Guest Contributor @thenumber244 here with a look at the last month in Hello! Project land. That’s right: I take the last month of activity from the Hello! Project groups, feed the information to a highly evolved koala bear by embedding the printouts in eucalyptus leaves, and interpret the “output” into a highly subjective ranking of the groups.
February proved to be an interesting month as the project looked forward to the future and looked back at the career of one of its longest running groups. As I write this article, we are almost at the eve of Berryz Koubou’s final live performance, and many are waxing nostalgic for the group that brought many people to the world of idols.
As for the future, February was a strong month for the new groups. February also brought a name to the newest Hello! Project group. Berryz Koubou’s Shimizu Saki tells us she had input in the name “Kobushi Factory (こぶしファクトリー)”, and you can see the resemblance to name “Berryz Koubou” (Koubou = workshop which is close to factory, right?). The “Kobushi” part of the name can either mean “fist” or “magnolia”. Western fans latched onto the “fist” meaning already, but I’m interested in seeing how the multi-dimensionality of the name informs the personality of the group.
Those who really scrutinize Hello! Project names noticed that Kobushi Factory, as well as Juice=Juice, continue the alphabetical naming scenario. Regardless, “Kobushi Factory” is a much better name than “The Group with Hamachan (Hamaura Ayano)”. Like the Country Girls before them, the Kobushi Factory girls are slowly working their way through Hello! Station as MCs. Also, you can look forward to seeing Kobushi Factory in the Hello! Project Ranking once their activities begin to pick up pace.
With all the general news out of the way, let’s start the power ranking!
|ANGERME||(=)||Angerme owned all of Hello! Project in the beginning of February. The Angel Tears' month started with the release of their double A-Side "Taiki Bansei / Otome no Gyakushuu". HaroWota tracked the sales carefully as the release spent most of the week in the number 2 and number 1 positions on the Daily Rankings. By the time the week finished, "Taiki Bansei/Otome no Gyakushuu" sold 43,104 during its first week. The sales numbers earned the single the number 2 position for the Weekly Oricon Singles Rank. This makes the debut of 3rd generation
Along the way to Oricon success, Angerme utilized magazine interviews and profiles, subway posters, and a huge billboard in Shibuya. These are the standard tactics, but their employ signify a commitment from Up Front to promote the group to its greatest extent. The S/mileage of old have not seen this kind of support in quite a while. The group formerly known as S/mileage have a new lease on life, and the girls all know it.
Along with the rest of Hello! Project, Angerme kept a low profile as February wore on. The most likely reason for the silence in the Projects is the Berryz Kobo indefinite hiatus. All Hello! Projects groups performed during the "Berryz Matsuri", the two day extravaganza on the weekend of February 28th meant to celebrate and savor the last moments of Berryz Kobo. Angerme performed "Taiki Bansei as part of the road show and "Ryusei Boy" as their Berryz Kobo cover. Put together, the two songs do not sound too far apart from each other with their fresh, funky sounds. Perhaps this signals a direction change for the group, maybe not.
In a progressive move for the Projects, Angerme began tweeting at @angerme_526 on February 22nd. Twitter accounts is something new for Hello! Project, as none of the girls have an official account. Instead, the Projects favor blogs at ameblo.jp with only occasional forays into the Twittersphere. The Twitter account will remain active until May 26th, when Angerme perform their second solo live at Nippon Budokan.
|Berryz Koubou||(+1)||The month of February looked to some like a long wave goodbye to Berryz Kobo. As you might suspect, much of the group's final activities are fan centered. While these items don't make great news copy, it reminds us all how important fan participation has been to Saki, Momoko, Chinami, Maasa, Miyabi, Yurina, and Risako. Early in the month, the girls took a trip to Thailand to say goodbye to their fans in that county. Remember, two of Berryz Kobo's best hits, "Cha Cha Sing" and "Loving You Too Much" were covers of Thai songs, and this trip was not coincidental.
The girls also said goodbye to the well-used Nakano Sun Plaza with a live performance. For their many performances at the venue, the group received a special certificate from Nakano Ward. I imagine this is akin to receiving the keys to a city, right? Berryz Kobo also held their final bus tour in Okinawa mid February. The weekend trip provided fans with their last "up close and personal". Seriously, who could resist events like "Lion Clay making with Momochi", "Lunch time with Saki", or "Berryz Karaoke Party" with Miyabi"? This event proved so attractive and so special that the Tower Records CEO participated as a fan.
In the final weekend of the month, all of Hello! Project participated in a special two day live event called "Berryz Kobo Matsuri" at Ariake Coliseum. As of writing, the set list for the first day of the festival has been out on social media. The concert was a robust 4 hours and 10 minutes and featured 46 songs. Every H!P group, from Morning Musume '15 to Kobushi Factory performed a cover of a Berryz Kobo song, and Berryz performance units Berikyuu, ZYX, Aa!, DIY, Guardians 4, and High King got reunion performances. The biggest Berryz sub unit of all, Buono!, performed a 6 song set (which has this writer salivating).
The final live is around the corner. Prepare for the Berryz Kobo mass catharsis.
|Morning Musume '15||(-1)||In long-awaited new, the first single from Morning Musume '15 finally has a release date. "Seishun Kozou Naiteiru / Yuugure wa Ameagari / Ima Koko Kara" will hit the streets on April 15th. The triple A-Side (of course) looks to put the group atop the weekly rankings on the merits of two Tsunku compositions and the theme song to the Pretty Cure movie "PreCure All Stars Haru no Carnival". For those skeptics, remember that the Pretty Cure began in 2004, making the franchise a well-loved 11 year-old property. You might also remember that "Pretty Cure Max Heart Movie 2" used Berryz Koubou's "Gag 100-Kaibun Aishite Kudasai" as its ending theme.
Most would agree singing the theme song to a long running anime series seems like a good idea to get the group off and running. Personally, I giggled at the thought of MoWota furiously researching Pretty Cure until I realized that I, too, needed to research a magical girl anime (not the Urobuchi Gen kind or magical girl).
Further opportunity comes with the Pretty Cure tie-in in the form of voice actor roles for Morning Musume '15's Iikubo Haruna, Ishida Ayumi, and Oda Sakura. The three girls will voice fairy characters of their own design. I don't know whether any of these girls want to pursue acting in any capacity, but I do know Haruna has her sights set on the "Jojo's Bizarre Adventure" franchise. Maybe she can make it work? The entire group will appear in a live action ending performance of "Ima Koko Kara" with the Pretty Cure characters. My research tells me the ending dance sequences for these movies are traditionally CG, so Morning Musume '15's live action performance is an unprecedented first for the franchise.
Those of us who worry over Tsunku and his diminishing role in Hello! Project can rejoice that the remaining two songs on the 58th single are Tsunku creations. As yet, I haven't heard of any previews for either "Seishun Kozou Naiteiru" or "Yuugure wa Amegari". I expect to start hearing previews of the songs by mid-March. At that point the Morning Musume publicity machine will switch into high gear. We'll see what this does to March's power rankings.
|C-ute||(=)||Because of the Berryz Koubou celebration, the rest of Hello! Project stood by on the sideline. Modestly, C-ute announced their 27th single release, the triple A-side ""Tsugi no Kado wo Magare / GamushaLIFE / The Middle Management ~Josei Chuukan Kanrishoku~". Almost immediately, "The Middle Management" has haro wota dreaming of an OL (office lady) cosplay PV and Maimi, Saki, Chinami, Airi, and Mai wearing office appropriate blazers and power skirts.
If you follow songwriters and composers, you would notice that "Tsugi no Kado wo Magare" is written by Nakajima Takui, who last brought H!P the Angerme powerhouse "Taiki Bansei". This writer finds the previews of "Tsugi no Kado wo Magare" powerful and exciting. You can hear/see a concert performance of the song for yourself on the February 25th Hello! Station.
|Country Girls||(=)||Country Girls get a slight edge on Juice=Juice this month by the continued love affair with Shimamura Uta. It seems even the other members of the Project find Uta irresistible. I know I can't be the only one looking forward to the Iikubo Haruna/Uemura Akari/ Shimamura Uta trio performance. That's a team worth fighting for!
Oh, there's also the March 25th release date for "Itooshikutte Gomen ne / Koi Dorobou" coming fast. As yet, we do not have a PV for either song. I don't know if this spells trouble for the girls; the release is a scant four weeks away and we only have concert rips and radio rips of the songs. If we don't see PV in the March 4th edition of Hello! Station, my threat alert will rise to DEF CON 3 (Round House).
OK, maybe I should calm down with pictures of Shimamura Uta doing cute things. Ah, that's better.
|Juice=Juice||(=)||I have to admit: I'm concerned about Juice=Juice. I understand the group needed to catch its breath after the practically back-to-back releases "Black Butterfly / Kaze no Fukarete" and "Senobi / Date ja nai yo Uchi no Jinsei wa", but I think enough has been enough. Let's put the Juicers out there and see what they are made of! The April 8th release "Wonderful World / Ça va? Ça va?" will really expose the character of the group. Will the Juicers rise up from their decreasing sales? Or, will the Juicers content themselves to ride along in the side car of Hello! Project?
Elsewhere, Miyamoto Karin repays Morning Musume for lending Ishida Ayumi to fill her spot in the dance shots of "Ijiwaru Shinai de Dakishimete yo". Speaking as a fan, I'm thrilled to get a chance to see Karin with Morning Musume and play the "what could have been" game. As far as Juice=Juice's bottom line is concerned, this guest spot might bring interest in the group as the uninitiated ask "Who's that girl?".
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 visit me at my main blog The Number 244, where I I can talk the hell out of the virtues of Angerme’s “Taiki Bansei“.