Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On S/mileage, skirts and legs--why Tsunku was right

I've been a S/mileage fan from the beginning.  They gave life to H!P at a time when it was more stagnant than that two-week old half-full cup of Koharu sweet tea in my car.  Watching them debut was so much fun, not just watching their hair get cut and their music evolve, but also seeing four confused and somewhat naive girls go out on the streets of Tokyo and collect pictures of smiling fans for their picture collage challenge.  The smile campaign was a really unique and fun way to get their idol career started, and it helped cement their chemistry with the fans and with each other.

And therein lies the problem.

The four original ladies of S/mileage were a perfect fit.  Too perfect.  They all had distinct personalities, but they were all such good friends from the beginning that they really couldn't help the fact that they complimented each other perfectly.  Together, they made the most peaceful, perfect quartet in the history of the idol world.  As awesome as that seems, it doesn't mesh well with long-term interest, as we are starting to see with Berryz Kobo and C-ute.

I myself am a particularly non-confrontational person (well, when I'm not on the internet), so this perfect dynamic was part of what drew me to S/mileage in the first place.  So when the second-gen auditions were announced, I wailed, gnashed and threw ashes on my head with the rest of the fans.  How could Tsunku say ANYthing was missing from this perfect group?  Didn't he know how hard the girls worked for their debut?  How could he think anyone else deserves to be part of H!P's second best-selling group?  Would I continue to be a fan if the best girls (read: (insert fan's name here)'s personal choices) weren't picked?

I decided to be patient and wait for the answers to these questions to come along.  Now, one live-streamed concert, several snippet blog entries, two fewer members and a couple episodes of Hello! Pro Time later, they've come.

Tsunku was right.  Something was missing from S/mileage.  And the new members have delivered in bringing that something in.

Before the auditions, I was a big fan of S/mileage.  But I have since realized how casual that fandom was.  When Ogawa Saki left, I was bummed out.  She was my favorite member.  Her personality, her vocal skills, her facial expressions and her underdoggitude (WORDS YEAH!) made me notice her from the beginning.  But for some reason, she never broke that elusive "favorite members in H!P" barrier.  She, like the other members, was a pleasant, sparkly afterthought that kept me very interested in her personal activities and those of S/mileage as a whole, but she and the group stayed in that weird fangirl no-man's-land, and it was partly due to how well they meshed as a group because of their friendship.

I never got to see what kind of girls they all really were.  I always thought Ayaka was cute, but a terrible leader, Kanon was cute and crazy but never stood out, and Yuuka was Airi 2.0 with more boobage and far less vocal prowess.  It was hard to believe that I'd get to see more sides of them, even with new members.  It just didn't seem possible, but again, I was wrong.

Since the sub-members have joined, la vie S/mileage has become a lot more dynamic and colorful.  Bringing the senpai-kouhai dynamic into the mix has brought out the original members' personalities and given me a lot of appreciation for who the new members are, even though one of them (two, counting Fuyuka mah luv) was not one of my picks from the auditions.

Before, Ayaka seemed a craptastic leader--not because she lacked leadership skills, per se--but because she didn't have to lead anything.  Friends lead and follow each other.  Her leadership was symbolic before--since she was the oldest, she was the one who led MCs and answered questions on TV appearances.  Then, during the auditions, she realized she had to step up and keep everyone positive.  And now, she is a hell of a leader.  She keeps smiles on the girls' faces with military-like precision and sheds no tears in times of trouble.  Ayaka has gone from being a toothy goof to a total badass.

Before, Kanon was a spaz who had lots of fun with Saki on camera and looked super-adorable with short hair.  Now, she's still a spaz, but she has shown herself to be a marketing genius.  She is a master of self-promotion, and she is determined to master the subbies (esp. Kana) and make them into TV-perfect idols.  What a hell of a senpai!

Before, Yuuka was a sweetheart and the beauty of the group, but never quite stood out personality-wise.  She had the worst attitude about the auditions, but somehow she pulled through.  Now, she is the nurturing one, and the keeper of all things kawaii in S/mileage.  The kouhai have someone to snuggle with after a sound whipping by Kanon.

(This. With more leather.)

Tsunku made the right call on having auditions, and he picked the right sub-members.  They are all fresh and fit the vibe perfectly.

Akari is a star on TV (as seen on the infamous Momo-abuse game show).  I can see her being the next Sayumi in that respect, honestly.  She has a bit of an outgoing and stubborn personality, but she's also wicked funny.  With her cute S/mileage face, she's a complete package--one that S/mileage needs.

Rina is the diamond in the rough.  She's a great singer and dancer, but she's got room to grow with her looks.  Her sweetness and never-ending smiles make up for anything she lacks.

Meimi is nothing short of everything S/mileage represents.  She's young, eager, funny and completely adorable.  She's going to be the first student to master the art of self-promotion, and she already is the first to mesh perfectly in the group.

And Kana, the fans' least favorite out of the auditions, has come to be one of my favorite members.  This girl is smart.  She knew she didn't get picked for her abilities--she said so herself, on camera, to the fans.  She knew she was picked for some other reason.  Kana is the prettiest of the new members, in my opinion, but that's far from being the whole of her charm.  Kana has a lot to learn in terms of singing and posing, but it is so much fun watching her learn.  She has an awkward, KY personality that no other auditionee had, and there was no way we could have seen it had she not made the cut.  I am glad Kana made the cut, and I'm so buying her shirt :P

Many fans are still bitching about Karin not making the cut, and to be fair, I can see why.  Karin would have been a perfect fit.  But that's exactly why Tsunku didn't choose her.  He and shadowy overdudes and dudettes at UFA made the right call.  Karin is talented as hell, cute, and friends with Kanon.  Perfect in every way. But that perfection was exactly what needed to go.  Her future is uncertain, but we now know she has one, somewhere.  That and, come on, it would have been nothing short of insulting for Karin to be a sub-member.  Seriously, now.

I like S/mileage now much more than before, all weird PVs aside.  I'm happy the auditions happened, and I hope fans can now stop whining but quick.  No pressure.

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