I am really not sure what AKS is trying to do.
The way they're handling AKB48 right now is such an enigma to me. Almost as much of an enigma as UFP. But no idol agency will ever boggle my mind as much as UFP does. But I don't get what at all is running through the minds of the executives running AKS and managing AKB48. For the past few years, AKB48 has been the top idol group, constantly selling hundreds of thousands of singles and being just about everywhere in Japan. However, after going up, there's only one more direction an idol group can go, and everyone has been anticipating the time when AKB48 will start to decline. Will it be this year? Next year? In ten years? Hopefully no that last one, but with more and more members graduating the group, I wouldn't be surprised if AKB48 starts to lose relevance in the next two or three years.
As the lovely writers of New School Kaidan explained much better than I ever could, AKS's reliance on a handful of members of AKB48 for popularity is the equivalent of shooting themselves in the foot. Because once all those popular, established members graduate, AKS will be left with scrambling to promote new faces and other less popular members that could have been more popular with the right promotion. But without the same level of interest in these new faces, less fans will buy things, less money will be made, and very slowly will AKB48 start to fall. In theory at least. Going by the sales of Mae Shika Mukanee, that obviously hasn't happened yet. Still, it's obvious that AKS is trying to hold on to the momentum of AKB48 and all the sister groups despite numerous members jumping ship, including Maeda Atsuko and Oshima Yuko. The gimmicks are flying out left and right, the singles are selling like hotcakes, and as of now, it feels like there's this collective breath being held waiting for AKB48 to slip up and fall. It's inevitable of course. But I get the feeling AKS would rather ignore that inevitable decline and squeeze as much cash out of AKB48 while they still can.
So what's the solution to this member-graduation conundrum? If you said put more promotion into newer, younger members... well, you're right. But AKS can also take the easy way out and just throw popular members from AKB48's sister groups into AKB48. In other words... shuffle time!!!
That is more-or-less what happened in the recent 2014 team shuffle. AKS plucked popular members from the sisters group and gave them concurrent positions in AKB48. Obviously, this did not rest well with many people. Truthfully, I probably should have written about this sooner, but I feel like doing it now will allow me to fully assess the situation. Besides, the shuffle probably won't affect the groups' singles until the summer singles roll around. As I'm sure you all know, AKB48 had a team shuffle that ended up being more of a... every '48 group (and Nogizaka46 shuffle). You know what, I'm not gonna bother listing all the teams and transferred members. It's fairly old news anyways, and you can find a full list on just about any other idol news website. Like Tokyo Girls' Update! Here:
The Great Shuffle of AKB48
Boom. There's the whole list. Go crazy. Run down the streets. Break windows. While you do that, I'm gonna write about the good, okay, bad, and downright ugly decisions made for this shuffle. Or I'm just gonna do bullet points because I don't really follow enough members to care about anything more than a fraction of these transfers and promotions.
The "These Are Actually Decent Decisions"
- Takahashi Minami's return to Team A captain. Who else would fit that position?
- Keeping Minegishi Minami as Team 4 captain. Again, it fits.
- Watanabe Mayu and Kashiwagi Yuki being back in Team B together. Mayuyu did not fit in Team A.
- Promoting Oba Mina fully to SKE48 and making her vice captain of Team KII. She wasn't getting very far in AKB48.
- Giving members a chance to accept or deny their new positions. At least they have a choice and aren't just forced into new teams without any say in the matter.
The "Life Will Go On"
- Umeda Ayaka's transfer to NMB48's Team BII. She wasn't getting anything out of AKB48 anymore so why not?
- Yamada Nana's promotion to Team M captain. I didn't even know who Shimada Rena was.
- Induction of a vice captain system. I don't know if the team captains do much, but I doubt having vice captains will change much.
The "What the Hell Were You Smoking"
- Miyazawa Sae's promotion to captain of SKE48's Team S. What happened to her being in SNH48? How is she supposed to perform in China and Japan?
- A Nogizaka46 member transferring to AKB48. So much for rivalry I suppose!
- Same for an Matsui Rena member transferring to Nogizaka46. Again, very intense rivalry.
- Kojima Mako's transfer to Team K. Wasn't she supposed to be Team 4's ace? I guess not.
- Keeping Matsui Jurina as a concurrent member/ace. Seriously, the girl needs a break and concurrency is not going to help.
The "Blonde Chicks in Horror Movies Make Better Decisions than You"
- Team K is still a mess and adding popular members from other groups didn't fix that.
- Gratuitous. Concurrency. Actually, let's talk more about this one.
Concurrency has always been kind of this weird thing that's been sparingly used in AKB48. It started simply with Matsui Jurina and Matsui Rena appearing in AKB48 singles. Then Yamamoto Sayaka and Watanabe Miyuki also starting appearing in AKB48 singles as well. Then the concurrency system was established, with a few members, including Matsui Jurina, sharing positions in two different XXX48 groups. This shuffle was the equivalent of a little kid going to a candy store and picking out all his favorite candies and throwing them into a bucket. And then splitting some of those candies in half and putting them in other buckets. Are my metaphors making sense? As of the 2014 shuffle, there are over twenty concurrent members spread across the '48 groups now. AKB48 is a mess. SKE48 is a mess. I think the only groups that don't look like a complete clusterfuck right now are Nogizaka46 and JKT48. And that's probably because one of them is across the ocean.
How in the hell are Senbatsus going to work? Are the AKB48 members now completely transferred to different groups going to appear in their respective Senbatsus? Because I noticed that was kind of a pattern with Ichikawa Miori, Nakagawa Haruka, and Oba Mina. All three of those members were barely in Senbatsu, if at all, in AKB48 singles. But in the sister groups, they were all automatically put into Senbatsu. Is that what's going to happen to Sato Sumire, Umeda Ayaka, Fujie Reina, and all the other AKB48 members who transferred to sister groups? Because... that's kind of unfair. I mean, I don't expect fair from an idol agency as massive as AKS, but still. And the use of so many concurrent positions just feels like a very desperate and lazy attempt to cash in on already popular members than actually putting effort into promoting new girls. Everything in AKB48 is such a tangled mess right now, and I have absolutely no idea what AKS's game plan is.
What I do think is that this shuffle is a temporary solution to a bigger problem that's too late to be solved. That problem of course being the agency's over-reliance on popular members who are now graduating. But it's their problem, not mine. It's just watching them scramble to solve said problem is this weird kind of entrancing. Kind of like watching a train run closer and closer to a broken-off track. You know the wreck is going to occur eventually, you just can't help but wonder how and what actions the conductors may or may not take to prevent it.