election. The preliminary results are out and there have been quite a few eyebrows raised at the way things have panned out thus far. Perhaps even the final rankings might not be as predictable as everyone thought they would be.
That’s not what this article is going to be about though. You can go look up any number of news websites if you want to hear people freaking out about Sashihara ranking first in the preliminaries or asking who this Shibata Aya girl is. I could honestly care less about who ranks where, even in the final results. I’m more interested in looking at the mentality behind the fans who turn out to vote in great numbers every year.
For those of you who haven’t heard the headline making news, AKB48′s “Sayonara Crawl” shipped 2.3 million copies to stores ahead of its release this week. This saw an increase of around 300,000 on the group’s previous record of 2 million shipped copies. The important thing to distinguish is that this is merely the number of copies shipped and not sold. However, since they’ve already managed to shift around 1.6 million in the first few days, it’s a safe bet that they’ll manage to get through a majority of this stock.
“So, 1.6 million people went out and bought this single in the first couple of days? That’s pretty impressive!” Well, kinda. You see, there’s 3 different version of the single and each contains a different b-side so if you want all 3 then you’re buying 3 copies. That’s not even taking into account Theater editions which serve to muddy the math even more. “So, 533,333 people went out and bought this single in the first couple of days? That’s still pretty impressive”. Ehh, well then there’s the whole matter of voting and handshake tickets which see people buy large quantities of each single so the number is probably somewhere around 5-10 times lower than that as a very rough guesstimate. Still, they sold 1.6 million copies so I guess who bought what and how many isn’t a huge concern to management.
Basically where I’m going with this long-winded tangent is that a lot of people buy a lot more copies than they could ever really have a need or use for. The reason for this of course being to obtain either handshake tickets so they can meet their favorite idols for a few seconds or voting tickets so they can vote for them in the election each year. A very solid and well thought out marketing strategy on the part of the group’s management that’s for sure. I’m sure a lot of other groups wish they had the kind of marketing and mainstream appeal that the 48 conglomerate has at this present moment.
Okay so I realize that as a foreign fan I’m somewhat detached from the whole situation. I don’t live in Japan so I’m not going to handshake events every other week/month/whatever and naturally it’s harder for people like me to have the same emotional attachment as those on the “front lines”. Even so, I just can’t get my head around the vast amounts of money that people pump into these elections. Surely even by wota standards, the kind of cash that AKB pulls in from these elections is insane. Maybe I’m wrong but it just doesn’t make sense to me.
At this point I should clarify that I’m not really talking about the people who just go out and buy say each version of the single. They like the songs, they want the complete set and they get a couple voting tickets as part of the deal. Nothing wrong with that, they’re getting more theoretical value from their purchase than they usually do. Hard for the average fan to argue with deals like that right?
Instead I want to focus on a couple of things that I’ve seen around the internet over the past few days that made me really stop and think about the extremes that some people go to in this fandom. You can think I’m picking on people for supporting their favorite idols if you like, I really don’t care. I’ve just seen some amazingly stupid things these past few days and I wanted to comment on them.
The first of these things is something that maybe some of you have heard of. Some person in Japan made a series of tweets showing off their “Sayonara Crawl” CD haul. Nothing too out of the ordinary there but said person then went on to claim that they spent nearly 2 million yen on the acquisition. Maybe I’m the crazy one here but isn’t that quite a lot of money to be spending on voting tickets? I say voting tickets because there’s no way this person just wanted thousands of CDs to use as coasters. A very quick currency conversion puts the value of the purchase somewhere around 19,000 USD.
On a slightly smaller scale, I was browsing a forum the other day, something I do from time to time and I was checking out their election thread. All of the comments were pretty standard until I came across one where a person was telling of how they had to take out a personal loan so they could buy a bunch of CDs. Now, I don’t like loans at the best of times but if you’re taking one out to buy voting tickets then perhaps you should be reevaluating your life choices instead. You could argue that a sub-1,000 dollar loan (which is what I think it amounted to) isn’t that much money but given the context of the situation it just seems absurd to me. That’s just my opinion though, I could be wrong.
The last major thing I saw came by way of eBay. Everyone’s favorite international auction website. Now, eBay is pretty well known for its overinflated prices (at least I hope everyone knows those prices are overinflated) on idol goods but the people selling voting tickets right now really take the cake. A brand new “Sayonara Crawl” CD costs what? $15 or so? Well, I’ve seen quite a few auctions for voting tickets over the last few days and the average price seems to be in the region of $16 each. I’ll just let you do the math on that one, and yes people are bidding on and buying these tickets.
There was some other small stuff like people being really self conscious about making sure they had proof that they’d voted for their oshi or whatever. Pretty inconsequential stuff at the end of the day. However, I can see why they’d want such evidence. One look on Tumblr and various other cancer inducing fandom communities dictates that if you don’t vote at least once for someone then you’re not a “real fan”. It’s pretty much the same toxic rhetoric that has been around for a long time now. Voting in a meaningless election doesn’t make your opinion any more valid than anyone else’s and it doesn’t make you a truer fan of anything. No matter how hard anyone tries to convince you that it does.
At the end of the day, I just don’t understand how people can throw all of this money down the drain on voting tickets. That’s not to say that I’m telling people how they should spend their money but come on! That person that spent 2 million yen on voting tickets could have bought a car for that kind of money. At that point isn’t it getting just a tiny bit ridiculous?
Maybe that person just doesn’t spend their money on anything else. I guess that’s fine if it’s their one major expenditure on their hobby for the year. However when I’m reading about people taking out personal loans (those things have crazy interest rates by the way) to buy tickets, surely we can all agree that that is just going way too far. Right?
I almost feel as bad for people like that as I do for the people buying $16 voting tickets from eBay sellers. For one thing, those sellers technically don’t have to give you a working code for your money. It’s not like Paypal have a particularly good track record when it comes to resolving disputes after all. Then of course there’s the fact that you’re paying the price of the CD for….well, not the CD. Maybe you just want the voting ticket but I’m just pointing out that you can get the physical CD, a voting ticket that you can use and an insert photo that you can probably sell to recoup some of your outlay for the same price.
What I’m really saying is if you honestly have that kind of money to spend on something so frivolous then perhaps consider donating it to charity or using it for something more worthwhile. That kind of money could really make a difference to someone’s life, in a much more positive way than applying an arbitrary ranking to some Japanese girl that isn’t going to matter in a month’s time. SKE48′s Takayanagi Akane even came out and said that it doesn’t matter where you rank because nothing really changes in their careers after the fact.
All of this isn’t even taking into consideration how much damage people must be doing to the environment by throwing out the hundreds of CDs that they don’t want. You can literally walk down the street in Japan and pick theater editions up off the curb after most AKB single releases. A lot of it probably does end up getting recycled but really, it’s a huge waste of paper and plastic. Maybe you don’t give a fuck about the environment, that’s your decision but seeing stuff like that happening just really annoys me.
These are just my opinions. You might agree with them, you might disagree with them. The important thing is that we talk about stuff like this and don’t just accept it as people or Japan being crazy or whatever.
If you feel like discussing anything I brought up in this article then go ahead and leave a comment, send me an email at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @Mage77. As always, I’ll try to respond to every comment that gets left. Thanks for taking the time to read this.