The End of an Era: Takahashi Ai’s Graduation Concert and the Future of Hello! Project UNCENSORED *updated with televised news coverage*

“Pinch me, I’m dreaming. This must be a dream. A bad dream. It just has to be.”

Remember how we were all thinking that earlier this year when Takahashi Ai‘s graduation announcement first reared its ugly head upon us? Remember how we were all screaming about conspiracy theories left and right, and pointing blaming fingers at everyone else but the very person that even asked for that damn graduation to freedom in the first place? Remember all the anxiety and excitement that came with the 9th and 10th generation auditions and announcements? Does anyone else recall the egregious amounts of commentary and pure elation that spurred with the releases of “Maji Desu Ka Ska,” “Only you,” and the recent double A-side that rocked YouTube and the internet seemingly overnight? And man, has the year flown by. It’s already October and to think, just a few hours ago, Takahashi Ai was still very much the leader of one of the most monumental groups in music history Morning Musume, as well as the head leader of the idol army sensation of Hello! Project, the powerhouse that made all the magic happen. To think, that was just a few minutes ago. Now, here we are in October and just what are we left with?

The most beautiful memories any fan could ask for.

WARNING: Brace yourselves for an emotionally-driven, long-winded commentary. I mean it. Get some popcorn.  

It was a rush of emotions: thrill, anger, anxiety, nervousness, joy, sadness…an overwhelming spectrum of feelings that none of us can quite verbalize well enough to express exactly what we’re going through. That in itself can explain just what a Momusu/Takahashi wota is feeling right now. There are simply no words to describe the position we, the fans, are trapped in. And to tell you the truth, we’re not sure how long we’ll be stuck in this rut. I might just be speaking for myself, of course.

Shall I rewind back to the 10th gen announcement? Because after all, even the most depressing of graduations has a ray of epic sunshine that gives us all a reason to smile.

Perhaps it was used as a means of distraction or maybe even sincere curiosity just happened to overwhelm many a fans’ senses, but whatever the reason, the day prior to the epic graduation, the girls of Morning Musume had a lot to smile about. For pure nostalgia factor, something which the heads of UFA are well-versed, the first source of joy came with the announced appearance of former 5th generation members Konno Asami and Ogawa Makoto. As many fans already know, these two former gokkies graduated long before and have since moved onward with their careers (Konno as a TV Tokyo reporter, and Makoto as a current member of Dream Morning Musume). These two members took the time out of their busy personal schedules to provide fans with a wonderfully nostalgic image of a generation reunited once again. Konno and Mako-chan offered words of sincerity and congratulations to their generation-mate and departing leader:

Konno Asami – “Although there is still one more day left, thank you for your 10 years. Back then when we used to have concerts together, after all that singing and dancing we would go to karaoke. Aichan really loves to sing, when she’s singing on stage she’s really shining and I think that in these 10 years you’ve made so many people feel happy. I was in Morning Musume for 5 years, though it was only 5 years I have many memories, Aichan you’ve got double the years I had and even being leader you surely must have a lot of memories. From the beginning when you joined, you really had an accent huh? We were all at junior high, we’d go to school with our jumpers on, wearing our sneakers, having the lesson and then coming back. We’d go to school everyday but that was 10 years ago. I will never forget that experience 10 years ago, so with this experience right now when you graduate, just how you are I want Aichan to flap her wings loudly.”

Ogawa Makoto – Congratulations on graduating Aichan. As a member of Morning Musume for 10 years as well as being a leader for 4 years, really you’ve done a great job. 10 years ago all 4 of us had joined as 5th generation. From our right to left we didn’t know what was right to do but time passed on within these circumstances. To see you standing on stage like this really is surprising, in the beginning you didn’t really know what to do but now as leader and subleader you’ve been able to keep hold of Morning Musume. With this I feel proud to be a fellow 5th generation member. You’re really cool and have been able to give others motivation. Until tomorrow, you’ll have one more day left as a Morning Musume member. With your coolness and as you are I want you to pass that day through.

And just for old-times sake, although their fellow generation-members did not perform alongside them, Gaki and Ai performed the beloved blast from the past, “Suki na Senpai.” Although it was previously announced that Konno and Mako would not be performing, a part of me wished it wasn’t so. Needless to say, tears were typically shed by the departing leader, whilst the enlarged video screen simultaneously broadcasted a dual video shot of current Ai+Gaki performing with a split screen shot of a 2002 video performance of Mako and Konno performing the song.

Through all the tears and the heartfelt messages shared by these girls, I couldn’t help but shake that feeling that after this month, Niigaki Risa will be the lone gokkie standing. It’s such an alien concept, and I don’t think I’ll ever personally come to terms with it.

Blast from the past and back to the future: Suki na Senpai!

And if the sheer nostalgia of a generation reunited didn’t bring you to shed tears of joy, then perhaps the other highlight of the evening did. That same evening, the 10th generation members of Morning Musume were finally announced! After several weeks worth of speculation and fan-war reasoning, mega-producer Tsunku strolled onto the stage with the current line up to introduce to the world the latest additions to the team. Can we get a “hello” for new members: Ikubo Haruna, Ishida Ayumi, Sato Masaki, and Kudo Haruka?

L to R: Haruka, Masaki, Ayumi, Haruna

Personally speaking, I was rather pleased with the outcome of this upcoming generation. Two of the girls I wanted (Ayumi and Haruka) had made the cut, while one that I was not too keen on (Haruna) and one that I completely disregarded (Masaki) joined the ranks as well. I was incredibly/painfully/pitifully disappointed that Murakami Sara did not make it. I thought for SURE she was in, due to her natural singing ability, steady dancing skills, and that uncanny momusu look. She was even a fan favorite, in and out of Japan. It just blew my mind to pieces when her name wasn’t among those announced.

The 10th Gen newbies rockin' Aichan's custom tour shirts

Disappointed over the loss of one of my members-that-could-have-been, I moved on. Haruka and Ayumi are strong dancers and singers that can add some flair and substance to the current line-up, and hopefully this means choreography that’s a bit more challenging and appealing to the eyes. Although Haruka is freakin’ 11 and Ayumi is 14, these youngin’s have a lot of talent and spunk to ’em and we definitely need solid skills in the group now that Ai is gone. Haruna was the member I was somewhat conflicted over. I thought she was a horribly awkward dancer, looked awkward as it was, and a horrible singer. Even after a week’s worth, she improved barely even slightly. The only appealing qualities she had *in my eyes* were her modeling talents and her age. Being at the lovely age of 16 would allow her to be a slight bridge, along with current member Mitsui Aika, between the youngest generations and the eldest. Maybe she’ll grow on me. Finally there’s Sato Masaki (12). I had no opinion of her. And to be honest, I figured the only reason she got in was because practically every generation needs their token Hokkaido girl. Give her time, and I suppose she can pleasantly surprise me.

And despite the fiasco that was the night before the impending graduation, fans worldwide were nothing but restless and were undoubtedly preparing themselves for the time their worlds would stand still and come crashing down upon them. A whirlwind of emotions? That doesn’t even begin to describe it.

While fans semi-patiently await the release of the unedited concert finale DVD, they will just bitterly sit in front of their computers crying (with me) over the departure of the group’s dearly beloved leader. It’s been 10 long years for this veteran performer under the Morning Musume brand name, and an impressive tenure as the leader of Morning Musume as well as Hello Project. Undoubtedly one of the brightest shining stars under the UFA in all their years of existence, Takahashi Ai has left more than a dent with her graduation. She’s left one of the most prominent and influential impressions that a single person could possibly leave for those that have to walk in her stead. Do the girls left behind have some big shoes to fill? That question in itself is an understatement of epic proportions.

From the very beginning, fans were bracing themselves for this Fall 2011 tour. As time progressed closer to the dreaded graduation date, more and more details were dropped by the company to soften the blow. One of the greatest bits of information shared was that Ai would have a lot of creative control behind the goods that would be sold at the event as well as having quite a say in how the overall tour’s setlist/look would shape up. And boy, was it evident during her graduation. This five-feet-of-lovely not only had the pleasure of being sent off in Tokyo Budokan, but she also did it in a style that was uniquely her own. Though she aimed to have a graduation ceremony as “cool” as her senpai’s, 4th generation member Ishikawa Rika, I have to admit that no comparisons could have been made. While Rika’s grad had indeed been on an arguably grander, pinker scale, Ai’s seemed to have been a lot more toned down, and possessed a more intimate atmosphere in comparison. Perhaps it was due to her 10 year presence in the group, and several years punched in with half of the members of the current line up. Having been together for so long, it’s hard to not make things more intimate than they seem. Bigger isn’t always necessarily better, and Ai-chan, who boasts 5 feet of height, is living breathing proof of such a bold statement.

While not glaringly obvious during her first few years as a musume, Ai always had a particular way about her. Go ahead and pop some of that Billy Joel in the background if you wish, but to any wota fan, there was always something more to that short, quiet, deer-in-the-headlights looking rokkie. Fast forward to 2011, and those same wota have watched that 15 year old monkey-like vocal powerhouse blossom into a woman that has zero adjectives that do her any damn justice. I might be once again giving the girl more credit than she deserves, but I’ve already stated countless times just how deserving she is of such praises. I would love to say it again, but I’d hate to waste your time. Anyway, in 2011, Aichan decided to not only do the unthinkable to her lovely long locks, but she decided to dye it blond, while taking on that dashing persona of what fans have endearingly called “Guychan.”

Better late than never, they always say. And while a lot of people bickered and bitched about Ai cutting her long hair and complained of her eccentric fashion stylings (which often consisted of her dressing like a boy) because they just seemed “so unlike her,” I for one think that she has never been more comfortable in her skin until these final few months as a musume when she underwent that drastic change. And boy, did she rock it. But in all honest, the style she’s been rockin’ these past few months were not only evident in her blog entries and personal appearances in interviews, but in the fall 2011 tour itself. From the goods, to the setlist, and to the damn concert outfits, every bit of Aichan was felt whether you wanted to feel it or not.

But where oh where to begin? How’s about that setlist and concert outfit combo, ne? For any Morning Musume fan, especially those particularly fond of the Gokkies, it comes as no surprise that the beloved “Mr. Moonlight” was the opening number for the concert. Aside from Gaki’s nostalgic and signature introduction, Ai literally dominated the remainder of the song vocally and visually as the sole main male role. Part of me wants to know if it was her call to rock the pirate outfit while the rest of the members were her damsels to be woo-ed over. It makes one wonder if this was a subtle shout out to the group’s “Hyokkori Hyoutanjima” days. Regardless, those skin-tight silver pants never looked so wonderful.

Captain Ai Sparrow Moonlight and her harem of 16th Century ladies

Naturally, the girls also performed their latest double A-side “Kono Chikyuu…” and “Kare to…“, trading their horrendously golden, less-prone-to-malfunction Kono Chikyuu outfits for the Kare to PV outfits. Definitely a different visual impact, but no less fun to watch and upbeat as the original. If anything, the color was definitely a welcoming sight in comparison to their televised performances.

Kono Chikyuu & Kare to performances

The majority of the concert’s setlist also featured a variety of new songs that will appear on the group’s upcoming 12th album entitled “12 SMART,” which drops on 10/12. For those fans that are itching for their own copy to arrive in the mail soon, they will have to settle for fan recordings and live performances of the songs from the concert until the 12th of October hits. In addition to the double A-side 47th single songs, the following songs were performed at the concert and will be featured on the upcoming album:

– My Way ~Joshikou hanamichi~
– Suki da na Kimi ga (Sayumi and Mizuki duet)
– Silver no Udedokei  (feat. Gaki, Reina, Aika, and Riho)
– Kono Ai wo Kasanete (Ai and Gaki duet)
– Give Me Love

If you search hard enough on youtube, you can probably find mic hacks of the aforementioned songs, but you better find them quickly because UFA is getting better at hunting down unlicensed material. Just a warning. I’ll go ahead and post the songs I can find:

The new songs featured were of a variety of musical flavors: “Suki da na Kimi ga” was a momusu ode to something of a Perfume song, with its loaded auto-tuned and heavily repetitious aspect; “Kono Ai wo Kasanete” is a wonderful ballad duet by the gokkies, which possess probably our last taste of a decent harmony between voices in the group; and so on and so forth.

Of course, no concert featuring the still relatively new kyuukies is complete without their debut song “Maji Desu Ka Ska,” the following single “Only you,” and its respective B-side “Yamete yo! Sinbad.”   The remainder of the setlist were songs that were very Ai-style songs and came as no surprise once they were performed. Just to name a few: “Resonant Blue,” “Take Off is Now!” “Do it! NOW,” and “How Do You Like Japan?

Perhaps one of the most notable Ai-style songs performed at the venue was her solo track off the 47th single “Jishin Motte Yume Motte Tobidatsu Kara,” which also happened to notably be her graduation song. This marks the 2nd genki graduation song, only after Rika’s grad song choice of “The Peace!” The lyrics definitely fit the theme of a graduation (more so than The Peace! anyway, but I’m a fan of both) and it was definitely a perfect choice for her. Instead of rocking the typical far-fetched dresses typically worn by those members graduating, Ai instead chose to simply rock to her graduation song in her tour shirt, some pants, and simple tour accessories like she owned the damn place. Her tour, her calls. Girl’s got too much swag to be contained in a damn dress.

Graduation time

And then came the moment when the world literally stood still, you could hear a pin drop, I swear. Goodbye speeches.

Ai's Final Message

The long time momusu fan knows that this is the worst part about graduations, and they also know that Ai is the biggest crybaby on the freakin’ planet when it comes to goodbyes. She’s lived through 10 years worth of being on the giving end, and now it was her turn to receive them. Get your tissues ready everyone.

First, Ai delivered her speech. Thanks to takamaruyo for writing this up!

After passing the LOVE Audition 21 on 2001-08-26 and having joined Morning Musume as a 5th generation member, as of today 10 years and 1 month will have passed. Now that I think about it, it all went by in a flash. When I think about it, I was always watching ASAYAN back in Fukui, but the airing of the shows, compared to Tokyo, was always about 3 weeks behind… so when I thought about applying, I always missed the deadlines, but when the 5th gen audition came around, one of my friends spotted the ad for it in a newspaper and that led me to apply. Looking back at that me eventually becoming the leader for 4 years and 4 months even surprises me.

When I first joined, I was often scolded. The 5th gen members were often usually the last ones to leave at dance lessons. The 4 5th gen members were always together so one of the staff guys came to us and said “You should watch and learn from the 4th gen, you guys need to stand out more individually. Don’t always be so group-minded.” We were told that a lot, and it made us cry. It was tough, but I believe because of that the bond between the 5th gen was strengthened even further. Around the same time when I was down about having no character, I started as a semi-regular guest for the Young town radio show and got to meet Sanma-san and Shouji-san every week. Since it was radio, I felt like I needed to speak but when I did I got a lot of “Your accent is so strong you can’t make it as an actress”, but before I knew it I became stronger, and I felt like I developed part of my personality, and to that I would like to thank Sanma-san. One of my fondest memories was the first time I was given a solo part in “Souda! We’re ALIVE”. It was my first time so I was really happy, and it was a very powerful song so I completely remember going to the recording studio looking to sing with a lot of energy. I sang all out on that and before I knew it everything was done and the staff guys handed me the finished product. When I listened to the CD and hear my voice, the image was completely different from what I had imagined at the time I was singing. It was really childish and kinda bad but I was still happy anyway. After deciding on to graduate and announcing it in January of this year, time has passed by so much faster than ever before, and as I moved towards my graduation, every time a new graduation event came up it wasn’t painful, but rather made me love Morning Musume even more. Right now I am really glad to have become a Morning Musume member. When I became leader, I was really worried, but Tsunku-san said to me “You should make Morning Musume a Takahashi-styled cozy feeling group”. Because of those words, we have the family-like Morning Musume that we have now.

Sayu, Reina, Aika, Fukuchan, Ikuta, Sayashi, Suzuki… thank you for following such an unreliable leader. I’ve only been a leader for the 10th gen for 2 days but thank you too.

Gaki-san, sorry for graduating before you. But knowing you Gaki-san, I have full faith you will make a brand new Morning Musume.

My precious members, the love of the staff, and most important of all the support from all you fans… I am truly grateful. During the bus tour we had in Fukui a little while ago the fans threw a surprise and read thank you letters to me, that was truly the best. Thank you to everyone who listen to our songs at home or on the road. I will treasure the moments I have spent with you guys at concerts and fan club tours and events. And because I have these treasured moments, I will continue to work hard. Thank you.

And let me say one last thing… I love you all!

One can just feel the emotion dripping from her words. Ai always made it a point during her entire 10 year career in the group to mention how horrible she is with expressing herself during interviews, but I would like to say that for the first time, she’s done a wonderful job of getting her message out there. From her words, one can just see how much the simple 15 year old country girl from Fukui grew into the leader that many a fan have grown to love.

Passing on the torch

Next up came the group goodbyes. This is always a very touchy part in graduations. A lot of naysayers cry “foul” most of the time since many seem to doubt the sincerity behind the words being shared during this portion, and I say that’s fair. A lot of members have questionable friendships and relationships (if at all) and so it’s natural to doubt their words. After all, many of us don’t know what these girls are like off the screen, so who’s to say anything with real certainty? I would just like to state that after the several years they’ve shared, Ai, Gaki, Aika, Reina, and Sayumi have all been around long enough to have a mutual understanding of each other’s feelings, regardless of whether or not they actually like one another, hate one another, or whatever. Much love to takamaruyo for the write up!:

Haruka: Takahashi-san, congratulations on your graduation. During H!P concerts, when the Eggs would go into the dressing room, you would always be like “Here have some” and give us lots of snacks… That always made me happy and I’ll always remember that. There were always a lot of senpais at H!P cons so I was really nervous but it was fun. Thank you for all the great memories!

Zukki: Takahashi-san, congratulations on your graduation. We’ve only been together for about 9 months but we already have so many good memories together I wasn’t sure what to talk about. When I first joined, you were the first person to say “Let’s swap contact info” and whenever I saw you dancing and singing on TV I thought “Wow she’s so cool” and I thought you’d never actually talk to me… so I was so happy when you asked to trade info. I think that was the most exciting moment of my life and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. Ah… now what did I want to talk about again? I forgot… Takahashi-san, after you graduate… I… OH! I remember now – sorry, I know my dancing and singing isn’t that good yet, and that I may never be as good as Takahashi-san, but I’ll aim to be just like you! So please watch over me!
Aichan: Of course
Zukki: I love you Takahashi-san! Oh and if you change your email address, please tell me. Don’t ignore me T_T

Riho: Takahashi-san, congratulations on your graduation. I… I… only just joined Morning Musume this January and it’s been a short time but… when we first went shopping together, you took my hand and I was so happy. It was such an important moment for me. You have so many good points, beyond just singing and dancing. I mean of course those are good as well, but your funny side and idiotic side, all of them… but above all, watching your performances as a professional and then being able to join Morning Musume was such a happy event for me. I… will continue to cheer for you even after you graduate, but please… *cries* please don’t forget us and watch over us. And one last thing, can I have your autograph please! Thank you so much for these 9 months. I love you!

Eripon: Takahashi-san, congratulations on your graduation. During rehearsals for the spring tour this year, I wasn’t able to get the dances down and I was really down, but you took the time to listen to me and it really helped me get over my obstacles. When the 9kies just joined, you took all of us out, like recently to get korean food at Shin Okubo and I was so happy… And at the time, the bulgogi was really good wasn’t it? Takahashi-san graduating is a really sad thing for me and with the 10kies joining, I’ll be working my hardest not to lose to them. I hope I can develop the same type of presence you have one day. Thank you so much.

Fukuchan: Takahashi-san, congratulations on your graduation. Since 9kies has joined Morning Musume, there have been so many “This can’t be real” moments. The first being the 10th gen audition, and then Takahashi-san’s graduation announcement. With your graduation coming up, I had said to the 9kies that we should work as hard as we can so we don’t have to make you worry about us. How did we do?
Aichan: I think you worked pretty hard.
Fukuchan: Oh, thank you. But I bet you still worried about us a lot. And with the 10th gen joining and us becoming senpais, I hope the 9th gen can mature even more. I found out I was part of Morning Musume at the January H!P concert and at the concert when you cried together with me, I’ll always hold those tears very dear to me. Thank you for everything up til now. I love you!

Aika: Aichan, Congratulations on graduating
Aichan: Thank you
Aika: It’s been a while since we stood on stage together. My heart is beating very fast right now. In these 3 years, it’s been a while, or rather it’s been a long road… Watching Aichan, I’ve been able to absorb and learn a lot of things. I want to continue to learn even more, but before we know it, it’s already graduation time. Not being able to spend time together, and learn together, I felt very lonely and unhappy. But being able to stand here with everyone today for this occasion, I feel really happy. Thank you very much. I wasn’t able to participate from the first day (of the tour), finally today I get to listen to Aichan’s singing voice again. I really love Aichan’s way of performing with all your heart and expression. I hope you will continue with your goal…
Aichan: Your nose is running.
Aika: Excuse me. Your goal, I mean, I hope you will continue to strive toward your goals from now on. I really love you Aichan, I love the way you perform as well. Please continue to do your best! Thank you very much.
Aichan: Thank you!

Though MIA and impaired, Aika soldiers up on stage to bid farewell to Ai.

Reina: Aichan~ Congratulations on graduating
Aichan: Thank you
Reina: My heart is beating so fast…I hope this will come out right Um…I was with Aichan in an unit before, we sang a difficult song together during a Hello Project concert…I worried a lot about it. We always stayed behind, the two of us would chat. For Reina, Aichan is…not only a rival, but you’re always there for me, I was able to grow up because of being with you. This sucks. You know I usually don’t complain…we’ve been working together for so many years. Of course there are days that I don’t want to be with the other members, and I’ve developed this bad habit of thinking it’s bad to meet outside of work. But with Aichan, we always talk about hanging out and stuff. It has really helped me out, and I wanted to say thanks at the time, but it’s so embarrassing to do so, so I didn’t say anything. So I will gather all of it now, Aichan, thank you for everything up to now!

Sayu: Aichan, congrats. My crying face isn’t cute so I don’t really want you to see it. Umm… Aichan is… I have so many memories of Aichan from work and in private. You were always so kind and loving to me, I was always so happy about that. I think we have the Morning Musume we do now because you were the leader. And all the love we get from the fans here… I think was made possible because of you. After this, with Gaki-san as leader, the 6th gen – Reina and myself will work hard to keep MM going… Yeah, we’ll work hard. And let’s go out to dinner again yeah? Please take me to Shin Okubo too. I love you Aichan!

Gaki: Aichan, congrats. I… joined Morning Musume with you… 10 years ago… and we have always been together and worked hard together. You were always thinking of others before yourself these past 10 years. Starting tomorrow… I hope you will think about yourself and how you want to move foward. Since we have so many good friends here, you don’t have to worry about us. But we aren’t going to lose to you either. We’ll work as hard as we can. In these 10 years you’ve been here, there have been so many things said and so many emotions… but, for me, everything has been an amazing experience for me and I’ll always treasure it. Please continue to support us! Thank you for your 10 years!!

Gokkies say goodbye

A few comments. I kind of prepared myself for the kyuukies to not have much substances in their farewells simply because in comparison to the older members, the girls only spent a limited amount of time with Ai. However, despite the relatively “shallow” goodbyes, one can’t help but feel that Ai did what she could given the time she had to reach out to the members and indeed act like the leader she was supposed to be. The girls are fairly young, and so to hear their words and getting this mental image of Ai as a mother-proxy is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes. Though, it was especially funny to hear that Ai had treated Eripon to Korean food, once again spreading her Korean addiction like a virus amongst the members of HP.

Aika was a pleasant sight to see as well. After being MIA for the entire tour due to her leg injury, she was wheeled up on stage and was able to deliver her own message to Ai. What a trooper. Then there was Michishige Sayumi. Forever the Aichan fangirl and typically cute persona, it was interesting to note that her words seemed remarkably mature despite her image. She’s known to be quite the responsible and hard-working member outside her “ichiban kawaii” self, so to have her utter those words instead of constantly stuttering “I love you’s” to her hero was something of a feat for her. Fellow rokkie Tanaka Reina also shared some surprisingly meaningful words when the time came for her to share her goodbyes. It is no secret to any fan that Reina is not exactly the most open of characters in the group, nor does she even make any effort to hide that she hardly ever mingles work and private life. To openly admit to keeping to herself for a time and still managing to open up to Ai, who undoubtedly was her sole rival when it came to stage presence and vocals, was something amazing. Despite the limited amount of words shared between themselves and their leader, it’s all about quality, right? As I mentioned before, most of the older members have been with Ai for so long now that words surely would do no justice to truly expressing their relationships and appreciation. Everything is just completely understood.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching of moments was the exchange between Ai and Gaki. 2 gokkies have stood for some time, always together and hardly ever apart. The time has now come for them to go their separate ways *cue the water works* If ever there was a relationship I was jealous of, it’s the friendship that these two members share. If there was any doubt of the sincerity behind their words, actions, and friendship, I would like to just smack those bitches silly. Ai, who never thought of herself as a competent leader even went on to apologize to Gaki, “Thank you for following such an undependable leader. Gaki-san, I’m sorry for graduating first.” When Ai passed her leadership of Morning Musume and the entire Hello Project onto Gaki, I can guarantee there was not a single dry eye in the room. I mean seriously, if these two were in tears, what makes you think everyone else was ok? Simply because I have no words to express myself when it comes to this, I would just like to say how much I’ll miss their platonic friendship. Who knows when we’ll see this dynamic gokkie duo together again (in public)?

Takagaki Love

After all the painful goodbyes were said, a 13nin Morning Musume performed together on stage for the first and last time (since Aika was a no-show for the 10th gen graduation, and thus only a 12nin Musume performed the evening prior). The girls altogether performed a tearful triple encore, singing Aichan’s graduation single, “Tomo,” and “Namidacchi.” Beautiful, tearful, no other words can express the emotion. Needless to say, Ai was a tearing mess, but remained classy as always.

Final Encore

Final Encore 2

As the screen displayed a “Thank you” message from Aichan herself, the now former leader left fans with her own verbalized message before officially departing the crowd as a Musume and H!P member: “Even though today is a weekday, you all gathered here for me. I feel so lucky because of everyone. I think I’ll be able to do my best from now on. Please continue to support Morning Musume too! I love you, everyone!

Aichan's Tearful Departure

What made this graduation concert particularly memorable was the fact that it seemed so intimate. The star-studded guest list and the fact that the fans filled up the Budokan like packed sardines is surely nothing to shrug your shoulders over, but the entire atmosphere of it all was something else. From the moment Ai performed her graduation song in regular tour performing attire as opposed to one of those typically ridiculous graduation dresses that were something out of a medieval times cosplay closet to the final goodbyes that were shared, one just got that feeling that this was something too special for words.

Goodbyes are always hard to say, but in this concert’s case, it felt as though it really wasn’t goodbye. The lack of outrageous outfits and graduation dresses seemed to exemplify that thoroughly. To any veteran fan, those dresses are a sign of goodbye for good; see ya when I see ya, sort of thing. But the fact that Ai was just wearing a simple T-shirt, her tour goods, pants, and sneakers did not make the concert feel less special, but in fact did the opposite. It made everything feel like “family,” like it was “just another concert tour, see ya in the winter/spring tour,” like this wasn’t going to be the last even though we are all making it out to be the equivalent of an apocalypse in the idol community. The very atmosphere that Tsunku had asked Aichan to convey in the group, she had managed to radiate throughout the entire stadium for an entire concert duration. If that’s not powerful, I don’t know what is.

And despite all the tears and the bursts of uncontrollable, inexplicable emotions that are rushing throughout our beings like liquid fire, one cannot help but wonder what’s next? What’s in store for those girls that Ai and several others have long since left behind?

With the release of the group’s 47th single, Morning Musume was able to attain the best sales they’ve have in 2 years. 2 freakin’ years. Though I was indeed a big fan of both songs, a lot of what made that single so successful was mostly accredited to Takahashi Ai’s graduation, sadly enough. Whether you want to admit it or not, that is the case, no doubt. Shortly before the release of the group’s 12th album, the 48th single was ALREADY announced to drop before the end of this year on 12/21. Speculation has already begun on the theme of the song, line distribution, etc. Many are simply wondering the latter because of Ai’s departure; who will inherit her lines? Riho? Reina? Gaki? 10th gen? Will it be a fair distribution or will one or two main vocals dominate as they have been for several years now?

Perhaps the most important question that begs to be asked is how well will this song sell? Under Gaki’s leadership, and with the rise of the 10th generation, will that suffice to bring decent sales to this single? As much as I would like to say that Gaki’s crew will be able to do what they will, I have this gut feeling that the sales for this single will be somewhat abysmal. Hopefully I’m proven wrong, but with Ai’s graduation, that’s a huge chunk of the fanbase gone. Who knows how many of her wota will remain loyal to the Musume flagship, if at all? It’s a crapshoot and I suppose we won’t see the results until the end of the year.

It goes without saying that I would like to be pleasantly surprised. Though Ai’s graduation marked the end of an incredible era, the journey is just beginning for 10th generation and Gaki’s leadership of Morning Musume and all of Hello Project. Everyone still has a chance to pick up where they left off and hopefully continue something wonderful. This has to be a joint effort between the members of the group as well as the company. While there seems to be very little to no hope when it comes to the UFA officials picking up the slack regarding promotion, the creative branch (PVs and music direction, sort of) seem to be improving slightly. Everyone undoubtedly realizes that after losing one woman, it will take a damn good effort of 150% to pick up the pieces. Sure, the group has gained 4 girls, but that won’t replace the giant gap that was left behind.

9th and 10th generation have so much potential if they are allowed to grow. Many have already come in with talent that exceeded initial expectation, and with the proper training and push, we can have another Aichan in our midst. It’s all a matter of proper guidance, and the group desperately needs that from their management.

There’s also that looming black cloud ahead: who will be the next to graduate? With the eldest now being 22 and the youngest being 11, the 4 veteran members that remain only have a matter of time before they will soon have to consider leaving (that is of course, granted they don’t scandal out first). I just want to see how badly the UFA even cares anymore. Will they make an effort to get these girls back into the spotlight, or will they continue to let them rot in the back burner?

And then there’s the issue with Ai. Will we ever see her again? Will the company shut her blog down now that she’s left H!P and MM? She’s still listed as a UFA artist, so it seems that should suffice to let her keep the blog. In addition, she has a lead female role in an upcoming vampire musical, though you shouldn’t hold your breath if you’re hoping to see a DVD for that; chances are you’ll die waiting. Ai also seems have hinted at some sort of secret project, but it seems so under wraps that many have forgotten about it. Finally, I would like to announce that it seems that Aichan has definite plans on traveling to America to sharpen her skills in acting and singing, hitting up locations like New York and Los Angeles to further pursue her dreams of becoming a full-fledged Takarazuka actress as well as polishing her English skills. HELL YA!

It’s only October and the dust has finally settled. Goodbyes were said and tears were shed, but this is only the beginning.



9 responses to “The End of an Era: Takahashi Ai’s Graduation Concert and the Future of Hello! Project UNCENSORED *updated with televised news coverage*

  1. wow this whole post really explained everything i felt, after i heard about ai’s grauations i hated sundays with a passion mostly cus i go to church, have a good time and then become so parranoid when a concert’s on that day ^^; but i’e calmed down enough to be happy for ai. its her time to do what she wants to do and if that includes persuading risa’s mom to let the bean live with her and have epically cute takagaki babies then im all for it XD but joking aside, i cant wait to see what ai’ll do with herself X3 i’ll be cheering her on 100% as well as this new momusu! i’m sure with gaki’s leadership and the potential of 9th and 10th gen we wont be let down!

    • Thanks for reading ^__^ I have high hopes for Gaki and her fresh set of newbies and the rokkies/aika under her wing. And as for Ai, I have a feeling we don’t have to worry about her ;D

  2. ;____________________________________;

    What the hell was that!!!?!?!?!?

    OMFG, thanks kjpop, I thought I left the tears behind yesterday. Needless to say, I was crying throughout reading this whole (epic) commentary. You really have captured everything so well, and even made me think about some things I hadn’t really previously.



    “Bigger isn’t always necessarily better, and Ai-chan, who boasts 5 feet of height, is living breathing proof of such a bold statement.”

    ^ I love the way you put that. I’ve never thought I could ‘boast’ my own 5 feet, but I’m going to have to describe it that way from now on xD

    “I for one think that she has never been more comfortable in her skin until these final few months as a musume when she underwent that drastic change.”

    ^ I can’t agree with this more. I was rather surprised when she cut her hair and dyed it blonde and began sporting more boyish fashion… but it’s so true; I don’t think I’d ever seen Ai-chan looking more comfortable. ___<), it'll be a lost cause.

    Thank you THANK YOU for writing this up, kjpop – I can't even begin to imagine how much time you put aside for this (it would probably take me forever to write something like this xD). *bookmarks*

    Beautifully expressed too, this was. I can so see you writing fanfiction. I hope you do one day, I'll be there to fangirl you all the way =P


  3. What! Comment didn’t show properly… >___>

    “But the fact that Ai was just wearing a simple T-shirt, her tour goods, pants, and sneakers did not make the concert feel less special, but in fact did the opposite. It made everything feel like “family,” like it was “just another concert tour, see ya in the winter/spring tour,” like this wasn’t going to be the last even though we are all making it out to be the equivalent of an apocalypse in the idol community”

    ^ Stop making me cryyyyyy ;_____;

    OH MAN. We can ask for another Takahashi Ai all we want, but there simply won’t be another one of them. Just like there will never be another Charmy. Truly, truly unique individuals.

    Ai-chan wouldn’t want any of her fans to abandon their Momusu love, so I’m not going to, even though it’ll be hard without her… I also have every faith in Gaki-san to carry on with a raised chin. But you’re right – no matter how hard the girls work at this point forth, if UFA don’t do more to support them, to raise the bar (especially with someone as epic as Ai leaving >___<), it'll be a lost cause.

    • I have a weird comments section. It’s not like the forums where once you click “post,” you’ll see what you typed immediately. I have to approve the comments on this blog as a means of spam control. Sorry about that. >___>

  4. I got here because I follow your Twitter (believe I know you thru Wonder Girls Spectacle). I know almost nothing about Takahasi Ai, but you made me love her thru this beautiful tribute. With your knowledge of both K and J -Pop, you ought to write an article for the New Yorker magazine. They cover interesting cross-cultural phenonmena, and it would considerably raise awareness of kjpop in the U.S. I’ll be there to give encouragement, and some editing when you need it.

    • I definitely remember you! Thanks for your support ^__^ The words of encouragement were definitely heart-warming ❤ And I'm glad I could make a fan out of you ^__^

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