So without further ado, here are the major winners (and some losers) of 2012!
Best major debut: BiS
In spite of losing one member, then gaining one, then losing one, then gaining two, this group hasn't lost a shred of staying power. BiS is an incredibly refreshing group for a number of reasons, one of which being that I don't feel like my taste in music is utter crap when their songs come on. Not only does BiS have a truly unorthodox and fun image, but their music is actually pretty decent, and not just by idol standards. Their upcoming collaboration with Dorothy Little Happy, which I'm super stoked about, is more "idoly" than previous releases, but it's still very listenable in the long term.
And OMG, you guys, I need more Yufu in my life.
Runner-up: Cheeky Parade
Most Shocking Graduations:
Mitsumune Kaoru: AKB48
I was looking forward to seeing Kaoru on stage with Team K a lot. I really liked her--whether it was because she was hugely pushed or not, she really seemed like she had a lot of good things ahead for her in the 48s. So when she withdrew with not a lot of explanation, I was pretty bummed. I hope her career as a model still kicks ass, though.
Kuumin was the first girl in SKE48 whose name I learned, and the first one I noticed way back in 'Aozora Kataomoi.' I'm still kind of baffled as to why she's leaving--she's quite popular and a great performer (like most everyone in SKE48). These days, I can't help but roll my eyes when an idol graduates to "focus on their studies," but for some it's true, so I'm going to try to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Most exciting idol group: Sakura Gakuin
Sakura Gakuin is chock-full of great young vocalists (dat Suzuka, yo), good songs, and really creative sub-units. As much as I love BABYMETAL, new "science club" unit Kagaku Kyumei Kiko Logica is probably the best sub-unit thing to happen to any idol group ever. Science Girl▽Silence Boy has a great alt-rock sound to it--definitely a must-have single for idol lovers. I am waiting with bated breath for the other units to release something as well. In short, Sakura Gakuin is no longer just one of those quiet groups we can forget about.
Most forgettable group: Buono!
It's sad when an awesome group dies. It's even sadder when we realize how long we've been in denial about it. If Buono! is still active after this year, I will be surprised. Their mini-album, "Sherbet," was nothing to write home about, and their most recent single release didn't even get its own disc. This group was amazing, and it would be awesome if they could stay active, but as of now they are nothing special, and they're being run into the ground by UFA.
Trainwreck full of rubber clowns who forgot to take their Adderall award: dempagumi.inc
Just call them the Beastie Girls. Though most hipster 90s kids I know would twitch in horror upon hearing dempagumi.inc's cover of "Sabotage," I found it delightfully, hilariously, tantalizingly bad. It was so bad it was amazing. And let's be honest here: they stayed true to the Beastie Boys' style. I had a friend once who took the vocal part on a Beastie Boys song on Rockband, and he got 100% despite not being a super rhythm-smashing gangsta boy. The secret? He rubbed the mic on his pants the whole time.
Every live performance I watched of theirs left me in stitches. These girls are absolutely hilarious. Sometimes I wonder why they don't just shed the idol label and start touring as a comedy group.
The "clutch my pearls" award: Nogizaka46
Panties and legs and concern for the children, OH MY! Since apparently being a "rival" of AKB48 means that Nogizaka46's image is pretty hip with the euchre-and-hotdish-on-Fridays crowd, the risqueNOT, shorts-baring choreography in "Oide Shampoo" caused much ado about, well, nothing. Akimoto Yasushi stated (with a Grumpy Cat-esque frown, I'm sure) that the production team took too many liberties with the single's image, and that it didn't fit the group's concept.
What I'm really confused about is what Nogizaka's concept is in the first place. It seemed like they were starting out as a pretty retro group, but then "Seifuku no Mannequin" came out--a good, but decidedly NOT retro single. I don't know...fuqitol.
AKB48 sub-unit I will miss most: Watarirouka Hashritai 7
After all the shuffling and scandals this year, it's pretty clear that the only sub-unit it AKB48 left standing is no3b. But Watarirouka Hashritai 7 had been putting out some really great stuff in the past year and a half or so. As someone who is much less inclined to like sugary releases, I was surprised when I started really liking WH7. Their singles were definitely typical idol fare, but there was something about them that I loved. And now that they probably won't be active anymore, I'm kinda bummed.
Goober McLazyBalls Award: Kasai Tomomi
Because leaving a show (or anything, for that matter) that you're contracted for with no warning, no reason and no cause is incredibly unprofessional. It kinda makes me wonder what other lazy little dishonest habits she has. I lost all respect for her after that incident because that reminds me of myself in my younger, dumber days. I'm glad she's graduating next year. I would much rather see someone like Umeda Ayaka take her place in senbatsu.
Most intriguing frontgirl: Shinozaki Ai (AeLL)
(I TRIED SO HARD TO FIND A LESS BOOBULAR PIC, HONEST!!)
Shinozaki Ai is known primarily for two things, as pictured above OH WUT. But the leader of AeLL has a pretty incredible set of pipes and some bitchin' stage presence as well. I hate it when people say "oh, she's becoming a legitimate idol! Yay!" Seriously, what does that even mean?! There's not much of a difference in what a lot of gravure idols do and the photobooks of, say, most 48 members. In any case, Shinozaki has buttloads more talent than a lot of other idols out there, and I hope she and AeLL get more publicity next year so people know it.
Best Soloist: Ono Erena
I've gone into detail before as to why I think Ono is great. I can't think of any soloist more deserving than she.
Best 48 Soloist: Watanabe Mayu
I'm not personally a huge Mayuyu fan, nor are her first two singles really to my taste. But if Mayu does one thing incredibly well, it's staying in character--and that's what made her releases worth noticing. She may not be the best singer, but her songs fit her well, and her screen presence is immense.
Runner-up: Iwasa Misaki
Top 3 Photobook releases
Maeda Atsuko "Bukiyou"
Yajima Maimi "Hatachi"
Maimi's 6th PB commemorates her coming of age this year. It has a lot more variety than her past photobooks, and features some great local yukata shots.
Shinoda Mariko "Yes and No"
It's safe to say that if Mariko releases anything photobook related, it's going to be gold.
Tanaka Reina "Kira Kira"
Tokunaga Chinami "Metamorphose"
Matsui Rena "Kingyo"
Least discussed, yet most awesome, single of 2012: PASSPO: Natsuzora HANABI
Ya know, I saw a lot of rave reviews for WING and Next Flight, but I didn't see a lot of buzz for Natsuzora HANABI? Well, why the hell not, guys? As part of PASSPO's "world rock" series, Natsuzora HANABI took on the Japanese punk angle. And naturally, it did so very well. I actually think this single is stronger than Next Flight. The melody is great, and it really shows off PASSPO's vocal talent, especially that of Shiori, mah oshi :P This was a really great single, but I don't think it was promoted as well as its counterparts.
Top 3 idol albums
BiS: IDOL IS DEAD
Our resident paradigm-subverters' major debut was a bunch of genre-bending fun. Featuring everything from headbanger techno to shoegazer to some calmer sounds, this is a must listen for all idol fans.Favorite track: hitoribochi
Kikkawa Yuu: One for You!
One of two album installments by Kikka this year, One For YOU! solidly establishes her as a serious soloist. Even the shakier tracks on here are still worth a listen, and the quality will make you even more thankful that she's not under the Hello! Project umbrella anymore.
Favorite track: Knight Flight
Tomato n' Pine: PS4U
Sadly, this trio is disbanding soon, which sucks, because this album is my favorite idol album this year. It's a little retro-sounding, but it is still a very unique collection. I wish these guys would stick around, but I wish them all the best in the future.
Favorite track: Tameiki ha Pink
PASSPO "One World"
Mano Erina "More Friends Over"
Top 3 H!P PVs
3. Kimi wa Jitensha... C-ute
"But which version," you ask? Well, that's partly why this song gets it. There are too many versions to count, and many of them are pretty awesome quality. That, and each member got several versions ALL TO HERSELF. I posted one of my personal favorites below, because everyone needs more Nakky in their life.
2. Loving You Too Much: Berryz Kobo
Love or hate the makeup, this PV was pretty great, especially by H!P standards. Fun song, great dance, real set. Can't get much better than that in H!P.
1. Tasogare Kousaten: Mano Erina
Mano has been getting the best PVs in H!P since last year, and this one was beautifully done. She is a very talented actress, and this PV showed her at home in that habitat. Mano has a bright future, and it will be hard to see her go.
Worst H!P PV: Morning Musume: One Two Three/The Matenrou Show
Ugh, the song sounded so good, and the dance shot looked so promising. Then this piece came out. Spazzy and seizuriffic, it was enough to give the most hardened bungee jumper motion sickness. That and The Matenrou Show, which was arguably a better song, didn't really get a PV. Just a dance shot with the same set AND THE SAME COSTUMES. Some double A-side that was. Gorrammit, UFA, get your act together.
Top 3 48 PVs:
3. Kataomoi Finally--SKE48
Finally, an homage to the 48 family's darker, more topical days. It was the 48s' earlier material that got me interested in them in the first place, and I'm glad to see that Aki-P hasn't completely forgotten that.
2. Kitagawa Kenji--NMB48
Such a cute PV. I'm not entirely sure why this is so addictive, but then again, does it really matter?
>1. Gingham Check/UZA (tie)--AKB48
I figured since both of these PVs were directed by Joseph Kahn, and since both of them were pretty amazing, it wouldn't be fair to give them their own spots, or not to include them. Gingham Check was a pretty meh song, but the PV was artistic and dynamic, and ultimately helped me enjoy the song more.
As for UZA, I still can't get the image of tophat Jurina or Jack in the Box Yukirin out of my head. And I really don't want to, either. These PVs were amazing, and breathed some life into what was really a so-so year music-wise for AKB48.
Honorable Mention: Sugar Rush--AKB48
I want Yuko's glasses. Because reasons.
Worst 48 PV: Nogizaka46--Hashire! Bicycle
(Because Nogizaka will never be able to separate from the 48s no matter how hard it tries)
I wanted to say "Eien Pressure," but that would have been too easy. At least Eien Pressure doesn't remind me of the Pepto-Bismol-barf-tinted carpet I had in high school... "Hashire! Bicycle" starts out looking pretty interesting, but when all is said and done, it looks like dolls from the 70s hopping around in melted sherbet. Not easy on the eyes at all. The song is actually not bad, but the PV is awful.
走れ！Bicycle_乃木坂46(PV) by sparo-
Top 5 Idol PVs
5. Tokyo Girls' Style: Tsuioku
This calm, lilting single was actually my favorite TGS release this year. The PV is really lovely and chill. A PV doesn't have to be full of craziness to be good, after all...
4. PASSPO: WING
...but it certainly helps. Bitch, I eat people.
3. Momoiro Clover Z: Saraba, Itoshiki Kanashimi-tachi yo
Though I don't follow Momoclo too closely anymore, I would be remiss in not mentioning them in this list. Momoclo is still putting out crazy-awesome PVs, and there is just something so Lewis Carroll about this one that I could not help but notice it.
2. BiS: PPCC
Seriously, how great is this? The only thing that would make it better is if they were painted blue and wielding spears. If you get that history reference, you win the universe.
1 (tie). BABYMETAL: Headbangeeeeerrrrr!!!!!
Thank you, BABYMETAL, for bringing awareness to the plight of the mosher. Don't be stupid, be a smarty, come and join this neckbrace party.
(tie). Kagaku Kyumei Kiko Logica: Science Girl▽Silence Boy
If this doesn't melt your heart (whether with love or with H2SO4), then I don't know what will.