AKB48 in Washington, D.C.

Confession: I don’t actively follow AKB48. I’ve only seen a few of their PVs, and I can only recognize their most well known members. In fact, even for J-Idol fandom as a whole, I’m still pretty much a noob.

True, I have earned a few of my Wota Merit Badges.  I’ve met all the members of Berryz Kobo.  I’ve personally acquired three Momochi autographs.  I’ve even shaken hands with Suzuki Airi. But as recently as two years ago, I had never even heard of any of them.

Then one day, I just happened to be in France… and I just happened to be watching TV for ten minutes… and that TV just happened to be tuned to a channel called NoLife… and that channel just happened to be broadcasting a wonderful little music video titled Renai♡Rider.

A few Google searches and YouTube views later, I was hooked on Buono!, and before too long, I found myself getting onto airplanes just for a chance to see these girls IRL.

That’s how easily and firmly these charismatic little bundles of kawaii known as “idols” can ensnare you.

Once you get into “the fandom,” no matter which group you start with, you inevitably become exposed to lots of others. Morning Musume. Momoiro Clover. PASSPO☆. Tokyo Girls’ Style. And of course, the ubiquitous juggernaut, AKB48.

I’ve explored all those groups, and more, over the past couple of years. Some of them grabbed me, and some of them didn’t. AKB48 is one that didn’t.

Part of it was that their “sound” didn’t appeal to me all that much. Also, their number may have overwhelmed me; sixteen girls (and sometimes more) performing all at once were perhaps too many for me to process, especially without having been familiar with any of them beforehand. Not to mention that there were a total of 48 girls (or 64, or 90, or however many it was) that I would need to wade through if I wanted to become a fan. It seemed like too daunting a task to undertake.

I then tried approaching them from the “TV personality” side. I checked out a couple of Shukan AKB and AKBingo episodes. They were enjoyable enough I guess, but again, they didn’t succeed in fully drawing me in (although Fresh Lemon’s head-butting antics came close.)

Besides, the H!P Kids were my first love, and my biggest interest. They, along with PASSPO☆, were taking up most of my “idol time” during that period, so there really wasn’t any room left for another major group. Even now, I have a backlog of H!P videos that I downloaded weeks ago, and still haven’t had a chance to watch.

Nevertheless, when I heard AKB would be appearing in Washington, D.C., I immediately recognized it as an opportunity not to be missed. Two free AKB shows… featuring a few members so popular that even I had heard of them… taking place practically in my own backyard!

I figured this might be the best chance I’d ever have to experience the AKB phenomenon up-close, and to really see for myself what all the fuss is about.

My preparation consisted of studying the MIX chants for about 15 minutes, and watching the subtitled interviews from the “to be continued” documentary. I also asked a friend what color glowsticks I should bring. Her answer was “green” (for her favored Team K) so I decided to bring the same LED lightsticks I had used at the Buono! concert in Paris to support Airi. But I would only bring four of them to AKB, rather than the full eight I used for Buono! (just so it would remain clear who my #1 is.)

I kept my preparations minimal on purpose. I wanted to go in without too many expectations. I wanted to leave myself open to being surprised. I wanted to find out if they could win me over on the spot.

That’s basically what happened to me with Berryz Kobo at Sakura-Con. Before I went to Seattle last year, I really wasn’t paying much attention to Berryz as a group. My main purpose in going to Sakura-Con was to meet two-thirds of Buono!

I wasn’t expecting Captain to knock me off my feet with her stunning beauty and her sweetness. I hadn’t anticipated that Chinami would dazzle me with one of her 1,000-watt smiles at dangerously close range. I never thought that the stupid WA-O WA-O chant in Otakebi Boy would turn out to be the MOST FUN THING EVAR!

But that’s how it went all weekend long, and I realized that being there in person is waaaayy different from watching videos, no matter how good those videos are. And Berryz Kobo acquired one more fan. I wondered if the same sort of thing would happen to me at an AKB live.

When the afternoon show began, the first thing I noticed is how beautiful they all were. All of them. Really beautiful. Sixteen of Japan’s most beautiful girls, dressed in bright, colorful outfits, dancing energetically to a really catchy pop tune (Flying Get) with beams of colored light flashing all around them. It was quite captivating.

Not coincidentally, as the show went on, I also noticed that some of the songs I never really liked that much were suddenly sounding a lot better to me. Even the annoying horns at the beginning of Everyday Kachuusha sound pretty good when they’re accompanied by sixteen gorgeous girls smiling and dancing right in front of you… especially if one of them is looking right into your eyes (thank you, 3rd row aisle seat!)

But it wasn’t just the big, flashy numbers that were entertaining. The songs that were performed in smaller groups were great, too. I had never heard these before, and I thought they were all really good songs. The large-group ballads were also really nice.

The MC segments were a lot of fun, because they allowed each girl to introduce herself, interact with the audience, and show a little bit of her unique personality. I enjoyed yelling back the nicknames they asked us to call them.

Some other quick comments about the show:

  • The lighting was really well done. They had a bunch of motorized multi-beam spotlights of various colors, at all different levels of the background and above. They also prepared the stage with a little bit of fog, so the light beams would be more visible. I wish the lighting for Buono! in Paris had been even half as good.
  • The music was a little louder than it needed to be, but not painfully so.
  • The shows were pretty short; including the encore, each show lasted a total of 60 minutes. Just as I was really getting into it, they were announcing “last song.” But, they came all the way over here to perform two free shows, so I’m not complaining.
  • The show may have been short, but they managed to fit an amazing number of different costumes into it.

The girls who stood out the most for me were:

  • Takamina, Minegishi, Miyazawa: of course.
  • Fujie Reina: because she’s Natsuyaki Miyabi’s cousin, and therefore awesome.
  • Abe Maria: a striking beauty, with great stage presence.
  • Hirata Rina: a wild Valley Girl appears! Is that how they talk in Arizona?
  • “Fresh Lemon” (Ichikawa Miori): the bubbliest, bounciest, and goofiest of the bunch… qualities I seem to be a sucker for.
  • Umeda Ayaka: Ton-ton-ton-ton-Wash-ing-ton!

All in all, the shows were very entertaining, and I’m really glad I went.

So does that mean I’ll become a fan? Well… I don’t know. I still have that backlog of H!P videos to work through. And I need to prepare for the return of Berryz Kobo in June. But I’ve been humming AKB songs ever since the shows ended. And I’m feeling like I might have to check out Teams K and 4 pretty soon, to get another look at my favorites from Washington.

I don’t know if I’ll end up becoming a serious AKB fan… but I will probably start paying more attention to them than I have in the past.

About NMB 7 Articles
NMB is Selective Hearing’s resident International Man of Mystery. If you have a good eye you can catch him covering the numerous Japanese idol appearances around the world.