From the Shadows to the Spotlight: Niigaki Risa and Mitsui Aika Graduate from Hello! Project and Morning Musume

A horrible theme that came with this series of concerts was that of complaints and blame. Why didn’t she get this? Why not that? Why did she have to graduate now? Why not earlier? Why not later? Why did she have to steal her spotlight? Where is her solo song and unique, new solo song? Blame this, blame that, blame Tsunku. It was always a complaint after complaint, and an eager accusatory finger readily pointed to the closest and easiest target at the time. Haven’t we realized by now that complaining gets us nowhere beyond the shitshows we’re forced into with one another on various forums and the comment sections of news sites?

We can get so easily caught up in the whirlwind of negativity that we can forget just what exactly is going on here. If we wrap ourselves up in this hatred, fighting with fellow fans and non-fans, we will fail to appreciate what’s happening. We will let this moment pass us by without an ounce of appreciation because we’re too busy being “true fans,” defending our favorite members like it’s a crime punishable by death to do anything else. Don’t be stupid and foolish. Let your pride dwindle and die. Let your hatred cool and allow your guard to come down. Come together as a fandom to appreciate the final performances of two wonderful members of Morning Musume. Otherwise, how could you possibly call yourself a fan if you were too busy bitching about this and that, and not even watching and appreciating the performance at hand? Shame on you and sit down in a corner for a 5 minute meditation time.

If we allow this animosity to overwhelm our senses, we will fail to acknowledge the beautiful memories in the making that took place at this concert. No one needs to state the reasons why they are a better fan than others, or why this member deserves this or that. All that matters is that you are a fan, and that they are your idols. These two departing members are idols that everyone should be proud to be a fan of. That itself is a title that shouldn’t be boasted about, but appreciated and worn proudly. This was a story that took several years to a decade+ in the making, and to think it has finally concluded in a manner of 2 or so hours. So please, just lend me your attention and let’s have our sense blown together!

Again, I’m gonna go ahead and ask you to grab a beer and a snack. Brace yourselves for a very long, emotional play-by-play summary of the final chapter in Morning Musume for members Mitsui Aika and Niigaki Risa.

We began the year with some very unexpected news: our recently appointed and go-to leader Niigaki Risa would be graduating from Hello! Project and Morning Musume during the spring concert tour. And almost as if to add salt to an open wound, fans received a double whammy blow of graduation blues with the sudden and recent announcement of Mitsui Aika’s graduation as well. Fans were given a taste of the joys and implied sadness that came with this concert through the USB rips provided earlier, but nothing can amount to just how monumentally devastating today’s concert could have been for the wota in the Budokan concert arena. No reviews or news articles can ever accurately portray the sadness that tugs and tears at a wota’s heartstrings when these idols graduate, and I don’t believe I can do any better.

Though several fans have claimed that Gaki has long lived behind the shadows of Ai, Reina, Riho, and several other of her group companions, I feel as though I can say this without a doubt in my mind: tonight, not a single woman shined brighter on that Budokan stage than the single star that was Niigaki Risa. She was the original musume fangirl. It’s practically like losing one of our own. And I can’t help but laugh every time I see Eripon because it’s like they were just made for each other. We’ve got a new age wota replacing the original MM wota in the ranks. I just love how that worked out, and I’m sure all you Gakipon fans out there feel the same way.

Aika was another sort of selfless member poster-child, and that’s why I found it somewhat fitting that these two members graduated together. Amazing and diligent in their efforts to live up to the Morning Musume name, yet never quite receiving the spotlight, the “time to shine” that they inherently deserved. However, despite that, both worked with just as much gusto as the first rehearsal period…hell, possibly even before that, probably since the first day of training camp.

With my previous graduation coverage, I will admit to treating Takahashi as though she were the second coming (and consequently, her departure equating to an Armageddon). I’m sure if I had provided readers with graduation coverage from the very beginning, everyone would spot a similar trend in all my posts because the truth of the matter is, regardless of which member is your favorite, it’s going to hurt like hell when they leave and to you, it WILL be an Armageddon. It often just amazes me how fans react with each graduation, constantly complaining of how it’s the end of Morning Musume, how there’s just this unbearable influx of young faces and hyperactive personalities. Don’t preach to me, and don’t act as though your favorites weren’t that age and acted that way once upon a time.

All is fair in love and war, and the idol industry is no exception. While many fans were conflicted over the announcement of Gaki’s solo B-side cover, arguing that it wasn’t “fair” that she only had a solo cover, and not an original solo track unlike her fellow members, it doesn’t change the fact that this isn’t for her to decide in the first place. While we’re all screaming about the injustice and the unfair treatment to the group’s longest-lasting member, just remember that nothing in the biz (and I suppose to a greater extent and cliché, life)  is fair. Instead, as fans, we should be grateful she even has a solo and had the opportunity to choose the song and choose to leave to begin with.

Speaking of being grateful, I can only sympathize for Aika fans out there. Although I was never one to go out of my way to speak praises about the last 8th gen member, even I can’t deny how much the girl has worked throughout her years in the group. As I mentioned  in a previous article, the circumstances that came with Aika’s graduation announcement were incredibly unfortunate and the girl really did not receive the send off she deserved. I must take this time to commend UFA for working in a very timely manner to provide the girl with some graduation goodies. Better than nothing, I suppose, but still not good enough for the rest of us.

With Aika’s graduation, we lose a bridge connecting ages and generations amongst the members of the group; a crucial missing link if you will. And it’s a shame. A darn shame. Though I admittedly didn’t appreciate her nearly as much as most of her fans out there, I would have been incredibly interested to see how she would have faired as a leader. She would  have done a splendid job, no doubt.

Despite the negativity brewing within the fandom well before the actual graduation date, that doesn’t change the wonderful energy that oozed from every single member of the group. From the introductory song to the final and tearful goodbyes, the girls were all high tension energy and genki to the max. But then again, could we ever expect anything less coming from these girls? The rowdy and youthful 9th and 10th gen members showed the crowd that age and experience would not keep them from performing their absolute best. If anything, their freshness on stage instilled a sort of 5-hour energy red bull shot into the crowd and got them all worked up just like our beloved, more experienced senpai members. If there was any doubt in these newbies, well, sit back and watch the concert footage. I think the group is in good hands with these girls.

With all that energy dripping on the stage and with Reina’s signature mega-bows blocking the stage view (just kidding XD) it was easy to not even notice Aika was absent from most of the performances, as she has been for quite some time now regrettably. I say this as I tip-toe on a path of hot coals, but please don’t push me into the fire for stating the obvious. It wasn’t my decision, and we all know what the outcome would have been had I been given my way. Regardless, the crowd was definitely in high spirits, light sticks in their hands, feet ready to rocket them into the air in semi-synchronized jump-dancing, and lungs ready for battle with the wota next door for a screaming contest and fan-chanting.

The setlist was wonderful and as upbeat as ever, containing most of the group’s really recent songs off their latest album and singles list.  Some particularly cute highlights were the new version of JKM, the kamehameha battle between the members during the My Way instrumental interlude, having all 4 members present to perform Silver no Udedokei, actual featured footage of Suki da na Kimi Ga, everything about Aruiteru, and the high energy all throughout the concert.  As super fun and energetic the setlist was, it would have been interesting  to see the fresh line up perform some old school hits (with the exception of the Love Machine/Renai Revolution 21 combo). Throw in some Furusato, maybe Summer Night Town or something. That would have been something else, ne? It would have probably struck a few right nerves for our star-studded guest list in the VIP seats. You know, Ogawa Makoto, Kamei Eri, Yoshizawa Hitomi, Ishikawa Rika, Takahashi Ai (of course lol) Abe Natsumi, and Iida Kaori.

And although one half of our favorite panda duo could not be in attendance for the evening, former member JunJun took the time to write up a little something for the graduating members:

Please let the two’s graduation ceremony today go smoothly. Even though I really want to meet you guys, I can’t make it, I’m sorry. But those 4 years I spent with everybody will always be engraved in my heart. Congratulation on your graduation.

The Genki Pika Pika performance that featured only the 9th and 10th generation members was a particular highlight that absolutely begs to be mentioned as it provided us not only with a great dose of genki but an interesting insight on what the future of Morning Musume will look like. Take a good look, everyone. That’s our future and they will do nothing but grow and improve from this moment on.

Pyoko Pyoko Ultra (intro)

Guru Guru jump

intro VTR

Kanashiki Koi no Melody

Give Me Love

MC1

JKM (new version)

Kaiketsu Positive A

My Way 〜Joshikou Hanamichi〜

Otome no Timing

Silver no Udedokei

Suki da na Kimi ga

MC: Quiz! Ultra Smart – Mata Mata Senpai ni Kikimashita

Suki na Senpai (10th gen)

Namida ga Tomaranai Houkago (9th gen)

Genki Pikappika! (9th and 10th)

Egao ni Namida 〜THANK YOU! DEAR MY FRIENDS〜 / Niigaki Risa (Back-up dancers: Fukumura Mizuki, Ikuta Erina, Suzuki Kanon, Satou Masaki)

Shanimuni Paradise (senpais)

MC  (rokkies)

Itoshiku Kurushii Kono Yoru ni (rokkies)

MC / Mitsui Aika, Ikuta Erina, Suzuki Kanon, Iikubo Haruna, Ishida Ayumi

Special Medley: HOW DO YOU LIKE JAPAN?〜Nihon wa Donna Kanji Dekka?〜 → TOP → Ikimasshoi! → Yamete yo! Sindbad

Sono Bamen de Bibiccha Ikenai jan

Kare to Issho ni Omise ga Shitai!

OK YEAH! (without Mitsui Aika)
MC

Aruiteru

ENCORE
Renai Hunter (without Mitsui Aika)
MC
Namidacchi

I wasn’t a huge fan of the outfits. They definitely lacked the creativity and variety that came with other concerts, but alas the girls made their color-coded potato sacks work for most of the beginning of the concert. The latter half had the girls rocking some outfits that looked like something straight out of a Knight’s Tale or Shakespearean reenactments (I think I have the wrong time period, but details details). Gaki’s solo outfit was one fit for royalty (oh man, I’m going to get shot for these horrible lines someday). Complete with her own crown and dress train trailing behind her as she performed, this was definitely a show run by none other than queen Gaki. Work it, girl. Last set of outfits were featured on the concert poster and card sets: silver outfits with the frilly/fluffy red skirts and well, more frills. Something spewing from a cross between intergalactic Star Trek chic and a bird of paradise.

It wouldn’t be much of a graduation concert without some heart-stopping event. So leave it to Tsunku to come strutting his stuff on the stage to announce the opening of the Morning Musume 11th Generation ~Suppin Utahime~ Auditions (Makeup-less Songstress Auditions). Yep, 11th generation here we come! And though there are some mixed feelings regarding the topic, I for one don’t mind. The numbers are dwindling and well, at least with this, we’re given some reassurance that the company won’t let this group just fade away! I suppose I’m just taking every opportunity to look at the glass half-full at this point. And furthermore, it was announced that our favorite p-bear Sayu would be the group’s new leader!

And with those impeccable highs come with the most heart-wrenching of lows: the grad speeches and goodbyes. With the dual graduation at hand, the higher-up’s decided it would be better to give each girl her time to shine.

First we had Aika deliver her graduation speech in a cute little plaid number that harkens back to something out of a later generation Tanpopo outfit. Each members donned in their intergalatic stage outfits lined up one by one to deliver their message to the last of the 8th generation. Though they never had many opportunities to spend much time with one another, 10th generation member Haruka stated she was happy that Aika had mentioned her in a Pocket Morning response, and promised to sing with her in karaoke and revel in each other’s wonderfully low voices. Perhaps the most touching of messages was given by none other than our poker-faced yankii member Tanaka Reina, who insisted that the graduating member should look at her while she talks, because she herself could not muster the courage to look at the girl while delivering her farewells. With much love to snoboat @ H!O: “Reina cried a lot, and Aika called her big sis when she came to talk to her. Reina said something like I can’t look at you and speak, so you just look at me and I’ll talk. She was happy that Aika would come and talk to her, because few people would actually talk with Reina or go out with her in private, but Aika did the most. When she heard Aika was graduating she started to think Who will I have left?, Who am I supposed to talk to now? but she understood Aika had to think about her health. She said that Aika should still call her anytime, but since Aika is very considerate she might think Reina is too busy, so she warns her to not let that stop her from calling anyways.”

Thanks to princessincognito:

Today on May 18th, I, Mitsui Aika, will graduate from Morning Musume. Truly, thank you for supporting me so much up until now. I’ve wholeheartedly written a letter about my feelings of gratitude toward all of you, so I’d like to read it.

Thank you so much for supporting me this far, everyone. Having met Tsunku-san, the members, and all of our fans makes me feel so happy. I love people. I love talking and being fawned on. I’ve definitely been spoiled by Tsunku-san, the people at our company, and our fans as well. I feel so so grateful for that.

I’m sorry that my graduation announcement was so sudden. Maybe you all haven’t gotten your feelings sorted out about it. When I thought about my foot, it made me think ‘the earlier the better’ and the timing of it turned out this way.

Please excuse me for troubling and worrying so many people, and for borrowing this occasion. And also, thank you so much for supporting me.

I couldn’t be more grateful. Tsunku-san, thank you for putting me – who couldn’t get your rhythms or do your songs or dances, and whose listlessness you could feel – into Morning Musume.

You thought about how to not let Mitsui’s impression fade even if I didn’t perform for this entire tour, so you made room for Mitsui. At first I felt lonely, but now it’s become an unexpected success for me. Tsunku-san, who’s so affectionately raised me, is a great person. But it’s also because he was the one who allowed me to meet the members [of Momusu].

I loved the members, who made me happy as long things were going well among the us even when work wasn’t going well. You all are super kind, you know.

More than half of the members who were in the group when I joined have graduated, but they’ve all been super amazing senpais. They’re so cool, and they’re just women who are pretty from the inside out. Being able to do activities [with those people] was the best. I’ve joined so many discussions with Michishige-san and Tanaka-san and have been taught so much, and even though they’ve brought me along to eat, and I’ve troubled them so much, it was so much fun because they’re both so funny. Thank you for being so affectionate to me.

To all the 9th and 10th generation, I wanted to dance along with you when my foot got better, and I wanted to be involved with you firsthand. ‘Teaching’ might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I wanted to show you the things I know. I’ve been thinking a lot about how happy singing and being able to dance made me, so please listen closely to what your teachers have to say and take good care of your body [by doing] your warm-ups and cool downs. And please sing with lots and lots of your amazing smiles on your faces.

And Niigaki-san, please excuse for having been such an incompetent kouhai. I wanted you to spoil me even more, and I wanted to be taught all sorts of different things. You were the senpai I came to so I could hear about how it was at the beginning when Niigaki-san joined [Momusu]. But although I’ve thought before that you were really strict, and that sometimes you were scary, when 9th gen joined I felt like I kind of understood where you were coming from, Niigaki-san. Thank you for back then.

I am so very sorry for worrying you when it was decided that I would be graduating with you like this.

From here on, I’ll be heading out into society as a single woman. I’d like to do things I don’t know anything about and things I’ve never experienced, and I’d also like to walk on, finding my dream while studying society day after day. Even in my second life, as a member of Hello! Project I’ll do my best so that I can feel as happy as I do now. Thank you so much for everything up until now.

- Mitsui Aika, 8th Generation

As for members’ messages, thanks for Takamuryo:

Gaki
Congratulations on your graduation. You were kind of like the hard working middle management of the group. Towards 9th and 10th gen you were always pretty strict. I’m sure there were lots of hard times, but now you should just focus on what is best for yourself and maintain your health. Please just take things one step at a time in your own Mitsui way and never forget that Mitsui smile of yours. Thank you for 5 years of hard work!

Michishige
Aika, even though you were my kouhai, I always felt that you were very reliable and dependable. You were always keeping an eye out for everyone else while trying to find your own role too huh? When the 9th and 10th gen joined, you took on the toughest position by yourself without saying anything about it. But that is who you are, someone who is always watching over everyone else. I’m sure you had a lot of hardships though, but you worked hard and never showed any weakness. You were so strong. But in the rare times you asked for help it was so cute. Up til now, you have been working hard as a member of Morning Musume. Now, please focus on yourself so that you can enjoy the most out of life. Also, if you ever feel lonely and you think of me, call me up and we’ll go out to dinner. I’ll even act like a proper senpai and pay for you!

* massive cheers from the fans *

Tanaka
Aika! (Aika responds with “Yes, sis?”) Congratulations on your graduation. So Aika… Aika… when you first joined, you were like “Would you like some tea?” and was so thoughtful about everything. Actually, you were the first kouhai to do that for me, although to be fair my only other kouhai at that time was Koharu… but anyway we got to talking more and more and it made me really happy. I mean, for the most part, I didn’t really talk with the other girls… and we ended up getting to know each other very well. You’d come to me for advice sometimes, and you were a friend I could go to for advice too. When you first told me about your graduation, I thought “What am I going to do? Now who am I going to hang out with!?” I couldn’t believe you were graduating. But I mean, it was your decision so… Well, if anything ever happens, I want you to call me. And I know you’re a thoughtful girl so you’re probably like she’s just saying that but seriously, please call me a lot! Keep in touch okay? Congrats.

Fukumura
Mitsui-san, congratulations on your graduation. You had taught me so much and scolded me a lot… I’m sure I caused a lot of trouble for you. A little while ago you said “Sorry for getting mad at you so much, I bet you think I’m scary”, but if you hadn’t pointed out all those things I never would have realized them and would still be making those mistakes. When you took Kanon-chan and I to Harajuku, that was actually my very first time going to Harajuku. You showed us your favorite restaraunt, picked out some clothes for us… at first I was really nervous but I had a really good time. I’ll never forget that trip. Even though you are graduating, we 9th gen will be working hard to teach the incoming senpai… wait I mean kouhais all we can, so please continue to watch over us! I love you!

Ikuta
Mitsui-san, congratulations on your graduation. To us 9th gen, you were someone who helped us out a lot. You took part in our dance lessons just to help us. You scolded us a lot, and at first I thought you were really scary… but after all the things you taught us I realized how kind you were. I’m really glad… I think that if it weren’t for you, the 9th gen wouldn’t be here right now. I know that 10th gen has joined, and now 11th gen has been officially confirmed… when they join, I’ll work really hard to teach them all the things you taught us. I’m really glad to have met you in H!P, I love you!

Sayashi
When I joined Morning Musume, you were very strict but very nice to me. You were the closest senpai to us age-wise and I bet we were nothing but trouble for you. I think we depended on you too much, maybe even… A little while ago, I was trying to hide it but you came up to me and said “Are you okay? You looked a little down lately” and you took me out to shabu shabu for dinner. We got to talk a lot and I was really happy… I still remember that day. I know we won’t have much time to spend together from now on but I hope we can talk a lot through mail or by phone. Please keep in touch and take me out to shabu shabu again! Congrats!

Suzuki
Mitsui-san, I know I’ve said this many times before but… I love you! Right after we joined Morning Musume, we started lessons for the upcoming Spring concert tour. You joined in those lessons with us. We had 2 part lessons where we had to remember the bit from part 1 by the time we did part 2. I couldn’t remember the part 1 stuff in time but you helped me out in the 2nd lesson and I was able to get it down in time for the Spring tour. With your graduation, it’s given me some worries, but I still love you. It’s sad but I hope I can inherit your big heart role of the group. By the way I really love you. Congrats!

Iikubo
Mitsui-san, congratulations on your graduation. When I think of you, I think of a very kind person with a big heart. At one of the H!P cons, I couldn’t get the crowd excited but afterwards you taught me how and stayed with me until I fully understood it. Also, you always invite me to take pictures together and that makes me really happy. During the Pyoko ultra music video shoot, you said “I’m glad a girl near my age got in” and that made me really happy to hear. I still haven’t sorted out all my feelings for this graduation but… even after you graduation, if you want, please continue to teach us. And then afterwards, please show us your amazing smile. Congrats! I love you!

Ishida
Mitsui-san, congratulations on your graduation. To me, I always thought of you as a very energetic senpai. During concert MCs, your voice and expressions are so cute, they really relax me. During the Pyoko ultra music video shoot, there were times when us 10th gen were goofing off when we shouldn’t have been and you scolded us. I really remember that. At that time you told us “You play when it’s time to play, and you focus when it’s time to focus”. When the 11th gen join, I hope I can be a good, strict senpai just like you Mitsui-san. Thank you very much for teaching us so many valuable things. Congrats! I love you!

Satou
Mitsui-san, congratulations on your graduation. When I heard about your graduation, it was so sudden… I completely freaked out… and I was really sad. It has been really fun being with you every day. The best parts were when we would play games in the dressing room… and when you took me out to karaoke. If we get another chance, please take me out again! Congrats! I love you!

Kudou
Mitsui-san, congratulations on your graduation. Before I joined as a 10th gen, when I was still in H!P Eggs, there was some sort of survey a while ago which asked something like “If you could be someone else for 1 day, who would you be?” and you answered “Kudou Haruka from Eggs”. That made me really happy. And then you also wrote “Because my voice is also low, I’d like to sing together with her (Kudou)” We never got a chance to sing a duet, but if we ever get to go to karaoke in the future, please let’s sing together! Thank you so much! I love you!

After which she performed her solo, Watashi no Miryouku ni Kizukanai Donkan na Hito. A warm sensation undoubtedly filled the hearts of onlookers as they waved their purple light sticks with pride.

Then came Risa’s farewell speech. Tears were spilling from her cheeks as an ocean of pure green lights took over the crowded Budokan arena. This happened during the latter portion of the concert, and the girls had changed into more casual outfits for the occasion: the final day concert shirts in their own respective member colors, a white skirt, and some angel wings propped up behind them. A particular highlight in the midst of all the tears and heartfelt messages was when 9th generation member Ikuta Erina came forth to her idol love to deliver her message. As many fans know, Erina hardcore wota-stan’s for Gaki, even going to the fanclub events and purchasing the woman’s goods. Like I had stated before, she’s our new-age Gaki, one of us!! As she delivered her message in a mess of tearful stuttering, the young girl had managed to utter, “I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU, I LOVE YOU!” before rushing forward to give Gaki a hug. Humorously and in good-nature, Gaki retreated away, using her bouquet of flowers as a makeshift shield to protect her from her personal wota’s onslaught. If anything, this scene was enough to take a heavy situation like graduation goodbyes, and turn it into a more light-hearted and fun situation that was made all the more memorable with the comical antics and interactions with an idol and her fan.

Once again thanks to princessincognito for the write-up:

Today on May 18th, I, Niigaki Risa, will graduate from Morning Musume and also Hello! Project. To all of my fans who have supported me up until now, thank you very much.

I wrote a letter to all of you with all of my feelings of gratitude packed inside.

In the summer of 2001, I joined Morning Musume and started activities in the Morning Musume I so loved and admired. But at first I didn’t know my left from right and did everything hesitantly. The four of us – Ai-chan (Takahashi Ai), Makochi (Ogawa Makoto), and Konkon (Kondo Asami), who were in the same generation as me – were always together and weren’t able to talk to the senpais easily. No matter what inexperienced-about-everything me did, it never went well: I couldn’t keep a rhythm, I couldn’t dance, and as I was I just felt anxious about whether I could be appreciated as a member of Morning Musume. I really felt as if this world, which I had longed for since I was a student in elementary school, wasn’t so sweet.

But my senpais taught me. They didn’t teach me with words or anything like that; it was something they taught me, slowly but surely, when I stood on stage with them. I felt their hot, passionate feelings for Morning Musume, like they seriously loved Morning Musume. All this time I’ve thought, “These are pros. This is what Morning Musume is. One day I’d love to be able to stand on stage with that hot something just like my senpais did.”

Since that day, I’ve learned so many things looking at my senpais from behind. Even now, my senpais are what I long to be. Thank you.

And the graduations of my generation. There were times when I felt lonely thinking, “Everyone’s graduated, oh, now I really am alone,” but even after everyone in my generation had graduated they thought of me. When it was painful for me, they came running to me right away. They’ve always been there next to me even though we’re far apart. Ai-chan, Makochi, Konkon, seriously, thank you for supporting me so much. Our same generation love is immortal.

And also to the current members, thank you for coming along with me.

Kudou [Haruka], take good care of your husky voice. Sato [Masaki], your naive smile is the best. Ishida [Ayumi], your ‘I hate to lose’ personality is gradually coming out, isn’t it.

Iikubo [Haruna], you’re the older sister within the 10th gen so there will be some things that are tough for you.

Suzuki [Kanon], take good care of yourself. And if something is bothering you, say it. Oh! And teach me some impressions next time.

Sayashi [Riho], your singing and dancing is gradually looking better and better. Push on with that trend.

Ikuta [Erina], I worry about you becuse there are times when you can’t control yourself. But I think I’m getting to know the KY who loves me. I love you, Ikuta.

Fukumura [Mizuki]-chan, don’t forget how much you love Hello Pro, and love it a bunch from here on out.

Mitsui [Aika], after this, put your body first and take it easy.

Tanakacchi [Reina], seeing you always being so picky and pushing your way forward was so cool.

[Michishige] Sayumin, I’ve laughed with you so much. Thank you for saving me so many times with your kindness, Sayumin. After tomorrow, you’ll be the leader – I’m leaving it all up to you!

Everyone, I ask of you: please treat the Morning Musume after this well.

And Tsunku-san, thank you so much for allowing me meet friends that money could never buy. I’ve had so many shocking surprises since I’ve been in Morning Musume, but now I’m kind of used to it.

I’m so happy I was able to sing and do activities as [part of the] Morning Musume I love so much. I’m grateful that they got me on board for all sorts of discusisons too.

And to everyone on our staff, I won’t forget that you’ve supported us so much that it can’t be expressed in words. I’m so full of gratitude. Thank you so much.

And also, thank you for the family I’ve grown the closest to, and to the allies I’ll have any time[, no matter what]. I’ve said selfish things at times, but in the past 10 years I’ve felt the importance of ‘family’. Since Risa’s gonna do her best after this, Grandma, [even though] you’ve gone to heaven and weren’t able to see my graduation live, please watch over me.

Lastly, to all of my dearest, precious, important fans:

Thank you for all of the cheers [you’ve given me] since my debut! Thank you for all-yellow pen lights on my anniversaries. Thank you for the yellow T-shirts.  Thank you for all the letters. Thank you for singing so much. Thank you for dancing so much. Thank you for jumping so much. Thank you for all of the smiles and the love. Thank you for giving me so much courage. Because of all of you, I was able to come this far.

The kind words from all of you – for example,”Gaki-san, you’re so Gaki-san”, “Don’t do try TOO hard to do your best”,  ”We’ll always be your supporters”, “We’ll be supporting you with everything we’ve got”, “Tell us when things are hard and painful for you”, stuff like that – these past ten years, I’ve felt your love. I’ll go forward with all of your love in my heart.

I’m graduating from Morning Musume today, but I feel proud of having been a member of Morning Musume, and I’d love to keep being a bigger fan of Morning Musume than anyone else. I love Morning Musume!

- Niigaki Risa, 7th generation leader

Forgoing the glitz and glam of the typical graduation garb, our gokki donned a lovely kimono piece with a poofy idol flair for the skirt, and performed a solo rendition of Never Forget. Needless to say (and cheesy as it may be), I doubt anyone would ever dream to.

With lots of love from KD @ H!O, here are some of the member’s messages:

新垣「大切な大切な、大切なファンの皆さん。黄緑のサイリウムありがとう。黄緑のTシャツありがとう。いっぱいの声援ありがとう。
いっぱい歌ってくれてありがとう。いっぱい踊ってくれてありがとう。いっぱい跳んでくれてありがとう」 #morningmusume
Niigaki [my dearest, most important, most beloved fans. Thank you for hte green glowsticks. Thanks for wearing green t shirt. Thank you for all your encouragement. Thank you for singing with us. Thank you for dancing with us. Thank you for jumping with us.]

石田「私が失敗して落ち込んでるときに、気にしないで大丈夫だよってメールしてきてくださって、そのメールを見ただけで心の中からスっと消えて」 #morningmusume
Ishida [Whenever I made a mistake and I was down, it all vanished when you send me a mail saying, "Dont bother too much about it, everythings gonna be okay"]

えりぽん「新垣さんが大好き大好き大好き大好き大好き大好き大好きでーす!」と絶叫しながらガキさんに駆け寄ってきて当の本人後退りwwwww これは前代未聞! #morningmusume #ultrasmart
Eripon [Niigaki san daisuki daisuki daisuki daisuki daisuki daisuki daisuki daisuki daisuki desu!] while shouting those words she ran towards gaki san but gaki san ran away! lolololol this never happened before!

れいな「色々ありましたけどw」新垣「あー、あったねw」 #morningmusume #ultrasmart
Reina [there were some stuff going on between us..lol] Niigaki [aa! there was!]

れいな姫「新垣さんとはギクシャクしていた時期があって買い物すら行くこともなかった。でも昨秋のミュージカルの時にわだかまりが解けて「あ、会話できるやん」と感じた。」 #morningmusume #ultrasmart
Princess Reina [there were times when me n gaki weren't so good, we wont even go out shopping together, but all of that was solved during the musical during autumn last year..] [aahh, at last we could talk to each other]

Further messages thanks to takamaruyo!:

Kudou
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. To the 10th gen, you are our very first leader and a senpai who we respect very much. You are a person who prioritizes everyone else over yourself and I love you for that. I will continue working hard to hopefully become a loveable joker and the next Niigaki-san, just like you told me. I’m going to work hard so that when you see the new Morning Musume you’ll say “Wow Kudou is really amazing now, she’s grown so much”. Niigaki-san, thank you for everything up til now! I love you!

Satou
For us 10th gen members, we have only been together for half a year, but it has been really really fun. Especially when the 10th gen are having a fight and you come over to me and say “Satou, I know you can do it. You’ll be fine” It really cheered me up. Your graduation is really sad for me but please continue to watch over us. Thank you for everything up til now and congratulations on your graduation! I love you!

Ishida
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. My strongest memory of you was when I made some mistakes and was really bummed out about it… and you sent me emails saying “Don’t let it bother you so much”. After that, the bad feelings just kind of left me and I was able to really enjoy everything. You then told me “Feel free to mail me any time” but honestly I didn’t mail you that much. For me, just those words were enough and I knew that I would be okay if I followed you. Whenever I ran into tough times, I just thought of those words and it really eased my mind. Even after you graduate, please continue to accept my mails! Thank you for everything up til now! I love you!

Iikubo
Niigaki-san, we’ve only been able to spend a short half a year together, but I am really glad to have you as my leader. You were always so thoughtful of the other members, the staff, and the fans. You would always tell us “Everything will be okay” in tough times. Whenever I was struggling with the dance, you came over during our breaks and practiced with me. Niigaki-san, your smile is like the sun and I don’t really understand how but it always cheers me up. Sometimes I would do stupid things just to see that smile. I would mess up my gag most of the time but you still laughed and smiled and that made me so happy. Thank you for everything up til now! I love you!

Suzuki
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. I’d like to share my fondest memory. After I joined Morning Musume, on our first Spring concert tour last year, we performed the song Suki na Senpai and you were the one who taught me the dance. I’m really slow with learning the dances and learning the proper positions on stage… Out of the 9th gen, I am probably the least competent… but even with all that you came up to me and said “Everyone is like that at the start, don’t worry”. I didn’t really think of it at the time because everything was so hectic, but now that I think back, those words really saved me. I’ll never forget those words you gave me so please don’t forget me! Niigaki-san thank you for everything up til now! I love you!

Sayashi
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. When I first joined Morning Musume as a 9th gen member, I was really shy. I really only talked with the other 9th gen girls at first… I guess I kind of had a shell over me or something. But when I look at how open I am now, I think it was all because of you Niigaki-san. Whenever I talk to adults I still get nervous but you were always there to watch over me. You always called me “Sayashi” but one time you accidentally called me “Yasushi” and that was really surprising. It’s really sad to have that mother/older sister figure of Morning Musume graduate, but I will be sure to appreciate everything you left behind. It’s sad but I’ll work hard to become someone who can lead the 9th, 10th and 11th gen girls after this. I’ll work hard to keep up with the Morning Musume you have watched over for so long. Thank you for everything up til now! Congratulations on your graduation! I love you!

Ikuta
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. The first time I said I was a Niigaki-fan was when I saw you play Jeanne d’Arc in the Reborn Inochi no Audition musical. I started off my fan-ness by collecting pics of you and have gone as far as to go on your bus tour… for the (Joshi) Kashimashi song lyrics, I get to sing the words “Is it okay if I love you too much?” and I think I’m the only one who can say that. Even after this, I will continue to be a super ultra hardcore Niigaki-fan forever. I hope to expand on how I can continue to support you and do my best as the kaicho (president – joke from Gaki bus tour). Since you’ll be graduating, that means that there will no longer be green in Morning Musume. If I were to inherit your green, I would make sure to forever preserve your love of Morning Musume. Gaki-san I love you so much! I love you! I love you! I love you the most in the world!

Fukumura
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. We never thought Morning Musume would be like this – so many experiences, full of fun times, hard times, and rough times. You always held everything in to put on a strong image for everyone else. I hope to one day become a strong person like you. During this Spring’s bus tour… wait not bus tour! During this Spring tour, when we were traveling on the bus, you, Eripon and I sat at the back of the bus and really got to talk. That was really fun for me. I thought to myself “If only time could stop here”. Normally Eripon has a complete monopoly on you, but when you ask me if I wanted to take a picture together or… well we haven’t talked that much but towards the end we got to talk a lot so I was really happy about that. I have a final request though, it’s been several years but… could you show us your mayuge beam? Thank you! Congratulations on your graduation! I love you!

Mitsui
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. We have worked together for about 5 years now… when I first joined you worked so hard to teach me things. Thank you for all of that. Before one of our live performances, I was really nervous about everything and… we were on a plane together one time, I was talking to you so much about that and I had no idea I was annoying you. You were really sleepy at the time but I kept going “Niigaki-san~~~” Then after that time we never sat next to each other again… I eventually realized “Ah I must’ve really annoyed Niigaki-san…” but I realized that too late… then one thing led to another and before I realized it many years had passed. Never sitting next to you was kinda sad… but starting last year until today, you have been like a mother to the 11 of us. Thank you very much and congratulations!
Note: It sounds sad in text, but Aika was trying to share a funny story

Tanaka
Niigaki-san, congratulations on your graduation. I know we had a bad relationship in the past… I mean, we really did have about one year in which we didn’t talk at all… but when the 9th gen joined and we started that Reborn musical together, we were the only 2 senpais members and I thought “If I don’t start talking to Gaki-san we probably aren’t going to make much progress in this musical…” so I challenged myself… but we still weren’t really getting along at that time and I’d take one step forward but then I’ll pull back into my shell. I kept thinking to myself “At this rate we aren’t going to make it to opening day though…” so I was like “I need to grow up” and I think I did and the musical turned out fine. Now I regret the past because I think to myself “I should have made up with Gaki-san sooner, everything would have been more fun then”. But I think that it’s great we settled everything and you are able to graduate like this. Congratulations on your graduation and thanks for your hard work!

Michishige
I have so many memories of Gaki-san. They are almost all about fun times full of laughter – laughing so much that it made your stomach hurt. We really had some good times. Gaki-san, you are always smiling. Even when you were thinking about your graduation or after it had been decided and you were thinking about how lonely it would be… Maybe you were crying when you were alone but when you were near us you always put on a smile. That’s why, whenever I am near you, you always cheer me up. Whenever I made mistakes, you wouldn’t just scold me. You believed in me and waited patiently for me to get it right. I’m really thankful for that. It feels great to have such a good friend. We will continue to work hard on the Morning Musume you love so please watch over us. Congratulations on your graduation!

As always, I’d like to share a few comments. It was a double serving of lasts and loss: final performances for our last generation representatives of the 5th and 8th generations. Hopefully we were able to put our differences and negativity aside for the duration of this commemorative double graduation and take the time to truly appreciate our departing members and the members that remain.

That 11th generation auditions was something I sort of expected, but wouldn’t be upset if it was or was not announced. Just a feeling. Speculation is already underway, with some fans stating this generation will be the one that has Cuca and Karin in the mix. Regardless, it seems as though Tsunku and the team are more focused on getting some quality talent into the mix (not that we’re short on it). I’d love to see and hear who will apply, so that’s going to be something I’ll definitely stress over and be excited for it in the future!

To our always smiling, hard-working trooper Mitsui Aika: it’s great to hear that she will stay within H!P and relieving to know that she won’t be too far from sight on her road to recovery. Let’s hope she’ll continue to be a smiling senpai ready to give advice to the always growing newer generations and let’s see just what her time in H!P as a soloist will reveal.

To our longest serving, ever-reliable mayuge beam Niigaki Risa: never will we ever associate Morning Musume without you coming to our minds almost immediately. Fans are surely nothing but grateful for all she’s done during her 10+ years with the group, whether it was up front or backstage. With her departure from Morning Musume and Hello Project, we hope that she remains healthy. May all your future endeavors in acting be nothing but fruitful. And as a personal side-note, I quite love her on these crazy variety shows with various male species. Heck, I’m even not-so-silently rooting for a Takagaki music duo. You hear me, UFA? Do. Want.

And though we conclude yet another graduation concert filled with tears spilling from our eyes, fans can’t help but wonder what’s next, as they almost inherently always do. What lies beyond these departures of Aika and Gaki? We’re left with a very impressionable and talented motley crew of newbies in the 9th and 10th generation being led by the dynamic 6th gen duo. It’s the moment many a wota has been waiting for…THE ROKKIE REVOLUTION BEGINS! Morning Musume is known for its constant transformation and metamorphoses with each single and generation line up change. As ominous as it sounds, we all know Reina and Sayu do not have much longer in Morning Musume, so rather than spend the days counting down until their impending graduation announcements, we should continue to support these girls 120% until that fated day comes.

50th single is coming up, and rumors (though not quite verified) have already popped up. Something about June or July. Something about another double A-side. Something titled 「One・Two・Three / The 摩天楼ショー」. Or something like that. I’m not too worried about the pomp and circumstance that comes with the release of the single, as long as its quality isn’t sacrificed in the long run. The UFA has been pulling some interesting strings with promotional periods for the girls, getting them on one or two variety shows that we would never have seen them on before. It’s almost like they care, or something!

With Reina being our obvious main vocal, and the rise of the ever-improving Riho presumably joining her in the hot seats, it’ll be interesting to hear what the new line distribution will be. What about the sound? Will we get something as borderline ridiculous and childish as Pyoko Pyoko Ultra, another genki disco-hit like Kono Chikyuu, or something as cool (regarding everything but the dance ode to Thriller) as Renai Hunter? Will each girl maintain solo lines, or will the quality of their own voices be shrouded in group harmonizations? No doubt it will come with some praise from the left, but also with a lot of criticisms from all other directions. Brace yourselves for another round of fanwars, everyone. You know it’s coming, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Isn’t it sad how it’s come to this?

But I don’t want to leave this send-off on a negative note. Trite as the saying goes, as doors close for our two departing members,  another set of doors open. They presumably arrive at the threshold of these doors to new opportunities, doors signifying the end and the beginning, with mixed feelings.  For the members that remain, they have their own set of doors to face, like the shoes they need to fill and the inevitable “Who’s next?”  There always seems to be a scary thrill that strikes every nerve ending in our bodies that comes with not knowing what’s next: the fear of not having your past to fall back on and the thrill of experiencing something you couldn’t predict with absolute certainty. For Niigaki Risa, for Mitsui Aika, and for the members of Morning Musume, it’s time to step out of the shadows of what has been, and step onto the spotlight to face the new future ahead.

News articles and footage: , 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

15 responses to “From the Shadows to the Spotlight: Niigaki Risa and Mitsui Aika Graduate from Hello! Project and Morning Musume

  1. ahhh! I’m feel so honored to have my work up here :D thank you. And don’t mention it, I’d always wanna be contributing for the community (=v=)b

    • Your efforts will always get the highest of high fives from me! <3 And all my love, and I'm sure everyone else's too! :D

  2. THANK YOU KJCHANNNNN <3 I'm always awed by how quickly you get these out, how much effort you put into writing it. Thank you. Beautiful. You really managed to wrap everything up in a nutshell. <3

  3. Thank you so much for this awesome digest. Honestly, I was so afraid to check the net, my heart was so heavy. Reading your report, I feel like I can let go of them quietly, and follow the both of them on their careers to follow. And of course for Aika to get well really soon. Thank you so much for this! m(_ _)m

      • Haha, im totally long-winded xD i dont mean to, but i had a lot to say sometimes lol i need to fix that.

        though i cant decide if this one is longer than the post i made for Ai haha

  4. as much as i bashed her as a troll face, i feel regretful because she really was a good member in Momusu, she just happened to be at the time the last of my favorites. Needless to say, she looked INSANELY AMAZING. She rocked that plaid like few i’ve ever seen. And even with these graduations, although i feel a fair bit of uncertainty, i don’t feel like momusu is completely going down the drain as i used to whenever member after member slowly faded away and left. I still hold fast to my opinion Tsunku’s creative genius is dwindling, but every now and then i feel like i catch small glimpses that show there’s still life left in hnis brain, and so i’ll still believe there’s still a bit more to come. Either way, the era of usa-chan peace begins

    • rockin the tanpopo chic like it’s her job, b!tch haha

      im soooooo ready for pedobear sayu. sayubear’s playhouse, here we comeeee!

  5. Wow :O Seems like mostly everything is updated! Is it worth be writing a post about this on Niigaki Risa (my most favourite Morning Musume and Hello!Project member) and Mitsui Aika (whom I joined around the time I got in to the group)?

    I wonder, are you on H!O?

    • Hey if you wanna write up a little something, go for it! I wrote this with the primary intention of saving people the trouble of going through various sources if they only wanted certain bits and pieces. and yep, im on there. same name and everything haha i just rarely post.

      • Will follow you on there and yeah, I just posted something. Just my feelings to when I first found them, really sad to see them go D:

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