If you didn’t know already, Miyawaki Sakura, of HKT48 and AKB48, released a photobook this month. The self-titled Sakura photobook was so good that it sold over 60,000 copies, which means it’s sold out in Japan. Fortunately, the local Kinokuniya Bookstore in Los Angeles managed to have two copies for sale, so of course I did not hesitate to pick one up.
But how good is it? Is the first Miyawaki Sakura photobook worth the price (1,500 yen in Japan and about $23 at Kinokuniya before tax)? Let’s take a look.
Some photobooks can come with either a photo you can trade with others or even a two-sided poster. This one comes with different posters depending on which one you buy. You won’t know which poster you get until you take off the plastic wrapping. The one I have is of Sakura in a bikini in the forest. Yeah, I’m not taping that poster in my room mind you.
As soon as you open the photobook, it’s a photo of Sakura sitting on a cherry blossom tree. Throughout the book, you see Sakura in normal casual clothes (or sometimes a seifuku) in various settings: sleeping inside a bus, relaxing on a boat, fishing in a harbor, running in a park, and playing at a playground. Of course, you get your fair share of bikini gravure shots, which are commonplace in 48G-related photobooks. Honestly, you see more bikini gravure in standard issues of Young Animal or Weekly Playboy, so if you expected a book filled with Sakura bikini shots, that’s not the case here. She’s still cute regardless, and you have an entire book filled with the cuteness that is Miyawaki Sakura! Who needs bikini shots anyway?
One thing that bothers me about the photobook is just how much it skips from setting to setting. The pacing goes like this: two pages with Sakura in a Japanese metropolitan bus, then two pages with Sakura next to a cherry tree. Some photobooks, such Kizaki Yuria’s Peace and Shiraishi Mai’s Seijun na Otona, keep it consistent with the photo settings. For example, you get ten or so pages of Shiraishi Mai at the beach but they aren’t scattered throughout the photobook. Rather, they are all in one section. Miyawaki Sakura’s photobook doesn’t do that. All the photos seem to be shuffled around, so you get a new setting once you turn the page. This takes away from the experience the photobook is giving you.
Other things you see in this photobook include a few shots of Miyawaki Sakura during concerts (such as the Young Member Zenkoku Tour), Sakura backstage, and Sakura in rehearsal with other HKT48 members. You also get a few pages that talk about Sakura’s life story, including pictures of her when she was younger. It’s a nice thing to read at the end of a photo collection. That is if you can read Japanese.
There is also one part of the photobook that puts it in the “risqué” category, more so than anything in Weekly Playboy or Young Animal. There are some five or six shots in this photobook that consist of Sakura in a bed. The only problem with this is that Sakura is possibly not wearing any clothes and is covered with a white blanket. I say possibly because there are photos where Sakura’s back is exposed and it does not look like she is wearing a bra. To some this would be all fine and dandy, but the issue that arises here is that Miyawaki Sakura is only 17 years old. This issue was addressed on CDJapan (a popular import website) with Sakura’s photobook was pulled from the site. How you look at the photos is based on your own moral judgments as to whether or not it’s okay for Miyawaki Sakura to have photos like that. I will not post the photos on this review since that will spoil the “surprise”. But in my opinion, I can understand why CDJapan pulled the photobook. I can also understand why some people may find the photos too risqué for a 17-year-old. I wish Sakura waited until possibly April of 2016 to take photos like this so it would be a non-issue, but the photos are there. If you buy the photobook, all you have to do is just skip over those few pages.
Overall, Sakura is a pretty decent photobook. This is not the best photobook released this year (so far I have to give that title to Yamamoto Sayaka’s SY), but this is still a good photobook for all you Miyawaki Sakura fans. I would put this photobook higher than Nishino Nanase’s Fudangi, but not higher than Kizaki Yuria’s Peace. Obviously for the Miyawaki Sakura oshi, it’s a must buy. For the individual who put Sakura in their Top 5 or maybe Top 10, it’s still worth a buy if you can find one. But for everyone else out there, your best bet would be to sit this photobook out and possibly purchase Mizugi Surprise 2015 once that comes out.
I have a very strong feeling this is not going to be the last Miyawaki Sakura photobook. Give it at least five years and she’ll have a new one ready.
◆ Rin Rigoni