Idol Hands Vol. 3

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Welcome back to Idol Hands! In this installment, I’ll be discussing questions about deeper meanings behind AKB’s songs, looking back on the Reformation, and other happenings of the 48 and 46 idol world. Let’s take a look and find out more!

 
Can you explain to me the new AKB album title?

The title, “Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe!”, is a reference to “The Boastful Traveler”, one of Aesop’s Fables. The fable is the story of a man who returns to his hometown after going on a great journey. The man brags of his exploits to his townsmen and says when he was in Rhodes, he completed a long jump that no other man could achieve. A bystander listening to the man then tells him “Suppose this is Rhodes, and jump for us!” The moral of the fable is that actions speak louder than words, and if you boast about your achievements you should be ready to back them up and prove yourself.

What’s interesting about the decision to pick this obscure quote as the album title is that it seems to poke fun at AKB. In some tellings of the fable, the man is said to have been unskilled and untalented, and mocked by his fellow townspeople for it. This is why he goes on a journey and returns to boast of his stories, and why the fable ends with the man being asked to prove himself. It doesn’t take a genius to notice the parallels between the man’s story and AKB’s story. AKB is known for their mediocre singing and dancing skills, and they’re frequently mocked for it. AKB also boasts of having performed feats that no other group could achieve, and by next year they’ll be the most successful artists in the history of Japan.

However, some people view AKB’s music sales as being artificial because of all the bonus content included with the CDs. After knowing that, you’d think that having the album be titled “Suppose this is Rhodes, and jump for us!” means AKB is going to try and show the world their musical talents are real and prove the haters wrong, right? Except this album also contains a ton of bonus content and is very similar to all of the other AKB releases.

The album also has a track named “Koko ga Rhodes da, Koko de Tobe!”, and its senbatsu is filled with new and upcoming girls. The title could also be interpreted as a call to arms for AKB’s next generation to prove themselves and take up the mantle, but these idols don’t really have any claim to fame yet. It’s an interesting reference, and Aki-P probably named it that as a little joke to anyone who could figure it out.

 

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Was it insulting that they made Minegishi Team 4 sing a song about “Preserving Purity” when Minegishi Minami was still kind of recovering from her scandal?

The lyrics to “Seijun Philosophy” are actually quite relevant to Minegishi’s scandal and were probably designed with her and the new Team 4 in mind. The verses mentioning how “I can wash my dirty heart clean until it’s white again, just like my sneakers when they get muddy” and how “Freedom is a philosophy that forgives anything, and it’s fine to overreach yourself and have love” might be direct references to Minegishi’s scandal and her redemption as an idol. The point of “Seijun Philosophy”’s lyrics aren’t just about preserving purity, they’re about how purity is a philosophy that you choose to live by and you shouldn’t condemn someone for not living by the same rules as you do.

In many ways, that’s similar to how AKB works with the concept of purity today. Purity is a philosophy, at the end of the day it’s up to the idol to decide whether or not she wants to follow the love-ban law. The song promotes a philosophy of purity because AKB wants their idols to follow the law and not date, but the point is that it’s still a decision that each idol must make themselves. Sashihara Rino’s success showed the world that an idol can still rise to the top after having a scandal, and “Seijun Philosophy” is symbolic of the changing stance towards the rules against love.

 

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Will the departure of Takahashi Minami create a crisis for AKB?

Even though Takamina doesn’t know when she’s going to graduate, she announced her graduation a year before AKB’s 10th anniversary as a way to remind everyone of what will happen by that time. The act of Takamina graduating won’t throw AKB into crisis, but by the time she does graduate AKB will be faced with a crisis.

AKB, Nogizaka46, and all the other 48 groups are unique because their success is due to strength in numbers. Some idols are more popular than other idols, but all idols have at least one devoted fan willing to support them (and purchase whatever products necessary to show their support). One idol with 10,000 fans is worth the same as 20 idols with 500 fans each, and when you add those together you get 21 idols with 20,000 fans. This is why 48 groups add as many idols as they can, because the more idols they have the higher the chance is that someone somewhere will become a fan of one of the girls, and eventually a customer of AKS.

When an idol in AKB graduates, it’s hard to see the impact of her absence on sales because there are always more new generation idols on the rise to take her place. However, some of AKB’s older generation idols have been postponing their graduations for a while now. Sooner or later they’re going to start leaving one after the other, and that could leave a big hole in AKB the new generations aren’t able to fill yet. This is what Takamina wants to warn AKB’s new generation of, that the time where they’ll be asked to lead AKB might come sooner rather than later. Whether or not they’ll be able to stand up to the challenge and succeed their seniors remains to be seen, but if left unchecked it could become more damaging to AKB’s sales than Maeda Atsuko or Oshima Yuko’s graduations ever were.

 

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10 months after the Grand Reformation Festival. Any thoughts? Did it work?

Whether or not you consider the 2014 Reformation a success or a failure depends on your definition of what “works”. There are so many different factors that were affected by the Reformation that it’s hard to call it a completely positive or negative situation for everyone involved. Overall, though, I think the Reformation was a failure, and if management really wanted to change things around they should’ve been more careful with their moves.

The biggest problem with the Reformation is that it made a lot of fans angry and confused, and the last thing you want as a business is to make your consumers mad. At the time of the reformation, it had been 18 months since AKB’s first Tokyo Dome shuffle, 3 months since the new Team 4’s first stage performance, and 10 months since SKE’s team shuffle. It takes time for idols in a team to grow and develop together, and being able to watch and support their progress is one of the hallmarks of AKB. When a shuffle happens too soon, it destroys much of what idols and fans worked together to achieve and weakens faith in the structure, because the teams lose their individual character and the magic of what makes AKB appealing starts to fade.

The Reformation was meant to give members more opportunities, but too much of it seemed arbitrary and done just for the sake of switching things up. A better decision would have been to have a smaller, more organized event similar to NMB’s 2013 mini-shuffle, where only a few members would be moved here and there based on what opportunities would actually be there to improve their prospects. The most successful position changes have been the ones where an idol gets a chance to put their talents to good use in a new place, such as Ikoma Rina in AKB and Oba Mina in SKE. The only problem is that having a smaller event doesn’t look as cool in the newspapers and documentaries, so management would rather go for something more bombastic.

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Then there’s the issue of “balancing the teams”. It’s no secret that AKB loves to borrow members from other sister groups to boost themselves up, but this can become a major point of contention among fans if done too heavy-handedly. Sure, Kashiwagi Yuki sells out her NMB handshake slots, but she rarely has time for theater performances and fills a senbatsu slot that could’ve gone to an original NMB member. In the worst-case scenario, the transferred members’ popularity is so great that they become a main attraction of the team instead of an auxiliary member. Fans usually aren’t very happy when an outsider is brought into their team and proceeds to steal the spotlight, especially if they rarely show up at the theater, so when top members of other 48 groups are sent to Team K and SKE to artificially inflate popularity it can be difficult to calm people down.

Even if the Reformation didn’t work out as planned, it’s not the end of the world. There’s no team in any of the sister groups that’s genuinely struggling, and to a lot of 48 fans all that matters from the shuffles are which girls are going to show up in which CDs. AKS’s greatest struggle right now lies in how well they can balance optimizing short-term profits with keeping the fans loyal, happy, and interested. It’s fine for management to change things around, but next time they should check how many people are on board with them.

 

That’s just what I think about these topics. My ask.fm account is available for your questions, but I’ll elaborate more on them using this article series. Did I miss or overlook something important in these answers? Do you disagree with any of the points I brought up here? Let me know in the comments!

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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One comment

  1. As always, your thoughts on all things AKB are wonderful and insightful. I have to agree with most everything you mentioned, particularly your words regarding the grand reshuffle. After watching the Time Has Come Documentary, I feel that it was much more heart breaking to the girls than we can ever begin to realize. I got a sense that the girls were bodies stuck in the gears, so to speak, and a few of them really were soul crushed when it happened. I still can’t stop thinking about how Rena Matsui, in the doc, walks into the elevator trying to keep a straight face and then after the door closes, just loses it. So sad.
    However, you mentioned that you feel AKB would be in a crisis possibly when Takamina leaves. I disagree whole-heartedly. I think the only crisis AKB will have at this point is one they generate themselves for the sake of publicity. Kind of like how you mentioned the grand reformation needed to be grand in order to attract attention. I think AKI-P is smart enough to know that many people who have followed AKB for years now are wondering if AKB can sustain itself for years to come, especially when the powerhouse idols like Maeda and Mariko and Yuko have left, and now Takamina, the heart and soul of AKB, is also going solo. I think Aki-P can use the whole crisis mentality to set the stage for the next generation to work harder than maybe they would if there wasn’t a huge crisis and burden of carrying the next generation hanging over their heads. I mean, it’s a GREAT motivator to let the younger generation of AKB know they have to step it up or else….. or else….. or else….. well, or else nothing, but don’t tell the girls that lol.
    The other point to realize about AKB right now is that they have become the Wal-Mart of the idol industry. They aren’t going anywhere and they offer exactly what an idol fan wants because of their huge selection of idols to choose from. I mean, they aren’t closing down and in fact, couldn’t even if they wanted too. Aki-P could get caught molesting some of the younger girls and that scandal STILL wouldn’t shut AKB down simply because it’s NEEDED too much in Japan. If anything, I see maybe the satellite groups in Jakarta and possibly China shutting down operations if it fizzles out in those places (though China’s brand is killing it right now!). I think way too many people have been screaming doomsday for AKB and I’ve been hearing it pretty much since Acchan graduated. Well, guess who is still around and raking in a BILLION in sales in Japan’s economy? AKB. Guess who is becoming obscure and not really doing much with their lives and is coming back to AKB in cameos for new MVS? Girls who have graduated. Okay, I’m being slightly facetious when I say the girls who have graduated aren’t doing anything, but in terms of exposure and visibility, I feel that the girls who have all left AKB haven’t been as wildly popular or busy in terms of jobs than they were when they were with AKB.
    AKB isn’t going anywhere. And I’m darn proud to be their fan and support them in everything they do. I can only hope to see them around for another ten or twenty years or longer, if we’re lucky. They hopefully will keep reinventing themselves and having fun doing it. The ride so far has been a great one, and it’s one that despite what people are saying, isn’t going to end just because idols are leaving the group who are popular. I, for one, look forward to getting to know the next generation.
    Thanks again for a great article!

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