2011 is over, and after all that has gone on in Hello! Project, I definitely think that this was, if not a better year, then at least a more memorable year for them, as a group. There were a lot of line-up changes, positive and negative, a lot of new songs, good and bad, and a lot of stuff has happened for some former H!P people that caught my interest. Here’s what I thought of this year!
H!P’s flagship group, Morning Musume, went through some monumental changes this year. We started the year with a brand new generation, the first in many years. Until that audition, my interest in Hello! Project was declining fast, since Morning Musume, my favorite of the groups, had basically deteriorated into a boring, stagnant, regular group. With most groups, I like a steady line-up, but Morning Musume has always been different, I had accepted the audition and graduation system since I became a fan way back when, and had grown to like the change. Morning Musume suddenly stopped changing for years, and to make things worse, it wasn’t even at a point where I liked the line-up, I actively disliked more than half the group.
9th generation changed all that, with all 4 girls having potential, and the possibility of a positive change in the group I loved before. Riho had the talent, Kanon had the personality, Mizuki had the voice, and Erina had the charm. All 4 grew on me quickly, especially silly Zukki, and Riho’s push to front girl status, while not liked by everyone, is something I’ve enjoyed, as she’s quite talented and I’ve heard her singing improve since her audition.
With 9th gen coming on, the inevitable finally happened, and Takahashi Ai, face and leader of the group for years, finally announced she was graduating. But, before that would happen, Tsunku decided to have more auditions for a 10th generation of Morning Musume! This was another decision I was fond of, especially after getting to “meet” the finalists and watch their training camp. In the end, I liked many of the auditionees, and the 4 girls chosen to get in were 3 of my favorites, and one that I grew to like from an initial bad impression. Added to the group were Haruka, former egg, the youngest, but most assertive; Haruna, bridging the age gap at 17, and with modelling experience; Ayumi, amazing dancer, and most experienced newbie, having been backup in a group called Dorothy Little Happy; and Masaki, dark horse of the audition, who started out awful, but whose rapid improvement during training camp foreshadows good things in her future!
In the end, Ai-chan left the group memorably, releasing her own solo song on the group’s best single of the year, and had a fantastic graduation. I hoped for the best with her leaving, because her last single seemed to be taking the group in a direction that I liked. Unfortunately, over the past month, my hopes have, at least temporarily, gone down the toilet, with the previews for their next song, Pyoko Pyoko Ultra, being absolutely horrendous. I loved happy Musume, but it’s like Tsunku forgot how to do that and just served us up whatever he happened to crap out after Takahashi’s graduation. Ugh. I’m hoping for better than this, especially since I really like the lineup right now, aside from gimpy, useless Aika. But, they only get what they get to work with…
The year for Berryz Koubou went the same as pretty much every year does: I liked one song. Every year since 2008 I have pretty much liked one single per year (2008 was Dschingis Khan, 2009 was Dakishimete Dakishimete, and 2010 was Maji Bomber!). Prior to that their track record was even worse with me, so if there can be one song I like, I’ll take it. This year it was the amazing Heroine ni Narou ka, which blew away material from many of the other groups. It’s always surprising to me when I find a Berryz song that I really, truly love, because there are honestly only 2 vocalists I like in the group, and both of them sound better in Buono anyway. Heroine was fantastic, though, from the song to the PV, and I give them props for that one.
C-ute, while I like their vocals much better than Berryz, had a similar year, where I only liked one of their songs this year. Kiss Me Aishiteru was the one I liked, and it was quite good. I was also glad to hear a Chisato lead, because even if she isn’t my favorite, Maimi is so overrated it’s not even funny, and Chisa is a great vocalist. She deserves a mention here for being the best self-promoter this year, using Youtube dance covers to get herself noticed , which in turn lead to her being more featured in the group.
Buono! has had an interesting 2011, one that I think has been mostly positive, despite some odd material. The great news was that even though Shugo Chara was over, Buono would continue on as a group. Their first post-anime single, Zassou no Uta, was one of my favorites of the year, and it completely puzzles me when I hear so many people say it sucked. Well, screw you guys, I thought it was awesome.
Their next release did disappoint me, Natsu Dakara was a nice and pretty song, but certainly not what I listen to Buono for, and it would have been better as a non-Buono releated Airi solo. Buono’s album, Partenza, was also a bit odd, and while I liked some of the new styles, it still wasn’t quite what I wanted out of Buono. I think they can do better than cover songs, which took up much of the album. The end of the year brought PVs for 2 songs that will be a double-A-side in 2012, Deep Mind and Hatsukoi Cider, and both songs were rocking, which restored my faith. Also, Miyabi cut her hair off and looks a.ma.zing.
And that brings me to one of my favorite H!P groups, but also the one with the most negative change… S/mileage. The year started out oddly for them, releasing the ok single Shortcut, in which they actually made the girls get their hair cut short. I usually love short hair, but it has to be right for the girl, and honestly, I didn’t likeany of the cuts.
From there, S/mileage must have gotten some Mini-Moni leftovers in the single Koi ni Booing, because they were made to dress like pigs, and the video also featured a majorly creepy ugly cartoon pig everywhere. WTF. I liked the song itself, but what kind of direction is the group going in?? Uchouten Love brought back the awesome, though, and was one of the best H!P singles of the year for me. Yes, S/mileage seemed to be getting better with this one. And then. CHANGE!
In a move so shocking, the girls couldn’t even fake happiness over it while live on stage, Tsunku announced that S/mileage was missing something, and that he would be holding auditions for sub-members! The group was visibly shaken, and even after they were probably told to play nice, their disappointment over the announcement was apparent. But, after a rather lackluster group of finalists, Tsunku chose a whopping 5 girls to join S/mileage. Karin, one of the only girls I wanted in, did not make it, much to the dismay of myself and 98% of the internet.
Instead we got Takeuchi Akari, chubby-cheeked tomboy, who can sing, and I do like; Katsuta Rina, winner of my most-fugly award in 2011 (ok, I didn’t do awards, but if I did…); Nakanishi Kana, Osaka cutie that can’t hold a tune and sounds like shit; Tamura Meimi, made of 1/3 forehead, 1/3 scary teeth, and 1/3 glass-shattering vocals, but eventually won me over with her cracked out personality; and Kosuga Fuyuka, who resigned almost as fast as she was let in due to anemia.
With so many coming in, S/mileage was gonna be one huge group, right? Wrong… In a shocking announcement and only 3 day’s notice, one of the founding members, Ogawa Saki, quite S/mileage and Hello! Project. Was this related to her obvious dislike of the change in the group? Tsunku said she had wanted to leave back in March, but couldn’t due to her contracts. Whatever the reason, one of my favorites was leaving, and it wouldn’t be the same without her superb vocals and fun personality.
New S/mileage hadn’t really impressed me yet when the next graduation was announced. The girls of S/mileage were dropping like flies by the time Maeda Yuuka’s impending graduation was announced. Her last single, Please Mini-Skirt Post Woman, was fantastic, but it marked the end of Yuuka in Hello! Project. She was a favorite of mine, a girl I had watched closely since she was an egg. She had my favorite voice in all of Hello! Project, she was super cute, nice, and now she’s gone. While all the S/mileage departures seem tied in rather closely with the major changes in the group, nobody can say for sure, but Saki and Yuuka are now out of show business. I hope they are able to lead happy lives, even if we can’t follow them anymore.
So where does that leave S/mileage?
Well, for me, I only like half the members (Kanon, Meimi, Akari). If their singles are good, I will continue to follow them, but… I don’t know if they will ever have what they had before. If the additions were because Saki and Yuuka wanted out, I would have preferred they disband S/mileage, and start a new group, so it wouldn’t be like it is now, where nobody’s happy with the direction things have gone in.
Mano Erina’s 2011 was… Um, I don’t even know, she bores me so. I kind of like Doki Doki Baby and her previously unreleased track, Glory Days, that they put on Youtube. But honestly, there are only 2 reasons to care about Mano Erina, pictured above, and they aren’t her songs or her talent.
There were a few collaborative groups in Hello! Project this year also, most notably, Mobekimasu, which is basically just everyone in H!P, minus the eggs. They had a kind of OK single, but it didn’t measure up to the last collaborative H!P single, and they also had some other collaborative groups, like Bekimasu and Berikyuu. Berikyuu was particularly horrible. If they’re gonna make groups, I would prefer they go back to the smaller sub-group concepts they used to do, they seemed to work much better. And for God’s sake, give them a decent song to work with once in a while!
That’s all of Hello! Project, but there are a few H!P related things I wanted to go over, too.
2011 saw the creation of Dream Morning Musume, which sounded like a fantastic concept – all the old favorites of the golden age, together again, singing old Morning Musume songs again… Too bad their original material wasn’t that good (although Shining Butterfly looks promising), and they included Koharu for reasons I can’t grasp. She was so not a part of the group during the golden era, and wasn’t even in the group with many of the girls at the same time, like Yuko…
2011 has been a rough year for a former favorite of mine, Kago Ai. Between having a yakusa-related boyfriend, attempting suicide, being sued for millions of dollars, and her agency allegedly attempting to force her to do porn, it has not been good. She looks rough in pictures, too. Recently, she announced that she is pregnant and married, out of the blue. I question whether her life choices will make her happy, but I do sincerely wish her the best. She makes bad choices, but I want her to find happiness.
Goto Maki had a great year for releases, concluding with the incredibly awesome album Ai Kotoba (Voice). Just when she gets really awesome, though, she has decided to go on hiatus. Show business has taken a lot from her life, and she needs a break. I respect that, and wish her well, but damn, why did she have to go when she got soooo good?
The last H!P related person I wanted to mention was Kikkawa Yuu, who debuted as a soloist this year (but not under H!P). I’ve been gunning for this girl since she auditioned for Morning Musume, and her solo efforts have only increased my love for her. She’s had 3 singles this year, that have not only had decent A-sides, but also some incredible B-sides. And by incredible, I mean, some of my very favorite songs in all of Jpop for the entire year (looking at you, Fuyuzora Hanabi and Sweetie). She has had a great year, and I hope for an even better 2012!
Well, I think that’s about it. 2011 brought a lot to talk about, that’s for sure. I’m hoping 2012 will bring about better songs, and more stability for some of the groups, but only time will tell!