I paid a lot more attention to individual girls in the 48s than I have past, and this was a really great year for all of them, in spite of the mass-graduation-a-palooza going on. I also paid less attention to AKB than I did to its sister groups (especially NMB, who was arguably the standout this year). I think this year marked a turning point for all of them, and there were some girls who stood head and shoulders above the rest for me.
Top 5 48 idols
5 (tie). Nakaya Sayaka
I barely knew this girl existed before this year. A third generation and original Team B member of AKB48, Nakayan has been around a while, but with limited presence. It wasn't her performance skills, or even her entertaining antics on variety shows, that made me notice her--like many, it was her book, "Hisenbatsu Idol." Whether the book was an honest telling of the experience of non-frontgirls, or whether it was a desperate grab for attention doesn't really matter to me. It was really brave of her to be so frank about an experience that many girls in the idol world can relate to, especially in a culture where people are expected to keep quiet about their true feelings. I gained a huge amount of respect for this girl, and I was really excited when she placed so high in the senbatsu election this year.
5 (tie). Yamamoto Sayaka
Sayanee is an old soul. At only 19, she is taking care of an entire group with a kind of care and skill that rivals Takahashi Minami's. NMB48 has been through many graduations this year, including a team ace, and Sayanee has weathered it all with grace and resolve to do better by the next generation. This is a lot for one person, let alone one 19-year-old, to shoulder. And no matter what the numbers say, I will always hold the opinion that she won the photobook battle, dammit! Though I really want to pay attention to the other girls in NMB, Sayanee is my oshi in that group by a long shot.
4. Matsui Jurina
I discovered SKE48 before AKB, yet somehow I'd never really paid much attention to its perennial frontgirl until recently. Even before UZA came out in all its steampunkish awesomeness, she was a standout dancer and actress in all of SKE's PVs. I can't really speak to her singing skills, but that doesn't matter too terribly much anyway. The fact that she's only 15 and can perform with such raw power (and has been able to for quite a while) is incredible.
3. Iwasa Misaki
What a gem this girl is. I'd seen many 48 bloggers rave about this girl in the past, but thanks to my limited attention span with the 48s, it took her debut single coming out for me to really notice her. I know enka is marketed to a fairly limited audience, and that was definitely part of the reason her debut started out low on the charts, but she stayed in the top 30 for a few weeks, and that's impressive for anyone. I'm very excited for her next single, and I hope her post-48 career (when it comes) is as amazing as her debut.
2. Shinoda Mariko
Mariko-sama truly earned her nickname this year. That speech, you guys...that speech. Mariko basically took all those whispers about being past the expiration date for female idols and told them to suck it. She's not going to retire without making her kouhai work for the ranking she has earned. Massive respect knuckles. Beyond that, she was a treat to watch in all her performances (and was arguably the only thing that made Eien Pressure's PV bearable to watch). Tip of the hat to you, Mariko-sama!
1. Sashihara Rino
This year has been hell for Sasshi, but it has also brought her a lot of glory. When the news of the stupid non-issue scandal broke, I was heartbroken for her. Sasshi has been one of my favorite idols for quite a while now, and to see her career ruined by some malicious bastard just made my blood boil. Her (non) case proved beyond a shadow of a doubt to me that female idols have absolutely no agency over their careers. None whatsoever.
But Sasshi kept doing her thing anyway, despite calls from anti-fans for her to be suspended or fired, or at least hide away in the time-out corner and think about how she done goofed. Her idol festival was a fantastic success, and both of her singles still did very well, all things considered. It was obvious just by looking at her that the scandal affected her on a deep level. Her HKT photo has no hint of the brilliant smile her past photos had. She's not going to talk about this for a long time, if ever, but it's still going to show.
I'm hoping she still can do great things in the senbatsu elections next year, but even if she doesn't, I will support her. She's a great girl with lots of ambition, and she deserves the rank she got this year.