On the last day of the year 2014 I began slowly: I slept in late, spent some time in Shibuya and than made my way to Haneda Airport, to collect my sister, a bit down as Lovely Doll performed at the same time at Akiba Cultures. Then the trip back to the hotel, to store my sister‘s luggage. All worked perfectly. Now our intention was to eat some Yakiniku at Ueno, together with Shaun and Allan, the latter having made the suggestion some hours ago via LINE. We arrived on time, I bought me my Funashi at Ueno station, some minutes later Shaun arrived without getting lost like at Shinjuku Station, but who was missing was – Allan, the instigator! I checked my messages and he had to cancel – he attended the Lovely Doll show and the buppan there was still going on. Now I was down again for not being there as well (Yuriko!!!). But well, I had still nice company around (hah) and we tried ourselves to find a good place to eat. Turned out that all of us are polite persons, not wanting to push our opinions on the other, this resulting in being unable to decide for a place to eat. Adding to this when we found some good looking place it was outbooked or already refusing new orders. Tokyo is strange in time regards. At the end we hungrily agreed on a Korean restaurant. Was okay.
Then it became time to head for Akihabara, right then to PARMS where a queue was already lined up from Floor 7 to the reception on Ground Floor. Entry began soon and was fast. In the aisle before the doors to the stage people were able to buy versions of Kamen Joshi‘s new single Genki da ne. But we just put our jackets somewhere on the floor and went inside the venue, finding it already full. But that didn’t matter as you have a good look at the stage even from the back. Allan came soon afterwards. He also told me that he has been to the Countdown last year also. There was no pre-show handshake event this time and the show began few minutes later. It turned out as expected: A long set by Kamen Joshi from 23:00 to 23:40, then a (for me as foreigner) much too long MC part: Starting with some general talk about the past year, small countdown, announcement of their single being No. 1 in the Daily Oricon Charts, with videos from ‘celebrities’ congratulating them, every member showing their down-written New Years resolutions (I think) and several failed live connections to the 8th Floor, where sub-groups of Alice Project where performing. The fact that I couldn’t understand most of what they were saying dragged this a lot, as it was lasting for about 50 minutes. After that came sets by the individual groups composing Kamen Joshi: First Armour Girls, followed by Steam Girls and closed by Alice Juuban, each group performing their own version of Moe Adventure in their sets. Then Kamen Joshi appeared again, performing Genki da ne and Anna riding the rubber boat to Natsu dare. The whole show lasted until 1:30. Luckily subways would be going the whole night, so there was no hurry. As the place was really crowded and even getting more people from the 8th floor (all events took place at PARMS on the 7th floor) none of us were taking part in the subsequent akushukai and cheki event. But in summary: It was a lot of fun, a great way to start the New Year. I would love to repeat this again! Here is the Music Video to Kamen Joshi‘s No.1 single Genki da ne:
On the 6th of January I returned to PARMS. This solely being a decision as I had no other plans, already having bid farewell to my sister and Shaun the day before. By the way, if you want to eat good Yakisoba, grilled by yourself on a hot plate in the middle of your table, go to Aqua City at Odaiba. It was either the 5th or the 6th floor. I went there with Shaun and it was delicious! Back to topic: At PARMS there would be an Oricon event, this time officially announcing Genki da ne to be No.1 even in the Weekly charts, as it was the goal set with its release. The way it was achieved got a lot of criticism by mainstream media in and outside Japan, especially focusing on the fact that the single had 12 versions and fans bought a lot of duplicates as chekis were combined with the purchase of the single for a time frame of over two months. *rant start* I don’t understand this reaction: The purchase of several copies of the same CD for the participaton in events is a standard in idol business. Also the split up of a CD in different versions is no new idea. PASSPO for example reached the No.1 rank in 2011 exactly the same way, releasing Shoujo Hikou in 11 versions. Of course this can only be accomplished by idol groups, as non-idol groups usually don’t do comparable events, but that is not the idols fault. Change the Oricon system or accept it! Charts have no significance for the quality of music anyway, as it is dominated by mainstream pop acts without any creativity, focusing more on display than content. *rant stop*
The performance that day was like on every other day. There weren’t even more attendee’s. The only difference was the girls announcing the No.1 ranking together with the official numbers of copies sold (much happy squeaking followed on stage) and a camera crew, that came in during the middle of the show but neither made themself aware to the audience nor the girls on stage. As it turned out, they were from a news channel, recording material for a later report on the event. Someone on Youtube even recorded it and now you can guess who can be seen CLEARLY in the video! (Thanks to Julian for telling me.)
What also was special today was my unusual determination to find a way to talk to Amaki Jun today, not because I like her but I promised Julian (same person as I mentioned above) to greet her from him. Now I had two options: Taking a cheki with her after the show and tell her then or participating in the group handshake that regularly happens before the show. I was opposed against the first option as I wasn’t interested in photos with idols I have no affection to. There is no mental reward of owning 2shots with random girls, just because they look good or are popular. Considering the latter option it was problematic as well: It would involve me into chatting with all the members of Armour Girls, but at this point I only knew Jun by looks and name. As I have a healthy mind and can hide behind the fact of being a tourist, the group handshake appealed more to me. I therefore bought two versions of Genki da ne and got up stage, suspiciously calmer as I would have expected. I will try to recall the talks happening then. Please bare with my holey memory and correct me if I get a name wrong. What I have to send on is another fact: With the exception of Jun I had no idea what to talk about as I don’t even like the music by Armour Girls, so I let the girls lead the talking. I can tell you before: They have done a great job!
It started with the first girl in line, who didn’t introduce herself. By method of exclusion I can now tell you it had to be Misa. I was approaching her slightly nervous with folded arms, forgetting it being a handshake event, seemingly looking quite indifferent and new to the situation – and said ‘hello’ in English. This was truly all I could come up with. But Misa did great, realizing my struggle and helping me out by asking me, if it was my first time being at PARMS. I denied and told her I was there often, but forgot mentioning the Countdown show. She expressed happiness about it, asked my nationality and told me to come cack again. We must have spoken some more which I already can’t recollect, then I remember my chat with her, accompanied by her smile, being very pleasant.
The next girl surprised me with talking English to me, quite good also. How comfortable I felt in talking with her can be acknowledged by the fact that I realized this fact only afterwards(!). I was naturally switching to English without registering it. Otherwise I could have probably asked her why she speaks it so well. She told me her name so I knew I was talking to Mina now. I promised to remember it. Again the details are amiss in my memories.
Next came Hinako who must have noticed from my chat with Misa that I didn’t knew them by name, therefore adopting Misa‘s behaviour of telling me her name. Hinako is the only girl in Armour Girls that has oshi potential for me, but as I don’t connect with the music of her unit, it is impossible. Why she stands out to me is probably her height, being taller than the other four Armour Girls members, similar to Kurose Sara in Steam Girls. Though here it more seems like the other members are all pretty short. This also makes her appear much older, as honestly I was putting the members in the age range of 16 to 19. I was actually surprised to learn later on some of them already attending universities. Hinako also made a pleasant impression on me during our chat. Undoubtly a girl to look out for.
Now came the difficult part: Transmiting to Jun my message from Julian. Not only had I problems with the right Japanese vocabulary, but another factor came into play: While the girls before were welcoming me with a smile, Jun looked very indifferent at me. It didn’t matter to me though. I was already over the edge of nervousness and now enjoying the situation. I even caught myself thinking about more of Jun wearing her hair open instead of her usual twin tails than I cared for my choice of words. Anyway this is basically how my conversation with her went on (imagine myself stumbling a lot and doing big hand gestures, to make up for missing words):
Me: You are Amaki Jun, right?
Jun: (skeptically agreeing)
Me: Do you know Julian?
Jun: Shu-…??? Sorry? (puzzling look)
(Hinako seemed to whisper something to her)
Jun: Ah, you mean Julian?
Me: Yes. He told me to great you. (I used the word ‘aisatsu’, with a question mark behind it. Still no idea if it is correct.)
Jun: Thank You! I am happy! (shaking my hands) You know him?
Me: Yes. See you!
In retrospect the conversation was successful, but still the demeanour of Jun towards me emited a certain distance. Our characters must repel each other. But that’s fine with me. Better than pretending otherwise and lying to my face. Nevertheless a sweet girl, in body and mind. But Julian must be happy now, as he has no new rival for her attention. *heh heh*
Last in the row was Moa, but I didn’t knew then as I forgot to ask her name and she didn’t told me either. I should have guessed it from the fact that she spoke a superb English (in relation to idol standards), that I knew of Moa, but I didn’t even recall her being a member of Armour Girls. So only knowing her name and face seperately, I couldn’t combine both right away. Moa redeemed the slight negative effect, the chat with Jun had on me, with her open approach, so my handshake session ended on a high note. We mostly talked about how I perceived PARMS and the groups performing. Charming, intelligent girl.The experience of chatting with Armour Girls was extraordinary, all were at least very professional in dealing with their fans. Maybe I talk with them again. But the highest possibility is me taking a unit cheki with them. This would allow me to call all of them by name in one take, mentioning the handshake from today, without having to come up with further topics.
This brings me to another aspect in idol business, I am currently contemplating: If it is a necessity to have an oshimen. If I think about it I have no strong oshi in any group I care about, at least not in the way the average idol fan seem to have. In some groups I even have several members I find more likable, but hardly anyone I would regard solely as special. It is just that I feel more comfortable around them then I would with others. It is basically how I view music groups besides idols. It never came to my mind to decide on a favourite member there. With idols I care first for the music and enjoy the chemnistry in the group. It is why I like PASSPO that much – Never saw a similar idol group with such a strong bond between the members. So even if I have a certain member I like the most in a group this wouldn’t stop me from talking / doing 2shots with other members as well. I can see no faithfulness in it. Having a girlfriend wouldn’t mean you have to part with your female friends as well. What I agree on is the situation when you openly declare a girl to be your oshimen. What always confuses me is how different the pattern of having an oshimen can be, especially with the fans seen at PARMS: There are a lot of those, who cheer for a certain girl in Armour Girls, then change the colour of their light stick, to support a member in Steam Girls, just to repeat the same behaviour when Alice Juuban is performing. THIS doesn’t seem very consequent to me. It is also the reason why I don’t choose Naomi as my oshi in Hachake Tai, as it is only a sub-unit of PASSPO. But whatever, everyone shall enjoy their idols how they deem it suitable. That is one of the positives to my attraction towards idol groups how their fans behave in such diverse way.
After the show I came in contact with a fan from Thailand. This turned out motivating for both of us – and made our wallets lighter – as we both encouraged us to take more chekis than we had otherwise done. The girls who were current members in Kamen Joshi all wore the Genki da ne outfit. I was shortly thinking about doing chekis with some Armour Girls in response to the handshake earlier but decided otherwise. Amu was still absent. She must be seriously ill, as her recent Twitter and blog post show. She even changed her Twitter account, deleting all connections to Alice Project in the name and protected it. As she follows me I am still able to read an write her though. I try my best to keep me updated. But translating all her Japanese tweets is a hassle and I hardly have any chance getting English information or even talk to her. I just hope that Amu recovers soon and gets her genkiness back, regardless of her returning to Alice Project or not.
That is why I started like with every other events at PARMS before: With Maari. Of course she again couldn’t remember me, being surprised when I told her about how often I already took a cheki with her. The downside of following idols with a wide range of fans. But at least her sign this time turned out perfect!
Next I chose Yuki. I wanted to talk again to her, after she recalled the German greeting ‘Guten Tag’ the last time. I could even come up with topics to talk about, meaning mainly her love for Funashi. The cheerfulness Yuki displays is always contagious, doing a lot of exaggerate gestures while never letting go of her bright smile. I greeted her with ‘Guten Tag’. She first was confused, but then repeated: ‘Ah, Guten Tag! Are you German?’ For the pose Yuki already took the initiative without reassuring with me, making the hand sign for ‘1’, the chart position of Genki da ne. I just needed to adapt to it. Stupid photographing trainee though took a regular cheki instead of the intended wide cheki. But I made no commotion about it. I haven’t done a regular one before and was quite pleased with the result. It also gives me a reason to meet with Yuki again. *whistle* I then asked her if it was right that she liked Funashi. Her eyes grew big from joy as she affirmed my question. This made me tell her that I bought myself one as well to which she inquired, if I mean the plush toy. She seemed pleased. I later learned that Yuki is quite well with English but she did no attempt while talking with me. Hm… Anyway we were both able to communicate with each other. That is what counts.
Now I had the inclination to refrain from further chekis. But here the Thai I mentioned before came into play which made me reconsider. As I often took notice of Kurose Sara when she is performing, I wanted to have a photo with her, but didn’t want an individual one. Instead I chose a group shot with two other members of Steam Girls I consider charismatic: Risa, who even exceeds Yuki in cheerfulness, and Erina. The latter I find not only attractive but also very likable. It is a shame that she is often reduced to just being a gravure idol because of her bust size, the management totally neglecting her personality. Risa and Erina gathered around me and I was bombarded with questions by both of them. I hate situations like this. But both were taking impressive care of me and Risa‘s smile really is as bright as it always appears. Erina though stole the show for me, never taking her eyes off me, seemingly absorbing every word I said. Are foreigners still so uncommon to her? If you wonder about Sara, she was still occupied with another cheki and wasn’t aware at first that she already had the next photo appointment. Risa and Erina had to call her, Sara then showing double surprise: The first for taking the next cheki so soon already, the second for seeing a foreigner. I could tell, when she looked at me while saying ‘Thank You’ in English. After the shot was taken (Risa and Erina both with closed eyes, damn.) I was asked of who to sign the cheki. I named Sara, which resulted in another ‘Thank You’ by her and slight displeasure from Erina, at least this was my impression. We then parted, all three of them bidding me farewell by saying ‘See you again’.
Now I could stop with my chekis, I thought. But I was convinced for taking another one, than now something special occured, as group shots with all the members of Kamen Joshi were announced. When approaching such a large number of girls (Fifteen), you can imagine it being impossible to concentrate on all of them. I just waved around and said my greeting, only having some longer eye contact with Anna, to make sure I didn’t block her from the view.
This ended my stay at PARMS and I was pleased with the outcome. It will be interesting to see where the groups are heading now. The big One Man at Saitama Arena is already at the horizon but still there are no album releases. I also share a lot of the concerns Caio has about the whole management situation, without loosing my hope just yet. But still I am of the conviction, the girls being exploited too much with their excessively long working hours, the constant traveling from one venue/event to another, as well as for some members the reduction to simple gravure models, like in their new TV show with the GI segment, simply displaying Erina and Jun in bikinis. You seldom see the girls laugh in the videos if they are not featured directly. Or take their Twitter as example, where they repeatedly lamenting on their lack of sleep (sometimes only two hours a night) or videos in which the girls, after a performance, instead of getting praise, are being criticized in rough language about their failures. Add to that the constant pressure from the popularity voting system and you can imagine why people come to a negative conclusion. But as I said in the beginning, I still keep my hopes up, that the situation calms down and changes are on the way. Otherwise it would be sad for the idols involved, who always do their best, as I experienced first hand every time and new tragedies will occur soon.
And off topic:
But wouldn’t the music of QUEEN be great for interpretation of idol groups? That thought occured to me while I was listening to them again recently. Bohemian Rhapsody or Innuendo cries Momoiro Clover Z! Gimme the Prize reminds me in style of Kamen Joshi. Let me entertain you or Bicycle Race is in structure similar to Denpagumi Inc. And imagine PASSPO doing a cover of I want it all (extended version)! Epic!