PART ONE: The Ace Question
There is no other period of Morning Musume history that gets more criticism, insults, and terrible reviews than the Platinum Generation. At least there isn’t to my knowledge and I’ve been in this fandom for a decade now (wow, who else feels old?). It’s strange to me, who became a fan in late 2006, that this era is now becoming a bit as mythical as the Golden Age. Obviously it’s nowhere near as admired and lusted after, but people now seem to acknowledge how spoiled we were back in the age of JunLin, Takahashi Ai and, depending on your level of crack-consumption, Miracle-Ace Koharu. Since the kyuukies, the polish of the group with only three newbies has gone down. The vocals aren’t as strong, for example and mileages vary on performance level.
In one of her many awesome posts, Magi-kat made the point that there is a whole generation of new Momusu fans who are used to the conditions of one or two members getting all the solo lines, the relentlessly pushed ‘Ace’ member carrying all the pressure, and members staying in the group for decades. That was simply never the norm until Platinum Era.
So what was the Platinum Generation/Era? Why did people hate it so much if it created a generation of fans? Why is the question of the Ace so important for people now?
The instant Sayashi Riho announced her graduation, people were speculating about who would be the new Ace member and most of it seemed to be based on vocal talent. Oda, for example, is my favourite voice in Momusu right now, but I haven’t seen her as a definite Ace yet. More than likely, it will be one of the new members and Masaki-kins. That’s how they integrated Riho, placing her alongside Ai-Winky until they both left and Riho was given all their lines plus her own. Oda had always seemed like Riho’s back-up. I don’t mean this in a snide way and I don’t think Oda really minded much. After all, back-up is ideal if you want lots of lines but don’t want to step on any toes. Well, Riho’s been gone two years now and we still don’t seem to have an ace.
All the talk kinda made me tired after a while. I don’t want to place all my hopes for Momusu’s future on one girl because that’s silly and because it damages that girl. AKB hasn’t been the same without Maeda Atsuko and yet she never, ever, wanted to be the Ace of AKB. Or is it the center? Whatever the term doesn’t it all pretty much mean the same thing? Seeing Atsuko in the AKB documentaries hyperventilating and weeping and wringing her hands over the pressure was tough. I don’t want Momusu to become like that.
But hasn’t it? It made me think about where this all started. Now one can argue that idol groups always have the Ace, a member that is pushed at the audience and given most of the lines and appearances, so the public associates the group name with that one girl. This is good business. It’s hard to remember five to twelve names and faces when a group is new and it’s far easier on the brain to associate one picture with one name. It also creates rivalry in the group, which spurs on the girls. Look at C-ute and how Chisato emerged from under the shadow of Aiririri. Momusu was no different.
As far as I know, the first ace of Momusu was Abe Natsumi, referred to as the ‘Face’ of Momusu. Then there was the mythical Goto Maki, widely regarded as the best thing to ever happen to the group. Then after she left? Who then? I couldn’t really think of one member pushed more than the other. Sure, there was a lot of Ishikawa and Tsuji-Kago. There was some Takahashi, some Winky, lots of Mikitty, and Yaguchi refused to be ignored. Remember the Yasuda years, of creative and spectacular photo-bombs? Utaban gave us some variety gold and the argument that Iida “Johnson” Kaori could also be called an Ace.
If you don’t know what this is about, you need to look up Utaban right the hell now.
I asked my brother who he thought the Ace was after Goto and he said, “It was Abe again.”
Well…what about after her, in the years of constant graduations that followed?
Koharu. She was cute as a button, had yet to discover crack and was thrown at us as a “Miracle”. She was the beginning of that bizarre game-changer known as Platinum Era.
What it Is/Was:
The era began with the exit of Yoshizawa Hitomi, the last member whom people thought of as ‘Golden Era’ Musume. Yossy graduated in 2007 and shortly after her, Fujimoto Miki left the group. Suddenly, the position of leader had to be given to Takahashi Ai (I assume because of her age). Nobody thought this was a good idea, because Takahashi had just never seemed like the type. She wasn’t really, but when, minus Nakazawa Yuuko, has any Momusu girl actually felt ready to be leader when the time came?
They already had a new member, Mitsui Aika, who hadn’t even gotten her feet wet before they announced a completely unprecedented move: two girls from China would be added as part of the 8th generation. Junjun and Linlin came into the group right after Yossy and Miki left and could barely speak Japanese, not to mention all the usual shock of being new to an idol group. Linlin had been involved in Hello Pro Eggs for a short time, but this was hardly the same.
For me, Platinum Gen found their sound and truly began with the single Resonant Blue. However, if you want technicality, it began with Onna ni Sachi Are. The last single was Lullaby Game. From Maji Desu ka Ska to One.Two.Three, we were in transition.
Platinum Gen, lasted from 2007 to 2011, when Junjun, Linlin, and Kamei Eri left in a massive graduation ceremony and they finally, finally added the 9th generation. Thus began what some call the ‘Colourful’ Era, but what I always refer to as ‘Robo-Musume’. Incidentally, a three-person grad had never been done before, or since.
The Characteristics of Platinum Generation:
They were the last era to have their own T.V show Haromoni@.
This was the era in which all the H!P variety shows were ending or being slowly converted into hour-long commercials. Haromoni@ was a branch off of Hello Morning, which ended in 2007 to much sadness and confusion. In its place, we got this show: all the girls wore strange animal ears and tails and pushed around a Baby-King puppet on a stroller. At first it was on location around Japan, but then it morphed into a studio show, with games and something called MouTube (VTR-athon) in which the girls would do skits or challenges.
Other than Haromoni@, they didn’t appear on T.V much, if ever.
There are many theories for this, but the most popular one was that the members just weren’t interesting enough and without people like Abe, Ishikawa, Tsuji-Kago etc, the group had no relevance anymore. Shige began to make rounds on her own, creating a ‘sharp-tongued’ character. I thought it was part of promoting Momusu, but many people argued that this was likely because she wasn’t getting much to do in singles aside from “uh” and “ah” (only she knows).
Singles didn’t sell very well/the songs sounded the same.
There was a lot of synth in this era. I thought the vocals became a lot more polished and required more skill, simply because the two main vocalists of this time, Winky and Takahashi Ai, were so strong. Most people commented on how comparatively depressing the lyrics were in this era: there was a lot of loneliness and disillusion, with the occasional break for something like Seishun Collection, which people found boring anyway. In this era we got some spectacular b-sides, some of which I personally liked better than the singles.
There were no graduations or new members for three years.
Previously, Momusu hadn’t gone more than a year without someone leaving and new members coming in.
For the first and so far only time, there were Chinese members.
Junjun and Linlin were criminally underused, but delightful. Junjun seemed to model herself after Michishige, but was always her own woman, speaking up when she wanted to and being loud when she thought she wasn’t being heard. I read an intriguing theory somewhere that Junjun found the whole idol thing amusing (rather than simply buying into it) and was sometimes a little tongue-in-cheek about it. Linlin was a little closed off at first, but blossomed into a spunky, goofy, adorable little sister. She also had the best voice in H!P, which is why it’s such nonsense that it was never used, minus her glorious, gospel-inspired intro to Aozora ga Itsumademo Suzuku youna Mirai de Are and her lines in the overused (but pretty) Ame ga Furenai song.
This was the first time Momusu toured internationally.
Finally, there were shows in China, Paris and then America, presumably because of Junlin and Tsunku’s vaguely defined ‘Asian Expansion’ plan that I don’t think went anywhere. The less said of IceCream Musume, the better.
This was the first time line distribution became a ‘thing’ (as far as I am aware) with fans.
In the past there had been singles in which Tsunku had given most of the solo lines to only one or two members (Roman my Dear Boy or Furusato, for example), but it didn’t happen in every single; Tsunku did this to give certain girls a chance, or because he wanted to try out some concept (like Mr. Moonlight) and there were only one or two girls at the time who could pull it off. Sometimes it was as simple as, “she/they sang the best take(s)”. There had always been a ‘face’ or ‘ace’ or however you define the girl who gets the attention of the public, but this era was the era of Ai-Winky-Koharu, no matter what. Ai-Winky would get the majority of the singing lines and anything else would go to Koharu. Niigaki and Kamei started to get lines towards the end, Junlin were almost never heard, Mitsui was almost never heard and Michishige began her “uh”, “ah”, “Help me!” phase. The girls themselves started to mention it when they were lucky enough to appear on variety shows because, again, it hadn’t been the norm until Resonant Blue.
Despite being graduated, the O.G members were relentlessly, endlessly pushed and it only served to overshadow the current line-up.
I’m not sure this point needs explaining. There were many, many specials/variety shows in which they’d invite the current line-up only if some or all of the O.Gs would also show up. This led to Renai Revolution and Love Machine being performed on an endless loop almost every time Platinum Gen got to appear. People were angry that the current line-up didn’t speak up much in these situations, but I’d defend them on the grounds that these were DAI-SENPAI (super-duper-important seniors!!!) and speaking over them or during their time would have been outrageously rude. Despite the harsh reality of so many people not knowing who they were and not bothering to find out, Momusu continued to work diligently in the shadows of their senpai.
Why is it called ‘Platinum Generation’?
Well, I don’t know if that’s the general name for this time period, but I will be calling it that. The ‘Platinum’ part comes from their initial album Platinum9 Disco. At least, I assume that’s where it’s from. I actually can’t even remember where I got the term from, but I remember I thought it was a good name for this era. As for them selling platinum music, I think the only single to really do well was Shoganai Yume Oibito, which hit number one on the Oricon.
Now, I was on board with Platinum era, despite everything. No one has ever captured my heart or attention the way Yossy did, so her exit felt quite dire. Miki was gone, Takahashi had her nervous hands on the reigns and Junjun and Linlin needed help and support to integrate into the group and into Japan. And where was poor, overlooked Mitsui in all this, anyway?
Opinions differ on where the Golden Era began and where it ended, but to many, Yossy’s exit was the end. The Gokkies were the beginning of the “weaker” generations and suddenly the group was doomed because every speck of personality was gone. Everyone was some variation of cute or genki. There was no variety any more. This is the first time, at least to my knowledge (I can’t read Japanese blogs/forums, so I can’t confirm this), the concept of the Golden Era came into play. The Golden Era became “the time when the group was good”, full of personality and great singers and the music was still not afraid to be fun and to experiment.
I mourned the loss of Yossy, but I still remember a great anticipation when I watched Onna ni Sachi Are for the first time. I remember loving it and I really didn’t think I would. I was almost afraid that I wouldn’t.
As for things being led by the Gokkies, I was on board for that too. I’ve always loved their generation. Niigaki Risa was tiny and serious, but genki-as-all hell and quite the powerhouse by the end of her tenure. I constantly lamented the mishandling of H!P solo artists, because I just really loved that voice and wanted her solo debut.
THIS!!! THIS A MILLION TIMES!!!! Maybe she isn’t the best, but she did amazingly well with what she was given. (From Haropro Confessions @tumblr)
Takahashi, while weak at speaking by herself, was an incredible talent from the beginning. Even before they began to rely on her, she would deliver her lines with skill and passion. There are many people who stayed only for her and it’s easy to see why when you watch her perform. She took that passion and created the Platinum Era for the rest of the girls: it wasn’t such a stern hierarchy because they were all close in age again and she wasn’t into being harsh. She created her own style of leading in a time when fans were rage-quitting all over the place and H!P was morphing into something totally different. If people didn’t get to see them in variety, if they weren’t creating many new fans, then hey, why not go all out for the fans that had stuck by them?
I was on board for this. Totally.
So, why did so many hate this incarnation? We’ll go into that in more detail next time. Please let me know in the comments if I’ve missed any relevant details and I will add accordingly.