Momusu and Yaguchi on Utaban

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Finally had a chance to watch the April 28 episode of Utaban with Morning Musume doing their latest single, a tribute to Ishikawa Rika before she graduates, and a special message from Yaguchi Mari about her resignation. Yagu’s message was even subtitled by the fine folks at HPS and Hello! Tracker, as this continues to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma and many fans are eager to learn as much as possible.

In a career retrospective for Momusu graduate Rika, the focus was on various bits of playful geino torture that Ishikawa was a victim of on Utaban. This included the memorable balloon contests, where Momusu members would be scared shitless by a ballon over-inflating and popping. Ahh, good times…

Ishikawa’s never been a favorite of mine, but I’ve grown to like her a great deal. She’s one of the most career-minded of the Morning Musume girls – certainly one of the most bankable, based on tax records – and seems second only to Gocchin for her determination to make something of herself in the idol world. I’m glad to see her graduate, but only because it’s clear she’s moving on to better things for herself.

The general consensus among fans is she’s pretty and cute and wacky but doesn’t have much of a voice. A solo career was out of the question for her, not without embarassing herself vocally. (That said, I actually like her solo version of “Morning Coffee”.) Viyuden – or Biyuden (I find myself switching between the spellings for some reason) – is a great showcase for her, making the most of her talent and letting her be leader of her own unit. The best part is seeing how she’s become a stronger personality as a result of being in Viyuden – more mature and feminine, less Charmy and girlishly silly.

She’ll always be an idol – no less and, most likely, no more. But that’s more than most people ever get.

Apparently, the Utaban employee who escorted Amuro Namie and Mariah Carey a couple weeks back is a huge fan of Rika, as there’s a montage of scenes between him and Rika. Sort of. It’s really this guy mooning over Rika from a distance or expressing his approval of her whenever Ishabashi and Nakai ask him.

This episode, as a special graduation event, he was apparently going to get a wish-come-true – an actual kiss from Rika. Nakai has to cover his eyes, however, as the lights dimmed and everyone stepped to the front of the stage…

… Then the camera cuts to this fine-looking gentleman, off to the side…

… who walks over and kisses the Rika fan, then walks off again. It was an incredible scene. A man getting kissed by another man – heck, what fella hasn’t had that experience at least two, three, twelve times in his life? The incredible part was the matter-of-fact aplomb of the kisser, as if he was just placing an order for copier paper, then going on to his next office task. That was slick – and very funny.

Here’s the Ishikawa otaku talking to Ishabashi and Nakai, while his secret kisser waits on the other side of the stage. The girls have gone apeshit over this gag, which I guess is to be expected.

What I like about this is the utter contempt displayed for an overzealous Morning Musume fan. In true Utaban fashion, somebody had to be slapped in the face – figuratively, most of the time – and it was the dedicated Ishikawa fan, not Ishikawa herself. To me, at least, that’s perfectly fitting, as I first learned to respect Ishikawa when an audio clip was released of her backstage during a concert, making fun of fans who were meowing when some other H!P performer onstage was encouraging them to do so. On the one hand, it seems rude – biting the otaku hand that feeds you. However, it also made sense – who wouldn’t make fun of a bunch of grown men meowing in unison? How can you deny that it’s a ridiculous behavior to indulge in, whatever the setting may be?

I mean, I do have my limits. I’ll kill for Hello! Project but I won’t make a jackass of myself. I love Momusu and I love W even more, but it’s a postmodern kind of love, an otaku-to-talento kind of love. And being aware of that helps keep reality in check. It’s possible to be starry-eyed and still have 20/20 vision, to put on a reasonably sane front even as you pine for some teenage girl who dresses in odd costumes for a living. I’m not going to meow or bark during a concert just because one of the girls is asking me to do so. This has nothing to do with self-respect – I try to have as little of that as possible – but of common sense and a hatred for herd mentality.

As for the Utaban gag, it may also be an implicit statement that the desperate fans who’re hopelessly infatuated with idols are actually closeted homosexuals who don’t know how to enter a real relationship. But perhaps I’m reading too much into a stupid joke by this point.

Oh, yeah, and the Momusu girls have a new single called “Osaka Koi no Uta” which they perform. Here’s Reina and some of the others performing the song.

“Osaka” continues to grow on me, and this is probably the last time we’ll see it with Yaguchi. It’s quite a benchmark, actually: the last Momusu song with Yaguchi and Ishikawa and, most likely, the last before the new girl joins in. (Assuming she does not go through an extended training period.)

I’m glad only one new girl has been added to the line-up. She’ll be forced to jump right in and adjust to the others, instead of the other way around. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for a very sexy Alo-Hello Photobook coming out in the near future for her.

After the song, there’s a special segment where Ishabashi and Nakai announce a special commentary from Mari regarding her resignation from Momusu. She was in the earlier segment, apparently taped before the scandal (as was the Momusu appearance on Music Fighter. In this commentary, Mari begins by introducing herself as “Morning Musume”, a habit she’s had all her adult life and still hasn’t quite kicked.

As expected, she says nothing new about her career choice: she thought long and hard about her decision to quit, took it very seriously, apologizes for those she upset – but doesn’t go into the details we’d really want to hear. Did Up-Front force her out or did she want to leave before the incident? Is she still a part of Hello! Project? If she’s continuing on to a solo career – starting over, as she says in her commentary – then what direction will she take? Still an idol, or perhaps more artistic? Does she expect Momusu fans to follow her no matter what?

Anyway, Mari then thanks the hosts of Utaban… sort of. She expresses sincere gratitude for their support, especially for Minimoni and her photobooks. She then thanks Ishabashi for being a father-figure to Morning Musume and showing up at their concerts and encouraging them. His reaction is priceless, and he even repeats it after the clip is played.

As for Nakai, she says that early on they weren’t very close and so she has… no memories… of him. She then goes on to ask Utaban to continue to support Morning Musume. Nakai is surprised and thoroughly annoyed at the send-off he receives. Ishabashi pretends nothing’s wrong.

I’m not sure if it was an elaborate joke, though certainly calling Ishabashi a father-figure is both a compliment and – for an idol-hound like him – a very sneaky insult. It would make sense that Mari would have the last laugh on Utaban‘s hosts, given her strong personality and all the silliness she put up with over the years. It’d be just like her to get her last licks in while she can.