Angst in the Study Hall: Berryz Koubo’s “Koi no Jubaku”

Filed in American Wota 1.0

When I became enamored with Berryz Koubo’s “Special Generation”, I initially assumed that was the first time they tried a more mature single and image. Of course, that assumption was wrong on a bunch of counts. First, the implicit assumption that “mature” is naturally better – something I admit I thought back then – was stupid in itself. Some of Berryz’s best singles – notably “Piriri to Yukou” and “Fighting Pose Date wa Ja Nai” – are incredible because they maintain a juvenile flavor, fun songs with the unself-conscious exuberance of child’s play. Beyond that, Berryz’s very first single, “Can’t Live Without You”, is a remarkably mature song – something perhaps obscured by the Berryz’s singing, but evident in performance by others (most notably, Kago Ai and some Melon Kinebis on the Hello Pro Party 2005 DVD).

Last but not least, the first attempt at a more mature image actually took place with the single right before “Special Generation”. “Koi no Jubaku” is highly dramatic, provided a new way of looking at the Berryz, was just a little bit sexually charged… and ultimately, quite baffling and silly. Every time I watch it, I keep asking, why do the girls hate each other so much? And is it worse when they’re frowning or smiling?

The PV starts with a tracking shot of school desks, the song’s distinctive melody playing out in a plaintive manner… Then from a dramatic shot at the top of a staircase, we see one of the girls in a lovely Burberry scarf rushing up the stairs.

The run up the staircases is cut together with shots of the girl’s body closer up: a flash of thighs, knee socks, the enticingly tactile quality of the scarf and the jacket’s fabric…

Is it significant that it’s Chinami who’s given this attention? After all, she was the hidden rebel of “Fighting Pose”, sneaking into the Celeb Pool Party without approval.

And the decision to flash on her body closer up, in sudden motion? That was definitely intended to evoke something more than squeals of “kawaii!” As we soon learn, the girls aren’t on a field trip this time. They’re not going to an empty stadium or on a school bus to a field in the middle of nowhere or to a pool party or even take a magical train out for some Chinese food. They’re forced to confront the serious business of young ladies their age: school.

And apparently, school doesn’t sit well with the girls. We get dramatic arcing shots of the girls, looking windswept (indoors? it must be a real powerful fan), as they stare at the person arriving. Here’s Saki…

… and Chinami arriving in the classroom, out of breath…

… and Risako looking quite petulant.

Momoko, in a very pretty scarf of her own, looks a tad apprehensive…

… while Miyabi stands out somewhat by actually biting her lower lip, her hair falling into her eyes for the full angsty effect.

If anyone has cause to look upset in this PV, it’s probably Maasa. With her hair that way and in an ugly sailor schoolgirl outfit, she’s still very much duckling and not yet swan. Between the space of this single and “Special Generation” must’ve been crucial months of shoulder-building hottie-nizing growth spurts for her. Or maybe she finally got a makeup and hairstyle person who worked with her and not against her.

Maiha comes rushing up the stairs after Chinami. And how does she look?

“Maiha’s the Anti-Christ / Maiha’s an anarchist…” If I started getting into Berryz with this PV, I’d probably have been more of a Maiha fan than I turned out to be. She looks great in this outfit, evoking a kind of Anglophile working class hipness with the T-shirt and cap. She manages to look stylish and tomboyish and a little bit of a rebel. It’s a nice contrast to Chinami, whose soft fabrics and Burberry give a different sense of class and refinement, more upscale and subdued in its sophistication.

The chairs again. What is it? Are these girls studying Ionesco?

Maybe Maiha doesn’t like French absurdist playwrights. Or maybe she was thinking, “You know, I’d like to get a quality education so I no longer have to be an under-utilized back-up to Momoko and the others.”

Risako starts singing,looking very much her age with that bright red ribbon on her outfit and something of a pageboy haircut. Andorgynous, but not sexy androgynous.

Here’s Yurina looking quite sporty in a black jacket and red shirt. Why she and Maiha are dressed in street clothes instead of school outfits isn’t clear, but it must fit into the story. Do they attend schools where a uniform isn’t required? Or is it afterschool and they just had a chance to change into something more comfortable – and more fashionable – while the others couldn’t?

For reasons that elude me, we next see Maasa racing out to the staircase. Were they expecting someone else? Is this a special episode of “Yoroshiku no Senpai” where Inaba Atsuko and Maeda Yuki tell them how to avoid falling into obscurity?

Then we get the first gasps in the song from Risako. “Ah!” So even the singing is racier this time around. The “chikki-ahh!” in “Can’t Live Without You” was similar but not nearly as sensual. The sharp intake of breath and the dramatic delivery in “Koi no Jubaku” is of a different caliber – if anything, it’s closer to the “Ah!” in Morning Musume Otome Gumi’s smoldering “Ai no Sono ~Touch My Heart”. The way the girls deliver their “Ah!” here is with a shake of the head, not quite come-hither but having just a hint of dolorous haze behind it.

Miyabi doesn’t overplay her “Ah!” but maybe saying it made her miss working with Reina and Airi.

Chinami looking quite lovely, but the angsty bug has bitten her too, now. For some reason, and I think it includes the make-up, her lips and Saki’s stands out in this video when they pout, more so than the others…

Speaking of which, we then see Saki rushing down the stairs and looking devastated. So first they run into the classroom, and then they run out, and neither makes them happy? Are they doing study group callisthenics?

Momoko’s first “Ah!” is proof of what makes her such a great idol: she plays it with just the barest touch of flirtation at the camera, and continues to do so throughout the PV. She’s very much into the drama, not just in the odd Angry Students sequences but also in the dances and close-up shots. She is, to use Santos’ phrase, a cyborg of true idol appeal.

Risako has a real Village of the Damned vibe when she looks angry. She’s convincingly scary in that it’s a very childish, irrational kind of hate she’s radiating. That kind of artlessness had been Risako’s stock-in-trade, just behaving like an everyday kid and letting that shine in her idol work. Here it just makes you wonder if she’s trying to make your head explode with her psychicpowers.

It’s funny to say that the girls look so young in this video from a couple years back…

… mostly because they still look young today, of course. Showing U15 videos like this and early SweetS to a co-worker, I always find myself saying wistfully, “They looked so young then,” but to my co-worker they look young now as well. Because they are. It’s all relative for a wota, I guess. That said, it’s kind of interesting to note that Momoko’s looks haven’t matured as much as some of the others…

In that pose and that outfit, Yurina looks kind of gang girl here – as opposed to ganguro, which is what Chinami looks like once in a while. Maybe she and Maiha are supposed to be the delinquents of the group – which by Berryz standards, probably means they refuse to dress up as penguins or sparrows or dinosaurs. Or ask such impertinent questions like, “Why are we faking a basketball game in the middle of our dance?”

Then we get to what I call the “Clue shots”. The girls all stand around and just glare at each other, and it’s like somebody’s been killed and they’re trying to guilt each other into revealing the culprit.

Who killed Mr. Tsunku? My guess is Heike Michiyo on the bus stop skit set with a broken vocoder.

Call me weird, but I think Saki looks real andro in a sexy way in this shot. Like she could be recruited to one of those Johnny’s bands with underfed boys looking all pouty and difficult. Or maybe she can be one of the potential victims in a Japanese horror movie, the unhappy cram school student who’s unexpectedly sucked into a maelstrom of nasty and nonsensically surreal violence.

Maiha doing her best Clint Eastwood impression…

… followed by Chinami doing her best Chow Yun-Fat sideways-glance-before-the-guns-blaze look.

But since it’s school, maybe they’re dealing with a plagiarism scandal? Where’s Nacchi when you need her?

It’s all quite amazing to me because why would you want to give the impression that your idols hate each other? Granted, there’ll always be tensions when you put a bunch of attention-hungry young girls in the same room, but up to now they’ve been laughing and dancing and having a grand old time in their videos. And now this. Are we supposed to think that something went wrong? Are we supposed to assume in-fighting and bitchiness, hair-pulling or perhaps gossiping about how bad Mikitty is? (It doesn’t matter if they’re Berryz, we know everybody complains about Mikitty. It’s because they’re all jealous of her special friendship with Ayaya.)

And if that’s the case, are there also moments of diva-esque posturing among these girls? “That should be ‘Berryz Koubo and Puppet Show’, not ‘Puppet Show and Berryz Koubo’!”

On a very basic level, I do find it edifying that this first video trying a more mature Berryz image is so intent on making that maturity seem so painful and sour. This isn’t the sheer joy and freedom of growing up and becoming your own person, it’s that sinking feeling where you’re old enough to be self-aware and think you know what’s best for yourself but not old enough to do much about it. That admonishment – “Just cause you’re older, don’t think you can do what you like” – is something that hits people in every stage of life, from puberty to college to your first job to (I anticipate) making your own family. It’s a harsh pill to swallow, and here it seems like a pill the size of a fist, but it’s a cannier move than just suddenly sexing up the girls and making them into little Avex wannabes.

If anything, these Angry Student sequences strike me as gesturing towards a narrative too much and having nothing more than the dirty looks to show for it. It’s as if somebody wrote up a script where some foul deed occurred, and then the script was thrown out but all the scenes of accusation and recrimination were kept anyways.

Or maybe I simply forgot how much school sucked and these girls just don’t want to be in some afterschool study session with each other.

Here’s a rarity: a group portrait of the Berryz where none of them apparently feels a need to make the peace sign.

From the doom and gloom of the student drama sequence, we go to a bright room with the girls in colorful outfits. There even seems to be a spotlight trained on the camera, creating blinding flashes whenever the girls step out of its path. Note the staircase and the shape of the windows. This isn’t the same set, but evokes the dreary school setting on purpose.

With their colorful faux yukata dance outfits and the overwhelming whiteness of the set, is this supposed to be a counterpoint to school? And in what way is it a counterpoint?

The sweeping dance moves, colorful wardrobe, and jubilant smiles in the dance sequences contrast so sharply against the school shots, where the movements are minimal and there’s nary a smile. That said, the girls probaby won’t get harassed walking around in their school outfits as opposed to looking like rejects from some local village festival…

Ah, Maiha… Now there are times when I miss the girl and her smile. I honestly never thought I’d say that.

It’s also in these dance sequences that we get the first hints of Maasa blossoming into the magnificent young idol that she’s becoming now. She’s always tried hard, but it took a while for her to shake off the clumsiness, to become statuesque in both movement and attitude. That said, it’s satisfying to know that as her physical stature grew, her confidence as a performer caught up. We don’t see that just yet here, but it’s satisfying to anticipate.

Momoko’s charm is in sharp display for the dance sequences, looking joyful here but also assuming a stone-faced dramatic stare during the chorus of the song.

Is it the real world versus the geinou world, of schoolgirls versus idols? Are the schoolgirl Berryz angry because they aren’t dressed up fancy and doing elaborate dances? Are the idol Berryz in their red and yellow happy because they get to sing and dance in front of an eager audience?

Here is the best dramatic move of the PV: as they sing the “jubaku” of the song’s title, left hand extended to the camera, they take a dip with each syllable in the word. The three girls near the center provide an interesting range of facial expressions that’s indicative of their strengths. Risako looks clearly troubled, a rawness of emotion that’s her own signature. Miyabi already has that self-aware bond with the camera with her eye contact and prim line of a mouth, subtly compelling in its tenuous reserve, a sign of her rapidly developing skills as a performer. Momoko displays a stone-faced haughty superiority, playing the dramatic power to its fullest, dragging in her audience with the command of a natural-born idol who makes artifice a virtue.

And yet, what they all share is this gesture of supplication. Whose spell of love is this “koi no jubaku”? The girls seem to be placing it in the viewer’s hand – it’s not the idols who have the viewers in their thrall, they seem to say, but the audience who hold these idols. And yet it’s clearly we who are supposed to be enchanted by them, we who watch as they dance and sing. The give-and-take of the idol-wota relationship, the dependence of the worshipped and the worshippers, is played out more effectively with this video than without, providing a different kind of context than the song alone could provide.

The awkwardness of putting the youngest Berryz in the center comes up here, as she seems to have a little difficulty doing the hand-jive move as she slides to a crouch. You can practically see Risako think through her dance moves at this point, something that doesn’t afflict Momoko or Miyabi when they assume the centers in this dance.

Next, a cut to the girls studying at a large table. Apparently, they are part of a study group – though I must ask, is it really best to study with a bunch of other girls from other schools? It can’t be because they like each other, based on all the cold stares earlier. Again, the sense of a lost script creeps into the viewing…

Risako staring tough at the camera. Raw as she’s been – and still is – she’s got the natural presence that’s carried her and made her a favorite. The only solo performance in this summer’s mini-album is from her and she’s perhaps the least disciplined voice in the current line-up! It only illustrates how important an idol persona is, as much as talent or training, and sticking true to it.

Back at the study table, one side of the table looks up and reacts positively to… something… or someone?

Meanwhile, Miyabi looks fetching as she sings in her schoolgirl outfit…

… and in the dance sequence, strikes a pose of young desire, even a hint of wanton lust. Really, any doubts about the attempt to make the girls grow up some have to be dispelled here. What I find interesting, however, is that it strikes me as swapping off one pose for another. She’s providing a striking approximation of desire, but not a true expression of it. This is the first Berryz performance from Miyabi that feels like a proper follow-through from Aa!, and one that nicely paves the way for her equally striking performance with Sexy Otanajan.

We go back to the other side of the study table…

… and again, the girls look up, both surprised and even happy. It’s the look of meeting someone you didn’t expect but had been wanting to see. Maybe that’s what all the running and desperate looks were about?

It’s a corrolary to the outstretched hands of the dance sequence. One can guess it to be a figure of comfort and support – perhaps a teacher, and one may even guess the teacher to be male. And again, the position of the girls as idols complicates the reading of the situation: as much as they look forward to this imagined guiding hand and friendly face, it’s their smiles and their welcomes that matter. It has echoes of The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” and Koukou Kyoushu

(A random shot of Momoko looking a lot like SMAP’s Nakai and flashing her blouse.)

The girls now look happy, and yet that turns out not to be good news…

… as we’re soon enough treated to a minna-lag series of shots of the girls all smiling into a void.

Maasa looks towards a brighter future with some relief…

Momoko just lets herself be Momoko…

Chinami, unfortunately, has the scariest smile of all the girls. The strangely undefined object of affection and the camera panning across her face makes this kind of distant-gazing grin look like a commercial for hallucinogenic shampoo and conditioner.

Maiha looking adorable with her dimples…

… Saki not looking so much like a boy anymore…

… and Yurina looking genuinely happy, as well.

The best one is saved for last, though, as Risako still looks grim and only as the long shot ends do we see her begin to break into a smile. As a result, it seems that everyone’s suddenly on happy pills and she only faked taking her proper dosage. It’s a canny editing move in that it emphasizes a kind of childish recalcitrance in Risako that is part of her nascent idol persona, the impression of a child who doesn’t take directions well but is charming despite such difficulty.

Chinami’s dancing is very good in this video. The sharpness and definition of her moves pops up again in the dance version of “Special Generation”, along with a confidence and plainly adolescent insouciance which suits her well. I’ve long been a Chinami fan, as she does seem underutilized and seems more complex than meets the eye. Starting out this PV in such a memorable manner, she doesn’t get to show much else beyond that.

Which makes me wonder, why doesn’t she get more attention? Why has she long inhabited the bottom of the Berryz popularity totem pole?

And what about Maiha, now that I’m beginning to feel kaisan remorse over her?

A roundabout answer may be evident with Yurina. Here she is in the center, and the hand gesture is an interesting study in contrasts, especially with Miyabi and Momoko behind her. She has a much stronger grasp of the dance moves than Risako, and she’s got an undeniable youthful beauty to her… but is she as interesting to watch? She’s competent, she’s able to do what’s expected of her – but she doesn’t push herself as much as the others in presenting a persona, in that gift of standing out by simply standing there. If anything, I’d say she’s more interesting to watch in the student seqences because there’s more attitude in the pose, the way she dresses, the attitude she gives off.

For all her beauty and stature, Yurina then – and now – is often the blandest of the Berryz. Too everygirl and not enough idol for my taste. It worries me a little, but maybe it’s just a matter of time before she finds the right approach. After all, it took Risa years to figure out an interesting persona (sort of), and Yurina’s still young. Very young. But she’s certainly being outpaced by the others in that department.

You see? A little bit of gang girl glare and she becomes that much more memorable.

And yet, maybe this may be her own approach, her own persona played a bit too subtly? After all, she was the only girl to run the treadmill in “Jiriri Kiteru” and apparently forget she was supposed to look troubled and chased, instead having fun while doing a bit of exercise. Watching her here, that lack of pretense, the inability to play too much into the video’s artifice, may itself be a strength. Maybe.

I’m trying to convince myself, but it isn’t working as well as it did in “Jiriri”.

But wait! Did I say Yurina was glaring? All the girls are back in a pissy mood again! After that too-brief view of the study group table and sudden flash of unwarranted glee, we’re back to square one. Momoko looks uncomfortably at Maiha…

… who apparently is trying not to be too obvious about her hate for Saki…

… and Saki’s staring at… um…

… Maasa? Okay, who in turn must be staring back at her…

… and again, Chinami’s flashing two guns and ten thousand bullets in her captain’s direction.

Yurina’s blandness at the center of the dance is highlighted even further with Risako stepping back in that place and pretty much stumbling around and grabbing her chest and getting away with it. What her moves lacks in grace, it makes up for in stage presence and dramatic power. Risako constantly challenges the camera and the viewer; Yurina doesn’t. And that may well be the difference between a large fan base and a small one.

At least, that seems to explain why certain Berryz do stand out in the imagination – and slavish fan worship – than others. The unquantifiable X factor which comes out in the handling of the camera as a kind of privileged viewer, a kind of egotism and fearlessness to stand out with a particular take on the idol persona. Under such unwieldy, indefinable measures, Momoko and Risako and Miyabi clearly come out on top, while the less confrontational presences of Saki, Maiha, and Yurina are less crowd-pleasing.

There are two in-between cases: Chinami has long had a glimmer of cynical attitude in her (especially when she dances), yet it conflicts with her more cutesy Charmy-esque way she sometimes presents herself. Perhaps the mixed messages is why she hasn’t clicked like the big three. Lika Rika, she’s sharp-minded and self-aware but often obscures it with a persona that relies on an overly kawaii, at times cloying femininity. Unlike Rika, she has yet to balance that softer aspect with the commanding presence lurking beneath the surface.

Meanwhile, Maasa has been on a slow track to making herself a more distinctive idol, letting nature take its course and recently becoming more assertive – but will it pay off career-wise? Still too early to call.

This single and video is a clear shift in course for the Berryz. With the song’s elegaic tone and harder-driving dance beat, it doesn’t have the airiness and exuberance of the first four singles – for all its sophistication, “Can’t Live Without You” was essentially an upbeat and playful song, led by pied piper windwork. Lonelier and melancholy before becoming aggressive, “Koi no Jubaku” compensates for its lack of optimism with dance beat intensity and the slightest touch of hard-edged rorikon temptation.

And yet for its more mature sound and tone, for the way certain words are given a tough edge in the way they’re spit out with uncompromising finality (not just the desirous ah’s, but the “yamete” enunciated hard syllable by hard syllable, and the chorus itself), the song is clearly sung by juveniles. Momoko’s distinctive lispy delivery is only the most obvious example, as there’s no mistaking it’s a more adult song by girls who aren’t anywhere near adulthood yet.

It makes me suspect that this song was a necessary step before “Special Generation”. There, we’ve also got the dramatic gasps (more of it actually) and more dramatic vocal deliveries, the heavy dance beat flavor. But there’s also a move to something less dark and moody, not effervescent and juvenile like the first four singles but disposing of elegy in favor of a propulsive desperation and the upbeat forward-looking message of a su-puh-shell-uh generation more in keeping with Hello! Project’s overall agenda.

Where “Koi no Jubaku” experimented with the dramatic power of stillness – cameras tracking over the girls, who just stand and stare dramatically in the distance – “Special Generation” is in constant motion. And even the quiet moments in the single after it, “Nanchuu Koi wo Yatteru You Know”, at least have something of a clear dramatic reason in the way the girls clutch their keitas in distress.

“Koi no Jubaku” also seems to have paved the way for the rescue scenario I so detested in the regular version of the “Jiriri Kiteru” PV. That is, the PV seems to gesture towards an unhappiness in the girls-as-students that seems to be relieved only with the arrival of some unnamed welcome presence – a stand-in for the viewer, we can assume.

In the way it positions an ill-defined savior role to the viewer, offering a sense of helplessness that trucks in both youthfulness and femininity, “Koi no Jubaku” toys with the strategy that “Jiriri Kiteru” exploits as fully as possible. In other videos – the keita grief of “Nanchuu”, the billet-doux clutched by each girl in “100 gag” – we can assume that the unseen but imagined amour are boys who are the same age as the Berryz. The privileging of the camera as the commanding presence the girls address – and ultimately smile for – in both “Koi no Jubaku” and “Jiriri Kiteru” is different, and almost inevitably colored by knowledge of the group’s fan base.

Yet the PV for “Koi no Jubaku” isn’t nearly as offensive as the one for “Jiriri Kiteru” – and there are good reasons for it. First and foremost, the idol metaphor seems to be a release from the unhappiness of dour, everyday school life. The girls aren’t trapped by their decision to be idols – if anything, they’re freed and invigorated by it in “Koi no Jubaku”. So that central conceit of the “Jiriri” PV doesn’t exist here. The imagined teacher (or senpai?) may brighten their drab school-bound world, but he isn’t saving the girls from the confines of the idol life.

If anything, the idol life presents itself here as a relief from the mundane – not the little girls in pretty boxes scenario implicit in “Jiriri”. The video’s contrast in settings and moods may be a kind of reminder for the Berryz of life if they weren’t H!P Kids, a case of “There but for the grace of Tsunku…”

More to the point, the emotions on display in “Koi no Jubaku” seems void of a discernible context – the only time we see that in a Berryz video, now that I think of it. Every other video, their emotions are tied into something we can clearly comprehend – the awe as they enter the stadium of “Can’t Live Without You” and the disappointment in front of the Celeb Machine during “Fighting Pose”, all the way to the complex weave of emotions at the geinou Stalag 17 metaphor of “Jiriri”. Here, they glare at each other, they run around for no reason, they suddenly turn happy, then they’re mad all over again. What gives?

Though maybe that is the point? The emotions of the teen idol – in the lyrics they sing, the dances they perform, the gestures they make – are easily decipherable, comprehensible and thus commercial. Mystique counts for a great deal in pop culture, but transparency always makes for better marketing.

In the real world, however, teenagers are difficult to fathom much of the time. Some adults would argue that adolescence is that state where one feels extreme emotions but doesn’t know how to direct them – the rampaging hormones theory of puberty and teenage behavior. I’m more of a mind that, like other phases in life where profound change takes place, it’s a time of sharpened awareness that you can’t understand unless you’re actually there at the moment. Once you leave that time of change, that sharpness is lost as well. You can have 20/20 hindsight to your teenage years – or the time you decided to leave your dream job, or the time you found your true love and realized it at last – but the experience in the here-and-now is what counts. That’s what makes those times so special, the experiences so important – and what’s lost to us, even as we gaze back in fondness or cringe in embarassment.

If this is the tack the PV is taking, then the sudden bursts of anger and accusation and happiness and whatever else need no explanation. They are part of the experience of being girls on the brink of their teenage years, and should be respected as such.

And yeah, I know I may be overstating the case. But if I’m not, then the baffling anger and even more baffling happiness in the student scenes aren’t because a script was lost. It’s because the girls metaphorically refuse to share that script with us.

And does this provide an insight to the brightly-colored dance sequences, as well? As enticing and charged as the thought of schoolgirl crushes can be, aren’t we better off with the brightly-colored geinou who represent an imaginative realm and not a harsh reality? Isn’t the truth of the matter – at least, as I see it – that the fantasy of the teenage idol is much more appealing, much less likely to disappoint, because it isn’t real, isn’t obscure in its mundanity, isn’t beholden to the shadows but simply frolics in the light?

My bias is showing here. I’ve said before that as dearly as I love my teen Jpop idols, it’s constrained by a self-awareness of the fantasy, that teenage girls in the real world are maddeningly teenaged and girlish in a way I have no patience for. That’s how it should be, that’s where the divide should exist, that’s what pop culture and especially Jpop girl groups are for: a relief from our own lapses of irrational anger and panicked rushing through the world, a respite from school and work and whatever else makes us want something (too) easily understandable, (too) bright and bushy-tailed, (too) comforting in its mindful pleasures.

Given all that, “Koi no Jubaku” is rapidly becoming one of my favorite Berryz songs of all time, right behind only “Special Generation” and “Jiriri Kiteru”. “Can’t Live Without You” is also a great song, but I think it isn’t as Berryz-specific as these three singles.

These three, I’d argue, work best for the Berryz because the girls are in transition, are moving from childhood to adulthood before our eyes, becoming more self-aware but still allowing their innocence and enthusiasm to guide them. In other words, these songs are more quintessentially teenage songs. Moreover, their presentation as young idols takes on new nuances, new complications that keep the group interesting as well as the individual Berryz in it.

But does “Koi no Jubaku” the PV succeed, given that approach? Not quite: it’s awkward and even a bit off-putting. But there’s a nobility in this failed experiment at least, a sense of pushing the envelope so that the girls will have that chance to find their mature voices over time, to try and fail and try again in the chances of succeeding.

I think “Jiriri” was actually more successful, despite being more repellent, in that the girls are believably mature idols there. Part of it is the passing of time, of course, but I think there’s more than that at work. Through biology and choreography, through growing pains and a refined sense of performance, Berryz the idol unit has managed to keep in step with the demands of puberty. They can be as playful and kiddie as before, but that other angle – the young women who can enchant as well as charm – is more plausible because of the work they’ve done in the second year of their group’s existence. “Koi no Jubaku” paved the way for “Jiriri” and was part of the evolution.

Will the girls outgrow even the songs that marked their newfound maturity, as they will inevitably outgrow their more juvenile singles? Perhaps. But not for a long while, by pop music standards. After all, a Jpop idol in her early twenties can still sing about first love and being on the cusp of adulthood, just so long as her audience will go along with her. The Berryz as a unit will probably end long before any of the songs in their current repertoire outgrow their evolving image. And I’d bet that Momoko at least could still pull off the sweet child-like simplicity of “Piriri to Yukou” well into her thirties, considering how she’s positioning herself at present.

(Though she’s not alone in that kind of precocious preciousness. I’d argue that Ogura Yuko can probably sing about learning how to fingerpaint and ride a bicycle for the first time and her audience’d cheer even that level of juvenile childplay as well. But that’s just my opinion.)

One last note: Risako isn’t in rhythm with the others as they rock back and forth at the end. Is she off-beat or just heeding the tune of her own inner drummer? Ahh, who cares. It’s Risako!

Whatever planned obsolescence is built into writing and performing such songs, the more mature singles that Berryz have already recorded stand as a testament to that particular transition for the girls and for the unit, with “Koi no Jubaku” offering the first peek of what the Berryz would be like once the workshopping is over. I love the song for what it is, and love the PV for what it promised could be. The Berryz have a long path ahead of them, but this first turn towards maturity – as young ladies, as well as young idols – remains illuminating in its paradoxical attempt at being so obscure.


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3 Responses to “Angst in the Study Hall: Berryz Koubo’s “Koi no Jubaku””
  1. Garamond says:

    Very nice read this, though I’ve never seen any animosity between the girls in this PV before – and I still dont. To me their expressions convey… well, nothing I suppose, except when they’re smiling of course. Then they look happy, for unknown reasons.
    Speaking of smiles, what about the “Smile version” of this song? Will you write a review of that too. That’d be cool. 🙂

  2. Craig says:

    That entry was excellent.

  3. kurisu says:

    Good analisys. But you need to include the lyrics also.

    I reviewed “Jiriri Kiteru”.

    http://rorikon.blogspot.com/2006/03/el-caso-de-berryz-kb.html

    Grertings.