Hello everybody, guest contributor TheNumber244 here to bring you up to date with the new month of Hello! Project rankings. With only one proper release on the schedule for March, it’s pretty clear who is perched atop the rankings for the month. Still unseen on the rankings is Tsubaki Factory, who released an indie mini-album in March titled “Tsubaki Factory SOUND + VISION Vol.1” during the Satoyama/Satoumi/HinFes event mid month. Having not heard the release myself, I can’t tell you much about it other than it contains their previous singles, “Seishun Manmannaka!” and “Kedakaku Sakihokore!”, and covers of “17sai” by Moritaka Chisato and “Cabbage Hakusho ~Haru Hen~” by Peaberry.
Speaking of the HinaFes, the events of March centered around “Hello! Project Hina Fest 2016” on March 19 and 20 at Pacifico Yokohama. Coinciding with the Satoyama/Satoumi event at the same venue, HinaFes has become a sort of “Spring Road Show” for the Projects as the groups showcase their upcoming Spring singles. Solo and small group performances with participants decided completely by lottery add a specialness to the performances as the member combinations can be completely unpredictable yet surprisingly sensical. Spread among the four performance dates this year we got solo performances from Juice=Juice’s Takagi Sayuki, Morning Musume ’16’s Fukumura Mizuki, Kobushi Factory’s Ogawa Rena, and Angerme’s Wada Ayaka. The small group performances brought us “trugranful” with Miyamoto Karin, Tamura Meimi, and Nakanishi Kana; “AAAa” with Uemura Akari, Suzuki Airi, Haga Akane, and Hamaura Ayano; “Tsubomi Factory” with Taguchi Natsumi, Nomura Minami, Niinuma Kisora, Inoue Rei, and Kamikokuryo Moe; and “6 Pack” with Katsuta Rina, Ogata Haruna, Yajima Maimi, Kishimoto Yumeno, Ishida Ayumi, and Kudo Haruka.The success of the event warranted another HinaFes in 2017, so I’ll see you next March when I describe the next set of lottery-chosen performances.
And with HinaFes 2016 out of the way,
Rankings come on!
|Country Girls||(+3)||With the only release of the month, Tsugunaga Momoko and company shouldn't be surprised to find themselves in the penthouse of the Projects. But with 41,557 first week units sold, "Boogie Woogie LOVE / Koi wa Magnet / Ranrarun ~Anata ni Muchuu~", the group finds itself at the head of the new class of Hello! Project groups. The sales figure proved enough to place the group at number two on the Oricon weekly ranking. To put that into a bit of perspective, with this new release Country Girls now compete on equal footing with both Angerme and Juice=Juice, idols who have been a part of the H!P roster for much longer than the upstart group. One could perhaps argue that the Girls, while certainly placing great for their most recent release, still show volatility in their sales figures and a true assessment of their sales capability can't be assessed without at least one more release. All I know is that right now I'm completely over the moon on Country Girls, which puts me right next to the elegant Yamaka Risa sitting on the crescent-shaped, cheese-filled satellite.
I think that a bigger story lurking just below the surface of Country Girls is the leadership of Tsugunaga Momoko. Momochi admits to providing a liaison between the younger girls and management. She also decides on her own when and which bits information should be shared with her group-mates. With Morto Chisaki's "Greeting" DVD, we even saw Momochi on-shoot coaching the young idol, providing her with reassurances, and lending confidence. If the group appears harmonious, this is in a large part due to Momoko's skill. If the group seems more media savvy than expected, you can put some blame on Momoko. And, if the group performs more skillfully than other groups with similar experience, Momoko probably brought out and honed the inborn talent. How far can their Playing Manager take this group? How much longer can Momochi play idol? These are the questions of the day for Country Girls.
|Juice=Juice||(=)||With the conclusion of their "Budokan" drama, Juice=Juice wrapped up a period of activity than finds them at their apex. Unbeknownst at the outset, "Budokan" unflinchingly portrayed a wota fan-base of single and hapless middle aged men, a fan base easily swayed by the quickly shifting trends in online forums, a management company (with the lol-worthy name Green Up!) that opportunistically preys upon the insecure fan base, and human idols trapped by a love ban and other codes imposed upon them. I don't want to spoil the ending, so I'll stop right here. Suffice it to say that a bitter-sweet ending awaits at the conclusion as well as a prediction on the fate of the idol industry as a whole.
"Juice=Juice Live Mission 220" continued in strength during March. The second leg of their tour "～Code2→NEXT to YOU～" made 8 stops in the month and wrapped in Kanagawa on March 27. Of course, Juice=Juice don't see much rest between legs: their 3rd leg, titled "～Code3→Growing!～" began less than a week later in Ishikawa. The Juicers hinted at a completely new set list for this third leg, which will wrap in June. Looking at their schedule, this leg of their tour with the concurrent "～Code3 Special→Growing Up!～" looks particlarly demanding as the girls typically make three stops over three days during the weekend for this tour. Onward and upward to Budokan (for real), unless exhaustion catches up with them first.
|C-ute||(+3)||Here's where things get a little mucky. From this point, none of the groups did too much to distinguish themselves. Hey, I get it: the HinaFes requires oodles of prep time for the groups and the small group mixes. The next set of singles are just a month away, and the necessary preparations need to be made. Concert tours need rehearsal. Who has time to fuss with the Power Rankings of some guy in California?!
C-ute distinguish themselves from the rest by virtue of their upcoming single, "Naze Hito wa Arasoun Darou? / Summer Wind / Jinsei wa STEP!" due on April 20. From the previews, the songs are a departure for C-ute. This go-around, Yajima Maimi and company tackle some soul-inspired sounds and a jazzy shuffle. The sound is far removed from the hard rocking sounds of "Arashi wo Okosunda Exciting Fight!" in their last single. I see the 29th single as a risk. When one experiences success, the pressure to repeat that success weighs heavily, leading to attempts to repeat using similar formulas and sounds. With this left turn, we'll see whether C-ute and their loyal fans are flexible enough to handle a diversity of arrangements or if they really just want more of the same.
|Morning Musume '16||(-3)||Riding high from their overseas performance in Houston, TX, the girls of Morning Musume '16 charge into the Power Rankings at …. Number 4. OK, the girls didn't completely fall asleep in March. The new "~Emotion in Motion~" tour officially kicked off on March 12, and the girls executed 12 performances during the month. Seeing as the tour begins the post-Sayashi Riho era, the girls need to prove they can get along without their longtime ace. How will the group get along? From what I saw in Houston, the group will get along with equal parts Fukumura Mizuki, Ishida Ayumi, Sato Masaki, and Oda Sakura.
Two events loom on the horizon for the group. First, Morning Musume '16's 61st single, "Tokyo to Iu Katasumi / The Vision / Utakata Saturday Night (Kari)" has a release date on May 11, making the single the last release of the Hello! Project cycle. Reviews from the HinaFes performance of "Tokyo to Iu Katasumi" from HinaFes sounded mostly positive for the guitar heavy track. Less positive were the opinions on the song's pastel stripe outfits. The single's importance is twofold; this is the first post-Riho single and the last Suzuki Kanon single. As for the second event on the horizon, well that's Suzuki Kanon's graduation on May 31st. That's two graduation singles in a row for Morning Musume. Will the loss of another senpai member destabilize the group to the point of breaking? We shall see.
|ANGERME||(=)||ANGERME remains even despite the positive reviews from the HinaFes performance of their next single. The song previewed HinaFes, "Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku" sees the girls again executing an intense sound with more of a touch of the electronic. Think "Otome no Gyakushuu" trading the baroque instrumentals for a driving dance beat and you have a good idea about "Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku". Really, this makes Wada Ayaka's group a hard luck case since the group built anticipation for their next release, yet the group didn't rise in the Power Rankings. Making things even cloudier, "Tsugitsugi Zokuzoku / Itoshima Distance / Koi Nara Tokku ni Hajimatteru" hits stores just one week after C-ute's 29th single. But, expectations still run high: Angerme's single sales float on the surging wave generated by with last year's "Taiki Bansei". Anticipate more news and PVs for this new release as they trickle in through Hello! Project Station over the next few days.
This brings us to the final item on the ANGERME agenda: Tamura Meimi. The little dracula baby of the group leaves the idol world on the final date of ANGERME's Spring "Kyuui Ittai" Tour. This means that ANGERME will also experience two straight graduation singles. The pressure is now on high for new members Murota Mizuki, Aikawa Maho, Sasaki Rikako, and Kamikokuryo Moe as they will soon be asked to pick up an even more slack on the tightly strung ANGERME ship. And much like we asked for Morning Musume: will ANGERME, who finally stabilized into a power group in the projects, be able to survive the loss of two senpai members?
|Kobushi Factory||(-3)||Here in the cellars of the Projects, there's not a whole lot going on. Even though "Sakura Night Fever / Chotto Guchoku ni! Chototsu Moushin / Osu! Kobushi Tamashii" proved a successful outing on the singles chart, Kobushi Factory has not done much to capitalize. In fact, the only noteworthy item coming from the Factory in March was notice of Inoue Rei's graduation from Oha Suta. Come April 1, we won't be able to see the girl on our favorite morning children's program. We can talk about whether another H!P will slide into the next Oha Suta unit, but that doesn't really have much to do with Kobushi Factory. Lucky for Hirose Ayaka and co., the group will embark on their Spring 2016 "~The Cheering Party!~" tour in mid-April. For the young group, the schedule seems ambitious as it keeps the Factory Girls on the road until mid-July. It's not Juice=Juice grueling, but for a young group the itinerary could be demanding. Then again, if you've seen any of Kobushi Factory's live performances you know the girls are up to the task.
Like always, you’re free to disagree. In fact, please disagree! That’ll give us something to talk about! You can give me an earful in the comments below, my personal twitter, or the New School Kaidan Twitter. Don’t forget to visit my blog at TheNumber244 where I’m looking obsessively at Kyouka from Yumemiru Adolescence (ahem) body of work. Until next time!