Hello! Morning 259/260 – Viyuden

Filed in Cult of Pop 1.0

Part Seven. At last, we come to the May 22nd H!P Shill and Live Performance segments, this time starring Viyuden. Yuko is back as host after last week’s absence. To imagine somebody else running the shill sequences, whether it’s this setting or Hello Pro News, is possible… but do we really want that? This role keeps Yuko as a visible center of Hello! Morning, a reminder that she has a stature no one else has in the collective (with the exception of Tsunku).

A pink bunny enters, pushing a cardboard box. So of course I think it must be Eri in the costume… But it isn’t, since Eri pops out of the cardboard box. Or rather, Eric Kamezou, the better of Eri’s H!P shill personalities.

What makes Eric preferable to Elise? First, it’s a Momusu in drag – and a Momusu in drag is always a good thing, going back at least to the “I Wish” PV and especially applying to “Mr. Moonlight”. Second, there’s something more… odd… about Eric, a better fit for Eri’s own oddness. Elise is flighty and a bit more submissive, while Eric seems to inhabit a world of his own at times.

Somehow, sexy poses are requested of the Viyuden girls. Erika is the first to do so, looking very sexy just by being herself.

I love Erika. I still wish she had joined Morning Musume instead of becoming a member of Viyuden, because she’d be such a perfect fit there. That said, she’d just blend in with the others – here she plays a clearer, more distinct role. Or perhaps a negative role: not the sexy leader, not the chesty one.

Erika’s pose is indeed lovely and sexy. From another angle, though, with the big pink bunny standing behind her, it looks more like something out of The Shining

Yui is next and she does look sexy…

And then the pink bunny strikes her own sexy pose, which must be a turn-on for somebody out there.

At this point, Yuko is laughing hard – so that’s a dead giveaway of who’s under the suit, if nothing else. It’s hard to send Yuko into such hysterics.

The bunny strikes another, more ridiculous pose.

Erika is asked to shill the new Viyuden CD single, and given a red scarf to help. She does a decent job of it, though it seems she and Yui still grow easily flustered when asked to show initiative. I remember how they couldn’t stop giggling in front of Ishibashi and Nakai on Utaban last year for the H!P All-Stars visit.

They’re more comfortable here on home turf, even goofing off as they did with their sexy poses. And they certainly know how to do really hot photobooks. But can they handle comedy? (I haven’t seen the past couple weeks of Hello! Morning so there may be a surprise for me there.) Are they even aiming for comedy, or will that be Rika’s domain alone? It’s clear now why Rika is the frontwoman, or why this team was chosen for her.

Eric then breaks out the maracas – it’s time to dance! Eric dances with the pink bunny first, then Yui and Erika join them as they dance in a circle around Yuko.

Eric leaves with the pink bunny, but the pink bunny returns and takes off her head – surprise surprise, it’s Rika! Ahh… she couldn’t stay away, could she? That makes her either a responsible leader for her unit or an egomaniac. Most likely, both.

But that adds a whole other dimension to the bunny poses, doesn’t it? If it was Rika in a bikini, those really would be sexy poses? Or Rika in anything, for that matter. Maybe I shouldn’t dwell on it too much, less giant bunnies suddenly become more attractive in everyday life.

With the shill segment over, we cut to the live performance of Viyuden’s new single, “Ajisai Eye Ai Monogatari”. It’s an okay song, but will take time to grow on me.

The girls perform what looks to be standard Viyuden moves. The same way W has their own set of moves, often circling each other and taking turns in the spotlight, and Morning Musume has their moves, which is a bunch of arm movements and easy steps, Viyuden are fast developing their own signature steps that are a kind of default. It involves some bending forward in synch, standing behind each other to form a line, and letting Rika take center stage just a little bit more than Yui and Erika.

Rika is a wonderful leader. I’ve said this several times already, but think also of the balance in the group. Since Rika isn’t a very strong singer, she needs to share her lines with the others equally. As a result, she can dominate the group as leader but is also dependent on the others to make the actual songs work. Rika may be the face of Viyuden, but she’s not the voice. Hopefully, an interesting group dynamic will develop – there’s hints of it already, but it needs more work. A full-time Rika may make the difference.

Viyuden has my favorite H!P song of the year so far, “Kacchoii Ze! Japan”, which means I’m now willing to give them the benefit of the doubt – something I didn’t do after the first single, “Koi no Nukegara”. I’m also now more open to Berryz Koubo, with “Special Generation” unexpectedly rocking my world when it came out…

It’s a strong live performance, a decent song with solid enough choreography. At the end of this episode, some Polaroids are shown of the trips to Hokkaido and Okinawa, as well as of the glasses blown and musical instruments decorated.

So. Having spent the past two weeks looking at these two episodes, what conclusions can be reached?

Morning Musume is no longer as central to Hello! Project as it once was. I’d said it before but the new Momusu has less starpower than Viyuden, W, Nochiura Natsumi – and appparently risks being outsold by Berryz Koubo.

The line-up of this year’s shuffle groups is further proof of the shift in focus. Only three of the current Momusu are involved, and one of the shuffle groups is composed entirely of older H!P singers and not a single person from the new line-up. Two of the newer groups, Viyuden and Berryz, are about to have their own concert tours. W just had their first musical. H!P in general is more exciting than Morning Musume in general even after you account for the line-up changes and their first strong single in six months.

The new Morning Musume needs to step up if they’re going to be as exciting as past incarnations. With the exception of Reina and Mikitty’s roles, the best parts of the trips involved Gen Four, three of whom are graduated members and present only as “tour guides”. It’s difficult to imagine how this trip would have been as fun if W and Rika weren’t around – it would’ve been more of a travelogue than a shining example of Hello! Project wackiness.

It’s not like Morning Musume isn’t without entertaining personalities – that said, the personalities with the most potential are Gen Six. Mikitty’s playing more of a role, Reina’s always fun to watch if left to her own devices, and Eri’s a bit of a freak who would benefit from being freakier. Meanwhile, Koharu’s slow preparation as the miracle ace has a dramatic arc all its own, a seventh gen who may take some of the spotlight away from the quieter members of H!P (Risa, Takitty, Konno)…

It’ll be great to see how the summer goes for Hello! Project. Will a Momusu-less shuffle group succeed on its own merit? Will Koharu fulfill her expected role? Will Eri become stranger and thus more fun to watch in her H!P shill sequences? Will Rika become even more of a force to be reckoned with, now that she’s got Viyuden as her sole responsibility? We can only stay tuned.