Friday 30 November 2012

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I recant. I repent. I confess. Forgive me father for I have sinned. Nevermore shall I blaspheme and take the name of AKB48 in vain. I am converted. The scales have been lifted and on the road to Akihabara mine eyes have beheld the glory, the fury, the majesty and the triumph that is the blistering satire of AKB. I was blind but now I see. The Lord is Light and She has illuminated my ere wretched path with the wisdom and the knowledge that, in a land justly unheralded for its political lampoonery, AKB48 are perhaps the most ambitiously conceived, expertly executed, and insidiously subversive commentary on the body politic ever unleashed on an unexpecting world.

Work with me on this.

1.    (Indefinitely) Delayed Gratification.

Well, I’ve not used this clip for a while. It really is the gift that keeps on giving. I realize this is a forlorn hope, but please try to ignore the nubile young women rolling about in their underwear and the megaton subtlety of the bukkake and sapphic cunnilingus allusions (02.40 and 02.12 if you’re interested in checking them out for ‘research’ purposes). Don’t pretend like it’s just me – in that second one she’s literally eating out her hole.


No, we’re not interested in replenishing our spank bank this time around. What we’re interested here is the dancing. Check it out; the razor sharp choreography and the impassioned and rhythmic execution. My particular favourite is at 00.32 where we can see Yuko Oshima throwing shapes with a verve that wouldn’t have been out of place in the most hedonistic mid-nineties Ibiza foam party. Everybody in the house of love, indeed.

Here’s another example. Observe the seamless professionalism and hawk-like attention to detail as the multiple participants move together as a single organic whole to convey the very essence of sound. They are more than singers, more than dancers, more than entertainers. Rhythm and melody incarnate, they are music.

Or not. It’s a bit shit really, isn’t it?

My wife once described AKB’s dancing as, ‘like a high school culture festival,’ which, for all that it does capture the essence of the matter, is a little harsh on high school culture festivals. The AKB crew, by contrast, seem perfectly content with the sort of fluffy arrhythmic thrashing you get when you put a kitten in a microwave. I'd imagine.

Manufactured pop groups are often derided as being completely bereft of musical talent, both vocally and instrumentally, and their members are dismissed as being merely dancers (overweight or otherwise). AKB can’t even muster that megre ability, subjecting their fans to dance moves that make Psy look like Fred Astaire. ‘Can’t sing. Can’t act. Can’t even dance a little.’

Heeey, sexy lady.

So exactly what the fuck are they bringing to this particular party? Obviously there’s the (unfullfillable) promise of naive, submissive, non-threatening sexuality which is very attractive to certain sections of the male population. But that’s – disquietingly – a fairly common commodity in the Japanese mass-media. No, what marks them out is their enthusiasm, their willingness to graft, their gaman.

That really is their defining characteristic: they try. They try so very, very hard. There was a ‘special’ programme a few months back which focused on all the effort the AKB girls put in and it was genuinely affecting. To a degree. They really did give it their all in pursuing their goal of... of… err…

Fame, I guess? It was never really made clear exactly what the girls wanted, or what the end product was meant to be. The goal was worth achieving because then they would have achieved their goal. They did strive for it though. By god they strove. Endless hours of effort and labour to produce an endless cacophony that signifies nothing more than a willingness to produce a cacophony endlessly. Stop me if any of this starts to sound familiar.

Op, op, oppa...

It’s at this point the penny starts to drop and my damascene/akihabaran conversion really gets going. Yasushi Akimoto truly is a satirist for the ages; one who can look Carroll, Voltaire and Swift squarely in the eye as equals. His not-so modest proposal is a breathtakingly simple inversion of received wisdom. If ‘politics is showbusiness for ugly people’ then it’s an obvious but arresting concept to do the mirror-opposite and conceive of showbusiness as politics for cuties. Akimoto’s brilliance is not just to hold up that mirror but to allow us to pass through it into a cracked and surreal fantasy world where the vanities and pretensions of Japanese politics are shown for the childish, meaningless games they really are.

2.    Process > Outcome

Both the Japanese politician and the AKB member are defined in the eyes of the public primarily by their desire to ganbaru. They deserve it because they want it, and they want it bad. Not so badly as to actually do anything with it, mind, whatever ‘it’ may be (for that too is left undefined). It certainly isn’t anything you or I would recognize as a good idea or a tangible end product. “Love me! Love me! I’m the one you should love! Me! Listen to my mouth! My mouth! Me! Not the words, the noise! Listen to the noise of my mouth and love me! Don’t forget to vote!”

Because they have elections! AKB-fucking-48 have elections! If that didn’t tip Akimoto’s hand as to the intended satire than I don’t know what else would have. They have elections whereby a constantly changing leader is selected by a fanatical subsection of the population – a subsection viewed by the majority with a mixture of bored tolerance and disgust – to fill a role that is utterly meaningless and merely denotes who gets to stand at the front of group photos. And if you don’t like the new leader? Doesn’t matter! They’ll get to choose a new one in a couple of weeks anyway and it won’t change a fucking thing because the real power is held by anonymous back-room puppet-masters who all know sure as fuck that if they just keep doing what they’re doing then they’ll long outlive the ceaselessly revolving window dressing they’ve shoved to the front of the shop window in order to appease the punters. And like any good shopkeeper, they’re well aware of the importance of regular stock rotation.

In the past I may have, in all seriousness, compared AKB to a never-ending, unkillable zombie horde. I see now that I was mistaken. Not for making that wholly warranted comparison, but for not appreciating it as another masterstroke in Akimoto’s grand plan. Don’t you see? He’s both satirist and seer. In concocting this army of the undead, where nothing and no-one who dies ever truly stays that way, he was just giving us lesser mortals a glimpse of the future. Like Freddy or Jason, it doesn’t matter how many times you think they’ve been killed off, they just keep coming back. The end is never the end and death is never final, no matter how closely and tenderly its void may beckon.

And how it beckons.

Still not convinced? Then consider NMB48, HKT48 and all the other special ‘regional’ groups who purport to offer a more local appeal and something new and different, but in point of fact are just aping the original model on a smaller scale. Who thought of that first? Yep, our man Akimoto. The man who predicted both the rise of Toru Hashimoto and the return of Shinzo Abe, and got rich doing so. While somehow also managing to get teenage girls to kiss each other in their underwear on camera. Living the dream, my friends.

I’ll miss Atsuko Maeda though. Shame she had to leave, because now I'll have to learn another one of their names for when I try to connect with the class otaku. Still, I guess AKB's management have to encourage the others somehow, else they might give up trying. And we can’t have that, no, we can’t be having that…



  1. A few weeks ago, I was at karaoke and walked past a room and realised they were singing an AKB song. Then I realised that I recognised it as an AKB song and I've felt ashamed ever since.

    1. Just think, there are things you don't know because that information is taking up space in your brain.

      The reason I keep using the same song is because I have absolutely no intention of knowing anything more about them than is strictly unavoidable. That's the theory, at least.

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  3. "The man who predicted both the rise of Toru Hashimoto and the return of Shinzo Abe, and got rich doing so. While somehow also managing to get teenage girls to kiss each other in their underwear on camera. Living the dream, my friends."

    Yes! (I feel dirty now. And the look on her face in the bukkake shot... Where have I seen that before?)

    You've gotta hope it's satire, or even the puppet-masters in this country haven't a clue also. Guess which I believe.

    1. Of course it's satire. It's obviously satire. It couldn't be anything else, right?


  4. Lurking, quietly enjoying your posts... until I find a mistake, and then BAM! COMMENTED!

    I think you meant "gaman."

  5. I thought that video was suggestive enough with the faux-lesbianism and lingerie, but I had never noticed the bukkake part. Oh well, as long as the hi no maru is in the background, then anything is ok, right? Kids look up to this shit and their parents seem fine about this?

    Lame predecessors to AKB such as Morning Musume seem to get the occasional gig now they have actually grown up, but surely there are too many of them this time. Is there a talento guild to stop this over supply of talento?

    1. That's partly why I'm confused as to the goal. Most of these girls have a celebrity lifespan shorter than a mayfly's, what with the enforced 'graduation' and everything.

      I think there's one ex-Morning Musume girl still in the public eye, and it's as much as because she's 'the one ex-Morning Musume girl still in the public eye' as it is anything else.

    2. "That's partly why I'm confused as to the goal. Most of these girls have a celebrity lifespan shorter than a mayfly's, what with the enforced 'graduation' and everything[?]"

      In an interview, Aida mentions something about 100% pure.

      Kids look up to it and their parents just seem to eat it up maybe.

  6. AKB girls are just like those cute/hot/annoying girls you meet in Shibuya/Shinjuku/Roppongi bars and you just want to hate-fuck 'em. And, then you get lucky and do hate-fuck one of 'em. And, then, your luck holds out a little longer and you get the chance to hate-fuck her again. But, then you realize, you only thought you were hate-fucking her and were actually becoming really into her. Which is about the time you stop hearing from her.

    Ok, I have issues...

    1. Been: done.

      Don't know about your experience, but seeing them out of their clothes was the peak experience, and it got no better from that point. I found that the attitude of typically pretty girls was, 'I brought this. You expect me to do more?'