Long Live 7-nin Berryz

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I don’t miss Maiha. Apparently, she was the only one to not be in tears at the end of her final concert… Maybe she was just putting on a brave face and was crying on the inside. Or maybe not. Really, can you blame her? She’s got a bright new future as a regular schoolgirl at a quality school, she doesn’t have to deal with the rigors or pressure of being an idol while not getting the spotlight as much as some of the other girls…

Really, I’d be relieved, too. Being an idol is hard work, especially for young ladies in their formative years. I greatly admire those who can stick with it and see a real future in such a pursuit. However, I also can’t fault those who want out of the game, for whatever reasons they may have.

Whatever the case, good luck to her – but let’s move on: Look at the new publicity photo for 7-nin Berryz! (Taken from helloproject.com, of course.)

After the ugly, ugly rags from their last PV, this is absolutely astounding. With the notable exception of that really hot Parago cover for "Faraway", I haven’t commented on a publicity photo very often… but this just blows me away. I know any extremes of enthusiasm will be read the wrong way, so I’ll try to be measured in my explanations…

The front row minus Miyabi look adorable and cute, while the back row are surprisingly beautiful.

There are Santos’ "twin towers" of Yurina and Maasa: Yurina looks positively fetching and a bit older than her actual age (though still clearly underage). There’s a hint of knowing mystery to her smile, which is disarming for being so mature. Further proof she’ll grow into a true beauty, one matching her clear vocal talent. Maasa, who’s not been a favorite of mine, looks charming, with her head tilted just so. As for Saki…

Okay, Saki hasn’t been a favorite of mine, either. But I’d been watching the making-of videos for recent Berryz PVs repeatedly at work and noticed something. (What’s he doing watching Berryz at work? you may ask. I’m in the middle of a long and tedious but not very demanding task, so to keep my sanity I have Berryz video footage playing on the computer I’m using. I’ve also set up Berryz wallpapers on five of the seven computers where I work. The 2006 calendar’s the next step…)

Anyway, Saki seems to be doing some weird stepping as she walks onto photo shoots… Like she’s playing a game of hide-and-seek, I thought at first. Then it struck me yesterday: she’s bowing deeply to everyone as she enters the photo shoot. It’s very respectful of her, and perhaps a bit exaggerated – but in the right spirit of things. And she does seem to take her role as captain of Berryz seriously. In all, she struck me as a dedicated young idol, and one who takes her responsibilities seriously and is aware of her role. I’m not sure why, but all this puts her up a couple notches in my personal otaku estimation.

But the true center of the photo? Chinami. Chinami has the best smile of all the Berryz, when she beams she’s right up there with Zone’s Maiko. Here, though, her smile is very restrained, even a tad inquisitive or wondering… And her hair and school outfit give her a very androgynous look, making her look a little like a schoolboy placed in a less-than-ideal situation and forced to brave his way through it.

Which is kind of silly, but more than any of the other Berryz, it’s like we’re seeing Chinami evolve, trying out different personas, different looks. She’s not so tan this time around, which is good. Her hairstyle changes more noticeably than the others. All in all, she’s just fascinating to observe. And even restrained, her smile has a certain warmth and personality to it that’s hard to resist.

It’s weird. Ask me who my favorite is in any topic, including Jpop groups, and I’ll be quick with the answers. That hasn’t been the case with Berryz lately, I’m constantly re-assessing who my favorite is and for what reason. Risako, then Momoko, and now Chinami is a serious contender. (Though really, there’ll always be a special place in my heart for Momoko now…) It’s part of the process of discovery, I guess. A few months ago, I couldn’t have named any of the Berryz. Now I find myself watching H!P footage with Berryz-colored glasses, making the H!P All-Stars PV and their appearance on Utaban, for example, fresh all over again. Similarly, I keep discovering new layers of interest and complexity in Berryz… and as a result, my appreciation for Berryz deepens and changes as they quickly become my favorite H!P act.

Santos has given some interesting reasons for why he finds Berryz H!P’s most intriguing act – one thing he doesn’t mention is that it’s going to be interesting to watch the girls grow up. Compare their recent concert DVD with the one with W from last year – there’s a quantum leap in professionalism and confidence, as well as clear signs of actual physical growth in the girls. And yet there’s still a charm about them, a kind of rawness that I’ve noted earlier, as if they’re still finding themselves even as their dances and outfits become more polished, more clearly in the mold they’re expected to fill.

If they manage to last another couple years intact, Berryz Koubo circa 2007 will be even more different from Berryz Koubo circa 2005. But will they be able to hold onto their distinct personas, to stand out from more generic idols? Will the special quality in Berryz and its members – whatever that may be – survive and even be allowed to flourish? It’s not always guaranteed, especially in the H!P firmament: perhaps the best example is Melon Kinenbi, who’ve managed to never change their line-up and become a quiet musical powerhouse despite being virtually ignored by the management in recent months. (Only one MKB single in 2005 so far – a stellar one, but dammit they deserve more.)

Similarly, Berryz have had a stability in their line-up and winnowing down by one may actually help better focus the personae in the group. There’s a genuine youthfulness to the group, and as they grow that’ll have to change… But these young ladies become more sure-footed step by step, and there’s promise of further greatness in them, of heights only hinted at right now.

SweetS, much as I love them, went through a very strange arc of growth. Berryz’s growth as a group promises to be more natural, one hopes – or at least less defined by widely varying market expectations. Watching Berryz – and the girls of Berryz – grow up and transform is exciting and also a little dangerous, I think. Puberty can wreak havoc on a performer’s career, after all. Yet if they continue to succeed, it makes watching them satisfying in a way I can’t find in other groups, including Avex’s under-15 girl groups and Berryz’s fellow H!P units.

I find myself rooting for them, every step of the way – because at their age, every step counts, and is different from the steps before and after. At the very least, it’ll be an interesting journey – and at best, it’ll be a uniquely triumphant journey for these girls.

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3 Responses to “Long Live 7-nin Berryz”
  1. niji says:

    Risako is way kawaii in her outfit. 🙂

  2. kurisu says:

    I saw in some japanese BBS a lot of Risako’s pictures… I supposed the beauty of this girl is making “moe” between the japanese fans…

    I love Risako too! ^^

  3. w says:

    Yeah, I find my self love Berryz Koubou too. I watched SweetS, but can’t find my self rooted for them. My favourite Berryz is Yurina