“Baby! Baby! Baby!” As A Teaching Tool

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I know the names and faces of more Johnny’s idols than AKB48’s. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – I mean, who can resist Matsuoka in Yasuko to Kenji or Junno when he’s blonde or Nino when he’s tongue-kissing his fellow Arashi? However, I knew that I needed to catch up on AKB48 sooner or later: they are a growing presence in the idol world, and I found myself wanting to learn more but not finding an easy way in. Juju of Wings of My Heart had tried to get me more interested in AKB48 – mostly by sharing eyecandy – but it didn’t sink in much beyond two or three idols. Even when I worked on the AKB48 Ranker for the Wota Distractions, the idols still didn’t really stand out for the most part. To me, they formed a huge, amorphous blob of kawaii-ness and genki-ness.

As I’ve stated in the past, the hard part with AKB48 is that they’re such a large group – even the teams they break off into are large! – so it’s difficult for a newcomer to differentiate between all the members. A couple I’ve been able to recognize clearly, like Acchan and Minegishi. But others, while not completely anonymous, seem to fit a certain AKB48 mold – so I’d see one AKB idol and note how she’s got a cute smile, then I see another AKB idol with the same kind of cute smile, and then it’s like people who mix up Kago and Tsuji, or Mastah Killah and Inspectah Deck. To a trained eye and ear, they’re worlds apart – but it is a matter of training, of seeing nuances left unnoticed by a cursory look or listen.

Thankfully, I finally found something which will help me get to know AKB48 better – the solo versions of the “Baby! Baby! Baby!” PV. Granted, it’s only twenty members of AKB48 involved in this single – but that’s quite a huge dent to make into the line-up, right? If I can go from two or three recognizable idols to a dozen or so, then I’m making clear headway.

First, though, let’s talk about the original version of the “Baby! Baby! Baby!” PV. The original is actually longer, as it begins and ends with a black-and-white sequence featuring Acchan – Maeda Atsuko. Basically, she’s getting ready to fuck, stripping down and getting into bed, waiting for some guy to show up. So it’s like the sequel to that enjo kosai song, perhaps.

The main part of the video, though, is considerably more lighthearted. The girls are in bikinis, dancing by the pool. Then the girls are in these retro sixties outfits on a sound stage, dancing with the help of stools. They do cute things, there are shots of their bikini bodies moving around in a sexy manner, certain idols get a chance to do particular things that are distinctive. One climbs out of the pool and strikes a sexy pose, another blows her finger at the end like she just shot a pistol. The song itself is surprisingly catchy, repetitious in a good way – and certainly more memorable than any Hello! Project single so far this year. I found myself humming it, which means it finally broke me down like a tired old bitch in heat. That’s a good thing, and all-too-rare for me as of late.

In short, this is highly polished, professionally delivered idol fluff. It doesn’t break new ground, but it’s a refinement of the girl group formula that feels fresh and lively and sets various parts of my body all a-tingle, which is about as much as one can ask for. The part that does seem innovative – the Acchan waiting to get laid part – is actually the least enjoyable, if only because it feels so claustrophobic and anxious, whereas the main of the video is so carefree and light.

Now, the solo versions of the PV are actually kind of a cheat. The soundtrack is the same – we’re not getting solo versions of each girl singing, which would’ve been nice. Not necessary, given my attitude towards idols, but it would’ve been nice. Further, the solo versions simply take the originsal group video, cut out several parts of the staged footage, and replaced it with off-shots of the solo idol in question. So half of it is the original PV’s footage, the other half is the idol hanging out by the pool or backstage, being “themselves”. Well, as themselves as they allow themselves to be, given there’s a camera right in their faces.

So it’s not much to go on, in terms of learning each idol’s name and judging on whether or not they’re all that memorable. However, I’d argue that it’s enough – that by giving each girl some solo footage on a video that has her name on it, each AKB idol has a chance to either make a lasting impression or not. For a new fan such as myself, the efficacy of these solo versions is whether or not I will remember each idol as a result. The goal I’ve set for myself is to get me caring about enough of these girls through the solo PVs that I can care about AKB48 in general.

* * * * *

Now, here’s a quick rundown of my impression of each idol, based on the scant semiotics gleamed from their solo PVs.

Itano Tomomi. She’s cute, but in a kind of generic way. I like the slight heavy-liddedness and curled upper lip, it gives her an almost-stuck-up-bitch feel most of the time, which makes her little diva moments on-camera more enjoyable. 

Am I going to remember her? Um… I think so. I’m not sure. I feel like I should.

Kawasaki Nozomi. Oooh, she’s real cute. Love the teeth and smile. She seems a very friendly, genuine person – and even a little shy in front of the camera. Why do they show her reading? Is this an unusual activity for AKB48 idols? She’s completely charming, though, and very hot eyecandy too. 

Here I’m definitely going to remember. Or at least try to.

Kojima Haruna. Well, the name sure doesn’t hurt. And I know her from Yasuko to Kenji. She resembles Shokotan when she’s grinning, and she’s got a diva-level confidence. Beyond that, I’m not seeing much distinctive about her. She’s got a lot going for her, but it all seems boilerplate idol to me. There isn’t much quirky to her, and I like me my quirky idols.

Will I remember her? Yes.

Maeda Atsuko. Acchan! She’s the Nacchi of AKB48, isn’t she? I’m not sure if that first among equals aspect makes me want to root for or against her. Oh, who am I kidding… Like Nacchi, it’s easy to hate in the abstract, but when she smiles at the camera, she’s impossible to resist. Is she the best idol in AKB48 for this reason? … Maybe. Also like Nacchi, she’s got this fine balance between commanding and flakiness which can be highly compelling.

Also, it was fun watching her fall backwards in the pool while fully clothed. And the shot right after of her shakin’ her thang is both sexy and adorable. I’d watch a whole video of her doing that little dance, truth be known.

Will I remember her? Well, I already knew her before this, so definitely.

Minegishi Minami. Okay, her I’ve known about for a while and she’s been my favorite up to now. She’s the most pedolicious idol in the roster, and she knows how to work it. She’s got a remarkable figure, a very cute face, and acts like a cartoon figure just a little more than the others. I actually get a little Konno vibe from her, which is a little unsettling.

This is exactly the kind of person who I’d want to strangle in real life but fascinaes me to no end when she’s an idol. She was fucking made for the idol life, and I hope she goes far. 

Like Nacchi – I mean, Acchan – I already know her and she’s at the top of my favorites list going into this. So yeah, I’ll remember her.

Nakanishi Rina. She’s like Kawasaki Nozomi on first blush, but more confident and less interesting. I can’t muster much enthusiasm for her one way or the other.

Will I remember her? After a while, yes. But not right away.

Oshima Mai. I like her personality a lot – she seems to be flirting even when she’s just staring out into space. However, she doesn’t look all that distinctive looks-wise. The one moment whn she’s sitting alone in front of thd monitors and then notices the camera… wow. I fell in love just a little there. And she’s shown reading too!

Will I remember her? I want to. It’s hard to pin down, but she’s the kind of idol I want to root for. But I can see myself mistaking her for others, maybe Rina and Nozomi.

Sato Yukari. I downloaded a gravure video of her which I haven’t watched yet. Cute but not distinctive, except for a great speaking voice.

Will I remember her? Maybe. The gravure video should help. But otherwise, she’s likely to just get lost in the mix.

Shinoda Mariko. I downloaded a photobook of her somewhere that I haven’t really looked at. For some reason I wanna call her the Yossie of the group – and this in a good way. She carries herself forcefully, confidently, with a touch of playfulness – and I love her speaking voice. She actually looks a little like Gocchin, doesn’t she? And in the green striped swimsuit – especially with the sunglasses – she looks glamorously sexy. Wowza.

Her I’ll definitely remember from now on.

Takahashi Minami. I know she’s going to be in that new unit with my favorite Minami, but she doesn’t seem distinctive to me. Watching her do the robot and pull pranks is fun, though. She seems like a fun type, and yet…  I don’t know, I can’t get all worked up about her. I can see what all her idol strengths are – and she’s definitely one of the best of the group, you can tell right off the bat – but she’s just not tripping my trigger.

Her blown pistol move at the end of the PV is hot, though. And when they throw the beach balls across the pool into retro-land, I like how it looks like she intended to hurt somebody with her throw.

I’ll remember her, I’m pretty sure. But I may get her mixed up with others.

Akimoto Sayaka. Oh! She looks like a young Shibasaki Kou, and she’s got a bit of bitch in her off-camera behavior. Wonderful on both counts. She’s got diva written all over her. And I could be wrong, but she seems a tad more… statuesque than the others? Great broad shoulders, like Maasa.

I’ll remember her.

Kasai Tomomi. Another one that strikes me as cute and charming, but generic. I like the cute voice, but it’s very anime. Oh, and she’s got a really nice rack.

I’ll get her mixed up with others.

Miyazawa Sae. There’s a blog about her and Sayaka, isn’t there? She’s got a great vibe – confident and playful, though just a tad too rough-hewn for diva. I love her speaking voice, nice and deep and distinct. I wouldn’t mind seeing her make out with Sayaka.

I think I’ll remember her. Though her off-shots are much more distinctive than her performance in the actual PV.

Ohori Megumi. Juju’s directed me towards her before, as she’s the oldest one in the group, I think, and amps up the sexiness as a result. She des have a flirtatious, minx-like quality… But that’s about all I’m getting, and it’s not that interesting as a result. I like the mono-fang, but it’d be better if she had a pair. I think I’d like her more if she was an AV idol.

I’ll remember her, but that’s only because of past exposure.

Ono Erena. She looks a litle out of place – like she should be an H!P Egg or something. She looks considerably younger than the others, but also less polished. She stands out for being a different type than the others I’m finding generic… but it’s still a kind of generic for me.

I’ll remember her because she stands out, but not necessarily in a good way.

Oshima Yuko. She’s especially cute, but I could mistake her for the other Minami, maybe. She’s got the confidence, the playfulness, even lapses of goofiness – which always has a way of winning me over. Very cute nose. It pains me a little to see her vamping it up with Ohori Megumi, though I can’t say why.

I’ll remember her, but probably mistake her for some others.

Umeda Ayaka. What the hell, Ohori Megumi has an older sister? Okay, I take back that initial impression. And in the sixties outfit, she looks a lot like SPEED’s hiro, which is a big plus. Beyond that, I’m not really enjoying her.

I probably won’t remember her, or mistake her for Ohori.

Kashiwagi Yuki. She’s cute, but again I’m getting more of an H!P Eggs vibe from her – this ordinariness being heightened and turned into an asset, as well as a greater youthfulness than the b aseline AKB48 idol. She looks reel hawt in her swimsuit, though. If she was in H!P, I think I’d be so in love with her. In this context, it’s a little different. She looks like Snow White in her sixties outfit.

I’ll remember her, I think.

Kikuchi Ayaka. This is the one that got the boot, right? She sort of falls into the generic model, but not quite… She’s got a long, thick neck. Vampires would love her.

I don’t think I’ll remember her. Though really, it’s beside the point now, isn’t it?

Watanabe Mayu. Out of all the ones I didn’t know, this was the one I most wanted to watch. So of course, she’s the very last one I get to… Anyway, she’s the only one besides Minegishi and Shinoda that I’m feeling very strongly towards. She’s just got the right combination that grabs me, looks-wise. Her off-shots are engaging, but mostly because she’s already got my rapt attention. She doesn’t have the confident swagger of Shinoda or Takahashi or Akimoto, nor the cutesiness of Kashiwagi or Minegishi. But when she’s as pretty as this, who cares?

So her I’ll definitely remember.

* * * * *

And that’s it for the solo videos.

The one thing that strikes me is that this line-up of AKB idols, at least, seems to have a general shared, um, aesthetic… That is, I found that a certain type was quite prevalent, and so that made it difficult to differentiate right away among the different idols who most closely fit that type. This primarily has to do with looks, but I’d also say that this is also seen in their general behavior – semi-diva, playful and confident, acting like BFF’s with at least one other girl.

This sense of an AKB type was only further reinforced by the presence of idols who felt to me more like Hello! Project types – Ono and Kashiwagi and I’d even argue Watanabe, as well. They’d fit right into a new H!P unit based on looks and youthfulness – if I were told they were Eggs and not AKB’s, I wouldn’t’ve blinked. As opposed to Ohori or Shinoda, who’d seem visibly out of place, not a typical H!P pick – at least, not based on recent years’ selections. After all, many H!P fans bemoan how Morning Musume auditions have gone for similar types of idols and I know Hello! Island has joked repeatedly about how Mano Erina looks like an amalgam of many of the other H!P girls. So what if this sense of similarity isn’t a coincidence or just imagined by fans?

To me, on some instinctive fan level – perhaps the same one that can tell the different Wu-Tang voices apart, or that can immediately tell George Perez’s comics apart from Phil Jimenez’s – I simply sense when an idol fits a type or not, if she is more AKB or H!P or Girl’s Box. And this doesn’t mean that only idols that fit that particular type are allowed into a particular collective – that’d be stupid, perhaps even counter-productive. However, I would argue that the guiding principle which selects idols and then makes them presentable to their audience is perhaps informed by a certain set of assumptions, of fixed tastes, that helps to brand the products better, to make them distinctive from other groups which are basically doing the same thing.

So does each idol collective have a certain general look? Is there indeed a baseline of some sort, a standard by which idols are selected and then expected to conform? That would help further explain why most idol groups are seen as undifferentiated masses to the untrained eye.  If one considers that most of the current major idol collectives are guided by a single forceful personality – Tsunku or Johnny Kitagawa or Akimoto Yasushi (would Max Matsuura count for Girl’s Box?) – this makes even more sense, a form of auteurism in idol selection and idol molding. 

I don’t have a clear answer at this point, but it’s definitely going to be worth exploring further in the future. A taxonomy of some sort may be worth doing, especially if more bikini shots are involved.

* * * * *

Having watched all these solo versions of what is basically the same video, I put my newfound knowledge to the test… Who could I name in the group shots without any further prodding or consulting of videos or cheat sheets?

 

On this picture of the five front girls, I could name Shinoda, Kojima, Acchan, Watanabe… but not the last one.

On the bikini shot here, I could name the same four leads in the front, plus Kashiwagi, Minegishi, Itano, Ono, and Takahashi in the middle row, as well as Akimoto, Kikuchi, and Ohori in the back row.

I can do the same with the girls in their retro outfits. So that’s twelve of the twenty – which isn’t bad, all things considered!

More important, I’m finding myself thrilled by the sense of discovery again. The challenge of pegging down faces and names to particular idols can be quite satisfying, and I now know enough of the AKB idols that choosing favorites – Shinoda, Minegishi, Watanabe – doesn’t feel nearly as random as when I used to just swoon a little over Minami’s pedoliciousness for its own sake. So from a sense of discovery, there naturally flows a stronger sense of context. My emotional connection to AKB48 is already much stronger than it was before – or at least, to certain AKB idols, but enough for the individual parts to add up to the whole. Who knows? I may even start finding conceptual frameworks and hidden narratives, as I sensitize myself more and more.

So in that sense, mission accomplished! I’m now finally into AKB48. I’m looking forward to learning more. I’m already feeling like a wota renewed!

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4 Responses to ““Baby! Baby! Baby!” As A Teaching Tool”
  1. Chiakii says:

    I think Kashiwagi Yuki actually did audition to be in Momusu. 8th gen or something.

    And I love that cap of Miyazawa Sae. She’s got a fantastic bitchface going on there.

    (AAAH RAY I MISSED YOU. NO ONE PERVS OVER UNDERAGE GIRLS QUITE LIKE YOU DO.)

  2. Cat says:

    Welcome to the dark side! 😀 I’m glad to see that you’re enjoying AKB more now, and definitely, Babyx3 is a great way to get started with the fandom! Maybe you should check out the girls private videos they shot back when the Aitakatta single was released? That realy helped me pick some favorites (although Watanabe isn’t included XD)

  3. Julia says:

    What imouto said about Kashiwagi: she auditioned for 8th gen before going over to Team B. I think she made it to the cut right before the final 6, so she’s probably met Aika and Kikkawa, too. She sang KOI-ing for her audition and it sounded pretty nice. I’m glad she wound up in AKB and Aika wound up in Momusu, though, because they both really fit in their respective groups. Umeda Ayaka also auditioned for 7th gen…and looked even worse pre-polishing than Koharu if I’m going to be brutally honest. But Umeda looked weird to me until Team K’s second stage, so there you go. I’m done being mean now.

    Then there’s that picture of Minegishi standing in front of an Onna ni sachi are ad featuring Koharu, pointing at it. That’s just cute.

  4. Arbitrary Greay says:

    The Takahashis are similar in that they are oriented towards performance rather than personality, but this one’s slightly more boyish. For example, in the Boku no Taiyou PV making of, she’s one of the few girls gleefully picking up the bugs instead of running away from them.
    But if you really need something to remember her by, one word: Mendol. It’s what’s rocketting her to the top of my lists.(The show in general is hilarious to watch anyway.)