Ayaka Wada: Tribute to an Era

When Ayaka Wada graduated from Angerme on June 18, 2019, she left a legacy of 15 years in Hello! Project (a tenure matched only by Momoko Tsugunaga), ten years of it as leader of the same group, S/mileage and its next incarnation, Angerme. She started as a Hello! Pro Egg in 2004, which makes her the last H!P member to have been in the organization when I started as a fan in 2005. Now, every performer in H!P joined after I became a fan. While still an Egg, Wada was put in a special unit, Shugo Chara Egg!, and used as a back-up performer for soloist Erina Mano before she and the three other back-up performers, Yuuka Maeda, Kanon Fukuda, and Saki Ogawa, were put into a new group called S/mileage. S/mileage saw a 5-nin 2nd Gen join in 2011, changed its name to Angerme in 2014, and saw nine more new members join from 2014 to 2019, all under Wada’s tutelage, with seven members leaving over time for a membership that now numbers eleven after Wada’s departure.

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Haruna’s Graduation

On one end of the spectrum of Morning Musume graduations, there are those rare ceremonies where everybody is glad to see the departing member go (this one shall remain nameless) and on the other end are those, far more numerous, where the departing member is so adored that everyone is sad to see her go. The latter includes the very first graduation I saw, that of Natsumi Abe in the Hello! Project Winter 2004 concert, and the most recent graduation, that of Haruna Iikubo in the “Morning Musume ’18 Concert Tour Aki ~GET SET, GO!~ Final Iikubo Haruna Sotsugyou Special,” held at Nippon Budokan this past Sunday, December 16, 2018. I don’t know of any member in the years I’ve been a fan (2005 on) who seems to have been as beloved as Haruna.

I had the good fortune to encounter Haruna on the floor of the Anime NYC convention on November 18, a month before her graduation and the day after the Anisong concert which featured MM. I was alone and she was accompanied only by a handler who was talking on the phone at the time, so I approached her and told her how great the concert was and how great she is and then I said, “We will miss you.” She went, “Awwww.” I then showed her a picture on my phone that I took with Morning Musume in Los Angeles in 2009, two years before she joined the group, and she seemed impressed. I told her my name and she reached out and shook my hand. So beautiful, so nice, so sweet. This picture is from the Q&A at the convention two days earlier.

Back to the graduation concert. Early on, Hello! Project leader Ayaka Wada came out to read a farewell message to Haruna, who reacted with a burst of joy and love.

I wish H!P had read my mind sometime before 2015 and took all the members who were born in 1994 and formed a special unit with the seven of them: Saki Nakajima, Yuka Miyazaki, Risako Sugaya, Airi Suzuki, Chisato Okai, Ayaka Wada and Haruna. How awesome would that have been?

I like how the camera crew for this concert frequently showcased Haruna and gave her lots of closeups in the middle of the ensemble numbers. The girl looks great from every angle and in any lighting. She couldn’t take a bad photo if she tried.

I’m hoping they keep these shots when they edit the concert for the DVD.

A moment for the remaining members of 10th Gen:

In the graduation segment, I like how they had Haruna’s prepared speech in a bag strapped to the microphone stand so she wouldn’t have to carry anything on stage with her.

And it was several pages, too.

I love the pants under the gown. Who else could have pulled this off? And that stride down the runway…

And then  she sings “KoiING.” After which the other members come out to say goodbye.

And then the emotional spectacle begins.

Chisaki hugs her for so long that Maa-chan starts yelling something at them.

Maria’s the only one taller than Haruna.

10th Gen gets smaller.

Of the eleven members saying goodbye, only Sakura, Masaki, and Erina didn’t cry, but not because they didn’t feel the same emotions. They just have other ways of expressing them.

What’s with Maa-chan’s spider ring?

Erina lightens it up.

The ceremony ends.

They do a few more songs and then say their final goodbyes.

Will this be our last glimpse of her?

After it’s all over, the lights come on and the massive Nippon Budokan crowd chants for her to come back out–for several minutes–and she finally does, for one last bow.

And off she goes.

Haruna may not have been the best singer or dancer in MM–far from it–but she brought so much else to the group in her seven years as a member: beauty, elegance, class, poise, grace and the inner personal qualities of graciousness, generosity, sweetness and caring for others.  And her dancing and vocalizing did improve.

Was there anyone as radiant as Haruna in all the group’s history?


Tsubaki Factory’s First Concert Is a Winner!

Well, I got what I wanted. A Tsubaki Factory standalone concert that has “Teion Yakedo” in it: “Tsubaki Factory One-Man LIVE – First Blossom” held at Differ Ariake on February 22, 2018. And quite a spectacular performance it is.

When I did my last post, on the joint Kobushi-Tsubaki Factory concert, I wasn’t aware that Tsubaki had released this concert DVD some months earlier, but a diligent reader pointed it out and I immediately ordered it, received it and watched it—three times so far. It may be the best first concert by a group in H!P that I’ve ever seen.

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Kobushi Factory & Tsubaki Factory Premium Live 2018 Haru “KOBO”

While I’ve seen two earlier standalone concerts featuring Kobushi Factory, this is the first full concert DVD I’ve seen to feature Tsubaki Factory from start to finish, so, for me, this functions as a concert debut for them, making this perhaps the best debut concert I’ve seen from Hello! Project. (Technically, it’s not their debut, since there is an earlier standalone event with them, “Tsubaki Factory One-Man LIVE – First Blossom,” released on DVD, but I only just discovered it, so I have yet to acquire it.)  It helps that Tsubaki has been performing for three years and it helps that the only other group on stage with them is their sister group, Kobushi Factory, although this is the first Kobushi concert I’ve seen to feature 5-nin Kobushi. This may also be the best two-group concert DVD from H!P ever, although it has stiff competition from the Berryz Kobo/C-ute joint concert of 2008 and the C-ute-S/mileage concert of 2011.  And I’m happy to see that Kobushi Factory seems to have gotten over its post-scandal 2017 slump and returned to the stage with all of their spirit and vigor intact.

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