Tokuban with Morning Musume

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

As is its wont, Utaban had a Tokuban episode with their guests being the graduated Musumes still in H!P – minus the suspended Kago Ai. There’s a subtitled version available on Jpopsuki which I highly, highly recommend – it’s difficult to enjoy this episode without knowing what exactly they’re saying.

Anyway, I looked forward to this episode a great deal and was surprised at how it seemed to encapsulte all that was right with Morning Musume and hinted at how it could have gone wrong. There was a good deal of nostalgia, not just about Morning Musume during their peak years, but of the strange and satisfyingly perverse relationship that developed between Hello! Project and Utaban over the years.

The fact that the greatness of Morning Musume’s past tends to overshadow the achievements of Morning Musume’s present is unfortunate and can’t be helped. If Teddy Kennedy has to contend with living in his older brothers’ shadows, then the current Musumes can deal with living in the shadow of “Love Machine” and “The Peace!”.

Morning Musume’s current line-up was also on the show – with some theories that their segment was filmed at a different time. Whether or not it’s true, one thing is clear: the current Musumes didn’t get much camera time at all.

However, were they supposed to? If anything, it seems that the old Musumes were gathered together and the new Musumes were invited afterwards as a courtesy so they can promote the new single.

The fun begins immediately on the Golden Age side, as Ishibashi and Nakai immediately begin insulting the girls…

… and sniffing them…

… in turn leading to the girls turning on each other almost as quickly! That’s what the classic Utaban episodes with Momusu were all about, letting the girls fend for themselves. Some of the best Utabans involve competitions that may seem similar to Hello! Morning challenges, but are considerably more absurd and bring out considerably worse behavior in the players. Of course, it helps that the Musumes are being egged on by Nakai and Ishibashi, who want to make the girls look as bad as possible… not out of viciousness, but because it makes for great TV.

Okay, and maybe a little bit of viciousness. But vicious can be funny in the right hands.

Iida looks great! She looks so much better now, outside of Morning Musume and sporting a more mature style. I want to see more of her after watching this episode – but I guess that’s why I’m always yelling for a second gen Tanpopo reunion. At her most relaxed and comfortable, Iida is a joy to behold and not the gawky, wide-eyed misfit that she’s come to be known as by more casual H!P watchers.

Yuko is probably the second-favorite target of the Utaban guys, after Kei. Where Kei gets slammed constantly for being a loathsome troll, Yuko is harassed for being so old and not being married yet,

Meanwhile, the current Musumes wait patiently. Some seem less than pleased to be there, but can you blame them? I like that Koharu looks thrilled… and on the upper right corner…

Makoto! She’s rising in my otaku estimation because she gets picked on by Ishibashi kind of the way Kei is. Ishibashi hits her on the head – a sign of affection, as far as I can tell, as he mostly ignores the other girls – and tells Nakai how backstage she asked that she be given chances to say interesting things. That takes balls – she’s going out of her way to work with the Utaban hosts and isn’t afraid to look silly for it.

I think of the H!P All-Stars episode where Takitty talks about collecting coins… and that’s it. Nothing for Ishibashi to work with, just a blip of mild oddness – and it’s not even that odd, really. Then Makoto asks for advice on her first photobook and Ishibashi goes wild with her on it, with mongols and grabbing a camera and expressing disbelief at Makoto’s suggestion for tatami mats.

I think that’s why Makoto is placed at the edge next to the hosts, so she can interact more with them.

In the only other example of current Musume fun, Yossi shows some old-fashioned Yossi-ness by talking about being old enough to drink and enjoying a… maternity. Turns out she was talking about a martini, but Ishibashi and Nakai make great fun out of this mistake.

Next is a quiz with the two Musume groups. Some of the questions were quite illuminating, especially regarding the attitudes of the graduates versus the current line-up. Here is one question that speaks volumes…

All eight of the graduate Musumes know this and agree. But then, all eight have had extensive careers outside of being Musumes at this point. How many of the current line-up can continue with a geinou career post-Musume? I hashed out some opinions on this very topic with the Chokkan 2 Close-Ups, but in stark contrast to the Golden girls, it seems less… hopeful… for the newer girls.

Asked by Ishibashi about a fanclub tour to Shanghai, Yuko lashes back in wonderful Yuko fashion!

Here’s another interesting question that had some telling results…

Three out of ten would join Momusu if they had to do it again? What the heck does that mean? And who are the three? I’m sure Mikitty won’t be one of the three, as she was practically forced into the group. That just means she’d have rather stayed solo. Kusumi’s so new that I doubt she’d say no, though I could be wrong. And Yossi? Almost positively yes. But there’s still one other…

But the question still remains for me: why do the others say no? Is there not enough satisfaction from their current status? That’d be understandable. Do they feel they could have done better outside of Momusu? Possible, but highly unlikely.

It reminds me of Kei using a test question on the infamous Bakajo Exam to express her embarassment at being in Momusu – she said it didn’t mean anything, but even thinking along those lines reveals a truth.

In contrast, seven of the eight graduates say they would do Momusu again. If anything, these women seem more committed to the idol life and the career path it sets them – but that’s because they’ve done so well. They’ve known what it’s like to be at the peak of the Japanese music scene, to be superstars.

Unfortunately, only Yossi has had that taste in the current line-up, as sales began to drop with the addition of the fifth gen… So perhaps that’s why most of the current Musumes weren’t so enthusiastic? Because they haven’t had as rewarding, as influential, a career as idols as those before them? It makes you wonder how the later gens came into Morning Musume thinking of the greatness of the Golden Age and instead facing… well, what they’re facing now.

The one graduate who doesn’t want to join Momusu if given a second chance is Yuko, and for a very sensible reason. It’s also a reason I wouldn’t attribute to any of the girls in the current line-up, though…

And again, Yuko’s spinster status is trotted out and she’s an excellent sport about it, which I find astounding. That said, I also have to wonder if this is good date material advertisement for her – you know, playing up how single she is, sorta make it seem desperate, then cherry-pick from the brave men willing to approach her as a result.

She then says something about her criteria for choosing a potential mate that Ishibashi and Nakai find funny. It’s a great practical statement, though – and if anything, I often get the sense that the Musumes become much more pragmatic (if not this pragmatic) once they leave the group and have to work as an idol outside of that cushion of safety.

Nakai talks about rumors of himself and Yuko, then mentions how his mother still asks about Yuko as a result.

At this point, there’s a long VTR collecting some of the best Morning Musume episodes from the past. Usually, I’d think that something like this would be filler. In the case of the long and elaborate history of Utaban’s poor treatment not only of Morning Musume but all the subgroups and some of the soloists (Ayaya tended to get off light, except when she was with other H!P girls) and various other units (including Melon Kinenbi’s Boss Saito)… well, this could have been a two-hour show on its own.

For the record, my personal favorite is the debut of Tanpopo’s second gen and the effects crazy performance that angered Iida. It may not have been the cruelest example – actually, Kei getting beaned on the head with a dodgeball during last year’s shuffles special may be the cruelest – but it was certainly up there.

We start off with a look at the first two gens when theyw ere still intact. Look at Ayappe! God, she looks great here! But she always looked great! And here she looks so… young!

Yuko actually doesn’t look all that different over the years. If anything, she looks better, healthier now. It only reinforces that their years in H!P has been very kind for those who stuck around. And for Ayappe, of course.

Iida and Nacchi were still children at the time.

Mari looks so strange, so generic… the dye job was definitely her best move image-wise.

Kei looking peeved, perhaps already sensing the humiliation that would follow in the coming years.

Their first real single…

Ayappe looking great for my favorite single from the early years. I liked her best in the white suit from the PV, though – that was hot.

Sayaka in the early years, before she went with the shorter, sexier hairdo.

I really don’t get much of a chance to put up enough Ayappe pictures, so I’m making full use of it now.

Nacchi showing a fit of temper when others complain about her. I actually like her better when she’s peeved, it’s quite cute on her.

Gocchin’s debut circa “Love Machine”! Wowza, she looks great. A little ganguro, perhaps, but that just makes her more mature.

“The Love Machine” line-up in all their glory. Maybe it’s just the nostalgist in me, but there’s something highly compelling about this particular line-up of idol personae… It isn’t nearly as well-defined individually as when fourth gen settled in around “I Wish” and “The Peace” but this was the start of a brave new approach for Morning Musume.

There was a new confidence, an assertion of power – several of the girls were suddenly sexier (Sayaka most surprising of all), Mari began to grow into her fearsome self, Nacchi’s goofier side was allowed more play – and a wave of constant evolution would sweep the group into unheard-of heights.

Sexy pedolicious Gocchin talks about how she likes to cook…

And Ishibasi already insists on her attention! I think of the marriage ceremony Ishibashi and Gocchin had on her sixteenth birthday, one of the funniest and creepiest moments on this show.

Wow. I mean, Momoko looks nothing like this, and she’s fourteen. None of the H!P Kids look this good, though Chinami is almost that tan. Perhaps Maimi and Maasa…? The comparison speaks volumes, but volumes of what isn’t clear.

At this point, children weren’t being recruited to H!P to grow up into idols, they were expected to already be idols to some extent. Gocchin was put through a wringer to catch up to speed with the rest of the group. That doesn’t happen nowadays, does it? Though considering Momoko and Suzuki Airi and Megumi, perhaps this long-term approach has a wisdom of its own.

Here’s a great clip from the “Love Machine” era where the girls do the song and freeze when Ishibashi stops the music.

Of course, Iida is singled out for her squatting arm-pumping position.

Ishibashi and Nakai just about die from laughter at this, and again Iida takes it in stride.

I love that they actually plead for Ishibashi to not do this. Really, that’s like throwing gasoline on a raging fire, it only encourages him to do more shit.

“Koi no Dance Site” performance, post-Ayappe. Speaking of which, Ayappe’s last Utaban appearance with Momusu was fascinating. I haven’t seen it in a while but she gets all these going-away prizes, including a car if I remember correctly, and the other girls are astonished and… I could be wrong here… a tad jealous. No other Momusu graduation was greeted with such luxuriant attention by Utaban.

The fourth gen introduce themselves. Rika looks cute here, though it’s clear the idol life has worked wonders on her sense of glamour.

Tsuji! Christ, what an ugly little girl. That said, she was sassy from the start, which is great for Utaban…

Though now that I think of it, Tsuji hasn’t been as sassy and peevish as she was in her younger years. She used to always seem pissed at adults, as if she was aware that she was the butt of jokes but was being forced to be polite about it. Now that she’s a gorgeous, gorgeous young lady, I guess the chip on her shoulder’s no longer needed. Though it’s still fun when it does come out.

Nakai explains that SMAP was formed a year after Tsuji was born…

While the fourth gen didn’t get the same rough treatment as Gocchin, they certainly weren’t pampered either. If anything, they had to quickly adjust to becoming part of the biggest idol group at that time. Surprisingly, it seems Tsuji and Kago took this on best, despite – or maybe because of – being the youngest additions, as their terrible twins personae was quickly honed and became fan favorites. The fourth gen were new and had to stand out on their own terms, and they succeeded admirably.

Oh, and the Minimoni Utaban performances were almost always gold – especially the earliest ones. Mari’s presence always guaranteed a fight, while Tsuji and Kago always guaranteed a few weird laughs. Ishibashi learning the dance moves, the girls fitting themselves into locker, various revelations that bordered on the ridiculous… At their best, the Minimoni episodes of Utaban turned the show into a very strange children’s show with a perversely adult sensibility – that last part provided primarily by Ishibashi’s actions and Nakai’s observations.

And yet another classic game, this one with the over-inflated baloons threatening to pop over the girls. Really, with all the popping of balloons, you think the girls would spend a day just popping balloons around themselves until it no longer phases them. Judging by their reaction here, though, they’d probably all have coronaries by lunchtime.

Ishibashi is manning the controls, and (rightfully) takes offense at Iida’s choice of favorite comedians.

Though really, Iida should have known better. Iida’s persona on Utaban especially was of someone who simply spoke her mind, who didn’t worry abou the consequences – and thus was made to pay for such simple-mindedness in the funniest way imaginable.

Gocchin’s about ready to freak and Tsuji tries to help – wrongheadedly, I’d say – by trying to cut off the air from getting to the balloon. It doesn’t work, the balloon pops, and we watch Gocchin’s breasts shake in slow motion.

And then the quintessential Ishibashi move: taking the sputtering air hose and pretending it’s his penis.

Then another great Utaban game, as Gocchin waits…

… and a big half-naked guy comes hurtling towards her!

The look on Gocchin’s face is absolutely priceless. Is it me, or is she a lot less interesting now that she doesn’t find herself in such ridiculous situations?

Next, a clip from the fourth gen debut single, “Happy Summer Wedding”…

Then cut ahead to “Renai Revolution 21” – which is still my favorite Momusu PV, I think. Certainly my favorite from the Golden Age.

“The Peace!” I like how Utaban is unafraid of showing Kago clips – screw UFA and their suspension. But then, all the shots of Ayappe and Sayaka also goes against the Stalinist revisionist grain of UFA.

This is an Utaban I hadn’t seen before, Kei’s wedding. This strikes me as even odder than usual, if only because it seems intent on making Kei happy, of all things.

But now we get to one of the best running gags of Momusu / Utaban history.

Rika’s long-time admirer, expressing his affection for Charmy.

That’s where the VTR ends and the ongoing drama of Ishikawa and her potential amour continues…

Last year, he thought he finally would get a kiss from Rika before she graduated Momusu… the truth was far, far funnier than that.

Again, the magic moment comes as he professes his love to Charmy…

She’s quite a looker now, isn’t she? I really like her hair a lot in this episode, it works well with the fullness of her face. She seems so much more mature, beautiful and not just cute. Being leader of Viyuden has treated her particularly well.

Anyway, at her admirer’s humble offering of love, Rika has only one answer…

I love Ishikawa for this! And she does it twice, which makes it even more sadistic and funny.

Kagaku crawls off on all four. The comment accompanying this is priceless. And in a way, it speaks to otaku experiences with idols in general, doesn’t it? There’s something bleakly existential about the way otaku crave whatever affection they can from idols… but really, the greatest gift an idol can give is to merely acknowledge that this particular fan exists, that the idol knows this person is a fan.

Or maybe I’m reading too much into this running joke.

Vicious bastards that they are, Ishibashi and Nakai seem to particularly enjoy this bit of humiliation…

But hey, so does Charmy! Rika seems pretty satisfied with herself as she gets back in her seat… I get a sense that she’s the one who most resists the temptation to embrace her audience, to accept their adoration blindly. There was that meowing incident, and this… The funny part is she’s supposed to be one of the vainest members of H!P but that apparently hasn’t made her stupid. Perhaps narcissism has made her question the validity of other people’s opinions of her, good or bad.

The above is quoted for truth. But why is that the case, one must wonder? Is there such a strong bond with other shows, such as Hey Hey Hey or Pop Jam or Music Station?

Perhaps it’s because the whole ordinary-girl conceit of Morning Musume opens them up particularly well for the kind of comedy that Utaban specializes in, which is a kind of slap-and-tickle relationship with celebrity qua celebrity. That is, Utaban does a great job of exposing how ridiculous geinou life – and geinou attitudes – can be, even as it’s hosted by two of the biggest names in Japanese entertainment.

The girls of Momusu – at least, in the first few years – were basically thrown into an ever-widening spotlight, going through a kind of idol bootcamp and then told to be idols as best they can be. They weren’t as prepared for the rigors, they didn’t have their personae so solidly defined – by marketing and by expectation – that they were protective of their pride or even knew what to say on all ocassions. But they were also hungry for the idol attention and so would do anything for that attention.

If anything, it’s like Momusu are Kagaku and the hosts of Utaban were Rika: they wanted to be acknowledged and gain approval, though they know they’ll never get it. Utaban enjoys the power and may even harbor affection, but feel the best tough-love would be ridicule. It’s a match made in heaven!

(Not that having a strongly-defined persona and staying within that act is always a bad thing. The best example of somebody who’s entertaining while staying in character is Gackt. I may not love his music, but I love watching his TV appearances where he’s the cool mofo we all expect him to be… then slyly pokes fun at it in ways we didn’t see coming. This is especially true with his Utaban appearances.)

Anyway, this may be why Utaban and Momusu were such a perfect fit and worked so great together for those four or five years… Put simply, Utaban needed targets and Momusu were the best targets imaginable. And this may also explain why the current Momusu line-up doesn’t fare as well on the show – they may still be ordinary girls, but some may perhaps be too ordinary (Takahashi “I collect coins” Ai) or not eager enough to be acknowledged and ridiculed (Makoto being the notable exception).

An invitation is sorta-kinda extended to these girls. I’m not sure if I should read too much into “the eight of you” – does that mean Kago is gone for good? or there won’t be any new Momusu graduates anytime soon? – but it does speak volumes of the affection between the Utaban hosts and these young ladies.

Then Ishibashi speaks the truth. This was at the heart of the MM-BBS forum thread debate, but really it’s hard to deny that Golden Age Morning Musume is in many ways a superior entertainment package – a stronger group of idols – than the current line-up.

What does Ishibashi mean by “weak” anyways? If anything, it would be that they don’t hold enough fire in them, they don’t know to fight back, to protest, to make themselves stand out. On a show devoted to ridiculing celebrity, the current Momusu line-up don’t behave enough like people who want to be celebrities. At least in Nakai and Ishibashi’s presence, many of them don’t allow themselves to be as peevish, as egotistic, as interesting as the earlier Musumes had been.

Is it because they take themselves too seriously? I doubt it, based on what they put themselves through on Hello! Morning. Is it because they’re afraid of the hosts? Perhaps, but some of them have been on Utaban numerous times, including the mostly lackluster fifth gen. Or maybe they don’t want to be exposed as something they only pretend to be? I’m going back to that three out of ten from earlier…

By the way, Gocchin looks great in this episode! I mean, I usually don’t pay that much attention to her and she isn’t one of my favorite Musumes by any stretch of the imagination, but her hair and her earrings and her oufit are just irresistable here.  

Here’s an interesting bit that I found hilarious. Discussing Musume sightings, Nakai asks a very leading question.

Should this be followed with, “But when I do, I’m a raging drunken love machine”? Come on, you’d have loved to hear her say that, too.

Apparently, Yuko has very specific demands for her snacks when she goes drinking.

The reactions of the Musumes are worth capturing just for its own sake…

In a way, it highlights the history the girls have established.

It’s like exposing a family joke in public.

The family knows it’s hilarious, it seems ridiculous from the outside.

But to them, it makes perfect sense.

And of course, they see it as perfectly normal. A part of being a family. For all its hilarity, it’s also a touching moment.

Another sighting is mentioned, and this one’s pretty damn bold considering what happened to Yagu roughly a year ago.

Again she takes this in great stride – for Yagu, at least. She doesn’t fly off the handle immediately but instead demands that Nakai explain the situation fully.

And of course, Utaban tortures her and leaves it hanging.

As the lights go out, some advice is given…

Except Ishibashi wants to place his hand on someone else’s heart.

I love that! Not just because I’m in awe of any man who can get away with as many gropes of the H!P girls as Ishibashi has… (Barring some undisclosed revelations of sexual harassment in the H!P offices, he’s probably copped more feels off the H!P idols than anyone else.)

It’s the fact that he’s so blatant about it and makes that a part of the show’s appeal. If he likes you and thinks you’re attractive, he’s going to make a grab for it. If he doesn’t, he’ll tell you point-blank that you stink. It’s all so simple and id-based and childish, and as much as it’s an act on Ishibashi’s part it also seems to be an honest assessment of how he really feels.

And of course, the fact that the girls think it’s funny is also kind of great. I wish I could get away with that. But first, I’d have to be within grabbing distance of a favorite idol, so it’s probably for the best that I can’t.

Anyway, the hotel incident with Yagu is finally revealed. It’s about Mari yelling the above phrase.

Matter-of-factly, the women discuss who Mari was yelling about.

Yuko grows defensive about being singled out as the “old hag” in question.

And Mari explains it’s now water under the bridge, which the others also accept. Again, it feels like a family moment – old turmoil is no turmoil.

Nakai, looking a little pained, makes an odd but touching request.

And then it’s back to the current Morning Musume to perform a song!

And where the hell did they go after the VTR anyway? And should I be disturbed that I didn’t really care?

The performance of the song is okay, the set is weird and funny.

However, considering some of the clips of Golden Age Musume, these girls again pale in comparison.

It’s hard to compete against history, and those Golden Age performances of “Love Machine” and “The Peace!” and “Renai Revolution 21” simply blow away this performance.

Those songs were better, the costumes were more interesting, and there was a spark to the performance that isn’t as evident here.

I’m being unfair, I know. But the show made such comparisons impossible to ignore.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t like the current Morning Musume – I do, for the most part. But it’s always a case of rooting out and cheering on the potential of the girls in this current line-up. In the Golden Age, you didn’t think about potential at all because the idols were outright motherfucking superstars – they acted like it when they sang, they took command of the stage, and they wowed you with their performances.

Nowadays, fans are always wanting Morning Musume to be better. In contrast, the Morning Musume of the Golden Age kept changing and evolving and trying out new sounds – but somehow, one often got the sense that it couldn’t be better than this.

The graduated Musume seem to go along with Nakai and Ishibashi’s suggestion to go out for drinks.

Though they try to talk Yuko out of joining them.

The girls walk off the stage…

And true to the spirit of the finist Momusu / Utaban episodes, Yuko has the last word.

In a real way, Morning Musume’s history with Utaban does a great job of encapsulating Morning Musume’s history in general. It captures their rise and fall from popular grace, their various quirks, and what exactly made them so exciting. Does it also show a way to make Morning Musume exciting again to the Japanese masses? Not really… but maybe the current girls can look at the graduated women of Musume and take some notes.

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6 Responses to “Tokuban with Morning Musume”
  1. kagofeet says:

    Interesting. Morning Musume wasn’t what it once was. I find myself enjoying the Morning Musume up to the 4th gen. Up to then, the music was great. My personal favs Happy Summer Wedding, Renai Revolution 21, and The Peace were songs that kept me coming back to Momusu. Now, I find it hard to enjoy some of the new MM tracks because they don’t carry the same vibe as they used to. I think that the new gen of Momusu members are just too pampered. The first gen worked hard to sell the what, 50000 copies of their first single. Hell they even did their own promotion and PR. Anyways, the new generation is reaping the benefits of what the former momusu members have established for the group. The work is done. All they need to do is look cute and have a little bit of singing talent. I don’t know. What do you think?

  2. Alice says:

    I don’t think you’re being fair. Most of the new girls have never been given a chance to stand out on Utaban during their appearances. Even when fifth and sixth gen joined, the jokes were still about Yasuda and Iida. But when the current group appeared on Music Fighter or Popjam though, they can hold their own with other comedian hosts and be very entertaining.

    Also, interesting fact: although Yuko is portrayed as an old hag, she’s still three years younger than Nakai Masahiro is.

  3. Tsuji_Eriku says:

    Ya know I was thinking the same exact thing in regards to the relationship Morning Musume has with Utaban. There isn’t the same chemistry with the hosts of other shows. This may sound a little soft but for some reason I kinda got sad reading this, seeing the former members together. Wierd. Ah! That early picture of Tsuji Chan was horrible, I always admitted that she was an ugly duckling…. but now! oooo lala. Why do you think we got married! Hands off!!!!

  4. Akiramike says:

    Ahhhhhhh, nostalgia. I’m definitely going to get this. Thanks for the caps and stuff. Its sad that Nacci didn’t get much attention. I would like to see her angry face one more time…

  5. acetonic says:

    I think there is a reason behind only 3 of the current MM members saying they would join again if they could do it over; age.

    The age between 15 and 20 is when a teen is rebelious and trying to establish their own identity in the world. Add in all the insecurities of a changing body and a surge of hormones and you get somebody who is pretty moody and unsure. Imagine a typical teen girl living under these rules.

    1. You will live under a tight schedule of work and study with very little free time or choice in what you will do from hour to hour.
    2. You will be watched over almost 24/7. In addition, your every move will be seen by millions and analysed publicly with no regards to your feelings.
    3. Even though you are at an age where it is natural to start taking an interest in boys, you are not allowed to date, spend time with or even be seen in public with a boy.
    4. Your developing body will be gawked at and talked about by millions. If you get a pimple or gain a kilo, you will be mocked and criticised.
    5. You will be seen as not being a team player, spoled and vain if you complain even a little about any of these things.

    Is it any wonder some of them are chafing at the leash a bit? I thinkthe older ones can now see the upsides (money) of the idol lifestyle but a kid had to wonder what life would be like if she was a typical (insanely hardworking) Japanese schoolgirl.

  6. dcpoor says:

    “Tsuji! Christ, what an ugly little girl. That said, she was sassy from the start, which is great for Utaban…”

    ” Ah! That early picture of Tsuji Chan was horrible, I always admitted that she was an ugly duckling….”

    wtf. you people suck. tsuji was freakin cute.