Friday, December 31, 2010

In Defense of Maeda Atsuko

I’m not the biggest Maeda fan, so I will leave the fanboying to the experts. Maeda is not even my top favorite, but I do like her a lot. One thing I really don’t like though is when fans hate on her for reasons not her fault. Let me explain.

Some fans have hated the fact that Acchan has always been the center of AKB, as if it was her fault. It’s not, it’s Management’s decision, as I will explain later, but first I want to point out that it’s not even true that Acchan had always been the center.

In AKB48’s first ever stage, Party ga Hajimaru yo, Maeda has stated there was no clear center yet, but if you will watch the two songs that would become their first singles, Sakura no Hanabiratachi and Skirt Hirari, you will see that Maeda is not at center. Literally, Maeda is not standing at the center, Minami Takahashi is, but more importantly, in Skirt Hirari, which has solo lines, Takahashi has twice more solo lines than Maeda. My point is: The center of AKB at the beginning was not Maeda, it was Takahashi. This should not be a big surprise to hardcore fans, it is common knowledge to us that the producer of AKB, Akimoto Yasushi’s favorite member is Takahashi, and Maeda herself has mentioned that Aki-P didn’t even take much notice of her at the beginning. Takahashi was and is considered the captain of the original team and the current AKB afterall.

Things changed by the second stage though, the stage titled Aitakatta. In an excellent interview of Maeda at QuickJapan after the release of River (English translation by Stage48’s wazawai6318, download complete translation here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=AFSO3578 [used with wazawai6318's permission]), when it was specified that she would be one of the centers and would be the center of Nagisa no Cherry, currently what may be considered by some as THE Maeda Atsuko song, she stated that she hated being the center so much, she burst into tears. Nagisa no Cherry focuses on the lead vocal, where the other three in the unit clearly relegated to backdancers. This apparently caused some disheartenment between the members, and Maeda felt the pressure. In the closing day of that stage, Aki-P told the members to say what they felt, to the audience, during the MC. To quote the translation, Maeda said, “At the last performance of our 2nd stage, Akimoto-san said to us, “Please tell each other everything that you’re thinking.” On the stage of our last performance, in front of all our fans, we were all made to say “At that time, I felt this way….” For example, things like “I didn’t like being behind Acchan.” I too spoke my mind and said “I didn’t want to do ‘Nagisa no Cherry’”. For us, that was an important moment. It took a weight off our shoulders, and also allowed our fans to understand what we were thinking."

People assumed that Maeda was like basking in some glory, enjoying or maybe even pushing Management to make her center, when the truth is, this interview is one of many proofs that the center position was thrust upon her, probably because Management was noticing how popular she was. Even when she was center for many singles, starting with being featured prominently in the PV of their third single (first from a major label), Aitakatta, she considered herself as just one of the girls. She said “… I’d felt that “Even though I’m in the centre, everybody doesn’t think about me anyway.”” Even when Maeda had to share the center position with newbie Jurina Matsui at Oogoe Diamond, she thought little of it, until it was the fans that made a big deal out of it. She said, “It’s not that I was particularly composed, but I didn’t really take it to heart since we aren’t even of the same age. But it was talked about among the fans way more than I had predicted, and we were compared. When I found that out, I was a bit surprised, and I started to worry. I thought, “What should I do….” At that time too, Akimoto-san got angry at me many times. “If you continue on this way, Matsui-san’s going to take your place.” During that time, I myself struggled and worked hard. Starting from the time of “Oogoe Diamond”, Akimoto-san started to ask me about my will each time. “How are you?” He would send an e-mail. “How are you? Can Maeda do it?”… ““I can do it! I want to do it!””… “But starting from “Oogoe Diamond”, I feel like I’ve started to understand the meaning of my own place little by little.”

The first Senbatsu elections in 2009 proved to be a great encouragement for Maeda, her Management-decided-center-position now became the fan-decided-center-position, showing her that she was at her rightful place at #1.

Then, one year later, on the second Senbatsu elections, she would suddenly be edged by former second-placer Yuko Oshima by only 597 votes. (Acchan got 30,851 votes while Yuko got 31,448. Votes were limited to fans who purchased specific items like singles or subscriptions.) Losing the #1 position for this election meant a lot for her; when her name was called, she said in her speech (translation from Nihongogo’s Ready2), “…I'm a little bit relieved. I think that in the end I wasn't cut out for being the first place. Last year after getting first place I thought that being in that position I must try the hardest to push AKB... But... seems like I couldn't do a good job at it. (Team A pioneers shook their heads when she said this, as if to say, “no, that’s not true.”) This year... So it's like this. I couldn't meet your expectations last year. But being here for the 5th year and being a 1st generation member I still feel like I have to push the members. I'm sorry. I want to do my best this year also in this place. I feel like I'll have to work even harder to get the recognition of even more fans so that maybe I'll be able to get back first place. And if I do get back to first place I'm confident that I'll be able to push AKB48 a lot more. Everyone, thank you very much!” Her heartful speech was, even to me, surprisingly inspirational. Given everything, being that honest, she still says she will try harder to try to regain her position.

Center position would be fair game after that though, as they would soon thereafter announce the first Senbatsu Janken Tournament, a random chance tournament that gives every member of AKB the chance to become the center of a single, something even Maeda smiled about when it was first announced, the winner of which became Mayumi Uchida. Maeda seemed happy to share the center position and to give others a chance.

Maeda is often criticized for looking like she doesn’t try hard enough or that she doesn’t care. She probably doesn’t look as outgoing or friendly or smiling like the rest, she doesn’t crack as many witty jokes as the others, but when I watch her, my conclusion was actually, she is an introverted, shy girl. In the QuickJapan interview I’ve been quoting, when she was asked if she didn’t talk during the MC parts of the stage during her earlier days, she said, “I think I wasn’t able to talk. I didn’t want to talk. I think I was really bad at having to be the centre of attention. So even for things like our self-introductions, it took me a long time to get used to it.” I read a fan report that said that although Maeda appears unfriendly at times, when there was a chance this fan was able to talk with her, she’s actually very nice and friendly, just really shy. She and the other members are quite familiar with this perception of her, and some do defend her, but in the AKBingo! July 29, 2009 episode, this became fodder during the Maeda vs. Kojima Haruna Shoujiki Shougi (Truth Chess Battle), when Kojima asked, “Fans sometimes say you look like you’re not into your job (and Maeda nods in a “Tell me about it!” kinda face)… but sometimes you really aren’t,” and the supposed “lie detector” needle spiked when Maeda said “no.” Maeda just said she sometimes do things at her own “pace” (a popular phrase in Japan) and had a good laugh at herself. At the same QuickJapan interview, she says, “It’s often said about me that people don’t know what I’m thinking about. The members say that about me too. Even though we’ve been together for four years, they say that they don’t know what I’m thinking about… It could be that I’m not thinking about anything at all (laugh). I’m the type that acts without thinking at all. There are a lot of members who properly think about what interesting things they should say during the MCs between songs at the theatre, so once in a while I reflect on how much trouble I cause them during times like that. I think that that’s one of my flaws... I have tried participating more actively. But, I think that by now it’s already come to the point of “Acchan is like that, that’s good enough”. Of course, other than that, it’s also thanks to the members. I think of myself, “Ah, not good enough”, but after all, “there’s people here who help me.” Even though people may say that there’s something different between Maeda Atsuko and the Maeda Atsuko of AKB, there’s nothing different. I’m really just that way. I’m very thankful to the fans and the members who have accepted/forgiven that.”

I love the way Acchan appreciates the fans who have accepted her personality flaws. Yeah, haters hate that about Acchan, but we have reason to hate just about everyone if we wanted to, it’s just a matter of understanding and appreciating what can be appreciated on another person. Yes, Acchan may not fit the stereotype of an idol celebrity who always smiles, extroverted and always has something clever to say, but actually, her nerdiness is one of her charm points. Fans love her girl-next-door image, and the fact that she’s as awkward and dorky as many of us makes her even more appealing. Yeah, she’s cute, and pretty, and has a great figure, but the fact that she acts so naturally and is so human makes her more endearing to the fans. Her dorky laugh and her natural reactions are always a treat to watch.

Maeda is human, who has flaws, but has worked hard to get her center position, a position that was thrust upon her, and one she did not necessarily want. And yet she remains very much human and tries to be just one of the girls. We hardly have any real proof that Queen Acchan tries to impose stuff or whatever. She’s just her, and people really need to stop making her out as if she was some bad guy when there isn’t even any proof as to why people hate her so much other than her personality flaws which she freely admits. She’s just being herself. And that’s what her fans want.

Her dedication and love for AKB is also inspiring. She said in the QuickJapan interview, “I had a period when I said “no” to everything too. During that time, I was allowed to star in a movie for the first time (Ashita no Watashi no Tsukurikata (How to Become Myself)), but I really didn’t like it. It was terrifying, and I was so lacking in self-confidence. Even at the studio itself, all I kept saying was things like “I want to return to AKB as soon as possible.” Performing at the theatre was my only joy….” I love how many of the girls consider the Theater as their second home.

It doesn’t matter who eventually replaces Acchan. Maeda could be replaced by Yuko Oshima, Minami Takahashi, Mayu Watanabe, Jurina Matsui, or even Mayumi Uchida, but Maeda Atsuko will forever be perceived as the original face of AKB.

In the August 22, 2010 episode of Uchikuru, Acchan gets shown her audition footage, shown here when she was age 14.

Maeda, in AKB's very first stage, Party ga Hajimaru yo. Yeah, even Aki-P made fun of her helmet-looking hair.

Maeda, not the center of Sakura no Hanabiratachi.

Maeda, not the center of Skirt Hirari.

The first time Maeda is featured prominently is in the PV of Aitakatta.

Maeda, in her old "private" video. In this great video, Maeda also teaches proper Japanese enunciation. If Maeda had a series on learning and mastering Japenese, I'd be an expert by now.

In the April 28, 2008 episode of AKB 0ji 59fun (predecessor of AKBingo!), Acchan has a little fun at Yuko's expense. The two love each other.

The May 19, 2008 episode of AKB 0ji 59fun is one of my favorite episodes, where the psychology test provides us with a lot of great laughs.

Acchan likes to downplay herself, as shown in the January 8, 2009 episode of AKBingo!, another one of my favorites. Here, she says she has no skills.

Sata points out,"Of course, you do! You can skip!", an old running joke involving Acchan and Takahashi.

The July 29, 2009 episode of AKBingo! featuring the Shoujiki Shougi (Truth Chess Battle) between Maeda and Kojima, where Acchan just laughs at what had happened when the needle said she was lying about always being into her job.

I love it when Maeda is having fun.

Although she frequently downplays herself, she knows when to bite the bullet. In the October 8, 2010 episode of Shuukan AKB, they explore the gutsiness of Maeda. In this screenshot, she throws away her floating device and swims fast to help her team win in the Shuukan pool special, eventhough she used a life buoy in an earlier individual game. She explains that when she went to Thailand, she almost kinda drowned, and she's been afraid to go to the water since.

On the same episode, they looked back on another Team competition where she single-handedly beat the opposing team in a bobbing-for-apples type of game. This time, she says she wouldn't even think of revealing her forehead (by moving away her hair), if it wasn't necessary.

My favorite solo image DVD has been that of Maeda Atsuko in Phuket. My favorite part is when the stewardess asked her in english if she wanted chicken with pasta or chicken with rice, and I can watch the look on her face when she didn't understand a thing a thousand times. She had to look at her crew and wonder, "What did she say?"

She laughs at her dilemma.

When she finally chooses rice, the stewardess confirms, "Rice?", she answers, "Yes," in english, and she was so happy to answer in english.

I could watch this segment a thousand times, and if I had been counting, I probably already had.

AKB doesn't hide everything from us. In Maeda's episode of AKB 600 Seconds, she is openly shown removing hair extensions. 

Maeda, after being revealed #1 in the first Senbatsu elections.


Maeda smiles bravely when her name is called as the #2 girl in the Second Senbatsu elections. 

Even so, she cannot hide her tears for long. 


Maeda smiles at the surprise announcement of the Janken Senbatsu Tournament, during the July, 2010, Yoyogi Concert.

The original face of AKB48, Maeda Atsuko

14 comments:

  1. This is why I adore Acchan. I like the fact that she is dorky and shy. I prefer that idols don't always fit the mold. Great post!

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  2. i know acchan from majisuka gakuen. i love her acting and her character too in those dorama.
    Happy to know that shy girl could become a great actress <3

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  3. Was this in response to a resurgence in acchan hate i don't know about, or just something you had to get off your chest?

    I think you should have also talked about how she's changed her style and image. For example, from what I've seen of the early years she was genki and always smiling on stage and while dancing. Now I call it the "neru style" because she looks like she is sleeping on stage lol.

    I understand she most likely created this image for herself because there is no other way for her to stick out from the rest, but I don't like this style. Maybe being tired also contributes to this. I also can't help but have the feeling that out of all the girls, Acchan changed the most. Takamina and Sayaka for example don't seem like they changed at all and remain more "innocent" in my eyes.

    I think AKB could have benefited much more if Acchan remained genki and had that innocent aura. More people would be captivated by a smiling, charismatic front girl then somebody who usually just stares into space.

    Anyway, i appreciate this post. I love analysis of the girls.

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  4. I'll be honest, I rather have someone else as center. I don't hate her but as how you've described her, I think other members can do a better job being the center. I know it's not her choice to be the center that's why I do hope the management gives the spotlight to other members.

    She is just boring compared to other members.

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  5. Hi GenkiKoala, this is just something I've wanted to write for some time now. I haven't noticed a change in Acchan though, I thought she's always like that, I guess there are just times she's like that, and there are times when she is very genki. There are somewhat recent episodes that show the genki side of her.

    Hi last "anonymous". I understand your point, and I'm glad you put it the way you stated it. We still can't deny her popularity eventhough she is the way that she is; many people just appreciate her eventhough others don't. But I am glad that the spotlight does get shared to other members already, like with what happened with Yuko and Ucchi, especially the recent days where she has been very busy, especially with Q10.

    Everyone, thank you very much for the comments and the appreciation!

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  6. Anonymous here again.

    I know I'll get a lot of hate from Atsuko fans but objectively, Jurina does a better job on being a center for SKE than in AKB. Jurina gives off energy and has a srong bubbly, peppy aura. Try focusing on Jurina in a performance, even when it's not her turn in the center, you can see her showing lots of cute expressions and powerful dance moves.

    Well, Yuko also did a great job in Heavy Rotation. I can't imagine Atsuko doing it as good as Yuko.

    But of course, there is a reason why a lot of people love Atsuko as center. Maybe for some reason, I'm in the minority in wanting an energetic center.

    And maybe I just don't see Atsuko as that pretty to compensate for her shortcomings. She is pretty, no argument there, but personally, she not THAT pretty.

    It's a reality though that as long as there's AKB in the next 5 years, Atsuko will most likely still be the center.

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  7. the strange thing is, when i first saw the Keibetsu Shiteita Aijou mv, the one that stood out to me was atsuko. and in every pic and video after that, she stood out.
    there is just something about her that is lovable and attracts attention without meaning to.
    and i love this post! :]

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  8. Though my personal favorite is Yuko (with Maeda coming in 2nd, obviously), I still think Maeda is a great person. There's just something about her normalness that makes me want to have more of her.

    I guess you can say the dorkiness adds to her character, and is actually one of those things that people see in her. Her job as a center, one would need to step in her shoes.

    Yes, I've always noticed that she looked like a bored rock in some of performances, but quote one of the above statements, "It's possible that she's tired". One needs to remember she's turning 20 this year and she was once career-less.

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  9. @Anonymous (put a name, it makes things interesting!), contrary to what you said, many hate Jurina. Personally I don't, I love Jurina. In any case, true enough Maeda doesn't show that pep nowadays, but wait for the upcoming elections.. I just know something will happen.

    Case in point, this post was rather meaningful. With this I was actually able to look a little more detailed into Maeda's life. Though not her actual life, I've still learned a minor definition for the term "normal".

    The poor girl just wants to have fun. Nobody can blame her for that. Forget being center; all she wanted was to have fun.

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  10. i love Acchan.. she's my fave in AKB48...^_^ thank you for this wonderful blog!!! AKB48 the best!!!

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  11. I love Acchan she's also my most favorite member of the group. There's something in her that makes you fall inlove with her in an instant. I think she fits the center spot.
    try watching this to know her more :)
    part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSNt8j4GGPg
    part 2:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnB7AhPAt2k&feature=related

    This is a wonderful blog :D

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  12. I found your write ups of the different girls very interesting. While they have been on the sceene in Japan since 2005/6. I at least have never heard of them until I recently discovered AKB48 on youtube.
    Greatly enjoy the comments and discussion. Not quite sure what to make of the Idol title these girls have but they are entertaining. Thank you for your blog.

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  13. Well.. it's actually stupid to being an anti or haters..
    if you don't like someone's personality.. it doesn't mean you can freely blame them.

    i love acchan being a center-face-ace of AKB48, she has unique voice, unique personality, calm, it's not her fault to became an introvert back then. She work hard to become a better person.

    i didn't like Jurina stand in the center of AKB48, but i'm not to blame her so bad.. not become an anti and not joining with her other haters to make her cry.
    that's not wise to make her feeling sad and feel lonely and so hated by fans.

    Just support your oshi if you want them to be a center, don't blame someone else who bravely put a heavy responsibility on her shoulder by doing her best eventhough she doesn't like it at first.

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  14. I think may forget that Maeda was working enough for three girls for a long time, way more than any of the other girls in AKB. She had her duties as the face of AKB that ment endless photo shoots and interviews she had her own acting and acting linked to AKB plus of course promotional work and endorcements, indeed in the 600 minutes program mentioned you see her day is played out to the minute. She did all this plus having to do learn the dances and songs to perform, and in a fraction of the time the other girls had to do so, and she was expected as centre to always shine and be the best.

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