Being a non-Japanese speaker in the idol fandom

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Yesterday the fandom was abuzz with everything SUPER GiRLS after the graduation of Yasaka Saori and the addition of 3 new girls into the group. And while I read people’s reaction to it, I sat there a little confused at what my own reaction was. To my surprise I didn’t feel anything I was expecting to feel, in fact I hardly felt anything at all. And the whole time I kept thinking to myself, ” Why?” I mean, I really like SUPER GiRLS. I’ve been following them since they released their very first PV, and I’ve been actively keeping up with them. So, why is it that I felt so apathetic? I then also started to think, did I even like them at all.

I have to say, first of all, I of course I do love the group. It’s just that at the same times it does feel like I’m not a fan at all. And I’ve been feeling that way about them for a while. And not really SUPER GiRLS alone, or in particular actually, I’ve been feeling this way about several groups. These feelings are surrounding by groups that aren’t, for lack of a better term, international fan friendly. And what I mean by that is, groups like SUPER GiRLS, Fudanjuku, YuiKaori, etc, that aren’t either insanely popular or are part of an established agency and therefore have a huge legion of foreign fans that subs and translate everything possible about a group or idol.

Fansubs and translations are basically the blood of the international fandom. I think it’s safe to say that about 7/10 (it maybe be more or less, it’s obviously impossible to know the real numbers) of the idol fandom doesn’t speak Japanese. Most of us, including myself of course, rely heavily on fansubs. But since there are way too many idols, not enough hours in the day, and not enough English/Japanese speaking fans, a lot of groups have hardly anything translated.

And because of that I kind of feel like I’m only 1/2 a fan of a lot of groups. When I like a group I like to absorb myself in them completely. I like to not only listen to their music and watch their concerts, but I like to know what each song is about. I like to know everything about them. I like to get to know a little bit about each member and then picked that one who’s got that something special that makes me go, “Yes, this is exactly my type of idol.” And then I like to put my full support in them.

As of right now a lot of my favorite idols are based on physical appearance or being drawn to how they perform in concerts or by the impression I get of them. And I really don’t like doing that because I think idols have a much broader appeal than cuteness. Take MomoClo for example, my initial oshi was Momoka. I thought she was this cute little spunky girl, and that was literally my basis for liking her. That was my oshi reasoning for a while. When I finally started to see some MomoClo subs happening I realized that Kanako was actually the member for me. I thought she was incredibly charming and I was drawn to her energetic and cheerful nature.

I think a much better example of this is with my Johnny’s initial oshis. With Johnny’s it was of course a lot easier to fall into picking members based solely on looks. And my initial oshis for each group were as follows: Ninomiya Kazunari, Akanishi Jin, Fujigaya Taisuke, Nakajima Yuto. And it was based on which  members I considered to be the most attractive. My favorites are now Aiba Masaki, Tanaka Koki (I know not a member anymore but he works for the point), Tamamori Yuta, Nakajima Yuto. My favorite member in JUMP is still Yuto but the point I’m making is really about my second favorite member Okamoto Keito. Now these are all members I never thought were even a little attractive. You don’t understand like I used to think a lot of silly things about them for completely shallow reasons.

But the thing is the moment I learned more about each group the more I could form actual opinions about the members and picked members for their personality. I was drawn to Aiba’s cheerful and playful nature, Koki’s funny side and the fact that he was incredibly sweet, Yuta’s airheadedness, and Keito’s awkwardness. Plus as I’ve said, I also do that thing where the more I like someone as a person the more physically attracted to them I become. I actually think all of my favorites are pretty gorgeous and can’t even believe there was a time that I didn’t.

To this day the only Johnny’s members that I liked initially that I am still a fan of are Nishikido Ryo, Nakajima Yuto, and Kawai Fumito. I’ve obviously always liked Ryo’s bluntness, it was perfect when I found out how energetic Yuto was, and the first time I came across Fumito was because of his impressions, so it’s always been personality from him.

And it’s because of this when people ask me who my favorite member of a certain idol group is a lot of the times I never feel 100% confident with my choice. Sure Maeshima Ami is probably one of the cutest idols that has ever existed, but does that mean she’d be my favorite SUPER GiRLS member? I do love how happy and energetic Mori Shiori is during Passpo concerts, but does that mean she’d be my type of idol? Hibi Mikoto has an incredibly adorable singing voice, but how do I know if she’s the best member of Dream5. And the list goes on and on.

And it’s not just not knowing everything about the members that bums me out, it’s not knowing what a song is about that also gets me down. When I hear a song on the radio for the first time it usually take me about 4 minutes to decide if I like it or not. But with idol songs it’s tricky, sometimes it takes me 4 months to decide if I like a song or not.

I obviously usually judge if an idol song is good initially by the music or how it’s sung. But that only really determines if the song is catchy or not, not really if it’s a good song or not. I have to wait for translations before I 100% can say, “hey, this is a great song.” There have been tons of times where I was super into a song and then read the translation and found out it was actually an awful song. Like I did with Berryz Koubou’s Ai no Dangan. Or how about the times where I was just not feeling the music or the way a song was sung and completely wrote it off until I read the lyric translation and found out it was actually a beautiful song? Like what I did with Passpo’s Sakura Komachi. Which is probably why I did not like Koisuru Fortune Cookie until I heard JKT48’s English version of the song. Since I instantly knew what the song was about I could make a connection to the song while I was listening to it.

And whenever I think of that I’m instantly transported back to school when I told one of my classmates that I like Japanese music. And instead of doing the first thing people usually do when you tell them this, which in my experience has been mocking, he did the second thing which was asking me, “How? You can’t even understand it.” My response was of course, “Yes, I can.” His retort was then a mocking tone of, “No you can’t.” The conversation then swiftly ended with me matter-of-factly saying, “Yes, I can.”

I of course didn’t have the time to explain to him, and quite frankly didn’t feel like explaining, that even though I couldn’t understand it I still could understand it. That you can find practically anything, within good reason, Japanese related you want either translated or subtitled if you knew where to look. And if you were willing to wait.

But having everything subtitled does make you a bit lazy to an extent, because my main complaint in this whole post could probably be solved if I just knew Japanese. I’ve been in the Japanese music fandom for many a years, September of this year actually marks my 10th year listening to Japanese music. You’d think I’d be able to speak it by now. But tons of circumstances have kept me from really attempting to. Most of my time was spent learning the language I was taught in school, which was Spanish, and because of that I had almost no motivation to learn another language. The fact that my mother would never allow me to have anything Japanese related for the longest time. Along with, of course, my own shear lazyness.

Nothing is really stopping me from learning it now, except the fact that it is an incredibly daunting task. Japanese is one of the hardest languages to learn. It’s a category V language, a language that is considered exceptionally difficult for native English speakers. And it apparently takes 88 weeks, or 2,200 class hours to learn. And that’s only to become proficient. I don’t dare to think how long it takes to become 100% fluent or native speaker level.

Maybe not knowing which idols favorite food is sweet potatoes, or not knowing which idol is funny, isn’t the biggest deal in the world. But at the same time it’s incredibly frustrating. I consider idol music to be one of my main hobbies. A hobby that includes many elements. I’ve got a new PV to watch practically every week, news to keep up with every day, dozens or so new concerts and albums a year, blogs and interviews to read, dramas, variety shows, movies, and miscellaneous other TV appearances. And I like that there’s so much going on that I’m never bored. But at the same time if I don’t understand what’s going on can I really enjoy it?

I know that there are a lot of fans out there that watch things raw and still enjoy it. That’s never been for me, and I don’t really understand how people can do that. If I don’t understand what’s going on it sucks all of the fun out. And it ruins it for when it does, if it does, get subbed. I’d honestly rather wait months or years for something to be subbed than to watch it without subs. Unless it’s something you don’t need subs for like music shows or Momusu’s recent Dokkiri.

I think being a non-Japanese speaker in the idol fandom is like being someone in the comic book fandom who has to read comics with half of the pages ripped out. It can certainly be done, and you can still wholeheartedly enjoy it, but it’s not really the same. And you never do get over the disappointment of knowing you’re missing out on something you see everyone else so easily enjoying. I guess for the time being us non-Japanese speaking idol fans have to just wait for the rest of the pages.

My thoughts on AKB48’s 5th Senbatsu election

AKB48By now I’m sure everyone is aware that a few days ago AKB48 announced their 5th Senbatsu elections. Most of the announcement was pretty similar to past Senbatsus. This year’s Senbatsu will take on June 8th during AKB48’s Super Festival concert. This Senbatsu is set to decide the lineup for AKB48’s 32nd single. However, even though this years’s election seems like more of the same a surprising , and equally shocking, twist was added, and that twist is incorporating a new candidacy system.

So, what exactly is this candidacy system all about? I’m glad you asked. This new system basically means that instead of every member of AKB48 and it’s sister groups automatically being included in the Senbatsu this year ant girl that wasnts to participate needs to submit a written notice to the election committee. Now, if that twist wasn’t enough for you there’s more. Beyond that they are also changing which members can participate. Along with the current members os AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, and HKT48 they are also including the girls who were moved to overseas sister groups. And in the biggest shock of all graduated members of AKB48 who were members for 4 years or more are now eligible to participate in this Senbatsu. Another small surprise is as of yet they haven’t made it clear if the Kenkyuusei can participate. So, it seems like Mii-chan fans might not be able to vote for her even if they wanted to. Unless they counter her as an AKB48 member of 4 years or more. But since she technically hasn’t graduated from AKB48, does it still count? I’m a little confused by that. And of course they also means other Kenkyuusei in general might not be about to participate.

Now that the facts are out of the way I can finally vent my feelings about this. When I first heard that graduated members are able to participate in the Senbatsu I was shocked to say the least. I literally gasped and said, “what?” in a genuinely stunned matter. But the initial shock wore off and was almost immediately replaced with anger. Not so much of rage filled anger, but more like anger out of annoyance. I guess I am more annoyed by this situation than anything else. I don’t understand the reason for including graduated members other than a cheap ploy to ensure that their 31st and 32nd singles sell a lot. I can see this latest gimmick maybe being record breaking sales, and in a big way.

Now, I’m usually a big fan of AKB48’s gimmicks. I usually marvel in the PR geniuses that are behind AKB48. But this latest gimmick doesn’t sit well with me, honestly it just seems desperate. And it makes me think I was right when I said AKB48 are going to reach their peak soon. And it seems like the people behind AKB48 are aware of that and are trying desperately to hold onto their high sales with more and more gimmicks lately. Why else did Eien Pressure come with B-sides for each sister group and not just the usual Team or Undergirls format? And why did So Long come with Team dramas? AKB48 is still selling over a million copies of each single so it seems almost far-fetched to say they are declining. But juts sit for a minute and ask yourself, without all the gimmicks how well would they really sell? Of course most idol groups use some gimmicks to sell. We see that with Morning Musume coming out with like 6 editions of singles and like 4 different B-sides lately. But AKB48’s gimmicks have always gone above and beyond that.

This current tactic is to just bleed wotas dry even more by enticing them with the chance to let their former favorite be in just 1 more single, and maybe even for the chance for them to be center. And I do admit it is a brilliant tactic because I know I would jump at the chance for Ryo-chan or Kusano to be in just one more NEWS single. Or to see KonKon, Koharu, Eri, Aika, or LinLin be a member of Morning Musume one last time. I might admit, and see, how much of a brilliant business tactic it is, but to me it’s still seems like AKB48 are really grasping at straws. And as much as I’d loved to see my beloved Ryo-chan or Kusano as a part of NEWS, it would probably cause more trouble than it’s worth.

Another interesting point to make is that it’s going to be extremely hard for the 100+ girls to battle it out for the measly 64 available positions in this single. And to make matters worse they now have to compete with former members. I’m sure it’s still going to be fairly easy for the extremely popular girls. But now it’s going to be near impossible for the unpopular members. It’ll even be difficult now for the secondary popular members. Former members had their chance to shine and now it’s the current girls chance/time. And even if former members didn’t get a proper chance to shine it still doesn’t make sense to steal the spotlight from the other girls. Which is probably why Acchan and other members have announced that they aren’t taking part. But so far 2 former members have confirmed their participating and members still have until April 7th to write in their candidacy. But I still question what was the point of graduating if you are just going to jump into a single again? I can accept members like Meetan trying again because of how quickly SDN48 was disbanded.

They only good aspect coming from this new candidacy system is that participation isn’t automatic. But even that is still a double edged sword. The Senbatsu is just heartache, pain, and disappointment to the unpopular girls. Those girls end up feeling worthless and feel like they let fans down for not ranking high enough or not ranking at all. At least now the girls can opt out of the pain. Because after all you can’t be hurt by ranking low if you’re not included at all. But at the same time I’m willing to bet the girls who feel like they aren’t worthy, good enough, or popular enough won’t even bother sending in their candidacy. And that’s juts incredibly sad. And the fans probably won’t let the girls who don’t participate live it down. Just last week Shinohara Kanna announced her graduation from NMB48 because during handshake events some fans questioned why she was a member of Team N and said that she was the reason N wasn’t moving forward. Which is just incredibly rough.

I guess there’s just nothing I like about this year’s Senbatsu. Which actually seems like an unpopular opinion because I see a lot of fans flipping out over this. But I’m just not one of them. Perhaps because I’m just a casual member. But it’s things like this that keep me casual. AKB48 has a lot of good points, but at the same time they have equal amount of bad points. No idol group is perfect, obviously. But like I said before I think once the main hype of AKB48 dies. down and some of the gimmicks fade, I might be able to appreciate the group more for what it is. Once they only sell around 500,000 copies I think the whole fandom, and the whole experience of AKB48, will be a lot more chill.

My thoughts on ManoEri’s graduation

A little over a week ago it was announced that Hello!Project’s sole soloist, Mano Erina would be graduating from Hello!Project. Mano Erina will graduate from Hello!Project on February 23, 2013 during H!P’s winter concerts. Erina stated her reason for graduating was so she could pursue her own potential and to broaden her abilities in singing and acting beyond what she has now.

This really is surprising news. I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming. I actually thought that ManoEri would stay with H!P for a while, because despite her singles not selling all that well she does get a decent amount of magazine work. I actually just recently said pretty much exactly that on H!O. I also said, “Because of that I doubt H!P would let her go anytime soon, so if she does graduate soon it will be because she wants to.” And of course I also said something about her only being 21 so she could be an idol for 4 or 5 more years. And I seriously must be cursed because everytime I say I don’t think an idol will graduate anytime soon, poof they announce their graduation. Weeks prior to Aika’s graduation I said on tumblr that people don’t realize Aika is only 19 and could still be an idol for 7 more years. And we all know how that went down.

I have to say, quite honestly, I am not that effected by ManoEri’s graduation because I wasn’t that big of a fan of hers. When I first heard the news I gasped and said, “Oh no.” That was honestly it. I’ve always had a love hate relationship with ManoEri, and I’ve had a lot of fun with her over the years. Saying that she looks like a rabbit and her singing voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard. All in good fun of course. But the truth is I did like her. I wasn’t and super huge fan, and I’m not going to claim to be because she’s graduating. I was always just a casual fan.

ManoEri started out in Ongaku Gatas which is another group I wasn’t that into. To be honest, I only listened to them because my beloved KonKon was a member. I remember thinking it was completely random to pull a memeber out of the group to go solo. But I gave her the benefit of doubt. However, when Mano Piano was released I was pretty much done. The chorus of that song was just so rough. Rough isn’t even a strong enough word. Let’s be honest, it was awful. After that I really didn’t listen to her solo stuff.

Once ManoEri went major I decided to give her another shot around the time her second single came out because I liked that it had a different sound and was more energetic. I actually liked it. But it still wasn’t enough for me. So I just became a fan who listened to her singles every once in a while.

It wasn’t until Genkimono de Ikou came out that I went, ok ManoEri is awesome. And after that I started to really like most of her past singles. But still just her singles. I think I’ve listened to her album songs a grand total of once. But I did start to follow her upcoming releases, which was more than I was doing before.

I’ve just realized that this entire post makes it seem like I don’t care at all she’s graduating. But that’s not the case. I do care, just not at the same level as someone like Aika or Koharu. I am still sad to see her go because I absolutely love Song For The Date, I think it was her best single ever in my opinion. I love the full on dance direction her music was going into with her past few singles and her More Friends Over album. It’s really a shame we won’t get to see what kinds of music she was going to make in the future. But since it’s August now I expect we’ll get 1 or 2 more singles and maybe even a final album before she graduates. I would have liked to here even more than that from her, but what are you gonna do?

I must also add, that losing an H!P girl is always a sad moment. Whether or not they are my favorites, there are always some reedeming quality about them. And with ManoEri it was her bright smile and who absolutely bubbly she was during concerts. I’m honestly going to miss that.

And as always, as a celebration to her, here are some of my favorite songs featuring ManoEri.