The Science of Hello! Project: Tsujikagodroids Amok!

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

In Hello! Project’s future… android duplicates of idols will multiply and drive their masters crazy!

Last time we looked at the H!P Science Directive a few weeks back, it was Fujimoto Miki’s freeze-dried, dial-up idol. We look now at another PV devoted to the artificial enhancement of idols: in this case, the creation of android doubles. And triples. And quadruples. Mikitty may have had multiple selves in "Romantic Ukare Mood" but they all had the good graces – and sense of ambiguity – to appear onscreen only one at a time. Tsuji Nozomi and Kago Ai are more straightforward creatures, less beholden to mystery and given to obvious diplays of wacky fun. Their whole career has been built on playing the adorably rambunctious hellraisers, twin terrors of mayhem. "Robokiss" is in some ways quintessential Tsujikago, perhaps their finest work together since Minimoni in its prime.

(Very special thanks to S., by the way. Without him, the Science Directive would’ve remained in its own suspended animation a while longer.)

The PV begins with Kago and Tsuji watching television…

When they hear a knock at the door!

This in itself is significant. Watching television, consuming popular culture, gives way to the responsibility of nurturing and maintaining popular culture in their role as idols.

They’re surprised when Men in Black burst in, carrying a large cardboard box.

All the labels on the box are a hint of what’s inside: the girls’ pink jumpsuits, after all, are also covered in labels. Labels on a box indicate handling instructions, labels on a jumpsuit indicate corporate sponsorship. If the "real" Tsujikago have labels on their jumpsuits, that heightens the awareness that these girls are working for commercial interests – as idols, they have a responsibility to make money for whatever businesses hire them.

"This is a box." Ah, here’s one example of why I loveTsujikago as performers: they’re obvious. Perhaps because of their time in Minimoni, they can overact and pantomime quite effectively. They move and act in broad strokes, easy to understand, and "Robokiss" makes nice use of this throughout. This may be making too big a deal of it, but Tsuji and Kago – by not being so obviously careerists or seeking artistic fulfillment – have been able to adapt to the vagaries of H!P idol life without putting on many airs.

Idol superstars? Sure. Silly performers of children’s songs? Why not. Revivers of Japanese pop classics? Can do. Sexed-up rapping Avex cuties? Yeah, why not give it a try. If anything, it at times seems more professional than the divas who are more conscious about their image being molded in a certain fashion, it shows a flexibility that will probably add longevity to an already impressive career. In short, by allowing their personae to multiply and take on different forms – like different outfits on a Barbie doll or different accessories on a G.I. Joe –  W are exemplars of a specific kind of idol goodness.

The other reason I love Tsujikago should also be obvious: chemistry. These girls have worked great together since the very beginning, and they’re the tightest unit in H!P. Let’s take a minute to consider the fact that these girls are so dependent on each other: they may want to get rid of all their android troubles, but to imagine Tsuji without a Kago… even the android Tsujis without their android Kagos… is difficult.

One can’t help but wonder at times what their relationship is like – and I don’t mean this in the Mikitty / Ayaya kind of way. Rather, their strong friendship from first joining Morning Musume has meant they’ve been linked time and again and built a brand around that friendship and bond. They’ve proven this to be a successful formula for them; there are other pairs, such as Ishisyoshi and Michikame (is that right?), but those personae only mix nice together – Tsujikago is on a whole other level of bonding, one would think they had a telepathic link akin to the one twins supposedly share.

It’s hard to think about the girls eventually going their separate ways… but hell, Ami still has Yumi and Pink Lady have been together longer than Tsuji and Kago have been alive.

 

The girls apparently hear another knock on the door, go to investigate…

And Men in Black barge through, carrying another box in.

Two boxes covered in stickers, two girls covered in labels…

Kago listens to the box, as if expecting to hear what? Ticking? It’s amusing to see the small moment of dread before the boxes are opened, as if what was inside was dangerous. Though perhaps, in a way, it is.

It’s a Kago droid! But of course, you already knew that. I like the details of the wrapping,especially the way bubble wrap is applied around the neck, arms, and torso. She looks like an action figure or doll waiting to be played with… which is of course, part of the appeal here.You know how much I’d give for a Kago Ai droid? A completely functional, anatomically correct Kago droid? Oh, the possibilities…! But that wish doesn’t make me any different from many other fans out there, does it?

The girls look in on the box… evoking a couple of different concepts. First, there’s the funereal concept – they’re looking at a lifeless body. However, I’m leaning towards the view of Frankenstein monster on the slab – a mail order Frankenstein monster.

The labels on the box are all about care in handling, and remind us: idol personae are fragile, need to be handled with caution, lest something go wrong. (Think Friday and Mari.)

Finally, one of the girls hits the switch… 

To quote the Frankenstein movie, It’s alive! The Kago droid sits up, eyes inhuman, singing.

In the second box, of course, is a Tsujidroid.

She’s also activated, rises…

And sings. Because that’s what they’re there for.

I should mention here another android-themed PV starring Tsuji and Kago: the last Minimoni song, "Lucky Cha Cha Cha". It’s an interesting PV, but the duplicates aren’t perfect recreations of idols more than drones used for factory work. If anything, it bears a stronger similarity to Matsuura Aya’s "Momoiro Kataomoi" than these idol-duplicate PVs.

On the television, W – wearing the outfits of the Tsujikagodroids in the boxes – are on the television, performing with Berryz Koubo as their backup dancers. They have gone from being the watchers to the watched, the audience of popular culture to the objects of popular culture – objects being a key word, since the process of becoming an idol requires the creation of a different persona from one’s real self.

On a complete tangent, I should note that it’s kind of weird to now watch this video from my post-Berryz perspective, as what were once a bunch of anonymous girls are now discernible individuals who demand even more of my attention than the duo in the front.

Tsuji and Kago watch, interested…

Then we see Tsuji and Kago manning some controls, reminiscent of the "Lucky Cha Cha Cha" PV…  And what is it they’re controlling? Their idol personae!

Does this tie into their television viewing? Is this meant to tease out the complex interaction between viewing popular culture and becoming part of it, that one assumes different personae for different roles?

The Kago in the jumpsuit is controlling the idol-attired Kago, while jumpsuit Tsuji is doing the same for her own droid.

The metaphor becomes clear, then: the girls in the jumpsuits, the ones who "do the work" are in control of the idol girls.Like the hand that turns the knob in "Romantic Ukare Mode", the jumpsuited version of the W girls are the ones who steer the idol personae.

What are idols, after all, but a kind of personality machine marketed for public consumption? Wearing brightly colored outfits and performing cute dances, as these girls so ably demonstrate?

The girls try to keep out the Men in Black as they bring in more boxes…

But it does them no good. Pandora’s Box: once it’s opened (or the on switch flicked), there’s no turning back. This makes one wonder, then, what the Men in Black represent: are they lackeys of the commercial aspect of the idol industry, or the will of the people consuming popular culture? Or perhaps they’re just a variant of the "invisible" performers in Japanese drama, the faceless people in the background garbed all in black. There is an inevitability to them that makes them seem like a force of nature, implacable, impossible to stand up against.

Eyes closed, indicating the switch works both ways with the idol droids. You can turn it on or off, binary like the on/off switch. You can play the idol persona, entertain the masses – or you can not, and return to being your usual, jumpsuit-wearing self.

Eyes closed, but smirking a little. It always seems that Tsuji has a harder time keeping a straight face than Kago.

The boxes keep multiplying, covered with stickers and taking up space…

And each has a Tsuji or Kago droid waiting to be turned on.

The Men in Black keep carrying them in, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

A bunch of Tsujikagodroids watch excitedly as the girls in the jumpsuit go back to watching television…

Headlock! Perhaps because of the way they were inducted into Morning Musume, Kago always seemed to be the dominant person in the Tsujikago dynamic, the groom on the wedding cake, the favored child with her special friend tagging along. It isn’t like Kago lorded it over Tsuji, not in any obvious ways, but Tsuji seemed second-string to Kago… W for some reason corrected that perception, made the two equals more clearly, and it had nothing to do with Tsuji being named captain of the unit because she’s older.

Rather, it seems Tsuji as a performer had matured, reached a new level, by being able to focus as she did in W. Not being as innately gifted as Kago, whose voice has always been admired, Tsuji’s own abilities needed time to be honed and practiced. And while I’d say she’s still not as vocally talented as Kago, Tsuji’s now a well-seasoned, confident performer – one of the finest H!P has, and one of the sexiest, to boot. While W is all about the double idols, it’s nice to see parity achieved within the duo.

Which is perhaps another subtext of the androids? That idols can be made, manufactured to order, because of the nature of the industry? That somebody like Tsuji – who didn’t seem to hold much potential when she started – could be molded, trained into an ideal idol if the right amount of craft is applied? After all, H!P has built its reputation on making the unlikeliest of girls into idols. 

Meanwhile, the Tsujikagodroids freeze when the jumpsuited masters look behind them. Again, their only line of defense is to freeze, to opt for the zero in the binary. Selves can be switched on and off at will, "That wasn’t me, that’s just how I am when I’m on a talk show." "Who I am onstage isn’t who I am in real life."

Ah… speaking of which, the robots at rest. Here they look like dolls on display, some with their eyes open, some with eyes closed, all waiting to be put into action.The idea of multiple Tsujikagos has been played upon before, in a way. For example, the back
cover of Eizo no Sekai Volume 1 show six Tsujis and six Kagos preparing a photo shoot.

Other droids are already active, and two seem to struggle about who gets to plug in…

Having seen enough of this argument…

Another Tsuji droid splits them up.

Another shot of the on/off switch, emphasizing the notion of the binary.

It’s worth noting how different "Robokiss" is from its thematic predecessor, Mikitty’s "Romantic Ukare Mode". Mikitty’s PV emphasized beauty and symmetry in its pre-programmed idol – there’s a steady hand on the knob and the idol performs according to specifications. The Tsujikagodroids of "Robokiss" are chaotic – dropped in the hands of owners who don’t know how to handle them, proliferating at a an alarming rate.

Whereas the different kinds of Mikitty are able to look impressive doing athletic or artistic things, our initial exposure to the turned-on Tsujikagodroids are considerably less graceful: they sit up, they sing, then they run around, act silly, watch television, and become general nuisances. Which, in a way, is a reflection of how Tsuji and Kago have projected themselves in their idol life – the terrible twins.

However, the W droids can indeed emulate their masters, as we see them now singing and dancing as backup.

Tsuji and her Tsujidroids strike a fighting pose…

If you watch closely, by the way, Tsuji has a magnificent stomach. You could probably bounce a quarter off it.

Kago and her Kagodroids blow kisses… A thousand kisses from a thousand Kagos. There’s a thought.

The girls realize the Tsujikagodroids are out of control. They don’t want to open any more boxes, but it’s not theirs to decide anymore.

Some of the Tsujikagodroids are running around, having fun. Others stay on the shelf, waiting to be activated.

Then we see Tsuji and Kago watching television… or are they?

On the television, the idols swoon and sing, their eight little proteges responding in kind…

But wait! They W watching TV are not wearing the pink jumpsuits! And these Tsujikagodroids then notice the girls – the real ones, in the jumpsuits – are suddenly standing behind them, pissed…

… and proceed to turn themselves off.

Which brings up at least one reassuring notion: these androids aren’t meant to revolt against their masters, just get away with whatever fun they can manage. The invasion is benign, if only in the sense that no harm is meant to the masters.

But this is also a strange scene as the right to watch television seems contested by the masters: idols have no business watching themselves, it’s a privilege belonging to the "real" selves. The creations of popular culture cannot also be the consumers of the same – or can they? After all, Minimoni did a song with Bakatonosama and the first W album was devoted to the songs of other Japanese girl duos. The real Tsuji and Kago watching the manufactured Tsuji and Kago watching on television another manufactured Tsuji and Kago isn’t quite a stretch when looked at from that angle, is it?If anything, this scene suggests the strangely postmodern mise-en-abyme of popular culture where referents are employed within referents, chains of meaning drawn out and defined by popular culture’s ever-expanding reach.

Again, a shot of the Tsujikagodroids dancing with their masters…

Much the same way Berryz Koubo respond to W’s leadership, now that I think of it.

But in a way, isn’t that appropriate as well? After all, each new generation of H!P idols are indebted to the ones who came before them. We saw Morning Musume work with the girls of Berryz on "Yoroshiku no Senpai", including Tsuji teaching a few of them how to do the cross-eyed "Tsuji-chan desu!" Considering the close working relationship W and Berryz have had – even going back to the use of H!P kids in some Minimoni productions – it would be fair to consider Berryz the product of Tsujikago’s own efforts, as well as an idol group in their own right.

And Momoko looks absolutely scrumptious, there, doesn’t she? The laced-up jackboots are a nice touch.

Back outside the television, the girls slam the door shut again, hoping the worst is over…

But it’s burst open by the Men in Black carrying yet another familiar box. Again, Tsuji can’t hide the fun she’s having.

The PV ends with the flow of Tsujikagodroids continuing. One can envision an endless stream of these duplicates, filling up the apartment and spreading out, Hello! Project’s most adorable unit taking over the world. Well… it could happen figuratively, of course. Tsujikago have grown and evolved and refined their image over the years, W may be only the latest step in their development to becoming their own generation’s Pink Lady.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

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8 Responses to “The Science of Hello! Project: Tsujikagodroids Amok!”
  1. Chris~ says:

    This is why I love Cult Of Pop!
    Excellent article!
    lovely!
    grat work.
    I hope you (Ray) is having a good time in Hawaii (you should! itäs a great place! or so it seems)
    again, great! this article reminded me of why I keep visiting this place.
    Awesome!

  2. Chris~ says:

    ok… the typos are (sadly enough) cause I wrote that last comment drunk!
    haha, that’s crazy, but still the truth.
    just got home from partying… and this website (as it seems) rules! so I just had to visit 🙂

  3. I Love Ai says:

    Since your article was all intellectual and clever and stuff, I would just like to note that Ai Kago is much cuter in this video than she has any right to be. It is one of the great tragedies of the Hello! Project that Ai got put in with the “silly rascals” faction rather than the “OMGWTFBBQ a 15-year-old cannot be that beautiful!!!!” faction.

    On a more intellectual note, does anyone have any deep philosophical theories as to why they have their right pants legs rolled up? Kind of an odd detail.

  4. Chris~ H. says:

    Perhaps they have their pants legs rolled up because womens’ legs are sexy? As you see, it’s a very shallow theory, but these girls legs are indeed very sexy.

  5. Freya says:

    It seems to be a trend. If you watch, for example, Go Girl! Koi no Victory lives or the PV, you’ll notice that Mari’s got one leg rolled up as well.

  6. Suika says:

    The pants are rolled up just to show they’re packing heat. They gotta get that message to all those other girlpop bitches out there!

    Excellent entry Ray, I laughed out loud so many times I was very glad I didn’t read it at work.

    I agree RoboKiss is a fantastic single, second only to Koi no Vacance in my mind, which is just a stronger song. I really would like them to become the Pink Lady of their generation, though, as you say, and songs like Miss Love Tantei won’t make that happen, but with a slightly more mature image than their last singles, it’s a step in the right direction at least.

  7. I Love Ai says:

    No no no, you’re supposed to come up with theories like, “It’s to remind us of prison movies where the inmates have a leg rolled up for the shackle on their ankles, to remind us of the bondage of a girlpop star.” Although they do have nice legs.

  8. Chris and Suika:

    Thanks for the kind words. I actually like “Miss Love Tantei” a great deal and think it IS the right direction, not just a step towards it. They’ve got a fine line to draw between their old wacky selves and a more mature presentation, but I think the median strip was smacked just fine there.

    I Love Ai:

    I’d made a mental note of the rolled-up pants legs but forgot to do anything about it! Sorry about that! However, your theory sounds better than anything I could’ve come up with. I just thought it was a hip hop trend that made its way to the mainstream.

    Freya:

    Woo-hoo! Points for noticing Mari’s leg in Go! Girl – now I’ll need to find out if there are any more examples of this.