The good and bad, plain and simple
A K Be evil–my journey down the rabbit hole that is AKB48
I’m pretty sure you’ve already decided you know what this post is about but WAIT!! This isn’t a fanboy post nor will it signify the conversion of rationaldoramareviews into irrationalakb48fandom. I’m just gonna talk about how I became aware of this phenomenon that is taking over/has taken over Japan, a rational discussion of their merits and why I’m continuing to watch the variety shows they produce.
Now WHAT IN THE WORLD is AKB48? Never heard of it? Well, that’s perfectly normal and understandable if you live where I do (down under) since there’s absolutely no public awareness about the many random generic pop groups that rise and fall in Japan. So lets slow walk through this and join me in my journey down the rabbit hole…
Prologue: Majisuka Gakuen – I don’t know how I can watch this crap
I started watching Majisuka Gakuen for no other reason than that the premise sounded very gratuitous and I wanted a show I could turn off my brain in and laugh at the stupidity that should ensue. The first episode was fairly unremarkable and chock full of bad acting, randomness and at times I just didn’t know what was going on. The main thing that struck me was “why is the entire cast made up of unfamiliar faces?!” I’ve seen a fair share of doramas and there’s usually one or two actors and actresses that I would recognize in these types of shows but Majisuka Gakuen didn’t even have a single one. The next thing I did was have a look in the d-addicts wiki to see which other doramas these girls have been in before (I looked up Maeda Atsuko, the main character…at first) and found squat – they’ve all been in minor roles for obscure shows, if they had an entry at all. This was rather intriguing as I thought several of the girls were quite pretty so I continued watching this rather rubbish okay show.
Enter Itano Tomomi as “Shibuya”. This girl caught my eye later in the series with her distinctive facial features and baaaaadddd costume. For a moment I did think “hey I wouldn’t mind watching another dorama with her in it” since she did have a cute face but very importantly did not have the high pitched whiney voice or immensely fake cutesy mannerism that usually comes with it. Back to the d-addicts wiki (she doesn’t have an entry, don’t bother) and then to everyone’s best friend google I went. Back then, AKB48 hadn’t quite established itself in the english-speaking world in as n00b-friendly a manner as it has now so I resigned myself to never seeing this girl again and got on with moar doramas life.
Priming the System for Susceptibility to Poison: Variety Shows – LOLWhut
On my visits to Japan, there’s always a time when I’m at the hotel/hostel/cardboard box in the evening and there’s nothing to do so the TV gets turned on and a variety show or three will invariably be airing. Having only watched anime and doramas before (in terms of Japanese media), variety shows were a new thing to me. Here’s the lowdown for any of the unitiated: There are three types of variety shows. Regular talkshows, hangout shows hosted by celebrities, and something akin to reality TV. The latter two will usually have members of a pop group as hosts or subjects and occasionally there will be guests (comedians, actors/actresses, singers, sports stars etc) come in to liven up the show. What sets these apart from their western versions is that the producers put much more effort into creating hilarious situations to stick their hosts/subjects into every episode, plus I like the clean humour that’s used. More often than not, the hosts/subjects will be told to do something arduous but ultimately rewarding like climb mount Fuji.
The point is, after this first exposure to variety shows, I gained an appreciation for them and didn’t mind watching things like Cartoon KAT-TUN, Hanamaru Market and Himitsu no Arashi, especially when they had guests in that I know of. It’s interesting to find out that Horikita Maki can cook!
Blast from the Past: Japan’s Most Viewed Youtube Video 2010 – Huh she looks familiar o.O
Some time after New Years’ Day (1/1/11), I stumbled onto this website which indicated that the most watched youtube video in Japan for 2010 was Ponytail to Shushu by AKB48. Bored at the time, I decided to go see what all the fuss is about and why the most watched vid wasn’t some inane cat playing the piano. Here, why don’t you watch the MV too and fall into the pit with me.
Alright, done? My reaction to the vid went like this:
1. WHAT IS THIS, I DON’T EVEN
2. It’s a bunch of skinny, figureless, young girls prancing around in swimsuits. Typical Japanese…what’s the deal?
3. Hey get this song out of my head PLEASE. I hate you for making me watch this.
4. Waaaaaaaiiiittttt…aren’t most of these girls from Majisuka Gakuen?!
Yep I recognized Maeda Atsuko and Itano Tomomi really quickly and then I realized most of the girls seemed vaguely familiar. My interest piqued (the song was extremely catchy and the singing was bearable…kinda like how I feel towards Lady Gaga songs), I clicked on some of the related videos and decided I kinda liked a few songs and the dance routines were strangely simple yet captivating.
In Too Deep: Blogsurfing – OMG there’s so many of them
I felt the itch to find out more about this AKB48, mostly due to boredom and umm eyecandy? Anyway I stumbled onto this post and this post on Super Merlion and read way too much information. I can put up a post explaining it all from my perspective if anyone asks for it but in the meantime, go read the ones I linked. There are people out there in the english-speaking community who REALLY love AKB48.
Super Merlion talks about various AKB48 members as if he/she/they knew how the girls acted outside of their performances which puzzled me at first then I thought “hmmm…could it be possible that the popular AKB48 members have been on lots of variety shows?” so I jumped onto google yet again (it’s my best friend, what can I say) to do a rough search. I found a bunch of episodes of AKBingo and AKB Nemousu TV on various streaming websites and thoroughly enjoyed the members’ antics even though there were no subs.
POISONED: AKB Nemousu S1-4 – Zen zen wakarimasen, demo omoshiroi!
Having watched a rather interesting episode of AKB Nemousu TV on a streaming website where a few of the girls had to cook a dish relying only on spoken English instructions, I then decided to see what the rest of the episodes were like. Lets just say I got my hands on the first 4 seasons and watched them slowly over a month as ‘light entertainment’. Sadly there aren’t any subs for these that are readily available but I started to understand how you can really start to get to know these girls (or their on-camera facades at least) by watching the AKB48 variety shows. It seems like every girl has a ‘character’ or ‘persona’ that they adhere and add to with their own personalities. I’m not 100% sure whether or not it’s all one big act but after seeing the really horrendous acting in Majisuka Gakuen, I’m more inclined to say that the girls are being themselves and the personas are things they came up with to easily describe each other.
What keeps it all refreshing is that each episode will have a different set of girls falling into unfortunate situations (okay not all are unfortunate, but the funny ones usually are) so there’s different interactions and different personalities all the time. It also means that the girls each have their turns in the spotlight. Fun times!
That takes us pretty much up to where I’m at right now – watching the variety shows and putting one or two AKB songs in my media player. I don’t intend to go crazy and start saying things like “MAI WAIFU” or buy overpriced merchandise.
Reasons to bother with AKB48:
1. Catchy songs
2. Ever-interesting variety shows
3. Very varied personalities amongst the girls
4. Eye candy
Reasons to stay away from AKB48
1. Catchy songs
2. You don’t like girls
3. Pop songs are not your thing
4. Bad acting
5. They’re too young
6. They’re becoming rather commercialised and you have a problem with adding to Akimoto’s (their producer) many pools of money