The Happy Idol Family

Imagine a world where all Idols co-exist in peace. Where AKB and H!P fans are united by a common love of Japanese Idols and the billion-dollar industry that they live and work in.

It's a peculiar idea, but it's one that seems to come in waves. I'm not even one hundred percent sure why this idea persists so much, perhaps just out of naiveté and wishful thinking.

But perhaps even more naive and wishful is the idea that the industry already works like this. And this idea is even more perplexing. It would be all too easy to say that this is purely a thought of the new fan, the DD who thinks that liking one member or group in Hello! Project also means you should be a fan of all of H!P. That's a state of thinking I'm sure we've all been in at some point - I know, at least, that my own attitude to H!P was a lot more across-the-board and DD, as it's known, when I first became a fan than it is today.

Perhaps that was also just a product of the times, though. Back then, YouTube was a much smaller and more niche place, with video quality that today makes me want to gouge my own eyes out. At the same time, anime and Japanese pop culture was in the middle of a massive explosion in the US and other western countries. I don't think it's any coincidence that the boom in western interest in anime of the mid-2000s coincided with the birth and similarly explosive influence of YouTube - a video sharing website which made it incredibly easy to upload, share, and find new content.

So at the time, people hungrily consumed any anime they could get their hands on more than ever before. And so when, as many of us did, people made the jump from being a fan of Japanese Anime to Japanese Idols, it brought with it that mentality of trying everything.

Of course everyone had their taste and preferences in anime. So people liked Naruto while others preferred Outlaw Star, or whatever. But most people still defined themselves as a fan of anime as an entire medium or industry, than a single show or studio. So when this group began to overlap and spawn new fans of the many Idol groups that came and vanished during the past decade then the creation of an "Idol Fan" subculture was perhaps inevitable. You liked Morning Musume and Arashi, but not C-ute? That was just your taste, you were still a fan of Idols. No-one told you it should be any different!

But, of course, whether you became an "anime fan" in the 90s or early 2000s when you took whatever you could get your hands on, or during the boom in the mid-2000s where we overstuffed on the sheer unprecedented volume of content made possible by sites like YouTube or Crunchyroll, that western anime-loving sub-culture has now matured enough that the idea of a generic anime fan is rapidly disappearing. It has diversified, and just because you watched Bleach doesn't mean you're also going to have watched Higashi no Eden. In fact, it's now more likely than ever that you haven't.

So, it seems to me that if the anime fandom has diversified this much, then it stands to reason that the western Idol fandom must also be doing the same. And now, despite anything I may have written on this blog or elsewhere in the past, I don't really feel there is any such thing as an "Idol fan".

But somewhere along the line, when a certain AKB48 was gaining in popularity, a vast number of these "Idol fans" began to support the new unit. In itself there's nothing wrong with that - it's possible to like more than a single band. But this was happening in ever larger numbers, as people started to notice their friends talking about AKB48 and followed them to see what the fuss was about. This of course created a sort of schism, with the hardcore fans of either group throwing nothing but contempt and abuse at the other camp, and many of those DD "I like Idols" fans caught in the middle. In retaliation to the increasing conflict, those trapped fans began to fall on the idea that being an Idol fan is universal and you can (and perhaps should) love all Idols.

Within the last year or two, though, I've noticed this trend continuing, and a return, even from some fairly long-time fans, to the notion that the Idol industry is all one big happy family. An idea which has been largely encouraged by the agencies themselves as AKB and H!P seem eager to showing anything but hostility towards the other party.

We've seen them appearing on shows together, doing collaborative performances with each other, and ultimately seen the members themselves professing their wotadom for the other group. So it's no wonder then that the fans are starting to believe that the two agencies are actually mutually understanding and co-operative.

But, perhaps or perhaps not a good idea, it's one which is based on a lie.

The truth is that, while Japanese fans of AKB and H!P are on the whole a lot less hostile towards one another than their western counterparts, there's very little love lost between the two either.

Of course, the agencies want to distance themselves from that hostility, simply because it's in both of their interests. There's little actual respect involved there beyond what allows them to remain competitive. UFA of course doesn't want you buying AKB merch instead of their own, they are in direct competition. But if you make the AKB fans think you are accepting of it, then they're also going to have a higher opinion of your own company and buy your products too. That's the idea anyway, and AKB is playing the exact same game for the exact same reasons.

There actually is no "happy family" when it comes to the Idol industry save perhaps for the relationship between artists in the same group or agency. It's much easier to foster a relationship between Berryz and C-ute when the only competition is internal and therefore does no real damage to Hello!Project or UFA as a whole. It's much harder to realistically be genuinely close friends when you are Morning Musume and AKB48 and competing to win the support, and ultimately limited pocket money, of the exact same demographic.


Wota-kai!? Episode 8

We're back after having to postpone the show for a couple weeks.

Our guest, Oroboras, has a somewhat busy work schedule, so the only day we could feasibly record on was a Thursday. And when a thunderstorm caused Ren to lose all internet access a couple hours before we were about to record, it was decided that we'd have to postpone.

This is episode 8, and the second episode featuring Ren as host.

Oroboras, a regular on Konya mo TKMR, happily agreed to appear on the show, and is the second TKMR member to do so. My top-secret plan is to get enough of them on the show that the two become some form of affiliated shows! Okay, not really. But it'd be interesting.

At any rate, I've known him for a few years and is probably one of the H!P fans I'm closest to. We both have a quite similar sense of humour so I've always gotten on well with him. And so I was pretty pleased when he agreed to come on the show.

The guest topics this time include how PVs have improved or not over the last few years, as well as how fans become over-sensitive to certain topics regarding their Idols.

You can download the episode from here, or alternatively, listen to the streamable MixCloud version below.


Wota-kai!? Episode 7

Last night we released the 7th episode of Wota-kai!?

It comes as we pass the middle of the first season, and Sazaki Ren takes up the reins as host for the coming few episodes, while I myself am relegated to co-host for the duration - though my work behind the scenes hasn't lessened by very much.

This episode proved to be the most difficult yet, that much is certain. The internet troubles and poor Skype quality that have so plagued us in previous episodes reached a new low this episode, and there were several times when at least one of us simply couldn't hear what the others were saying as the audio stream cut out. We made do and pieced sentences together with whatever words were picked up, or we waited until the call stabilised a bit and then resumed, with the role of actually playing host to the call jumping back and forth several times as someone disconnected.

Of course, thanks to the way in which the show is actually recorded, none of those Skype issues actually affect the quality of the show we release to you, as the audio quality is limited only by the grade of the microphone and audio set up each host and guest uses. But it does certainly make the recording process a bit of a nightmare sometimes.

Then, halfway through discussing the guest topics, our guest suffered a minor incident where his headset was accidentally torn from the USB cable that allows it to work, effectively rendering the headset useless. It was a dilemna. He didn't have a spare and wouldn't be able to replace it for a few days. We were faced with the option of cancelling the show for the week and attempting again the following, or continuing on for the last 20 minutes without our guest. In the end, that's what we decided on doing.

Then the third nail in the coffin was that upon receiving all the raw data to begin editing with, I noticed that a few sections in the recording were either in the wrong order, or overlapped. I managed to correct the order easily enough, but parts where the audio had overlapped were completely unusable, so I cleaned those up as best I could and re-recorded any parts that were unusable but essential.

It was definitely one trail after another, but we pulled through and managed to get the show finished. And there are a few things I learnt from it, and will hopefully better prepare for in the future.

So who was this guest who brought unbalance to the show? None other than Nao-kun, of course!

I had started looking around for potential guests to come on the show, as offers had begun to dry up, and my mind instantly went to the group of regulars in the Maasa thread, and Nao-kun happened to be the first person I asked.

Aside from perhaps myself and Gin, I believe he's one of the longest serving users still active in that thread - as much as the Maasa thread can ever hope to be described as "active", at any rate. Though technically a Momoko fan, he's also one of four people I recruited to help with the Church of Maasa - a blog with levels of activity that fluctuate even worse than the Maasa thread itself. 

The guest topics for this week, for as much as we actually got to discuss them, were on H!P overseas events and how they compare to Japanese ones, and on the various English-speaking fan communities around the internet.

The episode can be downloaded from the tracker here, alternatively, the MixCloud version is now available below.


Wota-kai!? Episode 6

Earlier today we released the sixth episode of Wota-kai!?, the Hello! Project news and discussion podcast hosted by myself and Sazaki Ren.

This week the special guest was alita87.

It's actually the first time talking to a user whom I didn't know prior to the recording, which, as I pointed out last week, was probably the challenge I was most looking forward to having a crack at with this show.

All the previous guests I've either spoken to often enough,  as with Liamers who I have known and been good friends with since 2007, and guests like sanrio, who I hadn't actually spoken to all that much, but was still somewhat used to seeing him around the same chatrooms and on STD.

Alita, however, is a guest I had only ever really seen in the chat during the Konya mo TKMR livestream.

I feel the show actually went fairly well on my part. I'm not entirely sure why, whether it was his internet behaving badly or simple over-tiredness but Ren ended up being much more silent than I've ever heard him.

Thankfully, there were no major issues with the show, though, as we had last week. Originally Alita was scheduled to appear on episode 7, and episode 6 would feature another guest entirely. So we were originally expecting to have a report from Berryz Koubou at AnimeNEXT from that guest who attended the event, but when I contacted him to confirm his appearance this week, he informed me that he would be unable to make the recording. Thankfully, we were informed early enough that we were able to move Alita forward two weeks to replace him without any issue, however.

I do hope that guest renews his interest in appearing in the future, but for now I'm assuming that he will be indefinitely unable to do it.

The episode can be downloaded from here, or alternatively streamed using the widget below.

If you have any feedback or suggestions for the show, or would like to appear as a special guest and voice your own H!P opinions, then please contact me on H!O or on Twitter @The_Dran.

One suggestion I've had multiple times, and am looking in to, is to providing an alternate mirror for the download. Torrents of course die, and some users simply can't use them due to conflicts with their ISP or simple lack of knowledge about how torrents work. I've been looking in to a few locations, but I do plan to at some point provide either DDL links for each episode, or some other method of streaming the show. In order to ensure that the torrent does get a decent number of hits - enough that it doesn't die immediately - any official DDL or streamable alternative will probably be released a couple days later than the torrent, however. With that in mind, though, if you have any ideas for good podcast hosting services, then by all means let me know.


Wota-kai!? Episode 5

Wota-kai!? is back for its fifth episode.

Making this episode turned out to be more complicated than any other episode we've done thus far, as on the initial recording day we were plagued by technical problems and Skype was simply not stable enough for recording a podcast to be viable.

Much of these problems persisted throughout the week and, though we managed to successfully record the following day, even that wasn't without its problems as mid-way through the show, Ren's internet suddenly imploded and we were left unsure as to whether he would return or if we'd have to simply finish the show without him for the better part of half an hour.

Anyway, without going into any more detail than I already have, for the rest of the week, many of these same technical issues, compounded with real life and schedule issues, interfered with the editing process and forced release back by almost a week longer than our usual release date.

Enough about that, however.

The special guest this week was none other than Sanrio, who used to host his own podcast, STD, which provided most of the original inspiration for this one (and previous ones I did a few years ago).

Sanrio is someone I've also known for some time, though never really spoken to him at any real length before this podcast - so aside from the strangeness of talking to someone I've spoken to a lot, but never with audio, such as it was for episode two featuring magatsu17, this one was an even bigger challenge in that I had to communicate with someone who I haven't actually spoken to all that much even on IRC or Twitter.

I look forward to the challenge of recording a show with someone I have actually never spoken to before.

Sanrio also set the bar pretty high, I feel, in terms of what a host should be like. There were definitely times, and we both agree, where it felt like he was the host rather than I. But this is to be expected when the guest served as host on his own podcast for several years and the actual host is a newbie just starting out - as I am.

Still, it really drew my attention to how much I need to improve to rival Sanrio, and drives me to surpass him, if you'll excuse the horribly clichéd thought.

This week also saw a fairly significant change in the format - as Ren and I both felt that what we had was a little too long, and that there was one glaring aspect of the format which wasn't working - the poorly named "This week I've been watching..." segment.

I'll admit, I'm not sad to see it go. In theory it was a fairly sound idea, but over the last few episodes we've realised that, in fact, the segment is little more than dead-weight as the discussion is only ever really interesting if everyone else has watched the same thing - recently or otherwise - which, it became clear, was expecting an awful lot from each other and our guests. And so, more often than not, the discussion would be fairly one-sided as one person talks about that DVD and repeat much of the same things that had been said about the previous DVD the episode before.

So, we unceremoniously cut it from the show, and the whole thing suddenly feels much stronger and coherent than it ever did.

At any rate, if you have any other feedback or suggestions for the show, or would like to be one of our special guests, do get in contact with me somehow, whether that's on H!O or on Twitter, or whatever you prefer, because correspondence and offers are always welcome.

You can download the podcast here, or listen in below.

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