Idol Worship: C-ute DVD Magazine Volume 3, Part One

Filed in American Wota 2.0

Since being an idol is as much about charm and charisma as it is about anything else, I’ll be looking regularly at various idol activities that don’t involve actual singing or dancing, reviewing how well the idols in question project their idol personae. To me, this is often much more interesting than the music and singing and dancing.

I’ll be pretty blunt about the girls and their looks and their behavior, taking it from an unrepentantly wota point of view. So if you’re going to be sensitive about such opinions about idols – whose very careers are based on how attractive they are in that unique idol manner, firing up all those unarticulated desire burning away in fragile wota psyches – then you better stop here. (But then, you wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place, I guess.)

Watching the C-ute DVD Magazine Volume Three, I decided not bothering to learn what they had to actually say. Truth be known, Suzuki Airi could be reciting the Japanese equivalent of the Gettysburg address and I’d be paying just as much attention as if she was telling me what she did for the summer. Every once in a while Barbara would tell me what was going on, but for the most part I decided actions would speak louder than words.

And for good reason! I’m going to follow Albert Mehrabian’s 7%-38%-55% Rule – that spoken language is only 7% of why we like a person, while tone of voice is 38%, and body language is 55%.

While the accuracy of such an exact measure may be dodgy, the larger point certainly makes sense when I find myself adoring teenage girls who I’ve never met and don’t even speak my language. Besides, it encourages a shallowness of evaluative measures that suits the purpose of this blog.

So. Watching the DVD, the first thing I had to ask was, Who the fuck are the guys hosting this disc and emceeing the barbecue? And I don’t mean this in the inquisitive sense of learning their names and their backgrounds, but in the rhetorical sense that they look like fucking idiots and are getting in the way of my enjoyment. We’ve got two walking soft-offs here, and I’d rather they had Inaba or even Yagu as host instead.

Anyway, with the multicolored hats with spinners on them, I can’t help but think of them as the Tweedles – Dee and Dum, and they can fight it out with each other who’s who.

So the Tweedles introduce the DVD, which is about a barbecue, and the game by which the girls will earn their barbecue food. Right away, it feels like a cheapened version of a Hello! Morning food competition. There’s a trio of circles on a white board, and each C-ute will get to throw one dart at each circle, going from left to right, to determine what they will eat for their barbecue.

The dartboards look like they were made from arts and crafts time at a kindergarten, which only emphasizes the cheapness of the proceedings and makes me wonder if the girls and film crew snuck into some school on a weekend to make this DVD. If so, that would explain the Tweedles, who were most likely the janitorial staff seeking to make their big break as talento.

It could’ve been worse. C-ute could’ve been replaced on this DVD with seven hunky black men. Okay, maybe that wouldn’t have been worse, but it would’ve been different.

So they go in order of seniority, as usual, and the first to volunteer is the tall geek of the group, Umeda Erika.

From there, we segue into the second feature of this DVD, interludes where the girls are wearing yukatas and talking about their summer memories. The gimmick is that they have to hold up an hourglass and speak in a minute. As it turns out, it’s not enough time for some and far too much time for others. It also keeps them something to fidget with as they try to remember the blur that is summertime.

This is actually the better part of the video, as far as I’m concerned. First, they all look quite adorable in their yukatas. Second, they speak directly to the camera for a straight minute, so we get a sense of their idol persona quite clearly. Third, the Tweedles are nowhere to be seen.

Erika in a yukata walking in careful balance down a thin strip of pavement is hot. It could’ve been hotter if she was walking a rope several hundred feet up in the air, but hitting the pavement and making a bloody mangled mess would have been definitely not-hot. Anyway, the real value here is the playfulness of this walk, and the way such balancing brings out a sense of grace in someone who’s generally considered gawky.

The yukata is okay. I’m not much of a fan of lavender, but it looks good on her.

Her one minute memory is okay, and I like how she holds up the hourglass then switches it to the other hand, checking it every once in a while to see how much time is left…

Then we go back to the dartboard of BBQ and I realize she looks better in that outfit – the yellow shirt, yellow flower in her hair, and camouflage skirt – than in the yukata. It takes me a couple more idols to realize they’re wearing their T-shirts that were sold on the tour.

She muses out loud on how to throw the darts, as she takes perfect aim, and in that pose her long limbs, supple teen rack, and look of focused determination actually make her look somewhat fetching for a change.

The flower in her ear adds a touch of femininity, while the sweatband balances it out with a more tomboyish effect.

The dart hits the ground but she does better the next two times, hitting a clam in her second shot and hitting the board but not an actual food in the circle for her third shot.

Next up is Maimi, and so it’s also her one-minute summer memories.

We see her walking down a set of staircases from a vertigo-inducing angle, and she looks absolutely lovely in her light blue yukata with the red flower in her hair. Yowza.

Early on in her minute, Maimi also does the hand-off from right to left, and she seems a little flustered but not unusually so.

I like the thoughtfulness as she pauses a split-second or looks up momentarily as she tries to remember something.

She doesn’t look at the hourglass nearly as much as Erika, and she does a cute peace sign with a vigorous wave when she sees time’s up. Ah, my heart melts like shaved ice in the summertime…

Back to the BBQ dartboards. Maimi’s decision to go with a pink shirt and bright yellow skirt isn’t working for me – it clashes, and she’d need something like combat boots or something to make it work in a thrift store chic kind of way.

Maimi lands the first, then her second dart hits pavement. Erika tries to offer some advice, then Maimi does a softball-esque underhand pitch which sticks to the board but didn’t hit any food. It’s the look on her face and the movement of her body which is great about that last throw – what she loses in food, she makes up for in style.

Next up is Nakajima Saki – that is, The Other Saki.

We first see her sitting at a bench, not moving the way the other two were. When she looks at the camera she is quite beautiful – her features are attractive for her age – but she also seems quite tentative. If anything, it’s the kind of shyness one expects with a Garo Aida model showing off a bit too much cheek.

Her yukata is quite nice but the fabric’s ridges creates a weird bathrobe effect.

She’s got the genki thing going on in her tone of voice – very bright and energetic, and her flip of the hourglass has the force of authority to it.

It’s an enchanting performance in its own way, as she really seems to be remembering things but also has very clear, powerful hand movements.

Watching her hands is the best part of the minute.

Then she checks the glass, I think for the first time, sees she’s done, and waves goodbye.

I need to pay more attention to her! I get a very strange feeling that she’s slowly coming into her own idol-wise, if this performance is any indication.

Back at the dartboard, she’s wearing an orange shirt and white shorts with ribbons in her ponytails. It’s a cute, girl-next-door look.

She flubs the first toss, then gets the giggles during her second dart toss – which is quite kawaii – and flubs that too. Her third toss sticks, but is on the white part of the board. So she gets a hug from Maimi, which makes me jealous. Seriously, if I had a choice between barbecue and a hug from Maimi, I’d give up the BBQ right away.

Next up is Airi.

Her summer memory interlude begins with a shot of her feet in sandals, walking in small steps, her hands held together as if balancing some precious item.

I know I’m biased, but I am just so in love with the girl.

That said, her pinkish-white kimono looks a little like light curtains, though the big pink and green sash around her midsection has a strange effect of making her look even tinier than usual.

Early on her body language gets quite flirtatious as she swings back and forth and smiles that winning, dental-work-required grin of hers.

She gets slightly more serious from there, but is still quite effervescent.

She holds the hourglass against her cheek and checks it once midway.

When she checks it a second time, apparently thinking her time is up, she’s surprised that there’s still some grain left and she fumbles quite adorably through another sentence. It reminds me of students who are told to write a thousand word essay, hit around 900 words, and then pad out the rest with whatever they can think of.

Still short of the mark, she follows with some outstandingly kawaii moments: she giggles and shakes the hourglass back and forth rapidly as if to speed up its final seconds, then waves and says “Bye-bye”.

She still holds it up and sinks in girlish delight.

I swear to God, if I hadn’t inoculated myself with a good deal of idol sweetness these past few years, my head would’ve exploded with the intense show of kawaii on display here. Someone put extra sugar in Cocoa Puffs this day.

Back to the dartboard of BBQ goodness: Airi shows her goofy side some more, laughing and spinning when her first dart hits the ground. She’s equally delighted at her second throw, and her third throw… hits the wrong circle. One of the Tweedles seem to tease her about it

Next up at darts is Okai Chisato, and we cut to her running in a yellow kimono with some flowers in her hand.

It’s actually a really nice shot, and she’s teasing the camera in a cute manner.

During her minute, she gets real intense early on, describing something that seems mildly violent – or maybe it’s just my wishful thinking.

She’s actually quite engaging here, very focused on conveying her story and not peeking at the hourglass at all.

As a matter of fact, when she suddenly looks at the hourglass – perhaps signaled by the cameraman? – she lets out a surprised “Oh!” and starts laughing as she waves Sayonara.

It’s a great moment, and a very genuine one, which makes it even more surprising to see.

Back at the dartboard, she enters a crouch as she shoots the darts. She’s wearing a blue shirt and yellow shorts which compliment her prepubescent butt quite nicely.

All three hit the board but fall to the ground. She’s consoled by Airi, who gives her a hug. I’ve never paid much attention to Chisato before, but there’s a good deal of natural charm on display here. Hey, even Airi can sense it!

Next is little Maimai, Hagiwara Mai.

We cut to her in a red kimono, walking carefully down a staircase. A part of me wonders how bad a tumble she’d take if she mis-steps, but of course we don’t want that to happen.

The red yukata is quite pretty, but I think the yellow sash is bigger than her head.

She does her minute with an expressive start, and makes a hand movement like a child moving a car back-and-forth. I should ask Barb about what she was talking about, but can’t care that much to do so.

Less than halfway in she looks at the hourglass and laughs, then has to stop to think of more stuff to talk about.

She’s padding out the rest of her time and seems mildly distressed until she just holds out the hourglass and yells.

Back to the dartboard, she’s wearing a purple shirt and denim shorts with a white belt. It’s actually the nicest outfit of the whole group – maybe she’s been taking fashion tips from Koharu or something. She lands the first two darts on the ground and the third one hits the board but not the circle of food. She almost seems to get a hug from Kanna as consolation, but not quite – they just hold hands.

Now it’s Arihara Kanna’s turn, and everyone else fades in her sparkling idol light.

We cut to her in a lovely green kimono walking past some vegetation.

She then beams with the loveliest smile this side of Chinami.

When it’s time for her to speak, she does so with emotion and charm and a striking self-assurance.

At one point she tries to describe something while her hands reach for the air a couple times.

She looks at the hourglass once midway through, then at the end – and when she sees it’s done, she holds it up with a quiet triumph and flashes that smile again.

Forget Airi, this is the idol I’m now in love with.

At the dartboard, Kanna’s wearing a red kerchief in her hair, a red shirt and sweatband, and loose denim shorts.

Really, she should’ve switched shorts with Chisato, because I think Kanna’s butt would be better to look at than Okai’s.

She does a funny move before she starts with the darts, all confidence and dramatic playfulness, and her figure’s quite striking with a nice teen rack. Her first dart hits the board but not the circle of food, the second dart hits the ground. Before the third dart, Erika says something which the Tweedles repeat and Kanna has to laugh and try to tell the others to stop. She hits the food circle – the right food circle – with the third dart, and she spins in a circle then jumps up and down.

So. That’s that, right? Not even close – the Tweedles offer to push the board closer so the girls get a better chance, and they all cheer.

My desire for the girls’ happiness is now in conflict with my sense of fairness. Is this the Special Olympics? Why don’t they just man up and accept that they fucked over their chance at lunch that day?

Erika has the idea of switching the order they throw at the dartboards, so that now it’s from right to left. The Tweedles, being ineffective guardians in loco parentis, agree immediately.

Erika can practically reach over and just plant the dart on the board with the shortened distance and her long limbs.

Maimi also nails all three, almost toppling for the second and third throws. Erika makes a point of calling that last throw as bad. She’s just jealous because Maimi has a photobook and she doesn’t.

Not much to say about Saki’s second time around, except she hits them all. The best part about Airi’s throws is the pose she strikes, and the wonderful teen rack on display.

Really, the girls wearing their T-shirts is the best advertisement for it. Not that any wota would look as good as these idols in the shirt, but they can at least use it as a pillowcase and dream happy thoughts against an imagined C-ute chest.

So Airi hits the first two, but not the third, and Maimi consoles her.

Chisato hits the mystery circle for two of the three circles of food. For some reason, I find this quite charming.

Maimai doesn’t quite make the third circle of food, and Kanna hugs her briefly from behind.

Kanna strikes a gorgeous pose yet again, and hits all three.

She seems pretty happy with everything she got.

They’re then marched out to the actual barbecue, singing and jumping like a bunch of Hare Krishnas…

At the actual barbecue site, they’re given plates with one portion of each food they won on the second-time around. It must be real easy being Craft Services for H!P.

Those who’ve hit the mystery section have to reach into a box and find out what their surprise will be.

Erika isn’t too thrilled with her surprise, but accepts her fate.

Chisato’s got two mystery choices, and she seems happier than Erika with the result.

Maimai’s surprise choice winds up to be cucumber and its phallic nature is impossible to ignore. I imagine many wota pausing their DVDs at this point, imagining the Lexington Steele equivalent of Kermit the Frog. Okay, maybe not…

When Kanna shows off her food, one of the Tweedles says something and she throws this look of death which is quite sexy for her.

It’s like when Johnson suddenly turns all serious on an episode of Utaban, there’s an unexpected moment where you realize this young lady is quite fearsome in her own way.

The sudden darkening of her mood, the challenging scorn in her eyes – she’s channeling her Inner Tyra Banks or something.

And then she laughs, and they all start to grill. We see Maimai and Erika switch their surprise goods – apparently, Erika wants the long cucumber. The Tweedles muse on whether or not this is acceptable and decide it is. Pussies.

As I watch, I imagine that at the same time this is happening, Megukami is sitting with Maiha and they’re having a real barbecue with steak and vegetable shishkebabs and plenty of other good stuff, and they can eat as much as they want and not have to worry about “earning” their food for the sake of wota entertainment.

On the other hand, I also can’t help but think that the C-ute girls are really having it easy with this whole dartboard and second-chance situation. Morning Musume used to have food competitions that were memorable for the way the food looked truly delicious and the fact that not everyone was entitled to taste it – only two or three girls most of the time.

Think about it: Tsuji was once reduced to tears because she couldn’t eat from a food competition. When Rika had her graduation special, she recreated a competition just so she could have that food denied to her years before.

When it came to food games in Hello! Project past, they were positively traumatic events in the Momusu girls’ lives. (Except Yuko, maybe, who had her booze to keep her going.) From the way they sometimes behaved – and looked – one even got the impression this was the only chance the girls had to eat food. (Except for Konno and Kago.) Sometimes you’d swear they had to wipe the drool off the camera. (Especially with Konno and Tsuji.)

If C-ute were on Hello! Morning during its prime, they would have have to fight in a caged match just to get their hands on the darts themselves, and then they’d have to throw those darts from a distance of a thousand yards blindfolded for the chance to earn the shishkebab stick, never mind the food that goes on the stick.

The losers would have to be in steel cages, forced to watch Ludovico Treatment-style as only one of their number – Kanna, I’d imagine – had a sumptuous meal of sirloin and a whole freakin’ corn on the cob and pasta salad and nice cool lemonade. And the losers would stay in the steel cages overnight with a microphone attached to their stomachs so they’d hear the rumblings and be unable to sleep.

That would have been memorable. It would have also violated some laws, but entertainment is a harsh mistress.

So anyway, on to the grilling. I know there are whole subcultures devoted to watching the quality of food as it grills, as the richness of flavors and sauces are utilized to maximum effect. People in those subcultures would not be impressed by the display here. A Bic lighter would have been as effective, by the look of things. But then, the thought of the girls playing with large flames like in that old Eddie Murphy skit – “Now that’s a fire!” – may have been too dangerous an idea.

They’re all seated with their foods and after a an over-cute “Itadakimasu!” they begin to eat. The Last Supper this isn’t. Though the thought of Jesus and the Apostles yelling “Itadakimasu!” is pretty kawaii…

The only other things worth mentioning here are the inevitable and unfortunate phallic-shaped food in mouths sequences. Erika and her long cucumber is the most obvious. Photoshoppers would have a field day with this… if it wasn’t Erika.

Maimi is quite cute saying oishii over and over again.

Saki bites into her beef and yells out her delight at how tasty the food is. Stretch your imagination and that beef may be phallic – but I don’t think so.

Airi is quite animated, but it seems this is one of her genki days. (Is there a Genki-Kimochii Syndrome that is the idol equivalent of being bipolar? Just wondering.)

Chisato burned her foods quite badly. How she managed to even singe her food on those wussy grills is beyond me.

Maimai’s best moment is when she does cat claws for the camera. Her thumbs-up is quite cute, too.

Kanna rips into her beef and yeah, there’s a bit of the phallic thing going on there. Or maybe I’ve just lost my mind.

Okay, I’ve lost my mind. But I was right about Erika.

That said, she’s having a tough time biting off a piece, but manages to do so and karate chops at the camera as she in turn declares, “Oishii!”

She’s still dancing around in her seat as she chews and swallows, then does some more Wu-Tang Shaolin moves before again declaring her food delicious.

She’s more rugged than slave man’s boots! The new recruit is fucking up MC troops!

Or maybe it’s Super Sentai Barbecue?

I tell myself that Kanna has moved several notches up on my U15 Top Ten.

The Tweedles then offer the girls a chance at dessert, which the girls cheer over…

And it involves another dartboard, which they seem less thrilled about.

They march back to the dartboard – all they need are shaved heads and tambourines to complete the picture.

Short story even shorter, the girls seem to mostly get what they want, except Saki, who hits the white space of the board.

There’s some debate over where Airi’s dart lands exactly, but she does a very nice dance of delight afterwards.

Chisato seems to be arguing the finer points of this process before throwing her dart.

Maimai has to make her pleas over where her dart lands, but the Tweedles give in to what she wants.

Kanna does a wonderful twirl when she lands something that looks like strawberry milk.

And so they go on to make their shaved ice, with Airi, Saki, and Chisato slaving over this complex machinery.

The others watch in eager anticipation, which is amusing in itself. It’s not like they’re rubbing two sticks together to create fairy dust.

The Tweedles talk with each girl as they either eat or wait for their shaved ice, and each girl says something. And really, what was the true competition here? Who gets to eat what food?

Of course not! For the wota, it’s over how each girl has displayed her idol-ness in a crappy situation like this, as well as the more interesting situation with yukata and hourglass. Wota are constantly evaluating their idols, deciding if they are worthy of worship: as eager as fans are to find reasons for choosing one idol over another, the girls must always project the right kind of idol personae, one that not only fits idol criteria but is the right fit for the person. Such worship can be a burdensome mantle: an idol not only revels in this, she also makes sure that her presentation of her idol skillz seem effortless.

Erika did well enough, but she didn’t stand out in any meaningful way, idol-wise. If anything, she seems a key part of the unit’s spirit with her constant encouragement and sense of humors. This makes her a solid utility player but not a star for the team. But most of us probably suspected that a long while back.

For me, Kanna was the star of the show. She doesn’t have the Nabokovan bloom that I observed a while back – or at least, it seems on the wane. What remains, though, is pure idol material – at least, based on this DVD.

Kanna pushes herself to stand out with her behavior – showboating, but in a self-assured way that makes it perfectly acceptable. It wasn’t how she behaved exactly, but the confidence and self-assurance and self-assertiveness behind that decision. She wants the spotlight and can grab it when she wants – that’s what you want from an idol.

Also, I really liked her headband.

Maimi has stunning looks and knows how to play up her charm for the camera, but overall she didn’t seem as dynamic as some of the others.

If anything, it always seems to me that she’s enlivened more by her performances in PVs and concerts than in situations like this DVD.

Maimai’s been getting lots of attention with her new unit with the Miracle Girl, and she knows how to turn on the charm at will, but there wasn’t anything that really stood out with her this time.

She wasn’t pushing to be extra genki or kawaii (like Airi) or dramatic (like Kanna), but you can see a self-awareness which serves her well at key moments, like when she makes her decision on how her food is. And the food bargaining she does may also indicate a certain careerism in her, which in the H!P world must be respected and admired.

Airi seemed just a little tipsy on her kawaii and genki powers in this DVD – she was intent on having fun and managed to convey that to great effect.

Her giddiness throughout would have been annoying if it was just about anyone else, but she can get away with it because she’s Airi. I still can’t believe she was that serious little kid from the “First Kiss” video – the transformation is striking.

Chisato was the big surprise – she may not have had so much genkiness going for her, but instead she had a child’s seriousness about playful situations. It was there in her summer minute, and in how she handled the darts and the burning of her food. Her surprise at the hourglass was probably the single best moment of this DVD because it was so natural and charming and unexpected. More moments like this and a good dose of hormones will make her into a solid idol in a year or so.

Saki – who gets some shaved ice despite not hitting the dartboard correctly, thus exposing the sham that is this BBQ game – shows more potential than I’d have thought. But it does seem more potential than anything else – like she’s waiting for puberty to kick in so it can benefit her the way it did Sayumi.

So the crap barbecue ends on a high note. The girls wave their goodbyes, and the DVD continues with some special guest stars. But that’ll have to wait for Part Two.

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3 Responses to “Idol Worship: C-ute DVD Magazine Volume 3, Part One”
  1. Garamond says:

    “As I watch, I imagine that at the same time this is happening, Megukami is sitting with Maiha[…]”

    Megukami is crying in her dry bowl of rice, which is about all her mother has been willing to give her recently. She’s still being punished for hanging out with that boy – even though she’s swore that they were just friends, her mother’s convinced that they were “doing the dirty”.

    Maiha is happy gobbling down Big Macs like there’s no tomorrow. She’s been such a good student lately that her mother’s rewarding her with most anything she wants – and it’s starting to show… She must have gained 40 pounds since she graduated from Berryz Koubou.

    Well enough of my sick, twisted fantasies. Nice post Ray, very entertaining. Almost makes me want to download this volume.

    🙂

  2. Wu-san says:

    ”So. Watching the DVD, the first thing I had to ask was, Who the fuck are the guys hosting this disc and emceeing the barbecue?”

    From then on, I knew it would be a rewarding read…good times LOL

  3. Glad to see you’re back. Ignore my whining on the forum. Great analysis on the DVD. Yes, it is interesting to see the girls in a regular setting as oposed to their actual performances. C-ute has definitely arrived and right now they’re my favorite H!P unit. Morning Musume is in transition and Berryz, though super, tend to be more serious and less happy (and less c-ute, for that matter). Still love ’em all. Any advice for someone who plans a trip to Japan in late January to try and see a H!P conert in person?