Monday, March 30, 2009

A Tearful Goodbye to the Elder Club

I've been thinking about writing an entry like this, originally after I had watched the graduation DVDs. However, I ended up with a lot less money than I had expected after my Japan trip, and I cannot afford to buy them just yet. But don't worry. Within the next few months I will have my DVDs, and I will watch them, and I will cry my eyes out.

And so now, as I attempt to hold on to the last shreds of my composure and I resist the urge to fling myself on the ground and scream and cry "NOOOO ELDER CLUB DON'T GOOOOO", I will discuss the miracle that is Elder Club.

Elder Club is, to say the least, everything that is good about being a Hello! Project addict. In fact, the starting members of H!P make up a good deal of it.

Nakazawa Yuko was the first leader of Morning Musume and would set the tone for all leaders after her. She was strongwilled and not afraid to speak her mind, and being a good deal older than any of the other members, she easily filled in the role of 'mother'. She WAS Hello! Project. She hosted its shows and programs, she mentored its newest artists. She helped build a family, and without her H!P would not be what it is today.

And she is one of the most talented performers I have heard in H!P history.

Iida Kaori is THE leader of Morning Musume. When I think of the leader of MM, I don't think Takahashi or Yossie. I think of Iida. She was cute, she was funny, she was spacey. She knew she wasn't the most capable leader, but she made it work. She was her own person, her own leader, and gained the respect and love of everyone.

Ah, Abe Natsumi. Not the most interesting paper clip in the junk drawer, but god, was she hard to resist. That lovable smile, that voice... (For reason, whenever I think of her, I think of the PV of Renai Sentai Shitsu Ranger) She was the face of Morning Musume for much of her time in the group. Her solo career? Amazing. Her range and the variety of songs she can sing? It's great. I really enjoy her singles, and the last one, Screen, was just the icing on the cake.

Yasuda Kei never got much time to shine. She probably wouldn't even have been remembered if she didn't get teased so much on Utaban or if she didn't have such AWESOME characters on Hello! Morning. She had it all, voice, personality, and after some time (and after she grew out her hair) she proved to be a really beautiful woman. Poor Kemeko never got much a chance to show off her vocals, but every time I listen to Never Forget, I get goosebumps.

Ah, Yaguchi Mari. Actually, she's been off doing her own thing for some time, so maybe it won't feel like she's gone so much. But I will miss her during concerts, her adorable shortness and fiery personality brightening up the stage. Granted, she's not the greatest singer, but her voice has something about it that I really like. Yaguchi will always have a place in my heart, and I'll probably cry every time I hear her 'Sexy Beam'.

Ishikawa Rika actually had quite the career looking back at it. She was lucky enough to be in the fourth generation, the Golden Age of generations. The earlier generations covered the group vocally, so what this group of girls brought was sheer PERSONALITY. Take Charmy. She is easily one of the most beautiful girls H!P has seen, she has that adorable voice that wotas seem to love, she is charming, and SHE KNOWS IT. She flaunts her charm with everything she has, and that made the group very entertaining over the years. She led v-u-den, and even though she wasn't one of the strongest singers Elder Club has seen, it's enough to just see her on stage with everyone.

Yoshizawa Hitomi is probably the most popular member among non-Japanese fans... I'm not entirely sure about Japanese fans, but I know for a fact that most non-Japanese people are attracted to Yossie's dynamic personality. When she joined, she was quiet and didn't stand out all that much, and was often overshadowed by the other fourth generation members. Then, with Mr. Moonlight, she EXPLODED into this beloved personality. Maybe Tsunku pushed the tomboy image too hard, but it suited her, and she was able to shine through it. Like her verse in Joshi Kashimashi Monogatari, her appeal was a cute girl with a boyish style. Cute as hell, funny as hell, and one great singer, she really represented what Morning Musume was back then. And as much as I love the current lineup of Morning Musume, her graduation was in a way the death of what Morning Musume was. And she made Ongaku Gatas badass, BTW.

Tsuji Nozomi has always been an odd duck. Throughout Mini Moni, Morning Musume, and even W, she, with the assistance of Kago, has livened up many a broadcast with her out-there personality. She frightened millions of Americans with her bizarre "prairie dog" call during the "original Dramatic Chipmunk" clip (actually just a clip from Mini Moni's segment on Hello! Morning), frightened millions of Japanese and other fans when she suddenly went gyaru, and brought us all back with her blog. Seriously. I want a mom like that. I've always favored Kago over Tsuji for no particular reason, but I really like her now.

Konno Asami, according to Tsunku when he announced the winners of the fifth generation auditions, was never really supposed to be in the group. She wasn't really good at anything, singing, dancing, or acting. But he saw potential and that's why he added her to the group. And I am so glad he did. Konno is shy, quiet, with a soft voice. She is a little spacey and always has a surprised look on her face. But she is adorable, and although she is a bit forgettable, she is loveable. And really smart. Geez.

What isn't there to love about Ogawa Makoto? Loud, dense, but good-natured and funny. She followed Yossie around like a lost puppy for years, always grossing out the fellow group members with their almost-lovers-like relationship. I mean, she wrote in her blog that she found the matching ring that she bought with Yossie, and promised her that she'd never take it off again. If that isn't love, what is? xD Ogawa graced the group with her deep, powerful vocals, and was a lot like Yasuda. She was funny and charming, but often teased and her voice was overlooked often. She actually entered the fifth generation as Tsunku's first choice, and was the best dancer of the group until her graduation. I love Ogawa, and I hope she has a good run as a talento.

Fujimoto Miki is Fujimoto Miki. She has one of the best vocals in H!P, and will beat you up if you say otherwise. I can't remember who said it, but one of the bloggers I often read said that she completed Yoshizawa's leadership as sub-leader, that Yossie would give an order while Miki sent deathglares to the other members, silently telling them to obey or else. Fujimoto is a special case, as she was originally an employee at H!P, then became a soloist, and then joined the sixth generation a little later than the first three. But she brings so much talent and charisma with her, that the sixth generation would have been very different without her.

Inaba Atsuko is... Ah, geez... I always think back to the H!P 2002 summer concert, where she jumped around the stage wearing a shiny disco costume and sporting a ridiculously large afro. She was out there. Actually, all of T&C Bomber was out there. But Inaba is one of the few members that people know. She has one hell of a voice, and was a wonderful MC at many a H!P concert.

Satoda Mai has Pabo now, but still. H!P is her home. Without her, Country Musume would have crumbled to the ground years before it faded into memory, and her strong voice has carried many shuffles and subgroups. Her voice is distinct, recognizable, and is one of those classic Elder Club voices.

Saitou Hitomi is my favorite Melon Kinenbi member so far. She's cute, funny, and for some reason, I always seem to like the girls who are teased a lot by the Utaban guys. xD The amazing power of her sexiness always overpowers me, and that's another thing I like about her. She's always tagged as the sexy one, but she's elegant and classy at the same time, and I think she has the best voice out of the four. And that's really saying something.

Murata Megumi has gotten the short end of the stick for a long, long time. She's gotten significantly fewer lines than many of the other girls, and isn't the prettiest girl in the company. She seems a little misplaced, not entirely idol material, but not quite an independent entertainer either. But I like her. I like megane idols (idols with glasses), because they seem a little more modest and more girl-next-door material. I don't know. But Megumi, like the rest of the group, is a talented singer, and I hope she has more time to shine.

Ootani Masae is a badass chick. She will kick the crap out of you. She's cool and stylish and I LOVE that she dyes her hair all of those cool colors. She carried many a Melon Kinenbi single with her deep, strong voice, and if you doubt me, just listen to Nikutai wa Shoujiki na EROS. She's one of those singers that has a universal appeal, and I bet she could be quite popular here in the States. I know I will definitely miss her, but thank GOD Melon Kinenbi is still carrying on.

Shibata Ayumi is the Abe Natsumi, the Tanaka Reina, the Suzuki Airi, the Sugaya Risako of Melon Kinenbi. She got the lines, she got the lead, she got the center every single time. But it works, and she helped make Melon Kinenbi what it is today. Compared to the others, she isn't as strong vocally (the first single? Yikes!) but Tsunku was smart in placing her as the face. She's cute, she's funny, and she has that high voice that appeals to many a Japanese fan. Over the years, she has also been one of the most active members, appearing in many shuffles and other performances.

Maeda Yuki is very rarely noticed because she is an enka singer, and it's hard for enka singers to come together with the pop. In fact, it's strange that she's even a part of H!P at all! But she has one of the most beautiful voices I've heard, and her songs are great (Tokyo Kirigirisu is taking over my brain ;D). She rocked in Get Up! Rapper, the only shuffle she ever appeared in, and I wish that she could have been more popular. The woman deserves it. Hopefully, she will be able to continue singing enka and gain more recognition away from H!P.

What isn't there to love about Matsuura Aya? She was the cute little baby of H!P, just 15 when she broke out with her first single. She's cute, bubbly, and oh-so-infectious... Ayaya is the ultimate H!P soloist. It's hard not to love her. She's been in more subgroups than anyone else, I think, and all of her kouhai at H!P respect her. Even though her singles haven't sold particularly well, she is a master idol. Her voice is sweet and melodic, and even years later, she continues to amaze her fans. I love her dearly, and I will probably miss her the most.

(Random Ayaya-love moment) :

Miyoshi Erika of v-u-den is the tomboyish one, just appearance-wise. Often paired up with Yui, she didn't get as much publicity as Ishikawa, but her deep, strong voice held the group up. She's beautiful in an awkward way, and I hope that she gets more opportunities to sing.

Okada Yui was often overshadowed by Erika and Rika in v-u-den, but her distinct yet soft voice helped make the sound of the group. Like Erika, she is awkwardly pretty, but I hear that she's been doing some modeling. She's really amazingly sexy...

And, of course, Ongaku Gatas.

It's sad to see so many talented girls leave after only being in the spotlight for a brief time, but they have proven in Eggs that they are capable performers and entertainers. I don't know Korenaga Miki all that well, but I'm sure she will be able to apply what she has learned. Noto Arisa has done everything ranging from singing to acting to commercial work. She is obviously a talented girl, and she is one of the most successful Eggs when it comes to experience and fans. Sengoku Minami, like Korenaga, never struck me very much in Ongaku Gatas, and wasn't until I watched the History of H!P Eggs DVD did I truly like her. I mean, the girl did the splits and the most adorable, awkward reaction. I love her.

Sawada Yuri is my favorite Egg, so she gets her own paragraph. ;D She's beautiful and elegant. She has an air of professionalism that many idols lack, and she looks confident and like she knows what she's doing. I really wish she could have stayed in H!P, but I think this won't be the last that I see of her. Besides, I can always just watch the Ongaku Gatas concerts again. x3

Elder Club is H!P. They stunned millions of Japanese listeners with Morning Musume's debut single back in 1997. They built a solid fanbase in the early 21st century. They graced our television screens and movies, and proved to be truly talented individuals. They made us laugh, they made us cry. They gave us memorable TV appearances and quotes, and looking back they really made being a fan of H!P fun. Be it an outlandish character on Hello! Morning or an adlib in a song, there were always little things that rewarded the fans. They weren't just singers, they weren't just idols. They were entertainers, masters of their craft.

So, as today is your last day with Hello! Project, I thank you... I thoroughly and whole-heartedly thank you. I thank you for the laughs, I thank you for all of those memorable moments, I thank you for livening up my life with what you have worked so hard to produce, I thank you for your talent. And I thank you for changing the Japanese music industry completely.

As I finish up this post, which I have been working on for days, I would like to say good-bye to Elder Club. You have already made your public farewell during the concert at the beginning of the year, but to us fans, this is truly the end. But we know that you will still be around. Some of you will continue to make us laugh and cry and impress us with your vocals, but we know that some of you will fade into the background, stepping away from the music business altogether.

But whatever your decision is, members of Elder Club, I wish you luck. I sincerely hope that your lives can continue to be as fulfilling and wonderful as your years with Hello! Project, whether that be twelve years or just a few.

Iida, I hope that your recovery over the loss of your son is as smooth as possible. I hope that you get the chance again to realize your dream of being a mother.

Yaguchi, I wish you luck with your new single and blossoming solo career. I will be supporting you all the way, no matter what you do.

Yossie, I hope this is not the last that we see of you. I hope your performance in Seattle next month goes well, and maybe you and Ishikawa will have the chance to perform in even more cities.

Ogawa, you just came back from New Zealand, but I hope that you can continue your talento career. It would be a shame to lose someone like you.

Fujimoto, congratulations on your engagement. I hope you and your husband-to-be are very happy together in the years to come.

Melon Kinenbi, good luck away from Hello! Project. I hope Japan and the rest of the world can truly see how amazingly talented you four are.

Ayaya, I hope you get a new contract soon. You are too talented, too beloved to stop performing now. But any path you take, I will support you all the way.

The girls of Ongaku Gatas. You have only been idols, out on your own and away from the Eggs for a short time, but I hope that you are able to apply what you have learned during your time in H!P and develop successful careers for yourself. I hope to see you all again soon.

I promised myself I wouldn't cry while I wrote this, but here I am, crying. It is very sad to see you all graduating, but I wish you luck.

The Elder Club will always have a special place in my heart.

Thank you, everyone.

Elder Club
November 3rd, 1997---March 31st, 2009

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