Life After Hello! Project: A Case-By-Case Assessment

I’m not going to lament the sudden graduation of the entire Elder Club. I’m a little surprised, but only because it’s a common sense move and UFA does not have much of a track record in common sense business moves.

We don’t know what’s going to happen to most of them, and I doubt that they’re all going to be suddenly cut adrift. There’s too much history in some cases, and I’m betting that there’s also some infrastructure issues that will keep some of them around. That said, the idol business is cut-throat by its very nature, and a collective as large as H!P will have more than its fair share of washouts as well as successes. I daresay that keeping some of these idols in limbo for so long was the only way they could have maintained their career for as long as they did. More to the point, the idol business is also time sensitive and a lot of the Elder Club’s sell-by date is long past. If leaving H!P means leaving behind the idol label, that’s a blessing for most of the members who’d been around since the fin-de-millennium or so.

And if anything, I don’t think enough cutting was done. It’s time to graduate some current Morning Musume members – Takahashi Ai and Niigaki Risa, at least, and I’d also go for Kamei Eri and Tanaka Reina leaving – so that new auditionees or some H!P Eggs can take their place. But that’s just a personal preference on my part – I can see the business side of keeping the line-up the same for the moment. That said, I can’t help but wonder if members of Morning Musume were looking forward to graduation and a chance at a serious solo career – Takitty, most obviously. With this sudden switch-up, they may fear they’ll be in Morning Musume indefinitely, which is a double-edged sword at best.

All that said, it’s stupid to say that ALL the graduating members are fucked, or that ALL of the graduating members deserved to stay on H!P, or that ALL of the graduates deserve a fresh start. We need to look at each idol and figure what they have to offer, and consider each as an individual. Not all of them were great singers, and certainly there are other skill sets worth considering. Tsukiki has already done the same idol-by-idol assessment, and I’m sure there’ll be more popping up. Here’s mine.

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Nakazawa Yuko.

Pros: Leader of Hello! Project, leader of Morning Musume during its Golden Era, gifted singer.

Cons: She’s old for an idol. Real old.

Chances: Very good, I’d say. She has a strong enough fan base for trips overseas, so I’m willing to bet they’ll follow her to wherever she goes from there. Leaving behind all that idol crap is probably a relief for her and she should’ve bailed a long time ago – for her career’s sake, if nothing else. It’ll be nice to see her do more acting, too, she could re-make a name for herself in that way.

Natsumi Abe.

Pros: Lead vocalist of Morning Musume during its Golden Era, solid (by H!P standards) solo career, has acting experience, cute as a button from her start to now.

Cons: Her solo career was slowly tanking.

Chances: I think she has a very good chance, certainly better than Yuko since she was the sweetheart of Morning Musume for the longest time and still remains quite popular. I can definitely see a mix of vanilla singles and vanilla acting roles for decades to come, only to find out upon her death that she’d been a serial killer all this time.

Iida Kaori.

Pros: Member of Golden Era Morning Musume, former leader of the group, has released a few solo singles.

Cons: Has started a family.

Chances: I think she’s pretty dedicated, considering she returned to the fold before Tsuji. She’s an artistic soul, and I think she may be able to pursue that more, now that she’s not tied into the H!P brand. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has her first art show within a few years, or does more Mediterannean-themed albums. I don’t see her becoming a major money-maker again, but I do see her pursuing her muse and being happy enough with that. Which would be pretty ballsy of her, I’d say, and deserving of our respect.

Yasuda Kei.

Pros: Member of Golden Era Morning Musume.

Cons: Probably one of the least popular members of Morning Musume to stick around, no solo singles.

Chances: I think she has little chance outside of being one of those “who’s that?” geinou on various game shows and such. However, she had been an asset behind-the-scenes, and I think if she wants to transition from being an idol to helping with the management of idols, she’s well-equipped for that. However, I could also see her turning into the insane den mother at the end of Perfect Blue.

Yaguchi Mari.

Pros: Member of Golden Era Morning Musume, was leader of the group briefly, does a lot of TV appearances and such.

Cons: No solo singles.

Chances: As a singer, I don’t see it. She seems to have given up on it mostly, though maybe getting the boot may make her rethink that. But she’s thriving as a geinou and should continue to do well on that front, at least.

Inaba Atsuko.

Pros: One of the best voices in H!P, active behind-the-scenes as backup vocalist and working with younger members, recent reunion with her old non-H!P idol group Osaka Performance Doll.

Cons: Not very popular, no solo singles.

Chances: As an idol, I think it’s over for her. I could be wrong and ODP may end up being big again, but I doubt that. Personally, I find her quite smexy and wouldn’t mind seeing her do some gravure work, or maybe even get racier… but that’s just me. On the bright side, Atsuko’s been a key player behind the scenes and I wouldn’t be surprised if she made the same transition I see for Kei. Actually, I think she has an even better chance of it. And I don’t see her going all Perfect Blue batshit, either.

Saito Hitomi.

Pros: Leader of Melon Kinenbi, which was one of the mainstays of H!P and a favorite unit among long-time fans.

Cons: Melon Kinebi’s been the redheaded stepchild of H!P for a long time now. Also, her desperation for attention is sometimes too palpable and sticky to the touch.

Chances: If Melon Kinenbi stays together – and I’m hoping they will – then I think they can be revived and turned around. If not, Boss’s best chance is to release some gravure videos or something. Maybe get her to work with AKINA, if that’s the case. Or she could be a fluffer on the set of Utaban.

Murata Megumi.

Pros: Member of Melon Kinenbi.

Cons: In recent years, Melon Kinenbi’s been shafted like Richard Roundtree thrown down an elevator.

Chances: A fighting chance if MK stays together. Otherwise, I don’t see anything in particular that would keep her around. And even if MK stuck around, I guess I should add that their chances of surviving past another year or two would be 50-50 at best, more like a 25% chance of survival if you’re realistic.

Ohtani Masae.

Pros: Member of Melon Kinenbi, one of the best voices in H!P.

Cons: Remember that scene Masae was in at the beginning of Sukeban Deka? That’s a perfect metaphor for how MK’s been treated recently.

Chances: If MK stays solid, fine. If not, that may be even better in Masae’s case. I’ve always wondered how she’d do as a soloist and think she can be molded into a great Avex-style diva even at her “late” age.

Shibata Ayumi.

Pros: Member of Melon Kinenbi, often considered the most popular of the quartet.

Cons: Um… I don’t have any more “Melon Kinenbi was treated badly” jokes, so you can make one up and stick it here.

Chances: Again, if MK sticks together, I think they at least have a fighting chance. But Shibata’s always been the favored child of the group, and whether or not that remains the case post-H!P is unclear. However, she does bear a strong resemblance to Nanba An, so it’d be interesting if she decides to pick up where Nanba An left off… Attackers and Premium, give the girl a call!

Ishikawa Rika.

Pros: Part of the Golden Age Morning Musume, leader of Viyuden, former member of Country Musume, current member of Ongaku Gatas and HANGRY & ANGRY.

Cons: None that I can think of.

Chances: She’s more at her peak now as an idol than she’s ever been since the end of the Golden Age. She’s a smart careerist with great recognition value and a well-honed idol persona. She’ll never be a soloist, but she’s done well with her limited vocal abilities and has become one of the reigning photobook stars of H!P. Honestly, I think she and Yossie and the rest of the Gatas could have stayed in H!P and become leading lights to rival Morning Musume, given half a chance. I’d actually love to see an H!P where the figurative leader was Rika instead of Yuko – if anything, she seems more the ideal for what H!P has become, while Yuko better symbolized the early years. You never heard Eggs or Kids saying they loved Yuko, but Rika? Rika was IT for them. And it shows in how H!P has turned out.

Yoshizawa Hitomi.

Pros: Part of Golden Age Morning Musume, leader of Ongaku Gatas, member of HANGRY & ANGRY.

Cons: Again, none that I could think of.

Chances: Just like Rika, but a little less so. She’s the consummate team player and she’s working with the consummate careerist. I’m sure she’ll do well with a balance between Ishiyoshi work, Gatas, futsal, and some solo TV work, though I’m guessing – like Rika – solo music releases would be out of the question for her. But what the heck, she doesn’t need it. And in the same way Rika best symbolizes the direction H!P has taken, Yossie has been a great representative for the collective and could have continued as one of its most effective spokesidols. Really, UFA, change your mind back on Gatas already. Those graduations are the only ones I’m feeling even a twinge of regret for.

Tsuji Nozomi.

Pros: Part of Golden Age Morning Musume, W, and Gyaruru.

Cons: Started a family with Ultraman.

Chances: I think she still wants some of the spotlight, but she may be better off just doing appearances with the baby on talk shows for a few more years before trying to return as a comedian or maybe even a talk show host or something. Singing was never her strong suit, it’s always been her charisma – so if she wants to remain a geinou, she’s got potential.

Matsuura Aya.

Pros: The most popular soloist in Hello! Project, vocally gifted, appears on lots of TV shows.

Cons: Popularity of singles tanked as she pursued a more mature sound.

Chances: This should actually be a relief for her. She’s stopped fitting into the H!P brand for a long while now, and this should free her up some. On the one hand, I do miss the younger Ayaya and prefer her first dozen singles to what’s followed. On the other hand, I respect her decision to move forward, and getting out of H!P is definitely a move forward in her case.

Maeda Yuki.

Pros: Um…

Cons: Perhaps the poorest selling of all H!P acts.

Chances: I wouldn’t be surprised if we never hear from her again. Or if you want to be nice about it, maybe she’ll finally have a chance to really grow as an enka singer outside of the confines of an idol collective such as Hello! Project. But really, I don’t expect to ever hear from her again after this.

Konno Asami.

Pros: Former member of Morning Musume, current member of Ongaku Gatas, popular photobooks.

Cons: Not a particularly popular member, being fifth gen and all.

Chances: If Gatas stick together, she should be fine. Otherwise, I see more of a future for her in gravure than in singing. Like Tsuji, she wasn’t chosen for MM because of her voice, and her other assets should be enough to keep her in the spotlight in some other fashion.

Ogawa Makoto.

Pros: Former member of Morning Musume.

Cons: Not a particularly popular member, being fifth gen and all.

Chances: I don’t know. Some fans missed her – quite loudly – when she went to New Zealand for that sex change operation, but did the general public care? And she hasn’t done too much since returning, but maybe she’s biding her time until she’s out of H!P. I actually don’t see much of a future for her as a geinou, but I don’t wanna piss off the Mako-chan fans too much. Sorry.

Fujimoto Miki.

Pros: Former member of Morning Musume, active solo career, gifted vocalist.

Cons: Secretly rumored to have had that sex change operation that Makoto passed up. Okay, I made that up. But her personality hasn’t always worked in her favor in the goody-goody world of H!P, though some of us do love her for that.

Chances: I think she’ll do fine on the daytime TV circuit and releasing the occassional single. I’d love to think that she’d get a chance to blossom and grow into a superstar in her own right, but it doesn’t seem very realistic.

Satoda Mai.

Pros: Former member of Country Musume, member of Pabo, active on various television shows.

Cons: I can’t think of any, but I’m not much of a fan of her, either.

Chances: She should do fine – if anything, she’s been the H!P member who’s been cultivating a post-H!P life the most in recent months.

Miyoshi Erika.

Pros: Former member of Viyuden, willing to let UFA be extra mercenary with her.

Cons: Not a very distinct idol personality, despite being so freaking hawt.

Chances: I dunno. I want to root for her and Yui, but in the grand scheme of idols, Erika simply hasn’t distinguished herself in any manner. I’d love to see her do gravure work, and I actually like her singing voice a lot, but nothing has happened yet for her post-Viyuden and now would be a chance for UFA to just cut her off and forget about her. I think it’d be a mistake, but that’s how the business is sometimes. Her best bet would be getting into TNX or NGP or something as part of a new unit, maybe even reunite with Yui.

Okada Yui.

Pros: Former member of Viyuden, her breasts quite popular among fan base.

Cons: Besides her boobs, she isn’t all that memorable.

Chances: If she decides to go into gravure, great. Also, she was the best damn actress in Sukeban Deka so she may surprise us on that front if given a chance. I don’t think she’ll be given that chance, though. Barring inclusion in a new unit – and again, it’d be great to see her reunited with Erika – I think she’s going to fade pretty quickly.

Korenaga Miki.

Pros: Member of Ongaku Gatas.

Cons: Not very popular, not given much of a chance in Gatas.

Chances: I’d really like to see her doing bikini photobooks. But that’s just me. Without Gatas, I think she’ll fade away pretty damn quick. There’s nothing distinct about her as an idol, though she was a definite asset to the futsal team. 

Noto Arisa.

Pros: Member of Ongaku Gatas, very popular as H!P Egg.

Cons: Still relatively new to the business. (Compared to the rest of the Elder Club.)

Chances: She’s got a definite future ahead of her, and moving any of the Eggs out of H!P strikes me as a premature move at best. So this is another argument for keeping Gatas in H!P, along with the Ishiyoshi one. This is part of what makes me think that Ongaku Gatas will still be around – they’ll all be placed in TNX or NGP or something, perhaps.

Sengoku Minami.

Pros: Member of Ongaku Gatas.

Cons: Still relatively new to the business. (Compared to the rest of the Elder Club.)

Chances: As long as she gets the attention that being in Gatas provides, she at least has a fighting chance. Otherwise, moving her out of H!P now is a sure way to doom her to future obscurity. I mean, even more obscure than the Eggs are.

Sawada Yuri.

Pros: Member of Ongaku Gatas.

Cons: Still relatively new to the business.

Chances: Wasn’t she just blossoming into her own kind of hotness? She could’ve been a great asset to H!P still, and booting her makes no sense. So yeah, I’m thinking Gatas will still be around in one form or another.

* * * * *

Okay, so I guess this is the part where people post comments defending their favorite member or something. Remember – just because you love them doesn’t meant the rest of the world does love them or should love them too.

And look on the bright side – this probably means the Eggs will be playing an increasingly large role in Hello! Project. And SINA may finally get to release a single or something.

Then from there, who knows? Maybe a new generation of H!P idols will begin training, as it did with the H!P Kids, and then the Eggs. It’s the circle of idol life, and it continues to roll…