The last time I watched and re-watched so many H!P concerts was when I first became a fan in 2005 and acquired as many concert DVDs and VHS tapes as I could find in the Japanese stores then operating in Manhattan. Whether it was the H!P Winter 2004 concert which made me a fan or the Morning Musume concerts from 2000 (First Live at Budokan), 2001 (Live Revolution 21), 2002 (two Love Is Alive concerts) or 2004 (Best of Japan) or the H!P summer and winter concerts from 2002 and 2003, I played these over and over again in the first year of my fandom.
After I figured out how to order new concerts as they were released, I usually watched them once or twice, reviewed them for this blog, and then went on to the next ones. Until I started working on this piece, I hadn’t even seen MM’s 2006 Spring Rainbow 7 concert more than once. And when Yossie and Miki left MM in May and June of 2007, something happened to MM and I found myself sometimes critical of their concerts, going so far as to lambaste their Spring 2008 “Single Daizenshuu!!” concert in a review here.
Meanwhile I discovered Berryz Kobo and C-ute and began acquiring their concerts, as well as the regular H!P summer and winter concerts. Occasionally some of these inspired me to watch them multiple times, e.g. the Summer 2007 H!P concert, which I only got around to in 2010(!), and the Berryz Kobo & C-ute Nakayoshi Battle Concert Tour 2008 Haru and maybe a C-ute concert or two. But those were the exceptions that proved the rule. I’m not sure I had a second viewing of a single Morning Musume concert released from 2006 to 2013 until I recently pulled the Risa graduation concert off the shelf and watched it again. And I really want to see them all again.
Berryz and C-ute concerts piled up in 2011-2013 and I’m not so sure I’ve even seem them all. I got every Buono concert and even reviewed most of them here and I may have watched them twice each before reviewing, but I haven’t re-watched them since. And I really liked them.
There was a period when I would dip into the back catalog and take a second look at key concerts for this blog, including the Wonderful Hearts concerts from Summer 2008 and Winter 2009 and the Winter 2010 Shuffledate concert. The H!P Winter concerts of 2007 and 2008 came in these massive multi-disc sets and I occasionally started re-watching them but rarely got past the first disc. Granted, I did review a lot of new concerts on my blog in 2011-2013, but I didn’t often re-watch them.
And then in 2014 something happened. Morning Musume released 2013 Aki CHANCE! and 2014 Haru Evolution and I was bowled over, watching them both multiple times and reviewing them here.
Then in 2015, I first watched S/mileage’s Summer 2014 concert, Live 2014 Natsu Full Charge 715 - Nippon Budokan, and then watched it again and again. And then S/mileage Live Tour 2014 Aki - Full Charge - Final In O-East, both of which I reviewed here. 2015 was the year I just went nuts watching H!P concerts and catching up with 2014 releases.
Here’s a note I wrote in a post on MM-BBS that year:
“But I daresay, after the S/mileage concerts, HinaFes, MM's Spring Evolution, Berryz/C-ute in Paris, the Summer concert, and MM in New York, 2014 is shaping up to be one of H!P's very best years. And I still have three major concerts from last year to go, including Sayumi's graduation.”
After which I watched the MM Sayumi graduation concert of course, and then the first Angerme concert release, ANGERME Starting Live Tour Special at Nippon Budokan "Taikibansei," followed by Morning Musume '15 Concert Tour 2015 Haru ~Gradation.
This streak of enthusiastic reaction extended into this year, with one great concert release after another, including the H!P Summer 2015 concerts, ANGERME First Concert Tour 2015 Aki [Hyakkaryouran]-Fukuda Kanon Sotsugyou Special, Morning Musume.'15 Concert Tour 2015 Aki – PRISM, the H!P Winter 2016 concerts, the H!P Countdown Party 2015, the MM Houston concert, the 2016 HinaFes concerts, MM’s Concert Tour Haru EMOTION IN MOTION -Suzuki Kanon Sotsugyo Special, Meimi Tamura’s Solo Special Live and Kobushi Factory Live Tour 2016 Haru - The Cheering Party!
Not to mention the four concerts I saw when I was in Japan, including two from HinaFes. Here's a shot I took at the entrance to the latter:
There are also more great groups in H!P to have emerged in the last few years, including Juice=Juice, Country Girls, Kobushi Factory and Tsubaki Factory. I’m especially enamored of Kobushi Factory, which has six really strong performers in an eight-member lineup. Watching them live can be as much fun as watching Morning Musume and Angerme.
I also like the quality of the songs in recent years. Granted, there’s less diversity in the style of H!P songs these days than there was in the glory days when Tanpopo, Country Musume, Coconuts Musume, Minimoni, Petit Moni, various Shuffle units and assorted solo stars competed with Morning Musume for management’s attention. But that also meant that concerts were filled with slow spots for those of us who weren’t always fans of the other units or fans of every Aya or Nacchi song. Some of the early children’s songs that Minimoni performed ad nauseum (“Minimoni, telephone da…ring ring RING!”) can be quite grating. Early Tanpopo was 16 kinds of awesome, while later Tanpopo was a little too cutesy at times for me, as seen in these pix from a couple of years apart:
In contrast, H!P has achieved something of a house style these days with songs designed for high-energy girl groups who, leaving aside C-ute, are all roughly about the same age and talent level with plentiful dance moves incorporated into the mix. Softer songs are employed, but only rarely, and solos are even rarer. If you like that style, as I do, the concerts are consistently entertaining from start to finish.
Although I confess I do miss the solos. There really should be more of those, especially from some of the better singers in H!P, e.g. Sakura Oda, Karin Miyamoto, Mizuki Murota, Ayaka Hirose, and Ayano Hamaura. At the MM HinaFes concert this year, Sayuki Takagi did a solo of the older MM song, “Resonant Blue” and knocked it out of the park. And Momoko Tsugunaga should have been given more solos in recent years. There’s still time.
One thing I also noticed when researching my collection for this piece is that there was a big gap between my favorite MM albums, the 4th (“Ikimasshoi”) and the 13th (“Colorful Character”). I recently listened to “Sexy 8 Beat” for the first time in years and was reminded that I liked it a lot and once listened to it regularly. However, the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th albums are something of a blank for me. I had to look for them on the shelves or in boxes to hear them again for this piece. Yet the 13th album is one of my most listened-to albums…ever! Part of the problem is that I never imported the “missing” albums to iTunes or any of my listening devices. When I go to the gym, the only MM albums I have access to are—take a wild guess—the 4th and 13th albums. And it’s impossible for me to add new ones unless I purchase a new listening device. I like their last album, "14 Shou~The Message~" but I haven't listened to it enough.
So as I re-watch many of the concerts I love from the last three years, I realize that it’s time to rediscover some of the older ones that I’ve never re-watched. After I started writing this, I did put in the Morning Musume Concert Tour 2006 Haru ~Rainbow Seven~ DVD and watched it for the first time in ten years. I enjoyed seeing 10-member MM when Yossie was leader, Miki was at her peak, Koharu was the fresh-faced, eager new kid, Ai-chan and Risa were coming into their own after all but one of their sempai had graduated, and Makoto Ogawa and Asami Konno were about to graduate. But I was struck by how little real dancing there is in it, just the most simplest and most perfunctory choreography (e.g. rocking in place and raising the arm that doesn’t have the mike up and down), especially when compared with the elaborate dance numbers 9th and 10th Gen have given us in the last few years. The 2006 performance of “Ai Araba, It’s All Right” doesn’t even have the great dance moves they did in the H!P Winter 2004 concert. And yet in my review of this concert on this blog, I praised the dancing to high heaven and called it the first “real dancing” I’d seen from them and called the concert one of the three best H!P concerts I’d ever seen. Granted, my fandom wasn’t yet a year old when I wrote that, so I can be forgiven. But it’s pretty funny going back and reading that. And if it was so great, why didn’t I ever re-watch it?
My point is that the last three years constitute a new Golden Age for H!P, comparable to, in my eyes at least, that period from 2001, when 5th Gen first joined MM, to 2004, when 4th Gen started leaving. My fandom started after that, in 2005, so I spent the first year or so discovering that period for myself and then playing catch-up. It even took me a while to start following Berryz Kobo and C-ute, which I didn’t really start to do in earnest until 2008-2009. Even as the new albums and concert DVDs piled up, I still went back to those magic releases from 2001-2004 over and over again, especially when I was in need of a boost, something to make me feel good and forget the sorrows of the world and the annoyances of everyday life. Since 2014, however, once the best S/mileage concerts started to come out, followed by the first Angerme concerts and the post-Reina MM concerts, I haven’t felt the need to revisit the earliest ones. But it wouldn’t hurt to start going back to the ones I’ve overlooked from in between.
I did, in fact, pull this off the shelf to watch back in June to celebrate Aya Matsuura's 30th birthday:
Also, things move pretty fast in H!P these days and there are constantly new names to learn and new faces to familiarize oneself with. No sooner had I finally figured out who Manaka Inaba was and determined that she was one of my favorite members of Country Girls after watching her last month in the Summer 2015 H!P concert, then I realized she was the one who left the group suddenly this past August.
There are new members of CG and I even saw them perform in Japan, but I still don’t know their names. I finally learned all the Tsubaki Factory members and matched faces with names only to learn there were three new members, none of whom I’ve seen yet. Angerme has a new member whose name I know, Momona Kasahara, but I have yet to see her in anything as a member of Angerme. And I didn’t know much about Angerme’s previous-newest member, Moe Kamikokuryo, until I saw her live in Japan this past March.
And all this comes after a year which saw the graduation of my three favorite performers in H!P--Riho Sayashi from Morning Musume and Kanon Fukuda and Meimi Tamura from Angerme, something that would normally fill me with great dismay. But I have plenty of other established members to choose from to replace them in the top tier, including Ayumi Ishida, Mizuki Fukumura, Erina Ikuta, Haruka Kudo, Ayaka Wada, Kana Nakanishi, Karin Miyamoto, Sayuki Takagi, Tomoko Kanazawa and, from the newer members, Mizuki Murota, Rikako Sasaki, Maria Makino, Mai Ozeki, Ayano Hamaura, Rei Inoue, Minami Nomura, Rio Fujii, Yumeno Kishimoto, Risa Ogata, and the aforementioned Moe Kamikokuryo. And others I'm sure I've forgotten about as well as others yet to be recruited. There's no shortage of talent. And many of the girls just keep getting better and better.
It’s almost a full-time job keeping up with all of this. Luckily, I’m retired…