Tsunku’s Insanity Series: 3rd Edition – They Shuffle no More


helloprojectshuffleunitsz8I realize that while we fans may wish to elevate the musical exploits of our idols into creative fits of genius, inevitably we come to the conclusion that most of it, if not all of it, is done exclusively to make money. And hey, it makes sense. Can’t fault logic that says, “if no one’s buying you can’t sell.” Everyone has to make a living…etc. You know the old capitalist drill.

HOWEVER: I think it was a huge mistake to stop with the annual shuffle units.

Tsunku is a brilliant man, albeit freakin nuts. I don’t deny this. But as I’ve said before and will say again, he’s my best scapegoat. So off I go again.

Tsunku, what the hell were you thinking?

H!P probably has nowhere near the budget it did back in 2000, even with the devotion of us overseas fans and the ever faithful wota, but these one-shot groups that we keep getting based on plays and so on are such shameless ploys to exploit the more popular members of H!P that I can only roll my eyes at things like High King. Yes, I loved that single, but I knew exactly what it was.

If you have to get more money some how, why not go back to that wonderful tradition you started that utilized everyone you had in the talent pool? Create a little competition again? Even if they always were ONLY a money-making ploy there are so many reasons shuffles were and ARE an all around good idea…

Back when H!P was in its infancy, we had a young but hungry Momosu (with the newly added Goto), Taiyou & Cisco Moon, Heike Michiyo and even the largely overlooked Coconuts Musume. There was all sorts of talent around the company. We also had a little show called Asayan that documented, pretty intensely all the little things going on H!P at the time. I’m not even sure the company had that name yet, but I’ll just keep referring to that group of girls as such. Stay with me.

On Asayan they had all these girls on one day and Tsunku, in what would be become his trademark way, gleefully informed his groups via VTR that they were going to be “shuffled” into three groups. Each group would be assigned a name, song and colour. They had, I think, a mere couple of days to learn the new song, record it, learn the dance and record the pv, before all three would go on sale. They would be competing to see whose song would sell the most. Even within the groups they had to compete. They were all from different groups and so there was rivalry already, but it hadn’t been decided who would sing the lead parts in each song.

At least for the members of Morning Musume, this was incredibly stressful, as they were approaching epic proportions in terms of their popularity. I think this was around the release of ‘Koi no Dance Site’. They were also filming their movie ‘Pinchrunner’. The 4th Gen was waiting in the wings to be added and Goto had just gotten sick that week.

The girls, in short, were hella busy.
This basically took up the rest of the few hours a day they had to themselves.

Even though you can tell most of the girls involved think the whole thing is impossible and freakin nuts, they get excited about competing with each other. The groups tried hard, dancing new routines, learning fast while getting scolded, trying to create the right image to their songs and trying to create a group dynamic with people they rarely worked with. I think they all grew a lot.

These were of course, our first shuffle units: Kiiro5, Akagumi4 and Aoiro7. After Asayan ended, the shuffles were not presented in quite as much detail (as far as I know), but the idea was the same: new people all together, specific image and crazy song. The tradition continued for 6 years.

And what a six years it was…

2000 “Iro” Shuffles

kiiro5

– Kiiro5: Kiiroi Osora de Boom Boom Boom

Their image is of course, yellow. So all the expected things. Brightness. A sort of bird-like fluttery coreography, which is one of my favourite H!P dances of all time. A pv with a space theme where they’re in shiny yellow suits. The song itself is very light, even with the presence of two powerhouses like Heike and Ruru. Let’s not discount Kemeko there [it’s all about Kei], who is always sultry and full of attitude, even in a bright song like this. Abe was still in her whisper phase of vocals and Ayaka was still finding her feet as a singer; this worked fine though, because they all needed to make it as light as possible to get the right image across.

I always think that this song was my favourite one out of the three. Then I get to this one…

aoiiro7

– Aoiro7: Aoi Sportcar no Otoko

Their image was blue, so…cool. Hence the ridiculously punky styling and the horrible-yet-awesome fake guitar. Yes. They incorporated fake guitars into the dance. And what a weird dance it is. You haven’t lived till you’ve seen Iida Kaori head-banging with a bad perm and fake guitar. The pwnage does not stop.

The entire song is basically telling the guy with the blue sports car that he is pathetic and that girls are (generally) so much better than him. Complete with ‘oi! oi! oi!” choruses. Iichi Sayaka was the lead for some reason. Her voice isn’t very strong to my ears, but there is something wonderfully wicked about her that lets her get away with anything. In the pv she’s watchable, she’s workin’ that center spot and she might have been the prettiest girl to have ever come through H!P. Everyone does well, with the exception of Lehua. Her line makes me cringe every time. But it’s not her fault. That was her first time singing Japanese. Ever. We can forgive her. It’s still a kick ass little song.

Much like this one…

akagumi4

– Akagumi4: Akai Nikkichou

Image?
Red. Drama. Passion. The red thread of fate.

*pauses to let words sink in and stares out the window looking tortured*

Ahem. Basically red was the sad dramatic one. So the members were all rather appropriately chosen. Except Goto. Because she was at this point only 14 years old. Both Tsunku and Yuuko expressed doubts that she could express or really even understand the kind of feelings that the song called for. Even so, she gets the majority of the lines.

To sum up the meaning of the song in one terrible sentence: it’s a sad song about a fear that love will burn itself out. For some reason he stuck in an English monologue at the beginning. Ah, Danielle. As with most H!P english it’s horribly awkward, but she reads it anyway. She always had this wonderfully unapologetic way of pwning the hell out of her vocals. Of course, (as we see in Asayan) Tsunku is laughing at her the whole time during the recording, but even he has to admit that she’s a force to be reckoned with. Then there is Yuuko, who kept crying because the lyrics affected her so much. Her vocals are gorgeous because you know that she is right there in the moment. They kept the moment where Yuuko breaks down in tears in the pv. Those were real tears, people.

Each of these songs was vastly different and just a little bit weird: kiiro’s “boom”, aoiro’s “oi!”s and akagumi’s peculiar timing. But three distinct individuals. Lots of thought put into each song.

Their Utaban appearance { I feel these should get a mention} –  This one is a must-watch. You’ve got Kaori in her all-limbs-all-the-time phase, looking wonderfully awkward. She gets really angry at Danielle because she’s too powerful and beat her at musical chairs. Then there is the jump-rope portion where she takes forever to get started and keeps leading the group in a cheer. Man, I love Kaori so much.
Ishibashi’s facial expressions alone are worth it. The man is insane.

WINNER:
(as in, sold the most)
Akagumi4.
They had Goto. Of course they won.
Yes, it’s a great song, but…*sigh* At least Kiiro won in terms of kareoke ratings.


2001 “Matsuri” Shuffles            

3nin-matsuri

 

 

 

– 3nin Matsuri: Chu! Natsu Party

Ugh! LOOK at them!
Anyway…image was dolls.
And to a lesser extent, summer.

The song, at least for me, is unbearable in it’s ubercuteness. Rika can get away with this naturally. I think this was perhaps the beginning of the frightening Rika we eventually get around the time of the iced cream/pudding song. She enjoys this stuff way too much. Like I said, she some how gets away with it. Oddly enough, so does Matsuura and Aibon. Aibon pretty much did whatever she felt like anyway, so it feels like she wouldn’t take this quite seriously and could have fun with it. Matsuura was just plain adorable when she was younger. She can pretty much do anything. It’s probably the oddest combination ever.

I’ve never ever gotten through the whole song or pv. I can only handle so much. Despite the fact that basically everyone else in H!P told these three they were disgusting and made fun of them, it seems like most of the girls were curious to try getting into these plastic wigs to blow obnoxious kisses. Lots of H!P girls have said over the years that the group they want to try being in is 3nin Matsuri, if only to make fun of it even more. So if you can’t get past the uber-cute, you can at least laugh.

7nin-matsuri

7nin Matsuri: Summer Reggae Rainbow

Ah, Tsunku trying to be reggae…The hats look heavy, don’t they? This song is irresistable and I have no idea why. Every time it comes on I think I’m going to skip it and don’t end up doing it. As with any reggae beat, it makes you want to dance along, or at least sway. It gets under your skin. The vocals are at times funny and at times make me think random things about each singer. Example:  “Ayaka should have had lots of rap or shouting parts in songs”. She really was great with those. Her raps in the otherwise frightening ‘Sexy Night’ song she did with Romans were amazing. Goto’s whispery vocals annoy me though. Fortunately we’ve got Yaguchi, who is so bright she makes me giggle.

As far as the members go, I always found it an odd mix of people. It would be too harsh to say ‘the leftovers’, but it’s almost  like all the people who couldn’t have pulled off the super-strong images of the other two groups. I know the image they’re going for is fairly in-your-face. I mean the attempt at dreads alone…but as far as images go, this group really feels like the lightest of the three.

Hey, points for experimenting. And like I said, you pretty much can’t resist it.

10nin-matsuri

– 10nin Matsuri: Dancing! Natsu Matsuri

FUCK yeah! The traditional matsuri costumes and style, complete with chants like “wasshoi” and “yoi yoi” and other things that would be real bitch to try and translate into English. They were going for a real MAN kinda image, obviously. They even incorporated the drums into the dance so everyone starts out with drumsticks that they eventually have to set down…

Yeah. I really love this one.

Maybe it’s because I’m a tom-boy, or the stupid-foreigner in me is all in awe of the “traditional Japanese” aspect of theav-49690 style. More than all of that though, we’ve got bad-ass Abe. The one who unapologetically acknowledged that, yes, her hairstyle for this group looked like a cartoon piece of crap (you gotta love Utaban’s unique way of taking everyone down a peg or two). Who cared? She was determined to be damn proud of it. The whole freakin song, Abe pwns her ass off. And we’ve got Kei who looked like she was about to have a seizure she was so into it along with Yossy, who is the queen of random funny faces. Then there is little Tsuji (this is the time of the crying over yakisoba) who tries to be bad-ass and just ends up being weirdly adorable. DJ Tsuji, anyone? 
(To whomever made this gif, I love you. You are made of win.)

Their Utaban Appearance – Also a must watch. Constant Kei winkage, Kaori scowling at 3nin and Ishibashi’s unabashed love of their panty-flash. Also, making Tsuji choose between the shuffles and Mini Moni. Each group gets a snack according to their theme and that alone is really funny. Everybody wants to be 3nin…I should mention this is the one where Abe defends her hair.

Abe is awesome.

WINNER:
3 Nin Matsuri.
Did we expect anything else?
…Ugh.
Just a thought: imagine a celebrity death match with 3nin and 10nin.
They’d be slaughtered, even in a fair fight.
The thought makes me feel better…because I’m a terrible person.

2002 “Shiawase” Shuffles

This was the last year that all the singles were sold separately and they were still competing. After this, presumably to save money, all the singles were sold on one disc. I guess it’s annoying as hell to have to buy three different cds to get all the songs, but still.

happy7

– Happy7: Shiawase Beam! Suki Suki Beam!

There is genki and then there is Happy7. It’s genki, if genki drank a couple red bulls and then ate a chocolate cake. With sugar on top.

The song bounces along with what I can only describe as very pure and youthful vocals.  The dance is goofy. There’s a lot of hopping and jumping and flailing. It’s charming somehow though. You get the sense that they were having a lot of fun, except maybe Saitou, the oldest one in that group. Why was she there again? The babysitter?

It doesn’t matter though. The fifth gen and Aibon dominate in terms of the vocals. Which is fine. The newly added fifth gen are so earnest in this song. I don’t know how else to describe it. They feel very much in their element. I’m sad Konno wasn’t in this one, but I don’t think her brand of genki would really fit. This group needed what it got, which was happy times a million plus some sugar.

I like it, but I have to be in the right mood for it.

sexy8

-Sexy8: Shiawase Desu Ka?

I can never make up my mind about this song. On the one hand I really love it as the vocals are generally very pretty (Yaguchi pwns) and, as per the name, sexy. On the other hand, I never have the patience for slow-tempo R&B songs. I want them to hurry it up. Also: Rika should never rap. Ever. The only one who can pull off the rap is Ayaka and she doesn’t really get a chance to. The engrish can be a little hard too. “Woa do you love me?…Is that the same as me?”

Just… wut?

This group has one of the best pvs ever. Not so much for the dance-shot. For some reason, I don’t like the dresses. Especially during the rap, they just don’t work. Yossy and Heike particularly look like they’re about to trip or something. I think the group is much sexier in the rain scenes, especially Ayaka. They have this wounded, brooding image in the rain scences that H!P has never been able to pull off since. It’s sexy as all hell.

Dammit, I miss Ayaka.

vlcsnap-9600805vlcsnap-9601363
PWN~!


odoru11

– Odoru11: Shiawase Kyouryuu Ondo

I can’t find a bigger picture of them. I’ve tried. Those are dinosaurs on their costumes. They’re singing a song that some how refers to a happy dinosaur. Who is…dancing?

I don’t know. The song is completely ridiculous. It revels in the ridiculousness.
The song is basically a supremely delighted wtf.

I don’t even know how to describe it. You’d have to hear it, to watch the dance with the fans and the cherry blossoms and the random high-pitched “kyoooooooryuu onde na”s. Kei and Abe pwn their lines. With all of them in wigs though and dressed the same, I always find it hard to tell who is singing when. Tsuji seemed to love this song. Because she is ridiculous just like this song. Go watch the pv. Watch her. Wikipedia describes it as a “pop take on a traditional ondo song”. So there you go. Whatever that means.

Their Utaban Appearance: I wouldn’t call it a must-watch, but I love it because you can’t get away from Happy7. The new members of Morning Musume, namely the fifth gen, are, as Mari puts it “unusually energetic”. Need I mention the “maji de” incidents? Ishibashi and Nakai basically ignore Sexy 8 even with Goto and torture everyone in Odoru 11, especially Kei, Abe and Kaori. They’re put up way too high and aren’t allowed to come down even once. They’re all pretty pissed about it too.

Winner:
Sexy8.
For once, I’m ok with that.

After this point, like I’ve already mentioned, they stopped having this competition element to the shuffles. I am sure it was for a good reason, but the fact remains: that sucks.

11water2The 2003 element Shuffles with Salt5, 7Air and 11Water are my favourite three. All three songs, once again are completely different, but they’re all so powerful. I adore 11Water’s ‘Be all Right’ for doing ska justice and for the awesome pv with the red suits. Mari’s never looked so amazing. 7Air’s rap is one of the best ever. Every vocalist does awesome. Mame trying to rap makes me so happy, because she’s still7air so tiny that her hair looks bigger than her head. Salt5 never really gets old. At least if you’re me it doesn’t. It’s not rap, even if the song is called ‘Get Up Rapper‘. The best you can call it is singing with attitude, but it still pwns. Since all these songs are so strong, I’m really curious to see what the rankings would have been had they all been sold separately. I think that Salt5 would have won, mainly cause I’m always swayed by salt5bad-ass Abe, but who the hell knows?

There is no Utaban appearance I can direct you to. There was a particularly delightful appearance on Heyx3 where they all tried to feature things that related to their name. Example: Salt5 made riceballs flavoured with different types of salt. It was really fun to see, but that feeling you got from the first shuffles, that they were all so into making it as a team and wanted to be number one in the sales is completely gone.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of competition. I think in the “west” it’s often associated with a certain arrogant attitude of kicking someone’s ass, rather than improving oneself or surpassing a rival. It’s all well and good to want to compete, but the energy that goes into competing has to be directed the right way. It seems in Japan that competition is drilled into them at a really early age as something essential to their growth. They find a rival and work to surpass him or her because that person is someone they admire, not because they want to kick that person’s ass.

Hey, I’m sure lots of those girls wanted to kick some ass…but the attitude is different.

I’m losing my main point, but what I loved most about the shuffles was the sense that those girls wanted to win. They had to work with ridiculous songs and sillier costumes. Maybe they hated it. The first group of shuffles had it rough, basically answering Tsunku’s whim and doing all kinds of work in a matter of days. But in the end they were proud of themselves. They could look forward to a new group, a new song and a new challenge each year. If nothing else, it gave those who were always overlooked a chance to shine.

Need I mention Ayaka again?

vlcsnap-9602181

There’s also the creative challenge of themes and images. Tsunku really seemed to think through the Iro shuffles, particularly the red one. With the one-shots we’re getting nowadays, it just seems like he churns out a song and then leaves it to others to figure out. I don’t blame him. The guy has a life outside of H!P. Still, they need to give the fans some credit. We may love this sugary pop stuff, but underneath the hearts and peace-signs we still have working brains. Lyrics can make us think. PVs can be based on an actual theme, rather than a formula. Images can be tinkered with. Example: Ohtani from Melon Kinenbi in Sexy8. She never wears dresses and frilly things, but she at least got to try on the image for a moment.

I’ll pick on High King for now. Keep in mind, I loved this single to death, but I am trying to make a point.
What did that have to do with Cinderella, really? The lyrics mildly speak of someone wanting to be rescued, but it could have been a little more focused. Perhaps a little different in tone. As far as focusing on a particular image, I’m not sure what they were going for. Cool, certainly, but that’s fairly general. Vague even. I like the hats and the chains and the skirts…but really, they all looked the same as they always do. Winky with her pigtails and big earrings, Maimi with her side-ponytail and Captain with her hat and vest.

And they weren’t competing in any way.

We need to also consider that idol groups aren’t as popular. There is something distinctly nostalgic about H!P’s genki image. It doesn’t always strike one as very modern. The shuffle experiments fall into idol-pop, which probably wouldn’t sell very well. Why not modernize the shuffles? Tsunku seems to be trying out his various musical whims on C-ute exclusively. Why not use everyone in the talent pool again? The freakin kids are getting bigger now. I’m sure at least one of them would have enough star power to carry a group. Why not give them a chance to try? Try out some modern styles. Find some sort of image you want. Or hell, go back to the old staple of a seasonal shuffle. Why not a winter shuffle?

With the exit of the Elder Club, H!P needs some sense of tradition and stability. That being said, I really believe in Morning Musume, moreso now than ever. This new lineup is really stepping up. The kids are getting noticeable. I mean, I did a post exclusively on a Berryz video for the first time ever. It was that good. Bringing back the shuffles would show us what they can all do and it might get Tsuku more interested in his creation again.

PS: A short word about the H!P All Stars Shuffle
thankful01-hp 

All for One and One for All makes me cry. I recall distinctly the moment I really sat down and watched the pv, without just having the song on in the background and suddenly there was a lump in my throat that became real tears. Everyone is there. Even the kids, looking so tiny, bobbing along to the music with their toothy grins made me so happy. It’s just another happy pop song, but it’s so catchy and so full of feeling. It really felt like a celebration of all they’d created up to that point.

You have to wonder what awaits us five years from now.

~Isilie

3 thoughts on “Tsunku’s Insanity Series: 3rd Edition – They Shuffle no More

  1. This was awesome. In reference to the Utaban for the elemental shuffles, Nakai and Taka basically played Texas Poker with the girls, using their main groups, not the shuffles, as their suits. They also had a random wild card and t.A.t.U in the mix… Yeah. And what about Puri Puri pink, Sexy otona Jan and … the thrid one I forget. Weren’t they considered shuffles too? And I really wanna see the Utaban with the first shuffles. That’d be an awesome piece of history to watch. If only they brought them back… It seems more possible, because none of the groups is doing as much work as they did back then, therefore they must have more time on their hands. So it must be all in the hands of Tsunku. You have to wonder if the girls want to do stuff like this on their own? Have they ever gone to Tsunku and asked about the shuffles, or if they were gonna do them again? Or maybe something like another H.P. All Stars. It’s something to think about.

  2. I originally was going to comment on all of them, but ended up only talking about the ones that were sold separately. As for the last few shuffles, I didn’t have as much to say about them.
    If you go to Hello Online you could probably find the 1st shuffle unit utaban. I believe it’s been subbed.

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