Changing the Guard

Michishige Sayumi – November 2014
Berryz Kobo- March 2015
Shimamura Uta- June 2015
Fukuda Kanon- November 2015
Sayashi Riho- December 2015
Tamura Meimi- May 2016
Suzuki Kanon- May 2016

Look at that list. This 1.5 year span from November 2014 to May 2016 sees the loss of 13 girls from Hello! Project. Some real prominent names occupy this list as well. Girls who anchor their respective group in some form suddenly drop from the scene in droves. The last time I remember such a large exodus from the projects was the Elder Club mass graduation in 2009.

I don’t think this particular batch of departures signifies anything as sweeping as the Elder Club graduation. Some key positions opened up, and it’s interesting to see who will fill the void. Let’s go down the line?

Michishige Sayumi
Sayumi makes some strong argument for the most productive Morning Musume leader since Nakagawa Yuko. Under the pink regime, Morning Musume grew in strength and became a powerhouse idol group once again with an unprecedented 5 straight number one singles. The current leader, Fukumura Mizuki, doesn’t have those numbers, yet. But, she is off to a good start keeping sales figures brisk. The big missing ingredient, though, is Sayumi’s knack for promoting the other members of her group. I can easily imagine the current newbies (12th generation) faring much better in the public eye under Sayumi’s leadership. In this respect, Mizuki has some big, pink-colored shoes to fill

Berryz Kobo
With two factory groups in contention, you wouldn’t think one would run away with the “next big thing” hype. But, Kobushi Factory are doing just that. Ever since breaking out with “Nen ni wa Nen”, the Hirose Ayaka led Factory show themselves to be dynamic, energetic performers. Their cohesion as a unit impresses me greatly. They’re like an army! Meanwhile, Tsubaki Factory reviews are decidedly mixed. I dare categorize they’re progress as sputtering. One thing we can’t tell now is whether either of these groups will have the longevity that blessed Berryz Kobo.

Shimamura Uta
You might think it’s shortsighted to put a girl like Uta in this list. But, I’ve never seen such a firestorm surround a single girl like it did for Uta. She was fire. With the right marketing, we could have been looking at Hello! Projects own “thousand year idol). In her place, Country Girls now have a dynamic duo of pint sized prowess, Funaki Musubu and Yanagawa Nanami. They’re adorableness already noted, we saw the duo’s camera savvy characters in the 1st two “Girls Night Out” episodes. Also emerging is the pair’s high performance level. They blend right in! Will they catch with the rest of the idol community? I think they are only one “get” away.

Fukuda Kanon and Tamura Meimi
The main vocalists for S/mileage and Angerme won’t be replaced with a single girl. Kanon’s steady presence and voice anchored the group through the second phase of S/mileage. One can only contemplate how a lesser voice would have affected the group’s through its progressing toward the present Angerme. Meanwhile, Meimi and her spectacular canines seemed right in the mix to sing her heart out. With her upcoming graduation, though, she will not be the one to carry the torch. Luckily, Angerme have benefited the most from the recent influx of talent into Hello! Project. To carry the group vocally, I see a replacement and probable upgrade in 3rd generation Murota Mizuki. Fellow 3rd gen Sasaki Rikako keeps the group in the consciousness with her contract as a model for Seventeen magazine, while Aikawa Maho plays the cute card. Finally, fourth generation Kamikokuryo Moe brings a similar blend of talent and looks that may develop incredibly in the next few years. Perhaps an “ace in the hole”?

Sayashi Riho and Suzuki Kanon
Maybe I’m being unfair grouping these two girls together, but both girls affect the future of Morning Musume. Sayashi Riho won’t be easily replaced. And, more than one girl needs to fill the void left by the 9th generation ace. In the interim, Mizuki and Ishida Ayumi seem to fill Riho’s spots (in Tsumetai Kaze to Kataomoi at least). I don’t think this bodes well for the future of the group. Think about how Riho immediately filled in for Takahashi Ai after the former leader’s graduation – that wasn’t a parallel move like a move toward Mizuki and Ayumi would be. A serious foot injury to Nonaka Miki, the most talented 12th generation member, puts a serious delay on the future movement of Morning Musume. The rest of the new generation haven’t proven themselves to be reliable enough vocally to hold down the leads of Riho or the choruses of Kanon. So, in some respects the audition for a 13th generation might be a vote of “no confidence” for the 12th generation. While the group gets larger, they’re having trouble finding their next great ace. While the group may have enough power to carry it for the next year or two (’16 and ’17), we’re gonna see some sputtering unless one or more of the girls takes control.

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