“Hi, my name is Herman Kobabowitz… and I’m a Doll☆Elements addict.”

15 Oct

dehppicI have no idea why, how, or why, but Doll☆Elements have become my favorite group.
<That’s great, but who the f-junk is Herman Kobabowitz?>
Oh, he’s just someone I met at last week’s Doll☆Elements Addicts Anonymous meeting.
<Isn’t it supposed to be anonymous?>
Yeah, it is. We’re just really stupid. 

Incoherent Doll☆Elements Story
*brews a pot of chamomile tea* It all started last week when I was watching the Tokyo Idol Festival special that featured GEM. For some reason, instead of watching and re-watching GEM’s performance, I found myself watching and rewatching Doll☆Elements (who happened to be included in the same broadcast). I’ve known of them for a while, but only by name–technically I saw them at TIF 2012, but to say that I “saw” them is a total exaggeration. PASSPO and predia had just finished their night performance at Sky Stage and I was planning on getting out of there asap in order to bypass the queue that was guaranteed to form at the elevator. However, since I was in the front row (a fact I have to mention because evidently being in the front row for predia makes me a total pervert *sigh*), I couldn’t escape the stage area before someone affiliated with Doll☆Elements (maybe their manager?) handed me a flyer and frantically asked anyone who would listen to stick around for their performance. Back in 2012, they were still relatively new and I felt bad because all the PASSPO/predia fans were leaving. So I reluctantly went back to the stage. I had no intention of staying too long though–I’m nice, but I’m not that nice. So I watched them for a minute and then I very secretly moved further and further away from the stage until the next thing I knew I had gone down the lift and was at a completely different stage. <Wow you stayed for a whole minute. How generous of you.> I also still have the flyer. <Well, that’s predictable considering you never buy goods, so stuff like concert streamers, promotional flyers, ticket stubs, and anything else that is handed out for free which most normal people either decline or promptly throw away become your souvenirs.> Please don’t tell my readers that the free stuff that everyone else throws away are my treasures!! <Umm, I didn’t use the word treasure.>
photo (18)Anyway, *sips chamomile tea* for this year’s TIF I saw Doll☆Elements at Hot Stage and Smile Garden. I was pretty close to the stage for both performances (you can see me in the broadcast at both stages. But don’t look too closely because evidently being close to the stage makes me a total pervert! *sigh*). I thought they were good, but they didn’t leave a lasting impression. It wasn’t until the TIF footage that everything suddenly clicked and ever since I’ve been scouring the internet for new Doll☆Elements treasures. <Please stop using that word.> Unfortunately, they only have a few concert clips online, so I’ve been continually watching them on an endless loop. Which reminds me *checks watch* we should probably start watching them again, I’m experiencing withdrawals. <Sorry, but I don’t have time for that. I have like ten kids!> Ten kids? I thought you were just one of my sassy split personalities. <Hey, what I do with my free time is my business!>

Unfortunately, they really don’t have a lot of videos online, probably because they haven’t done that many one-mans (only six in their two year existence), and the few concerts they have done haven’t been released on dvd. Their official youtube channel has clips of most of their recent concerts though. The following video doesn’t include their best songs (imo), but the video quality is better than the others. The third song 空の向こうへ (Sora no Mukou he) is amazing though and even a blind brain surgeon would think the choreography is cute. I would literally kill to see it performed live. <You mean “figuratively.”> Oh, yeah you’re right. I would figuratively… and literally kill to see it performed live.

The key to becoming a hardcore fan of a group is finding a favorite member. Without an oshimen (or oshiGEM), I think it’s difficult to become more than just a casual fan of a group. The Doll☆Elements lineup is amazing and I dare anyone to get to know the group and not become obsessed with at least one of the members. Personally I like all six of them. More accurately though,  I like all the members equally, just some more equally than others.

Super-long kaawwaaiiiiiiiiiii

Super-long kaawwaaiiiiiiiiiii

Form left to right: Natsumi Gonda, Rika Tonosaki, Haruka Koizumi, Runa Kojima, and Yukino Komori. (If you compare this current photo with the flyer from 2012, you’ll notice there’s been two lineup changes. In the flyer, the girls 3rd and 4th from the left graduated and were replaced by Haruka and Yukino).

If the world was going to end tomorrow and you had to choose an oshimen today:
Natsumi (Gonchan) – the leader and anime/otaku type.
Rika (Rikapyon) – the sophisticated member who does gravure.
Haruka (Izumi) – the super hot former member of YGA who is now the super hot current member of Doll☆Elements. She’s also the center.
Runa (Runapon) – the super-genki, super-long kawaaiiiii, adorably-funny miracle member.
Yukino (Yukinon) – the youngest, who is also considered the “funny” member along with Runa.
Screenshot 2014-10-15 15.41.08
If they are awesome and perfect why are they so unpopular?
Despite having an almost perfect lineup and great music (they recently released their first album which came in two versions, each with completely different tracks), Doll☆Elements literally has zero overseas fanbase (which is strange considering even fringe underground idol groups typically have a few fans). I think it’s mainly because they are the younger sister group of Lovely★Doll, who I consider to be mediocre. If fans aren’t interested in the flagship, then they probably aren’t going to be motivated to get to know the sister groups. I think this is a pretty common phenomena with agencies who manage multiple groups. Any feelings you have for a group like AKB48, SUPER☆GiRLS, or PASSPO, will either positively or negatively influence your perception of their sister groups. I think their affiliation with Lovely★Doll has unfortunately limited Doll☆Elements potential fanbase.

If only they could be sister groups with SUPER☆GiRLS and GEM!

Screenshot 2014-10-14 22.31.59Screenshot 2014-10-14 22.31.04

Idol News Update #1
After a 20 year hiatus Misa is back!
The last time we heard from Misa she had just been rejected by PASSPO and was spending her summer at her grandma’s strawberry farm to recover. But that was two years ago, which is an eternity in idol years. On 8.31 Misa updated her blog and she announced she joined a new indie group called Stereo Tokyo. Reading some of her tweets they seem to have some sort of relationship with the group Yumemiru Adolescence. They haven’t released anything, but in simultaneously sad and hilarious news, one of the members graduated after just one week.

Idol News Update #2
After a 7 million year hiatus Nene is back!
Nene Sakuragi rejoined Houkago Princess on 9.17. She left the group earlier this year to focus on school, but she didn’t technically graduate, allowing for a potential return. This is relevant because she’s hot and probably the second most popular member. <Is hotness the only thing you care about??> No, an idol’s political ideology is also important!

img20140925houpri3Nene is in the middle row on the far right (above) and fifth from the left (below). Interestingly they let her participate in the promotional material for their latest single despite her not appearing in the video or performing at their 3rd anniversary concert last month. Looking at the above photo, the group would be a lot stronger as six members and dropping the trainees. But Houkago Princess has had more member turnover than any group I have ever followed (not counting AKB).

Street-sei Update
Sutorigu 3’s opening ceremony was on 10.11, so now I have an excuse for updating my Street-sei ranking.















Team champion Nagoya
MVP Ruka
Concerts are streamed on showroom (or you can do what I do and subscribe to https://www.youtube.com/user/kchipmunk and https://www.youtube.com/user/nagelibre12 since these channels record the shows)

Fans can vote at the following website: https://map.pigoo.jp/  (please vote for Hazuiki)

Unfortunately, Sutorigu 3 is pretty much pointless since any potential iDOL Street group that will emerge from this Street-sei class is doomed. 

But even though the 4th group is doomed, everyone knows I’m still a huge Doll☆Elements fan.

I am eternally grateful that Sara was chosen for GEM. I am also eternally grateful that the new avex group “Chubbiness” has absolutely nothing to do with iDOL Street. But I’m mostly grateful that Sara is in GEM.

11 Sep

Sara immediately after being informed she was a candidate for GEM.

In light of the horrible, dare I say devastating, news that Rihona is graduating from Street-sei at the end of the month, I thought it would be an appropriate time to revisit the formation of GEM, considering the final lineup could have been completely different had certain events in Street-sei played out differently. In fact, the more I reflect on how GEM was formed, the more grateful I am that my favorite GEMber and oshiGEM made it into the group. It’s scary how easily Sara could have been overlooked and suffered the same fates as Rihona, Yukipa, Haachin, and countless other members of Street-sei.

When the 3rd generation of Street-sei was chosen in 2012 it seemed like they were destined for greatness and would have countless opportunities to either form their own groups or join existing ones. Fast forward to 2014, it turned out the “miracle gen” only had one real chance, which was getting selected for GEM. Although two additional 3rd gen members were selected for SUPER☆GiRLS, the circumstances were much different since they were dependent upon Saori’s graduation and KP’s dismissal. The main reasons GEM was their only shot is because (1) iDOL Street is at best in a holding pattern, and at worst, in a decline (in terms of popularity and support they are receiving from avex) and (2) the GEM lineup decimated the Street-sei talent pool. The subsequent 4th and 5th generations haven’t come close offsetting the loss of talent, therefore a potential 4th group has two huge problems: (1) inadequate support from avex and (2) insufficient talent. Considering (1) avex has a long history of providing only minimal support for their pop groups, (2) SUPER GiRLS sales have dropped, and (3) the idol scene is finally showing signs of fading, I think if avex were to sign off on a new group, the project would be significantly less ambitions than any of the other three i-Street groups. I used to hype the 4th group because I really wanted Rihona, Saku, and Haachin in a group as soon as possible. But with Rihona graduating, the 4th group is completely screwed, because they no longer have the mix of center, aces, and front girls necessary to build a group around. Resources spent on the 4th group would now be better served reversing SUPER☆GiRLS decline, or pushing Cheeky Parade and GEM, which at this point have considerable more upside.

Therefore, the selection of the GEM lineup was huge, because any girl who didn’t make it would have been trapped on the sinking ship that is Street-sei. And despite Sara’s talent, she easily could have been overlooked. If she wasn’t chosen for GEM she would have been split up from Rana, her BFF/”sister,” and would be wasting away in Street-sei (assuming she hadn’t already graduated). In which case I wouldn’t be a GEM addict and this reflection wouldn’t even exist. Instead I would be doing something productive like volunteering at the local homeless shelter or discovering the cure for hiccups. (Or more realistically, you would be doing something completely unproductive like confessing your love for Chubbiness and pondering which group is the best of all time, them or AKBN0!)
GEMerationsIf Sara didn’t join GEM none of the above photos would have ever existed! That’s GEMerterrifying! (First, “GEMerterrifying?” Really? Second, some of those photos were pre-GEM, so they would have existed even if she wasn’t chosen) Oh, I was hoping you wouldn’t notice. That’s not the point though. The point is they are the best duo since Batman and that other guy… Batman Jr.

Now that GEM is more established and have successfully conquered Japan, I’m sure there are fans who are completely oblivious to their history, which was filled with suspense, laughter, heartbreak, betrayal, and non-stop kawaiiness. I think the formation of the group is fascinating because fans got to at least partially watch the selection process play out during Sutorigu (a series of concert “battles” between all of the Street-sei teams).

GEM timeline
May 2012 – avex Idol Audition 2012
June 2012 – 29 girls are selected and 5 Street-sei teams are formed (Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, and Fukuoka)
July 24-28, 2012 – First live performances: all five teams alternate as the opening act for a series of SUPER GiRLS concerts.
November 2012 – Street-sei members are informed of the GEM concept and 13 girls are selected as the “starting lineup”
December 25, 2012 – First GEM performance at the SUPER GiRLS Christmas Something Something concert (they performed “Speed Up”)
January 3, 2013 – Second GEM performance, they performed “Speed Up” and “Do it! Do it!” A week or two later they had another performance at an i-Street event. This was the third and final time all 13 starting members would perform together.
January 21, 2013 – Sutorigu concert series begins

February 11, 2013 – 1st “GEMstar” performance (7 member unit of the top GEM candidates)
March 30, 2013 – “GEMstar” opens for SUPER☆GiRLS Celebration tour.
April 1, 2013 – Sutorigu final (Osaka wins, Yuuki is MVP, Maya is GEMVP). Chisami, Kako, and Sara were added as GEM candidates and three GEM candidate members realign to the Tokyo team.
April 3, 2013 – Kako and Sara’s first performance as members of GEMstar

April 8, 2013 – Nagi withdraws from iDOL Street.
June 10, 2013 – Final GEM lineup is announced at SUPER☆GiRLS Budokan Something Something concert. 

GEM candidate rankings (based on the order the members were announced). The rankings are important because of the “key factors” that forever altered the GEM lineup (OOooaOOOh this sounds interesting!)
1. Maya
2. Rana
3. Maho
4. Natchi
5. Jurin
6. Kako
7. Chanman
8. Sara
9. Chisami
10. Yuki
(Note: the order they were announced doesn’t necessarily reflect the order they were ranked at the time, but Maya and Rana were, and currently are, the top two, and Yuki, although popular, is the least talented (and oldest), so it’s possible the above order was how they were ranked at the time the linup was decided. Even though Kako and Sara were announced 6th and 8th, I think most fans would agree that they were wildcards). 

Important events that forever altered the GEM lineup (aka the hypothetical ramblings of a GEM fanboy with too much free time)
Nagi suddenly withdrawing from the group was a huge turning point and we’ll probably never know the impact her exit had on the final lineup. Nagi was close to being a lock: her personality alone practically ensured she would be selected. Based on the above ranking, had she stayed, I think she would have been ranked #6, thus pushing everyone starting with Kako down one spot. With her withdrawing it’s also possible that she allowed the 11th ranked candidate to get bumped into the top 10. However based on the above ranking, Yuki would have been #11, which is significant because Nagi and her were best friends and had created their own unofficial comedy duo called YuNagi. I kind of feel that Nagi and Yuki were an implied pair, that is, if one was selected, both would be. If this is true, Yuki could have been selected even if she was ranked 11. But would GEM really have 11 members?? 

2. No pop group has ever debuted with 11 members! Therefore it’s possible that GEM was initially designed to have 12 members and not 10! If there was a 12th member it probably would have been Naapon. And if Naapon was chosen for GEM, she wouldn’t have eventually joined SUPER☆GiRLS… which could conceivably have created it’s own chain reaction of events (e.g. Rihona joins SG along with Risa and Koume).
3. Haachin confusing her “my pace” personality with “my pace” dancing. Not counting rehearsals, the GEM “starting lineup” had only 3 performances together to prove they were qualified for the group. Two of the lives eventually made it online, but it was the Idol Yokochou footage that really showed which members were ready and which either weren’t… or in Haachin’s case, which member didn’t seem to care. Her dancing was lazy and sloppy and clashed with the high-energy style of the songs. It’s frustrating because she is actually a good singer and dancer. As a 2nd gen Street-sei member, had she put the appropriate effort into her performance, it’s conceivable she could have been in the top 10.
4. Rihona missing Sutorigu because of school put her at a huge disadvantage. Every Sutorigu concert had a day and night show, and she missed practically every day show. Since Sutorigu began after the starting lineup had already been selected, and she wasn’t included, it’s possible that she was also missing other events/rehearsals leading up to Sutorigu. If the producers could go back in time with the knowledge they currently have, I’m positive that not only would she have been in the starting lineup, but she would have been ranked as high as 5 or 6.
5. If the above scenarios involving Nagi, Haachin, and Rihona never happened, the GEM lineup may have looked like this:

The GEM lineup in “parallel universe #1″ where Nagi didn’t withdraw, Rihona’s schedule didn’t conflict with school, and Haachin wasn’t super lazy:
1. Maya
2. Rana
3. Maho
4. Natchi
5. Jurin
6. Rihona
7. Nagi
8. Kako
9. Chanman
10. Haachin
——— (cutoff #1)
11. Sara
12. Chisami
13. Yuki
——— (cutoff #2 – based on the logic that if Nagi made it they would automatically choose Yuki as well)
14. Naapon

15. Risa

The GEM lineup in “parallel universe #2″ where Nagi did withdraw, but Rihona’s schedule didn’t conflict with school and Haachin wasn’t super lazy:
1. Maya

2. Rana
3. Maho
4. Natchi
5. Jurin
6. Rihona
7. Kako
8. Chanman
9. Sara
10. Haachin
———– (cutoff, since Nagi withdrew the condition for adding Yuki wouldn’t exist in this scenareo)

11. Chisami
12. Yuki
13. Naapon

14. Risa

Obviously “parallel universe #1″ GEM is infinitely the best GEM because 13 members would have been chosen (umm… I thought earlier you wrote the group may have been designed for 12 members *confused*). The point is that there may have existed a plan for more than 10 members (whether it was 12 or 13).  The weird thing about “parallel universe #2″ GEM is Chisami wouldn’t have been included. Based on member solos (or lack-thereof), Chisami is currently ranked 3rd in the group (slightly ahead of Jurin). If you watch or listen to their songs, only Maya and Rana get more solo lines. Those kind of decisions aren’t random and they reveal member hierarchy.

Returning to reality, it’s completely unfair that a talent like Rihona isn’t in GEM. She’s like one of those unlucky gymnast or figure skater prodigies who were a few months too young to qualify for the olympics, but had they been eligible would have been a favorite. And by the time the Olympics came around again, at that point they had unfortunately already moved on. Her graduating without joining a group makes Risa joining SUPER☆GiRLS a million times more annoying. The iDOL Street producers really effed up by allowing an asset like her to slip through their fingers. It reminds me of the failed PASSPO audtion and Misa not joining the group. These were potential miracle members who were denied the chance to improve the trajectories of their respective groups. 

Most significantly it prevented GEM from having the first perfect lineup ever.img20131104idolstreet85

Tokyo Idol Festival 2014

26 Aug

Tokyo Idol Festival 2014
August 2 – August 3, 2014
tif-2014-banner-v6 v3

Tokyo Idol Festival is a magical place where idol dreams are born…

idolbannerX4frolic happily for two days…

tif2013asX6… and then suddenly die.

Having gone to three TIFs, I’ve developed a weird love/hate relationship with the event. I love the festival atmosphere, the freedom to either camp out at stages to see your favorite group or wander around aimlessly in order to experiment with new groups, and the relative peacefulness of those in attendance. I hate the incompetent organizers who have proven themselves year after year of being incapable of correcting their past mistakes. The TIF format should have been perfected years ago, yet every year for every improvement there are one or two, or ten new flaws.

When I get a chance I’ll write a few things about this years event: the good, the bad, and the ridiculous. In the meantime here is a list of the groups I saw:

Day 1
(Smile Garden)

READY TO KISS (Navi Stage)
The Hoopers (Enjoy Stadium)
Nice Girl Trainees (Enjoy Stadium)
VS Girls (Enjoy Stadium)
Barbee (Enjoy Stadium)
Houkago Princess (Enjoy Stadium)
The Possible (Enjoy Stadium)
WHY@DOLL (Enjoy Stadium)
La Pom Pon (Enjoy Stadium) Best.Group.Ever. (kidding)
Narumi Takiguchi with Control-S (Enjoy Stadium)
AniYume Project (Doll Factory) Worst. Group. Ever. (not kidding) I still have nightmares.
Houkago Princess (Doll Factory)
Caramel Ribbon (Doll Factory)
Dancing Dolls (Doll Factory)
SIR (Doll Factory)
Sunmyu (Smile Garden)
Doll Elements  (Smile Garden) My new favorite group.
Street-sei (e-Street & w-Street senbatsu)  (Smile Garden)
G-Girls (Hot Stage)
predia (Hot Stage)
Yufu Terashima (Doll Factory)
Faint Star (Doll Factory)
Links (Doll Factory)
Mai Kotone (Doll Factory)
Vanilla Beans (Doll Factory)
predia (Doll Factory)

Day 2
Shizukaze & Kizuna (Hot Stage)
Doll Elements (Hot Stage)
(Hot Stage)
(Enjoy Stadium)
Idol College
(Enjoy Stadium)
(Enjoy Stadium)
Sakura Gakuin
(Hot Stage)
(Festival Stage)
Alice in Alice
(Festival Stage)
SO.ON Project 
(Festival Stage)
Lil Chill 
(Festival Stage) Correction, this is the worst group ever!

S Spicy (Festival Stage)
 (Festival Stage)
(Festival Stage)
Caramel Ribbon 
(Festival Stage)
(Festival Stage)
(Festival Stage)
(Festival Stage)
(Smile Garden)

Update 8.30
TIF 2014
The Good
My editor keeps waking me up in the middle of the night to remind me to finish this recap. I’m like, “Grandpa, don’t worry! I have a trillion ideas!” and then I fall back asleep for another 10 hours.

So, the “good” aspects of TIF? Hmm, this should be a short section. I actually feel really bad for being so negative considering this years TIF could be a lot of people’s first experience. And for those who may have gone to TIF 2011 or 2012 (aka the golden years), but skipped last year, they would probably think, “What the f-junk happened to TIF?!” I’m literally searching my memory banks trying to recall what was good about TIF *My brain is like: <processing… beep BEEP BLEBOP… system error… shutting down>.

I guess the best part of TIF is there actually was a TIF this year. After every TIF there is speculation whether there will be another. Therefore, it’s exciting when the next iteration of the festival is announced. The bi-weekly lineup updates and the eventual planning of the “perfect” timetable can also be very fun (although also massive time wasters). Those are extraneous to the actual event though, and not everyone has the personality type that would find the planning aspect to be particularly fun. Still, a mediocre TIF is better than no TIF.

And seeing GEM and predia never gets old.
tsg tifI’m also arrogantly declaring Sara the most badass idol ever (… she’s the girl in the center pointing.)
For once I’m actually being serious. She has an extremely cool aura that no other idol has… as long as she isn’t talking. Once she starts rambling her coolness drops like a billion percent. But everyone knows I’m still a huge Sarararararaaanaaan fan.
TIF main stageFor my hard work at getting to TIF an hour before day 2 began I got a 3rd row seat at the Hot Stage in order to see GEM! (“Hard work”? “3rd row?!” You were supposed to get there 90 minutes early for front row!!) 

The Bad
1. No SUPER☆GiRLS! No Morning Musume ’18! No SweetS! No SDN48 revival! No Hinoi Team or DREAM! This lineup sucks.
Evaluating the lineup is obviously extremely subjective. But I’m going to do it anyway MUHAHAHA!

The idol scene is insular and dominated by fanboys and fangirls. Considering there are 200+ J-pop groups and most fans probably like less than ten groups (with some not even necessarily being “idol” groups like Perfume or Fairies), pleasing everyone is an impossibility. However, I do think there are certain decisions (that are separate from the actual groups attending), which can be objectively critiqued, with the most significant being the number of groups attending. Not counting TIF 2010 (which was completely different than the current TIF format), the event has gone from 57 groups in 2011 to 138 this year. Although the number of groups has more than doubled, they haven’t made reciprocal changes to the length of the event, the size of the stages, or the number of stages. On paper it sounds better to have as many groups as possible, but in reality, it’s more complicated, since any increase in the number of groups has a corresponding decrease in the length of their performance and the number of stages they can perform. Most of the performances are ~15 minutes, which is enough for maybe three songs. That goes by really fast, and even if that group has two or three stages, they tend to repeat the same songs at every stage. Considering how many questionable and downright horrible groups were included this year, it makes it even more annoying that the reason for these super-short stages is because the organizers prioritized 138 groups attending, over a more reasonable number. I bet if the number of groups was cut in half, the quality of the event would improve significantly, because it wouldn’t be constantly diluted with mediocre groups killing the buzz created by the talented groups.  

2. Attendance has quadrupled since 2011 *pulls out a calculator* So logically there should be more than 20 stages. TIF stop being lazy!
TIF Attendance   Number of Stages
2011: 10,000         6
2012: 21,500         8- 9 (8 on Day 1, 9 on Day 2)

2013: 33,000        6
2014: 41,000         7

Imagine you live in an awesome cave, just big enough for you and a box filled with your idol treasures (GEM cds, La Pom Pon posters, Mano Erina body pillows, etc). A year later you decide to expand and excavate an extra room (it could be like your studio or home office). Unfortunately, after you spend months digging the extra room, before you even have a chance to set up your new home office, a crazy hobo moves in. Unfortunately the hobo is pretty strong and resists all of your feeble attempts at persuading him to leave. And all of your attempts at killing him in his sleep also fail. Ultimately, it’s not a big deal because there’s enough room for both of you in the cave. But then a year later a third person moves in! And because of a rainstorm, half of the second room got destroyed. So now three complete strangers are sharing a cave with just 1.5 rooms. A year later the original second room is accidentally demolished and a newer, inferior room is excavated in its place. Compared to the original extra room it’s smaller, uglier, and it’s also haunted. Every now and then you reminisce about how cool it was when it was just you in the cave with your box of idol treasures. And then after you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, a fourth person moves in. This person is even crazier and more annoying than the previous two. So now four people are living in a cave that was originally just big enough for one person. After four years you start to wonder… do I really want to live here for a fifth year?
I think you’ll agree that was a perfect analogy with what is going on with TIF.
navi stageThis is how the stages should look. Notice there aren’t a million people climbing all over each other – half of whom don’t even have TIF tickets! I wish I had a before and after photo of this stage. At one point it was so packed that you couldn’t even get to the stage. It was so packed you couldn’t even walk down the stairs to get to the stage. It was so packed you couldn’t even walk across the bridge to get to the stairs to get to the stage. This stage killed half of my day 1 schedule. That was my last chance to see Ai Shinozaki! *cries*

3. iDOL Street weirdness

If you aren’t an iDOL Street fan you can skip this section. Last year was an i-Street paradise: SUPER☆GiRLS performed twice, and Cheeky Parade, GEM, and Street-sei performed multiple times both days. The Sky Stage performance by Street-sei was easily one of my highlights of TIF 2013. This year SUPER☆GiRLS iDOL and Cheeky Parade didn’t attend, and GEM was only at day 2. Their producer blogged about how he wanted the groups to appear at more varied and diverse events, so pulling out of TIF was a deliberate decision. It’s somewhat understandable, but that logic would have made a lot more sense last year when SUPER☆GiRLS were still hot. This year has been rough for the group, and I think they could have generated some momentum at TIF, while also showcasing the new members to a broader audience. The most annoying decision though was setting up an Street-sei “senbatsu.” I’m putting it in quotes because there isn’t a “senbatsu” in Street-sei. Street-sei is Rihona, Haachin, and ten or so borderlines like Saku and Ruka. Street-sei doesn’t get a lot of opportunities to perform, so denying them the chance to perform at TIF was horribly unfair to them and the fans. The actual “senbatsu” lineup is beyond absurd, and even the most hardcore Street-sei fan should be able to admit the lineup is lacking in every single idol category from talent, personality, looks, and chemistry. I’m convinced the main reason the group exists is to (1) hype Sutorigu 3 (particularly if you are a fan of a member not selected), and (2) more importantly, cut costs, because getting all six teams to events like TIF and @JAM EXPO costs a lot more than just sending a random group of 11. The “senbatsu” roster is simply not viable as a 4th iDOL Street group and it’s insulting they think fans would consider them legitimate candidates for the 4th group.

4. The timetable I spent hundreds of hours perfecting looks nothing like the timetable I actually experienced!!
And I blame global warming. And the TIF organizers. Odaiba is always hot in the summer. Even blind brain surgeons know that. And when it’s not hot, it’s probably because there’s a tsunami causing even worse problems. Yet the organizers made five out of the seven stages outdoors. And not only were they outdoors, the stages weren’t even that close to each other, making it a hassle to get from one stage to another. On day 1 I basically just hung out in the two stages with air conditioning, regardless of who was performing. Why else would I have seen Nice Girls Trainees? VS Girls? AniYume Project? La Pom Pon?? Oh wait, I like them.

Maybe they can plan the next TIF to coincide with a 48 hour solar eclipse.

The ridiculous
Odaiba is a unique area that has two mid-size concert venues within a five-minute walk of each other. In 2012 Zepp Diver City was used as the main stage (capacity 2400) and in 2013 Zepp Tokyo was used (capacity 2700). Using either works well for the main stage, but utilizing both would solve practically every negative issue regarding TIF. This year they used neither venue, instead they used the ODAIBA NEW WORLD stage, which is a an outdoor stage that is used for the Mezamashi Live concert series. The venue is outdoors, although the stage and primary seating area are covered. The stage works relatively well for Mezamashi Live because it’s a 45-60 minute concert and they cap the ticket sales. The stage worked horribly for TIF though. It was way too crowded, way to difficult to navigate (there was a labyrinth of barriers set up making it difficult to get into the seating area and because it was so crowded if you took the wrong route you were screwed), there were benches limiting the number of people, there were too many areas accessible by non-ticket holders, and it was too small. Most importantly, it was way too hot to use an outdoor stage as the main stage. So why did they use the NEW WORLD stage? I bet it saved them money. Instead of spending money booking Zepp for two days, they could just put Mezamashi Live on a 2-day hiatus, and use a stage they own, regardless of the fact that it is completely unsuitable for the TIF format of rotating groups and fans rushing from one stage to another. The stage was also more remote than either Zepp venue. Using the stage was ridiculous, and I can’t even imagine what would have happened had it rained that weekend.

While TIF organizers can’t control the weather, they can at least partially control the fan’s exposure to the heat. Outdoor stages and a complete lack of any shade reflect how out of touch and oblivious they are to the fan experience. Fans were basically treated like animals. Especially at the Greeting Square. Do they really think it’s acceptable for fans to wait in the blazing sun for an hour for a 1-minute handshake event? Personally if I am going to talk to my favorite groups, I’d rather not be sunburned and dripping in sweat. And I’d rather the idols not be dripping in sweat either. Actually, nevermind that sounds hot!

I ranted about this before elsewhere, so I don’t want to devote anymore time to this, but they made the foreign fans who purchased their TIF tickets direct, to wait an extra two hours before they could exchange their wristband. The delay was because evidently they felt they needed to cross-check the names of the foreign fans attending TIF with the Japan Self-defense Force, INTERPOL, Scotland Yard, KGB, and FBI. It was ridiculous and they didn’t even apologize for the delay, which was the result of these two senior citizen TIF staff members taking forever to arrive. Once they arrived they took out giant ledger books with all the names of the foreign fans, and only after checking a person’s name off the master list and inspecting their passport, were they given a wristband. What is this, 1876?

Tokyo Idol Festival 2015
I have no idea if there will be a TIF next year, or whether I would even go. My brain is like, “Every year TIF get’s 18.7% worse. Just go to @JAM EXPO 2015,” but my heart is like, “Remember how awesome La Pom Pon was?” And then my brain is like “Touche. But you can just catch La Pom Pon at @JAM EXPO” and my heart is like, “You think they would allow LPP within 2,000 meters of @JAM EXPO??”

In conclusion, I’ll go on one condition: the sun isn’t allowed to attend.
nerd sun v3

(For the record I have no idea whether there will be an @JAM EXPO next year, and based on the footage I’ve seen, the stages were way jankier than I thought they would be. But they were all indoors, therefore @JE wins by default.)

Update 9.1
Somehow this recap didn’t really recap anything (I didn’t even make fun of the horrible groups like LIL CHILL – how nice of me).

I should at least mention that after three years of being one of my favorite idols ever I finally saw Sakino Chiba (previously a member of Houkago Princess, now the center of READY TO KISS). I also never went to Sky Stage, which is kind of like going to Disneyland and not going on Space Mountain. I sacrificed 3 hours of TIF (and my life) in order to get front row for GEM and predia at Festival Stage (the stage near the Gundam statue). They used this stage at TIF 2012, but they made it much worse this year by pushing the stage further back into the actual staircase. It’s a little hard to explain, but previously the stage was set up at the base of the stairs, allowing people to relax on the stairs behind the group as they performed (google Shizukaze & Kizuna TIF for interesting video of the stage). This year the stairs were actually used as the stage, placing the groups 3 or 4 meters further back and preventing fans from sitting there. Just another fan-unfriendly decision at this year’s TIF. Since I was in the front row, I could see off stage where the groups scheduled next were waiting. While Sunmyu was performing, I was watching the GEM members (GEMbers) prepping off stage (they were scheduled next). Kakochin, Maho, and Chanman were acting like huge dorks the entire time, it was awesome. I saw Doll Elements twice and they are now my new favorite group. I’m not kidding, they are awesome and dare I say “magical.” One of the last memories of TIF was after PASSPO’s last performance at Smile Garden. The way the stage is set up, after group’s perform, they walk down a path to one of the Fuji TV buildings. When Makochan walked past me, she looked straight at me from less than a meter away. It felt like she looked straight into my soul.

And I think she put a curse on me.

Predia Party @ Mt. Rainier Hall

24 Aug

ppmrhPredia Party #37
Mt. Rainer Hall, Tokyo
August 10, 2014

I feel lazy for reusing the above banner since it doesn’t match the current lineup, but in my defense there aren’t any high resolution photos of them online. (Which reminds me, why are low res photos still the standard for J-pop groups? What is this, 1876?)
IMG_3496I actually don’t know if this was their 37th “party”–which is what they call their solo concerts, but it’s the fourth one I’ve attended. There were a few notable differences between this concert and the one I went to last March: (1) this was their first as a major label group, (2) there were three changes in the lineup, and (3) they ended the dual vocalist format, which was one of their defining features.

Since their formation, Predia has been one of the most overlooked pop groups of all time, not just by idol fans in general, but even by their own agency. The group has been ready to debut since 2012 and that two year delay felt like an eternity. Two years for an idol is like 50 in walrus years! It’s been frustrating for fans; I can’t imagine the frustration the members have felt. Even when the group was formed back in 2011 they weren’t “young,” at least not by idol standards. Most of the members are now in their mid to late 20s, a crossroads age requiring them to decide between continuing their roles in the group, or focus on longer-term careers, family, or whatever women in their mid to late 20s think about. While Japan is much more age obsessed than Western countries, it’s still hard to believe that age alone could make them that unappealing to a record label. Whatever the reasons were, their long wait made the lineup changes really bittersweet. When predia announced their major label debut in February, they also revealed that Terumi and Megumi were graduating. Both were original members and integral to the group. The timing of the announcement was surreal. The silver lining is the new girl, Yuu Maeda, has become predia’s miracle member. Ya-hoi!

The third change involved the group’s dual vocal format. Akane and Rumina had been the primary vocalists, while the other members rotated as back-up singers. It’s not a perfect comparison, but if you are familiar with the EXILE spinoff group Generations, you’ll understand predia’s dual vocal system. The rules relaxed over the years and other members began singing more, and a few, like Runa and Sakurako, even got solos. When the group announced their major debut, they also retired the dual vocal format. Now all members have mics — and they aren’t the fake prop mics that some of the PASSPO members have (<- inside joke about PASSPO). Akane and Rumina are still the primary vocalists, but the change has resulted in the entire group leveling up. They’re all like level 100 Pikachus now! (and I don’t even know what that means!)

That night I got to Mt. Rainier Hall at 17:50, which was 10 minutes before they would open the theater for fans to choose their seats. The venue is located next door to Shibuya 109. 
IMG_3510In addition to their major debut, the concert was also celebrating Sakurako’s birthday *golf clap*.
IMG_3495I mentioned previously that I had ticket B4, which typically would be a 2nd row ticket when going by the seating chart. Fan club members are able to purchase tickets in advance though and they have priority over general ticket holders. At last year’s concert there were ~60 fan club members, which resulted in me getting a 6th row seat. For this concert there were over 120 fan club members in attendance. And the staff guy was clearly trying to be the most annoying person ever because it seemed like he would never finish calling out fanclub ticket numbers and get to the general ticket numbers. A million years later my ticket was called, I paid the 500 yen cover and *accidentally* caused a huge queue to form because I was being weird and paid entirely in 10 yen coins. It was like I was trying to be the most annoying person ever. Umrhpon entering two guys were handing out Sakurako uchiwas and pink glowsticks. The theater was packed and I chose a seat close to the aisle in row 11. The concert was sold out and actually oversold because they opened up a standing section behind my row. This is where the fans who like to jump around like animals congregate.

I went to the bar to get a drink and while in line I heard music start and someone mentioned 3 Min was opening. Akira shock. Predia’s blog and twitter hadn’t mentioned an opening act, although it turned out 3 Min (pronounced “San Minute” or “San Min”) tweeted about it that morning. Initially I hesitated returning to my seat, because I really needed a drink and I wasn’t enamored with the thought of seeing 3 min. Earlier this year I stayed up until 3AM in order to watch one of their concert streams and I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like their concept, outfits, or music, so I intentionally avoided them at TIF. And there was something about one of the members that just bothered me. She was… how do I put this nicely, “beastlike.” Turned out the member I didn’t like graduated a few months ago. And the girl who took her place is super fine. That’s addition by subtraction and addition by addition! 

I made the correct decision to skip the drink and skedaddle back to my seat, because I was completely wrong about the group. Or maybe I was right, and they just got a lot better in the past six months. They were really, really, reeeeallly… kinda… really, really… pretty good. Now I regret not making time for them at TIF. They sound like a cross between Perfume and nanoCUNE and they look like a cross between HimeKyun and Babyraids. Sounding like Perfume/nanoCUNE is fine, but looking like a generic version of other groups probably isn’t. It’s weird when an idol group is dressed worse than the girl fans attending their concert. They performed three songs, with each being ~3 minutes long (which is their gimmick). Afterward, they announced their first one-man and are hoping 333 fans attend. Fan #334 is like, “Fine, I’ll just stay home and play Mario Kart with my grandma!”
Bur6YGiCMAA6eOHThen the lights went out and predia’s intro music began *boop BEEP BLEBOP* Each member took the stage one at a time and did a little dance. (OMG, I can’t believe they are ripping off La Pom Pon!) They then proceeded to perform all of their awesome songs (Kowareta Ai no Hate ni, you slipped away, HEY BOY, Hey Now!, DIAMOND HIGH HEELS, Dream of Love, Kimi Mitai ni, and Dia Love), their good-to-very good songs (Silky Rain, Mid9t Luv, Re:Start Game, Crazy Cat, and Boukyaku no Cinderella), and then their “other songs” — the mediocre ones like image and Sunburned Heart that haunt me because they somehow got into their normal rotation. The setlist was actually really good, borderline perfect, because even though predia has accumulated quite a few filler songs over the years, they performed very few of them. The b-side to their newest single, Boukyaku no Cinderella, is one of those songs that is borderline when listening to the recorded version, but is really elevated when performed live.

One of the unique elements of a predia concert is the ability to take photos and video throughout. I took one obligatory photo (crappy iphone pic below) and then just enjoyed the concert. A lot of fans take non-stop photos and video the entire concert, and I wonder how they can enjoy the concert that way. I also wonder how the group feels about that kind of behavior. Predia has allowed photography since their first one-man, but it’s probably still a little distracting when fans have these giant professional grade cameras taking photos of them the entire concert. And I bet from the member’s perspectives they look super pervy while doing it. They’re like, “Is that guy going to watch the concert or just take photos of my boobs all day?” And while they are contemplating that question, their boobs have been photographed another hundred times.
IMG_3494Looking at my photo I didn’t even remember them wearing their purple dresses, but evidently early in the concert they had a costume change into the hotter, less purple-ly, and all around superior Kowareta Ai no Hate ni outfits.
BvCBDF0CQAAN3XxDid I mention hotter? And less purple-ly? (Well, there’s some purple there). Yeah, but there’s a lot less of it. And it’s hotter.
BvoDHh9CcAEFKnmSo thank you Kowareta Ai no Hate ni costume designer guy!
14-8-16 RAfter a few songs the guy sitting next to me who had the aisle let me take his seat, because he wanted to go the back of the theater… in order to set up a tripod with his camera! Weird, but some fans take the oppertunity to photograph the group seriously. So just like the Fairies concert the day before, I was able to slip into the aisle for unobstructed viewing. Another reason I don’t take photos is because the group collects photos at #prediaphoto and the quality is infinitely better than what I could manage.

This photo of Reiko isn’t even from the concert! It’s from a show they did a few nights earlier, but it’s super long kaaawwaiiiiii, so I allowed myself to include it… but just this once.
BtJsQXXCEAI2LZEDuring one of the MCs, Sakurako started groping Yuttan in a reenactment of an erotic scene that was cut from the Kowareta Ai no Hate ni music video. It’s hilarious how Sakurako always makes fun of Yuttan’s weight, physique, personality, and age. That’s love.
Bu9A19SCYAAFzWqRe:start Game was the final song and fans took out their Sakurako uchiwas and pink glowsticks, and proceeded to wave them in the air like they just don’t something something. At one point Sakurako hilariously took one of the uchiwas from a fan in the front row and inspected it, but held it away from her face like she was holding a rabid animal covered in radioactive slime, before casually tossing it back to the guy, as if saying, “Peasant, I grow tired of this!” She has such a weird, aloof personality that is half cool, half ice-cold. She’s just lucky she is hot. Btw, if anyone in Japan happens to see the uchiwa I left under my seat, please mail it to America asap, kthxbye.

Bvamm3oCEAAfXnhI actually got sick the day before the Fairies concert. Evidently I had a fever and the only prescription was more Yuu.
Bvn_Qc7CYAAQZdHDouble (w) oshimen.
BvFv7A1CAAEUV_sSet List
Opening Act: 3 Min
1. Mystery Angel
2. Panarama World
3. Make a Fire

1. Kowareta Ai no Hate ni
2. Going to Ride (extended version)
3. you slipped away
5. Free
6. Mid9t Luv
7. image
8. Sunburned Heart
9. Silky Rain (extended version)
10. Negai
11. Hey Now!!
12. Cherry Love
13. Crazy Cat
14. DIAMOND HIGH HEELS (extended version)
15. Dream Of Love
16. Boukyaku no Cinderella
17. Re:start Game
18. Kimi Mitai ni
MC (announcement of 4th anniversary concert)
19. Dia Love
Double Encore
20. Kowareta Ai no Hate ni

Looking at the setlist, there was a song called Negai (“Wish”) that I don’t remember hearing, and I actually never knew existed. I did some research and it was a new song that was included in their “Best of” album. Unfortunately, the album is too expensive to purchase for just one song, and it isn’t available on the Japanese iTunes store, nor has it been uploaded to youtube. I would have been fine with a 30 second sample from Amazon or CDJapan, since I just wanted to recall the song. The only option now is to go back in time… or hope for them to perform the song during their weekly concert stream from Akiba Cultures Theater, but I think that series of concerts is coming to a close.

After the concert I purchased two copies of Kowareta Ai no Hate ni and received three tickets to their event.
IMG_3527I gave all three to the guy sitting next to me during the concert because he was cool for giving me his seat and I no longer have the patience to participate in these events (there is a lot of waiting involved).
pptThey had an individual handshake, 2-shot, and group shot. I think you had to buy the limited edition box set of all three versions of the single to take a photo with the entire group.

Predia’s reign of terror has begun

kanhnowI was hoping they would sell more than 25k, considering how great the single is and the amount of promotion their label gave them, but anything over 2ok would have been acceptable. Selling less than 20k would have been disastrous though, so I’m relieved the fanbase didn’t embarrass them. I probably should have purchased more than just two copies, but considering I returned to Los Angeles with just 40 yen, I had pretty much withdrawn the precise amount of money for my trip.

Kowareta Ai no Hate ni reminds me a lot of Dream of Love, which is my favorite predia song, and possibly my most listened to idol song ever (Pretty Lie by PASSPO is either #1 or #2). I checked the credits for the single and Another Infinity wrote the music. This name may be familiar to long-time fans because he/she/it wrote the music to the group’s first four songs (Dia Love, DIAMOND HIGH HEELS, Dream of Love, and Kimi mitai ni, as well as you slipped away) which are all the best predia songs. Their other early music was written by Bamboo Helicopter, who was responsible for most of PASSPO’s early music.

Random GEM connection
There were GEM flyers in the lobby and obviously I took one or two, or ten. I noticed a few other fans taking them as well. Maybe they saw GEM perform at TIF, since they performed immediately before predia at one of the stages.

It would be fitting if there is fan crossover. After all, predia and GEM are the two best jewel themed groups ever!IMG_3584v2