A short while ago, on March 26, 2015, AKB announced plans for the Spring Shuffle, the group’s fourth one to date. This shuffle involved many different changes for AKB48 and the 48 group as a whole, and in this post I’ll be documenting those changes as well as my thoughts on their potential impact.
This is a very strange time for management to announce another structure change for AKB. Its only been 13 months since the Grand Reformation, and with the 2nd draft event on the horizon AKS has already announced scouts for the teams created in 2014. It doesn’t make much sense for the captains and vice captains to draft idols for teams that will soon have most of their important members shuffled around to other teams, so it seems like the main point of this event was simply to get people talking about AKB.
Regularly shuffling around the teams is a very dangerous move, because it weakens the individual identity of each team. Fans are much less likely to be emotionally invested in a team if they know everything the idols worked to build will just be destroyed at a moment’s notice. That’s part of what brought SKE48 into its current decline, and given the less-than-stellar sales of AKB’s new releases this year it’s likely that this Spring Shuffle might not bring incredible success. Let’s look first at one of the most controversial aspects of 48 group shuffles: concurrencies.
SKE48 Team KII and AKB48 Team A → SKE48 Team KII
SKE48 Team KII and NMB48 Team BII → SKE48 Team KII
SKE48 Team E and HKT48 Team KIV → SKE48 Team E
SKE48 Team E and Nogizaka46 → SKE48 Team E
NMB48 Team N and AKB48 Team 4 → NMB48 Team N
NMB48 Team M and AKB48 Team A → NMB48 Team M
NMB Team M and SKE48 Team KII → NMB48 Team M
HKT48 Team H and SKE48 Team S → HKT48 Team H
HKT48 Team KIV and NMB48 Team N → HKT48 Team KIV
Nogizaka46 and AKB48 Team B → Nogizaka46
NMB48 Team M → NMB48 Team M and AKB48 Team A
AKB48 Team 8 → AKB48 Team 8 and AKB48 Team A
AKB48 Team 8 → AKB48 Team 8 and AKB48 Team K
NMB48 Team BII and SKE48 Team BII → NMB48 Team BII and AKB48 Team B
HKT48 Team H → HKT48 Team H and AKB48 Team B
AKB48 Team 8 → AKB48 Team 8 and AKB48 Team B
SKE48 Team S → SKE48 Team S and AKB48 Team 4
HKT48 Team KIV and AKB48 Team B → HKT48 Team KIV and AKB48 Team 4
A concurrency, or kennin, is a position that places an idol in two 48 groups at the same time. The very first concurrencies, Matsui Jurina to Team K and Watanabe Miyuki to Team B, were created to let AKB use popular sister group idols for their own ends. While the concept has expanded over the years, this shuffle is completely straightforward and back-to-basics in what it’s intended to do. These moves firmly put AKB first and the existing sister groups second.
All concurrencies that act between one sister group and another sister group have been removed, and nearly every concurrency is now solely from an existing sister group (or Toyota’s Team 8) to AKB48. The vast majority of the new members selected for concurrencies are young, popular up-and-coming idols who AKB would love to give some extra screen time and merchandising opportunities to. AKB’s management wants to pick some of the best girls from the sister groups to strengthen their current lineup of new generation members, even if that takes the spotlight from some of their own less popular talents. The exception to this is newest upcoming 48 group, NGT48.
AKB48 Team B and NMB48 Team N → AKB48 Team B and NGT48
AKB48 Team K → NGT48 Captain
NGT48, set to debut this October, will located in Niigata. Normally, management wouldn’t involve idols in the foundation of a new 48 group, but these moves solve some potential future problems. Kitahara Rie isn’t given many opportunities in AKB, and as she gets older the possibility of graduation becomes larger and larger. Kashiwagi Yuki has mentioned that she probably would’ve graduated by now if she hadn’t received something new to do by becoming an NMB kennin. Since these idols both have many fans supporting them, their graduation would make AKB suffer a loss they don’t want to take. Giving these idols positions in NGT grants both them and NGT a new way to generate exposure and interest.
SKE48 Kenkyuusei → SKE48 Team KII
Aside from the cancelled sister group concurrencies, this is the only change that doesn’t relate to the main AKB48 group in some form. Nearly two years ago (and during an SKE Team Shuffle, funny enough) Matsumura Kaori was promoted to “Lifetime Honorary Kenkyuusei”. It’s a testament to how shaky SKE is right now that management decided to revoke Kaori’s position and promote her. With the graduation of Furukawa Airi, Team KII is in need of experienced idols to help guide SKE’s new generations, and Matsumura Kaori’s significant popularity in the group makes her too big to ignore.
TEAM CHANGES (New additions are italicized)
TEAM A: 22 members
General Manager: Takahashi Minami
Captain: Yokoyama Yui
Vice Captain: Nakamura Mariko
Members: Taniguchi Megu, Kojima Haruna, Kojima Natsuki, Iriyama Anna, Nishiyama Rena, Takita Kayoko, Iwata Karen, Shimazaki Haruka, Nakanishi Chiyori, Maeda Ami, Miyazaki Miho, Hirata Rina, Owada Nana, Oya Shizuka, Ogasawara Mayu, Sasaki Yukari
Concurrent Members: Miyawaki Sakura (from HKT48 Team KIV), Shiroma Miru (from NMB48 Team M), Yamada Nanami (from Team 8)
Team K: 23 members
Captain: Minegishi Minami
Vice Captain: Shimada Haruka
Members: Tano Yuuka, Nagao Mariya, Ishida Haruka, Shimoguchi Hinana, Muto Tomu, Yumoto Ami, Aigasa Moe, Abe Maria, Matsui Sakiko, Ichikawa Manami, Fujita Nana, Nakata Chisato, Takajo Aki, Shinozaki Ayana, Mogi Shinobu, Mukaichi Mion
Concurrent Members: Suzuki Mariya (with SNH48 Team SII), Matsui Jurina (from SKE48 Team S), Yamamoto Sayaka (from NMB48 Team N), Kodama Haruka (from HKT48 Team H), Nakano Ikumi (from Team 8)
Team B: 22 members
Captain: Kizaki Yuria
Vice Captain: Oshima Ryoka
Members: Watanabe Mayu, Kuramochi Asuka, Tanabe Miku, Takeuchi Miyu, Umeta Ayano, Uchiyama Natsuki, Hashimoto Hikari, Fukuoka Seina, Yokoshima Aeri, Tatsuya Makiho, Kobayashi Kana, Iwasa Misaki, Uchida Mayumi, Goto Moe, Kato Rena, Kobayashi Marina
Concurrent Members: Kashiwagi Yuki (with NGT48), Watanabe Miyuki (from NMB48 Team BII), Yabuki Nako (from HKT48 Team H), Sakaguchi Nagisa (from Team 8)
Team 4: 22 members
Captain: Takahashi Juri
Vice Captain: Okada Nana
Members: Nishino Miki, Omori Miyu, Iwatate Saho, Okada Ayaka, Kitazawa Saki, Murayama Yuiri, Maeda Mitsuki, Komiyama Haruka, Tsuchiyasu Mizuki, Okawa Rio, Sato Kiara, Ino Miyabi, Kojima Mako, Izuta Rina, Natori Wakana, Nozawa Rena, Kawamoto Saya
Concurrent Members: Shibuya Nagisa (from NMB48 Team BII), Kitagawa Ryoha (from SKE48 Team S), Tomonaga Mio (from HKT48 Team KIV)
One of the main reasons for having a team shuffle is to bring “balance” to the teams. Senbatsu is seen as one of the strongest indicators of an idol’s success in AKB, so fans of a team often feel under-represented if there aren’t any idols from that team in senbatsu. This is a breakdown of how many members in each of the new teams have been part of an AKB single’s senbatsu over the past year, from “Mae Shika Mukanee” to “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai”:
Team A: 8 senbatsu members (6 AKB48 members, 2 sister group concurrencies)
Team K: 8 senbatsu members (4 AKB48 members, 4 sister group concurrencies)
Team B: 7 senbatsu members (6 AKB48 members, 1 sister group concurrency)
Team 4: 8 senbatsu members, (5 AKB48 members, 3 sister group concurrencies)
At first glance, these numbers look fairly balanced. All the teams have similar amounts of senbatsu members, and no team has more than 50% of their appearances represented by idols from other sister groups. However, many of AKB’s recent singles, such as “Kibouteki Refrain” and “Bokutachi wa Tatakawanai”, feature expanded 32-member senbatsu lineups. From these pools, a regular roster of 16 members known as “media senbatsu” are given higher priority when appearing in the media to promote the single. When the previous breakdown is edited to only include media senbatsu, the numbers change significantly:
Team A: 6 media senbatsu members (5 AKB48 members, 1 sister group concurrency)
Team K: 4 media senbatsu members (2 AKB48 members, 2 sister group concurrencies)
Team B: 5 media senbatsu members (4 AKB48 members, 1 sister group concurrency)
Team 4: 1 media senbatsu member (1 AKB48 member, 0 sister group concurrencies)
The majority of AKB’s media senbatsu hails from Team A or Team B, and 75% of AKB non-sister group members chosen come from those two teams. Of Team K’s two AKB media senbatsu members, Minegishi Minami was demoted from media senbatsu after the first half of 2014 and Mukaichi Mion was only recently promoted for AKB’s newest single. At one point, there had been no native members of this new Team K in AKB media senbatsu for almost a year’s time.
Last year’s decision to load the team with some of the most popular idols from other sister groups was met with outcry from fans fearing that they would take the media spotlight from most of the team’s native idols. This year, it’s clear that management has no intention of reversing those changes, and most of AKB’s upcoming talent has been placed in Team 4. Team K has been struggling even before Oshima Yuko graduated, and these changes do nothing but reinforce the notion that “K stands for kennin”.
While most of the Spring Shuffle focuses around younger members, management wants to make sure some of the older idols won’t leave either, so Watanabe Miyuki and Minegishi Minami have also been granted positions as a safe measure. Other than priority idols, however, most of the spotlight has been firmly placed on AKB’s next generation. Team B and Team 4 are now fully led by idols under 20 years of age, and the inclusion of Team 8’s strongest idols shows management’s willingness to take advantage of popularity wherever they can find it.
This may have been a troublesome time to announce a shuffle, but it presents a clearer (although still somewhat unbalanced) vision of AKB than did last year’s. There is still no announcement as to when these changes will take place, but they’ve certainly done a great job of getting people to talk about AKB. The cracks in AKB’s hype machine become more and more visible each day, and while this shuffle won’t solve the core problems afflicting the group it’ll be enough to keep AKB running for now. As far as AKS is concerned, that’s the only thing that matters.