A New Captainist Era of Hello! Project?

It was announced a while ago that Niigaki Risa would be graduating from Hello! Project. Naturally this announcement was met by all the usual reactions from her fans. Though, and don't hold me too accountable for this, as I didn't give it too much attention, I don't think anyone found the news as shocking as other recent graduations.

In fact, the shocking part was that it took so long for her to graduate.

She is currently the longest-serving member in Morning Musume history, having shared that title with fellow 5th Gen member Takahashi Ai up until Ai's graduation last year.

The gokkies have always been close. Especially Ai-chan and Gaki. During the last few years, the fact that they had become the two oldest, longest-serving members together gave them both a personality that was hard to ignore. The most prominent personalities in Morning Musume since Koharu left.

So the real shock came when Ai-chan announced her own graduation and Gaki didn't follow suit. Most of us had been betting on the fact that the two would graduate together. I feel that most of use wanted that to happen. The idea of the two joining together and graduating together just seemed so right. But it didn't happen.

Gaki has revealed that she had considered it herself, however. But felt that, with two generations of new members just joining, she would be better waiting and then graduating once those new girls had gotten their feet.

But Gaki's graduation suddenly brings about an interesting new dilemna. The succession, if you will.

First off, who will be the new leader of Morning Musume? 

That's Michishige Sayumi. Which is an unusual thought, to be sure. She has built her idol career on a very particular kind of character. A character which made her popular as a member, but one which doesn't fit the "leader" image at all. So it's all too easy to imagine her not being ready to be leader.

I'm sure she'll make a good leader, though. Will she maintain her character through it? It's hard to know. But when Ai-chan became leader, I doubt anyone really thought she was ready for the responsibility either. Perhaps due to the fact that the Miki scandal changed her status in the group from being a regular member, to sub-leader and then on to being leader in only the space of a couple weeks. There are political coups less dramatic than that.

But she took to it well. And I've a feeling that Sayu will do so too.

But the thing that is a whole lot less certain is that unofficial title of "Queen of H!P". One invented by the fans, it is true, but one which UFA gave credence to during the Elder Club graduation when Nakazawa Yuko symbolically handed over the H!P leadership to Takahashi Ai.

That title has previously been based on rank of seniority, however.

According to Tanaka Reina's own interpretation, however, the Hello!Project Kids outrank 6th Gen Morning Musume in seniority. The Musume are older, but the former Kids were added to H!P several months before the rokkies.

Until now, that interpretation has only represented an interesting little quirk of Reina's personality, and her attitude towards her "senpai" in Berryz and C-ute.

But now it's reason enough that Shimizu Saki could become the leader of Hello! Project. She may be younger than several of the members of Momusu (and, indeed, Mano Erina), but as the oldest and most senior of the H!P Kids, that makes her primed to be the new leader.

And if that does happen, that make it the first time since the Elder Club graduation that the leadership of Morning Musume and Hello!Project will be seperate. And the first time ever that a non-Morning Musume member has held the title.

And then what does that mean for the issue of the "flagship" group. In the past it has always been Morning Musume. They were around longest (since before even H!P was), and had the largest fanbase. But if Berryz and C-ute are now the most senior units in H!P, then it wouldn't be completely unwarranted to ask whether or not Berryz Koubou is now the new flagship unit.

An idea compelling to many of us Beriwota. Though I doubt the Morning Musume fans reading this are quite so eager to concede that. And their arguements are valid. It has been a long time since I even paid attention to numbers like sales figures, but, unless I'm not mistaken, Morning Musume still maintains the lead on that, and as the traditional flagship group, it would be strange to transfer that accolade onto another.

But the point is that, with us now entering into a new decade, it might be interesting to see how the commonly held conceptions of the past decade hold up, and what changes we can expect to see in the coming years.


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