Hello! Project Power Rankings February 2016

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Hello everybody, guest contributor TheNumber244 here to bring you up to date with the new month of Hello! Project rankings. This time I’ll be setting out a pile of Hello! Project photocards and allowing my pet parakeet, Bruno, to pick up his favorites. Based on his beak of destiny, I’ll be able to divine the fortunes of all of Hello! Project! You might call that method a bit weird, but I’m just as crackers as Bruno.

You may have noticed that I’m returning after a one month vacation. Well, I’ve been writing this column for over almost two years now without a break, so I hope you will forgive me a month of rest. Perhaps this was the wrong month to take off, as so much happened in the last 2 months of hello project. February also saw a congregation of Haro Wota in Houston during the last weekend of February. Why were they all there? What could possibly be going on in Houston? Well, to find out out (as if you don’t already know) you will just have to keep reading.

And with that,
rankings come on!

RankGroupLogo Comments
Morning Musume '16(=)I had a little bit of a struggle of conscience putting Morning Musume '16 up at number one this month. After all, we saw a lot of news items coming from any of the other sister groups in February. But, I want to keep in mind that these are the Power Rankings from the perspective of a Haro Wota living in the US. And, living in the US there was nothing more significant in February than Morning Musume '16 participating in Anime Matsuri in Houston, Texas.

The weekend of February 26th thru February 28th saw the flagship of Hello! Project in the Lone Star State, where the 13 girls participated in a Q&A session with the general attendees, a Q&A limited to the press corps, two autograph sessions, and a one-and-a-half hour live concert. Those who raised up their King Blades on that night (yours truly included) thought the production values likes sound, lights, and visuals, were probably the closest thing to a concert in Japan that's ever been staged in the United States. Outside of those events, Texans saw the group of adorable teenaged Japanese girls at the World Championship Barbecue at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the Johnson Space Center (NASA Mission Control), and generally frolicking in the park. There's probably a joke there about Kudo Haruka riding a rocket and waving her cowboy hat like a bull-rider, but I won't elaborate. As a surprise, Morning Musume '16 brought the much adored OG 8th generation member Mitsui Aika to help with translation duties, and she might have been the most popular Musume of the weekend ...

More than just a chance to see Morning Musume '16 in their first performance as a 12-nin, the weeknd gave MoWota chance to meet each other again. Through all of the line waiting, official events, and unofficial events one really felt like the community got just a little bit closer. I personally am grateful to have met many of the people who I only know online. As you might suspect, I will be writing my own version of the events from the weekend on my personal blog TheNumber244.

Of course, there are some very serious things that we need to discuss as well. another member of the Ninth Generation announced her graduation. Announced on February 6th, Suzuki Kanon will graduate from Morning Musume '16 on May 31st on the Budokan stage. Judging by audience reaction in both New York and Houston, Zukki is still the favorite of the International Morning Musume fanbase. With the loss of such a favorite, the analyst in me wonders if measures to continue courting the Western world during the 13th generation auditions
Juice=Juice(+3)Juice=Juice whirl up 3 spots with the a torrid February. The group hit the trifecta with the continuation of its LIVE MISSION 220 Tour, a new single release, and a dorama that is more thought provoking than expected. With Tsunku's hand providing a steady influence on Juice=Juice's fate of late, it seems the girls are really gearing up for their fateful date with Budokan the venue.

Release on February 2 Juice=Juice's 7th single, "Next is you! / Karada Dake ga Otona ni Nattan janai", finds the girls back into 40K territory with 41,745 units sold- a 22% increase in first week sales over their 6th single, "Wonderful World / Ça va, Ça va". As fate has it, however, the increase in sales did not accompany a second straight weekly Oricon number 1. The Juicers will have to content themselves with a number 3 weekly Oricon placing. The important takeaway from this single is that after a year of steady decline in 2014, the Juicers are now amidst a sales boom, and their latest single now holds Juice=Juice's record for highest first week sales. It seems Juice=Juice are back and stronger than ever.

I think news item that we will be talking about in years to come will be the Juice=Juice / Tsunku driven dorama, "Budokon". As the fictional idol unit NEXT YOU, we are given a fairly unflinching look at the lives and the industry behind the glossy idol facade. Unlike what I've seen in other idol themed dramas, NEXT YOU's members are worked to exhaustion and sometimes against their conscience while juggling home and school lives. Meanwhile their agency, GREEN UP (get it?!), works opportunistically to leverage the girls' misfortunes into headlines and increased sales. It's not a glamourous life filled with rainbows and kawaii unicorns. "Budokan" seems daringly critical of the very industry from which the show begat. I'm extremely interested to see where the drama, and Miyamoto Karin's Hidaka Aiko, will go in the remaining episodes.
Kobushi Factorykobushi-factory-logo(+3)Like Juice=Juice before them, Kobushi Factory managed to accomplish something seldom done in the Projects. For only the second time ever, a group without a Morning Musume member earned the top spot in the weekly Oricon rankings. Kobushi Factory accomplished this feat with a triple a-side, "Sakura Night Fever / Chotto Guchoku ni! Chototsu Moushin / Osu! Kobushi Tamashii". The single bruised us up with a disco inflected song from KAN with a DANCE☆MAN arrangement, a Hyadain composition, and an Ouendan inspired song that showed us Kobushi's soul. The second Factory Girl single's 33,903 unit first week sales proved enough to land the Best New Artist award winners their first weekly number one.

One point of discussion on the topic of Kobushi Factory is whether or not we should be excited by their weekly number one. On one side of the table, we can argue that any accomplishments regardless of size should be celebrated. Kobushi Factory dominated their release week. They rightfully earned their gold. But as we just saw, Juice=Juice topped the Factory Girls numbers just one week prior and only saw a bronze for their efforts. On top of this, "Sakura Night Fever …." showed a slight dip in sales from their debut release. Although Kobushi Factory seem to capture the hearts of so many Haro Wota, it remains to be seen whether this new group will conquer the wider idol world.
Country Girlscountrygirlslogo(=)Country Girls bring their time traveling brand back with in early March release, "Boogie Woogie LOVE / Koi wa Magnet / Ranrarun ~Anata ni Muchuu~". As of writing, we have seen all of the promotional videos from the third single, and diversity, thy name is Country Girls. Aside from the obvious from the lead boogie woogie track, we also are treated with a cool 1980s styled ballad and the 60's version of an oft-covered Jerome Kern / Oscar Hammerstein classic from 1932.

Things seem to be looking up for the Country Girls. Their two new members, Funaki Musubu and Yanagawa Nanami, stole hearts with their cute looks and fearless personalities. Their turn on "Girls Night Out" land Musubu and Nanami on the "to watch" list for great new Hello! Project pairings. But in general, Tsugunaga Momoko's girls seem to be having fun again now that some weight has been distributed to the pint sized pair.

Will Up Front's plan to knock us into amnesia by replacing one Uta-chan with a pair of diminutive spark plugs? The day of reckoning comes soon (or by the time you're reading will have already come) for Country Girls. I'm all anticipation for the events that will soon transpire. Watch my twitter feed as I chart their progress!
ANGERMEPRank-angerme-logo(-3)The Hello! Project inversion begins with ANGERME. Like usual, it's not so much that ANGERME didn't do anything this month, the other groups for just filled with activity. For their part, Wada Ayaka and the girls worked their magic on six stops of their 2016 Spring "Kyuui Itta" live tour. This tour is the first tour to feature new member Kamikokuryo Moe as she tries to catch up with the rest of the girls. 3rd generation member Murota Mizuki saw some individual work in an NHK Education drama "Otona e Novel". Other than these two items, the Angel Tears do not have enough to keep the afloat for the month of March.

However, look for things to start heating up for ANGERME. On the horizon we have a new single for the girls on April 27. Sales for the group have been brisk, so this might be another opportunity for Hello! Project to score another number one weekly without relying on their flagship group. Just beyond that is Tamura Meimi's Graduation Concert on May 30th. Dracula-chan is the first 2nd generation girl to receive a proper send-off: emotions will run high! The venue is set for Nippon Budokan, where Suzuki Kanon will graduate just one day later. This begs the question: have ANGERME progressed so far that their graduations are now on par with Morning Musume? Regardless, I'll be expecting previews of the new ANGERME single by the end of March.
Rank06C-ute(-3)The C-ute girls occupy the cellar of the Projects this month. With all the stellar activities from the rest of the girls, it's easy to see why Yajima Maimi and co. didn't keep pace. With no single to support, no tour to execute, and Suzuki Airi's belly-button hidden from public view, C-ute's tumble down the rankings is understandable. But, don't look for these girls to stay down in the depths for very long. The senior group is ready to rise up with a new tour starting on April 2 and new single on April 20. Considering how well C-ute have been selling (they averaged around 65K first week sales last year), I'll be damned if 2016 closes out without C-ute's first weekly number 1 single! Make it happen!

A a couple of odds and ends that didn’t make the Rankings:
All of Hello! Project will participate in “Hello! Project Hina Fest 2016” on March 19-20
Tsubaki Factory will release their debut mini album on March 19 source

Like always, you’re free to disagree. Give me an earful in the comments below, my personal twitter, or the New School Kaidan Twitter. Don’t forget to come over to my blog at TheNumber244. Until next time!

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