Of Business Management and Democracy

So, I'm straying quite far from my usual type of post here. Usually I stick to what I know: music and cute girls. If I like the music, I listen. If I like the girls, I'll watch their variety shows or buy their photobooks. However, with the business side of idoldom, I tend to ignore it. Apart from the odd bitch at Tsunku for screwing something up, which probably isn't Tsunku's fault in the first place, but Yamazaki Naoki's. Or maybe if a girl gets pushed I really can't stand or one ragequits that I think should have been pushed.

But events of the past day or so have changed that.

Thursday was the first day of AKB's annual Request Hour concert, during which they count down from 100 to 1 their best songs, as voted for by fans (who get the voting tickets through buying the October single, mostly). Thursday's day one was odd, but I thought nothing of it until I saw a post by the man himself, Akimoto Yasushi, on G+.

To quote his full statement from his English (thus not amazingly translated) page:

"I have received an announcement video which is going to be shown to the audience in today’s “REQUEST HOUR SET LIST BEST 100”.
This is the worst quality video I have ever seen.
I am speechless.

Yesterday’s MC also seemed superficial for me.

I was surprised at the spot of searching a lucky member by using electric shock pen, and the spot of pulling strings of ball containing white powder.

In more detail, the white powder which fell down on Kawaei, who pulled the string, was not fine powder which we often see in some TV variety shows, but were small balls of polystyrene.

Maybe they used polystyrene balls not to ruin their makeup because the members still had performances after the MC.
I think that it would have been cute if Kawaei had performed the songs with white fine powder on her.

I cannot believe that they showed the audience today such a stale MC of wearing pedometers on both wrists and both ankles, shaking them in a limited time, and competing the count to decide a winner. (I wonder if they are going to do it again today.)

Oya’s “ATARIMAE” gymnastics with COWCOW was funny, but the staff should have asked him to introduce the next song. There is no sense having guest if it’s not for the performance of the songs.

Now I think, the opening performance of synchronized dance with the video on the screen was also lackluster.

“REQUEST HOUR SET LIST BEST 100” is a general election of AKB48’s songs, so the most important thing is doing best to show the performance of each song.

I understand that the MC is for gaining time for changing costumes, but members’ meaningless conversation is at least better than the dull variety MC.

This is for staff:
Do something with the announcement video you sent to me, or it will be laughed at by the audience.

Also, I was not able to get the point of Miori Ichikawa’s live broadcasting from the amusement park.
I understand that Ichikawa was doing her best to entertain the audience, but what does it have to do with “REQUEST HOUR SET LIST BEST 100”?
It's a pity that she had to do that.

I wonder how today’s concert is going to be like."

Well and good, I expected a harsh rebuke via VTR towards the underperforming performers and staff, and thought nothing of it, until I saw yesterday. He had basically caused a complete management shakeup.

  • Togasaki Tomonobu was promoted from AKB Theatre Manager to 48 Group General Theatre Manager.
  • Yuasa Hiroshi was transferred from SKE Theatre Manager to AKB Theatre Manager.
  • Kaneko Takeshi remained NMB's Theatre Manager.
  • Shiba Tomoya was moved from Team K "management" (ie. picking the girls up and handing out schedules) to being SKE's Theatre Manager (in charge of all stage shows and handshake events).
  • HKT's old theatre manager wasn't even in attendance, and a new guy called Ozaki Atsushi was made Theatre Manager.
Then it was announced that there would be a period of voting from fans from all over the world to declare whether or not they had confidence in the chosen managers. The manifestos (and voting, via like/dislike buttons) are here:

Now, this pretty much allows anyone to get in any opinions they have with the managers. Togasaki is well respected, and while he hasn't handled everything amazingly, he's done more good than bad. Thus his voting is massively in his favour. On the other hand, you have Yuasa, who rumours suggest is responsible for SKE undertaking little-to-no outside theatre work, and is responsible for some controversial graduations in the past as well as the current impending mass graduation of nine members. His voting is almost a foregone conclusion, he's lost. Kaneko wasn't changed up, though whether it's due to his ability to deal with things (his whole voting-on-the-suspended-members thing must have gained him some plaudits, especially when he won despite the scandals) or because NMB's now the only 48 group in Japan not run by AKS, and Yoshimoto Kogyo want him to stay in the job I don't know. Either way, he's winning.

For Ozaki, I think it's a case of anything is better than Sato, the guy who fired 4 girls for sleeping over with fans and another for reporting the incident. He also apparently clashed mightily with Sasshi, and they can't really have their #1 moneymaker unhappy. To be fair this isn't a contest either. I've a feeling they could have added anyone and the person could have had their "manifesto" say "the girls can have sex with anyone they want, I don't care" and they'd have got a positive vote, just for not being Sato. Though apparently Sato's not completely gone, he's just been moved to a different position but still involved with HKT.

Now, the interesting one is Shiba. Former manager of Team K, he's got a bit of a reputation for being a playboy. Rumours have gone around for years suggesting either he or the other young manager of Team K were getting it on with Yuko. His brother is Shiba Kotarou, head of Office48 (Sayaka, Sae and Umeda's agency) and the whole cause of the 48 number in the first place. Shiba the Elder was also the recipient of those Shukan Bunshun rumours about having Yakuza affiliations, though to be honest saying a person involved with the Japanese entertainment has Yakuza connections is akin to saying that rotten eggs stink. In other words, stating the bloody obvious.

Not to be deterred, the two guys in the negative votes appeared at today's concert, begging for people to have confidence in them.

It had no effect.

I think Yuasa's now pretty much given up, he really can't win. Shiba is a different beast, and is rather closer to being able to win. So he went and made a very late night appeal on Youtube.

Now, firstly, it's interesting how he openly admits the rumours swirling, and then says it won't happen. Then he says, "but if it happens", thus pretty much negating his prior point. However, it's worth noting that the English translation on this is a bit iffy. He doesn't say, "if it happens, I'll quit." He says, "if it happens, I'll seppuku," which is rather stronger. I think he honestly does want this job, and he's got the youth and energy to make it happen. Plus, as most of SKE's older members are either people I don't care about or people I don't find attractive, I'm not really fussed if he does work his way through them.

The problem now is just Yuasa. Who will become AKB's Theatre Manager if he fails? The defeatist in me thinks they'll just parachute Shiba into AKB Theatre manager and stick Yuasa back in SKE, but in doing so they'd alienate the fans they're attempting this democracy with. So who would fill the gap? I don't know. I really hope, though, it's not Sato...

The main problem with this, and democracy in general, is that AkiP isn't a businessman. He, like me, is on the creative side of the fence. He has these ideas and lets other, more business-orientated people put them into practice. But if they fail to meet his expectations, which it seems Yuasa will, then he has a decision to make. Does he ignore the will of the people, or does he fire a guy who's been doing his job well enough for the past 5 years with only the occasional mistake based on a vote that's taken place online, where it's almost impossible to be impartial?

It's an interesting conundrum.

Voting finishes at 7pm JST tomorrow (during the last day of the Request Hour) and the result will no doubt be announced during the pre-encore interlude.

The new 48 will begin, but who gets fucked over?

I can't wait to see.

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