Eager to see the new girls in performance for the first time, I ordered the Hello! Project Winter 2017 concert and watched the first disc in the set, the “Crystal Clear” concert, recorded on January 8, 2017 at Nakano Sunplaza. Morning Musume had the two members of 13th Gen performing with them for the first time: Kaede Kaga and Reina Yokoyama. Tsubaki Factory had their three new members performing with them, the first time I’ve seen them with the group: Mao Akiyama, Saori Onoda, Mizuho Ono. (All three had performed with TF at the H!P Countdown Party on New Year’s Eve, just a week earlier. I’ll be getting to that concert soon.) Angerme had Momona Kasahara, although I believe I’ve seen her perform before. She just hasn’t registered strongly with me yet. Of these six, only Kaga and Akiyama are immediately recognizable to me. Both were very impressive in this concert. These are the most auspicious H!P debuts I’ve seen since Riho Sayashi in MM and Rikako Sasaki and Mizuki Murota in Angerme. As Maria Makino jockeys for the “ace” position in MM, I believe she’ll get serious competition from Kaga, who’s given one of the lead dance positions in “Oh My Wish!,” the first MM song in the concert. And Akiyama takes the lead in this concert’s performance of TF’s then-newest single, “Just Try,” already outshining her seven teammates, at least in my eyes.
Kaga and Yokoyama:
The jury’s still out on Yokoyama, Onoda, Ono and Kasahara. Yokoyama seems like she’ll do just fine in MM, although they didn’t give us many shots of her in this concert DVD. Same with the others. With TF, I wasn’t always sure which one was Onoda and which one was Ono. They do look alike, don’t they?
The setlist consists mostly of new songs from each of the groups on hand: MM, Angerme, Juice=Juice, Country Girls, Kobushi Factory and Tsubaki Factory. C-ute was not present at this concert, preoccupied with their own tour. I only counted four older songs: two from Berryz Kobo (“Special Generation,” “Gag 100 Kaibun Aishite Kudasai”), one from C-ute (“Bye Bye Bye!”) and one from MM (“Mikan”). One can argue that “Oh My Wish!” is an “old” MM song, but if it came out less than two years ago, it’s not old–in my book at least. I liked some of the new songs and am reserving judgment on the others. The best new songs in the show are, in my opinion, two from Morning Musume: “Sou Janai” and “Mukidashi de Mukiatte.” I also like two of Kobushi Factory’s songs, “Kobushi no Hana,” which offers a strong showcase for the best vocalists in the group, and “Isogaba Maware.” I’ll probably like more songs in the concert once I watch it a few more times. I may eventually warm up to MM’s “Sexy Cat no Enzetsu,” but it’s not happening yet.
Some random notes:
Akari Uemura of Juice=Juice has gotten really good. For one thing, she smiles more:
Mai Ozeki, apparently fearing competition in the cuteness category from the two newest members of Country Girls…
…is upping her game, realizing she has to bring more to the plate than her looks:
Momoko sings the opening lines of “Peanut Butter Jelly Love” and just breaks my heart. Why did management never provide her the solo career she so richly deserved?
I need to get the next Country Girls concert DVD:
Some of the costumes are very nice, especially Country Girls and Juice=Juice:
And the dresses everyone wears in the opening and closing numbers:
I don’t get the super-sexy costumes for the young members of Tsubaki Factory on their upbeat “ganbare” song, “Just Try.” It just doesn’t seem appropriate to me. (Seems to me that if you’re bold enough to wear leather hot pants, you actually don’t have to try so hard.)
But at least the number gives us a chance to see Mao Akiyama in action, as she leads the dance routine:
If you ask me, I think she’s the best thing yet to happen to this group.
The Kobushi Factory singers show their strengths in “Kobushi no Hana”:
Sakurako Wada impressed me for the first time with her singing in this number:
MM is so filled with great talent these days that some members inevitably get short shrift during their best numbers. There are lots of key members who need lines and camera shots, perhaps too many to get adequate treatment in every number. Mizuki, Haruka and Sakura get a lot of play in this concert, but I tend to think Erina and Ayumi got short shrift, not to mention the three members of 12th Gen who aren’t named Maria.
Haruna just keeps getting better and better:
Ayumi is part of the dance trio at the forefront of “Oh My Wish!” with Erina and Kaga, but that’s the most extensive dance part she has. She doesn’t have any solo bits in any of the numbers and I miss those.
But it was great to see Kaga get such a prime position so early in her tenure. I expect great things from her.
Maria gets put up front a lot in this concert, maybe more than she deserves. She’s certainly an attractive and charismatic performer and has a good stage presence, but she vamps a lot and flails her arms about while standing in place instead of actually, y’know, dancing. I like her and think she’s got real potential, but I’d like to see Kaga get more attention in the next one. Maybe they can put Maria in a special unit or two, like they used to do all the time with Rika Ishikawa, where she doesn’t take attention away from other MM members.
Haruka rocks that black hat in “Sou Janai” and “Mukidashi de Mukiatte”:
Aside from Maria, the other three members of 12th Gen, Haruna Ogata, Miki Nonaka and Akane Haga, are basically just backup.
Rare shots of new member Reina Yokoyama:
She’s only finally beginning register with me. That cute little button nose helps.
I really need to do “Oh My Wish!” at our next karaoke session:
And “Mukidashi de Mukiatte” as well:
One of Angerme’s numbers features the longest song title ever: “Ai no Tame Kyou Made Shinkashite Kita Ningen Ai no Tame Subete Taikashite Kita Ningen.”
Ten members of Hello! Pro Kenshuusei do one song, “Onna no Sono,” the only time they get any real exposure in this.
However, the only one I immediately recognized in it is Reina Ichioka, whom I had once hoped would join Morning Musume instead of Reina Yokoyama (“Wrong Reina!” I lamented on Facebook):
All the other Eggs I knew have debuted in groups already (e.g. Kaede Kaga, Mao Akiyama) or left the organization entirely (Rie Kaneko).
The Kenshuusei appear in other numbers, but the camera’s almost never close enough for us to recognize any. I only found one shot where I could single out a member. I had to look up the KSS page on Generasia to identify her: Kokoro Maeda.
But most shots featuring KSS members looked like this:
I really like the choice of MM’s “Mikan” as a finale:
The last to leave the stage are the reigning group leader and sub-leader of Hello! Project, Angerme’s Ayaka Wada and MM’s Mizuki Fukumura:
Absent from this concert and sorely missed: MM’s Masaki Sato, Angerme’s Maho Aikawa.
Also absent: TF’s Kisora Niinuma
The opening credits list each member in English:
Yet Morning Musume is the only group name that isn’t given in English:
Finally, since we won’t get many more chances in the months ahead, here’s a montage of priceless Momoko shots from this concert:
Disc 2 of the winter concert, “Kaleidoscope,” is even better. That’ll be coming up in the next entry.