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.


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