Does the Sousenkyo matter? A look at AKB48 part 2

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AKB48 Senbatsu Sousenkyo. The 48 group’s biggest event of the year, a time where fans cast millions of votes with the hope that their favorites will have the honor of standing on stage and appearing in the next AKB48 single. The sousenkyo is an event full of intense emotions, and its size and scale means a huge amount of importance is attached to it.

That being said, how much weight does ranking in the elections really have? This series will examine the activities and statistics of AKB’s idols, going by 2014 sousenkyo rank, to see what ranking in really means for an idol.

 
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Iriyama Anna (Annin)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #20 (#9 in AKB) with 34,002 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: Did not participate

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As the other idol to sustain injuries during the May 2014 handshake incident, it’s not hard to draw comparisons between Iriyama Anna and her fellow new generation idol Kawaei Rina. Similar to Ricchan, Annin is an idol who hasn’t let the attack end her career in the entertainment industry, and although she didn’t make senbatsu during last year’s sousenkyo, she’s still comfortably in demand.

Ranking into Under Girls is less prestigious than ranking into Senbatsu, but Annin’s still received numerous offers for appearances outside of AKB. It’s unclear if Annin is going to follow in Kawaei’s footsteps and announce her graduation soon, but she’s certainly not an idol whom management wants to see leave.

 

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Minegishi Minami (Miichan)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #22 (#10 in AKB) with 33,162 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #19 (#7 in AKB) with 35,506 votes

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Miichan’s involvement in one of the most infamous scandals in the history of the 48 group hasn’t terribly hurt her career prospects either inside or outside of AKB. Miichan has a sizable fanbase and long history with AKB, but in recent times she’s been pushed aside to make room for some of the younger members in AKB’s roster.

Miichan’s fans are still around, and she’s one of the most recognizable faces in AKB today, but getting older has rarely been a benefit for an idol in this system. It’s worth noting that despite her general popularity, Miichan’s interest percentage among those who recognize her is the lowest among anyone in both AKB and the 48 group. Her scandal may not have hurt her that much in the long run, but it’s still not exactly a blessing.

 

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Kizaki Yuria (Yuria)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #23 (#11 in AKB) with 30,154 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #22 (#8 in AKB) with 26,994 votes

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While Yuria’s presence in SKE48 may be missed, she’s been able to smoothly transition from a top SKE member to a top AKB member. Yuria’s made the most of her transfer to Tokyo by appearing in a plethora of mass media and AKB releases, and her young age allows management to position her as a dependable idol who can help carry AKB into the future. However, despite Yuria’s well-rounded popularity as an idol, she hasn’t had as impact as other idols with similar amounts of work and sales.

Yuria ranked up a position in the sousenkyo this year, but she also lost around 3,000 votes. Many of her recent media appearances are on AKB programs to begin with, and she hasn’t appeared on either of Nikkei Entertainment’s power rankings this year. Yuria’s stellar record among fans hasn’t translated to sousenkyo success or mass appeal quite as well as AKB management would like, but she’ll still be an important asset to the group going forward.

 

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Muto Tomu (Tomu)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #24 (#12 in AKB) with 30,097 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #16 (#6 in AKB) with 44,637 votes

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Tomu is a very interesting case. Despite low sales and relative obscurity even among AKB idols, she’s landed an incredible amount of votes and even made it into sousenkyo senbatsu this year, defeating every other idol in this article. It’s possible that Tomu has a strong following in countries outside of Japan, or her fans are wealthy enough to heavily powervote her by sending in far more votes per fan than the average AKB idol.

Aside from a role in the movie Maiko wa Lady, it’s unclear if Tomu’s impressive sousenkyo rank has resulted in many concrete benefits. Aside from non-media senbatsu, she hasn’t been selected for any special units such as NyaaKB, and didn’t have any appearances in the entire “Green Flash” single. Senbatsu carries much more prestige than Under Girls, so it remains to be seen what impact that will have on Tomu’s career, but so far her rank seems like a large indicator that vote count is only important if there are other factors backing it up.

 

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Takajo Aki (Akicha)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #26 (#13 in AKB) with 24,415 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #30 (#13 in AKB) with 22,502 votes

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Once a staple senbatsu member, it’s become clear that Akicha’s glory days as an idol are largely behind her. She’s built up an impressive fanbase over the years, and still receives drama offers, but management is generally unwilling to invest resources into a 23-year-old idol unless she’s proven herself to be a worthy pick in a certain fashion.

Akicha’s fans have put forth a much stronger showing at sousenkyo than her recent sales would suggest, but even that has started to wane, and her inclusion in songs such as “Utaitai” and “Ikitsuzukeru” along with a recent lack of inclusion suggests that there may not be much more for Akicha in AKB besides the fervent support of her fans.

 

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Takahashi Juri (Juri)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #28 (#14 in AKB) with 23,612 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #25 (#9 in AKB) with 25,421 votes

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Team 4’s newly appointed captain may have the support of both AKB’s fans and idols, but Juri’s sousenkyo rank hasn’t done much to improve her prospects outside of AKB. Of the idols featured in this article, Juri is the only one to not make a media appearance in a program that doesn’t primarily feature AKB members.

She’s also absent from both of Nikkei’s power rankings, and although AKB management has done much to respond to her fans’ support it hasn’t quite translated to success outside of AKB. At 17, Juri is also the youngest idol featured in this article, but only by a few months. If Juri can find a way to garner attention outside of being an AKB idol, it could become a great boon for her career.

 

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Kato Rena (Renacchi)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #32 (#15 in AKB) with 21,877 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #28 (#11 in AKB) with 24,569 votes

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Kato Rena has been dubbed AKB’s “secret weapon” by Aki-P himself, and it’s not hard to see why. Despite comparatively low sales and media offerings, Renacchi has one of the highest interest rates in the entire 48 group among those who can recognize her.

It’s impossible to know exactly where all an idol’s sousenkyo votes come from, but her Google+ activity and selection for CMs also suggests that the people who actually know Renacchi strongly support her. A good rank in the sousenkyo and exposure from management do wonders for making Renacchi more visible, so it seems like the main thing she needs right now is to simply keep attracting more fans.

 

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Kojima Mako (Kojimako)
2014 Sousenkyo Rank: #36 (#16 in AKB) with 20,415 votes
2015 Sousenkyo Rank: #26 (#10 in AKB) with 25,110 votes

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Despite being the lowest-ranked idol featured in this article, Kojimako is one of the most prolific members of AKB’s new generation. Strong sales and social media reach combined with multiple roles in AKB programs and a steady stream of senbatsu appearances prove Kojimako to be a worthy idol with the potential to easily become a future frontgirl or even center.

It’s worth noting that as with Renacchi, Kojimako has a small (but significant) amount of recognition and an enormous amount of support among those who know her. This is most likely reflected in how much Kojimako’s rank has increased since last year, but even a lack of media senbatsu appearances hasn’t stopped management from finding many other venues to show her off.

 

Unlike the idols covered in the previous article, many of these idols have a “weak point” in some aspect of their career. Annin hasn’t fully recovered from the attack, Miichan and Akicha are faced with the onset of age, Yuria doesn’t seem to have as much impact as her popularity would suggest, Tomu and Juri aren’t quite as powerful as the top idols of AKB, Renacchi’s “secret weapon” status unfortunately also makes her somewhat of a secret, and Kojimako is a smaller-scale version of AKB’s current senbatsu idols. However, this also makes the effect of the sousenkyo on these idols’ careers more visible.

As far as AKB management’s attention goes, age is of paramount importance here. Older idols such as Miichan and Akicha are given far less offers for AKB songs and units than younger idols such as Juri and Renacchi are, even if those girls generally have lower stats across the board. 

Tomu’s rank in particular is worth noticing, because she has among the highest votes of the idols featured here but among the lowest stats in other areas, and her impressive rank hasn’t seemed to change much in terms of popularity and exposure. However, that’s also just one example, so look forward to Part 3 next week for further insight!

About NSK

New School Kaidan is a community-focused website for the Japanese idol industry international fan base. Between podcasts, broadcasts, events, and analytic articles, New School Kaidan aims to bring an understanding of idol culture to the masses.

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