The Science of Hello! Project: Berryz Koubo Rage Against the Celeb Machine

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

In Hello! Project’s future… machines will work as bouncers for pre-teen pool parties!

And in this particular case, I will be mildly jealous of such machines.

I love Berryz Koubo now, but it took a while for me to come around. A long while, actually. I ignored them for their first year or so of existence, deeming them too "kiddy" in their sound. And then "Special Generation" knocked me for a loop, it was just so effin brilliant, as I began wondering more about these girls. And I found out their earlier singles were pretty damn catchy – not childish, but having the exuberance of youth with strong hooks and catchy melodies.

Now, I’d say they’re my favorite H!P group currently… At least, I find myself more prone to listen to their recent singles than current Morning Musume or even W or Viyuden ("Hitorijime" just didn’t do it for me).

"Fighting Pose Date wa ja nai" is the second single from Berryz, but is certainly one of their finest songs. It mixes oldies rock motifs with bits of kiddie sounds to good effect, upbeat and a little corny but undeniably infectious and fun.

The PV begins with the girls in the dance sequence, sporting their fighting togs, striking up poses, and then quickly cuts poolside. We know it’s a happening place because… um… girls are walking back and forth in front of the camera. Beehive of activity and all that.

At least their legs aren’t as skinny stringbean as SweetS’ Haruna… though it’s pretty damn close. 

Miyabi and Maiha are speaking to Risako and Saki. They have big, big drinks – I’m guessing one of those artificially-flavored, artificially-colored concoctions would be enough to feed the Berryz for a week. I’d also hazard that just a shot glass’ worth drop of Jack Daniels in that concoction would be enough to have the girls pass out for a week, but we won’t follow that line of thought…

How did the girls get to this pool party, though? Well, we see Saki, Risako, Yurina, and Chinami – also known as my three favorite, plus Saki – in an orange, cubic-stucco room, trying out outfits and putting on make-up.

The machine asks that timeless question in impeccable "All Your Base Are Belong To Us" Engrish:

And that’s the dirty secret of the pool party: they must prove their worth to enter.

Risako. The first Berryz I recognized, still my favorite. That said, the more I like Berryz, the more other girls catch my attention.

Like Yurina. My second favorite Berryz, looking playful in this shot. Risako’s the youngest, Yurina’s the second youngest – and currently the tallest, as well as the most clearly vocally talented and the one with the best shot genetically to become a stunning teenager in another year or three.

Back in the orange room, Risako remarks on how three of Saki can be fit into that shirt…

Actually, the girls aren’t really tring on the outfits and aren’t really putting on more make-up. That should be a hint of what’s to follow…

Risako is the first to skitter over to the Celeb Machine to gain approval…

 She’s happy and ready…

 Strikes the double-V idol pose… and is rejected.

Disappointed, Risako turns her peace sign to a UK version of flipping the bird.

Saki tries something unusual, and gets rejected.

I won’t tell you what that pose reminds me of.

Yurina makes her own attempt at a double-Peace sign, this time accentuating her pretty eyes. Doesn’t work.

Chinami attempts a Sears back-to-school catalog pose. That doesn’t take either.

The girls get back to the drawing board, applying more make-up. Or pretending to.

Risako during the dance sequence – she sure likes to wear sports caps, doesn’t she? I wonder if she ever runs into Irie Saaya while shopping for them?

Back at the Celeb Machine, Yurina takes a cue from rhythm gymnastics and tries a prop. It doesn’t work.

Risako attempts a come-hither pose, and is the first to get a CLEAR!!!. She runs off before it changes its mind.

In an homage to the Profumo Scandal, Saki decides to pose with a chair and gets the thumbs-up – that is, if the Celeb Machine had thumbs…

We then see Risako and Saki walking around the pool, which is otherwise empty. Apparently, when one is CELEB enough, one may go to the pool.

Yurina tries another prop, this time a tennis racket. She also wears a floppy yellow sun hat… and she clears!

She runs poolside to join the others.

Miyabi and Maiha… but why are they wearing the gloves from their dance outfits?

They strike a fighting pose – punching the Celeb Machine!

Think about this: there are two separate H!P PVs devoted to machines that approve appearances. It’s most likely a coincidence, but the "progress" of the technology is unmistakeable – this Celeb Machine may be more black-and-white in its assessment (more binary, if you will) than the Tanpopo Beauty Mirror, but it’s also a more imposing hunk of metal. It plays gatekeeper to a kind of paradise (that is, if you like patios) and thus holds greater weight in these girls’ lives…

And while the Tanpopo girls were overjoyed by the approval of their machine, the Celeb Machine provokes ridicule and resistance in the Berryz girls! If Tanpopo depended on an outdated, retreo futurism that posited a benign technology that serves as handmaids, the Berryz girls face a harsher kind of technology, one that imposes standards and punishes as much as rewards. It only seems right that they rage against this machine in their own, cute way. The future of Tanpopo’s beauty mirror was the New Frontier; the future the Celeb Machine represents is HAL of 2001.

In the dance sequence, all the girls look appropriately defiant. Superheroic, even. The fanboy in me thinks this could’ve been drawn well by, say, George Perez.

And deserves a battle cry. So if Avengers Assemble and Titans Together, then Berryz… Beat ‘Em Up?

No.

Berryz… Baste!

No.

Anyway, at the pool party, Risako and Saki are reading either Judy Blume, Anais Nin, or the menu.

Again with the lower halves of Berryz walking by, we see Yurina toasting with Chinami poolside… Wait a minute! Chinami?

Something’s afoot. And a leg.

Back at the dance sequence, we’re being goaded into a fight by the monkey girl.

Ah, Momoko. I didn’t like her at first. Or rather, I found myself both fascinated and repulsed: her voice sounded strange, like she had something in her mouth. And she looked… well, I wasn’t sure if it was cute, but I could understand if people thought she wasn’t cute.

But now, I must confess: I think she’s fun. And I love this shot of Momoko. It looks like she’s really spoiling to kick your ass. "Come on, I’m ready for you!"

And perhaps it’s a signal to the Science Directive? For a careful reader of the PV, we see that Berryz’s resistance to the Celeb Machine may have elevated. The girls want to get to the pool party, but they’re willing to strike silly, distinctly Non-Celeb poses… to strike fighting poses, which after all are okay…

And then there’s the question of one of their number…

Chinami! How the hell did she get through? How come we didn’t see the Celeb Machine give her a CLEAR!!! Could it be because… she didn’t get approval? That she snuck in?

Not only that, she’s talking on a corded landline phone! A throwback to old fashioned phones? Doesn’t she have a handy or at least a wireless landline phone? Or is she saying something that she doesn’t want snatched from the airwaves?

Who could she be talking to, anyway? Perhaps… to the other four Berryz?

Because we now see the four other girls of Berryz now find themselves in the cubic stucco room, also ostensibly trying on outfits and putting on make-up.

Miyabi makes a sorta-cute face at the others as Momoko slaps her around some.

While a puzzled Miyabi looks on, Maiha has a tender moment with Momoko. Whether or not this is a hint of a Heavenly Creatures vibe, I won’t hazard to guess – just wanted to drop that into your imagination.

Again, we see Momoko looking ready to lash out.

Have I mentioned that Berryz songs are the ones most likely to get me dancing in my seat while I write? At least, those are the ones where my wife will catch my attention, I take off my headphones, and she points out I looked cute boogie-ing (the only person who’d think that, by the way).

Maiha takes her turn at the Celeb Machine…

And her tribute to Arthur Fonzarelli apparently doesn’t take.

Momoko takes her turn, striking a pose that seems to be part-mime, part-waitress.

Yurina makes plain her disdain for the Celeb Machine by striking a fight pose.

Miyabi also threatens the Celeb Machine with a Mister T-esque "I pity the fool" set to her mouth.

She walks off, disappointed at the rejection, and yet one must wonder…

Did it hurt more when she wasn’t made part of Aa! version 2?

The others are waiting for her, and she looks like she’s ready to be consoled. Perhaps they tell her that Megumi isn’t really more talented and it was just Tsunku’s whim to replace Miyabi like that.

Now, let’s consider some of the more overlooked Berryz. Chinami, who I think has the best smile of the group.

She’s also an odd one as she seems to have made the most willful attempt to grow up over the course of Berryz’s career. She’s become very tan, and sporting shorter, more mature-looking hair. I actually like her paler and younger-looking, but she’s certainly more distinct for trying a chibi ganguro effect.

There may be a reason, then, that it’s Chinami who seems to sneak past the machine. Maybe as the one who most wants to grow up, she’s also the one who’s most willing to break a rule or two.

Maiha, who’ll be leaving Berryz and H!P next month to focus on her schoolwork. She wasn’t one of the members I paid special attention to, but it’s sad to see a girl leave Berryz after a year and a half of the same eight girls. After all, that makes them one of the most stable groups in H!P history, staying together so long – it’s like they thought they were Melon Kinenbi or something.

The good news is that they won’t try to replace Maiha, who wasn’t one of the four co-lead vocals anyway. That said, will any more of the H!P Kids – in either Berryz or C-Ute – be graduating from H!P to better focus on their educations? It’s a topic I’d discussed earlier and probably will return to again. Whatever the case, I find it interesting – and even heartening – that the advantages of celebrity could be outweighed by a different set of values. That takes a certain kind of groundedness and even bravery.

Berryz leader, Saki, far and away the shortest of the group. One of life’s ironies, right?

Back at the Celeb Machine, Miyabi strikes a timorous sexy-ish pose, showing off arms that are even thinner than Tanaka Reina but perhaps beefier than that of SweetS…

But it works and she’s cleared!

Maiha and Momoko ponder a pair of hot pants, I think. I’m not sure what Momoko’s holding in her other hand, but it doesn’t look right for a girl her age.

Maiha seems to be applying more blush, though based on the actions here she’d be looking like a rodeo clown if there was indeed real make-up being applied.

Okay, okay – I think Momoko rocks. It’s taken me several dozen screencap pics to admit it, but she’s got personality and a distinctive voice and will probably blossom into one of H!P’s brightest lights of all time.

Unless the monkeys that birthed her return to take her home, that is.

Maiha strikes a kinda-sexy pose in a floppy sun hat. She goes through.

Maasa does a celeb-like lifting-the-sunglasses pose with a straight face. Another clear.

And Momoko strikes a very cute pose with a dish-like hat.

Risako and Saki in their fighting gloves…

It zooms in as Risako tries to punch Saki. Risako actually looks mad here, Saki looks… well, not scared or shocked, really.

But again, some rage. Idol hits idol! (Sorta.) Nothing is sacred.

Maasa and Momoko poolside, enjoying drinks that are most definitely not spiked with alcohol.

Because Berryz aren’t about that. Hinoi Team, maybe. But not Berryz.

And yeah, they both look pretty damn celeb here, I must admit.

I give Miyabi a hard time, but that’s because I don’t see how she became Tsunku’s darling in Berryz. Not when you’ve got Risako and Yurina around, at least – and Airi and Megumi in C-Ute.

That said, she actually looks really good in this video. She seems to go through growth spurts that change her face somewhat, but here she’s quite adorable. For Miyabi, that is.

Maiha and Miyabi sit poolside, looking at a magazine.

Yurina in the front, and she really didn’t get enough attention in this PV. Saki’s a bit in the background, but their relative heights are pretty accurately recreated here anyways.

Maiha and Miyabi laughing over something in the magazine. Could it be pictures of one of their senpai caught with a boyfriend? Perhaps carrying toilet paper or wearing a baseball cap down over their face? Who let an issue of Friday on the patio?

And of course, there’s the ultimate irony: those Charlie Brown-esque dance outfits would make the Celeb Machine explode if it ever had to judge them. Idol? Yes. Celeb? Most definitely not.

Berryz… Berate!

No.

Berryz… Bond!

No, no, no.

And now we see the girls back at the Celeb Machine, even though they’d already cleared it! Risako strikes a rock and roll pose with a guitar, which does not clear. Here, Miyabi tries the old fan-as-toothpick look, also to no avail. 

Yurina does her own variation of the fan pose, and she does clear. But why are they doing this if they’re already at the pool party? What does it mean that Yurina clears twice and Chinami apparently hasn’t cleared at all?

Perhaps the Celeb Machine is just a toy. They may need its approval to get to the pool, but there’s fun to be had in messing with it.

We’re back to shots of the girls as they look over outfits and have a good laugh. The plot is up-ended, but that may not be the point. We started with the pool party, after all, figured out what they had to do to get to the pool party… but now that we’re back in the orange cubic-stucco room, maybe it’s not the destination but the process that matters?

Maiha continues to pat her face ineffectually while Miyabi rubs up against her…

Dress-up for its own sake is fun, and the girls no longer care about what the Celeb Machine tells them. Their initial trepidation about the machine has given way to a boldness… a fighting pose boldness!

There’s Chinami again – and striking a real fighting pose! If she wasn’t so young, I’d say this was pretty damn sexy.

For all the efforts the girls make to gain the Celeb Machine’s approval, they also clearly thi
nk it’s a joke and act accordingly. And some – okay, Chinami – is even willing to ignore the Celeb Machine’s judgment.

And Yurina, just about ready to clock the lens and crack its smug HAL-esque demeanor.

Maasa and Momoko, striking a Wonder Twins kind of attack.

If anything, the fighting poses are as celeb as any model pose the girls strike. After all, celebrities often have a love/hate relationship with the media that stalks them and the fans who adore them. It’s clearly not what the Celeb Machine loves, but that only makes clearer what the Celeb Machine expects of them: to be pretty and compliant, to not fight back.

But when they do, the Celeb Machine is exposed for what it is: an ineffectual voyeur, unable to prevent rebellion in the girls it judges, and perhaps not even to block them from the pool if they’re so intent on getting there.

And back at poolside, the girls enjoying the bounties of poolside drinks – free to rage against the machine and enjoy its benefits as well. It’s a mark of advanced cultures that either/or (either get the Celeb Machine’s approval or don’t get access to the pool) has given way to the postmodern and/and/and (get the Celeb Machine’s approval and make fun of it and ignore it if you want and get access to the pool).

Maasa and Momoko. Oh, Momoko looks so cute here, doesn’t she?

Actually, having thought about this and thought about this, I think I’ve got a better idea of why I like Berryz so much now: because their playacting and posing and idol-attitudinizing is still rough around the edges, and that allows genuine moments less seen in the songs of other girl groups. Despite being a disciplined and talented troupe, they’re not the well-oiled machine that the older H!P groups are. One sometimes gets the sense that some of the girls are trying to keep up with the others during the dance sequences, the singing sometimes doesn’t sound pitch perfect – yet they still make it work.

And what’s more, because they’re not that slick and seamless in their presentation, there’s flashes of some genuine… I don’t know… youthfulness?… to them. Or rather, they seem more genuine, more everyday girl – a little goofy, a little awkward, a little playful, a little out of their depths – than the more polished acts around them. And because they’re so young, it’s okay. What could be a liability for older groups becomes a major selling point, a major source of charm, for Berryz Koubo.

And I think that’s why I like Risako best. Her voice is distinctive but not the best of the bunch. The rawness to it has a quality that’d grate on an adult, but suits her just fine. And as an idol persona, she doesn’t seem all that idol-ish. More like a girl who just happened to stumble into the group, become one of its star, and liked the job. But the same can go for all the Berryz girl – there isn’t a sense of careerism that one sees in, say, the young Goto Maki or Tanaka Reina or some others. (And careerism can be a very good thing, as far as I’m concerned.) As a result, Maiha leaving for school doesn’t seem as disconcerting as it could be if it was a Musume or one of the Kinenbi deciding to chuck it all to get a PhD.

As for Momoko, I guess she seemed too rough around the edges for me – but the more I appreciate and understand that quality in Berryz, the more compelling and enjoyable Momoko becomes.

Oddly, this quality – of cracks in the idol armor, of seams that show – doesn’t seem as evident in the Avex pre-teen girl groups, SweetS and Hinoi Team. SweetS are much more a well-oiled machine, just about from the start, and Hinochi has a more professional feel to them as well. And they wear it well, perhaps because they’re smaller units, less unwieldy than the eight-person Berryz.

But this may also be what sets the H!P ethic from the Avex ethic: Tsunku’s more concerned about letting an individual’s quirks become a focus (which is why he picks so many quirky girls, I think), while Avex are about getting the formula down pat and tightening it. If Berryz sound a bit corny or even dorky at times, that’s part of their image – girls having fun with good-time upbeat music.  If SweetS and Hinoi Team have a more mature sound and image – albeit one made slightly vapid by their extreme youthfulness – that’s in keeping with the Avex stable, as well.

Which makes the climactic flourish of this PV more significant, perhaps. The girls are in the pool – which apparently, is so shallow only a stumbling drunk who falls asleep face-down could drown in it – and kick up some water right at the camera…

Then strike a fighting pose, exposing the illusion of the pool’s depth and the weakness of the Celeb Machine at the same time. Smoke and mirrors, ignore the man behind the curtain, emperor has no clothes… there’s some kind of exposure at work here.

An acknowledgment, perhaps, that the true Celeb Machine is that of the camera filming them, that they are judged – not by some machine playing guardian to a pool party, but by the true arbiter of celebrity in the idol world, the gazing camera? Perhaps this video is about the girls admitting their complicity to the idol machinery that is Hello! Project and the geinou world in general – but asserting their true selves (whatever that may mean to non-postmodernists) even as they strike their idol poses?

Having said all that I did about Berryz’s appeal for me, perhaps that’s the final twist: these girls are idols but they can step away if they wanted. They’re still kids, they still act like kids (well, within the defined parameters of their idol image), and they can resist with the playful pull-and-tug of wills that most any child can dish out with aplomb. The Celeb Machine doesn’t have the same grip on them as it does on their senpai, or at least we’re led to believe here. They can strike their fighting pose against it, even as they try hard to reap its benefits.

And sometimes they even decide there’s other things out there for them. Just look at Maiha.

The ultimate pool party that Berryz raided may be the whole idol merry-go-round – and much as the girls want the pool pass and the fruity drinks and the Anais Nin collections and the floppy sunhats that come with being teen idols, they don’t take the harsh scrutiny and demand for idol-esque perfection (i.e., being "Celeb") as seriously as they could. At least, that’s one way you could look at it. As kids, they have the perogative to be kids and be goofy about their search for stardom. (Or be marketed as such, I know. On some level, this is all artifice just like anything else idol.)

Still, seven of the eight girls are still in Berryz, right? It may only be a matter of time before the childish seams are sealed completely and the careerism sets in.

But not yet. "Fighting Pose" was at the start of Berryz’s career, but I think it’s a good sign that they’re still goofy and often
seem improperly prepared / rehearsed (in a good way, not in a missing-their-cues / forgetting their steps way) in their latest PV, for "21 ji Made no Cinderella". (A song that’s still growing on me, despite my initial ambivalence.) Momoko still sounds a bit rough around the edges, the girls dressed distinctly Not Celeb in "Cinderella" and they goof around and look serious with the same glimmers of childish clumsiness.

So the Celeb Machine hasn’t claimed them even now, just as it didn’t in this PV. To me, at least, that’s good news.

And judging from this last shot, Momoko’s definitely the most bad-ass of the bunch.

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3 Responses to “The Science of Hello! Project: Berryz Koubo Rage Against the Celeb Machine”
  1. niji says:

    For someone who doesn’t like Momoko that much, you sure are willing to post a bunch of her screencaps and say her name over and over again. I guess what they is true: the more you hate, the more you love. ROTFL XP

    Anyways, going back to your article, this seems to be more personal than most other reviews you’ve written so far — more personal than even your SweetS PV reviews, which is quite surprising, to say the least. You were definitely comfortable in expressing your opinions about the group and the individual members. You didn’t even mind dumping the usual stringent quality of your writing to throw some jokes around and make fun at the group — and some other groups which you wouldn’t normally make fun of, further proving my assumption that you felt very comfortable about writing this piece. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Ray Mescallado article without the expected deluge of hyperboles and pop references. Well done.

  2. Chris~ says:

    (I agree with niji)
    I really enjoyed reading this article, and not having seen the video myself, I highly appreciate the lot of screencaps!

  3. w says:

    I just read this article. And it sure fun to read :).