Chokkan 2 Close-Up: Problematic Makoto

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

I want to like Ogawa Makoto more than I do. That is, when I notice she’s there. For the most part I don’t notice her and focus all my attention on Sayumi or Mikitty or am astounded by how Risa or Koharu is developing. Yet when I do think of Makoto, I get the sense that she was somehow steered wrong, that she started out with such potential and then… what? I don’t know.

Remember Makoto’s first single as a Musume? She was this sweet young thing being courted by the very masculine, very dashing Yoshizawa Hitomi in “Mr. Moonlight”. And you can see how she could win the heart of Yossi from the way she flirted and pouted in the PV, with that charming smile and winsome demeanor. You wanted to believe in the romance between Yossi and Mako-chan, it was just so compellingly fairy tale in its sweetness and rightness.

If a new Musume was added last year that looked like that young Makoto, she’d have won over fans much more easily than Koharu.

So. Not to be rude, but what the fuck went wrong?

The most obvious culprit is that Makoto grew up and got bigger. She got a little chunky, which may be answer enough to some people but not to me. After all, I’ve long thought that Kago looked just as good chunky as when she’s more slimmed down. Makoto isn’t fat, by any means – she’s just surrounded by sticks like Reina and Takitty. She suffers from a very unfair comparison.

That said, something happened… I’m watching the “As For One Day” and “Shabondama” PVs and Makoto still looks luscious in them. Then we go to “Go Girl! Koi no Victory” and “Ai Araba It’s Alright” and she’s dyed her hair and her face seems rounder…

So her looks changed, certainly. But she’s still got that smile, and she’s actually real cute in her “Ai Araba” pajamas…

So how about this alternate theory: she goes out of her way to act in an unattractive manner. Much of her comedy work depends on looking masculine and ugly, she often scrunches up her face in a certain way to get laughs.

And yet… Yossi hasn’t had a problem with that. If anything, Yossi provided a successful example of a kind of behavior that Makoto has been less successful in pulling off. The whiff of masculinity in Yossi makes her sexier; in Makoto, it looks just unattractive.

So. She gets a little chunky, but that’s not a problem because Kago did too and fans still loved her. She does the oyaji thing a bit too much, but that’s not a problem because Yossi does it even more than her. To grotesquely simplify what do Kago and Yossi have, then, that Makoto lacks?

I think the answer – as bad as it sounds – is a distinctive idol personality. Quite frankly, Makoto just doesn’t stand out in the Morning Musume collective – especially in the singles and PVs – and hasn’t been given much of a chance to stand out. She hasn’t been able to hone what works and instead has relied on a kind of upbeat, genki, happy-go-lucky kind of exuberance that – in the context of Morning Musume – isn’t all that distinctive.

And so we find ourselves noticing the things that don’t work in her favor, since they at least stick out more than that bland boosterism. She seems to think she’s playing up to her strengths – in comedy, in being so upbeat and wacky – but compare it to the wackiness of the TsujiKago team in their terrible twins prime, or the spacey upbeat nature of Rika’s Charmy persona.

Quite frankly, Makoto suffers sharply from being part of fifth gen, whose idol personae just didn’t develop as distinctly – and certainly not as quickly – as the fourth gen, which set the standard. Beyond that, as time passed, she just got less and less attention. Even her short stint with Petit Moni was less notable than the subgroup work done by the other fifth gen.

Obligatory dental observation:she’s got very regular teeth, no problem there. So we can’t hold that against her either. (Besides, everybody liked Tsuji’s fangs, so again bad teeth wouldn’t be an automatic way to discount someone…)

However, watching Morning Musume clips and paying special attention to her and her alone, I realize she’s exactly the kind of girl I’d be most comfortable with for a girlfriend – assuming I’m single and ten or fifteen years younger, of course. She seems low maintenance, fun-loving, very cute, exuberant – and when she looks thoughtful or serious, she can be heartbreakingly pretty.

But that’s not as outsize and in-your-face as what one expects from an idol. They need to be larger than life, not pleasingly life-sized. I could be wrong here,

In the Chokkan 2 Close-Up PV, Makoto does two things: a watered-down version of the threatening male act that Yossi also does in this PV, and a lot of cheering while looking happy. In other words, she’s doing what’s expected of her idol persona, meager as it is. Makoto the tough guy, Makoto the cheering second-string Musume.

She’s part of the Heroic Group with Yossi and Tanaka – and yet, one can’t help but wonder if this was a default because she wouldn’t have been convincing as either Cute or Sexy. But if she’d been placed in the Sexy group, I think she could have pulled it off. (And if she switched with any of the girls in that group, that other girl probably would have benefited as well from the temporary shift in image. Especially Takitty.)

And if I was honest, I just can’t forgive that blonde dye job. It makes her look ugly, and the cut of the hair doesn’t help the shape of her face.

However, Makoto has talent. She dances well, she sings quite well (given the current line-up, at least)… I thought she did a really nice job in this year’s Kouhaku, and her blonde hair wasn’t even so bad there. (In this PV, it’s hideous.) And she does do comedy quite well, though giving her guy act different variations may not be the best answer.

She also has that great upbeat personality, the kind of girl who’ll get kissed on both cheeks at the same time (by Yossi and Tsuji in the “Joshi” PV). It’s an asset, but why hasn’t it worked as well for her the way clueless vanity worked for Rika, or spunky combativeness worked for Mari?

Again – because she gets lost in the mix. Makoto may be the worst victim of neglect in Momusu… which is real ironic, since Tsunku has often made a point of how ordinary girls get to become idols in Morning Musume. Here’s a great ordinary girl who’s actually got a lot going for her… but not enough to do with it.

Does Makoto have a future after Morning Musume? Her talent seems to point yes, but her handling of her idol persona points to an almost definite no. And that’s a fucking shame, and can probably be fixed if someone gave enough of a damn about her. She could easily step up as a solid regular lead vocal, along with Risa – but that seems less likely within the current line-up.

She could make her image sexier, more appealing to the fan base – though it would be a surprise even bigger than when everybody figured out Konno looks real hot in a bikini. If she was solo, her upbeat personality could be played to better effect – but she’s not likely to be given much solo time as things stand. She received her solo photobook after Takitty already had three of her own – that alone tells you something.

Makoto’s been an idol for almost five years now, but there are times when she still seems so raw and unpolished… and not in a good way. She needs a stronger direction if she’s going to survive in the business and yet I wonder if enough people would even notice if she makes that effort.


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5 Responses to “Chokkan 2 Close-Up: Problematic Makoto”
  1. Freya says:

    I’ve never been really fond of Makoto.

    When I started my diving into H!P, I first mistook Rika for Makoto and developed quite a dislike for her.
    Funny thing is, when I noticed my mistake, it didn’t change my dislike. I completely adore Rika now, but Makoto is hardly ever on my radar.

    Looking at older clip, especially the Mechaike Bakajo test, she seems so different from today, so much more likeable.

    I definitely agree with you, she’s got potential, but somewhere along the way, she seems to have taken a wrong turn …

  2. Drew says:

    I, personally, LOVE Mako. I think she’s gorgeous (especailly in those caps you posted) and she’s probably the third best voice (behind Mikitty and Takitty, of course =b) in the current line-up. Shame she gets -no- attention from most fans.

  3. Chuck says:

    Back around the time of “Joshi,” Makoto seemed really cute and genuine — enough to make her likable and interesting (more so than the rest of gen 5) even without being as flamboyant as the twins, I thought. Since then, it seems like she has tried to change her image to appear more mature — which makes sense, since she surely is — but somehow got “mature” and “fugly” mixed up.

  4. niji says:

    To be honest, I find Makoto all the way on the homely side. 2 cents. ROTFL XP

  5. Sarah says:

    I like Makoto, I think perhaps just because she’s never really looked like your typical idol. I mean, it’s kind of nice to see a slightly larger girl in MoMusu, although I do agree with you that she’s been lost in the mix.

    As for her post-MoMusu career — even if she can’t continue to be an idol herself, perhaps she could still work in the field. Have you seen the “Dokyu” episode where she’s critiquing the way Koharu dances “Roman ~My Dear Boy~”? It seemed to me she really knew what she was doing. So perhaps she could go the Atsuko Inaba route and become an H!P dance teacher … though I’m sure there are those who would think that was an insult.