Thursday, October 31, 2013

C-ute is Flying and Berryz is Floundering

So... I'm really happy I'm not the only one who thinks that Berryz Koubou is on a downward spiral.

A few other blogs share my sentiment thus reassuring me that I haven't completely lost it yet! Okay, so maybe the term "downward spiral" is a little melodramatic to describe what Berryz Koubou is going through right now. Still, I think the context is the same: Berryz Koubou is at a period in which they are at a rather low point. I hadn't really taken that into consideration until I was going over my review plans for November and out of the blue thought "When was the last time I reviewed something from Berryz Koubou?" March. That was the last month I'd reviewed any Berryz Koubou material. March. And from there I realized something else: I didn't even care that much. I didn't feel like I'd missed reviewing anything substantially important from Berryz. I accepted this revelation surprisingly quickly and apathetically; I was probably distracted by Perfume. From there, I continued reviewing stuff I actually felt motivated to review. I didn't think too hard on Berryz again save for a few chats with Chiima about where Berryz was going as a group. She had very strong opinions about where Berryz stood as a group, opinions that were not exactly greeted with warm reception.

Despite some backlash, I couldn't help but agree with her sentiments that Berryz was very slowly turning into an awkward, stagnant group. But what compelled me to hope on the bandwagon and write about it too? C-ute, actually. Or... C-ute's latest single to be more exact. I was watching the PVs for Tokai no Hitorigurashi and Aitte Motto Zanshin and thinking to myself about how H!P has really outdone itself in making PVs that actually look really good. I think the PVs for both A-sides of C-ute's latest single look really good. That thought led to me once again reflecting on how much C-ute has grown and improved since they became a five-member group all the way back in early 2010. They've gone from being my least favorite group in Hello! Project to probably my favorite group, even above Morning Musume! They've just developed a really good group dynamic and Tsunku's handled their singles really well.

And like a pointlessly complicated cycle, all these thought process naturally led me to backpedal and reflect on Berryz Koubou and how they've changed since I got into them all the way back in 2011. Doing that has led me to beg the question: is C-ute getting better as Berryz is getting worse?

Well, here they all are as one big, happy unit!

DON'T SHOOT ME. At least let me explain my own reasons and opinions first. I think one thing that everyone can agree on is that the Hello! Project Kids have definitely changed a great deal from their early days in Hello! Project. They're the Hello! Project Women now (well not officially, but that's what we're all thinking!) and both H!P Kids groups have lost a few members along the way. If I were to travel back in time and tell H!P fans of 2004 that the Hello! Project Kid would grow up to dress up as Playboy bunnies or become the sexiest dancers in all of Hello! Project, I'd probably get more than a few odd looks (and maybe even some gleeful ones). All right, why do I think that Berryz has progressively gotten worse as C-ute as progressively gotten better? After all the word "better" is a highly subjective term that revolves around a person's own opinions. In someone else's mind the reverse could be happening and Berryz could be getting better than C-ute.

So yes, if I want to compare the quality of each group's singles, I'd have to be a little subjective. Hey, I run a blog; the only thing more subjective than that is the American government. But I don't want to corrupt my little Wonderland with politics so back to C-ute and Berryz! What I'm getting at is I have my own opinions that have probably pissed a few people off, but those opinions are going to be running pretty rampant because this post especially is seated in subjectivity. For the moment though, I'd like to put the more subjective points about my argument aside for later and focus on the more objective argument. Objectively speaking is C-ute doing better than Berryz? For objectivity, I have to look at the sales of each group. So guys, I hope you like math! We're about to do some arithmetic! Or I am at least. I calculated the average singles sales of C-ute and Berryz since 2011, the year that I started actively following both groups. Keep in mind, it's only single sales, and doesn't take into consideration albums, concerts, or other miscellaneous events. According to my calculations, the average sales of each group's singles since 2011 are:

Berryz Koubou: 27,561
C-ute: 37,885

That's about a 10K difference in sales. Something else to note is that both groups have experienced an increase in sales with each single. In 2011, C-ute's lowest-selling single was Sekaiichi Happy na Onna no ko with 19,830 physical copies sold. Now they sell around 40-60K. Another interesting observation is that both Berryz and C-ute's highest-selling singles are both their most recent singles. Of course, C-ute's next single, Tokai no Hitorigurashi/Aitte Motto Zanshin, has yet to be released so I don't know if C-ute's sales will continue the trend of increase. While each group may be selling more, Berryz is still behind on C-ute in terms of sales. So if I was to objectively go off only the numbers, technically C-ute is doing better than Berryz. However, according to these same numbers, Berryz isn't getting worse. Their sales are growing, just at a much slower rate than C-ute's are. But where's the fun in just going off a bunch of numbers to reach a conclusion? This is Japanese pop music, not economics! And my conclusion about Berryz and C-ute lies not solely in the numbers. Sure, they play a very, very small part in it, but this is mostly based on my own personal feelings towards Berryz and C-ute.

Personally, I think Berryz has slowly been getting worse and worse while C-ute has been getting better and better. I think C-ute's been getting better songs, better PVs, better marketing, better... everything. Berryz has slowly turned into that awkward, Melon Kinenbi-type group and I personally don't think Tsunku really knows what image to use with them anymore. So they've been getting this odd hodgepodge of different songs with no clear direction in sound or style. In terms of their music, Berryz Koubou has slowly turned into a hit-or-miss group, getting a lot more misses than hits in the past two years. All the singles they've released this year have been really underwhelming. So why? Is it just me going crazy? Or is Berryz really deteriorating when it comes to their music and overall style? I think the only way to find out is to go back in to both the history of Berryz and C-ute.

Left: C-ute (2006)
Right: C-ute (2013)

Sometimes I forget that C-ute started out as the rejects that didn't get picked for Berryz Koubou. Yeah, apparently Airi just didn't make the cut. So C-ute was filled with a mishmash of girls from the H!P Kids and one H!P Egg who probably had little to do with the H!P Kids until C-ute was formed. Before C-ute got their debut, they had a few indie singles. Looking back, you can definitely tell C-ute was just starting out. Everyone looks either really young or really awkward or a combination of both. With the ages ranging from fourteen to ten everyone in C-ute looked a dorky kind of adorable. And that's what their music sounded like too! C-ute's first several singles were... cute! They sounded appropriate to their age range, even if a few songs were just a little too sugary sweet. The songs after their major debut ranged from the annoyingly happy to surprisingly edgy for such a young group. While I may not have liked every early C-ute single, I do think they had some pretty decent songs.

The problem I've always had with early C-ute is the same problem that I will forever have with Morning Musume: the line distribution. C-ute had some really bad line distribution. Each song usually consisted of Maimi and Airi taking the lead with anyone else getting a teeny smidgen of a line lucky. The first A-side to feature solos from everyone in C-ute as their eleventh single. Then members of C-ute start dropping out like flies, finally leaving C-ute the five-member group we know and love today at the start of 2010. And we all know what single kicked off 2010 for C-ute: Shock! And everyone loves that single so much, especially for its amazing line distribution. I think the turning point for C-ute was early 2011, when they released Kiss Me Aishiteru. Before, that point, C-ute had always been my least favorite H!P group; to me, they were just so iffy. From 2011 though, C-ute slowly started to get a more cohesive sound and image. The songs got better, the line distribution got better, and C-ute really began to look like one of the most put-together groups in Hello! Project.

Left: Berryz Koubou (2004)
Right: Berryz Koubou (2013)

Now what was Berryz doing around the time C-ute was formed? Well, they'd already released several singles! Berryz Koubou debuted in 2004, without even going through the indies phase that every other regular H!P group seems to go through. I imagine there must have been quite the pressure for them to succeed, especially in the shadow of Morning Musume despite not really having a lot of performing experience as a group. And so Berryz Koubou's first single was Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai was released in March of 2004. I have to admit, I think it's a pretty decent song, and it's pretty entertaining seeing the tiny, adorable members of Berryz trying to act gangster in the PV. From there, Berryz had some really nice variety in their music. They always seemed to be the group that got the fun songs that were just a little bit quirkier than other H!P groups' music. But it worked for them.

In their younger days, Berryz always seemed like a very vivacious group, and their music reflected the energy and enthusiasm they had. But as they got older it's like their music just got... awkward-er. It's kind of like they were going through the musical equivalent of puberty. They still had some good songs, but around late 2010 and early 2011, something was just... off. The last song that I really liked by Berryz Koubou was Heroine ni Narou! ka, released in early 2011. Well... I liked Cha Cha Sing a lot too. But that's not what I'm trying to get at! After Berryz wrapped up their Inazuma tie-ins, their music was all-over-the-place. Sometimes, they'd try to be sexy, and achieve hilariously awkward results. Sometimes they'd try to go back to their more fun, playful style only to get mixed reception about how successful that was. The Berryz singles of 2011 and 2012 were quite the hodgepodge, and none of the songs save for Heroine ni Narou ka! and Cha Cha Sing really worked. And of all the singles Berryz has released this year, I honestly don't really care for any of them. Rock Erotic may be the only half-decent song, but that's not exactly amazing either.

So... what up with Berryz? C-ute in my opinion has been getting progressively better in both image and music and Berryz has been going the opposite direction. Does Tsunku just not know what to do with them? That could very well be the case; he is only one man spreading himself thin amongst five groups. Maybe Berryz is just one of those groups he has little to no creativity for anymore. Kind of like what happened with S/mileage after Yuuka left. Is it because Berryz has lost their chemistry? I don't think it has to do with the group's chemistry; they've been around for 10 years, if you're gonna last for 10 years, you've got to have at least some chemistry. What I think is happening is that chemistry isn't translating to the screen. Take the PV for Rock Erotic for example. The song was fine but the dance used in the song was awkward. The costumes and the cross-dressing concept were also poorly handled. This could have been a decent PV similar to Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ but instead we got just another awkward PV. Whereas C-ute's been getting diverse sets and interesting editing, Berryz has been getting the same lame sets and formulaic music videos. I don't know why, but I wish I did.

Whatever the explanation, I've grown bored with Berryz. Do I think that Berryz Koubou is beyond salvaging and that Tsunku should just pull the plug on them? I... honestly don't know. I mean, on one hand they are approaching their ten-year anniversary. In idol years, that's a lot of time. The girls are getting older too; they can't stay idols forever. But on the other hand, I don't want to completely shut down on them and give up all hope that they'll look like a cohesive group again. I just don't know what to make of Berryz anymore. All I know is that I have no desire to review any of their current material. I won't blacklist them, but unless they release something truly eye-catching, I don't know when I'm going to review them again. Right now, I'm much more interested in what C-ute is doing; maybe UFP will get a clue and start promoting Berryz with the same effort they put into C-ute.

Until then, I have nothing else to say on this subject. Berryz Koubou has floundered into an awkward group while C-ute has blossomed into the most skilled group in Hello! Project. The end. I think the only thing I can do now is turn this subject over to you guys. Do you guys think that Berryz is losing their spark? Or am I just part of a small minority of delusional people grasping at straws? What are your opinions on the current states of C-ute and Berryz Koubou?


  1. Yeah. The "energy" from Berryz is reduced now. You can tell by their eyes and their smiles, only Chinami who had the real smile SOMETIMES. Miya grows out and build the "classy" and fashionable image, but lost her original smile. She's still camwhore like before, but the smile and the laugh was so... forced. This also happen to Captain. Captain's energy seems like going somewhere, I don't know whether it's because of puberty or not. Yurina acts like a model now, with her always-forced-smile. Maasa's lost her image after cut her hair, it looks good when she wears man's clothes, but with woman clothes... seems awkward. Risako stands out with her style now (I don't know she's going to change her style soon or not), but she always changes her style, sometimes cool but sometimes awkward. Chinami's strong point is her smile, and she's the only one who can really smile now. But mostly her smile is forced. Momochi... she's getting popular but her original charm, her cheerful smile is gone, replaced by "I'm-so-cute"-forced-awkward-smile. And I don't understand why she still use that pigtails while everyone complain at it?

    Old Berryz was fun and energetic. Quirky is also Berryz's charm point, but now Berryz looks really awkward. I hope they can bring their energetic smiles back! For the song, I think song like cha cha SING is really good and suits the best for Berryz now. Or Tsunku had to make song like Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai for the current Berryz.

    1. I very much agree with all your points, especially the ones regarding each member. Chinami seems to be the only one who ever looks like she's enjoying herself in PVs, which is why she's my favorite member of Berryz. Everyone else just looks... not into it. Maybe offstage they look a lot more happy, but not in any of their recent PVs.

      I don't know what's up with Berryz nowadays. But like you, I hope that they'll be able to recapture the quirky charm that made them such an interesting group!

  2. Actually, Berryz were the most promoted group, the group with better songs, the only group on H!P except Momusu to have a trademark single, so they are just flowing with the groove. But now, that's not working for them, and they just don't know what to do. They are too grown up to act sugary happy, and they don't know hot to be sexy (except for Maasa. Give her a hairpin and she will find a way to be sexy with it without effort)

    But, when you analyze the whole story of °C-ute, the five members that are there now made some incredible effort to get there.

    Airi and Maimi took dance AND singing classes for a long time, like 4 years.At least, they can sing well now.

    Mai HAD to wear glasses on the first singles because she couldn't face the spotlights directly on her eyes. Now she owns the camera on every single PV.

    Okai started to post dance covers on YT, alone AND with H!P Eggs. And Tsunku started to give her more dance and singing focus.

    Saki dislocated her hip DURING a concert in 2010. Since then, she's considered the best dancer on H!P.

    Each one and all of them worked hard, and now every critics in Japan says that they are the best group on Hello! Project. For a group that was made of underdogs, its story full of teamwork and effort it's almost as inspiring as the story of Perfume.



    For me, Berryz will get better. They just need more attention now, when there is no anime to maintain their high sales. Tsunku will find a way to overcome this situation with them, don't you think?
    After the Dark Koharu Ages of Morning Musume, Tsunku reallt took his time to make Momusu popular again. And, well, One Two Three DID had over 100,000 sales.

    It will just take some time. I just hope that Berryz recover before 2015, when probably the Hello! Project Kids will graduate and Tsunku will do a double audition for the 16th generation of Momusu and the 2nd of H!PK.

    1. Were they really? That's... pretty amazing for such a young group (at the time). I wish I'd been a fan of H!P in 2004 so I could get a better idea of what the fandom was like back then but alas, I was only seven years old! I didn't even know how to work a computer... But I can see that the schtick they started out with isn't working for them, neither is the image they're being dealt now. Except for Maasa. You're right, she's the bomb no matter what she does.

      I think it's pretty amazing how far C-ute has come, especially when you bring up all the obstacles they overcame. I absolutely think they deserve all the critical praise they've received, along with their improved sales. When I look at C-ute's PVs, and then their older ones, I can growth and improvement. I don't exactly get the same vibes from Berryz.

      But I'd very much like Berryz to get better. Because I think they can be good, if they're given the right songs and image. I mean, when they get good songs, they're REALLY good songs. Tsunku just needs to devote more time to them.

      I dread the H!P Kids graduation, but I wonder if Tsunku will do a 2nd generation of H!P Kids or just use the Kenshuusei to make new groups...