Sayumi and Riho! The kiss that shocked the world! That's probably what a lot of fans would have remembered most from Morning Musume '14 leader, Michishige Sayumi's graduation concert at Yokohama Arena. That glorious moment which has been captured and shared more times than this writer cares to think about was overshadowed by something that essentially ruined Sayumi's final show. Before we go into that, let's back up a little to November 26th, the day that would bring the Platinum Era to a close.
Livestreams of Japanese concerts, idol or otherwise, are nothing new, but those that are easily viewable by fans outside of Japan are few and far between. Between proxies and subscription services, it's usually difficult or close to impossible to watch many of them. Thankfully that wasn't the case regarding this particular concert. In an interesting turn of events, this one would eventually find its way to a live streaming site that viewers from around the world could watch for free. And watch they did! As soon as I found out about it I messaged many people and found one particular person (who I met through various events) who I was able to share this momentous occasion with. Catching him before sleep, we both tuned in and saw Morning Musume '14 perform "Fantasy ga Hajimaru" which is both one of my favorite songs and also a song that sadly does not get many rotations live. This was followed by a perfect rendition of "I Wish", a song that always tugs at the heartstrings a little. I am glad they chose to update this song as it fits in perfectly with their current material. A short while later we were treated to a Sayumi-centric version of "Kare to Issho ni Omise ga Shitai" which featured the aforementioned kiss that brought Sayashi Riho into the long list of victims of Sayumi's viscous surprise kisses! Is this the first time that they have performed sans Reina? I wonder because I was personally surprised to see much of the song go to Sayumi. We were all hooked and the concert progressed into a very long. non-stop medley that contained many Morning Musume classics both new and old. This is where things get interesting and what could have been an otherwise legendary concert turned into one that will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
During the medley Sayumi suffered from a particularly painful cramp (this update from a post by Tsunku) The resulting pain became most noticeable during her solo performance of "La La La no Pi Pi Pi". At the start of the performance, when the group separates to reveal her, she is seen dealing with her foot/ankle facing away from the crowd in a very awkward position. I'm sure this part will be edited out if nothing else is. I actually thought she was tying her shoe until I noticed the look of pain on her face. Despite this, she performed admirably while clearly wincing and refraining from much of the dancing. The medley continued with the members spreading out into the arena proper while Sayumi was left standing by herself on the stage looking awkward, sad and in pain. The camera caught some really sad moments of her looking off to the now-distant members and I can't help but wonder how Up Front is going to edit this footage when the concert gets it DVD/Blu-Ray release. As the medley continued, Sayumi eventually sat down and sung and partially danced from her seated position. Though caught in a bad situation, her and the group managed to pull it off and there were very little hiccups in the actual performance of the songs outside of dance formation. Despite this, it was clear to all, Sayumi most especially I'm sure, that for all intents and purposes the concert was ruined. Sadly, she would cry during much of the latter part of the medley. The fans both at the concert and at home can probably look beyond this though and realize that she was quite the trooper who was able to keep her smile up and soldier on as best she could.
Perhaps because of the fact that the visual/dance performance was suffering, Sayumi took to her feet again for "Shabondama" following the medley. I know this song was her debut song and therefore important in terms of its place in her final concert, but it probably wasn't a good idea for her to perform such an intense dance with her injury clearly still bothering her. There are some clear moments where she was limping across the stage and the dialogue break seemed strained at points too. Those aside, I must mention that I personally love the performances of "Shabondama" with the new members. With Reina and Sayumi graduating, there have been many recent live versions and I must say that these performances are some of the best of the song that I've ever seen. This includes the ones circa the single's release. Need I mention "Password is 0"? She performed that standing as well and attempted all the proper dance moves, including the jumping! There was one landing where she stayed down longer than was needed and I can't help but wonder if she was only causing herself more pain. The remainder of the concert followed much this same pattern sadly and even though I'm sure the fans will remain supportive, Morning Musume '14's biggest concert of the year will definitely be defined by these moments.
Onto the concert proper, "Mikaeri Bijin" took on extra significance as the future Morning Musume '15 (complete with 12th Gen backing) performed a touching version that sadly included another fall by Sayumi. Actually, throughout the remainder of the concert there would be other moments where things would have to stop so Sayumi could rest. This happened happened notably during Erina's speech where a confused Erina had to wait, while the lights went out for about ten minutes, before giving her speech. This is another moment where I wonder if Up Front will simply edit it out or allow us all to see the concert as it really occurred. I personally hope for the latter but I doubt it. Anyone remember the mistakes in Kamei Eri/LinLin/JunJun's graduation concert? Kamei Eri stopped dancing to fix her shoes and LinLin took a nasty fall. Both only exist in the broadcast version and were edited out of the official DVDs. Returning to Erina's message to Sayumi, it was one of the most entertaining and contained the usual Erina charm. Did I mention I'm something of an Erina fan? Nothing like her most supportive wota of course, but if I had to pick a favorite (which I never do really) it would have to be her. Did I also mention that this is the new sub-leader we're talking about? More on that later.
With the close of the concert proper, we moved onto the long graduation messages. They were as tear-filled as usual, but I personally felt that there was just a little more emotion than usual as the girls must have realized that this was more than a simple graduation. Not only was a Morning Musume leader leaving, but a cornerstone of Morning Musume's history would soon be gone for good. This marked not only the end of the Platinum Era, but also a changing of the guard for Morning Musume. From here on, there will be no more connections to the original five members who debuted with "Morning Coffee" nor even those who more recently performed "Shouganai Yume Oibito". When Sayumi joined there were still first and second generation members in the group (Iida Kaori and Yaguchi Mari respectively) and many others were still within the Hello! Project collective. Now they are all gone and both Morning Musume and Hello! Project are filled with mainly recently added members (Berryz Kobo and C-ute notwithstanding) The messages themselves were touching, even those coming from the newest members who probably have only had the slightest of interaction with Sayumi. Sadly, Sakura's message was lost to us livestream viewers as the connection cut out during hers and the beginning of Sato Masaki's. This of course has since been rectified with recent uploads, but I will limit this to that original viewing. In an interesting turn, especially regarding her messages at past graduations, Riho gave us the closest to tears she could. In other words she sounded like she was crying, but with no visible tears one has to question and wonder if this is simply her way of crying or if, like others have suggested, she fakes it. After the messages we get the graduation songs which shocked myself (maybe some others) as "Akai Freesia", Sayumi's audition song, was first up. I guess there are many precedents for this throughout Morning Musume's history, but it was still odd that a Morning Musume member would leave with a Melon Kinenbi song. This was followed by "Aruiteru" (which myself and most everyone else originally predicted would be performed) and they thankfully used the original version over the "updated" one which was a bit too electronic for my tastes. They closed the night out with "Happy Daisakusen" which brought back found memories of Morning Musume '14's concert in the US. While I was reliving fond memories of that concert, arm-in-arm with fans from around the world, the night came to an end. Did I mention that the many long encore calls turned all of Yokohama Arena pink? It was truly a sight to behold.
In the end those who watched live at Yokohama Arena and those who watched at home around the world were left with the feeling that some of the magic of Morning Musume and Hello! Project was leaving with Sayumi. Her graduation is the first of many huge changes for Hello! Project in the coming months. Berryz Kobo will finally disband next year and S/mileage will continue, though as a different entity. One has to wonder how long C-ute's star will shine as they have never been a generational group and are nearing the end of a long run despite their recent rise in popularity. Morning Musume '14 (soon to be '15) will continue with Fukumura Mizuki as leader and Ikuta Erina and Iikubo Haruna as co-sub-leaders. This latter situation coming about due to the odd circumstance of age trumping seniority. What this means in the long run is that some of the 9th Gen are almost assured that they will never be able to attain the rank of leader. Hello! Project's leadership of course moves on to Yajima Maimi, who took it over Berryz Kobo's Shimizu Saki due to her unfortunate imminent departure. Changes are in store and while I will always be a fan, I wonder if Morning Musume and Hello! Project will suffer in terms of popularity due to the many changes. Only time will tell and I'm sure I'm not the only fan who harbors such worries.
4329 Days. Just a little under twelve years. Almost half of Sayumi's life has been spent in Morning Musume. She has the longest record by far and I am positive that no member will ever beat it. Going without sleep to watch Idol/JPop history live will be a decision I will never regret. Much like going out of my way to see their recent concert, it is something that was more than worth it for the experience. Looking back on Sayumi's career, I will admit that when I first started to like Morning Musume, Sayumi was the one member that I could not stand. She was vain, annoying and always praising her own supposed cuteness. I didn't find her antics amusing and I didn't like the fact that she was Kusumi Koharu's mentor (my favorite at the time). I am not sure when she ceased to annoy me, but she did and one can't deny that she was a great leader and the epitome of an idol. Also, after some thought, one has to admit that she probably was the epitome of cuteness as well! Be that as it may, she was never the best dancer, nor the best singer, but she persevered and always gave everything her all. This is best seen in her final few hours as leader of Morning Musume. She was injured, but still she performed and gave it her all. It is all the more sad that she will not be pursuing a career in entertainment, but instead basically retiring. She will be missed. An era of idol history has come to an end. To all the fans of the world, be sure to keep supporting Morning Musume '15 and Hello! Project!