Favorite PVs of 2005: #5, Berryz Koubo’s “Special Generation”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

The top five in my list of favorite PVs are tricky. Any and all of them could easily become #1 on the list, depending on the time of day and what criterias I’m prioritizing at the moment. So Berryz Koubo’s "Special Generation" would easily be number one if I was thinking solely of the PV I watched and obsessed over the most in 2005. (Second place would be the close-up version of "Piriri to Yukou!", though that came out in 2004.)

That said, I had pegged the complete Top Ten down ahead of time just to spare myself any last-minute hand-wringing… and it must be admitted, being currently obsessed with this song and PV doesn’t mean it’s de facto better than the remaining songs in the top four. If anything, stepping back for a moment and forgetting how I can’t live without Chinami and Risako and the rest, I find that this is an excellent song and video… but not as good as the PVs that are going to follow. At least, not by other criteria I’ve established in my head.

As I said, the song itself is stunningly good. It would have to be to make me actually notice Berryz in the first place. I started 2005 as very much against Berryz, thinking they were the anti-SweetS. I still think they are, in some ways, but that doesn’t keep me from enjoying what they do. And if anybody told me at the start of 2005 that by the start of 2006 I’d be more of a Berryz fan than a SweetS fan, I’d think they were insane. Of course, that doesn’t take into account either SweetS’ spotty track record or Berryz’ secret weapon…

Chinami! She shakes her head firmly twice in the PV, strikes some interesting poses, and looks thoughtful during her close-ups. It’s quite a performance, and sums up what makes this PV so compelling: it captures perfectly the aggressive nature of the song, practically beat for beat, and gives the Berryz an air of maturity they hadn’t had earlier. (Actually, I have yet to see one Berryz PV, "Koi no Jubaku", which was released right before "Special Generation"; so if I’m off here, there’s that blind spot to consider.)

The PV is made up of a series of motifs that are combined and recombined to maxium effect. The blouses are in four colors, two girls wearing a color; the background are variants of blue: light blue, the darker blue with white in a kind of rising sun motif; and a deep-aqua-and-white version of the same rising sun motif. There’s also a kind of kaleidescoping transition a la James Bond intros made up of blue, green, and white stripes, creating a circular peephole effect that’s used a couple of times for insets during the dance.

Like Morning Musume’s "Osaka Koi no Uta," thematically it’s all of a piece, one can see the guiding sensibility behind these choices; unlike "Osaka" these are purely design considerations, so the mix-and-match works better than the various costume changes and lighting effects thrown into the mix in "Osaka". As a result, "Special Generation" has the coherence that "Osaka" sorely lacks – it’s not only aesthetically complete, but its completeness is evident. This is also aided by the rapid cutting of the PV, built into the rhythms of the song and the incredible choreography.

The song is just fucking brilliant – propulsive and infectious, suffused with a vocal urgency that elevates the girls’ vocals beyond the cutesy and juvenile. For a little while, "Special Generation" made me think of Golden Age Morning Musume in its pure pop elan – you get caught up in the song’s skittish energy, and the beautifully aggressive arrangements. Certainly, it’s one of the catchiest singles from H!P in a long time. But if I had to be honest, Berryz’s vocals and Golden Age Momusu are like acorns and oak trees, and that does make a difference. Which isn’t a bad thing, just give the Berryz some time – the whole point is they’re still developing as talent, after all.

The choreography in the PV is excellent, and works well with the way the video’s edited. There’s a sense of spontaneity in the girls’ moves, especially in their solo shots, but that’s clearly not the case. My favorite example is how the gasps in the song are timed to poses in the group dance, but also a spread-finger hand movement in the solo shots. And this is where Chinami’s head shakes fit in, as both a show of dance floor potency and a visual beat in the video.

The group dance is fascinating to watch… it’s got the Berryz rawness I mentioned in the past, where they’re doing the best they can but aren’t as tight-knit a dance troupe as, say, SweetS. And yet the moves are dramatic enough – and the girls confident enough – that it doesn’t seem at all amateurish. So there’ll be shots where a couple of the girls look like they’re off-balance while making some rudimentary hand movements, and that contrasts to the poses they lock into. It helps that these dance moves are so aggressive, with the windmilling arms, sharp waves, open-palm punches, and so on. And it also helps that the girls strike some glamour poses where they seem more like young women than kids playing. It pushes the Berryz image further, makes them stand out as "more" than a kiddie act – though as I got into the group, it was obvious they were never "just" a kiddie act.

Oddly enough – or perhaps not – Saki and Chinami really set themselves apart in the PV with their dancing. It’s more evident in the Dance Version of the PV, where we see the pose struck hard by the backup four – Saki, Chinami, Maasa, Maiha – and the half kicks (knees thrust up, legs still down) that are nowhere to be seen in the original PV.

And yeah, the whole eye candy experience of watching "Special Generation" can’t be discounted. They’re all great fun to watch here – they’re not just smiling and looking cute, they also have moments of distraught young womanhood or simple badass attitude.

And keeping with the whole variations in a theme aspect of the motif, the development of new variations at key moments in the song helps create a slight illusion of narrative – or at least, of progression. During the instrumental bridge, the solo shots suddenly turn to silhouettes. The girls are still striking poses, Saki seems to be jumping up and down in excitement, and Miyabi and another girl strike another pose…

Which segues right into this shot, a pose like a welcoming gate
way to some idol paradise. What would be overplayed and silly in some other PV works great here, only emphasizing the strange power Berryz has over me.

And really, all of the Berryz have grown on me over the past few months. Well, they’d have had to, considering I didn’t like them at all at the start of 2005. Saki struck me as the most prim and proper of the group, but also a hard worker. It may just be because she’s the oldest and may have some responsibilities as captain, or because she’s also the shortest and so has to assert herself more. Still, there’ve been moments when Saki catches me by surprise and it’ll be interesting to see how she’ll develop in her role as Berryz captain when the group finally surpasses Momusu in popularity and sales later this year.

And of course, there’s Chinami. Well, I’ve been raving about her throughout this, so I’ll just say she seems the wild card of the group, the one who may surprise everybody in unexpected ways. She’s the only one who has an enigmatic quality to her – well, and maybe one other – and this could pay off nicely if the H!P enivronment doesn’t stifle it too much.

Yurina’s the obvious beauty of the group – to me, the one who most fits the traditional expectations of an idol in looks and talent. She’s the easy one to like if you’re looking ahead five or six years.

I find myself constantly re-evaluating Miyabi – or rather, I keep reminding myself I don’t have to hate her and that hey, she is cute and certainly talented. She’s the one that many people consider the idol with most potential… And yet I couldn’t see it as much. If anything, she’s like the Shibata Ayumi of the group – getting the plum assignments from Tsunku and yet leaving you feeling like there’re others in her unit who would be equally (if not more) deserving.

Maiha would do one more single and leave… Watching her in the videos, she never looked as happy as the others – especially in the close-up versions of songs – but that may just be the persona she wanted to project. At any rate, I still think her departure has strengthened the group considerably. It isn’t that she didn’t contribute to the group, but that her departure may be what’s needed to have the group make the next step forward to pop domination. Kind of like when Asuka left Morning Musume, except Berryz already have a couple of potential Gocchins in their fold.

When I first began noticing Berryz Koubo, Risako’s the one I liked immediately. I still love her to bits, though it’s not just for the sheer cuteness: she seems the rawest edge in the group, with distinct vocals and a great idol persona that seems naturally, incorrigibly enthusiastic. (If you watch the close-up versions of PVs, she’s the only one to dance to the songs while she sings.) There was something of a mild shock hearing her sing live on the recent concert DVD (which I’m hoping to write about later in the week) – she does need to learn vocal control. And yet that doesn’t discount her talents or her considerable charms. That’s the beauty of youth, isn’t it? Watching Risako develop into a solid all-around talent – studio and live – will be exciting and worth cheering on.

And hey, she is undeniably cute and will likely remain cute well into adulthood.

And Maasa has gone from looking clumsy and out of place to quite magnificent. She’s going to grow up to be a beautiful, statuesque woman and is already getting past her ugly duckling phase. (The make-up and hair people who handled her in "Piriri to Yukou" should still be rounded up and shot, however.) I don’t ever watch a music video and think, "Nice shoulders," but that’s happened bunches of times when watching Maasa in recent Berryz PVs, including this one.

Berryz are much more polished now than when they started. If anything, they’ve developed faster than, say, Momusu Gen Five in their first couple years. (But then, Gen 5 had their senpai to deal with, while Berryz are all the same level in the H!P hierarchy.) And yet there’s still that youthful quality that makes them such a winning H!P unit, a tension between their young energy and the polish constantly being applied to their presentation.

And as time passes, the whole issue of growing up and its effect on the unit will have to be taken into consideration – we’ve already seen it with Maiha’s departure, and Lord only knows where it’s going to go from there. (For reasons I can’t articulate, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chinami leaves, for example; I’d be heartbroken, but not at all surprised.) Puberty’s a bitch, if I remember correctly, and we’ll see how that factors into the H!P unit that’s gotten the biggest vote of confidence from management this year.

One last thing about the PV: in a group that’s been plagued with strange choreography for much of 2005’s PVs, there’s only one moment that seems strange: as the song rushes to the end, Maasa’s all the way in the back, jumping up and down as if trying to block someone’s shot in basketball. Why this happens, I don’t know – maybe they’re paving the way for the elaborate basketball charades of the next PV? We’ll let this one slide, at any rate.

The promise of "Special Generation" – a more mature, dynamic sound – was followed up with "Nanchuu Koi wo Yatteru YOU KNOW?". And then there was a return to a more youthful sound with "21ji Made no Cinderella" and "Gyagu 100kai bun Aishite Kudasai". It seemed inexplicable, at first – and even mildly disappointing – but these are great songs, and great songs justify themselves more often than not. That said, I do look forward to more songs and PVs in the "Special Generation" / "Nanchuu" mold. It’s only a matter of time and biology, after all.

Next: #4 makes me cry every time I see it.

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3 Responses to “Favorite PVs of 2005: #5, Berryz Koubo’s “Special Generation””
  1. Menno says:

    Haven’t you seen both of the Koi no Jubaku PVs. Because the Smile version is disturbingly brilliant in it’s simpleness and weirdness. It’s the most strangest H!P PV ever made in my humble opinion.

    This PV, Special Generation would be my number one, because it got me into H!P and J-pop.

  2. niji says:

    What you liked about this PV were the things I hated about it, just described differently.

    And hey, [Risako] is undeniably cute and will likely remain cute well into adulthood.

    Tru dat.

    ROTFL

  3. Menno:

    Haven’t seen any PVs of “Koi no Jubaku” – I figure I’ll get my chance with the second clips collection next month.

    niji:

    Even Chinami’s head shakes? How can you NOT like Chinami’s head shakes?