Favorite PVs of 2005: #3, W’s “Miss Love Tantei”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

Well, I’ve already written a good deal about W’s "Miss Love Tantei" – here and here – so I’m tempted to just give you the links, provide the pretty screencaps, and leave it at that. But as I’ve never been known to pass up 1000 words when 10 will suffice, let’s see what I can muster…

First, this PV – like the rest of the Top Five – could have been number one. In this case, it’s about the best use of idol personae in a PV – even more than "RoboKiss," "Miss Love Tantei" is a reminder of what makes the TsujiKago team great… But more than that, it also points to a maturing of their personae in a way that’s consistent with their established image. That’s quite a trick to pull off, and one worth respecting because of the hit-and-miss attempts up to now.

When I think of the finest examples of TsujiKago performances – the team, not the individual girls – it often involves a lot of goofiness, some mayhem, and driving other people in Hello! Project crazy. Immediately there’s Minimoni and their greatest singles – which people will argue over, but I’d include "Hinamatsuri," "Jankenpyon," "Minimoni! Telephone Rin Rin Rin" and some others. I’d also include the madness of their best extracurricular activities, including their Elevator Girls routine for Melodix (where they not only play straight women to Gackt but also got Pierrot to follow through on "Kago-chan desu" and "Tsuji-chan desu").

And of course, there was the first photobook they did – together, with some images of the duo that are now iconic for H!P fans – as well as some pictures from the Hamilton Island book and Chain! Chain! Chain!.

Oddly, it’s hard to pin down the quintessential TsujiKago moments in actual Momusu songs and PVs – early on, they were cute in the backgrounds during the Golden Age and the inevitable minna-lag after fifth generation debuted made it hard to fit any distinct TsujiKago goodness in the mix. (Though there were lots of great individual contributions from the two, especially from Kago.)

If anything, it was their reputation as the terrible twins that made them stick out. There was an Ayaka’s Surprise English Lessons where Kaori spoke about keeping the two of them in line. And of course, there was their stunning performance for the Mechaike Bakajo test.

But the quintessential image that emerged of TsujiKago was essentially of brats running amok. That couldn’t last: they were rapidly growing up and there were younger members joining Momusu. So their images were rehabilitated – think of the revamped, more "street" Minimoni and the more mature look they had for songs like "Shabondama". This wasn’t necessarily the TsujiKago that endeared itself to fans, however – I think the back-to-basics of "Lucky Cha Cha Cha" backs this up somewhat.

Which isn’t to discount their accomplishments as separate idols. Kago had always done well without Tsuji. She had shone in the greatest subgroup ever, second-gen Tanpopo, as well as in her shuffle groups, particularly 3 Nin Matsuri and Salt 5. And Tsuji may not have distinguished herself as immediately, but she was often comedic gold for H!P, such as the Yuko Graduation Special and the Nono’s Surprise Dance Lessons pulled on Ayaka.

But the TsujiKago combo was always special – they were the tightest duo in H!P and fans wanted them to be together. You can’t hear "Kago-chan desu" without needing to hear "Tsuji-chan desu". Tsunku added Tsuji precisely because he loved the chemistry between the two, and his trust in that chemistry – and in Tsuji proving herself – is one of the smartest risks he took.

So – if I understand the situation correctly – when it was time for Kago to graduate from Morning Musume, it only made sense for Tsuji to leave with her and form a new unit. At their best, they are a package deal and it’s funny how this is simply taken for granted. But they couldn’t continue with the kiddie hijinx of their Minimoni days – though Lord knows, the powers that be tried to make it last as long as possible.

In retrospect, the starting gambit of W was smart – give a history lesson and release an album full of cover songs by female pop duos of the past. Create a new context for TsujiKago – they weren’t just a couple of brats, but part of a tradition that includes Peanuts and Pink Lady. The first single, a cover of Peanuts’ "Koi no Vacance," made a point of making TsujiKago look retro (they even step out of a time machine), which was a rather nifty way to put the girls in girlish plaids but not have them be Minimoni plaid. The Music Fair special with Morning Musume and Pink Lady furthered this evolution of TsujiKago, especially as it was part of their graduation performances: certainly, it was the first time I figured that W may have the longevity to be another Pink Lady.

Eizo no Sekai – the first DVD of W PVs – featured several covers from the first album along with "Koi no Vacance" and ended with "Aa Ii Na!". This was canny, as well: I’m not very good with my Jpop history, but I’ve since developed a fondness for Pink Lady and especially Wink. Watching W do their versions of Wink’s overly dramatic dance moves for "Samishii Nettaigyo" and the pantomime of Pink Lady’s "Southpaw" may draw unfavorable comparisons to the originals – but at least valid comparisons could be made.

So if the initial retro motif of W accomplished anything, it was to make clear: these girls are geinou of a certain tradition, and we can think of them that way now, not just how they were at twelve and thirteen.

"Aa Ii Na!" and "Robokiss" pushed the girls forward: we were given a more mature take on the TsujiKago image, helped by the presence of Berryz Koubo as their backup dancers. TsujiKago were not only part of a long-standing Jpop tradition, they were also role models for future generations of idols – another subtle push towards growing up their personae.

For me, at least, "Robokiss" was the last great hurrah of the old TsujiKago personae. The single was what third gen Minimoni could have sounded like – more mature, but also catchy in a simple, playful manner – and the PV had that old TsujiKago anarchy with some of their favorite motifs mixed in: multiple roles, a bit of cosplay, some silly dancing, a lot of broad pantomime acting, and a whole lot of mayhem. That said, it was undeniable the girls were growing up – Tsuji had become undeniably sexy, and the Berryz back-up was a reminder of their senpai role.

But it was as if they wanted to throw one last high school party before moving on to college. (Or, if you want to be snarky, one last grade school party before moving on to junior high.) You could see the older self asserting its presence, even as the younger self has fun the way it always had.

But after "Robokiss" there was a whole lot of struggling with W’s personae. They had another stab at retro with a cover of "Koi no Fuga," but that gimmick was getting old – and the song simply wasn’t as good as "koi no Vacance". They then backtracked completely and did "Ai no Imi wo Oshiete!". And while the song was quite catchy, it was painful to see W acting too young for their age again. And it didn’t help that the second W album was a bit of a mess – I listened to it twice but just couldn’t get into it.

To me, at least, it seemed that W was floundering. The easiest temptations – to keep up the kiddie image or to become a cover band for past girl pop duos – just weren’t all that tempting. If anything, they needed to evolve a little bit more – they had their Terrible Twins past, but also new directions available to them.

All of which is a prelude to why I love "Miss Love Tantei" so much and think so highly of the PV. To me, at least, this was the right step forward after what seemed to be a crap year for W. But I must admit to a blind spot here: I wasn’t paying attention to the musical they were doing, where the Cara and Mel characters were being developed, nor their appearances on Oha Star. Whatever the case, "Miss Love Tantei" not only reminded me how much I love the TsujiKago team, it showed how they could evolve and still be true to their past.

The song itself is excellent – it’s part of what may be termed the Avexing of H!P – less quirky than earlier W songs, but considerably catchier, even danceable in a non-spastic manner. I’m not sure how it stacks against some of  the other great H!P songs of 2005 – Viyuden’s "Kacchoii Ze! Japan" and "Ajisai Ai Ai Monogatari," Berryz Koubo’s "Special Generation" and "Nanchuu Koi wo Yatteru You Know" – but from that perspective it seems to point to some kind of trend in H!P. I’d hesitate to call it a maturing of H!P, since H!P always had a mature side, but it certainly felt different.

And the PV itself is just… wow.

I mean, I found it impossible to watch the previous two PVs – and I happen to think of Tsuji and especially Kago as very fine eyecandy. It was a different take on the problem that hiro and Ueto Aya seem to suffer: as drool-worthy as they are, there was actual discomfort watching them sing their songs, and I can’t hit the Stop button fast enough.

In contrast, "Miss Love Tantei" had everything you expect from a video with TsujiKago: the cosplay, the multiple roles, the broad humor of the pantomime, and a good deal of mayhem. And yet there were also some new elements: the dance moves were dramatic and even sexy, the costumes matched this change, and the humor managed to be manic but lost its kiddie vibe.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t get nearly enough of Tsuji’s navel. She is now easily the sexiest Musume – past and present – who’s yet to give birth. And Kago has had some problems with her image, but has reached her own lusciousness in this PV. And if anything, her superior vocal skills gives a warmth and depth in her persona that still edges out Tsuji’s more obvious charms… but just barely, nowadays. They’re no longer Jpop’s answer to Wham!, their partnership is very much equal now.

Beyond that, the new take on TsujiKago-style humor is worth noting. As detectives, the girls now have responsibilities. They’ve gone from stealing cakes to finding stolen diamonds! I’m still not sure why Tsuji is carrying around a rug beater – there are other things I’d like to see her beat, if you know what I mean – but that helps add to the requisite strangeness of any TsujiKago cosplay role.

Further, their decision to play ko-gals – complete with ganguro make-up – is incredible, especially when one considers the reputation attached to such a look. That alone was enough to make me take notice, and the way they vamp up in the detective meets ko-gals scenes is my favorite part of the PV. Watch the girls play different characters across the Patty Duke-esque split screen, with the two Kagos playing hand games with each other (is it jankenpyon?) while ko-gal Tsuji preens in the mirror then takes a picture of the detectives.

The sequence with the boxes and barrels are corny, but pay attention: TsujiKago have always been able to get away with corny. Here is no different. Why? Because pretty girls excuse things like this, especially if the girls are as skilled with comedy as these two. We don’t expect any strange cutting-edge laughs from W but something familiar yet still amusing.  Multiple roles and silly editing tricks fit that description just fine, and it’s all played to perfection. To expect otherwise is like expecting Pink Lady to perform G.G. Allin songs – the disconnect would just be too strong.

At any rate, W now have a chance to keep playing a version of their earlier idol personae while also working on their more mature side. It’s less a case of having their cake and eating it too, but of easing their audience into loving the new TsujiKago as much as they did the old TsujiKago. The HaroPro Party DVD shows this, with the girls managing to switch easily from the cutesy to the sexy. They’ll always be able to do this, actually – it’s just that cutesy can’t be kiddie any longer.

W now have a clear idea of where they can be headed, what their future can be. It doesn’t mean giving up their past, just admitting that they have grown up and need to adjust accordingly. Hopefully, they’ll continue on this track with future releases. It was a long time coming, but the payoff was definitely worth it.

Next: #2… ahh, you’re not going to expect this one. Just wait for it.

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4 Responses to “Favorite PVs of 2005: #3, W’s “Miss Love Tantei””
  1. Johnny says:

    Ahhh……Tsujikago. They grow up so fast.

    Questions have been raised in various H!P forums about Tsuji’s “weight issue” and how she just looks incredibly thin.

    Any thoughts on this?

  2. CJ Marsicano says:

    Three things, Ray….

    1) I think that’s a FUTON beater Nono carries in the PV…

    2) Am I the only one who pissed himself laughing after reading this line: To expect otherwise is like expecting Pink Lady to perform G.G. Allin songs…

    3) At the risk of being castrated by my girlfriend… after seeing this video the first time, I’d boink them both. 😉

  3. Alice says:

    For the next video… Kome Kome Club?

  4. Johnny:

    I’m hoping Tsuji’s thinness isn’t anything serious, and she seemed fine during Kouhaku.

    CJ:

    Just imagine Pink Lady doing “Southpaw” and instead of pitching imaginary baseball throwing – well, what G.G. would’ve thrown…

    And as for #3… yeah.

    Alice:

    Wow! That guess took even me by surprise.