Wednesday, November 7, 2012
The Disappearance of Watanabe Mayu
Okay, so a little fun fact you might want to know about Watanabe Mayu if you don't actively listen to/care about her is that one of her nicknames is CG, or Cyborg Girl. She got it from her fellow AKB48 members because they jokingly teased about how she never seemed to sweat during concerts... much like a robot. Suspicious? Or only coincidence? All I know is that my nickname for her is Mayuyu the Fantastic Creeper but that's never caught on. Anyways, the CG nickname has caught on with fans, even to where they call her amazing push to the front the CG Revolution. Frankly, I think this CG Revolution has been one of the best things to happen to AKB48 because come on, Creeper Smile anyone? I think Mayuyu could make an awesome new center for the group (her or Matsui Jurina... or both!). But anyways, something that always bothered me was that with her solo singles, her producers never really used that CG/sci-fi concept. Don't get me wrong, Synchro Tokimeki and Otona Jelly Beans are adorable and cute songs work well for Mayuyu (especially with her vocal style) but how cool would it be if they delved into that Cyborg Girl idea with her music?
Well, with Hikaru Monotachi, it looks like they finally did.
So are you familiar with Vocaloid? In case your answer is no, Vocaloid is a computer program which uses synthetic vocals and instruments giving its user the opportunity to create a range of different kinds of music with a keyboard and a mouse. You can find a bajillion Vocaloid songs on the Internet to get a better idea of what I'm talking about. I myself am not a huge fan of Vocaloid, though I do have two or three songs on my iPod because it is cool to see what kind of music a person can create using it. The title of this post even comes from one of the more famous songs, The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku. The style for Mayuyu's third solo most definitely falls into the category of Vocaloid style-music, with vocal editing, heavy use of electropop instrumentals, and of course, Autotune. The genre has been a little more prominent this year in idol music so I suppose it's only natural that such a popular idol like Mayuyu would follow in the trend. But for her, it works really, really well. The song reminds me a lot of the style of Kikkawa Yuu's latest two Vocaloid-influence songs (the openings for her songs and Mayuyu's are pretty much identical) but the funny thing is I like Mayuyu's take better than Kikka's. I think the reason is that I don't like the way Kikka's voice is edited so heavily because she has such a good voice that lacing electronics over it is really unnecessary but Mayuyu actually sounds better with the Autotune and other vocal effects. And again, it's not to Perfume levels of editing; you can definitely hear Mayuyu's adorable squeak but she still sounds more energetic electro-ish in this song than her last two. The style of this song itself definitely isn't new but it works well for Mayuyu because it doesn't require a lot of vocal power. Why else do you think Morning Musume has been using electropop for their latest songs?
Much like Mayuyu's past two songs, I really enjoy this one, maybe even just a little more than the previous two! The cute style of music always works well for Mayuyu with her equally cute voice and I like the energy this song has! I know some fans might be a little hesitant to give Hikaru Monotachi a listen since it is an electropop song featuring more Autotune than her past two songs but it's really nice. And once again, I think it works well with the CG concept that her producers wanted to take on for this single. I could easily see this being one of those Vocaloid songs, albeit with much more electronic vocals. Obviously not everyone will find the electropop style to be as enjoyable as I do but I still think it's nice and it's on the same level of perkiness that Synchro Tokimeki and Otona Jelly Beans are! Of course, the song itself presents nothing new to the idol industry but I honestly don't expect that much from Mayuyu in terms of groundbreaking innovation or experimental music. It's an idol song and like her past two songs, it knows it's an idol song! For that I can enjoy it and I really like how the style of music matches with Mayuyu's CG image. In fact, that artificial girl idea can also be seen on the covers of the single which by the way, I really like the covers. They're simple but they have elements of science fiction to them and the way Mayuyu poses is reminiscent of an android. The lighting is nice and it was really intriguing because I was wondering what the PV would look like and if it would make use of the CG concept in the same way the cover art did.
Cool, a stylish looking computer room!
Just like the one in Spring of Life!
But no light-up dress for Mayuyu... though that is a pretty neat outfit she's got on!
And she's dancing in front a crowd of cheering fans in a small stage venue!
Just like Fake It! I wonder how many other comparisons I can draw to Perfume in this review!!
There's that Creeper Smile! I wonder what would happen if I made a Creeper Smile Drinking Game...
Oh look! It's the Acme version of Youtube!
It would probably help if I could read those Japanese comments but for now I'll just assume they're positive!
Wow. Acme!Youtube is incredibly similar to the real Youtube!
Why so many dislikes? Okay, there are more likes but still! That's a lot for an online video!
And the PV is pretty much Mayuyu singing in front of a crowd of adoring fans until...
What's this? A malfunction?
A computer shutdown! Wow, this really is just like... -drum roll-
Spring of Life! Wow, I wonder if Mayuyu's going to shut down next like Perfume did in that...
Oh. I guess she did. Well that's inconvenient.
I think I'd be a little bewildered too if an idol just up and froze mid-song, revealing she's a hologram/robot/cyborg/whatever...
But still that effect is so cool! Just look at the way the pixelated parts of her body merge so seamlessly with her real body!
And this shot gets the award for preventing Nia from going to sleep for fear that Mayuyu's Creeper Smile will show up in her nightmares.
The sad thing is in real life a lot of people always do this for anything they see...
Wha... just because she's not human means you're going to dislike her!? That's prejudice! PREJUDICE!
Uh... I guess these are negative comments but what the hell do I know? For all I know they could be about onions!
I guess I'll just assume these are the bad comments since they're in angry red text!
Okay, this is a really neat shot to look at despite the small amounts of Engrish.
Otona Jelly Beans Mayuyu... gone!? NO!
Not you too, Synchro Tokimeki Mayuyu!
Poor Mayuyu. This really hasn't been her day.
I'd take Mayuyu over Mary... Watson? Is she related to John Watson?
And so late one night, a random guy creates a new Mayuyu on his computer and thus...
...anime Mayuyu is born!!! Or should I call her... Animayu?
Let the CG Revolution begin...
I have to admit, for an anime version, Animayu actually looks pretty similar to the real Mayuyu!
B-but... if Animayu becomes popular, what's going to happen to the real Mayuyu?
Poor Mayuyu, alone and forgotten in favor of Animayu...
Wow, Animayu even gets her own manga!
So I guess this guy reading the manga remembered the old Mayuyu and got all nostalgic. I'm not sure.
Okay, I'm gonna learn Kanji so I can read this! I'm sure it'll only take a few years but that won't stop me!
Yay! The original Mayuyu is back!!
And she has adoring fans again! That's nice; I was worried this PV would have a downer ending!
Okay, 3 billion views? Isn't that a little unrealistic? Nothing against Mayuyu but not even Gangnam Style can break one billion.
Nothing like a good old fashioned Creeper Smile to end Mayuyu's new PV!
Okay, before I this PV was even out, I was really hoping that they would explore the CG image that Mayuyu uses sometimes and the cover art gave off the strong vibes that yes, we would get to see some of that CG concept! I didn't know in what way we would see it but there was certainly a nice amount of directions the PV could have gone in! I was thinking it would be something along the lines of cute and adorable since like I said before, that works best for Mayuyu and it would have matched the song nicely! She could have been a CG robot doing cute and quirky little CG things and that would have been a fun PV on its own! The song itself was also a very perky and energetic electropop song and I think it always best for PVs to match the tone that the songs set for them (which is why Team K's Scrap & Build PV didn't work for me at all). And after watching the PV, I quite like it! It fits nicely with the song! There are a lot of bright colors, the effects are really good (just look at the green-screen close-ups and the pixel effects done on Mayuyu's own body) and Mayuyu is just as enchanting as always, even if she creeps me out half the time in this PV! I really do enjoy her as a solo artist; she just has this way of bouncing around a PV that's really fun to watch! There's also a nice variety of different scenes from the concert shots to the SoL-reminiscent computer room and those really neat shots where Mayuyu stands in front of presumably a green screen with various text flashing behind her. That's the nice thing about having a budget like AKB48 does; you have the extra money to splurge on a visually appealing PV. But Hikaru Monotachi wasn't good based on its visuals alone because beneath all that sparkly idol adorableness, I found a PV dealing with mortality, the need for perfection, double standards, and the blurring line between artificial and natural.
I mean wow, this PV was sad. Like... really sad! Okay, not Sakura no Ki ni Narou level of sad but still! A different kind of sad, the kind where you don't realize how sad it is until you're sitting at your desk after you saw the PV about an hour or so earlier. And then it's like... all these different emotions hit you! I'm sorry if I sound awkward, I just have a lot of feelings about this PV and it's hard to put them into words! Unlike SnKnN, which was sad in a very poignant but also apparent way, Hikaru Monotachi is sad more because of the undertones it carries. The basic plot is Mayuyu, a popular idol who is secretly an artificial cyborg girl (CG), is performing in front of her adoring fans one day when the machine that powers her malfunctions and her true form of a CG is revealed in front of the audience. Recorded videos of said malfunction spread like wildfire via various social networking sites, generating a great amount of backlash against CG Mayuyu. Her devoted fans leave her for being "fake" and "not existing" and the idol fades away, quickly replaced by newer and more popular faces. However, one unseen computer user creates an anime version of the CG Mayuyu and this anime Mayuyu (or as I say "Animayu") reaches an even more heightened level of popularity than the original Mayuyu. Meanwhile the original, languishes within obscurity until another unseen person reads a manga with Animayu in it which must trigger a memory or something of the CG Mayuyu. Soon other people begin to miss the original Mayuyu too and she regains her popularity, the PV ending with her back on stage and performing for an adoring crowd again. And a trademark Creeper Smile but that's not important. So the PV has a happy ending; why do I find it to be so sad?
Well, put on your intelligent hipster glasses with me, because we're about to dive into some symbolism!
I am such a sucker for PVs with hidden depths and symbolism that I could make a fucking career out of it. Seriously, all my favorite PVs of 2012 have had some form of symbolism in them. And Hikaru Monotachi is definitely one of the more symbolic PVs to come from Mayuyu and AKB48's discographies so I am going to have a field day trying to figure out what was trying to be conveyed in this PV. The main theme I saw running throughout the PV is artificiality. In fact, one of the first things I thought of while watching the PV was Hatsune Miku, one of the Vocaloid idols who achieved massive popularity despite being nothing more than a hologram and a bunch of fancy computer effects. In this PV, Mayuyu is essentially the Hatsune Miku of the idol world, a perfect idol whose perfection comes from the fact that she was programmed and created to be perfect. From what we see, she lacks any human flaws except for one: she's not real. And unfortunately for her, humans find that to be kind of a big flaw; Hatsune Miku has gotten a lot of flack for people loving what is essentially someone who isn't even real. So much that someone even made a song about it. And I couldn't help but think of that song when I watched the PV because I saw quite a few parallels, mainly the fact that both Mayuyu and Miku play the roles of artificial girls, Mayuyu being a CG and Miku being a computer program. Both Miku's song and Mayuyu's PV also deal with the consequences of being rejected by their fans for being too unreal for their tastes, Miku from a lyrical standpoint and Mayuyu from a more visual standpoint. It's probably easier to recognize Mayuyu's backlash if you can read Kanji because the PV relies a lot on dialogue and text to reflect Mayuyu's fallen reputation. Hopefully someone will eventually be a nice person and sub it for us uneducated, English-speaking bloggers... I really did feel sorry for Mayuyu, probably because I'm a fan of her in real life but I sympathized with her role in the PV and even got a little miffed at the negative reactions she got for being a cyborg.
Just when it seems like all hope is lost for poor CG Mayuyu as she fades away, an anime version of Mayuyu Is created and loved even more than the original, a plot twist that I found that to be very interesting. Despite being programmed to look exactly like a human and the perfect idol to boot, CG Mayuyu is rejected by her fans and accused of being fake and unreal. However, when Animayu is created, the fans adore her even though she is even less authentic than the original Mayuyu. It's quite ironic really and even a little sad when you think about the state of the idol industry today. So much emphasis for perfection is placed on idols and if they don't reach a certain standard that their fans and managers have set for them, then they're tossed aside like yesterday's newspaper. And isn't this rather reminiscent of a lot of idols? Think about it. How many idols (especially female idols) can you think of that have remained relevant for at least ten years? I can think of five or six, maybe ten at the most. Sure, I don't think any of them lost their popularity due to being robots but the message is still there: people will always move on to the next big thing. For this PV it was Mary Watson and then Animayu. Of course, the original Mayuyu does get her happy ending when her popularity is revived but do you think a lot of other idols have had the same stroke of luck? Nope. If and/or when an idol doesn't live up to the ideals and expectations her fans want her to have, then she loses support (for example: an idol gets a boyfriend and her male fans denounce her for her "impurity" via exploring a romantic relationship with the opposite sex). The original Mayuyu was built up to be this perfect idol, a girl that other girls could look up to and fans could adore. Being artificial was never thrown into the equation and when that error so suddenly happened and her secret was exposed, the fans were shocked and reacted negatively.
Overall, I really like the direction this PV went in and I didn't expect it to have such sad undertones behind it. The messages it carries can be very related to the idol industry and it's easy for a foreign viewer like myself to pick up on the concept of the PV. It's sad, poignant, and it raises a lot of questions about what it really means to be an idol.
I think I'll give Hikaru Monotachi 4.5 out of 5 apples. The song itself is nothing special other than Mayuyu's take on the electropop genre but the PV is compelling to watch and really makes you think.