Hey, Senpai!

In light of recent events a project I’ve been working on has been pushed up a bit. You may notice that the “Ameba Tutorials” section above has been renamed “Ameba/Blog Tutorials” – that’s because there is a new tutorial on joining China’s Sina blog service. Junjun and Linlin’s official blogs are both hosted here. Let’s get them some new followers, share our love, and help boost the buzz surrounding them as they prepare to return to China and begin their careers anew!


Did last weekend’s shocking graduation/audition announcement cause thousands to call it quits with Momusu? How did S/mileage’s quirky new single affect their following? Did anyone new hit the radar this month? The following fan group membership numbers taken from Mixi in July and August are one tool we can use to help us find the answers:

Active H!P and Related Groups

Group Name Members on July 12 Members on August 9 Change
Morning Musume 7678 7851 173
Berryz Koubou 6435 6593 158
C-ute 5868 5953 85
Buono! 5048 5147 99
S/mileage 3102 3483 381
Hello Pro Egg 800 799 -1
Hangry & Angry 769 771 2
Ongaku Gatas 508 502 -6
High-King 477 470 -7
YuiKaori 144 189 45
SI☆NA 179 176 -3
Happy! Style 126 128 2
Ice Creamusume 88 87 -1
Shin Minimoni 62 61 -1
Pucchimoni V 59 59 0
Tanpopo# 57 57 0
Zoku Biyuuden 44 47 3
ZYX-a 18 21 3
Team Dekaris 17 19 2
Da Xiao Jie 16 16 0

This month’s big winners are S/mileage. In this case, it seems the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as the group as a unit gained nearly 100 more followers on Mixi this month than all four individual girls put together. The girls did make several TV appearances as a group which may have attracted new fans. I also found their performances of some classic H!P songs as part of the Fankora concerts pretty impressive – maybe others did as well.

That said, for a month without any new releases Morning Musume gained a good number of fans. I look forward to seeing how their numbers change over the next few months with the pending addition of a 9th generation.

Maji Bomber may not have charted particularly well, but with the membership numbers Berryz is posting it appears that it might have drawn a different audience from the norm, which is good because it means more people are watching them overall! I’ll look forward to seeing what kind of style and strategy is adapted for their next single.

Yes, the title of this post is a bit misleading, but you’ll see I included “related” groups as well. On the Up Front Kansai end of things YuiKaori seem to be getting some attention (though still not as much as they deserve) for their new single Vivivid Party. I’m somewhat surprised to see that SI☆NA didn’t gain any Mixi fans from their Fankora appearance – in fact, they’ve been slowly dropping since I started collecting numbers for them in February, with almost a 10% loss in membership on the year so far.

Here’s a fun question to consider: Which former H!P member gained more fans over the past month than all current H!P members combined? The answer is coming soon!

It’s been a crazy summer in more ways than one! Here are the Mixi membership statistics for current Hello! Project members as of August 9, 2010. You’ll also see July numbers as well as growth.

Morning Musume

Performer Name Members – July 12 Members – August 9 Change
Takahashi Ai 3634 3695 61
Niigaki Risa 1555 1575 20
Michishige Sayumi 3334 3424 90
Kamei Eri 2797 3006 209
Tanaka Reina 4025 4071 46
Mitsui Aika 730 730 0
Junjun (Li Chun) 593 611 18
Linlin (Qian Lin) 385 386 1

Berryz Koubou

Performer Name Members – July 12 Members – August 9 Change
Shimizu Saki 933 960 27
Tsugunaga Momoko 3012 3047 35
Sudou Maasa 884 898 14
Tokunaga Chinami 745 752 7
Kumai Yurina 1203 1238 35
Natsuyaki Miyabi 2076 2096 20
Sugaya Risako 2464 2519 55


Performer Name Members – July 12 Members – August 9 Change
Yajima Maimi 2001 2028 27
Nakajima Saki 1353 1363 10
Suzuki Airi 3682 3708 26
Okai Chisato 933 931 -2
Hagiwara Mai 1217 1202 -15

Mano Erina

Performer Name Members – July 12 Members – August 9 Change
Mano Erina 2421 2443 22


Performer Name Members – July 12 Members – August 9 Change
Wada Ayaka 1038 1127 89
Maeda Yuuka 1553 1671 118
Fukuda Kanon 1142 1186 44
Ogawa Saki 805 853 48

Top Ten – Fastest Growing

Performer Name Membership Growth
Kamei Eri 209
Maeda Yuuka 118
Michishige Sayumi 90
Wada Ayaka 89
Takahashi Ai 61
Sugaya Risako 55
Ogawa Saki 48
Tanaka Reina 46
Fukuda Kanon 44
Tsugunaka/Kumai 35

Top Ten – Largest Communities

Performer Name # of Members
Tanaka Reina 4071
Suzuki Airi 3708
Takahashi Ai 3695
Michishige Sayumi 3424
Tsugunaga Momoko 3047
Kamei Eri 3006
Sugaya Risako 2519
Mano Erina 2443
Natsuyaki Miyabi 2096
Yajima Maimi 2028



If I had taken these numbers on the seventh rather than the ninth I think this would have looked a little different, don’t you? The vast majority of Eri’s community growth probably came from the graduation announcement. Yuuka seems to have gotten a boost from her PB release. In fact, all of S/mileage is gaining members at a good clip, though with the amount of promotion they are getting I kind of wish we’d see more. Reina and Sayumi are probably getting additional attention from their regular TV shows, and the promise of a Risako solo debut (albeit as a voice actress) seems to have given her a boost as well.

Suzuki Airi has upset Ai-chan and claimed the #2 spot in terms of current H!P members, but the numbers are close. It’s likely we’ll see Airi maintain #2 going into September due to the C-ute single release, but Ai-chan may reclaim that position as MM’s next single release nears and details of the 9th generation auditions are made known. Eri and Momoko are also extremely close. I suspect that Eri will overtake Momoko this month and maintain that position until her graduation. With Mano’s crazy new single coming out in September she’s probably going to give Risako a run for her money – it depends on the announcement regarding the Risako single as well as any new work for either girl.

So… have the graduation and audition announcements helped or hurt Morning Musume’s community membership? Did S/mileage as a group benefit from the new single promotion? Stay tuned!

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Mano Erina tends to fly under the radar for foreign H!P fans. Much of her professional work has been in dramas and magazines which few foreign fans see. Her indies releases were basically just her and her piano; her early major releases could almost be classified as enka. While her sound has recently taken a significant turn (“Onegai Dakara” has a rather techno sound to it), fans of other H!P units still tend to give her a pass because her videos were still largely on flowy sets with pastels and even her upbeat songs were at a pretty slow tempo compared to other H!P releases.

That said, take everything you think you know about Mano Erina, wad it up into a little ball, throw it out the window, and watch this:

Not what you were expecting? Same here! The style of song Mano-chan is singing reminds me of the manic craziness of some of Ayaya’s greatest hits, and the video is one of the best H!P/UFA have produced in years. (I don’t envy the subtitlers, though!)

If you like what you see and hear, the single will be available next month (9/15) in a regular edition and two limited editions. Limited A comes with a DVD and Limited B presumably sports an alternate cover. Both limited editions contain event applications cards – you won’t find them in the regular edition.

It is interesting to note that to date none of the lyrics for Manoeri’s releases have been written by Tsunku. He’s done composition for some of her recent releases, but throughout her career to date lyrics for Mano-chan’s releases have been done by Miura Yoshiko, a prolific Japanese lyricist who has written for Kageyama Hironobu, TM Network, and tragic 80s idol Okada Yukiko among many others (including several Hello! Project acts). In addition, much of the arrangement and composition work has been handled by Tsunku’s Sharan Q bandmates Taisei and Hatake. With this completely new sound, how much of a shakeup has there been behind the scenes? Credits for the single tracks are not yet available but I’ll be waiting for them with great interest.

I will spare you all a repeat posting of the photo that has graced every Hello! Project fan site and major news site in Japan for the past day or so. By now, I think it’s fairly safe to assume that anyone who makes their way to my blog will have heard the news about Kamei, Junjun, and Linlin graduating from Morning Musume in December and seen the picture of 8-nin Musume looking pretty miserable. In the dialogue that has ensued in the fan community, though, a lot of questions and concerns have been raised, and I’d like to reflect on them a bit here.

1. Junjun and Linlin

  • “Tsunku is racist and hates Chinese people.”
  • “The expansion into China wasn’t working so they’re just dropping the girls and who cares what the fans think.”
  • “They didn’t have enough time in the group.”/”They were just starting to shine.”/”They were never in the center for anything.”

One thing that I think a lot of H!P fans miss is that being in Morning Musume is the beginning of a girl’s career. Show business can be a lifelong career if a talent’s development is properly managed. If not, it’s easy for talents to be dismissed as “has-beens” or to disappear from the entertainment scene altogether.

The fact is this: Junjun and Linlin are, as Tsunku said, “young women”. They are also Chinese. It would be very difficult for them to find steady work in Japan upon graduating from MM. With their unique skill sets, though, including theater experience, radio shows, and the Japanese language, it shouldn’t be hard for them to find frequent, good work back home. However, youth means a lot in the entertainment business, and the longer they wait, the harder it would be for them to break back into the industry. Tsunku’s choice to graduate JunLin now is the best choice he could have made for their futures.

Many have said that the girls weren’t in the group long enough for their talents to truly shine. Recently, Musume-Central posted an updated tenure list. Looking at this (it was posted July 10th), we can see that by the time they graduate, JunLin will have been in the group longer than five other girls (that’s 20% of girls who have been in Musume) including none other than Nakazawa Yuko and Goto Maki. No one would argue that those girls were not in the group long enough to make an impact, right? Three years and nine months is also about as long as most Americans spend in high school. I’m sure very few people would argue that their time in high school is or was not long enough. 😉

And what about being in the center? They’ve both got long solos in Ame no Furanai… and Shiroi Chou no Samba. Linlin has a solo song on the Champloo album. Linlin led Shin Minimoni and Junjun was involved with Zoku Viyuuden, one of the smallest of the new shuffle units. They were featured with Koharu and Aika in small group songs on Cover You and the 9th and 10th albums. They had their own unit with Koharu and Miyabi as support. I’d argue that they are the current equivalent of Ogawa Makoto – very talented and appreciated but rarely at the center of things. Let’s see what happens as they move back to China and step into the spotlight on their own.

2. Kamei

  • “It’s a cover up for her having a boyfriend and idol bands are stupid for their no boyfriend rule!”

Fans have found images where Eri’s skin condition is visible. Many are from Japan Expo. Wikipedia states that the condition is aggravated by such things as sweating, stress, and certain fabrics and detergents – all of which are common in concert settings – and the girls themselves have stated that the makeup they use is bad for the skin so they only wear it when they’re on stage or shooting. Eri has also been inexplicably absent from events in the past where she was a pivotal member.

I’m really impressed with Eri that she has worked so hard despite being so uncomfortable much of the time. I am really shocked that some fans are trying to blame her departure on some imagined indiscretion on Eri’s part.

3. Ninth Gen

  • “They should add <insert egg here>. Why bring more girls who aren’t trained into Hello! Project and ignore the Eggs?”
  • “OMG they’re all going to be younger than Aika and that’s too young. It’ll be awkward.”
  • “What are these kids doing in my Morning Musume?”

Ages Upon Joining Morning Musume

12: Kago Ai, Nozomi Tsuji, Niigaki Risa, Koharu Kusumi, and Fukuda Asuka
13: Goto Maki, Tanaka Reina, and Ogawa Makoto
14: Takahashi Ai, Yoshizawa Hitomi, Sayaka Ichii, Mitsui Aika, Kamei Eri, Michishige Sayumi, and Konno Asami
15: Ishikawa Rika and Yaguchi Mari
16: Iida Kaori, Natsumi Abe, and Linlin
17: Fujimoto Miki and Yasuda Kei
19: Junjun and Ishiguro Aya
24: Nakazawa Yuko

The overwhelming majority of Morning Musume members made their debuts between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. Only three girls have ever started older. However, these members were in the group at the same time as much younger members. Nakazawa was twelve years older than Fukuda Asuka when the group was formed. She was still leader when Kago joined despite the fourteen year age difference between the two of them. Kaorin was 23 when Gaki-san joined, an eleven year age difference. Yossi was 20 when Koharu joined, an eight year age difference. Having a wide range of ages has long been one of Morning Musume’s signature features.

My expectation is that we’ll see one or two twelve year olds and one or two 14-15 year olds in this audition to make a total of three or four new members with a diverse age spread. Will I be as interested in the young girls as I am the older members? Probably not. I am, however, eager to see how the older girls do as mentors to the younger girls. Aika in particular is likely to shine, as her caring, doting personality hasn’t had much of an outlet up until now.

I think it unlikely that many (if any) Eggs will be considered for addition to Morning Musume. To begin with, adding a first or second generation Egg presents some seniority issues, not in terms of age, but in terms of tenure under the Hello! Project banner. First gen Eggs have been in training since 2004 and many have been involved with releases of some regard. Adding them to a new generation would likely create a awkward situation similar to that of Fujimoto Miki where a girl with years of training and some releases under her belt was given equal status with total newbies.

The other reason I think it unlikely that we’ll see more Eggs in Musume is that part of the core concept of the group is that we as fans get to watch girls develop pretty much from ground zero. Before our eyes, the girl next door stumbles through dancing and singing lessons, gets scolded by her senpai, says something unintentionally hilarious on primetime TV, cries, laughs, makes friends with girls who were once her heroes, and becomes a star capable of standing in the spotlight on her own. It’s simply not as much fun if she’s a polished performer to begin with.

I will say that I hope that 5-nin Musume releases one single together after the graduations in December, before 9th gen joins. At the very least I want a 5-nin Morning Coffee B-side on the 45th single release. It’s an interesting lineup, one that can’t or shouldn’t last too long, but it should be recognized in some way.

Normally I would be posting Mixi updates about now, but they’re going to be delayed for a few days as I am still in Los Angeles. My hotel, while beautiful, wants thirteen dollars a day for Internet, wired or wireless, and I’d rather be spending that on Alo Hello 4. I do, however, want to keep you guys posted so I’m typing this entry up at my hotel and then posting it from beautiful Denny’s via their free wi-fi.

I went to Manoeri’s movie premiere, the AKB concert, and the AKB Q&A. This report will be pretty detailed, so I’m going to start with Manoeri in this entry.

MAX for my boyfriend and myself began with a visit to the Animaid Cafe. The cafe experience included breakfast, a ticket to Kai-ki, and an exclusive keepsake that granted premier access to the Yoshiki Foundation event in the evening for five dollars more than the cost of admission to the film alone, so I figured it was a worthwhile investment. I also was honestly curious as to how a maid cafe ran, and the deal was sealed when I saw that the maids had performed several H!P dances in previous shows according to their website.

The maid cafe turned out to be very enjoyable. The group is a collection of fans who are dedicated to putting on a good show but who also have a great sense of humor. Their attention to detail and thoroughness of execution really impressed me – they had photocards of the maids and hosts available for order outside and as the guests entered the hall for the morning all of the maids and hosts were lined up in two lines to bow and greet them. It was an impressive experience!

We were served breakfast by two enthusiastic maids. Rose was a veteran member of the group who joined a year ago when she was headed to AX by herself and wanted something to do. She performed in two dance routines of the five or so that occurred sporadically throughout the event. Mari was a newcomer to the group and was very excited to experience her first event. We talked at length about different aspects of the anime convention scene.

As I mentioned, dance was a large part of the experience. Among the songs performed were Hinoi Team’s “Ike Ike” and a Super Junior song. The dances were well rehearsed and the performers enthusiastic. My thanks to the AniMaid Cafe for a very fun performance!

While AniMaid entertained very well, their hosts at MAX were not particularly diligent in making sure that their end of ticket distribution for attendees was in place. Following the show, there was mass confusion as we tried to figure out where we were supposed to go to get our movie passes and Yoshiki Foundation keepsake thingies. While we waited around for answers, we got an early shot at Hello Store USA’s table. My boyfriend picked up a t-shirt and I was thrilled to find that they had brought several copies of Hello! Channel. Eventually pink wristbands were distributed for the Yoshiki event, which I guess we were to exchange for the keepsakes later?

But there was still no answer on the tickets. We had to talk to several Club Nokia and MAX staff and got different answers wherever we turned, resulting in us bouncing between two different lines. It took my boyfriend asking for management before the head of MAX caught up with things and brought us and four other attendees our tickets.

After many headaches, we finally rejoined the line for Kai-ki. While we were in line we were sitting on the ground and had our various purchases next to us, including some Naruto trading card game packs we were given for free when we signed in for the maid cafe in the morning. A gentleman came by and asked us if he could take a picture of us with the cards. We obliged and then found out through discussion that he was the writer of the film! Apparently he is friends with someone deeply involved in Naruto. Also during that time a lady came by and gave everyone cards that we could use to write down questions for Mano-chan. Both my boyfriend and I wrote questions and submitted them when we walked inside, where we were given commemorative keychains and postcards.

The film itself was a lot of fun and I highly recommend it to Mano fans, fans of J-horror, or anyone who wants a fun film to watch with friends. The film is broken up into two stories. The first, “Tsukimono”, played like a college urban legend come to life. Mano-chan and Kitahara Sayaka scream and run for their lives from a creepy hiccuping possessed girl. There isn’t any excessive gore, and suspense comes from waiting to see where the possessed girl pops up next. The second, “Nozomi” is a nerve-wracking but ultimately sweet drama. Mano-chan stars as a girl whose sister died in an accident on her birthday several years prior.

As the film ended, the credits began to roll, and a song started to play. As the lyrics started, Mano-chan herself walked on stage singing! The first verse of the song was in Japanese, but the second was in English, and Mano did a wonderful job. It was evident that she spent a good deal of time practicing introducing herself in English as she did so with confidence and, while certainly not perfect, an impressive degree of fluency. Go Mano! (For those who saw Morning Musume last year, she was a bit above Ai-chan’s level but not quite at Junjun’s.)

The event schedule was very tight so the mini-concert and Q&A were quite short. In a fun ironic twist, Mano performed “Sekai wa Summer Party” before answering about three questions, one of which involved a shout-out to her Japanese fans.

Mano left the stage and autographs were announced. My boyfriend and I went to the back of the room, the line was started in about three places, and then I was told by Club Nokia staff that I had to move away from the line because only 25 people were allowed autographs. A quick glance told me there weren’t yet 25 people in the newly formed line, but we were pushed away anyway. This seemed starkly in contrast to the information we found on the Tales of Terror Facebook page. Fans were told that autographs would be available to all fans following the performance while priority would be given to those who purchased official merchandise.

The Facebook page had also said that limited photographs would be available upon request following the show, but photography was prohibited during the program. We were also told – quite firmly – by Club Nokia staff in the morning before AniMaid Cafe that photography would be grounds for ejection. That said, I was rather surprised at the amount of photography (and flash photography) occurring during the mini-live. I understand that at the first show there were a lot of press members, but I also felt like a rule that needed to be enforced may not have been.

So my Mano experience ended on a bit of a disappointing note. For the second year, I made a cross country trek to see a Hello! Project act and for the second year I missed out on autographs and more importantly getting to say “thank you” to a girl whose work I deeply admire and respect. I wish US shows would institute handshake events. You know? I understand that handshake events don’t happen every day in Japan but a fan who is there and has time and money (not even a lot of it – a lucky single purchase or a photobook purchase will do) will eventually get to at least meet his or her idol and spend five seconds of face time with her to express their thanks. The idea that the girls know you are there and cheering them on means the world and when they come to the States that’s all I really want.

But perhaps she knows I’m here. During the live Mano looked my direction multiple times. I think she was happy to see female fans in the audience – we certainly weren’t the majority, but we were there. And that is why, despite all of the hassles and headaches surrounding this event, my experience was ultimately a happy one. We got to talk quite a bit with the JapanFiles staff, the content of the events themselves was fantastic, and I was FIFTEEN FEET AWAY from MANO ERINA. And she saw me.

Postscript: It turns out my boyfriend has been keeping a secret from me. He saw me writing this article and mentioned an incident he experienced during the autograph confusion. While we were being pushed away a group of Japanese wota were complaining that they couldn’t get autographs. Turns out that the guy running the show – the guy who they had to call in order for us to get our tickets – told the J-wota that they were special guests here and told them where to stand. Mano-chan would be coming out that way, he said. You can’t ask her for an autograph directly but if you hold something out with a pen she will probably sign it.

I appreciate the withholding because it salvaged my ultimately good experience with Manoeri. What learning this information now does do is increase my frustration as a fan. If this event was touted as Mano’s US debut, why were Japanese wota given preferential treatment? Again, I understand that autographs are rare and I understand why the Japanese fans wanted them so badly. However, when I make sacrifices to go to an event just like everyone else does I don’t want anyone else to be treated as if they are above the rules.

It makes me wonder if the idol groups who come to the States truly receive the added exposure they are looking for. If I, as a longtime fan, couldn’t get autographs, ask a question, or get even a split second of face time with my favorite groups (and not for lack of trying, let me tell you), what of the general convention attendees they are trying to win over as a new audience? As a volunteer who has worked on the convention circuit for several years, I firmly believe that we can – and must – do better. Ultimately, though, two years ago who would have imagined that any of this would be happening?

The relatively quiet auspices of Up Front Kansai have started making some noise in the past year or so. We saw Arisa Noto, former H!P Eggs leader and Ongaku Gatas member, become an otaku idol extraordinare with the release of a PB and her own album, No Night Eden. Then, she partnered with three other girls involved with Happy! Style, Up Front Kansai’s performance unit that covers anime and idol songs, to create the group Team Dekaris in support of Sega’s release of the Dekaris arcade game. They proceeded to release an album. Now, two of those girls have gone on to star in their own unit, YuiKaori.

Ishihara Kaori, the older of the girls, is sixteen. She recently voiced the heroine in the animated feature “Planzet”. Ogura Yui is fourteen and is already known in certain circles for, surprisingly, motion capture work. She was the dance model for the popular Vocaloid character Hatsune Miku in the PSP game “Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA”.

The girls are gearing up for the release of their second single, “Vivivid Party”. The PV has higher production value than most of the H!P videos I’ve seen lately, with lots of neat camera angles and backup dancers, and from the previews, a very special guest apparently makes a posthumous appearance:

I’m not one who usually has an aversion to anime tie-ins, but I have to admit that the series that some of YuiKaori’s songs is featured is rather… erm… “niche”. The show is called Kiss x Sis and features a middle school boy who develops an attraction to his older twin stepsisters who are in turn happy to flirt with him in some very inappropriate ways. The good news is that just as Berryz fans don’t have to watch Inazuma Eleven to enjoy their recent releases, no one is in any way obligated to watch the anime in order to enjoy the song.

Release promos for this single are excellent. The first press edition includes a photo, and 200 of these photos will be signed by either Yui or Kaori. Hopefully this will encourage fan support during this crucial early stage of their career.