Connections

11 01 2011

More than likely, anyone reading this post will have already heard the news. The news has been erred! Tsunku has selected the winners of his 9th generation audition for Morning Musume. Congratulations to Sayashi Riho, Ikuta Erina and Kanon Suzuki and the surprise Egg promotion, Fukumura Mizuki!

Zukki~~~I’m going out on a limb and saying that this generation is definitely going to be stronger than 8th generation. No offense to Mittsi fans out there but Zukki has already captured my heart with her smile.

Oh wait… no that’s old news. The above would have totally been the topic of this post had I had one in the pipeline. Unfortunately, priority in news has delayed my impressions of the 9th generation. Let’s rewind the clocks a bit. Last night I had a nosebleed. It just came out of nowhere, like I can’t make this stuff up. No one punched me, no one landed a football on me. It just starts. In the past I have related nosebleeds to premonitions or reactions to major events.

I usually read all my tweets and Facebook updates before I go to sleep. I went to sleep comparatively earlier than usual (somewhere around 1 AM) because I wanted some rest after bleeding. I wake up somewhere around 10AM and check my tweets. I usually check my tweets at my bed with my TweetDeck for Android app which extends a yellow bar from the last read update so you can see how much you have ahead of you. For some reason or another the bar was extremely long, over twice the length that I was used to seeing from just one normal sleeping period. Color me surprised, I should have known why.

When she talks something is up

Takahashi Ai, the current leader of Morning Musume and Hello! Project has announced her graduation. She will be graduating at the end of Morning Musume’s fall tour. After going through the past couple of graduation announcements the shock factor really did not shock me as much this time. But at first, reading those words seemed so matter of fact. I almost felt if it wasn’t real yet I knew very much so it was real.

Read onwards for my feelings on this and a completely unnecessary but interesting analysis.

This means you should come to Japan in the fall.

First and foremost, congratulations to Takahashi on her graduation. Even though we have essentially 9+ months to go before she will leave Morning Musume and Hello! Project, let’s take the moment now to congratulate her. According to her she was asked to start thinking about her own time to graduate when Kamei’s (and I would assume JunJun’s and LinLin’s as well) graduation was being talked about. And since the 9th generation girls have now been selected and announced on the first day of the 2010 Winter Hello! Project concert, I guess now seemed as good as time as any for Takahashi.

I think it's about that time.

So the topic at hand is Takahashi’s graduation:

  • Retrospective – A retrospective of Takahashi Ai
  • Connections – Some interesting observations
  • Until Then – We should appreciate her until she graduates!
  • Post Career – What will become of Takahashi after graduation?
  • After Morning – What will become of Morning Musume after Takahashi graduates?
  • TRAP – Will Batman escape the Joker’s trap?

I couldn’t find how to hyperlink my own text within the post so you may simply read on or if you would like a particular section, search for the respective headings above with a “~” preceding the heading.

~Retrospective

Takahashi Ai circa 2001

Takahashi Ai was selected out of a competitive number of applicants to be one of four girls that would be the 5th generation of Morning Musume way back in August 2001. Her obvious strength when she was chosen was her exceptional singing ability. Indeed, she got quite the attention among her 5th generation cohort. She was selected to be Yaguchi’s successor to Minimoni (a detail that very early on influenced my opinions on Takahashi). Farther along her tenure she was typically one of the centers for most songs along with Tanaka Reina and Fujimoto Miki.

Center: Takahashi Ai

Almost 10 years later, Takahashi Ai is now the leader of Morning Musume and the entirety of Hello! Project as well. Second to her is fellow 5th generation member (and only remaining other than Takahashi herself), Niigaki Risa, who functions as the current sub-leader of Morning Musume. Both girls hold the record for being the longest serving members at over 9 years, a feat that has long eclipsed the previous record held by Iida Kaori. Takahashi herself has also been the longest serving leader at over 3 years.

She has certainly been one of the most, if not most accomplished members of Morning Musume. Simply by the time she has spent: she has released more photobooks than any member (this is soon to be contested), more than likely has more solo lines than any single member, and she has been an active member during some of the largest phase changes of Hello! Project history. Takahashi Ai early on showed great potential and Up-Front Agency certainly saw it.

Too awesome for words, hence a picture will do. This is most certainly why you could hear Takahashi from the very beginning. While Goto Maki and Abe Natsumi were still fighting it out for center, Takahashi was being molded carefully to become the next regular center. Look no further than Hello! Project News. Ishikawa Rika was regularly paired with Nakazawa Yuko (who had already graduated) for a short news segment every week on Morning Musume’s TV show, Hello! Morning. Dedicated airtime meant a better chance to be noticed and this is something that any idol would want. When the 5th generation joined, Takahashi was brought in as a regular for the news segment. This was early in her career so she was not yet seasoned at speaking (one might argue this might still be the case given her tendency to slip on her own words) or the small little details of being an idol. But the news segment was a great little training ground for her to get used to things and more importantly show her character. It’s no wonder why many fans know her as “Lovely” as we could see her lovely personality develop much faster than the other girls who were given less opportunities.

Takahashi had a fair share of lines early on. Tsunku even had her as his partner for his song, Love ~since 1999~. Formerly, (if I’m not mistaken) Tsunku had done this song with Hamasaki Ayumi. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s this was a pretty big deal. So for Takahashi to effectively replace or complement Ayu’s position even was worthy of attention. As mentioned earlier she was selected as Yaguchi’s replacement in Minimoni even though she was technically slightly over the height limit. Exceptions were being made for an exceptional idol.

To be fair, there are many people out there who say she has a lack of personality due to her being relatively quiet. In my opinion as a result, the other 5th generation girls got their chance to show their personalities. It was a good balance and I would argue that Takahashi’s quietness at times was a good thing for the sake of the group. To say she has a lack of personality however, is to ignore her contributions as well as her experiences as an idol. She has been a lovely little newscaster, thieving little cat-burglar, songstress of all sorts, and even acted in multiple dramas and musicals. To say she has no personality is to deny her accomplishments, talent and versatility as an entertainer. And to remember Takahashi we must remember what she brought and continues to bring to the table.

~Connections

Here is the namesake to this post. Originally, I had planned merely to write a conspiracy post in regards to Takahashi’s graduation. But she has been a vital part of Morning Musume for so long it would not do her justice if I didn’t just give her my all, hence the rest of the post. I want to make some interesting observations that are purely speculative and perhaps coincidental or too paranoid to be real observations. The possibility that they may be planned is purely coincidental much like any curses that fandoms have developed, such as the LOVE Machine curse.

  • Takahashi is only now graduating. She could have had a chance at graduating at any time during her tenure. Goto Maki, being one of the most popular members and vocally developed, graduated very early within 3 years of her debut.
  • Nakazawa (2001), Iida (2005), Yaguchi* (2005), Yoshizawa (2007), Fujimoto (2007)* are all previous leaders that have graduated. Exceptions being Yaguchi and Fujimoto who have both stepped down from their position. Among all graduations it is actually somewhat rare for leaders to graduate and there is usually a long period before the NEXT leader graduates.
  • Takahashi’s graduation is announced during the biggest turnover period for Morning Musume, that is less than 1 month after Kamei Eri, JunJun and LinLin have graduated as well as literally a week after 4 girls have been announced to be added into Morning Musume.
  • Fourth generation’s model of graduating: A pair (Tsuji and Kago), followed by the arguably more popular (Ishikawa), and finally the last member (Yoshizawa). The 5th generation girls also seem to follow this pattern wherein Konno and Ogawa were graduated together as a pair, Takahashi will graduate by herself as the most popular member of her generation, Gaki-san will (presumably) graduate afterwards. Of course, the exception here is that Ogawa can technically be considered to graduate after Konno due to participating in Ribbon no Kishi.
  • Takahashi will graduate four years after Yoshizawa Hitomi’s graduation. If we followed the leader graduation pattern we would expect a long time (2 years minimum) after Takahashi graduates for the next leader to graduate. This doesn’t hold true for any non-leader members however. So it wouldn’t be a surprise under this model for any of the other non-leaders to graduate.

Well this section didn’t turn out to be much at all. It was 1AM and all my other conspiracy theories had too many flaws in them to be reported so unfortunately I don’t have much here. But I gave it a lot of thought! And what do you know none of them have to do directly with Takahashi. Shows where my priorities are in seeking some kind of link.

~Until Then

It would be too early to start crying now. Takahashi still has well over half a year (a whole semester and a half practically to grab my attention away from schoolwork) before she graduates. Fans should not only reminisce on the past but celebrate her now. She will be doing her best through these next months! More importantly for the group, she will most certainly be working with the 9th generation girls on their debut and general career.

Aren't they just adorable!

It is a given that she will be a key figure in the next several singles. Though the 9th generation may surprise us and make for a more even line distribution. It’s fully possible that Takahashi may get one last photobook while she’s still a member. Seeing as Fantasy Juuichi has only recently come out, it is possible for an album release while Takahashi is still in Morning Musume. The timing would be very narrow depending on the number of singles and how training on the 9th generation girls go. In which case, the 12th album may be released after Takahashi graduates, but she would certainly have a good contribution to it if only just in singles.

As leader of Morning Musume and Hello! Project she certainly holds to that title as one of the top performers in Hello! Project. We should expect 3 singles before she graduates and these will be excellent. They simply have to be. No pressure on 9th generation but you don’t have the time to not be awesome. Just Do it Now!

Musically speaking, I was not completely impressed with Fantasy Juuichi. However, single releases are still quality and as always I expect quality from Morning Musume, the flagship group of Hello! Project. Takahashi will show why Morning Musume is the flagship group and how time and time again they remain very high on my list of music.

And trust me, I have faith in Takahashi, I have a coin with “In Takahashi we trust”, on it. So until she graduates I will certainly cherish her. Her presence in Morning Musume is something that can’t be easily replaced (no one can of course be replaced). So here *whips out a bottle of Arizona Green Tea* here’s to Takahashi and presumably 9-10, maybe 11 more months of the Takahashi administration. かんぱい!

~After Morning

Hello! Project graduates historically have a somewhat varied success rate. While they are by their own rights successful (and this is up for debate), some girls’ careers disappear to obscurity (see Yasuda Kei) or disappear to motherhood. Though some have found the balance between the two. For Takahashi being that she will have been in Morning Musume for 10 years, she certainly has a lot of experience. A solo career would be nice, though lack of promotion under UFA and fragmentation from fans would make me worry that it would shrivel up much like other UFA soloists (a la Abe Natsumi). Acting could be an option as she has some experience to work with. Working with musicals has been an option for many graduates and is something Takahashi has experience with, having worked with Takarazuka on more than one occasion, so this could be another outlet for her to work on. The sky is the limit for Takahashi and I look forward to seeing what she will do in the future outside of Morning Musume.

At times I have considered Morning Musume to be a stepping point for many an idol. Tsunku gives them the opportunity to learn and practice in a controlled environment. Finally they think about graduation and their own future. That is from which the idol is allowed to grow into their own. Case in point, Goto Maki and her criticism of Tsunku’s controlling behavior in Hello! Project. I would imagine she has much more freedom now that she is under Avex Trax. This is the time where we will really see Takahashi’s aspirations take form. Just imagine how Tsunku feels letting go of Takahashi Ai!!!   

The night is darkest before dawn. And the morning after Takahashi graduates will indeed be something to behold. The most immediate change of course will be that Morning Musume will be minus one member. Not only one member, but a member that has participated greatly in many previous songs. I can only presume the lines to be shared can be re-distributed to allow for 9th generation to sing. Actually if lines were actually shuffled that would be interesting and possibly fair. Imagine that… UFA being fair.

Gaki-san will take the role of leader and following tradition this would make Michishige Sayumi, sub-leader. Morning Musume will be down to 8 members which means that they will use even numbered formations, after almost a full year of doing odd numbered formations (five and nine). Additional members-wise, the likelihood that tenth generation would be added so soon after 9th generation is in my opinion extremely unlikely. Morning Musume is at a very strange place right now and such a move would seem unsafe, both in terms of entertainment and business. But who am I to make the decisions, someone could always surprise me.

I'm nextNow that the graduation hammer has been wielded several times in the past year or so, it would seem likely that my dear Gaki-san is next. Even as early as in the picture above, WAY back during Yoshizawa’s graduation concert, Gaki-san already knew the plan. She already knew that GakiKame would be broken by Kamei graduating. She already knew that Takahashi was going to get her own graduation and that Gaki-san wouldn’t be able to graduate as a pair with Takahashi. I’d argue this is a move to control the breakdown of Morning Musume’s old and new members as well as an economical move. After Takahashi graduates we would be at half old and half new members, the way I presumed it would’ve been after Tsunku added new members. I was half right…

Look at how sad she is, you can see it in her eyes. However, shortly after she realized something. The picture below summarizes her thoughts and her own words today.

Caption says everything

Takahashi and Gaki-san have long since been the next generation close pair (much like Tsuji and Kago, though in a different way). It pains me to see them being separated. However, they have spent a long time together and their closeness certainly has shown throughout the years. I will miss this duo. Yes, my favorite is Gaki-san so I am certainly looking forward to the Gaki-san administration. But it is a bittersweet victory for Gaki-san as she is losing Takahashi. Alas…

 Lovely Brat It is a while from now, so let’s sleep on it while we cheer on Morning Musume.

What an awesome picture

~TRAP

I want to take a moment to reminisce on my own personal history with Takahashi as a fan. Takahashi has certainly been one of the most controversial members during my time as a fan. My first favorite had been Kago before realizing she had already graduated. I had noticed Takahashi very early on because of exposure to Minimoni. Her voice had always been strong to my ears. When I settled on Gaki-san as my favorite, Takahashi still amused me. Remember the 2004 New Years Hello! Morning special? I fell in love with the girl who had a stomachache and laughed at the monkey. What a strange thought.

At a time when I was not head over heels for Morning Musume, the forum that I frequented had many complaints about Takahashi. My peers around me constantly disliked Takahashi’s constant center position in songs. They even called her Troll Takahashi or some portmanteau of the sort, Trollhashi perhaps? I no longer recall because it was such a long time ago. As something of a kind of peer pressure, I suppose I caved in and started to think badly of Takahashi. This compounded with my love for other members would certainly be believable.

However my begrudging her, I realized was not because of what she took away from other members. It was because of the stable sound that Morning Musume developed from having at times too much Takahashi. When I was just starting out, the sheer variety in music from Morning Musume was staggering. There were so many members and so many different sounds throughout the years. And to all of a sudden have a single voice essentially dominating it was a staggering change to what I believed was dynamic. In that sense, Takahashi brought to the group one of the elements that made many fans, especially me, become rather complacent.

To be fair, Takahashi did not completely dominate the songs. The fact that I was caught up and now a fan of present and upcoming releases made her presence all the more prominent and acknowledged. Over time I realized my begrudging her was some sick and twisted way of really saying I loved her contribution to the music of Morning Musume. I would be lying if I didn’t say at times I disliked her earlier in my fandom. But I would also be lying if I said I dislike her now. No other girl of Morning Musume shares this distinction. That is, I have either liked a member from the start or developed my own liking of them over time. There has never been a member who has been unfortunate enough for me to almost completely drop them into the pits of low ranking from a favorable starting position only to find themselves back up to the top. Takahashi Ai has this unique trip through my fandom for me.

As far as I can remember the number of times I have used “Aichan” to refer to her are possibly countable with my fingers and toes. As a personal acknowledgement of my fandom over Takahashi I continue to call her with her given family name. And despite it being her wish for all to call her “Aichan”, I will continue to call her Takahashi as a reminder of the over six years I have spent watching over her, liking her, disliking her, loving her. Takahashi has done a lot for the group and she has certainly been one of my favorite entertainers ever since I got into Japanese pop music. I appreciate her presence and countless hours of entertainment she has provided me. And for that I thank her. I look forward to what the future holds for her and will continue to support her in the future.

We all love you, Aichan!

As for … Batman escaping Joker’s trap, you’ll just have to tune in next time. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

~Siggy, who misses black hair Takahashi~

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