Chokkan 2 Close-Up: The Unbearable Pleasantness of Takitty

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Takahashi Ai has so much going for her. She’s a talented singer and dancer, she’s very attractive, and has received more attention than other Musumes: she not only replaced Mari in Minimoni, she also did a duet with Tsunku of that Hamsaki Ayumi song and was one of only three current Musumes to make the 2005 shuffles. She’s often got leads in Musume singles – at least, the ones we want to hear – and her fourth photobook is coming up.

That said, up to now I could never become a Takitty fan. Weird as it sounds, she’s just too pleasant.

Don’t get me wrong: being pleasant is often a virtue, and in real life it’s something most of us would welcome. But Jpop is built on broad strokes of personality, and I wonder if Takitty’s been too subtle – or lax – in her handling of her idol persona.

It’d be easier and blunter to just say Takitty’s boring… but I don’t think she is, in fact, boring. When she’s on screen, she can command the viewer’s attention well enough. When she utters one of her weirder statements, she can be mildly amusing and even cute about it. And she does project some sex appeal, I think, though no specific examples come to mind.

If anything, she’s always come across as nice but forgettable. She doesn’t fight to get attention but her talents speak for themselves. She knows how to win over the camera but she doesn’t know how to shock or excite. Or simply prefers not to – Bartleby the Idol.

When I think of Takitty, I think of a young, pretty schoolmarm: not wanting to call attention to herself despite a natural ability to do so, too humble to realize she’s hiding her light under a bushel, but at the same time wanting to be a good role model for those around her. Her very virtues seem to be a lesson to others, but not a particularly compelling one if you’re the prettiest schoolmarm in the insane asylum that is H!P.

I think of that alternate version of the “Go Girl!” PV. Forced to speak sweet nothings to the camera, a few of the girls just play the role as straight narcissist drama (Sayumi especially), most of them have a hard time keeping a straight face… and as for Takitty, she bounces around a little, all fresh-faced vigor… and bends down to wag her finger at the camera, as if politely scolding a child.

Or the “Joshi” PV where she pouts about her country accent and looks peevish… but not convincingly so.

Or the H!P All-Stars PV. Every girl has a solo shot and each of them mugs for the camera, as to be expected. There are V’s a-plenty, Reina does the monkey-face, there are various kinds of salutes… and when it’s Takitty’s turn, she just stands there and smiles. Oh, and blinks.

The funny part is, I fondly remember Takitty doing a very convincing monkey-face on Hello! Project once. But that seemed spur-of-the-moment, Takitty being Takitty. And I wonder if that’s the problem.

Is she reining herself in too much? Is she too much the shy country girl, even after spending most all of her teen years in the spotlight? Is there some kind of cultural disconnect between how she was raised and what she needs to do as an idol?

I find myself comparing her to Nacchi, who’s also got a pleasant vibe going for her, very girl-next-door and clearly talented. She’s also been something of a favored child in the H!P stable, though that’s grown considerably from sheer seniority as the history stretches longer. Nacchi’s never been boring – or even close to it – but she’s always projected an aura of being pleasant. How does she strike this balance? By always being agreeable, sure… but also by having no problem letting her flaws take center stage in a while.

For example, I loved how Nacchi screamed and cried on the roller coaster doing H!P News a month or so back – and when she was told afterwards by that rabbit to apologize, she did so… but clearly resented it. Beyond that, for all her pleasantness there’s definitely something fearsome about Nacchi, an unspoken power she wielded when in Morning Musume: she may have been the big sister among the senpai, but there was also an edge to her that she kept cleverly concealed. (Sixth Gen sensed it too – check out the Utaban Lie Detector Test.) She’s sharper than she lets on – except, maybe, about plagiarizing poetry.

If there’s a hidden edge to Takitty, she does a better job than Nacchi about hiding it.

Even when she does something wacky, like playing the baby chick in the Gomaki Sparrow skits, it hinged on a certain pleasant cluelessness to how she carried herself. Unlike others, placing her in a ridiculous costume didn’t make her play out a persona in broader strokes… she just kept being Takitty, except dressed as a bird or a dog or whatever.

Which may also explain why she didn’t click with Minimoni as well as Mari did. Besides being a bit too tall for the group (which I have no problem with), her ability to do pantomime wasn’t as good as any of the other girls in the group. Even back then, Tsuji and Kago were the masters at broad-stroke pantomime, and Mari wasn’t far behind the twin terrors. Mika was pretty good, though less was demanded of her since being the American apparently already entailed some level of caricature.

In contrast, Takitty brought her finger-waving and the “hands spread out, mouth in an O” surprise look, but little else at first. She was the graceful ballerina and pretty voice in a group built on teenage girls stumbling around like spastic toddlers… mostly for the edification of real spastic toddlers, as it were. Whether or not Takitty directly led to the unfortunate bling-ing of Minimoni, I wouldn’t want to hazard… but certainly, her very presence changed the tone of what Minimoni could be. At the very least, the fact that she dressed in more revealing outfits than the other Minimoni girls – more bare midriff, shorter shorts – meant something new was going on.

Obligatory dental comment: her teeth look fine, generally… I mean, a bit crooked, but not so bad. I wonder about a receding gumline, but even that’s not a major concern.

In the “Chokkan 2” Close-Up PV, Takitty doesn’t veer far from her established persona… but if anything, she seems to sex it up a bit, which makes sense since she’s with the Sexy Golden group. She looks pensive, she looks seductive (kind of), she lets go a bit during the chorus parts… She points at the camera, seems to admonish the viewer… she masters the disapproving sideways glance to maximum effect…

One gets the sense that she may actually be the only Musume to be concerned that the delicious fish got away.

It’s kind of like the femme fatale vegetable-biter she played in the “Manpower” alternate PV – sexy, sorta, but also for your own good. She doesn’t play up a caricature of her persona like some of the others, nor does she try for many moments of kawaii. It’s a very reserved kind of performance – not spaced out and vacant like Konno (who, as a matter of habit, gets away with spaced out and vacant all the time). More like she’s trying to be as mature as possible. Which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.

I actually liked this a lot. I’ll give Takitty this: she knows how to project heat – and when she does, it works well for her. And here, the smolder’s set on low but is at least persistent. The question, then, is why not project that heat more often? This darker Takitty seems to come out in the PVs once in a rare while, like here… but isn’t that evident in her live performances, nor in her time on Hello! Morning, not even in her photobooks. (Though I haven’t looked very closely at her photobooks in a while, so if anybody cares to correct me, name the photobook and page numbers so I can… um… verify.)

If anything, I’d be happier seeing more Takitty weirdness. She’s got it in her, and it comes out at unexpected moments – and is actually a relief when we see that. But too often she just seems like a nice girl, or a friendly girl, or a girl who can do some graceful dance moves in a spare moment.

I’m not expecting her to confess to serial killer fantasies or being as spacey as Konno – though I think if you boil it down, they’re about equally out there in left-field and Konno just has a harder time hiding it (or cares less, whatever the case may be). And maybe it’s just her personality to not flaunt this aspect of herself…

But then, the “Chokkan 2” PV provides another route for her: sexier, more seductive, more commanding. She can carry it off for the PV but can she make it an integral part of her persona? It’d involve a risk, I’d argue, but one that could pay off wonderfully.

I don’t mean a complete makeover of her persona, but a toughening up of her style or perhaps more of a glamour take on her persona. Really, just add some mint chips or chocolate chips or fudge superchunk to her idol vanilla.

There’s no denying that Takitty’s has talent to spare, but that’s not really enough in Jpop. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s not the first priority of Jpop.

I can see her going solo – though then she’d really have to sell her idol persona and the pleasantness may just make her looklike a wallflower. I expect if/when she goes solo, the makeover I mentioned will become a necessity. I can see her having a steady career, but can’t imagine her being a runaway success – not in the caliber of Ayaya, who’s got personality to spare, or even Nacchi, who’s been able to mess with her image a bit since going solo.

Then again, maybe Takitty’s just waiting to surprise us all. Maybe she’ll be the Koda Kumi of H!P… okay, that’s not likely. But if she’s got it in her, she should consider whipping it out sooner or later. It can only do her good.

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3 Responses to “Chokkan 2 Close-Up: The Unbearable Pleasantness of Takitty”
  1. Chuck says:

    Takahashi kind of reminds me of the way Mari seemed when she was new. She doesn’t exactly get lost in the crowd, but she doesn’t really capture people’s interest the way Rika or the twins did. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like she’s going to dye her hair blonde and start a wacky subgroup.

    By the way, if you want to see her projecting sex appeal, I think the best example is the “Iroppoi Jirettai” PV. She kind of breaks out of the Blahkitty shell and vamps it up for her parts. I thought it seemed so, anyway.

  2. Chuck:

    I’ll keep in mind what you said about the “Iroppoi” PV. I didn’t watch it as much as the PVs for the singles before and after, so it’ll be interesting to see if she’s been developing her vampy side all throughout 2005…

  3. Taka says:

    You may be onto something. According to press releases, her new photobook is supposed to be “mature” and “sexy” with “suggestive poses”.