AKB48 has expanded in recent years. They have sister groups to the west of Japan in Nagoya, Osaka, Fukuoka, and an upcoming sister group in Niigata. But Yasushi Akimoto decided to change things a little and bring a group billed as a “rival group” to expand the 48G brand. Enter Nogizaka46: the first rival group of AKB48 that does things a little more differently than AKB48 and their sister groups.
Nogizaka46 got their name from the SME Nogizaka building which is what houses Sony Music Japan’s office. The number “46” was a direct challenge against AKB48 and their sister groups, because the number signifies that even with fewer members than AKB48, they will not lose. Their logo is of a triangle which measures 46 degrees. Nogizaka46 is also known for having more conservative gravure photos that are not too revealing, as opposed to AKB48 who often favor bikini gravure. There are instances where this trend is broken (such as in Nogizaka46’s first photobook, Nogizaka Ha) but overall the gravure stays conservative.
When the first members were announced, some of them had an intended rival member from AKB48 to continue the “official rival” trend of the group. Hashimoto Nanami’s rival was Sashihara Rino, Ichiki Rena’s rival was Maeda Atsuko, Akimoto Manatsu’s rival was Kojima Haruna, and so on. The first generation had a total of 36 members making a debut, and a senbatsu that included members such as Ikoma Rina, Hoshino Minami, Ikuta Erika, Shiraishi Mai, and so on.
Their first single, “Guru Guru Curtain” was released in February with Ikoma Rina at center. She would represent the center position for a number of singles, including “Hashire! Bicycle”, “Seifuku no Mannequin”, “Oide Shampoo”, and “Kimi no Na wa Kibou”. It was not until the 6th single in “Girl’s Rule” where management decided to switch Ikoma Rina out of the center spot and offer it to other members of the group, such as Shiraishi Mai, who became the center of “Girl’s Rule”. Since then, other members, such as Ikuta Erika, Nishino Nanase, and Hori Miona, have been selected at center.
Speaking of Hori Miona, she, along with 13 other members, made their debut with the group in May 2013 as the 2nd generation “kenkyuusei”. Miona was the first to get promoted to a regular member, with other members (such as Kitano Hinako and Shinuchi Mai) promoted along the way. It was not until the 3rd Anniversary Live where all of the 2nd generation members were promoted to regular member status.
Regarding the concerts, Nogizaka46 had their first tour in August of 2012, with their first duo of concerts in Osaka and Nagoya. It was at the Nagoya show where they announced the arrival of 16nin no Principal, a musical consisting of all members. In February 2013, Nogizaka46 threw a concert for their first anniversary. It was held at Makuhari Messe. Their second tour expanded not just to Namba and Nagoya, but also in places such as Hokkaido, Tokyo and Fukuoka. Nogizaka46 also had a Christmas-themed concert at the Nippon Budokan titled the “Nogizaka46 Merry X’mas Show”. Outside of these, Nogizaka46 also has mini lives, which at times may only have undergirl members who do not make senbatsu.
Nogizaka46 has always separated itself between AKB48 and their sister groups, always clearly establishing themselves as the “rival” group. But in February 2014, a couple of announcements changed the face of the group. During the AKB48 Group Daisokaku Matsuri, it was announced that SKE48’s very own Matsui Rena would be the first member to receive a concurrency (kennin) with Nogizaka46. Likewise, Ikoma Rina was also selected to have a kennin with AKB48 on Team B. This not only devastated the other members once the announcement was made, but it changed the face of the group forever, as the term “rival group” was all the more questionable. But it all worked out for Ikomachan, as she and her fellow Nogizaka46 teammates helped her out at the time of the 2014 AKB48 Sousenkyo election, where Ikoma Rina made senbatsu at 14th place. Likewise, Ikoma Rina has never missed an AKB48 senbatsu lineup since her kennin has been announced, and Matsui Rena has never missed a Nogizaka46 senbatsu lineup since she became a member of the group.
The announcement of the concurrent members in Rena and Ikomachan was one of the most controversial moments of Nogizaka46. The group itself is not without its other controversies. For starters, the video for “Oide Shampoo” was frowned upon for a section of choreography where the idols can be seen lifting their skirts so as to reveal their petticoats. Likewise, the choreography as a whole was considered too sexually suggestive for an idol group.
Some members have also had their fair share of controversies. Matsumura Sayuri was caught up in a scandal that involved dates with a married man. There is a strict “no dating” policy that Nogizaka46 holds, and Sayuringo essentially broke this policy. This was the first time Nogizaka46 faced such controversy, but Sayuringo apologized on a radio show and most of her actions were forgiven. The only real punishment she received was an appearance at the back row of senbatsu for the upcoming 11th single. Her controversy however, was not the worst the group had to endure. Yamato Rina was also caught in a scandal with a man, also breaking the “no dating” policy. It was made worse when she had another scandal where she was caught drinking under the legal age in Japan. The consequences of her actions went as follows: she had her group birthday celebration cancelled (all members of Nogizaka46 get some sort of birthday celebration during handshakes or similar events), she was not allowed to participate in concerts (such as the Merry X’Mas Show 2014), and the day after her 20th birthday, her contract was terminated and she was essentially fired from the group. It was Yamato Rina’s actions that arguably caused Nogizaka46 to get snubbed out of the NHK Kouhaku lineup.
But amidst all the turmoil that hit Nogizaka46 late in 2014, this group is still holding strong. They have experienced nothing but increases in sales from the 1st single to the 10th single. Two members already have solo photobooks out with one of them a model for the fashion magazine Ray since 2013. One member is a piano virtuoso who even represented Tokyo in a national competition. Several members were even members of other J-Pop groups before joining Nogizaka46, such as CHIMO, SPLASH and Seishun Joshi Gakuen. Basically, there is plenty to love about Nogizaka46. Whether it is their style of doing things that rivals that of AKB48, whether it is the mix of powerful ballads for singles (such as “Kidzuitara Kataomoi” or “Nandome no Aozora Ka?”), or whether it is a certain member that sparkles in the spotlight, Nogizaka46 is a fantastic J-Pop group that everyone will enjoy. I should know, since they are my primary J-Pop group as of now.
I heard about this group because I ran into photos of a very attractive lady named Shiraishi Mai on Tumblr. I wanted to find a little bit more about her, and then I found out that she was a part of the group Nogizaka46. Because the other group I followed was about to disband (Ebisu Muscats), I needed another J-Pop group around that could succeed the Muscats. Keep in mind that I was anti-AKB48 at the time (most of the pure Ebisu Muscats fans were), and when I found out that Nogizaka46 was the “rival group” of AKB48, I got hooked. I then found out about the various members and their list of songs to give a listen to. While the first Nogizaka46 song I listened to was “Oide Shampoo” because of the controversy surrounding it, that song was not my all-time favorite Nogizaka46 song. This was, because it makes me want to go running for some reason.
Eventually I found a favorite member. After soul searching and some difficult decisions, it was clear to me that Wada Maaya had to be my Nogizaka46 oshimen. I selected her because she was…different from the rest of the Nogizaka46 members. She had that little sister vibe, she was courageous on her journey to become an idol, and she has a funny side that was found on Nogizaka46’s TV Show, “Nogizakatte, Doko?”
She is by no means as popular as a Shiraishi Mai or an Ikuta Erika, but she has a niche of fans that like her fair share of antics. Remember that episode of NogiDoko where she became the #1 Baka member of Nogizaka46? If you haven’t seen that episode you should check it out, because Wada Maaya will make you laugh at least once! That’s something to be proud of. That girl always makes me smile whenever she has the spotlight. Since it’s so rare for her to get the spotlight, it makes those moments easy to treasure.
One thing I want to bring up is the idea of the “rival group”. Ever since the big shuffle that sent Ikoma Rina to AKB48 and Matsui Rena to Nogizaka46 both as kennin members, the line has been blurred to determine whether or not this is another sister group or still a rival group. Honestly, I see it as both a sister group and rival group. I see it more like an intercity rival that you can interact with through member transfers and concurrencies. The best example I can give you is the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox: two intercity rivals that can still make trades for players should the opportunity rise. That is essentially how I see Nogizaka46. They can compete against AKB48, but if someone from AKB48 or a sister group would transfer to Nogizaka46, it would not be as surprising as it was a year ago. Besides, Nogizaka46 just had another interaction with AKB48. There is this subunit of AKB48’s Kojima Haruna and some Nogizaka46 members, such as Ikoma Rina, Saito Yuuri and Nagashima Seira. Try to guess who I was excited to see in this video:
But I still love Nogizaka46 and still love how they were able to succeed the Ebisu Muscats as my favorite J-Pop group. Their CD came out not too long ago and there are some amazing non-single tracks to give a listen to (such as Ikuta Erika’s solo piano ballad). Their new single, “Inochi wa Utsukushii” is a very powerful sounding single that puts piano scales at the right moments. This group is still holding strong and look poised to take NHK Kouhaku 2015 by storm. I am excited for what the future holds for this group of amazing idols!
◆ Rin Rigoni