Hello everyone! Guest Contributor @thenumber244 here with a look at the Projects – the Hello! Projects. I’m back from vacation and ready for another year staring at Suzuki Airi’s navel. In this belated edition, I present an analysis for how the groups performed for the year 2015. It’s the first time I’ve ever done something like this so I don’t have any snazzy trend-lines to present. Not to give away the whole article, but the group driving all of the Projects should not surprise anyone.
The 2015 for Hello! Project can probably be summed up in one word: ch-ch-ch-changes. So much of what we knew about H!P changed in the course of one year that it is barely recognizable to anyone who took a break from following H!P. Additions – three new groups were added to the lineup in 2015: Country Girls, Kobushi Factory, Tsubaki Factory, and Angerme (I know: technically…).
The new groups breathed life into a lineup that was beginning to show its age. Subtractions – S/mileage, Berryz Koubou and Tsunku. The Hello! Project Kids are the last remaining connection between the “Golden Age” of H!P and the current lineup. The tear-filled graduation of Berryz remains one of the indelible moments for the year. Meanwhile, Tsunku’s decreased involvement in H!P, while understandable, frustrated many longtime HaroWota. We are living in a world where Hello! Project is no longer Tsunku’s personal playground.
As we count down, I’ll try to pay special attention to the December standings of each group. Some pretty significant events went down last month, and we need to talk about them!
|2015 EoY Rank||Group||Logo||Comments|
|Morning Musume '15||Well, it happened. With no more Platinum Musume to graduate, Morning Musume just graduated their first "new" girl. Nobody really entertained the possibility of losing Sayashi Riho to a hurried, unceremonious graduation for nebulous reasons. After viewing some of the footage, Riho's graduation at the year-end COUNTDOWN PARTY 2015 ~GOOD BYE & HELLO!~ looked mostly how I expected. Sayashi Riho in a red gown faced her silver clad groupmates.
Leader Fukumura Mizuki fell apart while a single tear fell from Sayashi's eye. An emotional rendition of "Endless Sky" capped off Riho's career in Morning Musume with the Ninth generation members at center together for the last time. Now the question must be faced: where do Morning Musume '16 go from here?
Back in January we waited for the new single announcement. Then we waited more. When "Seishun Kozou ga Naiteiru / Yuugure wa Ameagari / Ima Koko Kara" finally delivered in April. We got a release with Suzuki Kanon missing from ⅔ of the promotional videos, her spot filled by Juice=Juice's Miyamoto Karin. Rightfully, this decision drew the ire of many. I don't know how much we can attribute to protest, growing pains, or disappointment, but Morning Musume '15's initial release sold a disappointing 101,275 units on its first week.
Things weren't all negative for the year. Especially in the international community, 13th generation member Nonaka Miki became a favorite new member. Fluent in English, Miki took an all-English verse in the new version of "Koko ni Iruuze!", provided English translations to announcements from the group, and formed half of the favorite "HaaChel" combination with fellow 13th generation member Ogata Haruna. Miki's piano performance skills highlighted in her "Greeting ~Nonaka Miki~" e-Hello DVD gave us even more reason to cheer the talented new member.
As for trends, the group led Hello! Project with 385,343 first week units, approximately 5% less than their first week sales in 2014. Considering weak sales of "Seishun Kozo… / Yuugare wa… / Ima Koko…" a 5% decrease seems like trifle. Also, looking at the sales figures for the last two Morning Musume '15 singles gives a strong impression that the group is back on an upswing. In this second year of the 13th generation Musume, a long break between singles probably won't happen. Keeping the group out in the public eye with further developed characters from Ogata Haruna, Nonaka Miki, Makino Maria, and Haga Akane might be the best plan of action for the group.
What's next for the flagship (do we still use that term?)? HOUSTON, Texas, USA on February 26 & 27. I'll see you all there.
|Angerme||I had a good mind to put ANGERME in the top spot this year. Unless you turned a blind to Hello! Project, "Taiki Bansei" was everywhere. ANGERME, who already experienced a significant upswing in the final days of S/mileage, built themselves into a solid member of the H!P lineup capable of generating numbers that might eventually catch up to senior group C-ute. I think about how the group bounced back from a disaster story of personnel changes, and ANGERME really becomes a success story. So, what happened?
Well, everything changed for ANGERME. Aside from the name change, the group is barely recognizable from its 2007 debut. We can start with the lineup changes. With the additions of Murota Mizuki, Aikawa Maho, and Sasaki Rikako, ANGERME found an amazing vocalist, a high-energy beauty, and an ultra cutesy member. Call me insane, but that's the perfect mix of girls for an idol group.
Next, the group found itself a musical direction. I know not all of their songs will sound thusly, but "Taiki Bansei" set the bar for the group with an ardent, funky, horn-driven dance number. While the cute factor still crops up in songs like "Mahou Tsukai Sally", I think the days of trifling songs like "Shortcut" are in the past. That might be a loss, but it also means that the group will be considered seriously in the music arena.
Next came more changes! Founding member Fukuda Kanon left ANGERME and Hello! Project on November 29. Did you know that even though the group lost and gained members over the last six years, no S/mileage member ever held a graduation concert/ceremony? Kanon's graduation closely followed the induction of 4th generation member Kamikokuryo Moe. Most of HaroWota are expecting great things from the diminutive Moe - karaoke videos from her (defunct) Twitter account indicate the girl has vocal skills that will flourish with her idol duties. This is a great development considering the loss of Kanon and her steady yet under-appreciated vocals.
More changes still? 2nd generation member Tamura Meimi (she of the Dracula fangs) announced her graduation in December. This announcement really caught me off-guard. Equal parts lovable and crazy, Meimi looked poised to carry the group's sound after Kanon's graduation. We can probably look for one more release from ANGERME + Dracula before her May 30 graduation at Budokan.
With the loss of two strong singers, will ANGERME continue to develop? Naturally we don't know the answer to that question. HaroWota can only hope that 2015's advances will be followed with a continued effort by management to hone ANGERME into a marquee idol act. Look for Tamura Meimi's swan song early in 2016. After this next release we will see how much Hello! Project are committed to the ANGERME agenda.
|C-ute||Firstly, C-ute celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2015. That's 10 years with the same girls albeit with more than a few subtractions. These ten years saw the group rise up from "the girls who didn't make it into Berryz" to the most senior group in the Projects. How's that for a worst-to-first story? At this point the group has long passed the average length of service for an idol group, and we really should start talking about them in tones reserved for legends. Whether or not you choose to believe it, C-ute occupy a rarified place among idols.
This year C-ute really emerged as the class act of Hello! Project. C-ute's 2015 average sales per single continued to grow to 65,321 units. Their October 28 offering, "Arigatou Mugen no Yell / Arashi wo Okosunda Exciting Fight" currently sits at 73,018 units sold. This marks the first time an H!P Kids group passed the 70,000 barrier. It's also worth noting that the good feelings from their April 1st release "Gamusha LIFE" contends strongly for the most "feels-worthy" song of 2015.
In C-ute, we are witnessing a group at its absolute highest level, and that is an exciting feeling. Of course, there might be only one way for the girls to go from here, so we might want to prepare ourselves mentally for that possibility.
C-ute kept a steady stream of entertainment going throughout the year with Okai Chisato on television and Suzuki Airi in Ray Magazine. That might not be headline worthy, but the stability brought by these two assures the group won't fall from notice anytime soon. For my money, some of the best viewing of the year was courtesy of C-ute and their recording-process videos documented in the Music+ YouTube channel. I know not many people are entertained by these videos, but I was captivated with every new track.
As the crown of their achievements, Maimi, Saki, Airi, Chisato, and Mai headed to Mexico for their ¡Vamos a Mexico! concert on September 19. I'm really kicking myself for not going. Look, this is the first time a Hello! Project group made an appearance in Central America and is notably not New York, Los Angeles, or Paris. With just this one concert, Hello! Project show they are likely to play anywhere in the Western World.
Now, if only more photos of C-ute in Cancun would materialize into the hottest C-ute photo book ever (sorry I'll pick up those hormones in a minute...)
|Country Girls||When Tsunku hinted at a Country Musume reboot early in 2014, I don't think anyone knew exactly what was in store for the unit. When Country Girls finally appeared fully formed like Athena from Zeus's throbbing forehead in November 2014, we still didn't know what to expect. And then early in 2015 it struck: Uta fever.
With Shimamura Uta, the group seemed on the verge of a bona fide phenomenon. Uta fever infected everyone: even the other Project girls were stricken! With an identity equally informed by Uta's saccharine appeal and throwback arrangements, the Country Girls debut "Itooshikutte Gomen Ne / Koi Douboru" sold an impressive 45,032 first week units, and HaroWota felt the Projects may lucked into another 50,000 selling group.
Of course, it wasn't to be.
Thankfully, the other girls managed to sell their charm points in the post-Uta reality. Yamaki Risa turned into the princess character with an artistic hand, Inaba Manaka's already reputable dance skills vaulted her to the top of the dance club, Morito Chisaki's cuteness came to the forefront, and Ozeki Mai's bold, genki character won hearts. And, as endearing as these characters became, they could not quite power the group in the same way - their second single, "Wakatteiru no ni Gomen ne / Tamerai Summer" came with a 33% drop-off in sales.
As we get started in 2016, we already see the positive effects of new members Yanagawa Nanami and Funaki Musubu. The true test will be the performance of the third Country Girls single "Boogie Woogie LOVE / Koi wa Magnet / Ranrarun ~Anata ni Muchuu~" slated for a March 9 release.
|Juice=Juice||Remember when Juice=Juice looked like they were going to take over Hello! Project? Those were good days. It's not as though the Juicers sat on their hands the whole year though: they were actually very busy! But, they were busy doing the things that largely go unnoticed if you're looking from the outside in.
The group's ambitious "Live Mission 220", in which the group aims to perform 220 times in a year's time, doesn't mean very much to those of us sitting half a world away. By the end of it, Juice=Juice hope to earn a spot performing at the venerable Nippon Budokan.
Of course, a few headlines were generated from the Live Mission 220 tour. Chief among their accomplishments were Juice=Juice's first overseas performances in Taiwan and Hong Kong in October. These performances are an incredible vote of confidence from the H!P organization. Now the Juicers sit squarely with Morning Musume and C-ute in terms of overseas presence and performance. With just a pinch of luck, growth of the group will lead to further opportunity in faraway lands. So, let's all hope Juice=Juice gets a concert in Los Angeles so I can get Karin-freaky this year.
Sadly, Miyamoto Karin played a part in the Suzuki Kanon affair early in the year, which might be the year's biggest scandal. Thankfully, the whole event didn't seem to affect sales as the group's only single in 2015 "Wonderful World / Ça va? Ça va?" showed an upturn in sales with 34,127 units. The single also deserves distinction as the only Hello! Project single to hit number 1 without a Morning Musume member.
Juice=Juice also released their debut album "First Squeeze" in July 2015. An omnibus release, the album contained 29 tracks spread among 3 versions and spawned promotional videos for two additional songs: "CHOICE & CHANCE" and "Tsuzuiteiku STORY". Did I mention a 30 track Blu Ray PV collection and a 32 track Live DVD? Not that I want to sell you CDs, but "First Squeeze" is a beast of a release.
In 2016, Juice=Juice comes out swinging with a new single, "Next is you! / Karada Dake ga Otona ni Nattan ja nai" scheduled for a February 3 release and a drama titled "Budokan" scheduled for a February 6 debut on Fuji TV. The group filmed much of the drama's performance footage as the fictional idol group NEXT YOU late in 2015 in-between performances as Juice=Juice. The drama will follow the fictional/alter ego idol group as they strive to perform at the titular venue. You know, that plot sounds vaguely familiar.
|Kobushi Factory||You know I really hate putting Kobushi Factory at the bottom of the yearly ratings. The more I see of the group, the more impressed I am. A strong case for "Song of the Year" could be made for Kobushi Factory's "Nen ni wa Nen". The song exploded the group onto the scene with its tight, cohesive dance and cocksure vocals.
Kobushi Factory began life as a surprise announcement at the January 2 H!P Winter Concert. The nameless group looked like a resurrection for leader Hirose Ayaka and Inoue Rei as they were scooped from the Nice Girl Kenshuusei system for inclusion. The group received its moniker on February 25 (courtesy of Shimizu Saki), and is meant to carry the legacy of Berryz Koubou both in name and spirit.
As such, Kobushi Factory stood out as a bright spot in the funerary Berryz Koubou Matsuri in late February, and their performance seemed to have everyone talking about their spark. The group was Hello! Project's only entry in this year's Tokyo Idol Festival, lending them even more credibility and increasing their fandom. Finally, Kobushi Factory enthusiastically delivered their September major debut single "Dosukoi! Kenkyo ni Daitan / Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san no Uta / Nen ni wa Nen (Nen Iri Ver.)".
The item that will be worth talking about from December, and really for the rest of the year, is Kobushi Factory's win as "Best New Artist" at the Japan Record Awards. No one can take that award away from them now. Now we need to see if the group will be infected with the sophomore slump: the group's second single, "Sakura Night Fever / Chotto Guchoku ni! Chototsu Moushin / Osu! Kobushi Tamashii" is set for release on February 17.
Well, that does it for 2015! What were your favorite moments? Do you disagree with my assessments? Let me know in the comments below, my personal twitter, or on the New School Kaidan Twitter. Happy New Year, everyone. See you all in Houston!