Our beloved class president, Sayashi Riho/Ace/Riho-Riho is going to graduate from Morning Musume.
In just two months, on December 31st.
My brother chuckled when he read this and said, “Hm, just like Goto.”
He didn’t seem surprised at all. I, of course, was flabbergasted. I mean, the ace graduate? After only 5 years?
Then I realized, as most already have, that a 5 year stint isn’t that unusual. In fact, before Platinum Era, it was pretty much the norm for a momusu member. I just didn’t think it would be her, of all people. I think I was expecting someone like Iikubo, not because she’s necessarily done, but because of her age (unfair, but a thing).
Nobody else seems that surprised. I’ve even seen that word again, the one that haunted the Platinum era to the point that it lost all meaning: stagnating. Nothing the group does is good enough for people any more and so everything that does happen is all so very predictable. *sigh*
Riho has said that she wants to pursue other adventures, among them studying dancing abroad. She’s apparently been worrying about this for a while, which might explain her being absent (due to poor health – perhaps stress leave of some sort?) and otherwise oddly distant lately.
So, what does this mean for Momusu?
People are already placing Sakura Oda as the new Ace, at least in terms of who they’d like to see. Much more likely it will be divided between Masaki-kins and Fuku-hime, with maybe some Ayumin and Oda to back-up. It’s interesting to think about why they’re suddenly allowing all the girls to sing, rather than simply giving every line to Oda and Ace. It’s hard for me to believe that Ace’s inner turmoil about whether or not to graduate made the company test out the other girls, but hey, who knows? Ace has been an important tool for the group since she joined.
Little Riho joined when she was 13 and instantly had almost as many lines as Takahashi. Then she did have Takahashi’s lines. She’s always been able to sing, but I think everyone’s realized over the years that she just couldn’t handle the skill level and we’re now hearing the aftermath. She sounds like she’s really tired. She’s singing just a little too hard.
Singing is a skill and part of learning to sing is discovering one’s range and learning how to reach notes without hurting one’s voice. It sounds like Riho never had the proper time to do this; she was immediately expected to wail out all of Takahashi’s notes and all the other high-pitched stuff Tsunku favoured without the experience or training. Obviously the girls have vocal training, but I doubt it was individualized to suit what was vocally expected of each specific member.
Plus, since she was made ace right out of the gate, there probably wasn’t time for extra vocal training on the side. Gotta churn out them photobooks, ne?
Just a side note here: everyone should listen to the Triangle soundtrack. Riho sounds wonderful and I think it’s mostly because she’s singing in a lower register than Momusu ever allows her. Every single time she has done this in the past, she’s nailed it.
I wish that she was given Niigaki’s lines instead of Takahashi’s some times. Yes, Niigaki was very capable with high notes, but she mostly got a lot of powerful, lower notes and I just don’t think Riho has the vocal range of, for example, Oda, who is honestly one of the best voices H!P has had in a long time. If they’d just let her sing a tiny bit lower, I think her voice could heal a bit and she’d go back to singing effortlessly.
Too late for that now, I guess.
Leaving the vocals aside, Riho seemed very shy when she first joined, but she never hid the fact that she wanted to be an ace. Looking back, it seems rather innocent and naive of her to assume that wanting it really bad means you can handle it. The pressure of being up front means you can’t mess up, even a little. The pressure of inheriting a senpai’s lines means you can’t mess up, even if your voice is hurting.
Ace is diligent and I think she’s done a wonderful job. She developed her voice as best she could (for all I’ve gone on about her vocals, she performed beautifully in New York), she danced sharply and with great expression and she slowly let us see her weird-old-pervert personality. She’s usually a lone-wolf, but she’s quite goofy with the members and I loved seeing that after so much time not being sure how I felt about her.
I also enjoyed the little moments of snark, when Ace would ever-so-subtly poke at her rivals. We don’t really have snippy moments in Momusu anymore, but Ace gave us some gems here and there (paraphrased):
Dancing rival Ayumin: “Oh, it sure is amazing that you can say your specialty is dance.”
What exactly did she mean by that?
Singing rival Oda: “[The prank I would pull on a member is] A prank that tampers with Oda’s mic so her voice becomes very difficult to hear.” fufu…
None of these comments are snippy exactly. Not unless you think too hard about them. That would be Ace’s charm. Is she insulting anyone? Does she honestly resent these rivals?
Well, she is 18 now, but that is still fairly young. An ambitious girl such as Riho is still young enough to feel such things. Also, stress can make monsters of even the best of us.
One of the campaigns for Momusu in 2014 was the “golden age doesn’t come just once”.
Shige says, “It’s ok.”
Then Ace says that she wanted to be number one in Momusu, but now she wants Momusu to be number one.
After their three consecutive number one singles, suddenly people were talking about them again (I know, I know, not enough for you rage-quitters to give a damn, but for Momusu it was a big deal). There was pressure not only to be good individually, but to surpass the ‘Golden age’, or make something just as formidable. Riho was in the center of this. Shige wanted people to know about her beloved Morning Musume and she passed that on to the rest of the members before she left.
I think everybody should read Blog Project’s translation of an interview with Ace and Zukki, around the time of the Updated Best album. I love Zukkiri, so I was mostly reading it to see what they’d say about each other (FYI: Riho says she can be herself around Zukki, like they’re sisters, and Zukki is basically her biggest fan), but I found that it gave me some insight into Riho.
See until meeting Ace, I never really thought about how much pressure and stress being constantly the center would put on someone. I was like most people, annoyed about how many lines were given to her, and wishing other girls would get their chance to step up. Even with Takahashi, I never really thought about the pressure. It always seemed like this privileged position, where things were more or less handed to you.
Even if things are set before you on a silver platter, you still have to step up, ne? Riho seems like the kind of girl to not only step up, but force herself one step further. People are counting on her.
I got to shake Ace’s hand in New York and I was struck by her warmth despite an impenetrable wall of professionalism. The last thing I was expecting from her was warmth. I’d always thought she’d be a little stand-offish. Pretty much had the same impression of her that Zukki had at first, that ‘Cool-Riho’ would be hard to approach. She reached out with a huge smile and thanked me, and it made me feel wonderful.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned being a long-suffering fan of Momusu in all it’s forms (stagnation and all), it’s that Momusu will go on. I have no idea if they will ever get any more “number ones”, but I do know they’ll fight to the death until someone finally decides to end the legacy.
I dread that day. Momusu is my most beloved idol group, even now. I appreciate what Riho brought to the group and I’m glad I gave her a chance to get under my skin a little bit. I don’t mean to go overboard about her feeling pressure or hurting her voice; those are just observations of mine that could very well be wrong. Hopefully, she feels fulfilled and wants to move on because she’s realized there really isn’t any further to go within the group.
The important thing is, she did her best, first for herself, and then for Momusu.
I love that sort of journey.
I hope we’ll see her again.