With such a gargantuan group like AKB48, you're bound to get a hefty amount of delusional theories. But I've noticed that there are usually two times when these fan theories start getting particularly outlandish: when a member is caught in a dating scandal or after the Janken Tournament. Especially after the Janken Tournament. I swear, every effing year I see this tournament, I read on the Internet cries of foul play and "This was totally rigged!" comments from fans. I might take these comments more seriously if there were more physical evidence to back up such claims, but there's not. I think there are too many unknown variables to really know as to just what happens behind the scenes in the idol industry, especially in AKB48.
As long as none of us are actually in AKB48, I don't think we'll ever be able to fully know the politics and dynamic of how the entire group is managed. And even if we were in AKB48, I doubt management would let us really talk about the shadier aspects of being an idol what with a public image to maintain and millions of fans to appease. So the Janken tournament, a creative concept at first that has slowly lost its charm on me because of shit like this that goes down along with the Janken songs generally sucking, has happened again. And once again, everyone's going ballistic over the final results. Now I'm a practical idol blogger, one that tries to take every tidbit of news she obtains with a grain of salt. The pop music industry is a place where lies and rumors run rampant (and can end up ruining careers), and AKB48 is by no means exempt from this rule.
But... it is awful convenient that the the last three centers for AKB48's Janken singles have all been favored by management.
I'm not trying to insinuate anything. Even though I may hate all the fan conspiracy theories on forums, for every twenty of them, there's always one that actually sounds plausible. Two popular/pushed members winning consecutive Janken tournaments? I'd call that a fluke. But I also hold a belief that when things happen in threes, that's something to look into. And seeing this is the third time in a row that the Janken tournament has ended with an already popular victor... I have to at least raise an eyebrow. But in order to obtain a slightly better understanding into just why the circumstances surrounding this Janken tournament are so suspicious, I think I need to go over the first Janken tournament, and the single that accompanied it. Chance no Juban, the epitome of a bland AKB48 song, was the first Janken single to be released all the way back in 2010 before I'd even gotten into AKB48. The sales for Beginner, the single before the Janken single, were 826,989, the highest first-week sales at the time for AKB48.
Now let's take a look at the sales for Chance no Juban, the follow-up Janken single: 596,769. Not bad first-week sales at all but it's still a drop from Beginner's sales. And then Sakura no Ki ni Narou, the single after Chance no Juban hopped right back up selling 942,479 copies in its first week. Now what was different about that Janken single and those other two singles? The Senbatsu. More specifically, the center of each Senbatsu. Beginner and Sakura no Ki ni Narou had Maeda Atsuko, the most popular member of AKB48 before graduating, as center. But Chance no Juban? Uchida Mayumi, one of the members at the bottom of the AKB48 popularity hierarchy, centered that single. It didn't matter that Kojima Haruna and Maeda Atsuko were still in the Senbatsu for Chance no Juban; the single, in terms of proportions, still was a drop in sales for AKB48. Fast-forward to next year's Janken single, Ue Kara Mariko. That single sold a whopping 1,198,864 copies. And who was center for that single again? Definitely not Fujie Reina! Shinoda Mariko, highly popular member of AKB48, was.
Maybe Mariko's win really was just a very, very lucky chance. But what if her win and the success of Ue Kara Mariko gave management an idea? The idea of having a set winner for the Janken Tournament. Every other position would be determined by chance except for the center spot. Whoever management wanted to promote would be the lucky girl to win the tournament. Hence the reason Shimazaki Haruka won last year at such a convenient time, and probably why Jurina won this year. But how, you say, can you rig a rock-paper-scissors tournament. Isn't it all just chance? In a way it is. But remember that all Paruru did last year was throw scissors. Every round she threw scissors. And this year Jurina just threw paper for every round. So apparently no one going up against her thought "Oh, so if I just throw scissors, then I'll probably have a really good chance of winning, won't I?" Or maybe management just told the girls competing against Jurina not to throw scissors.
Last year, I'd probably have disregarded this theory but this year, I'm starting to see it as a little more plausible. Either it's the most convenient thing to ever happen or there's someone pulling the strings to assure that at least one position in the Janken Senbatsu is fixed. And if that is the case, that's really a shame. What I'd always found interesting about the Janken Tournament (other than the costumes) was the idea of a wild-card Senbatsu, where anyone had the chance to get in with the right luck. Now it just seems dull and predictable. What fun is a game of chance when your players are cheating? Does the center for a single matter that much anyways? Especially in a group like AKB48 where just being in the Senbatsu is a tooth-and-nail fight for the members of the group? If we were just going to go by the sales of Chance no Juban, Ue Kara Mariko, and Eien Pressure, you'd think that'd be the case. And maybe it is. However, there's not enough physical evidence beyond statistics to really explore this theory.
Rigging or not, Jurina's center for the Janken single this year and that's that. I actually like Jurina a lot, and think she's a very capable performer and center. She works great in SKE48 and she's proved over time she has what it takes to center AKB48 singles too. But I'd still rather her not have won the tournament for two reasons. First and most important is her health. The girl's only 16 and she's stretched thinner than an AP high school student. She's had a few health problems over the past, and I really wish management would let her take things a little easier. Centering the next AKB48 single along with inevitably centering the next SKE48 single is not something that she needs to be doing right now. I'm worried that she's wearing herself down too quickly; Jurina's a great performer but she's not a super idol. Another reason why I'm not that excited for a Jurina-centered single is... guys, we've had like twelve Jurina-centered singles before. This is nothing new.
I guess something I always liked about the Janken Tournament was the chance to see a member who normally wasn't center take a center position for once. Like with Mariko! And Paruru's first time as center was in the Janken single. And sure, she looked awkward as fuck and continued to do so for So Long! and Sayonara Crawl but there was something amusing about that. But Jurina's been center lots of times before, and don't get me wrong, she's been a great center, but I'm just not expecting much. I mean, the Janken song's gonna suck anyways, so there's no point in me getting excited over who gets center, be it Minegishi Minami or Walt freaking Disney. Aki-P has a song formula he sticks to like the Gospel for the AKB48 songs he writes, and the Janken single is going to just like it always is: bland an unoriginal. If that's your thing, then great, but I personally have kept my expectations low. Just like I did last year. And the year before. A true surprise would be a good Janken song.
In the meantime, how about we take a look and see if anyone else I remotely know about made it into the Janken Senbatsu? I get the feeling that it's going to be a lot like last year's...
Before I go back to waiting for Level3, I should probably touch on AKB48's next single. Next on the AKB48 calendar of releases is their fall single or their "cool" single. I know I haven't talked about Koisuru Fortune Cookie (and I swear I'm getting there), but I actually really liked that song. I thought it was nice and funky with a really catchy tune. So their cool single is titled Heart Ereki or Heart Electric (I think I'll probably refer to it as the latter title; it just makes more sense in my language). What I find to be the most interesting bit of news about Heart Electric is the center; it's not Paruru, it's not Jurina, it's not Sasshi, it's... Kojima Haruna! Bet you all saw that coming with all the crazy promotion Harunyan's been getting lately, haven't you? Yeah, I'm sure I'm not the only person tilting my head in confusion towards Harunyan's position as center for Heart Electric, especially since she the only single she's centered is Yuuhi wo Miteiru ka? and that was a dual-center with Maeda Atsuko. I smell a graduation.
Considering Harunyan's one of the oldest members of AKB48, I wouldn't be surprised if she were graduating soon either. She's spent a long time in the group, and maybe Heart Electric is supposed to be her final sendoff before departing to the land of graduated AKB48 members. Potential graduations aside, how does Heart Electric hold up? After all, UZA, last year's cool single bored me to death, even though the PV was effing amazing. I have to say, Heart Electric reminds me very much of a no3b song. It's not as dance-able as UZA was, and definitely a safe AKB48 A-side, but I don't think it's that bad. It probably won't make any of my best-of lists, but considering the other crap A-sides we've gotten from AKB48 this year, Heart Electric holds up pretty well. I'll have to hear a studio version before I give my final verdict, since I'm only going off the concert rip. Also I should mention for Heart Electric the girls have English nicknames, and I have absolutely no idea why. As with the Janken single, only time will tell.