Looking at Akina Trip

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Am I the only one missing Akina? Okay, she’s released only one single a year since Folder 5 broke up and she went solo… but it’s well over a year now since "Best of My Love", her most recent offering. The only product she released in 2005 was a photobook at the beginning of the year, Akina Trip, which has slowly become one of my favorite Jpop photobooks, right up there with the second Morning Musume book, Peaceful dream, and the first SweetS.

So instead of bitching and moaning, let’s take a look at some of the choicer eye candy selections from this book…

The photo above and the one below should be familiar to Feed of Pop readers, since I’ve used snippets of them for the site’s header. It’s arty and ethereal, but also manages to be grounded by Akina’s presence. The dress isn’t very attractive, but she wears it well.

The unusual composition of this shot is so evocative – the heart sideways makes me think of internet emoticons, of all things, and Akina’s body prone on the carpet is both seductive and oddly cold…

Here, Akina is just hot. I should seriously reconsider my Top 10 Girlfriends list and place her somewhere in the top three (and Tsuji in the top five)…

There’s a bunch of photos of a topless Akina in the photobook with her arms wrapped around her – no nipple, but you won’t see me crying over that. I can think of a bunch of teen stars who tried to prove their maturity by posing nude, but Akina pulls it off without showing too much. The topless photos are sensual more than sexy, there’s a mix of rebellion and vulnerability that is strikingly mature, that feels more like art and observation than prurient titillation.

I’s not like I’m looking for art in my photobooks but I just love how Akina Trip slips the art in. All I want is pictures of Akina, but the fact that these photos make me pause and think and not just drool… Wow. Not quite a SweetS + Bounceback combo hit, but something in the same ballpark.

Oddly, I find this shot ridiculously sexy. Maybe because it’s so stark, seems so candid (though it’s obviously staged). And I like how the heart motif pops up again in an unexpected way.

One thing the photobook does nicely, though I’m not sure if this is intended, is playing off two different sides of Akina: the Avex R&B diva of her first solo single, and the rough-and-tumble Avril Lavigne-esque skatergirl (wannabe) of her more recent singles. It’s actually pretty typical a dichotomy in idol photobooks – the glamour and the girl next door – but Akina does it better than most, in my opinion.

I know this’ll brand me a weirdo, but this shot reminds me of the Partridge Family… or rather, a revealing photo of David Cassidy that appeared in Rolling Stone which provoked outrage among Partridge fans, one of whom apparently wrote insistently (and against the visual evidence), "David Cassidy doesn’t have pubic hair!"

Which isn’t to speculate on hair or lack thereof in Akina’s neither regions, but in the way this photo gestures (literally and figuratively) to a depth of sexuality that is often denied idols. Too often one gets the impression that idols aren’t aware of anything below the waist and above the knees – the virgin fantasy that otaku seem to hold dearly. Here Akina is fumbling at her jean shorts, as if about to masturbate or at least feel herself up a little. And yet, there’s something tentative in this pose, she’s not quite reached the area yet – and that we don’t see her face opens this gesture to a world of speculation.

Equally important is how the photo is framed: bikini top, jeans shorts… no face. Is this pose supposed to be sexy, or playful, or a fuck-you to people who want to treat her as a teen idol? Can we tell without seeing her face, without having the context that also humanizes this purposefully objectifying shot? It’s a nice visual paradox.

Imagine a Morning Musume striking this pose. Won’t happen, can’t happen. Which makes me wonder if Akina Trip is more than just a statement of her independence as an idol persona, but perhaps a farewell too. That’d be a shame, I really do like her work a great deal.

I hope Akina releases a single soon, along with an album – she’s about due for that. And please please please, another photobook with the quality and thoughtfulness of Akina Trip. Looking through it makes clear that eye candy is important, but the format can deliver more than that as well.