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@3lWilly gives his take on the current state, and future of AKB48 sister group SKE48.


 

It’s that time of the year

So, it seems there is a new girl from SKE announcing her graduation each week, and it means the group is over. Same as it was last year at the same period, and the year before, and the year before.

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First, some numbers: SKE started the year with 68 members on their roster. How long do you expect the average girl to stay in the group? Let’s assume about 5 or 6 years on average. That means the group will have about 11 to 14 graduations a year. I am counting 11 graduations in 2013, 11 in 2014 and 12 in 2015, which confirms this range. And as there is some variance, any number between 9 and 16 would be pretty normal.

Yes there has been a lot of announcements in a short time, but if you were a member, at what time of the year would you reflect on yourself and think about your goals. There is 3 dates. New Year, the end of the school year, and your birthday. The school years ends around the end of March. So the period from December to March is the one when we should expect to see the most graduation announcements.

Let’s look at how many members ended their activities between December 31st and the first week of May (so about 35% of the year) during the past 3 years, compared to the rest of the year :
2013 : 10 / 1
2014 : 8 / 3
2015 : 9 / 3
See the trend? We can expect more announcements until the end of March, and then we should be mostly safe until December. If we see many girls announcing their graduation between April and November, then we should worry, but at the moment everything is normal.

Graduations are a good thing for the group

It is necessary to have a majority of older members graduate, in order to keep things interesting with young and fresh members. There is a right balance to find, because senpai are necessary to guide their kouhai, and I think SKE is doing a pretty good job with that.

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Matsui Jurina is obviously a role model for the younger girls, but most of the members left from generations 1 to 3 are paying a lot of attention to their kouhai and have been essential in their growth as idols. Think of Saito Makiko, Goto Risako, Matsumura Kaori, Oya Masana, etc.

Do you see these strong relationships between juniors and seniors in AKB48? Minegishi Minami was forced into this role when she was appointed Captain of Team 4, but look at Kojima Haruna, Watanabe Mayu, Kashiwagi Yuki, Kobayashi Kana and Tanabe Miku. When did we ever hear a junior say she received some advice from one of them?

I love Isohara Kyoka, she has been my 3rd or 4th favorite SKE member since early 2011, but she has stayed in the group for 7 years and there are other senpai to rely on, it was time to go. You may say it was a bit early for Umemoto Madoka, but you do not really need to have her, Saito Makiko, Kato Rumi and Suda Akari in the same team, it’s fine to have one of them leave.

Otherwise you become NMB48, with tons of useless 1st generation members who don’t want to graduate, and that’s how you don’t get a new generation in more than 3 years. Things may get better for them, with girls like Kotani Riho or Kondo Rina graduating, but they should kick at least 5 more out to make some space.

Enter the 7D2

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We had 15 7th generation members and 5 2nd generation draftees (collectively called 7D2) added to the roster around the spring of last year, and management has been doing a hell of a good job promoting them. They got a KKS stage last summer, just a few months after joining, and at the same time they used the girls as announcers on a local TV show where fulltime members were appearing in the main segment (that’s how I fell in love with Obata Yuna). And obviously Goto Rara got pushed like crazy on “Maenomeri”.

Many people noticed her and downloaded a KKS LOD to see her on stage, then often settling on other members as their favourite. And in case you still missed them because you don’t follow SKE too much, they featured them on the AKBSHOW! These girls are featured all the time on the radio and web shows 1+1 2 ja nai yo and 1+1+1 3 san ja nai yo, and on ZERO POSITION

They took Goto Rara and Obata Yuna and had them perform Glory Days with Jurina at Toyota Stadium, they have been absolutely everywhere, and “Love Crescendo” was the icing on the cake. This coming Friday 6 members are coming to Hong Kong, and guess who will be there? Rara and Nojima Kano.

Did anyone see any of the AKB or NMB draftees anywhere since the draft ? This week for the first time we heard about an AKB one, as she got promoted during the Team A shonichi. As for the NMB ones, we have seen them a couple times on YNN, during the 25-hours marathon that nobody can watch entirely, on boring talks around a small table. The only one you may have heard of is Nishinaka Nanami, and that’s just because all the members are crazy about her and take pictures with her all the time.

HKT48 on the other hand has been pretty good at promoting their 3 draftees, everyone knows Imamura Maria and Murakawa Vivian, and now they are promoting Matsuoka Hana too, she got a solo on the 1st day of their national tour in front of 10000 people. Are they going to be promoted at the end of the tour?

HKT fans have been raging for a while that girls who joined in 2013 have still not been promoted (even Yamashita Emiri who is now in senbatsu and is one of the best performers). SKE didn’t have this problem, and 6 of the girls have already been promoted, including 2 draftees.

On why “Love Crescendo” is great while “Must Be Now” sucks

Matsui Rena graduating was great for the group (don’t get me wrong, I was there and crying with everyone in the stadium). It gives a goal to the younger members. They can aim for the new spot in the center, and also they can see that thanks to SKE she could accomplish her dream of becoming an actress, so they should work hard towards this. It’s not like Jurina who is a super genius, they all saw Rena in the documentary, and how tough it was for her in the first couple years.

As for management, they would never have considered trying something like “Love Crescendo” if Rena was still there. Now they can shake things up, and are willing to do it. I’m betting that the next single will not be something as simple as Jurina center with Kitagawa Ryoha/Furuhata Nao/Takayanagi Akane/Goto Rara behind her.

If Jurina is center, I’m sure it will be a triple center a la “Hikaeme I love you” or some other gimmick. Maybe we will have a Furumarion center, or a Kano-chan solo center, everything is possible.

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The units single was a great way of featuring new members. Putting a few of them in senbatsu is not enough, as you will still be looking for your oshis and not paying attention to the new girls. Here there is no choice, you have to look at the 3 new girls and Kumazaki Haruka.

Advertising this as a units single and doing a fair promotion of the other units (featuring them in mini-lives, concerts, on AKBSHOW!, giving all 24 girls an Ameba blog, etc.) avoided any backlash from the fans. As a Furuhata Nao oshi obviously I want her to center an A-side, but this Furumarion song is the next best thing I could have dreamt of. It’s much better than having her on the second line of a regular single.

Now if you look at “Must Be Now”, you have only Yamamoto Sayaka singing, you can see Watanabe Miyuki and Kato Yuka very well but other members are hidden behind them. People were excited to see Kinoshita Haruna back in, Nishimura Aika too, as well as Ishida Yuumi getting her first senbatsu.

Did anyone see them in this MV? Or during the promotion? This is a 3 members single, 2 of them being only dancers, and with some more backing dancers behind. As for the rest of the group, the B-side with Yabushita Shuu as center has been weakly promoted, but it never caught on. That’s how you try to shake things up and fail miserably.

I would still watch a performance of “Must Be Now” over “Cup no Naka no Komorebi” anytime, because the song is better, and I could spend hours staring at Miyuki and Uuka dancing. But if you are thinking about what is good for the group, where you want it to be headed, SKE clearly comes out on top. If you look at AKB, guess how many members in the senbatsu of “Kimi ha Melody” joined the group in the past 5 years? The answer is two, and one of them is an HKT member (she also happens to be the center, while not an AKB member per se). SKE has 6 out of 7, and that’s great!

Exposure

TV shows are an obvious issue. ZERO POSITION is actually pretty good, but once every 2 weeks. That’s not a lot. HKT has 4 times more than that (Odekake and Goboten both weekly). It is about on par with NMB only having Manabu-kun on TV, which is not the best show to feature members. But NMB has a ton of web shows (YNN, Kawaiian), and 3 weekly radio shows.

To be honest, most of their web shows are as boring as the average SKE Gakuen episode, but at least there a lot of them and you will often find one with your oshi. I can understand that rolling out Ebi shows every week of the year is a lot of work, but at least give us something low budget like Seifuku Joshi (or Shuukan AKB) and we will be happy.

At the moment, the only weekly thing we have are the 2-3 ja nai yo radio shows. They are good shows, and feature different members each time, unlike AKB and HKT who only have shows for regulars, and they also feature the KKS, which is never the case for NMB. But unless you are a DD, you will only watch some of them.

About promotional campaigns, you can see them everywhere in Nagoya. Outside, not so much, except for Jurina who will be in 48G campaigns. It’s the same for the other groups, they mostly do local stuff. SKE still has a few campaigns going like Coco-Ichiban and Asbee, but I would not really expect more in the future.

Yet, you don’t get new fans by having late night shows on TV or web shows, and campaigns reflect your popularity more than they create it. What regular people are watching is Majisuka Gakuen, AKBSHOW!, performances on music shows, and the news on morning shows like ZIP, PON and weekend brunch shows. That’s it. The truth is, noone watches AKBINGO or Ariyoshi AKB. Except for Majisuka, SKE is well featured on all of the important shows, all 4 groups are. They also appear a lot on local morning shows.

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Japan’s specialty is to have something super popular for 6 months to 2 years and then completely forget about it. What the 48G is achieving is pretty impressive, if you compare to how quick the popularity of Morning Musume went down. At this point, the only way they will not go down in popularity is having a new viral thing like KFC. So to be honest, the issue is not exposure in the media. It’s just fans who want more contents to watch every week.

Stages and elections

Stages have been an ongoing issue since like forever for all 48 groups. At least, SKE has 3 original stages, so each team can have one, and they are very strong stages, with great group songs and units. We’re talking A4, K6 or B3 strong. Do I want new stages? Yes. Do I want one if it means getting a stage as weak as N3? No thanks, I’d rather keep things like they are now.

Team N is now stuck with this stage forever, while M and BII have great stages, albeit ones that they don’t really own. HKT is even worse, as they are performing weak stages with both Team H and KIV. You can feel that SKE girls want to give it their all because they are proud of performing SKE original stages. Between the 2 shuffles, there was no energy on Team KII’s B5 stage. Shuffle, give them back Ramune no Nomikata, now they are on fire.

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Teams have changed too. Watching S doing S3 4 years ago compared to doing it now is very different. Same for KII with KII3. Mukaida Manatsu and Nao give very different vibes as centers, and the current team feels much younger, fresher. The shuffle stages were great, as well, to see a different take on the same stage.

Yes, I hope we will have new stages, with units tailored for Miyamae Ami, Azuma Rion, Ryoha, Nao and our 7D2, but only if they take the time to do things well. With 250 people per show, they can do them for a long time before all the fans have seen all 3 stages several times already in the theater.

As for management not caring about the results of the elections, it is the same for all groups. Just look at Miyuki or Muto Tomu. Fuchigami Mai made it to the undergirls and had the 5th best rank in HKT. Ok she is senbatsu for “Shekarashika”, but on the spring tour, you won’t ever see her among the 15 girls allowed on the revolving stage, while several unranked girls are there. Okada Kanna did better than Moriyasu Madoka or Kojina Yui, for no visible improvement since.

But there are a few things to remember. Elections are not the only measure of popularity. There are handshakes, sales of goods, social networks, etc. Also some girls are trending up, down, or stagnating and that is something management is considering. Some may already be discussing graduating next year and there is no reason to push them more.

And one important thing people forget – you don’t know how the girls behave backstage. Maybe this one is always late, or complains a lot during dance lessons, or last time she was in senbatsu she caused trouble by grabbing the mic on Music Station, while in the script someone else was supposed to talk. We don’t have all the details.

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I voted for years for Ishida Anna and Kyon until they finally ranked. What did we get? One senbatsu for Kyon, and out again on the next single. Should management have replaced Ryoha with Kyon in the senbatsu until the next election, because she ranked better in 2015? Lol no.

Conclusion

There are issues, of course, but that’s what to expect when you have a group with that many members, and so many events. We still get a lot of content. If you’re bored with the stages, just watch the MCs. You will still have 20 new songs a year in the singles, with 20 PVs, and a lot of concerts to watch, with tons of different songs to choose from. It’s more than what smaller idol groups out there have to offer.

We have lots of very promising members from generations 5 to 7 and management has been doing great with promoting them, we had tons of members opening Twitter accounts a month and a half ago, a new single is on the tracks already, SKE will most likely outperform all other groups at the sosenkyo again. Things look great. At the moment you’re much much better being a fan of SKE or HKT than AKB or NMB. Just give us a damn weekly TV show and everything else will be forgiven.

What are your thoughts on @3lWilly‘s take on the current state of SKE48? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Twitter.

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  • Andreo

    As an undefined casual – I have an opinion about the article that can be summated as enlightened discontent. Which is altogether the good and proper thing for this particular reader (me!). I enjoyed the explained correlation between personal/social milestones and graduation announcements – akin “When one door closes another opens” but instead of doors, its momentary introspection and turns into self actuation.
    And again when addressing the #SquadGoals difference between the production of Love Crescendo & Must Be Now or very much any single from any 48groups. The delicate hedging of production goals against a range of rewards (of which all leads to revenue).
    The want for improved exposure is strong in this one (& me!).
    Good write! Much enjoyed! #SKE2016!

  • Mike

    This article has a lot of fair points. Maybe SKE changes just hurt a bit more because as western fans, we get a “we hardly knew ye” syndrome due to this group’s lack of constant TV shows. Zero Position has had some really nice episodes but also has a lot of “sit and talk” ones as well, which aren’t as interesting to some of the less Japanese language inclined fans.

    In particular, I think the point of old gens nurturing new gens is a really good one. This is visible in SKE. In AKB, they just feel mushed together. HKT does it a little better, but not as good as SKE.

    My primary wish for SKE, aside from the obvious need for a reliable variety show, is better member pushes. They’re all over the place in my opinion. It’s kind of unfortunate, because in my particular case, I grew to love Kitagawa Ryoha, but she only reached her awesome point in my eyes after her push was greatly reduced. Sucks to be me. lol.

    I do find it pretty unfortunate that so many members are leaving having never performed an original stage to call their own, but this is an empire-wide problem. Then again, if A7 is any indicator of the quality of stages we’re gonna get these days…. maybe reruns aren’t such a bad thing.

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