Top Ten U15 Geinou (Revisited, As Well)

Filed in American Wota 1.0

Last time I did a Top 10 Geinou Girlfriends list, I slid in a Top 10 U15 List as an easter egg. Now that I keep on the side, I feel no need to hide my fondness for junior idols – actually, and correct me if I’m wrong, I seem to’ve become quite vocal about it. The reason is pretty simple: for me at least, U15 idols – pop or gravure – best epitomize the philosophy of idols and the wota who worship them.

Consider the very term “idol” and its roots in non-pop history. Biblically, it refers to the worship of false gods, the making of images in their likeness. Sound familiar enough, right? But think about why idols were so controversial: because they replace a true god (or gods), which means they inspire spiritual feelings in their followers though they have no right to do so. Or perhaps they do, and that makes them even more threatening.

This inspiration of deep feeling is true with our modern day equivalents: idols fill us with passion and wonder, but also a fear and awe at the powers possessed by such a being. Fear and awe: I don’t know about you, but the idea that someone who isn’t old enough to drive is able to make me feel the things that Ryo or Momoko or Yamanaka Mayumi does – flights of fancy inspired by their kawaii poses and genki smiles, flashes of realization about their innocence and naivete which gives me split-seconds of alarm, the haunting shame and guilty pleasure associated with the word “statutory”, and of course the sublimely altruistic urge to play protector to these girls when I realize their whole audience is made up of bastards just like me.

That is what being a wota is all about to me – as opposed to just being a fan, or an appreciative listener. For me, the term “wota” is freighted with a complexity of reactions and urges that come about from the idol persona that we dedicate ourselves to, which often transcends or supersedes the actual performances of these girls as singers, models, actors. It’s more primal – not even medieval, but straight outta the Old Testament. The Book of Judges, perhaps.

So why focus on the younger idols? Because the rather distinct sense of ephemerality that the U15 symbolizes – no longer a girl, not yet a woman – is itself a source of profound feelings. The teen idol is herself in a state of flux, changing before our eyes in many cases, and there is something undeniably profound paying witness to the hormonal equivalent of the constantly flickering flames of the burning bush. The U15 idol today could well be a very different idol in a matter of months, never mind years.

Adolescence may or may not be more interesting than adulthood, but part of what makes it so fascinating – whether you’re in the midst of it or looking back on your own teen years, decades later – is how bracingly new and strange certain experiences feel, how intensely felt every emotion can be, and how much one struggles in asserting an individual identity even as the world refuses to cede complete control of yourself to yourself just yet. In such an everyday maelstrom of the developing adolescent psyche, to be able to go on stage or in front of the camera, assert “Here I am” and charm an audience who eagerly cheers you on? How can that not be a first class all-expenses paid ego trip for the idol, and how can that not be satisfyingly visceral for the adoring wota basking in her glow?

And metaphorically speaking, idols must not inhabit the same world their worshippers do – they should inhabit a more elevated plane and descend to the wotas at their discretion. The status of small-time media darling is often enough of an elevated plane to work in this case, enough of a marker between my world and their world. However, the underage aspect adds an unmistakable frisson. Put simply, the conflict springs between biological imperative – it wasn’t many decades ago that these U15 idols would be considered ripe marriage material – and societal restrictions – of course, nowadays they aren’t acceptable marriage material at that age, based on the extended maturing process that our modern world has created. That combination of media and the paradox of underage attraction seems to have an especially effective impact on me, as it is so mediated, the distance created by both aspects opens up an imaginative space that cannot exist, never mind thrive, with any other kind of acceptable popular culture.

This is also why, for the most part, a teenage girl I encounter on the street evokes a very different reaction from me than watching a favorite SweetS PV. Reality and wota worship are two very different sets of experience, and to confuse the two is not only disastrous, it misses the point of being a wota. This is also why I never have a problem with that whole “pedo” label when I tell friends about my love for U15 idols. As open as I am about my tastes and opinions, it becomes clear very quickly that I have no intention to actually seduce some hapless teenager or do anything else illegal or immoral along that line. My unnaturally strong attachment to underage idols may be fodder for many, many, many pedo jokes – but it doesn’t make me a threat to the community. In the same way, my fascination for cannibalism hasn’t made me make any unusual culinary choices, nor has my love for serial killer movies and violet video games turned me homicidal in the real world.

There’s another historical equivalent to this – and here I’m cribbing badly from something Lionel Trilling wrote about Lolita when it was first published (it always winds back to VN for me): the value of courtly love. For the uninitiated, the notion of courtly love comes from medieval times, where a young knight would choose an unattainable married woman who he would pledge his passion and love towards, without ever consummating that desire with physical contact. To paraphrase quite horribly, Trilling wrote that Lolita may be about the last possible expression of courtly love by choosing a romance still considered forbidden in the modern world, between adult and child. (Of course, Humbert Humbert did have sex with Lolita, but the idea’s still worth considering.) The same can easily be applied for how a wota feels for his chosen U15 idol. Like the knight and his chosen lady, the passion exists, it finds its own modes of expression – but the physical consummation of such passion would only sully the love that is being expressed, even destroy the delicate relationship established in such a manner. (That disrupted balance is a lot like the first time you sleep with a student and realize you still have to teach her in English class the next MWF morning.)

The shame of it is, today the notion of courtly love – like its less demanding cousin, chivalry – is deader than Dillinger. (And the phrase “deader than Dillinger” is itself quite outmoded – that is, deader than Dillinger squared.) Nowadays, courtly love would just be seen as a rather elaborate cock tease and not as an honest expression of love or an expression of idealism or enlightenment. The naysayer would say something to the effect of, “If they really loved each other, they’d fuck.” Welcome to the twenty-first century – check your romanticism at the door! That sigh of relief expressed by many men when former tween superstars like the Olsen Twins or Hillary Duff turned eighteen? It’s because in that perspective, these formerly off-limit females were suddenly fair game with that fateful tick of midnight. Which of course seems ridiculous on all levels but the strictly legislative: copping a feel off Lindsay Lohan a day before her eighteenth birthday probably wouldn’t have felt different than a day after her eighteenth. It’s a superstition conditioned by laws and fear of punishment, which makes it quaintly ludicrous – but not one I subscribe to, mostly because the perception of “attainabilty” is still an abstraction (how many of those men who sighed with relief actually had a real chance with any of these starlets?). As a result, that eighteen-year-old line in the sand is about as useful as waiting for these girls to grow third eyes on their forehead: the distance between the media-drenched female and her audience is still a wide gap that is very rarely surmounted.

So attainability isn’t the point with idols – actually, the opposite of attainability of the actual idol is the whole point of the graven images (photobooks, videos) that drive the idol market. Rather, it’s a finely-balanced ideal where ephemerally adolescent charm and excellent marketing impulses combine to turn a normal girl into a transcendent idol. The factors that drive this include a sense of the idol’s potential (in the sense of both how she will grow into a woman as well as how she will develop as an idol), by her natural charisma under the spotlight, and of course how she is handled by her management, photographers, producers, and so on (perhaps more so than any other kind of idol, the U15’s image is moderated and modulated by the behind-the-scenes folks who don’t get nearly enough credit). A good deal of a U15 idol’s success also seems to be on finding her unique balance between girl and woman – knowing how kawaii to be without appearing so obviously fake, how much sexiness can be allowed before it becomes disturbing, whether being kakkoii is better than being genki… And it does vary widely. For Momoko, the girlish aspect is key to her charm – for Ryo, the more womanly aspects are her main selling point. But without the right balance – the flash of come-hither in Momoko’s blinks, or the vulnerability of the lonely teen in Ryo’s photo shoots – it just would not be the same.

And none of this is meant to discount the achievements of older idols. However, most idols enter while still in the throes of puberty – or even beforehand – and many don’t last to adulthood. Those who enter the idol world after adolescence – not counting AV idols, of course – are a relatively smaller group, best as I can tell. But those who are able to continue as adult geinou often try to abandon aspects of their idol image since it’s see as a stigma to more serious, “artistic” work (Amuro Namie, Matsuura Aya). Those that don’t sometimes risk looking silly – Ogura Yuko being the best example, much as I love her and especially “Vitamin Love”.

So all that said, let’s just jump into the top ten already, which turned out to be an equal mix of H!P Kids and gravure idols. I could’ve tried to include others – the younger half of Hinoi Team (though Keika seems on her way out), or some girls from more obscure pop groups (maybe find out a name or two of AKB48’s members?)… But let’s be honest, these girls are where my wota heart is at right now, these are the ones that inspire the courtly passion that makes me write blog entries and swoon and spend a whole lot of money on.

And on an editorial note, two girls weren’t included because they’re no longer idols: Murakami Megumi and SweetS’ Takewa Haruna. If they were still here, they’d both place in the top three. So consider them in the U15 Idol Hall of Fame – and in that Hall of Fame, we should also include Tsujikago circa early Minimoni, hiro at the start of Speed, and Akina in Folder5.

10. Arihara Kanna – The girl with the Nabokovan bloom.

In Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov writes of how nymphophiles are not attracted to all young girls but to those with a certain je ne sais quoi, an X factor or bloom that is only detectable to one sensitive to the charms of nymphettes. Kanna is only the second idol I believe has that bloom, the first being Mai of SweetS. This is going to sound strange since such a judgment isn’t quantifiable – either trust me or make your own judgment (which is actually what all criticism boils down to, doesn’t it?). Anyway, I was skeptical when it was first announced that an Egg was joining C-ute but she’s more than proven herself as a valuable asset to the unit. She’s got great moments in both “Massara Blue Jeans” and especially “Soku Dakishemete”. The dynamic of C-ute is interesting, in that they play off the line between sexy maturity and cute youthfulness – much more aggressively than Berryz, at least, whose kiddie and mature songs are more easily divided. Given her age, Kanna is able to work that line better than most of the other girls (with one notable exception – see below). I’m actually interested in seeing how she’d do solo. Or in a solo photobook, at least.

9. Sato Karin – The thrill of limitless potential (for now).

I’ve seen one short photospread of this idol and I’m already hooked. There isn’t much I can say about her, but she practically radiates genki-ness and confidence. When I see more of her, I may be completely disenchanted or she may rocket to the top of my personal list – but I’m thinking the latter. Actually, Yamanaka Mayumi should probably be in this slot, but I’m opting for Karin because I’m ordering her DVD pretty soon. Though Mayumi is most definitely scrumptious and if this was a Top 12 we’d see her and Sudo Maasa included.

8. Yajima Maimi – Already a woman… almost.

Maimi’s on the tail end of puberty and looking great for it. For a while now, she’s been one of the most physically striking idols in Hello! Project – surpassing many of her senpai in that regard, as various group pictures clearly indicate. She also knows how to present herself in a way that emphasizes her attractiveness without being showy – again, I direct you to “Massara Blue Jeans” and the turn of her head when she wings her arms, the way she looks at the camera during her close-up. She has a great deal of self-confidence – you can see it as far back as ZYX, at least – and she’s grown into it with a gracefulness that should be envied by just about every other H!P girl around her. She’s certainly overdue for her own photobook pretty damn soon.

7. Kiri Sari – Garo Aida’s rare success.

When I first saw pictures of Sari, I thought she bore a strong resemblance to Kumai Yurina of Berryz Koubo – now I don’t see it nearly as much, but she still continues to delight and fascinate. Sari has worked with the notorious U15 photographer Aida Garo on photobooks and videos. However, like Irie Saaya, she wasn’t subjected to the worse excesses of Aida Garo’s style – no lingerie, no things exposing way too much cheek, no truly awkward and demeaning poses. (My main issue with Aida isn’t ethical as much as it is aesthetic – oversexing his girls, many of whom wouldn’t get work as models otherwise, is simply making a bad idol.) Instead, Sari’s been allowed to seem more girl-next-door and has benefited from this restraint. She’s got a great smile and a photogenic energy that’s impossible to resist, and hopefully there’ll be much more work from her in the future.

6. Koike Rina – The otaku mascot turned wota sweetheart.

My first encounter of Rina was through her most recent photobook. I then found out she used to be in the live action PGSM – which I’d only seen the first few episodes of, so I never saw her – and was further intrigued. What stands out with Rina is how her idol persona is so much like that of an upbeat anime kid – energetic, goofy, unafraid of looking silly, but also prone to quiet moments of reflection. Which sounds like a cliche in the world of gravure, but her acting background makes those qualities more believable. She’s definitely got a lot more growing to do, and seeing how she’ll blossom – as an outright beauty or towards a more quirky look (either is quite possible) – will be interesting. Of all the idols on this list, she’s also the one who I think is most assured a real career into adulthood.

5. Tokunaga Chinami – The enigmatic Berryz.

The young lady who almost broke up KAT-TUN! Or so the rumors claimed. My love of Chinami has been long-standing – along with number four, she’s one of three holdovers from the last U15 list – and I continue to enjoy her personality in the Berryz Koubo mix. She was the best thing about the “Waracchaou yo Boyfriend” PV, as winningly mischievous as I’d ever seen her. Her look is slightly quirky but still very much in the mainstream kawaii image, and she’s still got the best smile of any idol I can think of. And again, there’s the issue of potential: I just always get the sense she’s going to grow into an even more magnificent adult idol, though I can’t pin down why.

4. Tsuganaga Momoko – The Terminatrix idol.

A long while back, Santos of Idolizing St. Anna described in passing the “cyborg idols” – those with a Terminator-like fix on what wota want and who deliver it with effortless idol skill. She seems practically born to be an idol, with the way she works the audience. However, she’s also developed significantly – for starters, her vocals on “Waracchaou yo Boyfriend” marked a maturing of her singing, the lispy affectation completely expunged. Barring some sudden growth spurt I hadn’t heard of, she’s now apparently the shortest of the Berryz and seems fated to be the most juvenile-looking of the group for the time being. In her case, that’s not such a bad thing – just so long as she doesn’t wind up like Ogura Yuko in the long run.

3. Suzuki Airi – The blossoming of a fragile beauty.

It used to be that when I thought of Airi, I would imagine the spunky, chubby-cheeked girl who sang beautifully in “First Kiss”, so po-faced and dead serious in the PV. If anything, I expected her to grow into that persona, a girl with meat on her bones like Kago, who’s sassy and opinionated and takes no guff from anyone. Instead, today’s Airi is a wispy girl with a beautifully fragile smile and a natural penchant for kawaii poses. The chicken wing-flap move in “Ooki na Ai de Motenashite” doesn’t look silly on her, amazingly enough. There’s still sass in her, and her singing is still very strong – though perhaps not as obviously virtuosic as in her younger days (I’m more willing to blame the material she’s given than her pipes, however). With Megukami gone, she’s the best thing about C-ute now – which isn’t meant as a backhanded compliment, but a fulsome agreement that C-ute still has much to offer. (Though yes, I’m still missing Megukami. This may last longer than my pining away for Zone a couple years back…)

2. Tokumoto Kasumi – The Jeune Fille Fatale.

She’s the guilty choice of this list – and as a result, she places this high. Even more so than the number one choice (and that’s saying a lot), she projects a strong sexuality in her images, a frankness which can be intimidating. She’s exactly the kind of U15 model which makes you stop and think, “Should I really be looking at this?” as she can invite reactions best left for adult models. But it’s when one draws back from this shock of arousal that Kasumi’s gifts can best be appreciated. Because while many U15 idols can provoke such a reaction based on a pose or an outfit, she manages to accomplish this with a simple look. It’s her attitude that moves the wota, even more than what she wears and how she poses. She definitely knows how to work the camera, to stir up lolita fantasies and create urgency in her work… However, she does so without ever seeming coy or artificial about it, which many of Aida’s more outgoing girls are guilty of. Kasumi – or at least, her idol persona – is exhilarating in her danger.

She has a self-possession, a confidence in how she presents herself, that is positively stunning. More to the point, one can imagine an extremely self-centered, egotistical persona at work here – and yet, it is utterly forgivable in her. If the world is her oyster, just let me crack some shells open for her pleasure. And this is an intensely personal reaction to her – perhaps predicated on my own experiences with several women from my past who were generally considered difficult but whose unflinchingly arch view of the world always entertained and amused me. Or to put it more bluntly, I’ve always had a thing for clever, bitchy women and there’s a delicious hint of that in Kasumi’s idol persona, the poise of the disarming put-down, the thrill of the irreverent dismissal .

One last thing: that Burberry schoolgirl outfit is probably the single best thing I’d ever seen on an idol of any sort. With the possible exception of Tsuji and Kago’s dinosaur costumes… Those were hot.

1. Shihono Ryo – The Legend.

Back in Cult of Pop, I’d get visitors looking for Shihono Ryo – which was funny, since I never wrote about her. Like SweetS, my first encounter with her was disturbing – it was more obvious, more in-your-face, than I was immediately ready for. Ryo projects a very frank sexuality in her photobooks and videos, though she does so in more obvious ways than Kasumi. For starters, she’s got a good number of pictures where she exposes her white panties or even clutches its fabric in her fingers. Now, a part of me wants to read it as parody, as making fun of the hentai obsession for purity and panties – but it isn’t, it’s giving the audience what it wants. Well, okay, now I’m more amenable tot hat. (Though as part of the audience I can really do without the close-up cameltoe shots of her bikini area. This is the one decision of questionable taste in Ryo’s work where I just have to think, “No, that’s not necessary or even desired.”)

Like many of the girls in this list, her looks aren’t glamorous as much as they are girl-next-door to the ne plus ultra. (I’m guessing that’s more about the marketing of idols than my own personal preference, though the two may not be easily separated.) She’s very pretty, no doubt, and has a kawaii side that isn’t played enough as she gets older, but she looks very much like a typical teenage girl. One would think the glamour could have been punched up more, but there seems a definite decision to keep her more homegrown.

Ryo doesn’t have the arch confidence of Kasumi – rather, she displays a range of emotions. Her control of her idol persona – especially in still photography – is masterful. She projects vulnerability in many shots, but there are also shots where she seems bemused at her situation, and some incredible shots where she’s challenging the viewer, an imperious demigoddess from seifuku heaven. More than any other U15 gravure idol I’ve seen, there’s a seamlessness between the artistic sensibility of her photobooks (i.e., the shots that are supposed to make you stop and marvel at how deep a random shot of some rocks are, or of the ) and the more prurient appeal of such work (i.e., Ryo looking U15 sexy).

Also, she’s now a pop idol – or at least, she released her first pop rock single. (As regular readers know, I bought two copies of “Sweet Sunday”.) She seems to see that posing in a bikini for a career can be limiting, though it’s certainly worked quite good for her up till now. She has a great deal of potential still, but certainly the ephemerality of idol-dom I’d mentioned at the beginning must be weighing on her and her management. I’m not sure if we can expect to see her still working as a geinou in a few years, never mind decades from now. However, she’s like lightning in a bottle – electrifying here and now, and worth getting charged up over at this very moment.

And again, let me close with a challenge: if you don’t like this list, make your own. And include pictures. Eyecandy is a good thing.


Comments (Comments are closed)

5 Responses to “Top Ten U15 Geinou (Revisited, As Well)”
  1. Craig says:

    You yourself have a written form of upfront sexuality that can be disturbing.

  2. Beth says:

    Hello!! Do you remember me? I used to blog over at Paint It Gold before I went to Japan as an exchange student for a year. Well, I’m back now and ready to start blogging again at my new spot (called CHE.R.RY):

    And I at least agree with Chinami being on the list… She’s so darn cute. 😀

  3. Hmm. I get No. 4 and 3 mixed up in my feeble little brain. I must confess I have never heard of your Nos. 1 and 2; are they singers? Maybe I’m mkissing something here. Are they in any groups or just models?

  4. jinryuichi says:

    Wow…. I must commend you for being THIS open about U-15 department. Your essay here summed it up best as to what I think about the U-15. Nice to know someone sharing similar thoughts as mine. ^_^

    I remember way back in some certain forum that I was part of, when I tried to explain to those guys there about the concept and nature behind the U-15 love, it created a huge controversy. As a result I got shunned out, and branded as a “hentai” outright, because of the belief that there is no other way to look at girls, but in a perverse and erotic way – whether it is U-15 or not. Their sense of appreciation runs shallow. A lot of people do not understand. (Which is why I rarely touch the U-15 subject) I pray that you do not have to suffer the same predicament as I did. ^_^

    On your list, I haven’t come across Kiri Sari and Sato Karin before. Ryo is indeed a stuff of legend. But good to see some Berryz and C-ute girls made it here. Too bad Hagiwara Mai (C-ute) didn’t make it….

  5. Estigher says:

    Think Mayumi Yamanaka Should much have been there. Am much disapointed… Regardless, you are hilariously funny, and quite intelligent, is good to read you.