The Science of Hello! Project: Tanpopo’s Beauty Mirror

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

In Hello! Project’s future… mirrors will tell us how good we look!

And not in the traditional way of staring at it and figuring it out for ourselves. It’s more like a slightly updated version of the enchanted mirrors from fairy tales, one that doesn’t even require you to ask, “Mirror mirror…”

Instead, it will light up like a meter, kind of like those love testers you find at seedy bars.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

“Koi wo Shichaimashita” may be the most perfect pop song ever crafted for Hello! Project and Tanpopo the best subgroup.

The first generation Tanpopo – made up of Yaguchi Mari, Iida Kaori, and Ishiguro Aya before she left – went for a smoky R&B feel, sexier and more adult than Morning Musume, who at the time sounded quite mature anyways.

With the infusion of younger blood – Kago Ai and Ishikawa Rika – the second generation Tanpopo took on a sixties girl-group sound with a sorta-English style to match. They looked distinctive, a pomo version of Swinging London, and had a sound that was equally classic: sweet harmonies, lush instrumentation, and upbeat hooks that seemed more sophisticated than Morning Musume for daring to be… gentle.

Actually, I’m surprised that Tsunku hasn’t made more of these kinds of songs, given how effervescent and memorable second-gen Tanpopo’s singles have become.

“Koi wo Shichaimashita” is upbeat without being silly, edging towards the majestic with its chorus of “Baby baby ooh” and handclaps. There’s an odd interlude with chamber strings that becomes one of the best parts of the song, though it doesn’t quite make sense being there in the first place. The girls get to sing wistful as well as happy, with a nice mix of solo lines and harmonizing, imbuing the song not only with Tanpopo’s personality but a sense of each girl as well.

In the PV, the dance sequences are wonderfully choreographed, with lots of jumping and marching in place and some overdone reactions and handclaps. Watching them in the Green concert, for example, the dance was as just as engaging – as opposed, to say, Petit Moni’s “Baby Koi ni Knockout”, where the song’s still great but live the choreography seemed overdone and stiffly posed.

“Wait, wait, wait!” you demand. “What about the science?”

I was getting to that.

The main prop of this PV is a heart-shaped mirror with lights that is apparently an indicator of how pretty a girl is. Or well-groomed. The two being different things in my world.

And to make the experience more comfortable, there’s a salon-style chair where you sit when you present yourself to the mirror.

Rika steps into the chair and looks in the mirror, only to have it all light up right away, from the bottom all the way to the top.

She’s got no problem looking beautiful or well-groomed or whatever – she’s Charmy! She came into Morning Musume on her looks (or so some claim), it’s no surprise she’ll get the all-lights right off the bat.

Then we see Kago hard at work with chemicals.

What she’s brewing, one can’t be too sure. For some reason I think of that Utaban clip where she punches Mari below the waist and think that maybe a bio-toxin of some sort is in the offing… And yet if she is an evil scientist, she’s perhaps the most adorable one ever.

Are the chemicals part of their beauty regimen? Does it make them cuter, better groomed, more susceptible to blinking lights and the rather opaque judgments of a piece of silvered glass?

Anyway, it’s Kago’s turn at the chair, to be measured by the mirror…

But it only goes halfway, which leaves her crushed.

She decides to put on a little more gloss…

Strikes a cuter pose, using a well-placed finger… Trust me, a well-placed finger does wonders for most any occasion.

And the mirror approves!

Kago is of course elated, as are the others.

Throughout the PV, the girls get calls on a futuristic cell phone. The tip of the antenna has a huge plastic gem on it, which reminds me of a Sailor Moon toy sceptre I used to own that made beautifully tinkly music whenever it was waved.

Whenever the phone rings for one of the girls, they laugh and run away from the other girls and go into giddy fits. We can assume the calls are coming from a boyfriend, though in Kago’s case it may just be Tsuji confirming they’ll be partners forever.

Or perhaps the giddy fits have another cause…?

The phone is apparently designed to cause hallucinations on the user. Whether or not it ties into the chemistry experiments or the mirror, I’m not sure. But it certainly makes for interesting conversations, don’t you think?

“Moshi moshi?”

“Oha! My handy is causing epileptic seizures!”

Perhaps the chemicals are tied into the phone, not just the mirror. Maybe they’re taking home-brewed medicine to prevent any unnecessary side-effects from all those blinking lights.

If home is where you hang your hat, apparently this is Johnson’s home. I must say, I really like the outfits they wear in this video. The outfit in the dance sequences are simple, elegant and retro without seeming too dated. I also really like that they show off the girls’ knees. Their outfits in the story sequences are… odder. A riff on drum majorettes and an English honor guard, I’m thinking, with the same kind of hats and big epaulettes.

I also like the setting of the PV: they have their groovy bachelorette pad and during the dance sequences they’re right outside in a kind of stage theatre patio setting. Or something. The bachelorette pad is actually pretty cool, with great furniture, plenty of tchotchkes on the shelves, a chemistry set, salon chair, mirror that tells you when you need more make-up… Everything the modern-day girl-on-the-go could possibly want.

Except a husband, of course. But that’s what the hallucinogenic phone, chemistry set, and lit-up mirror are for, of course…

Iida Kaori’s turn at the mirror’s seat goes as smoothly as Rika’s, which for some reason makes me suspicious. Kaori has been getting shafted by H!P for so long, it’s difficult to see her get by without having to put up a fight.

As the oldest and the leader of Tanpopo, however, one assumes she’s entitled. And she is quite hot in this PV, so it’s not like I disagree.

Last is Mari… and apparently least, as well. She sits down and gets only the very bottom light.

She is, of course, crushed. Though wouldn’t that look on her face be enough to crack even a regular mirror, never mind one that measures beauty?

She combs her hair a little…

But the mirror only goes halfway.

So now she adjusts her hat…

And the mirror finally relents, giving her the full light show.

This reminds me of the hard time Mari’s given in “Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari” – claiming she’s not very sexy or all that attractive. Why is that? Why do Rika and Johnson get the instant approval and Kago and especially Mari don’t? Is it because they’re shorter?

I now have this image of a drunken Mari stumbling around the bachelorette pad, stirring herself another chemically-enhanced drink, slumping on the salon chair and goading the mirror: “That’s right, bitch! I’m beautiful! I don’t care if you light up! Not one… single… light…”

Then the phone rings, sending her into seizures. (And that’s when they replace her with a robot clone… But that’s for a whole other entry in this series.)

I find it to be a horrible machine, if only because it’s so damn particular. The actual feedback is pretty basic: a finite number of lights, zero to whatever. And yet the mirror measures the slightest touch of lip gloss, the slightest tip of the hat. It’s a ridiculously precise, highly exacting motherfucker.

If anything, I’d say the mirror is one of the more retro aspects of the video, a vision of technology that seemed more likely forty or fifty years ago. Assuming that a machine can objectively measure something as personal and subjective as how good one looks seems quaint, nowadays. Measurements are possible, but the leap to an aesthetic judgment seems… quaint. Something one wouldn’t trust with such a basic AI, if anything.

And yet, such exacting service to one’s personal needs was one of the hallmarks of the pop futurism of the fifties and sixties, kind of like individual jetpacks. As a result, it’s not difficult to imagine this machine in some 1950s sci-fi movie or the Jetsons, for example.

Which is perhaps the most interesting subtext of this PV: that in going retro with the look, sound, and even style of futurism, the values of the fifties are subtly at play here. The girls are trying hard to look their best for the sake of boys, based on their phone calls. And they so distrust their own judgments – silly modern girls, still insecure when seeking Mister Right – that they rely on a mirror that lights up to tell them when they’re perfect. It doesn’t ruin the song or the PV, by any means, but does show how well they’ve taken the lessons of that era.

For me, that fucking mirror and chair are like the Ludovico Treatment from A Clockwork Orange. You’d have to strap me down in the chair and pry my eyelids open to stare at the lights idling at one lit bulb, as people comb my hair a little to see if another bulb will light, or if a little more lip gloss will make several bulbs light, and so on…

Johnson shows off by using the mirror for some minor grooming – it apparently just lights up whenever she’s around. Doesn’t even have to sit in the salon chair.

But look at her! I must say, second generation Tanpopo does a lot for its individual members. This was what subgroups were all about: giving the individual members of Morning Musume a different way to shine. As a smaller group, they could shine more self-evidently, they didn’t need to rely so heavily on their idol persona shticks. In short, they seemed more naturally appealing.

Kaori seemed more at ease and thus more beautiful, if never quite graceful. Mari looked cute without seeming childish (as in Minimoni) or taking on a rough edge (as in Momusu proper). Away from her twin, Kago didn’t feel the need to rely on jokes and shock value, instead coming across as a confident but demure young lady. And Rika didn’t have to be a figure of ridicule, instead projecting the confidence and serenity that would only take center stage again when she was given Viyuden.

It’s Mari’s turn to mess with the test tubes. Her, I can see blowing stuff up by accident.

(Like her career when she got caught with her boyfriend! Sorry, low blow. Didn’t mean it.)

There’s actually a pop cultural historical referent with all those beakers: “Better living through chemistry.” Originally the slogan for Dupont, it became a minor catchphrase that tied the New Frontier optimism of the late 1950s and early 1960s with rapid advances in technology. The space race was in full effect, nuclear power was being harnassed, and bright young children played with chemistry and rocketry sets.

Of course, the slogan would later be appropriated by the hippie counterculture as a sly reference to their drug habits.

Though now that I think of it, it’d be hilarious if the girls were brewing up meth.

Mari looks like a happy little drum majorette here, doesn’t she? For some reason, this is my favorite shot of her in the PV: she looks so girl-next-door fresh-faced, epitomizing the kind of feel-good, irony-free optimism that second-gen Tanpopo was so good at.

The song winds down, the girls strike the closing poses…

Kago ends the video with a wave of her hand and a bright smile…

As a lovely throwback to girl group harmonies and sentiments, it’s fun to watch the “Koi wo Shichaimashita” PV from an H!P science directive angle. There are several kinds of science the girls experience – advanced hallucinogenic telecommunications, chemistry sets, and the heart-shaped mirror that tells you when you are and are not all-that-and-a-bag-of-chips. All three help maintain a bridge between the retro, classic elements of the song and the PV with the more modern-day aspects.

But that mirror still bothers me. And a few years later, a more modern version of this machine arrives… with a very different set of reactions from the girls who face it.


Comments (Comments are closed)

4 Responses to “The Science of Hello! Project: Tanpopo’s Beauty Mirror”
  1. Hooray for Mari says:

    Stuff like this reminds me how much I love Yaguchi. She was fun. If she ever releases any solo work, I will buy it even if it’s shit like they gave Yuko, Natsumi and Kaori.

  2. niji says:

    Is this the technology that H!P’s Science Directive was supposedly advancing? When you kept saying ‘sci-fi’ in your previous entry, I assumed that you were referring to stuff with steel and explosions and invisible forces and whatnot — I definitely wasn’t expecting this. This is more of a wishy-wishy-fairy-godmother type of ‘technology’, and I use that term only for consistency. It’s an interesting article, but as I said, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. (Regardless, I’ll be reading the next parts of this series when they come out.)

  3. Sabaku Ika says:

    Steel and explosions are already pretty well understood. Artificially intelligent mirrors with opinions are going to need a few more decades of development. The H!P Science Directive is not concerned with what we expect.

  4. Hooray for Mari:

    I’d pick up Mari’s solo stuff, too, if she doesn’t succumb to the temptation of being a Serious Diva and do some fun, maybe even raunchy, R&B.


    I’m using the broad, broad definition of science fiction: nonexistent technology as a metaphor for issues about the human experience. And in the case of Tanpopo, a quick peek at some old-fashioned futurism. I’ll be doing the more spectacular sci-fi of H!P later on, but this and the Berryz PV were the ones that got me thinking on the subject in the first place…

    Sabuka Ika:

    Well put. I suspect you’re almost as insane as me.