The H!P Kids Are Alright 11: Ray

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If you want something truly depressing to think about: celebrating ten years of Hello! Project, there hasn’t been a successful long-term solo artist in the decade of its existence. The ones who once were successful – Ayaya and Gocchin, for starters – have seen sales and popularity plummet. (Ayaya has been smart enough to move on to be an all-purpose geinou.) Those who wished to be more independent and have more control – Ichii Sayaka and Heike Michiyo, for starters – have fared even worse outside of H!P. There has been no Hamasaki Ayumi or Amuro Namie or Seiko Matsuda to emerge from H!P yet.

The same can be said about the groups in general: Morning Musume was a phenomenon at one time and continues to do well enough (in part by playing up its fanbase), but who else has emerged? Quite frankly, being in H!P in general was never a guarantor for success – being in Morning Musume during the Golden Era, yes, but not simply being in the same collective as Morning Musume. For the most part – a major exception is Ayaya – being in H!P but not in Morning Musume simply meant you stayed in the flagship unit’s shadow. And as I’ve said, this has less to do with the continuing strength of the unit than with its legacy as the progenitor and standout achiever of the collective; that is, the continued strength of Momusu comes from its legacy at this point, and not the other way around.

So the idea of C-ute or Berryz coming to save the day and usher in a new generation of H!P greatness – either in those particular units or breaking off into soloists and new units as they mature – is a tough argument to make, if history provides any lessons. However, if any units can do it, these units seem best bred for it for the reasons we’ve covered over this past month.

All that said, I can’t see Berryz or C-ute lasting more than another two or three years, tops. This is assuming there won’t be a rotating membership, as Morning Musume’s policy has become the anomaly in H!P and not the norm. I don’t foresee a need to “preserve” the unit name of Berryz or C-ute the way Morning Musume’s has been, so eventually it’ll suffer the same fate as Country Musume and Coconuts Musume and many other units. (The only unit with any staying power outside of the flagship is Melon Kinenbi, and even they’re not looking as strong as they once did. Like Maeda Yuki, the main thing they’ve got going for them is an already matured image and a willingness to stick around.)

Traditionally the shelf life of an idol girl group isn’t very long, there has to be some kind of transformation to maintain the novelty it requires. Morning Musume continues to use its audition and graduation traditions to cycle through and remain fresh, which I have issues with on other levels but certainly is a good way to maintain novelty.

As for which individual H!P Kids I see doing well… Or at least well in comparison to everyone else…

Momoko, certainly, if she can handle being the next Ogura Yuko. And by that I mean drawing a balance between her growing maturity – and the sexy appeal it can hold – and her childlike idol persona. Maimi has great potential with her looks, dancing ability, and singing. If she has minimal acting skills, she can at least carve out a low-level geinou career that has a chance of becoming something bigger.

For all the praise Airi and Miyabi garner as singers, I don’t know if that’ll be enough to carry them into adult careers. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, though, especially since Buono! may help boost their visibility at a crucial juncture.

Yurina has striking looks going for her, but little else right now. Perhaps that will make her the perfect Eliza Doolittle for a pop music Pygmalion like Tsunku (or maybe someone else), or maybe she won’t be deemed worth the trouble. And though Risako has a popular fan base now, is it for her singing? She may have a future elsewhere, perhaps in modeling or even acting. And unlike other H!P watchers, I don’t think she’s going to be caught in a scandal. Chinami, though, would either be a complete scandal disaster or emerge as the true victor in the long run. She’s growing into maturity with a certain style and a strong idol persona, and if anybody’s going to make a break from H!P, it’ll be her.

Of the younger girls, Maimai and Chisato and Nakasaki, I have no idea but I’m thinking none of them has much chance of standing out and plenty of time to take the “back to school” option of graduating. Saki and Erika and Maasa may surprise H!P watchers by blooming into major players – but it hasn’t happened yet and I see no indication that the powers that be care one way or the other. And while I love Kanna dearly, I don’t see much of a future for her beyond H!P.

Then again, who’s to say that most of these girls will leave H!P? This is where they started, this can be where they stay; they’ve done their time, they’ve served their apprenticeship, and as long as the wota base is kept happy the financial stability of the collective remains assured. If being an idol is the career path they’ve chosen and common sense doesn’t hit them the way it did Maiha, there’s little reason to see the majority of them bolting to try something else as they grow older. They’re living the life, after all; it’s not as grand as their predecessors, but it’s still a pretty sweet deal.

In closing, here’s something I want you to imagine: several years from now, the remaining ten or so H!P Kids are in their early twenties, standing next to all the ex-Musumes like Yuko and Kei and Mari as the Aika-fronted Morning Musume introduce eleventh gen to a cheering crowd. Aika aside, everyone you now know in the unit has moved on to follow the same illustrious career paths as the above-mentioned senpai; a couple – Koha, Takitty – have made strong solo careers as seiyuu and/or soloists. That said, all of them know that the main spotlight is no longer on them but on this new group of Musumes – some of whom weren’t even born when the Asayan challenge was handed to the original five.

Is this a hopeful image or a bleak one? I honestly can’t decide.

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4 Responses to “The H!P Kids Are Alright 11: Ray”
  1. chinami was already in a scandal 2 years ago with Akanishi Jin From KAT-TUN,Don’t tell celestia about this!

  2. One of the charms of Hello Project is watching regular kids develop into amazing stars, and it doesn’t come overnight. It takes years. And the fact is, H!P is not a good vehicle for soloists. Kusumi, Gomaki, Miki, Aibon (though not actually a soloist), and even Ayaya do not mesh well with the team atmosphere which sustains this amazing musical concept. It’s easy to see why soloists do not easily spring from this matrix.

    But I’ve never cared for solosts. They’re all overrated. Too egocentric, too boring.

    Sitting here, watching the Wonderful Hearts 2008 concert DVD, and hearing the maturing and excellent Berryz Kobo tear up another song, it’s just … glee, as Ray has emphasized elsewhere. Pure glee. These seven girls are just awesome in every way.

    Then, C-ute joins them for “Special Generation.” Good Lord. These are 14 of the top young female performers of any kind in the world today, all on one song, at one moment in time, frozen by the miracle of digital sound and image, just the cream of the crop. The famous Miyabi wail. It does not get any better than this. It will never get any better than this.

    Nothing in life lasts. Looking 10 years down the road? The way the economy is going, maybe none of us has 10 years left. The exchange rate between the dollar and the yen is shrinking to nothing, so it will never be possible to again travel to Japan. But it did happen once, and once is enough.

    We all need to enjoy this miracle known as Hello Project while we still can.

    Appreciate the greatness. It is all around us.

  3. Craig says:

    …Isn’t Dschingis Khan semiotic evidence that Berryz are seen as conquerors/overlords?

  4. Chris says:

    That last paragraph is a wierd “food for thought”. So now that this “marathon discussion” has evidently ended, now what?

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