Morning Musume’s “Ambitious! Yashinteki de Iijan”

Filed in Cult Of Pop 2.0

After way too long, we finally have a great Morning Musume PV again! Or at least, one that has me excited about the group again, that reminds me they’re supposed to be one of the greatest girlpop bands ever in Japan. Even on first seeing it, I felt a sudden thrill – an unexpected and, in Momusu’s case, long-dormant jolt of discovery and sheer wota pleasure. The last time I felt this way was when I saw the “Joshi Kashimashi” PV and heard that song.

And while “Ambitious! Yashinteki de Iijan” isn’t as good a song as Tsujikago’s farewell, there seems to be greater significance in how this PV handles the departure of two more Musumes… this time, the Underrated Pair of fifth gen instead of the Terrible Twins of fourth gen.

As it turns out, those outfits from the Hello! Project website are indeed what they’re wearing in the PV. Seeing them in motion, draped on the ever-moving bodies of the Musumes, it doesn’t seem as bad as when the girls are standing still in the outfits. So that’s a plus.

Another plus: Reina seems more like her old self again! And she dominates the video, which is no surprise since she’s one of the three regular leads of this line-up.

Yet another welcome surprise is that more than one set – or at least, more than one backdrop – is involved in this PV! For a change, it looks like Momusu have stepped up to a Berryz-level budget for this video. And perhaps stole that red car from SweetS’ “Bitter Sweets”Pv. Anyway, a pleasant surprise, considering how cheap their videos from the past year have looked – “Osaka Koi no Uta” being something of an exception, if only for the glitzy effects.

I must also confess to being pleasantly surprised by Takitty, who looks surprisingly tasty in this video.

It could be this new richness and body to her hair – did she change her conditioner or something? There also seems to be a shift in her attitude, she seems more sexy, more predatory… in a good way, that is.

After her horrible picture on the H!P website, it’s also worth noting that Yossi looks great in the PV as well.

Koharu looks awesome, as does Mikitty – as always…

It’s mildly surprising that, given the rejuvenation of several of the other girls, the two who are going to graduate look about the same as usual… and as a result, seem plainer in comparison to the sudden genki-ness of the likes of Reina and Koharu and Yossie.

Part of me is mildly upset – these girls are about to leave, give them the best send-off possible! But on the other hand, they’re choosing to leave the idol business… in Konno’s case, apparently for good. (At least, she’s no longer going to be in Hello! Project. I’m not sure what the deal is exactly for Makoto.) So why would they need image makeovers if this is going to be their last time seen in the public eye this way?

That said, the two graduate girls are given feather boas to set them apart from the other girls during the car sequences of the PV. It doesn’t make them that much more distinct, as we’re still talking ten girls pressed into one car, so they’re all crammed against each other. And is anyone driving, anyway? Where’s Yuko when you need her? Or Mari? They’re the only Momusu ever seen driving in one of the group’s PVs.

The dance itself is okay – lots of the usual Momusu group moves, nothing too demanding, nothing too showy. As long as each girl gets a chance to flirt a little with the camera, the fans are fine.

There are some weird flourishes in the choreography, though, including a couple points where the girls act as if they’re playing a musical instrument – such as violins – when it plays in the song. As far as silly H!P choreography goes, it’s a huge step up from imaginary basketball, but not as good as the pretend rod-and-reel throws from “Chokkan 2”.

This sequence is fun, like the opening credits to some TV show. It’s also a canny move, as it introduces casual viewers to the girls of Morning Musume.

It isn’t as CGI-riffic or dramatic as the ring-of-Saturn namedrop effect in “Osaka Koi no Uta”…

That said, I’d argue the girls are shown off to better effect here. For starters, you can actually read their names without difficulty. Which may not be a big deal for you or me, but for that hypothetical casual viewer who still thinks Gocchin and Tsujikago are in Momusu, it’s pretty crucial.

Each of the girls do their best kawaii or genki pose here, just like in an old-fashioned TV intro.

And really, in those yellow outfits and against that colorful patchwork backdrop, there is a retro influence at work. One would almost think this was a special episode the Laugh-In guest-starring the Mopremes (or at least two-third of them).

I love that Mikitty actually pouts instead of smiling or flirting. Actually, for Mikitty this is world-class flirting – she can look annoyed or angry and her fans will swoon over that as much as a blown kiss.

That said, even a slimmed down 10-nin line-up still suffers a little under the minna-lag with such a sequence, doesn’t it?

Finally, we’ve got the two graduate girls… Miss Study Abroad…

… and Miss University…

With fearless leader Yossi closing off the cast credits.

This is the best part, though: a sudden cut to Yossi breaking down in a fit of laughter, as if she couldn’t hold it in anymore. There’s something infectiously joyous, seemingly unrehearased about this sudden move. It confirmed the excitement I felt when I first saw the video, the sense that the girls are suddenly on fire again and ready to take on the world.

Which may explain the car sequence and all that waving – based on their behavior and the setting, it looks like the girls are part of a parade.

We can assume that the parade is a good-bye salute to Makoto and Konno… but if so, then why aren’t they being given a place of honor in the car? Why don’t they ride on their own, or even have a float made up for them?

If anything, the parade seems to be for the girls simply being Musumes. All of the girls are being feted – wouldn’t it have been great to have actual hordes of cheering mo-wotas on the sidelines, or is that too scary? – so it isn’t about saying good-bye, or at least not just about saying good-bye…

So… what? A parade simply for being in Morning Musume? What, is it 1999 again? Are they selling a million copies of a single that rips off “Venus”?

But of course I’m being too picky and literal. (Again.) The parade or whatever is supposed to be in praise of the girls simply being who they are, of being pop idols and thus already deserving of our adulation and worship.

It’s a celebration for its own sake. And not to get too picky and literal again, but based on the lack of confetti and people in the sidelines, maybe the girls are just driving through empty streets and waving at nobody. A parade in their own mind, empresses in their new clothing. But that’d just be silly.

Ah, Makoto… a photobook with you in a great pair of jeans and the right hairdo, and I’d’ve been your wota forever. Or at least for a few months.

The cityscape, by the way, has something of a futuristic feel to it.

This PV seems to be playing off a tension between the bright world of the future and the retro pleasures of the past, between taking a look back and anticipating what’s next.

And in this future, apparently, Reina will be giftwrapped with a pretty bow on top.

The girls seem to have made a swing away from the serious and over-dramatic to a more light-hearted and fun image for their PVs. Most of the videos after “Joshi” had the girls looking so dour and self-possessed as they danced or struck a pose or whatever.

Which isn’t to say there was no fun at all. I did like a good deal of the “Osaka Koi no Uta” PV – and the song itself, actually – and I’m slowly appreciating the sly humor of the alternate version of “The Manpower” PV with its pseudo-Freudian vegetable-munching… But for the most part, the girls looked like they wanted to be taken seriously, which isn’t necessarily the top priority a Jpop idol should have.

Starting with “Chokkan 2”, they finally gave up and started being fun again. Unfortunately, this included the unfortunate dance moves of “Sexy Boy” – and has anyone seen audiences dance along in the concerts, or has everyone been spared such horror?

Really, between watching the girls do that twirly-finger shtick and having them on each other’s laps in a car, I know which one I’d rather see…

It’s also great that Reina’s tightening up on the over-cute aspects she’s been pushing lately. Not that she’s gone back to her old Yankee ways exactly, but at least she seems more genuine, more Reina, here. Playful, but also confident and tough and cute without forcing the matter.

Nice as the girls’ backsides are here, it doesn’t compare to the similar shot in Berryz Koubo’s “Jiriri Kiteru”. Is it the youthfulness of the behinds in the Berryz video? The Momoko-ness of the behinds? The dresses themselves, which were frillier and more colorful and more attractive than these outfits? Who knows?

That said, I’ll admit Momusu sport better gams. But then, Berryz don’t exactly have gams yet, do they?

The Musumes swipe an early Berryz move now by striking some fighting poses…

Ogawa doesn’t look too into it…

Nor does Risa, though that’s okay now that she’s become a hottie…

Yossi looks much more convincing…

A close-up of Eri singing…

Ah! Reina is definitely CELEB with her fighting pose!

Lovely Mikitty’s turn for a close-up…

She can do that “shy but trying to be brave” move better than any of the other current Musumes (with the probable exception of Sayumi).

Koharu strikes her fighting pose! I have to say, I love how she looks here – not ready to fight, but not willing to back down either. Like a deer in the headlights, except maybe the deer’s ready to kick your ass.

Sayumi gets ready to throw some fists around…

And Mikitty shows them how it’s done…

Now her you can expect kicking people’s asses all the way up and down the set of Hello! Morning if you cross her the wrong way.

Eri’s fighting pose is okay…

And Konno just looks kind of out of it here.

The song itself is… okay. Not great, but catchy enough. And I keep hearing comparisons to anime theme songs and yes, it does have that vibe to it…

I was on the fence with the song itself, and the PV made me like it more. Which says more about the quality of the PV than the song itself,perhaps…

But given my gestaltic / holistic view of Jpop, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. If anything, the way the song enhances the video and then vice-versa is one of the most refined pleasures of Jpop that I can think of.

Would I enjoy the song on its own merits? Probably not. It’s not all that catchy, and there’s something a tad too space-opera melodramatic (i.e., anime-ish) about the actual music that doesn’t work for me.

That said, the PV does extend the chances of my growing to like the song and finding it better than I do now. I wouldn’t call that cheating, but rather a clever encouragement to keep an open mind.

Risa looking cute here helps somewhat – and again, the atrocity of the website picture is not the case now that she’s actually in motion. Reina doesn’t seem at all cross-eyed in the video, which is making me go all conspiracy-theory about that group portrait again…

Sayumi looks great! I mean, really really great. And her singing is solid this time around. It was, wasn’t it? Okay, I wasn’t paying attention.

But damn, she looks great! She always does, though, and she’s got the full kawaii moves going on here. No need to look shy and withdrawn or emotionally torn up inside – just be Sayumi and bask in your cuteness!

There’s flashes of light and that disco ball, which is funny because this song isn’t really disco at all….

More Musume gams…

Ah, and here’s the message part of the PV: Reina looking cute…

… chou chou kawaii…

… and then crash!

Bad-ass Reina shatters the illusion! Or something to that effect.

And again, we see most of the girls doing the same thing…

Takitty looks surprisingly convincing as a badass, too!

Perhaps we’re seeing the dawn of a substantial idol persona for Miss Takahashi? It can only serve her well.

Sayumi’s cute no matter what she does…

And really, she could wind up getting splinters if she’s not careful..

The message seems to be pretty straightforward: young ladies don’t have to be just cute and appealing, they can also be aggressive – which in this case, is part of being ambitious, apparently.

Which I guess translates to that age-old saying, “Fighting Pose wa Date ja nai”… As a matter of fact, a fighting pose is a way to show you’re ambitious!

Personally speaking, I have some issues with this idea. Mapping aggression and ambition along the same, decidedly masculine, line seems to equate goal-setting with a kind of assertiveness that doesn’t always get you what you want. Sometimes it’s better to take a step back and work behind the scenes.

What the heck, Mikitty went from being apparently miserable when she joined Momusu to truly enjoying herself and playing the role of subleader. Did she have to be pushy and aggressive and ambitious about this? No, she just had to watch various people graduate around her, and in this way won a kind of war of attrition in the line-up

Further, I can’t help but read a whole other level of meaning of ambition and taking charge in the fact that two of the girls are graduating within a month of each other.

For Konno and Ogawa, is the “kawaii” pose the whole idol life itself? Is that what they wish to shatter by choosing different paths for themselves?

After all, it can be easily – and persuasively – argued that the whole point about being a pop idol is to strike a cute pose as a career choice, to win over the market by conforming to a certain perception of femininity and charm.

There is something radical, then, in deciding that isn’t what you want with your life, that you want to study and learn new things and behave differently. That perhaps life under the spotlight doesn’t offer everything a girl could want and perhaps there’s more to life than fame and fortune (or a semblance of such).

So the planes in the sky – taking Makoto overseas?

Certainly, it puts the parade in the PV in a different light. It isn’t just a fond bon voyage, but a good luck to Makoto and Konno’s escape from the idol life. “Make it out of here alive. Don’t look back!”

But as I’ve said before, the idol life isn’t for everyone – and even for those who initially choose to pursue that career at a young age, life and experience can provide different perspectives.

The defections from idol life in the past year or so is pretty notable, all things considered: Mizuho, Maiha, Aya, Aki, Makoto, Ogawa. Looking back further, Ayappe left Morning Musume at the height of their “Love Machine” success, Takayo left Zone to go to college… It’s a roster I’ve listed often in this blog, and one that seems to grow a little bigger every few months.

Part of it is certainly that the idol life isn’t for everyone, and it doesn’t always turn out how you expect it to. In fifth gen’s case, they joined near the height of Momusu’s success and in the intervening years have seen it shrink and shrink and shrink… Was that what they signed on for? To be part of a dwindling phenomenon, insteadof a growing one?

Of course, if the deck is stacked against you – as opposed to being stacked in your favor, as it is with Reina and Takitty – you’ll see things differently as well.

Koharu was immediately thrust into the limelight as the Miracle Ace and given opportunities that many of the other girls were never given. If they had been given these shots, would they have stuck around some more? Would they have felt that they needed to earn those opportunities, while Koharu was simply given them as if her idol birthright?

And what of Mikitty, who was given her chance at solo fame and then relegated to being one voice in a chorus of fifteen? She decided to stick it out, her ambition kept her within the pop idol career path and I’d daresay that she has grown and benefited from the experience.

Not everyone can be an idol, and not all idols have the luck and the talent to stick it out – or even be given the right chances so that sticking it out can be a viable choice. Konno was allowed to join Momusu as a kind of thirteenth wheel, and her struggle to earn a place in the group has had mixed results. Koharu was the golden child and had all the ingredients for idol greatness handed to her. Is this fair? Well, is life ever fair?

Depending on how you look at it, then, this PV and the events surrounding it can be a cautionary tale with two very different lessons to be learned.

On the one hand, it can be about being brave enough to give up the fakery and misleading glamour of the idol life in order to pursue interests and goals that exist beyond the studio set and concert stage. In that scenario, leaving Momusu is an act of bravery and conviction.

On the other hand, it can also be about the capricious manner in which a person’s ambitions are treated by the world. Some have talent, some do not. Some are recognized, others go ignored. And if your ambitions aren’t being met, perhaps it’s best to leave when you still can, to make the most of your losses and get out while the getting’s good. In this scenario, leaving Momusu is an act of surrender, of admitting that your idol career isn’t where it should be after five years and that it won’t get any better if you stick around another five years.

There’s something enticingly Darwinian about both scenarios, and who’s to say that one is better than the other? It doesn’t take that much conceptual and philosophical bending to make the two fairly compatible instead of direct opposites to one another.

It’s like bartering at a marketplace: if both sides come out of the haggling and negotiation feeling they got the better end of the deal, then everybody’s happy and everyone wins. I hope Konno and Ogawa feel that way, and I hope that the remaining eight girls feel there’s new opportunities now that they’re 20% smaller than before.

Myself, I feel like I benefited greatly as a Morning Musume fan with the upcoming graduations. I like Konno and would’ve loved Ogawa if she stuck around longer, but seeing them go means that there’ll be a leaner, meaner Morning Musume – to me, a promising line-up that’s already delivered gangbusters with this new PV. It’s not just an ending, it’s a damn fine beginning as well.

I didn’t realize how lackluster and unimpressed I’ve felt about Momusu – and how long I’ve felt that way – until I felt the excitement from seeing this video. Morning Musume has become exciting and worth anticipating again. This may not be the rebirth of kakoii, but it does remind me of why I fell in love with Jpop in the first place.

Yes, “Ambitious” marks the end of the 10-nin line-up, but the energy and revitalization in the song and the video also gesture towards fresh fields and pastures new for the idols who’ll be sticking around.

Ah! To be excited about Morning Musume again! Morning frickin’ Musume! They ARE CELEB, they don’t need a machine to tell them! I guess this ecstatic enthusiasm for my first Jpop love is timed pretty well, considering what else is happening this week in the girlpop universe. Ahh, who said life is fair? We take what happiness we can get, and Momusu is making me happy again.

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4 Responses to “Morning Musume’s “Ambitious! Yashinteki de Iijan””
  1. CJ Marsicano says:

    A gift-wrapped Reina…. hehe.

    “Dear Reina: Lose the costume. Leave the bow. >:) 😉 “

  2. Julia says:

    I like your description of how Koharu portrays her fighting pose. It reminds me of Sailor Moon, who barely ever seemed ready to fight near the beginning, but was so not going to let the youma win.

    I seem to find Sailor Moon references in much of life though…but if I can find a comparison in Koharu, it can only mean good things for her, right? Because Sailor Moon rocks.

    And I agree on Takitty’s attitude in this PV, though I may add about the hair that when I’d catch a glimpse of her dancing in the background, her hair kept reminding me of Kaori’s when she was still leader…could just be me though.

  3. rikku004 says:

    Amazing entry. i feel the same way about being excited about MM again. this just hit the nail on the head!

  4. jordi says:

    The song is great itself, rather than completely rehashing bad 90’s-esque melodies it creates something that sounds remotely catchy and hip enough to not require a man it a pig costume to do the dance.

    Though I think their dance moves, while simple, fluid and well done by the members need heavy updating. I could spot some old constant ones in the Goto Maki PV and even in this one sometimes. I know Tsunku loves that choreographer but someone just needs to tell them that the 90’s just aren’t that up to date anymore.