The Inevitability of AKB48

Like any good Morning Musume and Hello! Project fan, when my obsession really kicked in a few years ago I started downloading every TV appearance I could get my hands on (using the amazing Hello!Online tracker). I watched every episode of Hello! Morning, Haromoni@, Utaban, and anything else that popped up, and soon there was a day when there was nothing new to see! I had noticed lots of AKB48 shows and had vaguely heard of them, so I figured I would download a show as a filler. In a little while I was watching a whole new bunch of cute Jpop girls, laughing my head off as they played a crazy game where the loser gets pushed into a vat of flour! That show was my first step into the alternate world of AKB48, and although I remain a true Morning Musume addict, I have to come clean and admit that I'm a closet AKB48 fan, too.

The history of AKB48 is pretty interesting, but I only want to mention how they stole some of my fandom, which I think boils down to exposure and budget. Right now there's only one official Hello! Project TV show (the new Bijo Houdan), but AKB48 manages to crank out two hilarious variety series (AKBingo and Shukan AKB) every week, and sometimes a third show (Nemosu TV) as well! Each episode is filled with funny games and challenges, ranging from cooking competitions to fashion shows, sometimes including racy moments that are harmlessly surprising, along with a little performance and song promotion. With so many opportunities to see the girls (and there are actually over 100 of them if you combine all teams of AKB48 and their sister group SKE48), it's amazing how quickly you start to form favorites. Before I knew it, I was learning their names and even nicknames! I have no idea if these shows are popular in Japan, but they really drew me in and made me wish that Morning Musume had a show like these on the air!

The reason there's so much AKB48 exposure is because somehow they have a huge budget and are willing to spend it! It's obvious they pour cash into everything they do, from all of their TV shows to their music videos (practically mini dramas and shot on location), and even their arena concert videos are incredibly professional. It's sad to contrast them with Hello! Project videos, most of which are shot in a studio with no storyline. I would give anything to see an AKB48-style Morning Musume music video! AKB48 even spent the dough to shoot Majisuka Gakuen, an entire drama series which was a little goofy but still serious entertainment, which completely blows away Hanbun Esper, Hello! Project's silly little series that almost made me cringe.

While there are lots of aspects of AKB48 that I wish Morning Musume had, the emotional investment is entirely different. AKB48 may have more girls, more money, more exposure, even more popularity right now (with two huge number one singles recently), but I never find myself thinking about who the girls are. I don't have an explanation, but Morning Musume somehow makes me care about them as people - I want to know what they like and what they think, and even worry about them working too hard, but I never have those thoughts about AKB48. It's almost like Disney and Dreamworks to me, to use a bizarre animation analogy. Disney produces the animation that really involves me emotionally, but since I'm an animation fan, of course I'm going to watch all the Dreamworks animation that comes out while I'm waiting for the next Disney film. Dreamworks may be willing to spend the money to crank out lots of material, but my heart still remains with Disney.

I'm sure both Morning Musume and AKB48 will succeed for years to come, and I'm looking forward to enjoying it all! Maybe someday Hello! Project will spend some cash to produce a truly awesome music video, or perhaps start a new series that really shows off the girls' personalities, but until then I'll take anything I can get and fill in the gaps with AKB48, and now that I've confessed, I don't have to feel guilty about it!