NMB48: Taking it to the Top


Osaka based idol group NMB48 are widely considered to be one of the better idol groups currently active in Japan today. However, is there a case to be made that they might just be the best? I think there might be and over the course of this article I’ll be looking at some of the reasons why.


This year NMB released an album and it came with a very strong message “Teppen Tottande” or “To take the top” if my interpretation isn’t too far off. “The top” in this instance being to appear as an independent act at this year’s Kouhaku. A very lofty goal for most groups as appearing on this show is seen as a mark of success and proves that you’re the real deal or something. As someone who doesn’t really subscribe to the notion of music show appearances quantifying how good you are, this doesn’t mean much to me but I can appreciate that it’s a big deal to a lot of people.

I have no doubt that NMB will realize this goal one way or another and if this adds another layer of legitimacy to the group then so be it. Being recognized by the public and your peers for all of your hard work and dedication is never a bad thing. I personally don’t think they need it though because anyone with a functioning set of eyes and ears can tell how good they are, but what do I know. I’m also the guy who’s just about to argue that they’re the best idol group in Japan right now.

I suppose I’ve fluffed this out for long enough so let’s get into the meat of this article. I’m going to go through the various facets of NMB48 that I think makes them such a good idol group. I’ll even break it all down under various headers so it’s easier to read. Talk about looking out for my readership.

1. Personality

For me this is probably the single most important thing you can have as an idol. Sure, being an amazing singer or dancer doesn’t hurt either but if you have the personality of sack of rocks then you’re going to struggle. NMB does a lot of things right, but damn do they do personality well. Even if you don’t follow the group you can see this in AKB48 (which I’m sure most of you at least follow somewhat) with Yamamoto Sayaka, Watanabe Miyuki and Kotani Riho.

Those three all have amazing personality and perhaps you might think that that’s the extent of NMB’s character. Well you’d be wrong there, because the group is absolutely stacked with a whole variety of strong personalities. Go look into Yamada Nana, Ogasawara Mayu, Jonishi Kei, Kinoshita Momoka to name but a few. The list is practically endless. That’s no mean feat considering how many girls are in the group.

What’s more, all of these very strong and distinct personalities are allowed their chance to shine. Sure Yamamoto and Watanabe are the faces of the group but the group is managed well enough that they don’t completely eclipse everyone else. If anything they all work to bring out the best in each other which in turn helps the group become that much more entertaining. This, in my opinion is how an idol group should operate.

2. Ambition and Dedication

I think this is probably one of the harder points to justify because you can all just throw “Yeah, well X group says they also works hard, etc, etc” back in my face. Which is fair enough and I’m sure these other groups do work very hard but NMB goes a step farther than that and makes me actually believe it. You can talk as big a game as you want but for me, your actions are what really count.

When NMB made their “Teppen Tottande” announcement I didn’t doubt for a second that they’d get there. If anything I thought that it was a rather safe goal, that they should be aiming for more. Of course that would probably be seen as inappropriate or disrespectful in Japan so I can understand why things are the way that they are. If anything I think that NMB are far too humble, at least outwardly.

To get back on topic a little, the amount of ambition and dedication with NMB48 is almost palpable. I say this as a SKE fan who reads a magazine interview every other month where a member says how they want SKE to step out of the shadow of AKB. Sure, the first time I read something like that I bought into it. Now I just sort of roll my eyes because I don’t buy it anymore.

Maybe there are external forces at play; shoddy management, Aki-P holding SKE back, whatever. However I feel that if Yamamoto Sayaka did an interview tomorrow saying NMB were going after AKB48’s crown then I’d fully believe that they could do it. With everything they’ve done so far, as a fan I have no reason to doubt it. That’s how confident they’ve made me feel in them over the past two years.

Ultimately I think that’s what sets NMB48 apart. They’re ambitious and they’re dedicated but they let you see it through their actions first. There’s a lot less talking and a lot more doing going on in Namba and this goes a long way to building confidence in their brand.

3. Social Media

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge proponent of idols using social media to connect with their fans. While most groups are making strides in the right direction, I feel myself left wanting for more when a lot of girls only find time to blog once or twice a week. That’s if they even bother to do it at all in the first place.

AKS made a pretty good attempt at this when they partnered up with Google+ and made a big deal about how we’d be able to interact with all of the members. Things were pretty good to start with, then most of the more popular members from AKB stopped using it, or never really used it in the first place if your name is Watanabe Mayu (her management runs her account and even they can’t be bothered now). Thankfully a lot of members still use the service a fair bit but there isn’t really any of the fan interaction that I seem to remember being promised. Unless I’m completely making up the fact that they said members would be doing Hangouts and other such things.

So what does NMB do differently? Well, they post on Google+ and they post on it a hell of a lot. Seriously, most of my feed is NMB girls posting updates throughout their day about various things. Whether it be them talking about going to photoshoots, being on radio shows or just everyday mundane stuff. They actually take the time to keep their fans updated on what they’re doing and I for one really appreciate that. It’s not just a couple of them either, from what I’ve seen it’s the vast majority.

What else do NMB48 do well? They blog, every single day. I wake up, open my RSS reader and there is at minimum 40 new blogs from my NMB feed. I won’t pretend that I sit down and read every single one of them but dammit I wish all groups showed this kind of dedication. What’s more, these blogs are all free to read unlike SKE who for some inexplicable reason charge you to read blog archives. Seriously, the senbatsu blog is neat and all but I have favorites who aren’t in there and I’d like to not have to worry about missing an update and never being able to read it again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this sort of thing is in all of the NMB girls’ contracts or whatever (just like how professional Starcraft players have to stream X amount of hours per month) but I’m certainly not complaining. A lot of groups could learn a thing or two from the way that NMB does social media.

4. Talent

Okay, this is completely subjective but hey what isn’t in this fandom? Anyway, I think there’s a pretty strong case to be made that NMB48 have the most overall talent in the idol industry. That’s not to say that there aren’t a ton of groups who are fantastic at singing, dancing, variety and what have you but I think NMB are the most well rounded group out there right now.

When I first saw them show up on “Naniwa Nadeshiko” my first reaction wasn’t “yikes, that was pretty painful” like it normally is when I see an idol group who isn’t used to being in that kind of setting. Instead I was left feeling oddly impressed that they seemed to revel in the spotlight. They were more sure of themselves than I’ve seen HKT48 be so far, although I suppose that could be down to the age difference. Being on television isn’t an easy thing, especially variety television but they took to it like a duck to water.

All of this is before we even talk about their musical ventures. “Zetsumetsu Kurokami Shoujo” should be the textbook example of how you do a debut single right. It came right out and told everyone “This is NMB48 and here’s what they’re all about”. It got right up in your face and demanded that you pay attention. A group less confident in their talent and ability wouldn’t have been able to pull off something as bold as that.

This is all evident in their concert and theater performances. I’ll be honest, it’s really fucking hard to put on a truly terrible live show as an idol but it’s equally difficult to put on really good ones. AKB puts on their grandiose stadium shows which are either a wondrous spectacle or lacking a lot of soul depending on which side you come down on. SKE put on concerts full of energy and youthful exuberance which probably don’t get talked about as much as they should be. HKT are still developing their style but each group brings something a little different to the table

NMB performances work so well not only because of the personalities on show but because of the flair. It’s like going to see a psychic, comedian or what have you. Sure you’re going there to be entertained by the content of the show but if the delivery wasn’t there then the whole thing just wouldn’t work. NMB48 not only has great content but they have the talent and skill to properly deliver it.

5. Agency

This is the point that underpins everything else that I’ve talked about in this article. NMB have easily got the best agency out of any idol group in the Yoshimoto Kogyo Group. In the entertainment industry, who manages your act can make or break you. SKE are seeing this right now according to some, being under the same agency as parent group AKB48 doesn’t leave a lot of room to grow. NMB look to have escaped a similar fate simply by being the product of the biggest entertainment conglomerate in Japan.

The evidence is all there really. NMB show up in all manner of television shows and commercials in Osaka and beyond, with a raft of famous comedians in tow. They’re about to release their own movie which was just shown at the Okinawa International Movie Festival. Not a week goes by without a member of the group being splashed on the cover of a magazine. Various product endorsements. You name it and they’re pretty much doing it. The group’s media presence is rather incredible considering they only came into existence a little over two years ago.

Being under an agency as influential as Yoshimoto has a host of other advantages too. With that much clout behind them they have a lot more control over the direction of the group. If NMB were under AKS I really doubt they’d have put out four singles last year or have an album already. They would have also probably lost their theater manager in that cringe-worthy shuffling of the deckchairs that happened a few months ago. While AKS clearly still has some influence as far as decision making and new songs go, I think it’s clear to see that things are working out pretty well right now.

Wow was that a long-winded circlejerk. In conclusion, there’s no doubt in my mind that NMB48 are going to perform solo at Kouhaku this year. If they don’t then it would be a complete disservice to everything that they’ve achieved as a group and as individuals up to now. I’m also pretty sure that they’re the best idol group around right now but maybe you disagree, that’s cool

As always, if you’d like to discuss any of the points that I raised in this article then feel free to leave a comment, send me an email at garry@newschoolkaidan.com or hit me up on Twitter @Mage77. I’ll try to respond to all of you because I figure if you take the time to read and comment on something that I write then I should take the time to respond to you. I really do value my readers and their opinions, regardless of if you agree with what I have to say or not.

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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