The Dwindling Fire: Niigaki Risa to Graduate from Hello! Project and Morning Musume

I didn’t quite foresee my first post of 2012 covering such a depressing topic, but alas, you work with what you’re given. Today, final gokki and recently appointed leader of Morning Musume and Hello! Project Niigaki Risa has announced that she will be graduating after the 2012 spring concert tour.

 According to the news and fan accounts regarding the announcement, Gaki was scheduled to graduate alongside her fellow gokki, Takahashi Ai; however, due to the influx of fresh members, her graduation was post-poned, giving (what I personally feel) fans a false sense of comfort, giving them the sort of idea that Gaki would be staying for a sufficient amount of time to lead the group and all that. More on my thoughts later.

With the ever-reliable Niigaki leaving, this means Berryz Koubou‘s lovable “captain” Shimizu Saki will bequeath the title as leader of Hello! Project, while Michishige Sayumi becomes the leader of Morning Musume, and Tanaka Reina presumably takes on the role of sub-leader.  Furthermore, for those fretting over Gaki’s departure, Gaki has expressed her desire to remain in the entertainment industry by pursuing a career in acting.

So what do I think? Well first off, what a freakin’ wake up call for me. It was barely 7AM when I first got the message and you can only imagine how wide my eyes got immediately when I first received the news. Mind you, I saw it coming. Was I surprised to learn of Gaki’s intentions of graduating alongside Ai? Of course not. In fact, that’s exactly how I wanted things to happen. Not to discredit Ai or anything, but these two were a team of epic proportions; you could hardly ever see one without the other, and in my eyes, a dual graduation (although slightly more of an arrow to the knee a knife to the heart) would have been more meaningful. That being said, regarding the rokkie duo that’s left, if neither of those two decide to graduate at different periods of their reign, I do hope they have a dual graduation for the same reason as the aforementioned. Yeah, it’s gonna sting and burn, but I’d rather have them both go together, than one leaving the other behind. Birds of the same feather stick together (horrible horrible pun, bad me, I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this one. PYOKO PYOKO ULTRA, ANYONE?!?!)

You know, it’s funny. I always manage to think up these crazy scenarios on my head. I can only imagine how the meeting with Gaki and Tsunku or some UFA official regarding her graduation would have been like:

Gaki: I would like to graduate with Ai-chan in the fall, please.

Tsunku/UFA official: Yeah, that’s cool. But oh no…what ever shall we do with the kyuukies? And what about the 10th gen members? Sayu and Reina are so frightfully busy with their dramas, and Aika is still in the process of recovery! What kind soul will guide them and teach them the ways of being a Hello! Project idol?!? OH WOE, OH WOE~ *grovels in a corner*

Gaki:…fine I’ll stay…

Do I also think that Gaki’s chance to shine was cut short? Keep in mind, my idea of the “golden” generation/line-up has been gone for years now, but when one thinks of Gaki, one cannot help but think “Man, there goes the final taste of what was.” When 4th generation member Yoshizawa Hitomi graduated from the group, Gaki had said something along the lines of “the Morning Musume I know is now dead.” Well, ma’am, that’s exactly how I feel about you. With Gaki leaving, the group that I had come to know and love is pretty much gone. For me, Gaki’s graduation marks the end. So I suppose, although I personally would have liked to see Gaki and Ai do it together, I think that by having a solo graduation, the girl better get the damn recognition she’s deserved all these years. Being overshadowed by the former leader (and not just Gaki, but I mean, you can’t deny that she overshadowed pretty much everyone), it was hard to just be recognized, so I think this graduation better be everything the girl hoped for and more.

While many say that they shared the same feelings when Ai left, well, I say that everyone says that when their bias leaves. And who really knows when the group really “died” or if they’re anywhere near grasp of a still heart-rate. As far as many others are concerned, the group is still very much alive and kicking, revitalized even! With all these fresh new faces, it’s the beginning of a new age. I’ve said that so many times, that’s what I’ll be spewing when I’m senile. But in all seriousness, Morning Musume is all about change, transformation, evolution, and all that wonderful metamorphosis stuff. I’m glad Gaki is leaving (as bittersweet the feeling is). The girl was cheated out of her first plans to leave, and now is a better time than any for her. Having to remain in the group, dancing in horrendous chicken costumes for an equally ridiculous (but fun and adorable, I will admit) 48th single Pyoko Pyoko Ultra, was quite a slap in the face, if you ask me. Coming from the cool, emo-Musume songs to something that should be played during daytime kids’ cartoons, well…wouldn’t you be rather annoyed?

But does this mean I’ll stop supporting the group? Ah, this is always such a touchy topic for many fans. My favorite member graduated several years ago, and yet here I am still supporting. Does that answer the question in a roundabout way? Yes. Unless the group continues to release singles that should be soundtracks to kindergarten television shows, you’ll be seeing me around.

I’m jumping all over the place, but that’s not making my morning coffee sink in any faster at this point. From what we’ve seen thus far, Gaki has been a competent and great leader, as many had already foreseen she’d be. Unlike the ever glorified Takahashi, Gaki may not have gotten as many lines and all that crazy center shit that fans constantly bitch and moan about, but neither did the other leaders. As it will be repeated for years and years, Ai was just an exception to the rule. Regardless, I’ve heard fans comparing Gaki’s leadership tactics to that of Iida Kaori’s, and I can see that. Great for her, I loved Kaori! I think it’s a shame we can’t see a longer leadership from Gaki, but for the time she has remaining, I believe she will do an excellent job. As I’ve mentioned before in previous entries and articles, while Ai was in the group and was the face/center/everything (lol) I believe that Gaki was the more reliable, more leader-like member of that carried everyone behind the scenes. So props to you, Gaki. My only wish is for her to have a damn good graduation single, and it sure as hell better not be the KFC-promoting Pyoko Pyoko Ultra. Just kidding; I really enjoy that single, I swear! It’s just too easy to rip on it, though!

One more thing: It’s been only a few hours since the announcement, and go figure every forum/social media site has members talking and all that! Much like with several other former members, fans are curious and worried to see how the current member-to-graduate will fare post-Momusu. Members have come and gone, and only a handful have managed to keep in the public eye while several have turned to a life of practical obscurity. For some, it was a personal choice, but for others that wanted to pursue similar goals as Gaki, lady luck just had it in for them, so it seems. No one needs to be reminded that the entertainment industry isn’t exactly a walk in the park, and only time will tell what will happen. With Dream Morning Musume also ending their nostalgic stint, it can be safe to say that Gaki won’t be joining their ranks any time soon, either. Dream Morning Musume, in my opinion, was something of a life preserver, an opportunity for certain members that were swimming that gray area straddling the lines of being relevant and irrelevant to finally shine after all these years. I for one wouldn’t want Gaki to have to resort to that sort of thing to be in the public eye, but one can never tell with these things. Hopefully the company will make an effort with her and we will be seeing her more often than not.

Best wishes to Gaki! I think this graduation has been long overdue, and as much as I don’t want to dwell on it, I know that the rokkies have a graduation date in the near future as well. Although the 9th and 10th gen members are young, they’ve done a decent job of keeping me interested, so it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for the group. Hopefully, nothing but positive things, but this is the UFA we’re talking about. I’ll remain optimistic (or as optimistic as one can get) and just cherish what remains of the original line-up that I had come to appreciate, while of course, appreciating the efforts of the new girls as well. I hope to see a crapton of DVDs, a new photobook (or two), and the works for this girl, but who ever really knows with the UFA? Hopefully they’re selfish enough to want to make bank with this girl, but I don’t think we’ll see as much of her as we did with Ai. Meh, I’ll remain hopefully anyway. You can bet you’ll be reading another novel for Gaki’s graduation come springtime, folks!

EDIT: For those interested, Takamaruyo has provided Gaki and Tsunku’s personal messages regarding the graduation.

Tsunku’s statement:

Thank you for always supporting us.
On this day we have an announcement regarding Morning Musume。 5th generation member “Niigaki Risa”.

Niigaki Risa, on the final performance for the spring tour beginning on 2012/2/18, “Morning Musume。 Concert Tour 2012 Spring ~Ultra Smart~”, will be graduating from Morning Musume。.

As an elementary schooler who loved Morning Musume。 she passed the 5th generation, “Morning Musume。 LOVE Audition 21”, she was welcomed in her first single released in October of 2001,”Mr.Moonlight~Ai no Big Band~”.
Since then, with constant smiles and cheerfulness, and her never changing “I love Morning Musume。!” title, she’s been a part of them up until now.
As subleader since June of 2007, she’s supported Takahashi Ai and the group, and after Takahashi’s graduation, she’s continued to support the continuing addition of new members into Morning Musume。 as leader.

For this girl as well, as far back as a year ago, I’ve considered this path at the same time I was considering the timing of Takahashi’s graduation.

Being challenged with songs and RAP as well, for several years Niigaki has carried the heart of the groups songs. Our mission was also to be able to pass the torch to Niigaki.
Certainly, there are times when we’ve relied on this girls vitality as well; we entrusted into her leadership the new members who had just joined as well, and so, I’ve searched for the right timing for her graduation.
However, we couldn’t hold back her growth forever and so, even though she herself greatly expressed her sadness over graduating from the Morning Musume。 she loves, with the honor of “Longest enrolled member of Morning Musume。”, and with great significance firming our resolve, we decided that she would graduate on the final day of this year’s Spring tour.

After graduation she hopes to focus on being a singer, being on stage, and acting, including variety work, being able to do a multitude of different activities.

For now, she’ll be making this New Year’s Hello!Project Performancea success, from there until the final day of the Morning Musume。 tour starting after that.
Everyone, until the very end, we wish that you’d please support Niigaki Risa!

And, those of you who are supporting Morning Musume。 as well as all of Hello!Project, please support us as well!

2012/1/2
Morning Musume。 Producer
Tsunku♂

Niigaki Risa’s Statement:

I, Niigaki Risa,
will be graduating from Morning Musume。 and Hello!Project with this years Spring tour.
I had been thinking about graduation myself, for about a year, I had thought about graduating with Takahashi Aichan・・・, but with the new members joining and everything, I postponed it just a little bit.

After my Morning Musume。 graduation, I’ll be studying full force in acting; I feel like I want to challenge myself with experiences in theater and dramas that I couldn’t have experienced while I was doing group activities.
But, with these months I have left in Morning Musume。, I’ll be giving it my very best as leader!

2012/1/2
Morning Musume。 Leader
Niigaki Risa

EDIT: I keep editing this thing. This is what I get for publishing before reading everything, but things just keep popping up left and right. I read a comment somewhere stating that this person was happy that Gaki was graduating because ever since Ai’s graduation, something just hasn’t been right with her, that she just seemed less happier. Maybe part of it had to do with Gaki not being able to graduate with her bff, or maybe because she had to be the leader and wear that leader “pokerface” of professionalism. Who knows? I kind of got that vibe from this week’s HPT when Aika went to visit Gaki in the dressing room while they were filming the PV for their new single. Maybe it was just weariness, but to me, Gaki did seem kind of “off” for lack of a better word. No one can say for sure, but hopefully she will graduate with a genuine smile, eat more, and go back to a healthier figure. She’s rather ghastly skinny these days.

For anyone curious, this is the episode I’m referring to:

Sources:

http://www.helloproject.com/news/1201022100_musume.html

http://www.nikkansports.com/entertainment/news/f-et-tp0-20120102-884272.html

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17 responses to “The Dwindling Fire: Niigaki Risa to Graduate from Hello! Project and Morning Musume

  1. I’m still a bit shocked… I did expect Gaki-san to graduate soon, but only at the end of this year or the beginning of 2013. I wanted her to have at least a year of leadership… May is just too sudden and near….

    But oh well, that’s how Morning Musume is, like you said: a constant changing. As for myself I’ll continue to support Morning Musume with full force, since I’m already in love with the new members! But I do hope they don’t go on releasing singles that are too childish like Pyoko Pyoko Ultra (even if I do like it, it’s just not my cup of tea).

    • ^ my sentiments exactly, regarding the new single. A lot of people have expressed their wishes for a rap from Gaki for her last single LOL I definitely wouldn’t mind that.

  2. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said. It’s not surprising necessarily, and I got the same feeling you did – that something was “off” in that H!P time ep. I thought Gaki looked awfully lonely by herself there. :-/

    I think it’s been a general consensus of fans in Japan that Gaki’s has BEEN the real leader for quite some time now – that she IS that reliable one. Shame it won’t go down in the books that way.

    Either way, I whole-heartedly agree that I really want to see UFA recognize her, at least in her graduation. She’s my current favorite and I love her to bits. I want to see her go out with a bang that leaves a mark.

    I have other favorites in the remaining bunch (though, admittedly, I don’t want every single to be Pyoko Pyoko rehashed), so I’m fine that way – but Gaki will be missed. Dearly.

  3. I’ve been editing this article over and over again, and now I’m just too lazy to include this comment in the post, but we have 5 months or so until the presumable graduation date (I think I read May 13th was the final date…). I want to remain positive and believe that she will get a photobook, or something. ANYTHING. I mean CHRIST, Eri got something as relatively useless (but a good idea at the time, I’m sure) as a cover album of sorts, so I would hope they would at least have enough respect for this girl to give her a goddamn photobook. I commented elsewhere that I found it to be quite a shame that even this tour didn’t have her name inserted in it somewhere. In hindsight, I think as a fan, I was merely spoiled by the last graduation ceremony. Whatever the case may be, there’s still time for everything.

    • The May 13th date is listed as being in Osaka.

      While I actually live on the outskirts of Osaka, meaning an Osaka grad concert would be SO MUCH EASIER for me to get to and plan for, I think I would actually feel angry if they left the graduation there. Grad concerts are not in Osaka. Grad concerts are in Tokyo. It would be like the last slap in the face to an underused star NOT to give her a Tokyo concert.

      • I agree. I know they added concert dates, but were the actual locations decided upon? We’ve got roughly 4-5 months until then, hopefully some things are prone to change.

    • Urm…. it won’t let me reply to your reply. I don’t know!

      But yeah, locations are out. The FC letter is only about a foot away from me, hang on.

      4/8 – Tochigi-ken, Tochigi-ken Sougou Bunk Center (?)
      4/14 – Shiga-ken, Biwa Lake Hall
      4/15 – Shizuoka-ken, (some kind of hall in Shizuoka City)
      4/29 – Hiroshima-ken, Hiroshima ALSOK Hall
      4/30 – Fukuoka-ken, Fukuoka (same type of hall as Shizuoka)
      5/5 – Tokyo, Nakano Sun Plaza
      5/6 – Tokyo, Nakano Sun Plaza
      5/12 – Osaka, NHK Osaka Hall
      5/13 – Osaka, NHK Osaka Hall

      • NHK Osaka Hall is so pitifully small >__< What the blazing fuck!? This is incredibly disappointing. UFA, GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!

      • my comments section here is acting up >__< i apologize. Well, Koha had a rather abrupt graduation IMO, and she definitely didn't dedicate a decade of her life to the group. I'm not trying to say anything bad about Koha, but I was just hoping a bit more for Gaki. A better grad venue is quite literally the LEAST the company could do for a decent send off for the woman.

  4. Pingback: Recommended Reading – January 2nd, 2011 | International Wota·

  5. After Ai-chan’s graduation. I saw the list of MM members. It was twelve?! Too many. Somehow MM’s magic number is nine. I knew right there and then there were going to be more graduations in 2012. I am shocked it happened so soon. *Sigh* Thank goodness we have Youtube, where I can look up vid’s of the Golden Era of MM.

    Tsunku now has too many girl groups to deal with. He gets some success from all of them, but that success is diluted by too many groups competing for the same fans and the same yen in Japan.

    Goodbye, Gaki-san. I will miss your wonderful voice, your beautiful smile, and how well you dance!! I wish you all the success an actress can achieve!!!

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  7. Pingback: From the Shadows to the Spotlight: Niigaki Risa and Mitsui Aika Graduate from Hello! Project and Morning Musume | Not Another K-Blog!!!·

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