I wasn't going to get involved with this.
I strive hard to keep my two cents out of most idol scandals unless one affects me so strongly that I feel like I have to write about it. Like the Berryz and T-ara scandal? I ranted about that. But the Hirajima Natsumi and Yonezawa Rumi dating scandals? Didn't give a shit about either one so I let them slip past my writing agenda. And as for Sasshi's transfer to HKT48? Interesting as that was and as much I would have loved to write about it, I was on writing break. Overall, scandals are fun to read about but they're not that fun to write about unless, like I said, I have a strongly passionate opinion on the subject matter. So here I am in the new year talking about yet another scandal from AKB48 that actually took place in toward the end of 2012 and has leaked over to 2013. Who was surrounding the scandal this time? Team A's Kasai Tomomi! I knew of the scandal but like I said before, I wasn't planing on writing about because honestly, I don't really care much about Kasai Tomomi. I mean, I know about her and what she looks like and that she's a part of AKB48 but other than that she's not one of the idols in the group that I really like. I don't hate her either, I just don't really care about her! So I thought my usual "Oh... sucks to be you!" thought about the scandal and moved on with working on other things. And then... it came up again. And again. And again. I kept reading all these different things about Kasai Tomomi from her graduation to her solo single and the finally, the one thing that drove me so berserk that I felt compelled to write this post- Well... we'll get to that later. But first of all, let's take a look at the scandal that started this whole unfortunate mess.
So what started this entire fiasco was Kasai Tomomi's decision (or her agency's anyways) to enter this reality show titled the One Month/10,000 Yen Challenge. On the show, she along with a couple other high-profile people would spend an entire month living on 10,000 yen or about 100 dollars. I admit when I first heard about this show, I thought it was bat-shit crazy. Maybe it's due to the fact that I suck at budgeting (should probably fix that before entering college...) but it's one hell of a challenge to live off 100 dollars for an entire month, especially since Tomomi's part of such a high-demand idol group. Still, Michishige Sayumi did it so I supposed that it wasn't out of the realm of possibility for another idol to take on the challenge. Besides, at this point in time, Tomomi was experiencing a drop in her Regular Senbatsu position; she was ousted out of the UZA Senbatsu so Paruru could show the world just how much she didn't give a shit about... life in general!
Anyways, I had my laugh about the sheer craziness of the challenge and moved on with my own writing and life in general. Then a weeks later, some interesting news popped up in the blogsphere: Tomomi had left the One Month/10,000 Yen Challenge after a mere five days on the show. And she didn't just leave; she walked out without even giving the show producers a kiss goodbye. Doing something so unprofessional is an incredibly stupid decision; it's like pulling out a play and not telling the director you're doing so. Not only will it affect your standing with the director, it'll affect you standing the whole flipping theatre community. And for Tomomi's pulling out of the reality show in such an abrupt and unprofessional manner had some pretty bad consequence. She received a lot of criticism for her unprofessionalism and in the end, the act of pulling out got her attention in the worst and most negative way possible.
Now this did catch my eye. A famous person with declining fame doing something audacious to generate attention, despite that attention being negative? Where had I heard that before.... Oh yeah, it's the "no such thing as bad publicity" technique! American people! You know about Jersey Shore, right? Of course you do, that's why I'm using it as an example because it's the epitome of the "no such thing as bad publicity" technique. I don't even watch the show and I know it's universally reviled for the vapid, partying lifestyles some Oompa-Loompas carry out on the Jersey Shore in Miami whilst eating pickles. Or something like that. Either way, the show doesn't thrive because it's a critical success with the depth of Downton Abbey; Jersey Shore thrives because of it's infamy and that it gives us something to point and laugh at and make ourselves feel good that we don't act like these horrible, horrible people do.
At the rate Tomomi was going, she was probably going to end up in the same position Akimoto Sayaka is and join the ranks of other once-popular AKB48 members that were shafted out thanks to management's decision to push a new generation of girls. What other alternative was there but to do something so crazy that people would once again take notice of her, regardless of the infamy? Leaving the reality show generated Tomomi more talk than she's gotten in a long time. It makes me think that maybe her leaving was all one staged scam everyone was in on to get her some relevance again. Why not? Reality TV is more than known for being unrealistic; countless scenes have been rigged, and I think her departure being staged is highly plausible. But that theory still doesn't quite match up for me. It would have if not for one other little thing happening to Kasai Tomomi...
Around the same time of the scandal, it was announced that Kasai Tomomi would be getting a solo debut. Now personally, I found this to be kind of unexpected. I mean, Kasai Tomomi of all the idols in AKB48? It would have made more sense to me if it was someone like Oshima Yuko or Matsui Jurina or even Shimazaki Haruka but Kasai Tomomi? Maybe it's because she's not one of my favorites in the group but the decision to give her a solo debut so quickly (before Kashiwagi Yuki and Takahashi Minami's if I might add) seemed really sporadic and weird. Unless... could it be that the reality show was all one big scam to get her publicity so that people would support her solo debut? At first, that seemed like a highly plausible theory but the more I looked into it, the more holes I was able to pick out of said theory. First of all... do you really expect someone to think along the logic of "Oh yeah, this person was totally unprofessional on a reality show and I disrespect her for that... I'm gonna buy her solo single!"
It's (again) relatable back to Jersey Shore; if Snooki released a single, would you buy it? For those of you who said yes, leave this blog right now and go listen to some Perfume. As for the rest of you... there's your downside of the "no such thing as bad publicity" technique. Of course you're not gonna buy a Snooki single; it's not related at all to the sole reason she attracted so much infamy. Sure if she released something along with the rest of the Jersey Shore people, that would probably get some attention but releasing something not based around the reason she got famous is most likely going to flop. That's pretty much one of the elements of why one-hit-wonders are one-hit-wonders. So yes, while the reality show incident garnered Kasai Tomomi some fame again, it probably wasn't going to be enough to get her a successful debut. Mainly because the fame Tomomi experienced was more or less 15 minutes of fame. True, she'd still have her loyal AKB fanbase to back her up along with the name of the AKB48 franchise, but was a solo debut really the best thing for her whilst she was still untangling herself out of such a messy and ugly scandal. And then the web got even more tangled...
AKB48 had a lot of graduations this year, including Maeda Atsuko and Masuda Yuka (I miss Yuka so much...). One of the last graduations to be announced was Kasai Tomomi's, thus ending the string of AKB48 graduations of 2012. I can only imagine the graduations going down in 2013. Anyways, I really didn't see this coming, maybe because I was still reeling over the graduation of Masuda Yuka. Didn't Kasai Tomomi just debut under AKB48 as a soloist? Why was the agency graduating her now? If not for her solo debut, then the graduation would have made more sense to me. I admit, Tomomi is more popular than I'm making her sound in this post but she's not as popular as members like Takamina and Yuko and she sure as hell wasn't going to get the pushes that Mayuyu and Jurina and Paruru were getting anytime soon. Again, I predicted that she'd probably go the route that Akimoto Sayaka would did and just fade into Undergirls and then finally fade out of the AKB48 singles altogether.
Again, it would probably be slow but it was inevitable. Aki-P is one of his "time to push a new generation!!" moods right now and anyone who's not popular enough to stay at the front and not new enough to get to the front is most likely going to get pushed aside for younger, fresher faces. It's a cruel process, yes, but it's the evolution of AKB48 and many of those old faces were once new faces pushed in favor of their even older predecessors. Remember Oshima Mai? She used to be one of the faces of AKB48 before getting the hell out of there before she languished in obscurity along with so many other forgotten idols from the long list of former AKB48 members. Why not go out at your peak than at your low? I think that was Acchan's reasoning for graduating among other things to it made sense for Tomomi to graduate when she was still popular and didn't end up dropping further and further from the AKB48 ranking status. I could totally buy that if not for one thing: her solo debut.
From the looks of it, Tomomi is most likely going to go the Oshima Mai and Ono Erena direction and release solo singles outside of AKB48. So does management really think it's smart to graduate Tomomi after only releasing one debut single under the AKB48 label? There's something important about AKB48: its influence. This is the top idol group in Japan right now and fans will eat up anything this group spurts out regardless of actual quality. It's probably one of the only reasons why Nogizaka46 is making the amount of money it is now. Naturally, if Tomomi released a solo single whilst still in AKB48, chances are it was going to sell pretty well simply for the sheer fact that the name of AKB48 is enough to garner the interest of the general public. How influential is the AKB48 label? If I released an audiobook of Fifty Shades of Grey and it was backed up by the AKB48 label, it would probably sell pretty well. For more reasons than the obvious.
The influence of AKB48 is like a little sparkly ball of attention and love and the minute you distance yourself from that sparkly ball, you're going to be subjected to the harsh reality that no one gives a shit about you now that you're out of AKB48 apart from those loyal fans. Look at Oshima Mai and Ono Erena's solo singles; both these girls were once prominent members of the AKB48 Senbatsu and now? Outside of the group, both idols don't have anywhere near the prominence they had in AKB48 and I really think that if they had released solo singles while still in the group, the sales would have been better. But they didn't and I'm afraid that Kasai Tomomi is going to go the same route that these two did. Now I'm not sure where the hell Tomomi's career was going to go after this but I couldn't imagine that'd she'd be able to maintain the fanbase she had with AKB48. Would she still have her loyal fans? Of course; every idol does but there's a difference between sitting at the coveted lunch table that is AKB48 and next to the trash can with all the other former members of AKB48. And so her solo single was released on December 26...
...and it flopped. For an AKB48 soloist anyways. Kasai Tomomi's solo release was pivotal point in her career because the sales of the single are a good indicator of her future success as a soloist outside of AKB48. So did Masaka sell enough to keep Tomomi's career as a soloist secure, even after she graduated AKB48? Well... it sold 32,582 copies. Now for an idol like Kikkawa Yuu or a group like Tokyo Girls' Style, that might seem like a pretty awesome number to reach. But for an idol from AKB48 to only sell that many copies? To have that namesake backing Tomomi up and for her to sell such a low number is startling. Do you know what other soloist from AKB48 had a debut single even close to that number? Iwasa freaking Misaki. In comparison to Masaka, Mujin Eki sold 23,773 copies. Now that might seem like a pretty prominent gap especially since Tomomi is more popular than Wasamin but take the following into consideration. Mujin Eki was an enka single, a genre of music that's far less mainstream in the Japanese music industry than it used to be. Wasamin has also never, ever been a part of the regular Senbatsu; I don't even think she's won her way into a Janken single. Tomomi has been part of regular Senbatsu since Aitakatta! with UZA being her first shaft out of it. Something else to note is Regular Senbatsu members Watanabe Mayu and Sashihara Rino both debuted with stellar numbers, each single selling over 100,000 copies. Even after Sasshi had her scandal, her follow-up single still sold a decent number and even managed to rank #1 on the charts. Even Ono Erena, who released her solo single independent of AKB48's promotion and years after she'd graduated from the group, had sales on par with Tomomi's.
Now it might seem like I'm making way too big of a deal about the sales. After all, Tomomi still has a fanbase in AKB48 and the sales aren't tragic. There's still a chance Masaka could sell about 50,000 copies total. But something important to remember about single sales are that they indicate the number of people who were so interested in an artist and so in love with a single, that they had to buy it. With the expensive prices of Japanese singles and albums today, groups like AKB48 selling millions of copies is an impressive feat. 32,000 copies... not so much. The sales are a strong indicator of Kasai Tomomi's career as a soloist and if she does decide to pursue a solo career without the support of AKB48, I can't think her sales will get better than this. Who knows? She might take the Oshima Mai route and just stop releasing solo singles altogether. Then again, who knew what Tomomi was going to pursue after graduating AKB48? She could go into AV or be a gravure idol or a talk show person (fat chance on that one though considering the reality show incident). Whatever she does, I think it's pretty evident that Tomomi's never going to reach the level of attention she had at her peak in AKB48 and that this scandal only did more to hurt her than help her. With the poor sales of the single, her graduation and Japanese TV's general view of her after the scandal, Tomomi's career as an idol of AKB48 seemed to be coming to a sad, humiliating end. Yes, it seemed the final phase of her humiliation conga was the lackluster reception to her debut single but oh no. God, I wish it was though. Do you want to know what was the final phase of her humiliation conga?
This sent me over the edge. The cover of Kasai Tomomi's photobook featured her nude, with breasts being covered by a little boy. Not an adult, not another girl her age, an undwerage boy. Seriously, how old is that kid? Six? Seven? This dear readers, is the cover to Kasai Tomomi's photobook and I was absolutely disgusted when I first saw it. Actually, the first thing I did upon seeing it was ex the tab out but I couldn't un-see it. I'm sorry but who in their right mind could possibly think that this was a tasteful and decent photobook cover. I know idols have released nude PB covers before (like Watanabe Mayu's first photobook featured her sitting nude and not flashing her Creeper Smile for some reason) and I'm not uncomfortable with that. It's a part of the idol industry but this is where I draw the line. I mean... I don't even know what to say that could cohesively state the wrongness of this PB cover.
Well the wrongest thing about it is the sheer fact that they used a child to portray a sexual gesture... that kid probably doesn't even know what breasts are! He probably thinks they're just water balloons or something! Anyways, I even got a pedophilia vibe from the picture; the fact that this is a kid who's got his tiny little underage hands wrapped around the breasts of a grown woman who is in no way related to him just feels wrong to look at. I mean, what was the photographer thinking? What was management thinking when they decided to use this as a photobook image? Are you trying to damage Tomomi's career now? I'm at a loss for words as to who could possibly think this was a good idea especially for an idol who's already been dealing with controversy over a reality show scandal. I'm absolutely disgusted by the offensive photo and I couldn't help but wonder how the Japanese public would react to the PB cover too. Would they accept it better than most netizens and I did? Would they just go with it?
Nope! From the looks of it, Japan isn't too thrilled about the photobook cover either! Young Magazine was supposed to publish their weekly manga magazine with Tomomi's distasteful PB cover on one of the pages but the issue was postponed to the 21st. Why? Because according to the magazine's publishers, the image of Kasai Tomomi's bare breasts being child-handled was "socially unacceptable as it would give unpleasant feelings to its readers." Wow. I'm actually kind of comforted that a piece of Japanese media is also uncomfortable with the PB image; it's reassuring that I'm not the only one who thinks this picture is incredibly wrong. Now I can't help but think that this will only be yet another thing to damage Kasai Tomomi's career.
So to summarize all the many things that have gone wrong with Kasai Tomomi's career: she gets dropped out of Regular Senbatsu, leaves a reality show creating a huge scandal, has her graduation from AKB48 announced, her debut single flops and finally as the cherry on top of this mess of an ice cream sundae, management's stupidity leads to her having one of the most awkward and tasteless PB covers I have ever seen. In all my time that I've been following idols and blogging about them, I don't think I've seen a graduation and idol career handled this poorly until this one. And frankly, I feel sorry that Kasai Tomomi has had to go through all these embarrassments to her career, even if they make her more famous in the long run. Because in the end... is it really worth it? I'm not exactly an expert in the field of "good fame" and "bad fame" but I wouldn't want to go through what Tomomi's been going through. Still... in the end, it makes her money and everyone loves money. I love money. You probably love money! And Aki-P loves money.
So today I have a little poll for you guys... if you were an idol, what would be your preferred style of graduation? Would you prefer to go out like Takahashi Ai, respected and saluted and sent away with flowers and honor? Or perhaps you just wanna be like Masuda Yuka and Ogawa Saki and quietly slink away from your respective group before anyone can react to you graduation. Or do you want to be like Kasai Tomomi and go through a series of humiliations before finally jumping ship out of the group? Feel free to vote!